Thursday, September 29, 2005

 

How 'bout some Baptists?

Having grown up in the Southern Baptist version of Christianity here in America, I have a special love for all things Baptist. One thing I have tried to do with fair regularity is to learn something about the various groups of Baptists that exist around the world. One of my favorite names is the Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists (imagine that on a softball shirt!). These folks trace their roots to the Waldenses and began in America in the eighteenth century with the protests of one Daniel Parker against missions and Sunday School. Yep, you read that right, protests agains missions and Sunday School.

Parker evidently had a genuinely negative view of the Arminian doctrine of the Methodists and based his dislike of the missionary effort and church schools on what he called his Two-Seed doctrine. Briefly stated, this doctrine holds that two seeds entered the life stream of humanity in the Garden of Eden. One seed was good, the other evil. Every child is born with one seed or the other and thus predestined to either salvation or damnation depending on which seed the child has. Mission activity is therefore useless, as each child has within them the "seeds" (pardon the pun) of salvation or destruction! The seed is in the spirit, not in the flesh of humans. At any rate, I thought you all might be fascinated with this information.

I've taken to calling this group the Dead Sea Scrolls Baptists given the similarity in doctrine to some of the materials found at Qumran. Nonetheless, I would be curious as to whether any of you have encountered these folks. They were a small group when I first looked into them in the mid 1980s, so if you can find any info on them, post it here. Oh, if you want to read my source for the material above, I found it in Frank S. Mead's Handbook of Denominations in the United States.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

 

And now a word from Malcolm Muggeridge . . .

I've been reading parts of Muggeridge's The End of Christendom lately, and I thought you might benefit from some quotes. This first section is a description of Pascal in Muggeridge's words. Muggeridge says:

"Like all true believers, (Pascal) was deeply skeptical. His intelligence was wonderfully astringent and critical. It is one of the fantasies of the twentieth century that believers are credulous people, sentimental people, and that you have to be a materialist and a scientist and a humanist to have a skeptical mind. But of course exactly the opposite is true. It is believers who can be astringent and skeptical, whereas people who believe seriously that this universe exists only in order to provide a theatre for man must take man with deadly seriousness. I believe myself that the age we are living in now will go down in history as one of the most credulous ever. . . . The truth is that the farther our faith reaches, the more doubts it encompasses, as from the highest hills there are the fullest vistas." (pp. 4-5, The End of Christendom)

What do you think? Is Muggeridge right? Does faith include some element of doubt? Do cynics make good believers? It is something to ponder, huh?

And now, to balance the thought, let me quote Pascal himself from Pensees, p. 149:

"It is in vain that you seek within yourselves for the cure for your miseries. All your insight only leads you to the knowledge that it is not in yourselves that you will discover the true and the good. The philosophers promised them to you and they have not been able to keep their promise. . . . Your principle maladies are pride, which cuts you off from God, and sensuality, which binds you to earth. And they have done nothing but foster at least one of these maladies. If they have given you God for your object, it has been to pander to your pride. They have made you think that you were like him and resemble him by your nature. And those who have grasped the vanity of such a pretension have cast you down in the other abyss by making you believe that your nature is like that of the beast of the field and have led you to seek your good in lust, which is the lot of animals."

Well, I think that these quotes are enough for today. Chew on them. Think about them. Then, if you want, share your insights with the rest of us.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 26, 2005

 

A word from Derek Webb

I've been listening to Derek Webb's "She Must and Shall Go Free" album today, and I wanted to share a provocative song entitled "Nothing (Without You)."

I've got the dress; I've got the ring
I've got a song that I can sing
I've got the bread; I've got the wine
But I've got the life I left behind
I've got everything but I've got nothing without you

I've got the law in my heart
I've got your love tearing me apart
I've got a vow that I can't keep
But I've got your promise getting me to sleep
I've got everything but I've got nothing without you

I've got your works and I've got my faith
I've got all the wine that you can make
I am the kiss of your betrayer
But I've got your grace on every layer
I've got everything but I've got nothing without you

'Cause you see it's all just a show
And you either hate it or you don't
And only time will tell the difference
If you get it clearly or with interference

Because I've got the race; Got the election
But win or lose I've got protection
I found a lobbyist in the devil
And I've got salvation in a rebel
I've got everything but I've got nothing without you.

