Monday, December 31, 2012

Where's the power?

...the vital missing element in his [Wesley, pre-Aldersgate] theological understanding of salvation during this period was understanding faith as trust. The missing dimension in his own life was a personal, inward experience of God and this could not occur until he saw the dimension of trust and relationship as an integral part of a full-orbed definition of faith. The limiting of faith to assent in effect left him with no other option but to exercise rigorous self-discipline in cultivating his relationship with God, seeking to put into practice what his intellectual discoveries were showing him.—Wesley as a Pastoral Theologian, pages 59-60

<idle musing>
And without that trust, there was no transformation and no power. He was where so many are today: intellectual assent to the gospel, but no embracing of what it means for life on a daily basis.
</idle musing>

Some thoughts on murder

Not by me, but by "T" at Jesus Creed:
Let me be clear and say that I’m glad not very many will escalate the devaluing and meanness that is so common into physical murder. Most of us will just give tit for tat. We’ll just Insult for insult. Most of us will merely reap divorces, estrangement from family and friends, and a background noise of woundedness and shame. But in so doing we will continue to maintain a garden in which violence and murder will continue to bloom.

As Christ’s church we are called to believe this seeming stretch of a connection between insult (which we routinely accept and sometimes proudly practice) and murder (which we roundly condemn and mourn). Further, we are called to model and live a different Way. We are called to bless even those who curse us. We are called to cultivate a fruit different from murder. Rather, we are to cultivate reconciliation, forgiveness, patience, gentleness and love. As we look at this most recent tragedy and rightly ask what we can do to move in the opposite direction, we need to hear and heed the warning of Jesus: murder begins with anger getting control of the tongue.

<idle musing>
Amen! I would take it a step further back, though, and say it is the heart that causes the tongue to lash out. As I tell people often, Saul didn't set out to murder the priests at Nob (in I Samuel). He started out a God-fearing ruler, but gradually moved to the point where he could—without flinching—order the massacre of the priests.

That's the way with words. We start out "innocently" enough, but it doesn't stop, it escalates like a water fight. Eventually we're shooting not just words, but bullets. It all starts with the heart. And only Jesus can clean the heart.
</idle musing>

Thought on the brink of a new year

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight. (Luke 16:10-15 TNIV)

<idle musing>
Seems capitalism fits the bill nicely...
</idle musing>

Friday, December 28, 2012

What exactly is perfection, anyway?

Since love and relationship were now at the heart of his understanding of salvation, he was beginning to distinguish between perfect intention and perfect performance. The latter was the concern of those who upheld the centrality of perfect obedience to God’s law; the former was related to the essential nature of a relationship based on love. In a relationship of love, there can be pure intention (a matter of the heart) but flawed performance (due to a corruptible mind and body). Because of intention, the essential nature of sin was seen as a deliberate and willful choice to harm the relationship; thus its ‘voluntariness’ was a crucial part of his definition of terms.—Wesley as a Pastoral Theologian, page 57

<idle musing>
"Because of intention, the essential nature of sin was seen as a deliberate and willful choice to harm the relationship." That's the core, right there. Sin is not so much activity, but the intention behind it. The intention is what causes the action.

I've heard some people define sin in such a way that humanity was sinful even before the fall! I wonder about their understanding of the incarnation in those cases. If existing as a physical being is sinful, then the incarnation didn't really happen—they call the docetism (Jesus just appears to be human, from Greek δοκέω/dokew, to seem) and the church denounced it as a heresy many a long year ago...
</idle musing>

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The leader must lead

Since personal piety and practical theology were intimately linked, he [Wesley] was convinced that the effectiveness of his ministry fundamentally depended on his own spiritual progress. Ministry to others could only flow from his personal experience and not from mere book learning.—Wesley as a Pastoral Theologian, page 49

<idle musing>
Hmmm...sounds like a logical conclusion—but one that I am probably guilty of neglecting. I read a lot, but how much of what I read do I allow to affect how I behave? Head knowledge without heart knowledge simply puffs up.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What's the role of experience?

