Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Is Protestant Unity (Oxy)Moronic?

Any talk from Reformed folk about inter- and intra-denominational unity can be viewed by some as utterly disingenuous. To Roman Catholics, for example, the very notion of "Protestant unity" is moronic at worst, and oxymoronic at best.

I've been thinking lately about the arguments of Covenant Seminary graduate Bryan Cross, whose spiritual pilgrimage has taken him from Presbyterianism to Anglicanism, and then finally to Roman Catholicism. His recent posts argue that all Protestant versions of Sola Scriptura are necessarily individualistic. Even the so-called Reformed position of "Tradition 1," which (contra evangelicalism's view of Solo Scriptura) insists that the Bible is the church's book and therefore must be interpreted collectively rather than individually, is, according to Cross, individualistic.

Here's how Cross's argument works: Even the confessional Reformed believer who submits his personal beliefs to the authority of the Westminster Standards is ultimately guilty of individualism, albeit of a masked variety. The reason for this is that before he bowed in submission to the Confession and Catechisms he determined within himself, as a result of his personal Bible study, that those documents best comported with his own individual understanding of Scripture.

In other words, one's "submission" to the church is somewhat suspect when he first spends a year on the Internet searching for the church that already agrees with him. Such submission, Cross argues, is tantamount to shooting an arrow at the wall and then drawing the target around the point where the arrow happened to land. Simply put, it's kind of hard to miss the mark that way. To interpret the simile, the Protestant understanding of Sola Scriptura makes it virtually impossible for the individual believer's theological views to actually be challenged by the church and found wanting.

There are only two real options, Cross argues: individualism or apostolic succession. All claims of Sola Scriptura necessary devolve into the former, and all true respect for ecclesiastical authority necessary demands the latter.

How would you answer this charge?

The Unprofessional Beer Review: Orval Trappist Ale

Orval monastery is the only Trappist monastery in the world which brews only one beer, and that alone makes it stand out. Hailing from Belgium, the beer is triple fermented, with the final stage of fermentation taking place in the bottle itself. I am also told that if I were patient enough to wait for it, the beer would become smoother if I let it sit in the dark for around a year before pouring it. I'm far too impatient for that.

The abbey was founded in 1070 by Benedictines from Calabria. Over the years it has been destroyed and rebuilt during Charlamagne (12th Century), during the French Revolution, and finally revamped during the 1920s and 30s. In addition to Orval Trappist Ale, the monastery also sells crusty brown breads and two cheeses in its gift shop. Orval is a widely regarded trappist ale. One reviewer writes of Orval, "No other beer can be said to match the character of Orval." Quite a claim. Does it stack up?

In my opinion, this beer is Amazing. Quite simply, amazing. This is the most delicious, satisfying, and complex beer I have personally ever tasted. True, the fact that it sells for just over $6 a bottle might skew my perception a bit, but I am being quite honest when I say that I love it, and that everyone should buy a bottle of this at least once. I may never be able to drink Newcastle again, after having Orval.

Pouring is a wonderful experience. As it slides down the edge of the glass into the bottom, the rather dense and thick head on the brew rises almost in perfect proportion to the volume in the bottom of the glass. To give you an idea how long the head on the glass has lasted, I poured my glass over 20 minutes ago, and there is still a 1/4" head remaining, and it appears to be there for good. Most ales lose their head after a few minutes, but not Orval.

The brew has a very distinct orange color which comes by way of the abbey's uniquely specified mixture of three malts, Bavarian Hallertau and Yugoslavian Styrian Goldings hops, yeast, and finally, white candy sugar is added in the kettle. A most delicious aftertaste without the slightest hint of bitterness, Orval is clean tasting, but far from simplistic.

It is, quite simply, my new favorite beer. (One may argue that my favorite beer is whichever one I happen to be holding at the moment.) Now, I also have a bottle of Chimay Blue waiting for me, but I may wait awhile before trying it. I want to let Orval have its week on the beer throne.

Proof We Need the Regulative Principle of Worship


The Transcendental Argument (Part 1)


Throughout the history of the Christian church many arguments have been developed to prove the existence of God. Some of the most famous arguments were given by Thomas Aquinas, namely, the cosmological and the teleological argument. While others, such as C. S. Lewis, offered the moral argument for the existence of God. These arguments try to argue from a certain truth in the world to the conclusion that God exists. That is, they are deductive arguments. However, others in the Christian community (especially in the Reformed tradition) have argued for a different kind of argument; an argument that is not deductive or inductive, but transcendental. This transcendental argument for the existence of God (TAG) argues that God is the transcendental (“thing behind” in layman terms) for all knowledge. In other words, for anyone to know anything they must first presuppose the Christian God. Or put more simply, in order for anyone to know anything God must exist. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob stands behind all of our thinking and our ability to think. This approach to apologetics is also called presupposition apologetics because it argues that God is presupposed in order to think or make sense of the world. It is the aim of this paper to briefly layout the TAG and then to respond to recent attacks on this approach. It is not the aim of this essay to prove that the TAG is sound, though I think it is. Rather, the aim of this paper is more modest, in that I only want to show that recent attacks on the TAG fail to do any significant impairment to the TAG.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Blog of Interest?

