Friday, January 29, 2010


“If we truly have in mind the best interests of those who follow us, then we will nurture them every day they are with us, no matter how short or long, then cheer them on in the next thing God has for them, whether that is in our group or cause, or someplace far away. Loyalty doesn’t mean a person will be just like us, do only what we say or be on our team forever. Loyalty means a person contributes with who they are and what talents they have to make us all better.”—Follow Me to Freedom: Leading As an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and John Perkins

<idle musing>
I like that definition.
</idle musing>

New sale

I would be amiss if I didn't let people know about the latest 10-day sale at Eisenbrauns:
For the next 10 days you can enjoy savings of 20% on the series Publications of the Finnish Exegetical Society.

Details here

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cultural blindness

Lawson Stone has been doing a 365-day series of self-portraits. Actually, though, the pictures are just excuses to muse. I found today's to be very good; he was reflecting on the Neo-Assyrian king's "lion hunts," which led him to reflect on cultural captivity. Here's a snippet:

I wonder…what blindness might be keeping us from seeing heartless evil being enacted right before our eyes? What actual gratuitous cruelties do we accept as the norm, even find entertaining? It would be easy to say we are all blinded by our culture, nobody sees this stuff until much later…but Samson knew. David knew. The biblical authors knew.

Biblical people should too.

<idle musing>
Lord, open our eyes to see!
</idle musing>

The call

“I don’t preach myself. I preach the call. The call comes from God and I’m just responding to a call. That keeps you humble. It ought to be our human desire to do something for God and be able to say that he used me. A cult leader preaches himself.”—Follow Me to Freedom: Leading As an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and John Perkins

<idle musing>
Yep. If a person is preaching him/herself, you know there's a problem.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A new denomination?

Bill Mounce has a weekly post on the Koinonia blog for Zondervan. This Monday, he talked about his wife's experience with the local Toastmasters meeting. He ends by saying: "I would like to attend a church that shared more in common with Toastmasters than it does with traditional church life."

<idle musing>
Read what he says about their meetings; you will probably agree. Would that all churches were as open and honest and caring...
</idle musing>

Looking for god

“We get so many of these people who are coming really just to look at you, to prepare to go look somewhere else. They’re looking for God, they’re really looking for God. And they’re looking for God at a place. We’ve got a young man who is looking for God and he hasn’t found the God he wants here. But really, in his own mind, he just wants adventure. He wants adventure. He won’t be totally honest with himself. And boy, we get them all the time. And sometimes we settle them down. Sometimes we’ve been able to settle some of the people down and the ones that we help to settle down a little bit are the ones that do pretty well when they eventually do leave.”—Follow Me to Freedom: Leading As an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and John Perkins

<idle musing>
Isn't that an accurate commentary? He hasn't found the god that he wants; he's just looking for adventure. Sounds all too familiar...and God stands right next to us, waiting and wooing us—the "hound of heaven" as Augustine called the Holy Spirit.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


“I like the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. But I’m seeing the American church becoming an AA center where people are never healed from their problems. They are always taking care of their own addiction or ailment, but don’t make time for other people. As a result, they haven’t been healed. They need their sins forgiven. They need to get rid of their addiction and come off of that mentality that they can never be healed! It’s a good place to start, but you cannot stay there. He came to make us whole. He came to mobilize us so that we could rescue the perishing and care for the dying.”—Follow Me to Freedom: Leading As an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and John Perkins

<idle musing>
Yes. We need to get rid of the hamster-on-the-wheel syndrome and allow God to heal us and set us free.
</idle musing>

Monday, January 25, 2010

Modern Slavery

“Why would anyone want slaves? Why would anyone want to work people for less than minimum wage? People who approach business that way want to increase their individual profit at someone else’s expense. That is not God’s way. That is anti-God. And so justice is fundamentally a stewardship issue. How do I use my gifts and skills to make sure that someone else has a better chance? That’s justice.”—Follow Me to Freedom: Leading As an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and John Perkins

<idle musing>
I think that is a bit overly simplistic, but it is getting at the heart of justice. It reminds me of one of my favorite verses:
‏וְיִגַּ֥ל כַּמַּ֖יִם מִשְׁפָּ֑ט וּצְדָקָ֖ה כְּנַ֥חַל אֵיתָֽן
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. (Amos 5:24 NRSV)