Wesley’s focus on experience as an individual subjective consciousness is confined to the role of empowering Christian living (assurance) and sometimes to confirm doctrine – but never to derive it.—Wesley as a Pastoral Theologian, page 20


For Wesley, doctrines were not ends in themselves but guidelines to help his people know how to tell the gospel story and live it with integrity. The goal of the life of faith was holiness, with his understanding of Christian perfection as the “most distinctive single element".—Wesley as a Pastoral Theologian, pages 31-32

<idle musing>
Empowering Christian living and holiness. What a radical thought! I keep asking what happened to heart holiness. I usually get blank, uncomprehending stares : (
</idle musing>

Friday, December 21, 2012

Not subjective

Lest you think, after yesterday's post, that Wesley reduced theology to subjectivity, here's a follow-up statement:
For Wesley, faith was always in God himself and not in our experience of God. This allowed our subjective experience of God to become objective knowledge of God and of our salvation.&mdashWesley as a Pastoral Theologian, page 18
<idle musing>
I wish more people would realize that faith is more than feelings. If we do indeed "wlak by faith, not by sight," then what the mystics called "the dark night of the soul" is a necessary experience for real faith to develop. Our faith needs to be in God, as God, not in our experience of God. To reduce God to our experience of him is to attempt to make him finite, to control him. That, my friends, is idolatry!
</idle musing>

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Real Theology

...Wesley is best understood as a pastoral theologian, whose concern is with the spiritual formation of his people. His vision of the nature God, human beings and their interrelationship is remarkably consistent over his whole ministry and is centred in love, trust and relationships, rather than the intellectual comprehension of propositional truth about God, humans and the process of salvation. This makes the heart and transforming relationship central to his theologising, rather than logical systems and precise doctrinal statements. The four critical elements (Scripture, reason, tradition and Christian experience) of his theological methodology have been correctly identified by many scholars but not enough attention has been given to the role of the Holy Spirit in the whole process. Wesley believes that it is God himself who is the only source and authority for theologising and he communicates with us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who utilises the means given above. The element of mystery is important here, as love and relationships are not reducible to mechanical systems that are purely intellectually comprehended. This demonstrates why the quadrilateral as a model is inadequate due to its static, mechanical and hierarchical nature. There is a need to offer a dynamic model that takes full account of the ever-present ministry of the Holy Spirit within the Church and that is the aim of this exploration.—Wesley as a Pastoral Theologian, page 4

<idle musing>
A breath of fresh air! "Wesley believes that it is God himself who is the only source and authority for theologising and he communicates with us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit..." That's a statement I can support unconditionally!
</idle musing>

Understatement of the week

From Behind the Books:

It turns out that making books into ebooks isn't as easy as you might think.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Consult a qualified proofreader

I put a new light fixture in a while back. I couldn't help but notice the box:
Not sure if you can read it, but it says that the bulbs are "soldseperately." Yikes! They recommend consulting a qualified electrician; I recommend consulting a qualified proofreader!

Down comes the house of cards...

First, the conclusion of LDBT [Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts] that a linguistic history of Hebrew from the Iron Age through the Persian period cannot be recovered and therefore cannot be available for dating texts is erroneous. It is based primarily on an idiosyncratic axiom concerning the identification of late linguistic features in languages and on corollary assertions bearing on biblical manuscripts from Qumran, copyist practices vis-à-vis the language of texts from the Iron Age through the Hellenistic period, and on the vague notion of “linguistic fluidity” as a historical phenomenon. More-accurate descriptions of what is to be explained based on the agglomeration and classification of relevant data lead to significantly more-nuanced and accurate explanations of the data (see the essays of Bar-Asher Siegal, Fassberg, and Joosten in this volume.)—Zevitt in Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew, page 483

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The ultimate tribute to fast food america

A co-worker forwarded this to me...

<idle musing>
Coming soon to a megachurch near you: Drive-thru communion so you don't have to face that person whom you refuse to forgive!
Sigh...I grieve for the church; I grieve for our society...
</idle musing>

Diachrony in Hebrew

The diachronic markers established with much acumen and sophistication by Hebraists play little or no part in the equally subtle game of dating biblical texts as practiced by exegetes. Attacks on the documentary hypothesis in the late 1970s have inaugurated a period in which it has become commonplace to date substantial parts of the Pentateuch to the Persian period or later. To the mainstream Hebrew linguist, these proposals are difficult, or even absurd. The language of, say, Genesis 15 is different from that of Ezra–Nehemiah in a way that makes it almost impossible to imagine that the two texts come from the same general period. Joosten in Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew, page 291

<idle musing>
Amen! I'm a philologist first and foremost. I never understood the late dating; if we date the Greek classics by the logic of some of these biblical scholars, the Odyssey would have been composed sometime in the Hellenistic period or later...crazy!
<idle musing>

Friday, December 14, 2012

How knowing Hebrew can be a help...