I have been attending Coram Deo Fellowship in Lindsborg, KS on a semi-regular basis for the last few months, now. One family from our church has decided to start their own blog; with one of my church elders (Mike Hoag) as a guest contributor, I am quite anxious to keep up with their blog and have already got them on my RSS feed. You should do the same! So check them out: Tulip In The Thicket.

And I should also take this opportunity to inform anyone who lives in or around Lindsborg, KS that there is a Reformed church in the area. We'd love to have you stop by and visit!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Thoughts On The Dark Knight

First, this movie set the world record for the most money made by a movie ever in the opening weekend. What that means is that I assume you've seen this movie. I'm not going to do a review, because 90% of the reviewers out there thinks it's incredible, and I think that speaks volumes. For the record, however: I loved it. And so did Josh Walker. Josh told me he feels the movie is in his top five favorite movies ever. I'd have to agree, but we'll see if I still feel that way in a few days (sometimes these things need to sink in). I will go over a few highlights:

1. Moral Quandaries
There are some extremely Complex moral situations where hard choices had to be made. This interested me a great deal, and I won't claim to have the right decision. One example from the film is the situation with the two ferries, each with the other boat's bomb-detonator. Whichever boat squeezed the trigger first would be spared while sinking the other. The only thing I could think of in that situation was that whoever squeezes the trigger first would seem to be compromising their own morality. From a practical standpoint, this would not be the case, however. Pragmatism, as far as I can tell, would have to find a way of calculating the value of the passengers on each boat and deciding who was worth saving. One method may simply be to see how many people are on each boat; whichever boat has more occupants would be the one to save. The question is, however, would squeezing the detonating trigger be a sin? Would it be a virtuous thing to refuse to blow up the other boat in hopes that God would providentially provide a way out of the situation? I don't know, but I'm interested in your thoughts.

2. Philosophical Concepts
The Joker fancies himself as Aristotle's unstoppable force and Batman as his Immovable object.

Joker: "This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object...I get the feeling that you and I are destined to do this forever!"
I found this dialogue to be very rich, interesting, and rewarding from a philosophical standpoint. Neither of them is literally immovable or literally unstoppable, of course, but it provided an interesting insight into the Batman-Joker dynamic.

A few minutes later [!Spoiler Alert!] in the film, Plato's concept of the "noble lie" comes to life as Batman and Gordon decide to lie about Dent and tell Gotham that he died as a hero rather than a villain. This is done in order to preserve social order and to give the city a hero who is larger and even more important to the city - in the long run - than even Batman himself.

3. Heath Ledger
Lets just admit that Ledger's Joker will never ever be topped. Not by anyone. This man took the joker from a lounge lizard creep (Nicholson) to literal psychopath. Listen to these amazing lines:

"Do I look like I have a plan? I don't have a plan. The mob has plans, the cops have plans. You know what I am, Harvey? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do if I caught one. I just do things. I'm not a schemer."

"When the chips are down, these civilized people will eat each other."

"Do you want to know why I use a knife? You see, guns are too fast. You can't savor all of the little...emotions. In their last moments, people show you what they’re really like. So in a sense...I knew your friends better than you did. Would you like to know which of them were cowards?"

"Freak? Why don't we cut you up into little pieces and feed you to your pooches, hmm? And then we'll see how loyal a hungry dog really is!"
Seeing them in print is disturbing, but hearing them roll out of Ledger's mouth is like hearing the devil himself waxing philosophical. His character is so dirty and gritty. His makeup is constantly smudging, he is clearly not afraid of death. He is evil because it just feels good (compatiblistic free-will, anyone?); there is literally no one in the entire Batman universe who will ever be more evil, intimidating, or destructive than the Joker, and specifically as portrayed by Heath Ledger.

4. Lets Stop At The Top
I seriously can't see this movie ever being topped. I can't imagine what they could possibly do to better what has been done in this film, and I secretly kind of hope that they play it smart and end this era of Batman with The Dark Knight, because as far as I'm concerned, it will only be downhill from here. And while I'm at it, I wish they would have killed off The Joker simply because I hate the idea that anyone other than Heath Ledger could ever try and fill those shoes and do a lousy Heath-Ledger-as-Joker impression.