Of course, you need to read the verses leading up to that rebuke:
Amos 5:18 Alas for you who desire the day of the LORD!
Why do you want the day of the LORD?
It is darkness, not light;
19 as if someone fled from a lion,
and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.
20 Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
21 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

If you want to get a real feel for the impact of that set of verses, I highly recommend the first chapter of A.J. Heschel's book The Prophets. If you have never read it, you owe it to yourself to read it! Words to live by...
</idle musing>


This last week Alan Knox has been running a series on edification. They have all been good and are worth your time, but I want to highlight a bit of Friday's post:

Fourth, edification is a mutual process. If I only view myself as the “edifier” in a certain relationships, then I have misunderstood the way that God’s Spirit works through his children. Even if I am the more mature believer, I can still learn from and be encouraged by and be discipled by (i.e., edified by) a less mature brother or sister. I can be wrong… I am wrong in many of my beliefs, my relationships with others, and my way of life. Humility is very important in our relationships with other believers such that we are willing [to] accept the teaching, correction, example, etc. of others.

<idle musing>
That's why the scripture says mutual edification. And that's why I am not a fan of so-called mentoring relationships; too often it is seen as one-way, which is not the way scripture describes it! But, when has that ever stopped us in the past :(

Oh, and while you are at Alan's blog, be sure to read the next post How will they hear without a preacher? Good stuff!
</idle musing>

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cheap grace and child rearing

“I just read an article that spoke about one of the parenting gurus who died a few years back. He was one of those psychiatrists who pioneered the movement that taught parents not to discipline their kids but to allow autonomy as kids make mistakes and decisions on their own (let them touch a candle so they learn what “hot” is…). Just let the children make mistakes—that’s the best way to learn! On his deathbed this doctor confessed that the social scientists were wrong, saying, “We’ve raised a generation of brats.” Much of the seeker sensitive, postmodern church is in danger of making the same mistake. We can raise a generation of spiritual brats, that do whatever they want and no one can tell them otherwise. People come to the altar singing “Just as I am” and leave just as they were—a church that teaches what to believe but not how to live. A church that is scared of spiritual disciplines like simplicity, fasting, solitude, and chastity will not produce very good disciples.”—Follow Me to Freedom: Leading As an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and John Perkins

<idle musing>
If there is no transformation, then I question whether there was a real understanding of what becoming a Christian meant. Intellectual assent without anything else isn't really believing, it is just cheap grace.
</idle musing>

Globalization and the Christian

Lawson Stone has been musing all week on the current trend towards globalization. Today's thoughts are quite poignant, so I quote a section:

A lot of us are increasingly anxious to buy, use and eat things that were made or grown by ourselves and our neighbors, rather than be at the mercy of absentee CEO’s and anonymous Boards of Directors whose future will be unaltered by what happens to us here. Maybe the smaller church, grounded in the local community, where faith and mission intersect and overlay work, play, and family, is the future after all...

Obviously, Kingdom people, mission people, must always see the world. We Christians indeed long for the whole Bible to reach the whole world. But are we invested in one specific form of “global culture” whose values derive from industry and marketing, inimical to the biblical vision? A culture that depletes resources, damages the land and emaciates communities but somehow wants a worldwide outreach?

<idle musing>
Does a fish know it is wet? Do we realize the degree to which we are embedded in our culture? Are we aware enough of what God is doing in the world to step outside our culture and stand against it where necessary? The prophets of old were; we should be, too.
</idle musing>

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Elders and prophets

“In the best cases, leaders are not appointed, but they’re recognized. So many people talk about electing elders or appointing elders, but I’ve got a pastor friend that told me in their congregation they just “recognize” the elders. Folks already know who they are, they’ve already risen to the task by the time they are recognized. It’s the same kind of thing as if you’re a prophet, don’t say it, show it. You know, if you’re an elder, so we don’t need to cast lots or put names in a fishbowl.”—Follow Me to Freedom: Leading As an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and John Perkins