In 2 Kgs 6:11, ֶשׁ is placed in the mouth of an Aramean king, even though ֶשׁ is not used in Aramaic. In Jonah, ֶשׁ is placed once in the mouth of the sailors (when they speak among themselves), once in Jonah’s mouth (when he addresses the sailors), and once in God’s mouth. The use of ֶשׁ in God’s mouth alongside an immediately preceding רשׁא suggests that ֶשׁ is used for rhetorical effect: to support one of the author’s theological points, that YHWH is the God of non-Israelites as well as Israelites. Holmstedt Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew, page 118, footnote 28

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Language learning

..learning a language is seen as language development [in complex systems theory] rather than as acquisition. In other words, language is a process of dynamic adaptation (Larsen-Freeman and Cameron 2008: 157) rather than something that, once learned, is “possessed” for all time. From a complexity point of view, language can never be in an entirely stable state, so it cannot be “acquired” once and for all."—J. Naude in  Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew, page 64

<idle musing>
Indeed. I hadn't thought of it that way before, but it's true even of English. Every day I'm learning a new nuance to a word or an entirely new word. If that is true of English, how much truer it is of a second/acquired language!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Here's a collection of posts to wind down the clearing of my draft folder:

From Jesus Creed, the day after Thanksgiving:
Only 3.5 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 59 do the minimum amount of physical activity recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services: 150 minutes a week of moderate activity. Among those over age 60, the percentage is even lower: 2.5 percent. 

<idle musing>
The previous figures had been based on self-reporting. Guess what—they were wildly inaccurate. What a surprise—NOT! Nobody wants to admit they sit around all day and play video games or surf the Internet or watch TV...sure, you're tired when you get home from a long day at work. That's the best possible time to get out and move! When you move, you feel more energetic afterwards.

Of course, diet plays a part, too. The standard American diet (called SAD in many nutrition books!) leaves you lethargic and not desiring to move. Studies on lab rats have shown that a whole-foods, plant-based diet causes them to voluntarily exercise around 20% more frequently than rats on a standard diet. On the other hand, a diet high in sugars, whether high fructose corn syrup, white sugar, unrefined sugar, or honey, causes less activity and more lethargy.
</idle musing>

About two months ago, Alan Knox did a good three-part series on mutual edification. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

And, for those of you who are starting you study of the Septuagint, here's a good little primer on using the Göttingen LXX.

Finally, I saw this yesterday on Ben Myers' blog:

A says, “My sins cry out against me!” God replies, “What sins?”
God says, “Your sins cry out against me!” B replies, “What sins?”
That’s the difference between costly grace and cheap grace.
<idle musing>
What more can be said...that says it all.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

But it's my right, isn't it?

In a word: No! it isn't your right! From Jesus Creed:
"The bottom line is this: too many Christians want to win; they are not focused enough on peace, justice, love, wisdom, and reconciliation. They want the right way to win. The culture war approach is about winning. It’s a losing strategy."

<idle musing>
Ironic, isn't it? To focus on winning will almost always mean losing in the real war for the hearts of people. Focus instead on winning them to Jesus via love and people want to know how you can forgive and love the unloveable...
</idle musing>

Too true!

How about all that sensationalism in reporting and writing? I'm delighted that someone is taking a stand against it:
When I started my first professional job at a local alternative newsweekly, lo, so many years ago when we still pasted up the paper, the first lesson my editor taught me was that our responsibility was to the reader. While the ad department was around to keep the lights on, without the reader, the whole shebang wouldn’t exist. I hang onto this belief and all that it implies—respect the readers’ intelligence, give them an engaging reading experience, recognize them as a community—with a fervor that borders on the religious.
And, here's the formula that is the all too common alternative:
1. Make a blatantly ridiculous statement.
2. Watch your buzz grow as your intended audience works itself into a lather about it, generating a lot of web traffic (fired especially by social media).
3. When asked to defend your blatantly ridiculous statement, point to the less ridiculous arguments in your writing, and/or take a superior attitude and act as if your detractor isn’t smart enough to understand hyperbole.
<idle musing>
I'm glad I work for a publisher that takes the time to check footnotes and facts! It is indeed a sacred responsibility to publish things that are correct and that matter...
</idle musing>