I would like to applaud Christopher Nolan's vision for the Batman universe. My favorite thing about what he does with Batman is that he's stripped it of the campy quality it had during the 90s and imbued it with these gritty, realistic (as realistic as a comic-to-film adaptation can be, anyway), and down to earth qualities. My favorite scene from The Dark Knight was the scene where The Joker is riding down the street hanging out of the back of the police cruiser with his sleeves rolled up and his face in the wind. It just had this very Michael Mann quality which I would love to see more of if Nolan continues the series.

It is easily the greatest comic to film adaptation ever, and I strongly believe it will be remembered as one of the greatest films of all time - comic adaptation or not. So there you go. A film review when I promised I wouldn't do one. I am very interested in what the rest of you thought about this movie, though I've got a pretty good idea what you're going to say. Just a hunch.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Campaign Begins

I want to let the readers of Bring the Books know that today is the official start date of the "get Adam a new bike" campaign. I have selected a reasonably priced, manly, suitable replacement (this bike can be vetoed by Adam). The cost of the bike is pretty low and since it is at a Wal-Mart, we can have it shipped to a store near him, for free. If you would like to donate to this fund, please email me at, sorry this is not a tax write off (I have no idea how to do that). I would like to be the first to pledge $10 to this campaign. We will keep the readers posted on the progress of the fund.

Friday, July 18, 2008

An Open Letter To Whomever Stole My Bike

Dear sir (or madame),

You have cut me to the quick; you have harmed me badly; you have struck me where it hurts most in this time of high gas prices: you have taken my only form of transportation to and from work.

Not only have I, a lowly college graduate with a pitifully useless degree in philosophy, been deprived by your actions of my only mode of transport, but I have been brought lower than what I thought was the lowest social level I could possibly sink to.

You see, previously, I drove a 2004 Honda Civic to work. Small, economical, fuel efficient, and a nice stereo. However, tragedy struck and my car was totalled. After that, I elected to ride my wife's bicycle to work rather than take on new debt. That's right; my WIFE's bike. I didn't even have my own; that's humiliating.

However, I proudly rode that girl's bicycle to work, day after day. Okay, not proudly. I was badly ashamed, but I rode with outward pride - my chin stuck out farther than Jay Leno's and higher than someone from New England meeting a Texan. I looked proud in the face of humiliation.

But this morning, upon realizing that my humiliating bicycle had been stolen by you out of MY garage, I went a step lower. I was forced to walk to work. Walk. Like a common BARBARIAN! Like a New Yorker! And while I was walking to work, I knew that you were out there somewhere, feeling guilty but also enjoying the wind in your hair, and a light burning in your legs from the effort of riding.

(A sidenote: you should be careful with fourth gear. It doesn't work at all. You really just have to skip from third to fifth gear, because it's a little touchy. And I just aired up the tires last night, so you should be good for awhile on that end of things.)

So there you were, riding freely, hair waving like Fabio (or possibly like someone with short hair) while I walked like a troglodytic neanderthal.

So what should I do about this situation? Well, I have a plan. And it's been hatching in my little mind since about five minutes ago when I realized this blog post would need an adequate conclusion: I can choose to forgive you for stealing my bike (unless Josh Walker's understanding of biblical forgiveness is correct, in which case I don't have to) or I can activate the Lojack I just happened to have installed three days before you decided to nick my ride.

I could also decide to call upon the outraged citizens of McPherson, KS to rise up and look for my bicycle in the form of an angry posse. If you have seen it, it is a purple and silver girl's bike with a bright orange bicycle chain on it. If you see it, call me, and we can form an alliance to set things right.

And by the way, sir (or madame): I am offering a reward of $5.00 to anyone who catches you. And so, in appropriate form, I end with a perfect (slightly modified) quote from Mel Gibson's wonderful film Ransom:

This is your ransom. [Five] dollars in unmarked bills, just like you wanted. But this is as close as you'll ever get to it. You'll never see one dollar of this money, because no ransom will ever be paid for my [bike]. Not one dime, not one penny. Instead, I'm offering this money as a reward on your head. Dead or alive, it doesn't matter. So congratulations, you've just become a [five] dollar lottery ticket... except the odds are much, much better. Do you know anyone that wouldn't turn you in for [five] dollars? I don't think you do. I doubt it. So wherever you go and whatever you do, this money will be tracking you down for all time... But... and this is your last chance... you return my [bike], alive, uninjured, I'll withdraw the bounty. With any luck you can simply disappear. Understand... you will never see this money. Not one dollar. So you still have a chance to do the right thing. If you don't, well, then, God be with you, because nobody else on this Earth will be.