<idle musing>
That's been my experience, as well. God raised them up; we just recognize what God has done. It's just too simple, isn't it?
</idle musing>

Good theology

This showed up in my Inbox this morning:

<idle musing>
We have sold the gospel off for a few nickels; we have bought the "American Dream" and left true salvation on the floor. I'm glad Zondervan is publishing this book.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rest and work

“Rest is symbolic of God finishing creation and then resting. Therefore, if we are to be more like God, there is rest for the people of God, too. For six days God created—we know the story in Genesis. Then He stopped. As leaders we need to see that there is a time for God’s work and a time to cease, the rest, to have a respite. But there is a paradox in this passage. God makes us His workmen, but we are to rest in Him—always rest in Him, not just on the seventh day. When we learn to rest in Him while we work, the work is no longer ours. It becomes His work because He is bearing the burden. He is bearing the load.”—Follow Me to Freedom: Leading As an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and John Perkins

<idle musing>
Hebrews 3 & 4: the rest for the people of God. It is God doing it through us; it is His work, not ours. If only we would remember that...we must rest in order for Him to work.
</idle musing>

Bibliomania to the extreme

There is an interesting story that was e-mailed to me about a Bibliomaniac Amok:

He owes $14,000 in back rent, has $14 to his name, he’s been out of work for two years, his landlord is evicting him, he agrees he should be tossed. He’s got a rare book collection of 3,000 books worth, by his estimate, $1,000,000.

OK, we have a problem here. But, one that the blogger can relate to:

I have experienced a similar situation. The period 1988-1999 was one of great difficulty and there were times when I had to consider selling my books. It was a wrenching decision - and my collection was no where near the size or value of Leif’s. I resisted, muddling along somehow, finding money someplace else, or just letting debt slide as I hunkered down in my house of books. The books comforted me; they were my friends. I think I also had the inchoate sense that to sell was to admit failure, not as a collector but as an adult. My self-worth was directly tied to the collection.

But there comes a time, and it came for me, when an extremely cold shower and hard slap are necessary to awaken dormant reality. The books have to go. It was, without over-dramatizing the situation, one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make...

I, too, have been there. There was a time when I had over 2,000 books; they weren't worth anywhere near $1,000,000, but they were essential to my mental health—or so I thought. I had amassed them during my 13 years of college, and they represented my self-worth. My sense of worth wasn't in who God made me; it wasn't in being a husband or dad; it was in owning those books.

I didn't have an academic job, and it didn't look like I would get one—ever. That just made the existence of the book collection even more important to me. It represented what I had spent all that time and money on. But, God broke in.

He did it in an interesting way, though. He had our boiler go out in the middle of January in Minnesota—in a cold snap, too. There is no way that boiler should have broken; it was only 2-3 years old! But, it did.

So, what do you do? You have two kids and a wife—and no money. Well, you sell your treasured possessions. No, not your wife and kids! You sell your books. So, I did. I sold over 1,000 of them. Some of them went to Eisenbrauns, some to a local used bookseller who specialized in Classics.

And, you know what? Just like the blogger above, I experienced release. I was no longer bound by what I thought was keeping me free. I was free again. Strange, isn't it? The very things we think are keeping us free are actually binding us. There has got to be a sermon in there somewhere...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sending or sedate?

The M blog has an interesting post on house churches:

House churches are not permanent structures. They were never intended to be ongoing "home versions" of church. The idea that "church" is something solid, permanent, or institutional, is more what we have fashioned the church into becoming over the centuries, but not what is described in the book of Acts. [emphasis his]

He quotes from Simply Church:

House churches should be neither independent, nor permanent. If they are they will not multiply, but will only have shifted people from the pew to the sofa. Instead, they should be an interdependent network. Each house church is a debriefing center and a sending center that sends people out...

<idle musing>
I see that a lot—people just moving from the pew to the couch...that is not what house churches are about.