Friday, December 07, 2012

No easy answers

There are no simple answers, although we would love there to be...even the "cycle" of Judges isn't really there—as Lawson Stone points out:
But has familiarity bred blindness? This “voice” in Judges has been buried under convention and easy cliché, most notably, that the book presents an unaltering, cyclical pattern, and secondly, that the book is consistently derivative from, and imitative of, Deuteronomy (i.e. deuteronomistic). Both are actually imprecise to the point of being mistaken. Contrary to most interpretations, Judges does not present the reader with an unaltering “cycle” or pattern. First of all, elements appear in the stories that do not appear in the introduction, and vice versa. Thus, the introduction tells us that Yahweh “raised up” deliverers, but only Othniel and Ehud are explicitly said to be “raised up” by Yahweh. Other means of manifestation appear for subsequent judges, raising the intriguing question of how directly they express the saving action of God. Likewise, the semantics of the verb za‘aq  (to cry out) orient more toward an intense, emotion-laden cry of anguish or even accusation, but with no inherent connotations of repentance. The pattern in Judges (if there is one) is not “sin-punishment/ repentance-deliverance” but simply punishment followed by mercy. Yahweh, it seems, delivers his people out of his compassion and grace, to show his power and to claim Israel’s allegiance. Only in 10:6-16 does the outcry find expression in confession and remorse, and that passage is fraught with conflict and ambivalence. The omission of the outcry from the programmatic introduction of 2:6–3:6 and from the Samson story reinforces the fact that Yahweh’s action derives not from Israel’s meeting some condition (repentance), but from Yahweh’s simple compassion for them. Additionally, the Spirit of Yahweh—and, less frequently, the angel of Yahweh—plays a role in the stories that has no place in the introduction or the frameworks, and ironically, the Spirit plays no role in the Ehud story or the Deborah story, the two judges with the most unreserved praise from the author. By contrast, the Spirit’s involvement with Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson raises more questions than it answers. So we do not have a pattern that is mechanically repeated but rather a collection of features and formulas that are deployed variously to direct our attention to other factors in the stories.
<idle musing>
You know what? I'm glad mercy triumphs! While the pattern made for a good teaching tool and easy remembrance, I think the fact that God showed mercy repeatedly is more important.
We need to remember that the Bible is designed to point people to their need for total dependence on God. It isn't a book of patterns to imitate or people to emulate—except in so far as we emulate their total reliance on God!
</idle musing>

Thursday, December 06, 2012


The backlog clearing continues...

From Grace Works

There is a vast chasm of difference between receiving God’s grace and trying to activate it. One involves human effort and striving. The other involves surrender, transparency and accepting oneself in their own brokenness. One leads to shame instead of wholeness, self-denial instead of true maturity, and ultimately fruitlessness instead of abundant life.

How does one tell the difference between striving and surrendering? Someone who is striving is trying to live up to a standard and needs God’s help to do it. Someone who has surrendered knows they will never live up to the standard and is actually strengthened by knowing they are loved anyway. The true essence of holiness is love. One doesn’t love until they know love. Knowing how much God loves you also changes how you view others. Everyone becomes worthy, everyone. The love of God lives inside you and now the “righteous requirement of the law” is fulfilled because you don’t need rules to guide your conduct, your love guides you.

Amen! I couldn't have expressed it better—scripture says that love is the fulfilling of the law. First John says that perfect love casts out all fear. Love is indeed the true essence of holiness. Which leads to the next item...

...from Alan Knox's blog, way back in May!:

Scripture cannot produce love. We do not love because we read Scripture, memorize Scripture, or meditate on Scripture. We only love because of the power of God working through us as we yield ourselves to his will.

However, Scripture can help us recognize whether or not we are loving – that is, whether or not we are yielding ourselves to the will of God and allowing the power of God to be demonstrated through love. If we approach Scripture as a mirror, God can use those writing to show us how we are currently living compared to how we live when we are submitting to him.

And the opposite:
If something is missing in people’s spiritual growth, instead of changing current activities, the church organizations simply add another program. Eventually, every night of the week is filled with different programs, meetings, committees, etc.
As always, please read the complete post to get the whole context...

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Backlog continued

I'm not doing too good a job of cleaning up the backlog, am I? Let's see if I can improve on it this week. One of the advantages of letting things sit in the draft folder is that items will form a theme, even though posted several months apart. Here's a few posts that I think form a common theme:
If worship is truly a gift, we ought to relax somewhat and allow space for the Holy Spirit to show up and do the unexpected and we should strictly avoid saying or doing anything that would put the spotlight of attention and applause on a human being (other than Jesus, of course). If worship is truly our task as well, we ought prayerfully to plan the worship service and see that everything is done decently and in order and avoid chaos and distractions.—from Roger Olson
Be sure to read the whole thing; you're sure to be challenged by it.