"Give me back my bike!"

[Just in case anyone thinks this is a joke, well... everything I just wrote above is true. My bike really was stolen this morning, and I am FUMING!]

Silver Lining:

Check out the AWESOME shirt my wife had made for me! My bike may have been stolen while I slept, but the thieves will have to RIP this one from my body as I sleep!

I'm smoking an American Spirit, and drinking Stella Artois.

Monday, July 14, 2008

On Bishops, Elders, and Deacons

I have been thinking since the PCA's last General Assembly about the number and nature of church offices in the New Covenant, and I'd like to throw something out there for your consideration. Let the record show that I am merely wrestling with these things and have by no means landed on terra firma yet. Still, I will argue as though I'm convinced of this position, if for no other reason than to see if the view can bear your scrutiny.

My (hypothetical) thesis is as follows: There are two ordinary and perpetual offices in the New Testament church, bishops and deacons. The bishop (or overseer, Greek episkopos) is the minister of the Word, and the deacon (Greek diakonos) is a servant-ruler, an office that combines what we today separate, i.e., the "ruling elder" and the "deacon." And the Greek word presbyteros ("elder") can refer to either bishops or deacons.

Calm down, I haven't even made my case yet....

Paul writes his Philippian epistle "to the church in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons" (1:1). The omission of "ruling elders" can be explained (1) By saying that this church unfortunately didn't have any, (2) By saying that they were included under the category of bishops, or (3) By saying that no such distinct office existed in the churches Paul planted, but the "ruling" and "serving" was done by the deacons.

Option #1 is pure speculation. Option #2 is unlikely given Paul's description of the responsibility of the bishop in Titus 1:9 and Acts 20:28, one that sounds a lot like a trained minister and not a layman. Option #3, however, is most consistent with Paul's instruction to Timothy concerning how to order the church. In I Tim. 3:1-7 and 3:8-13 he lists the qualifications for (drumroll please)... bishops and deacons. "Ruling elders" are, once again, omited.

But when we flip ahead to I Tim. 5:17 we come to what many see as the only real Scriptural support for the contemporary notion of "ruling elders." But given that Paul specifically lists "bishops and deacons" as the church officers in Philippi, and given the apostle's qualifications for bishops and deacons specifically a couple chapters earlier, it makes a lot of sense to let Scripture interpret Scripture by saying that in this verse, the "elder who labors in the Word" is the bishop, and the "elder who rules" is the deacon.

Finally, when we observe (1) That the qualifications in Acts 6:3-7 for members of "the diaconate" include things like being "filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit" and the ability to, essentially, determine who is a church member and who is not, and (2) That the requirements for deacons listed in I Timothy 3:8-13 include "ruling" their own households well, it seems possible (and even probable) that the "deacon" in the churches Paul planted was responsible to do what we today assign to the diaconate and the session.

In a word, the bishop ministers the Word and sacraments, while the deacons both rule and serve.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

On Friendship

I have no duty to be anyone's Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity. Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.


You will not find the warrior, the poet, the philosopher or the Christian by staring in his eyes as if he were your mistress: better fight beside him, read with him, argue with him, pray with him.

In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before all the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others. Those are the golden sessions; when four or five of us after a hard day's walking have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out towards the blaze and our drinks at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no other has any claim or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life - natural life - has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?
C.S. Lewis The Four Loves pg. 70-71

Thursday, July 10, 2008

God Preserving His Church

Today marks the 499th anniversary of the great Reformer John Calvin's birthday. Love him or hate him, if you are a Protestant, you owe a lot to this man. I for one am grateful for the work our great God did through him. So on this day I would like us all to pray and thank God for his preserving of his Church through fallible men like John Calvin, as well as others.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Gandalf on Resisting Sin

'I do really wish to destroy it!' cried Frodo. 'Or, well, to have it destroyed. I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?'

'Such questions cannot be answered,' said Gandalf. 'You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.'

'But I have so little of any of these things! You are wise and powerful. Will you not take the Ring?'

'No!' cried Gandalf, springing to his feet. 'With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.' His eyes flashed and his face was lit as by a fire within. 'Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself... I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me.'

I am struck by Gandalf's resolute insistence that even the temptation itself is too much. In our wisdom, perhaps we should all remember that it is not sinful to be tempted, but if we know ourselves well enough, we should know that even avoiding temptation is the greatest practical way to avoid sin. My biblical example of this would be Joseph running like hell when Potiphar's wife made her move on him, but Lord of the Rings is nerdier and therefore, more "hip" and "culturally relevant." Also, I've been reading it to my daughter at bedtime, so it's pretty fresh in my mind.