House churches are not a safe place to hide your kids from the negative influence of those "bad kids" at the institutional church. House churches are not a safe alternative. If they are, then they aren't being true to God's calling. House churches are supposed to be dangerous—dangerous to a consumerist mindset; dangerous to superficial relations; dangerous to cultural christianity; dangerous to selfishness. If they aren't, then you have just moved from the pew to the couch.
</idle musing>


“Guilt can be a major reason why people lead, but it doesn’t last, you know. Guilt can be a good thing at first, like when you realize the truth about poverty, slavery, or the amount of stuff that we consume in America. Guilt can be a good indicator, but it is a terrible motivator. You cannot lead out of guilt. Once you have paid your dues or appeased your conscience, then you need some other motivation or you’ll just move on.”—;Follow Me to Freedom: Leading As an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and John Perkins

<idle musing>
And it is very easy to appease the conscience. We are great at rationalizing things away—and moving on...until the next bought of guilt hits.

Until we allow Christ to cleanse us—and realize that he already has—we will continue on the guilt cycle.
Οὐδὲν ἄρα νῦν κατάκριμα τοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ.
(Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus) Romans 8:1
</idle musing>

Monday, January 18, 2010


“There is a new type of colonization and enslavement in our day —we call it outsourcing. We let the poor of developing nations make our goods without educating or training them to get out of poverty. We also “in-source” by culling for the brightest minds of other countries, bringing them here to educate them and keeping them here to work—to make our nation a better place. While that helps us and the individuals who immigrate to the United States, it drains the native country. It works to our advantage and their detriment. The whole world would benefit if we actually trained those who live in poverty and impoverished communities and helped them create jobs in their own lands. That would truly be the Good News.”—Follow Me to Freedom: Leading As an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and John Perkins

<idle musing>
Another form of colonialism, but we don't see it, don't think about it. In fact, we probably are encouraging it by our consuming of goods and services. But, how do we work against it? How do we incarnate Christ in this situation?

These are honest questions. I don't have an answer, but would like some input.

Reducing consumption of goods isn't really the answer. Although it might be part of the answer, it doesn't get at the real problem, which is the exploitation of another person for what they can give us. The solution is to treat them a human beings, created in the image of God, and to show them the love of Jesus. But, how do we do that???

If you have ideas, please let me know. I want to be part of God's solution here, and I feel like I am part of the problem...
</idle musing>

New Testament gatherings

Roger at Simple Church Blog has some reflections on New Testament gatherings:

Since our old paradigm of church life has often revolved around the Sunday morning gathering, we often find ourselves on a quest to discover what “New Testament” gatherings might look like and feel like.  We have learned from our church traditions that the make-up and how-to of the gathering is at the crux of the Christian life so, if we are transitioning into simple/organic/house church type experiences, we tend to become very focused on the make-up and how-to of these new types of gatherings.

The result is that stage two, for many transitioning Christians, is the exploration of New Testament gatherings.

While this is natural, if we remain in this stage as the end-all of our transition, we will not fully grasp that Jesus calls us first to an organic lifestyle and only secondarily to organic gatherings (as a result of our lifestyle of fully following him)...

In fact, one of the difficulties in describing New Testament gatherings is that scripture does not provide us with the kinds of specifics that we would want.  Jesus called his followers to radically follow him, yet he offers virtually no instruction on what to do during a “prayer meeting” or a “church service.”  Yet the disciples did gather and were an intimate community.  From this, we can deduce that the lifestyle of mission (following Jesus and being a light to the world) was the guiding star of their relationship with God and one another.  Gatherings supported this lifestyle, not the other way around.

<idle musing>
He goes on to describe aspects of the New Testament gathering, but his main point is that we have it backwards. The point of church is notSunday mornings! The point of church is to be a body of believers 7 days a week, one of which happens to include a more (or less!) formal meeting as a larger group. Without the body life the rest of the week, Sunday is just a shell of what it could be.

Now, as Roger says, when transitioning out of an institutional church, the Sunday gathering can be very important. But, it should always have as its underlying purpose the creation of body life the other 6 days.
</idle musing>

Friday, January 15, 2010


“Interruptions are a theme in Scripture. We have a God that is continually interrupting us—interrupting our routines, our patterns of inequity, the status quo. Abraham’s life was interrupted. Moses’s life was interrupted. John’s life and my life were interrupted by the Spirit.