Let me know what you think of this song.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

 

A word to Atheists . . .

I've been reading C. S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy recently, and several quotes have gotten my attention in this account of his conversion from atheism to Christ. So, with some comments, here are the quotes.

"In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere--'Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,' as Herbert says, 'fine nets and strategems.' God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous." (p. 191)

I love the image painted here. Lewis is trying his best to maintain a reasonable atheism as his philosophy of life, but even in the realm of literature he seems to butt up against the idea of God constantly. He cannot escape the divine person he calls "the Adversary." In fact, I think this image is appropriate. God, the creator of the universe, is constantly trying to "trap" us in the net of his grace. He wants a relationship with us so much that he is willing to be (in Lewis' words) unscrupulous in his pursuit of us. Atheists be warned, God has laid a trap for you. He is on the hunt, and reason will not keep you safe from him. In fact, as Lewis describes it, reason itself is one of the traps God uses to catch us.

"Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side. . . . For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. . . . Idealism can be talked, and even felt; it cannot be lived. It became patently absurd to go on thinking of 'Spirit' as either ignorant of, or passive to, my approaches. Even if my own philosophy were true, how could the initiative lie on my side? My own analogy, as I now first perceived, suggested the opposite: if Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet, it must be Shakespeare's doing. Hamlet could initiate nothing. . . . The real terror was that if you seriously believed in even such a 'God' or 'Spirit' as I admitted, a wholly new situation developed. . . . I was to be allowed to play at philosophy no longer. It might, as I say, still be true that my 'Spirit' differed in some way from 'the God of popular religion.' My Adversary waived the point. It sank into utter unimportance. He would not argue about it. He only said, 'I amd the Lord'; 'I am that I am'; 'I am.' . . . . People who are naturally religious find difficulty in understanding the horror of such a revelation. Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about 'man's search for God.' To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse's search for the cat." (pp. 226-227)

Lewis had come to the philosophical conclusion that a "Spirit" existed beyond mere natural existence, and now that very "Spirit" was interfering with Lewis' life and thought. The very idea unnerved him. He did not want such an interference, he wanted his soul to remain his own personal possession. Now, however, he was coming to the reasonable conclusion that such a wish is practically impossible. He could not live without interference from the divine. Lewis continues:

"Doubtless, by definition, God was Reason itself. But would he also be 'reasonable' in that other, more comfortable, sense? Not the slightest assurance on that score was offered me. Total surrender, the absolute leap in the dark was demanded. . . . The demand was not even 'All or nothing.' I think that stage had been passed, . . . Now the demand was simply 'All.'" (p. 228)

Given his own thoughts and attempts to live his rational philosophy, Lewis ended in one of God's traps. He could not find a way around the practical conclusion that if a divine "Spirit" existed, he/she/it had the right to demand something of humans. At least, that is how it reads to me. This realization of God's all encompassing claim on humanity caused a crisis for Lewis. What to do? He even uses the words "That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me." His response?

"I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. . . . who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape? The words . . . compel them to come in, . . .properly understood, . . . plumb the depth of Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation." (pp. 228-229)

I love the way Lewis expresses himself here, and I am inclined to agree with him. Lewis the atheist has come face-to-face with the realization that Someone may be there, Someone who has a prior claim on humanity. It subsequently frightens him and concerns him, but he sees no recourse but surrender. Is he right?

What do you think?

I encourage you to get this frank book and read a description of a conversion that is quite unlike that of St. Augustine.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

 

Are you there yet?