And, from Alan Knox:

I wonder what would happen if Christians stopped seeing a certain time at a certain place as “worship” and understood that every step they took (in their “walk”) is or is not worship. It can be worship… it may not be worship.

I wonder what would happen if Christians began to realize that God is probably more concerned with how they live at other times than what they do when they enter a “church building” (or a home church, for that matter).

It’s about our walk… not about a special time of “worship.”

And, to get the mind thinking a bit, there's this piece from Out of Ur:
Through the influence of our consumer culture we’ve come to believe that transformation is attained through external experiences. We’ve come to regard our church buildings, with their multimedia theatrical equipment, as mountaintops where God’s glory may be encountered. Many of us ascend this mountain every Sunday morning wanting to have an experience with God, and many of us leave with a degree of genuine transformation. We feel “pumped up,” “fed,” or “on fire for the Lord.”

The problem with these mountaintop experiences, whether legitimate (like Moses’) or fabricated, is that the transformation does not last. In a few days time, or maybe as early as lunchtime, the glory begins to fade. The mountaintop experience with God, the event we were certain would change our lives forever, turns out to be another fleeting spiritual high. And to hide the lack of genuine transformation, we mask the inglorious truth of our lives behind a veil, a façade of Christian merchandise or busyness, until we can ascend the mountain again and be recharged.

Why then are we so tempted to abandon the new covenant, inside-out model of transformation for the inferior old covenant, outside-in strategy? The reason is simple--an internal communion with God through the Spirit cannot be packaged, commoditized, and marketed to religious consumers. It is far easier for us to create mountains than shepherd people toward the inner life of divine communion.

Can you say, "Ouch!"? All three posts can be summed up in that last statement: "an internal communion with God through the Spirit cannot be packaged, commoditized, and marketed to religious consumers. It is far easier for us to create mountains than shepherd people toward the inner life of divine communion."

Monday, December 03, 2012

How does your garden grow?

If you had asked me that earlier last week, I would have said it doesn't! I had been on the road for 3 weeks and forgotten to put the row cover over the plants in the hoop houses. During that time, the temperature dipped into the single digits Fahrenheit. And, the wind and snow had caused some breakage in the hoop houses. Not a good situation!

Before Saturday, I had only managed to get into the hoop houses once, and that was at night when the temperature was in the the teens. Needless to say, it was a disheartening experience. All the plants looked dead. Very dead.

I figured Saturday would be a clean-up and pulling of dead plants. Oh well, another experiment that failed. No biggie. It certainly wouldn't be the first time! And it certainly wouldn't be the last.

Imagine my surprise, then, on opening the door to the second hoop house and seeing green plants! Wow! Of course, I should have known better. Eliot Coleman warns about it; he says that on occasion he has entered a cold greenhouse before the sun has a chance to warm it and despaired. Everything looks dead. What insanity to try to grow things in such a climate. But, come back in a few hours and a marvelous change has taken place. Everything perks up and looks alive. That's exactly what happened to me.

Sure, the carrots took a major hit and won't grow anymore. But, they are still very edible. Everything else looks good. Some of it isn't far enough along to harvest; it will sit dormant now until early March.

We did decide to take down one of the hoop houses; I hadn't replanted much in it and the kids wanted to slide down the hill. So, I disassembled it, using the clips to reinforce the other house.

So, how does the garden grow? Surprisingly well!

Update: I went over there yesterday afternoon after posting this. Amazingly, the carrots are recovering as well! The ground they are in is barely above freezing, but the greens are all perked up and lively. God certainly made vegetation amazingly resilient!

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Bah! Humbug!

From Wipf and Stock's blog

What it takes...

καὶ εἶπεν· Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐὰν μὴ στραφῆτε καὶ γένησθε ὡς τὰ παιδία, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν.

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3 NIV)

<idle musing>
Not sure I like "change" as the translation of στραφῆτε usually has more of a connotation of turning—sort of like שוב (shub) does in Hebrew, which is probably the word that Jesus used... So, how about this for an "Englished" version: "unless you turn away (from your current practices) and become..."

 By the way, I know that it is passive, but according to A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 1 b, it can be (and frequently is) passive with active force. An interesting note under 5: "The Eng. term 'conversion' could suggest a change from one religious persuasion to another, which is not the case in these pass[ages]" citing both Matt. 18:3 and John 12:40!
</idle musing>

Encouraging words

No one is like you, LORD ; you are great, and your name is mighty in power. Who should not fear you, King of the nations? This is your due. Among all the wise leaders of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you. (Jeremiah 10:6, 7 NIV)