The gospels are stories of interruption after interruption. Jesus was at a wedding in Cana, but the feast is interrupted when they ran out of wine. Jesus was resting at a well when a woman wanting water interrupts Him. Jesus was on his way to visit a sick child when someone tugs on his shirt. The incredible thing is that He was always available and attentive to the interruptions and surprises...”—Follow Me to Freedom: Leading As an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne and John Perkins

<idle musing>
Debbie reminded me the other day about a section in The Shack where Papa kept interrupting Mac. He got irate with God for interrupting him! But, we do the same thing! Interruptions are things that get in the way of doing what we want to do—even if they are from God.

Lord, keep interrupting my life whenever it isn't your life in me!
</idle musing>


This is a rant of sorts. I see lots of new books in my job. Some are very well made and reflect pride in the end product; most of the European publishers are in that category. Others, well, they could spend some money on proofreading, or cover design, get the idea. Just this week, we had to edit the book description of a publisher before we added it to the website.

But, this book that came through today just reflects sloppiness. The book is designed to be a reference work, yet the gutters are so small that you can barely read the words close to the binding. Further, the book is perfect bound, so it will never lie flat without breaking the binding. And, the book is 10 inches by 7 inches, but the print inside leaves the bottom inch or so below the page number blank. It is almost as if they wanted to make a wide margin, but at the bottom. And the is just a step above newsprint in quality. And the print is blurry and unclear; it almost looks like a reprint of an older book, but it is a 2009 book. And this is a reference book! Yikes! No, I won't tell you the title of the book; I don't want to embarrass the publisher—not that they would probably be embarrassed if they are willing to produce such a shoddy book in the first place...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What kind of forgiveness?

“After YHWH accepts Moses’ plea by forgiving the people (v. 20), he then swears that the entire adult generation, except for Caleb and Joshua, will die in the wilderness without reaching the Promised Land. Moreover, he executes the 10 naysaying spies by means of a plague (vv. 21–38). What kind of forgiveness is this!? Although God overcomes the obstacle to maintaining his relationship with the Israelites, his forgiveness does not include forgetting the wrong-doing or removing all its consequences. He pardons the nation on the corporate level in terms of allowing its continued existence with his support but purges out those who obstinately refuse to trust in him (cf. v. 11). YHWH adamantly refuses to give the Promised Land to rebels.

“The common denominator between forgiveness of the Israelites as a group and punishment of rebels among them, reflecting divine concern for mercy and justice, is YHWH’s reputation. His international standing as a powerful and just deity would suffer a setback in one way if he failed to fulfill his promise, but his reputation would be conversely compromised if he did fulfill it for people who withheld allegiance to his sovereignty as owner of the Promised Land and failed to acknowledge accountability to his commands.”—Cult and Character, page 335

<idle musing>
Two things jumped out at me in this passage:
"What kind of forgiveness is this!?" and
"YHWH adamantly refuses to give the Promised Land to rebels."

Stuff to think about, isn't it?

That's the last quotation I will post from the book. I highly recommend it to you, but be warned that it is highly technical. A reading knowledge of Hebrew would benefit you greatly :)
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


“At the sanctuary the suspected woman is to drink holy water containing some dust from the floor of the holy sanctuary and some curses stating the consequences if she is guilty (Num 5:17–24). This is a kind of litmus test in which she takes a holy substance into her body. While holiness can contact purity with no consequence, it will harm someone who is impure. [footnote: This case deals with moral impurity, but the same principle applies to physical ritual impurity (Lev 7:20). Another test involving contact with holiness appears in Num 16:6–7 and 17–18, where Moses challenged Korah and his company to offer incense in order to prove their claim that they were authorized by God to officiate as priests. They flunked the test, as shown by the fact that divine fire consumed them (v. 35). While their censers became holy, the men could not survive this level of holiness because they were unauthorized (17:2–3[16:37–38]).]—Cult and Character, page 330

<idle musing>
I found the footnote very interesting. Now, bring that to the New Testament, especially Hebrews 10:19:
Ἔχοντες οὖν, ἀδελφοί, παρρησίαν εἰς τὴν εἴσοδον τῶν ἁγίων ἐν τῷ αἵματι Ἰησοῦ...
"Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus..." NRSV

Chew on that one for a while :)
</idle musing>

The Perfect Parent

When I saw the cover of Christianity Today this month, I had to laugh. I've been waiting for the lead article to become available ever since. They posted it on Friday, but I didn't discover it until today. The article title is The Myth of the Perfect Parent and it is loaded with gold, like this little snippet:

...We have absorbed the cultural belief in psychological determinism but spiritualized it with Bible verses, and one verse in particular. The result is a Christianized version of the cultural myth. It reads something like this: "Christian parenting techniques produce godly children."

