“In practice, being a Christian means accepting both a job and the tools with which to do it, and a Christian can be plainly, fully, and accurately defined as ‘one who has been Baptized.’ The baptized soul can ‘lose his faith,’ refuse the sacraments, give up prayer, and constantly commit the most scandalous sins; which would make him a very bad and inefficient Christian, but a Christian nevertheless. Baptism remains the irrevocable act of God which has ‘happened to him’ as surely as he has been born of particular parents in a particular place: extreme excitability, a loathing for cricket, and a passion for garlic may be a little odd in a Yorkshireman, but they do not turn him into an Italian..."

"Then there is the man who prefers the radio service to his parish church, which may indeed be more edifying; but Our Lord seems to have omitted to tell us on which wave-length sacramental Grace is purveyed.” 

Martin Thornton, Christian Proficiency, sited by Jason Peters in "Curiosity Killed the Keg: A Tribute," at www.frontporchrepublic.com

 
 
"...If one was to restrict grace, the word grace, to redemptive grace it is obvious there is no grace in the creation situation. I mean, that’s given as read. But grace wasn’t restricted in that way in the 17th century. If it means favor, God’s stooping to us to bless and favor us, then throughout reformed theology it has been accepted that God’s covenant with Adam before the fall was gracious. Bavinck, Volume 3 of his Reformed Dogmatics, "Sin and Salvation in Christ," for example, treats that. John Bowl who died... a year before the Assembly was convened, in his treatise on the covenant of grace, argues that it was impossible for man to merit anything from God. If he obeyed him it would be out of duty. The fact that God gave him a promise, the fact that He would have continued his existence, or indeed blessed him upon a successful completion of his of his work would have been extra favor in grace. Now the Assembly states very clearly that law and gospel are not opposed but, in Chapter 19, Section 7 of the Confession, they "sweetly comply together". They sweetly comply together. And it’s not hard do see why this would have been the case... If the covenant of works, or of life, was exclusively legal then the covenant of grace becomes exclusively gracious. And what was the number one enemy of the Westminster Assembly at the time?  It wasn’t Rome. Those battles had been fought. Yes, Charles I had married Henrietta Maria. Yes, there’d been an attempt to invade in the previous century. But it was antinomianism and a law-grace polarity of that nature, of the nature which consigns everything in the covenant of works, [or of] life, to law and justice; and by doing so transplants grace in a virtually exclusive sense to the covenant of grace.  [It] runs the danger of heading in an antinomian direction. Such a rigid tension is nowhere evident in the Assembly debates, nor in the mainstream of Reformed theology since. It is, however, characteristic of Lutheranism.  And that’s not a theological swear word.  Luther was a great man, a preeminent reformer, and Lutheranism is a respectable and honorable Protestant tradition. But Lutheranism is not Reformed. A Reformed theology was not Lutheranism.  And that kind of tension, of polarity throughout between law and gospel, was was peculiar to Lutheranism..."

Dr. Robert Letham, Westminster Assembly Expert, Defense Testimony, Transcript of Pacific Northwest Presbytery Trial of June 3-4, 2011, Pg 362-363
 
 
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1.  We're moved in to the new place as of last Saturday. It's a great situation for us-- much more space, out in the country, 5 wooded acres, a garage, a nice deck, etc. We're thrilled to be here.

2.  The move was brutal. We have so much stuff. I'm now on a mission to seek and destroy (and by destroy I mean sell or give away) as much unneeded, unused stuff as possible.


3.  Our car broke down on the way to take the huge 26 foot U-Haul back Sunday morning-- not fun. But after one expensive tow to the mechanic, one failed fix by the mechanic, and one apparently successful fix by myself (using a warrantied part), it seems to be working now. Having one car is much more of a pain than I anticipated. Hopefully we can remedy that in the near future.


4.  Our cats are complete basket-cases. We took them over the evening before the move thinking that that way they could "adjust" a bit and not have to experience all the people and chaos of the move. That idea did not impress them. I got bit in the process of collecting them, and by the end of the night, with a throbbing and feverish hand, thought I was going to have to go to the hospital for a Pasteurellosis infection. Luckily I was able to take care of it with a cocktail of rubbing alcohol, peroxide, bactisan and antibiotic ointment


5.  A week later the cats are still holed up in the garage behind the well pump. I'm not sure what recovery is going to look like for them at this point, but I'm having a hard time feeling much sympathy.