Phil 3:12-15
12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. NASU

2 Cor 3:18
18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. NASU

Today I feel drawn to these words of Paul. I like both the humility and the possibility inherent in these words—the wonderful “not yet” and the strangely exciting “one day.” I find it interesting the Paul did not consider himself a person who had figured out all of God’s plans. Paul did not think of himself as someone who had “made it,” as someone who had “already obtained it” or “become perfect.” Yet, this same fellow could remind us of the wonderful opportunity to look at the glory of the Lord directly through the mediation of Jesus Christ. Paul also often told us to imitate him, even though he had not yet apprehended or comprehended the full counsel of God on every issue.

How unlike us today! We want others to think we have a corner on God’s market. We want others to respect us for our degrees, or our learning, or our Bible knowledge. We can quote Scripture, we understand eschatological charts, we can look up Greek and Hebrew words, we have done exegesis! We are worthy of emulation, we are excellent exemplars of the kind of person God respects, right?

But . . .

I think God is more interested in whether or not we do his Word, not just in how much we can quote. God is more concerned with our obedience than with our knowledge. Application and practice seem to be priority items in heaven.

That shouldn’t be taken as a knock against knowledge. Not at all! But knowledge that isn’t acted on is useless. If I know how to fix my own car, but then I insist on paying someone else to do it, then I am in some ways being foolish. Knowledge is important, but practice makes knowledge better.

Finally, I don’t want to sound too negative about learning or degrees (I have a few myself). My point is this—God wants the company of humble men and women. Folks who know stuff, but recognize their status compared to the Lord of the universe. As Isaiah says, God likes to be around the humble and contrite, folks that have an honest assessment of their worth, i.e., one that is based on God’s value system rather than a human one.

God values each of us, that is why he gave Jesus in our place. We have not really done much to get ourselves to the point of success in which we find our lives today. In reality, God is the one who has driven things to this point. He alone rules all the details.

Yet, he values our cooperation with him. He wants us to work with him, to be his partners in the enterprise of loving other people and showing his grace for all.

Are we willing to humble ourselves and join him? Can we be partners with God, all the while letting him be the one in charge? I hope so. Nothing else seems worthwhile to me anymore.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

 

Be careful little hands what you do . . .

Luke 20:17-18
17 But Jesus looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written:

'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED,
THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone'?

18 " Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust." NASU

Ex 14:13-14

13 But Moses told the people, "Don't be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch the LORD rescue you. The Egyptians that you see today will never be seen again. 14 The LORD himself will fight for you. You won't have to lift a finger in your defense!" NLT

How comfortable I become in my laziness and in my lax approach to life! I am given so many advantages compared to others, and yet instead of pursuing excellence, I seem to pursue mediocrity. Bill Lane once told me that he was a child of God first and a scholar second. His scholarship was his gift to God for the grace God had given him. I wonder if we take seriously the tasks that God has set before us. Think about it! In James 4:17, we are told that if we know the right thing to do, but then refuse to do it, we are willfully committing sin. Then, Colossians 3:24-25 tells us that the person who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong done, and that without partiality. I’m not talking about a form of Christian legalism here, I have in mind the idea that we need to remind ourselves on a regular basis that our acts, our deeds, are as important as our lives. What we do or don’t do can weigh heavily against us or for us.

Take some time to contemplate that. God cares what you do.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus distinguishes between the two groups by what they did or didn’t do. The book of Revelation reminds us that all humans will be judged for their deeds. How many times do we have to be told to watch what we are doing before we actually start “watching” what we are doing? Even our choice to do nothing is an action that has consequences.

God, forgive your people for substituting inactivity for real activity. Forgive us for substituting mediocrity for excellence. Remind us of the great grace and kindness you have shown us. Remind us so that we will feel that holy obligation to be and to do that which will bring you glory.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

 

Some random notes, stuff I've been doing lately . . .

I want to post here, but sometimes I'm not real sure what to say. I recently submitted some reviews of three books in the Journal of the Study of the New Testament Supplement series. Each book was, in its own right, an interesting read. The one that really grabbed my attention was entitled Scalometry and the Pauline Epistles. The author is George K. Barr, and he proposes using a measure of scale to understand and to interpret texts. Barr contends that the Pauline materials (as well as other texts) evidence a surprising range of scale that could be important for determining not only the importance of certain elements in a text, but also for the possibility of determining authorship of various disputed works. For Barr, scale exists in written texts as surely as in art, music, and architecture. The presence of scale in a text informs the reader with regards to the importance of certain materials, lending a sense of immensity to major themes and an aura of the mundane to less important materials.