Proverbs 22:6 has been widely adopted as both psychological premise and theological promise, despite the widespread recognition that hermeneutically, the Proverbs are not promises from God, but general observations and maxims. (Ironically, if King Solomon did pen this proverb, as many biblical scholars believe, he himself failed to exemplify its truth: In his old age, he abandoned the teaching and example of his father, as "his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been" [1 Kings 11:4].)

Despite these problems, entire formulas and programs have been created to divine and instruct on the kind of parental training that will secure the desired outcome. At least one of these programs, claiming to instruct in God's ways of raising children, has sold in the millions...

<idle musing>
Yep. It isn't a promise, it is what is called a "gnomic saying"—a general observation that is usually true. Of course, that doesn't preach as well, or sell as many books. And, to be totally honest, there were times in parenting when I used it as a promise to console the "failures" that happened.

I praise God that both our kids love Jesus, but I can't take the credit. Sure, I tried my best; sure, I prayed and fasted; sure, I agonized and disciplined them. But, they were and are God's, not mine. It wasn't until Debbie and I really realized that and stopped criticizing and critiquing the kids that we were able to relax and actually enjoy parenting. Well, maybe that isn't totally true, but hindsight isn't always accurate :) But, the pressure was off them and us. We just were called to be faithful; the results weren't in our hands.

If you are (or will be—actually even if you don't ever think you'll have kids) parents, you should read the whole article (although I would quibble with certain statements she makes...). Hopefully, after reading it, you'll be able to relax and enjoy the ride. I can guarantee you it will be interesting!

How about that, Renee? I didn't even share embarrassing stories :)
</idle musing>

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


“Words for mercy do not appear in pentateuchal ritual law. YHWH grants forgiveness when his own preconditions are met through performance of expiatory activities that he has legislated. Narrowly speaking, YHWH shows fidelity in this context rather than mercy, which would not be legislated. However, in a broader sense YHWH’s legislation shows mercy in relation to the lofty standard of his holiness. In spite of the gap between his holiness and faulty Israel, he condescends to dwell with his people in the sanctuary (Lev 16:16b) and to provide remedies for their faults so that this intimate relationship can continue. The fact that forgiveness is not automatic (nip`al of סלח in Lev 4:20, 26, 31, 35) and the ritual remedies are so minor when compared with the consequences of not performing them (Num 19:11–20; cf. Lev 5:1, 5–6) indicates that they do not fulfill the full demands of justice. Rather, they are tokens that YHWH accepts, but he “takes up the slack”—that is to say, he is merciful.”—Cult and Character, pages 320-321

<idle musing>
Interesting observation; I hadn't realized before that words for mercy weren't there. I guess I read the Torah/Pentateuch through the eyes of the prophetic books and the New Testament too much to see what is there. I'll be chewing on this one for a while...
</idle musing>

What a Ph.D. is good for...

This is a wonderful commentary on life, from PHD Comics: Piled Higher and Deeper:

Monday, January 11, 2010

The "new" in new covenant

“ the “new covenant” passage of Jer 31, YHWH promises to “forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more” (v. 34). The point of remembering no more is not that God needs to develop a self-induced state of amnesia so that he will not be tempted to resurrect wrongs that he has already forgiven. Rather, this is an anthropomorphic expression of the concept that God will do something that goes beyond his initial grant of forgiveness: he will make sin irrevocably irrelevant to the future of the relationship, just as a grievance between two human beings loses its potential for revival if it is forgotten.”—Cult and Character, page 318

<idle musing>
I like that. And it's even good theology :)
</idle musing>


It has been beautiful here the last week or so: lots of snow, temperatures in the mid-upper teens (F). You couldn't ask for better weather to ski and snowshoe in. It's been a bit hard on the bike, but I'll gladly take it...