6.  We left some of our hand-me-down/freecycle/broken furniture behind in the move but tonight my mother-in-law arrives with some replacements and a piano. Moving that in should be interesting. Tomorrow we pick up a couch. I feel like a hoarder.

7.  Noelle is still about the cutest kid ever. We drove all over tarnation Sunday trying to find a pumpkin patch. We were largely unsuccessful but managed to find a nice little roadside stand with really reasonable prices near our house.

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8.  Living in the country is so nice. It's quiet and peaceful outside at night. Noelle and I saw about five whitetails standing in our front yard watching us early Monday morning, and I must have seen deer in the neighborhood just about every day since.

I guess that's about it. I haven't had much time to read lately, which takes a toll on output. The one exception is that I've been going through the Leithart trial materials, and particularly the transcript. I may have some thoughts on that at some point. The long and short of it is that I'm not only more impressed with Dr. Leithart' thinking than ever, but I'm also more convinced than ever that it is absolutely within the pale, and in some aspects (although not all) the historic mainstream of Westminsterian Calvinism.

 
 
"Again, the question I’m asking is what do we tell our children?  That’s, that’s the way to summarize the question I’m trying to ask.  Can I tell my three year old child that they are right before God?  And can I tell them that their baptism tells them that?  That Jesus has claimed them, that they belong to him and he forgives their sins and he is, that the Father counts them as righteous because they belong to Jesus? I think I can and should tell them that.  And I think that hesitation to do that, I think is, is, is the problem.  Does that mean that I know that that child is going to continue in that personal favor? No.  You - - you can have children who are in that favor and fall away from that.  And the people who don’t fall away, the children who grow up and don’t fall away, who persevere in faith by the - - by the power of the Spirit are those who have the justification that is given to the elect."

Peter Leithart, Testimony before Commissioners, Transcript of Pacific Northwest Presbytery Trial of June 3-4, 2011, Pg 247
 

Update

10/20/2011

0 Comments

 
I'm hoping to be back here within the next few days posting more regularly, but the family and I just had a big move that has kept me pretty busy over the past few days.  We're settling in though and enjoying the extra space and being out in the country.
 
 
Notice that if this structure is accepted you have: A: and A/: the peaceful and happy situation of David (which is the result of adhering to C:, D:, and C:/ i.e. the one who submits to the Lord); B: and B/ are the situation of those who refuse to follow the way of righteousness; C:, D:, and C:/ are that which the hearer is exhorted to.  So you have an envelope that shows the blessing and joy associated with faithfulness; another envelope showing the actions and consequences of the unfaithful; and a center, tri-partite section showing the need to know, understand and act in accord with God's sacrifice, which, as St. Paul makes clear is Jesus..

A.  Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!  You have given me relief when I was in distress. 

Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!


                B.  O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?

                How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah


                                                C.  But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;

                                                the LORD hears when I call to him.


                                                D. Be angry, and do not sin;

                                                ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah


                                                C/.  Offer right sacrifices,

                                                and put your trust in the LORD.


                 B./  There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?

                Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”


A.// You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

 
 
It seems likely to me that when Paul says in Ephesians, "Be angry and do not sin," (Eph. 4.26) that he is not simply dropping a line from Psalm 4 into an otherwise unrelated passage.  Rather, that little phrase is meant to key the aware hearer in to Paul's dependence in this whole passage on the Psalm.  In fact it's possible that this whole passage is just a sort of gloss of Psalm 4.  Maybe not, but it's possible.  

The most obvious expansion we can make is the most immediate.  Paul follows the exhortation about anger and sinning with the phrase, "do not let the sun go down on your anger."  In the Psalm the phrase is followed by this: "ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent."  In both cases the point seems to be that anger has a place, but it is not to be accompanied by sin and it is not to be held onto overnight lest bitterness grow up in its soil.  

But further, Psalm 4 is an exhortation from King David to the men of the Kingdom to let go of maliciousness and caustic words and instead ponder their own shortcomings, respond in humble obedience by offering sacrifice--that is, killing the flesh so that they can ascend to God newly made, and then relying on and taking comfort in the joy of peace with God.  Similarly St. Paul in Ephesians is talking to those who through the perfect sacrifice have been made new, and thus he exhorts them to put away maliciousness and evil words, not only receiving the rest and comfort of God's peace, but functioning as an agent of that peace through the work of the Holy Spirit in them.  