Now, this idea intrigued me because I had no idea how to measure scale in a text. Fortunately for me, Barr spends a great deal of time not only defining the concept of textual scale, but also he describes a method whereby the scale of a text can be graphed and studied. Now, if you are graphically challenged like me, this material may not be the most exciting reading you have ever done. Nonetheless, Barr delineates an approach that has a feel of objectivity to it and yields some fascininating conclusions. Simply stated, Barr discovers 6 basic levels or models of scale in Pauline materials. Applying these models to books that are not universally accepted as Pauline, Barr discovers that they show the same range of scale as the undisputed Pauline materials. That is, they chart the same graph of scale as other works considered definitely by the hand of Paul.

Now, you may have turned off your computer at that point, but I think it is interesting in this way--working as I do in conservative Christian circles, the view has long been that Paul wrote all those epistles directly attributed to him. In other scholarly circles, however, the opinion has long been that Paul only wrote a handful of the 12 or so epistles bearing his name. If Barr's method checks out, then there will be a sort of graphical or scientific evidence that the conservative is correct. In fact, Barr believes so strongly in his conclusions that he calls for a radical change in sholarly consensus about the Pauline epistles. His call is similar to Luther's nailing the 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg.

At any rate, I found it interesting that after all this time, an academic work could have a different or fresh approach and hold my attention. It might not be fascinating to you, but I certainly enjoyed the challenge of learning the language and use of scale in texts. Ah well, I've rambled enough. If you want more, feel free to ask.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

 

What I'm listening to this morning . . .

I'm feeling nostalgic, so I have on two classics from the rock group Kansas:

1. Leftoverture

2. The Point of Know Return

Remember, we are all "dust in the wind," so we should "carry on" in what we have to do today! (smile)

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

 

What I'm listening to today . . .

1. Altar Boys, "Against the Grain"

2. Tonio K, "Romeo Loves Jane"

Thanks for reading!

 

Some thoughts from Spurgeon

An excerpt from a devotional by C. H. Spurgeon:

"I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth." --Ecclesiastes 10:7

"Upstarts frequently usurp the highest places, while the truly great pine in obscurity. This is a riddle in providence whose solution will one day gladden the hearts of the upright; but it is so common a fact, that none of us should murmur if it should fall to our own lot. When our Lord was upon earth, although He is the Prince of the kings of the earth, yet He walked the footpath of weariness and service as the Servant of servants: what wonder is it if His followers, who are princes of the blood, should also be looked down upon as inferior and contemptible persons? The world is upside down, and therefore, the first are last and the last first. See how the servile sons of Satan lord it in the earth! What a high horse they ride! How they lift up their horn on high! Haman is in the court, while Mordecai sits in the gate; David wanders on the mountains, while Saul reigns in state; Elijah is complaining in the cave while Jezebel is boasting in the palace; yet who would wish to take the places of the proud rebels? and who, on the other hand, might not envy the despised saints? When the wheel turns, those who are lowest rise, and the highest sink. Patience, then, believer, eternity will right the wrongs of time.

"Let us not fall into the error of letting our passions and carnal appetites ride in triumph, while our nobler powers walk in the dust. Grace must reign as a prince, and make the members of the body instruments of righteousness. The Holy Spirit loves order, and He therefore sets our powers and faculties in due rank and place, giving the highest room to those spiritual faculties which link us with the great King; let us not disturb the divine arrangement, but ask for grace that we may keep under our body and bring it into subjection. We were not new created to allow our passions to rule over us, but that we, as kings, may reign in Christ Jesus over the triple kingdom of spirit, soul, and body, to the glory of God the Father."

What do you think?

Thanks for reading!

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