Friday, January 08, 2010


“Through sacrifices, God extended pardon with acknowledgment of justice: a cost was involved in the process of composition/reconciliation with him. But the ritual system was inadequate to provide even a token cost of composition in cases of rebellious sin, which were all too frequent in Israel’s history. Nevertheless, YHWH forgave repeatedly. So YHWH’s grace was not limited by cultic constraints.”—Cult and Character, page 298


“A פשע, “inexpiable defiant sin,” is cleansed from the sanctuary and banished from the camp on the Day of Atonement, but it is not removed or cleansed from the sinner at any time.”—Cult and Character, page 299

<idle musing>
Take that, cheap grace! Defiant, willful sin = no expiation. Period.

But, the beauty of grace is that it is unending and forgiving—slow to anger and abounding in חסד! (usually translated "steadfast love," or some such). That's why Gane can say that God is not limited by cultic constraints.
</idle musing>

The place of tradition

<idle musing>
Yesterday, I was pretty hard on tradition. Does that mean I believe we should throw out tradition? In the immortal words of Paul: μὴ γένοιτο! May it never be!

What, then, is the role of tradition? Clark Pinnock asked that question many years ago in an issue of Themelios. He asked how we could use tradition without becoming Roman Catholic (or, I would add, Orthodox), or how we could jettison tradition without becoming radical liberals. His answer, which is what I have tried to do in my life, is to examine the traditions in light of scripture. Don't automatically jettison tradition, and don't automatically embrace it. Give it more weight than you would your own interpretations, but don't assume it is correct.

C.S. Lewis used to say that for every new book you read, you should read an old book (I have also seen it quoted as 2 old books). By that he meant we should read current theory, but we should also see what was said over 100 years ago. His explanation was that while the older scholarship wasn't free from error, it was usually free from the current errors! I try to adhere to that. If you look at my (poorly updated) list of books I'm reading, you will see that I am reading things from authors ranging from the Apostolic Fathers all the way up to today. Of course, if we include non-Christian stuff, from the dawn of writing all the way up to today :)

What do you think? What role do you allow tradition to play in your theology?
</idle musing>

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Forgiveness and the Day of Atonement

“Surprisingly, the verb סלח, “forgive,” does not appear even once in any of the biblical Day of Atonement prescriptions (Lev 16; 23:26–32; Num 29:7–11). This fact alone constitutes a major difference between the purification offerings of the Day of Atonement and those that remedy sins throughout the rest of the year. The purity accomplished for the people on this day is כפר beyond forgiveness.”—Cult and Character, pages 233-234

<idle musing>
Interesting, isn't it? Beyond forgiveness is כפר which is usually translated as covering or atoning, but Gane saying we miss the point. It is a cleansing that removes the last vestiges of pollution.

Now, bring this into the New Testament...What has Christ accomplished? More than forgiveness! He has accomplished a cleansing, a new life. That, my friends, is something to get excited about!
</idle musing>

Some more idle musings on sin in believers

I frequently have people complain that I am teaching a gospel of works by saying that believers don't have to sin. Now, if I taught that we could do it ourselves, I would concur. But, that is most assuredly not what I believe. I believe—probably more avidly than most Calvinists!—that we can do nothing but sin by the power of our own will. I believe in total depravity—the total inability of us by our own power to please God. But, I also believe in free grace—the empowering presence of God in the form of the Holy Spirit, living within the believer. This presence of God is what enables the believer to live free from sin.

Even Augustine believed this. In his disputes with Pelagius, touching on the power of a believer to be free from sin, he makes this observation:

"Let Pelagius confess that it is possible for man to be without sin than in no other way than by the grace of Christ, and we will be at peace with him."

<idle musing>
Maybe I should compile a list of saints through the ages who believed this. But, if you aren't able to believe the testimony of scripture, what good would the quotations from the saints of the church do? Unless, of course, sola scriptura isn't really what Protestants believe! Unfortunately, I'm becoming more convinced of that everyday; we have the cult of leadership, consisting of near blind obedience to a charismatic leader. We have the “papacy of the popular paperback,” as I once heard a preacher call it, which simply grabs theology from whatever is selling well right now. We have the unthinking adherence to tradition in our interpretations. Where is scripture in these?