Consider these overlapping conceptual elements in addition to the direct quote noted above:
  • vain words / lies (Psalm 4)
  • falsehood / corrupting talk  (Ephesians 4
  • But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself (Psalm 4)
  • the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4)
  • You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.
     In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4)
  • Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4) [Notice that for Paul we are to offer the peace to others, having been sealed with the Holy Spirit and forgiven once and for all by the perfect sacrifice.  Perhaps this is an aspect of fulfillment?]
More could be done with this but this will have to do for now.
 

Lex Rex

10/10/2011

4 Comments

 
It is often said by conservative and libertarian leaning types that we ought to be a nation of laws rather than a nation of men.  I've expressed something like this sentiment many times.  Recently however, someone pointed out to me that this doesn't seem to be a biblical notion.  In the Bible men and law both have a significant role in right governance, and it at least appears to be hard to say which, if either, enjoys ultimacy.  The law of God was given to Israel to guide her in the way she should go, but at the same time God gave Israel men like Moses and Joshua, and then the judges, and finely kings who were to rule over her in wisdom and righteousness.  Solomon's job wasn't lawyer-in-chief.  He was a king.  He ruled.  He made decisions and exercised authority.

So is it simply wrong-headed to plead for a return to Lex Rex, to the law as final arbiter and thus, in a sense, king?  I don't think so.  I think that the problem lies in a misunderstanding of what is meant by phrases like "a nation of laws rather than a nation of men."  What is being decried is not strong leadership, decisiveness or wisdom applied by those in power.  What is being decried is capriciousness.  The problem is not men using the authority rightly conferred on them, but men confiscating authority to themselves in opposition to the law, which gives them their authority in the first place (apart from divine conferral).

The law is king insofar as the law sets the framework within which men are to exercise their authority.  The law is a check on the whims of men, while at the same time being the foundation for the real authority they do have.  The law both gives the president authority and circumscribes that authority.  So kings, presidents, prime ministers and others in authority are certainly expected to render judgments, to take action, to lead in military endeavors, etc.  But they are not to do so without constraint.  The law is primary insofar as it stands as the fixed point.  A leader's job is the right application of the law to particular circumstances.  However, when a leader acts in opposition to the law, there remains no check on his exercise of power and he becomes a tyrant.  

This is why so many libertarians and paleo-conservatives decried the assassination of Anwar al Awlaki.  The question has nothing to do with whether Awlaki was a bad person, or even whether he deserved to be killed.  The point is about what it means for a president to determine that rather than being limited by due process and the fifth amendment, he is actually in a position to decide who receives due process and to whom the fifth amendment applies.  This goes beyond slippery slope argumentation.  The argument is one of legal precedent.  When a person in authority begins to behave as if they are the source of law and justice, and when they take upon themselves the authority to grant or withhold the very rights that have traditionally been seen as inviolate (i.e. life), and when they do so in a nation or state that has been at pains to safeguard those very rights, then what can we call it other than tyranny?  
 
 
A friend reminded me of this great little bit of wisdom from Lewis earlier today.

“Every church service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore.  And it enables us to do these things best– if you like, it ‘works’ best–when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it.  As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice.  Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling.  The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.  But every novelty prevents this.  It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshiping…  A still worse thing may happen.  Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant.  You know what I mean.  Try as one may to exclude it, the question ‘What on earth is he up to now?’ will intrude.  It lays one’s devotion to waste.  There is really some excuse for the man who said, "I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was 'Feed my sheep;' not 'Try experiments on my rats,' or even, 'Teach my performing dogs new tricks.’"  Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put.  But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel a home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship.”

–C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (San Diego: Harvest, 1964), 4-5.
 
 
"When we speak of following Christ, it is the crucified Messiah we are talking about.  His death was not simply the messy bit that enables our sins to be forgiven but that can then be forgotten.  The cross is the surest, truest, and deepest window on the very heart and character of the living and loving God... And when therefore we speak... of shaping our world, we do not--we dare not--simply treat the cross as the thing that saves us "personally," but which can be left behind when we get on with the job.  The task of shaping our world is best understood as the redemptive task of bringing the achievement of the cross to bear on the world, and in that task the methods, as well as the message, must be cross-shaped through and through."

James Smith, quoting N.T. Wright, Desiring the Kingdom, pg 164-165