What ever happened to the call of the Reformers: Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda The church, having been reformed, always must be reformed? Five hundred years, give or take a few, after the Reformation, the Protestant churches are just a fully enslaved to tradition as the Roman church was enslaved to it and the will of the Pope. The difference is that we don't adhere to the word of the Pope, we just adhere to the word of our tradition.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

More thoughts on sin in believers

I was looking through Wesley's sermons the other day, and came across this:

“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: And he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” ([I John 3:] Verse 9.) But some men will say, “True: Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin habitually.” Habitually! Whence is that? I read it not. It is not written in the Book. God plainly saith, “He doth not commit sin;” and thou addest, habitually! Who art thou that mendest the oracles of God? — that “addest to the words of this book?” Beware, I beseech thee, lest God “add to thee all the plagues that are written therein! “especially when the comment thou addest is such as quite swallows up the text: So that by this μεθοδεια πλανης, this artful method of deceiving, the precious promise is utterly lost; by this κυβεια ανθρωπων, this tricking and shuffling of men, the word of God is made of none effect. O beware, thou that thus takest from the words of this book, that, taking away the whole meaning and spirit from them, leavest only what may indeed be termed a dead letter, lest God take away thy part out of the book of life! —Sermon 18, The Marks of the New Birth

<idle musing>
I couldn't put it better myself. If, as Christians, we are still under the power of sin, what is the difference between an unbeliever and a believer? Are we to understand that God, who hates sin, simply overlooks it in believers? In the immortal words of Paul: μὴ γένοιτο! May it never be! Either it is a real transformation, or Christianity should be placed in the dung heap of history.
</idle musing>

Talk about fear!

This is just crazy, from VOA News:

U.S. officials say a suspicious material found in a passenger's bag that triggered a security scare at a California airport on Tuesday actually turned out to be bottles of honey.

The scare caused a shutdown at the Meadows Field Airport in the city of Bakersfield and a hazardous material crew and bomb squad were called to the scene.

Two Transportation Security Administration officers were also treated and released from the hospital after being exposed to what were described as "fumes" from the bottles.

<idle musing>
We allow fear to control us: fear for ourselves, fear for our stuff, fear that somebody's out to get us, the list goes on and on. But, if we belong to Jesus, then why should we fear? Scripture is very clear that fears of this kind are not of God. He holds the future, not man or demon.
</idle musing>

New sale

Eisenbrauns has a new sale for the month of January going on right now, from the BookNews announcement:

...we're beginning the new year here at Eisenbrauns by offering you savings on the well-known Coniectanea Biblica Old and New Testament Series. We've chosen 23 titles-10 from the Old Testament and 13 from the New Testament-and are offering them to you at savings ranging from 20-60% off retail price.

To easily access all the sale items, please visit:
"Die Furbitter Israels: Eine Studie zum Mosebild im Alten Testament"
by Erik Aurelius
Coniectanea Biblica Old Testament Series - CBOTS 27
Almqvist and Wiksell, 1988. Paper. German.
ISBN: 912200940X
List Price: $35.00 Your Price: $17.50

"Aram as the Enemy Friend: The Ideological Role of Aram in the
Composition of Genesis--2 Kings"
by C.-J. Axskjold
Coniectanea Biblica Old Testament Series - CBOTS 45
Almqvist and Wiksell, 1998. Paper. English.
ISBN: 9122018158
List Price: $33.00 Your Price: $26.40

"The God of the Sages: The Portrayal of God in the Book of Proverbs"
by Lennart Bostrom
Coniectanea Biblica Old Testament Series - CBOTS 29
Almqvist and Wiksell, 1990. Paper. English.
ISBN: 9122013407
List Price: $33.00 Your Price: $26.40

"Dust, Wind, and Agony: Character, Speech, and Genre in Job"
by M. Cheney
Coniectanea Biblica Old Testament Series - CBOTS 36
Almqvist and Wiksell, 1994. Paper. English.
ISBN: 9122016031
List Price: $55.00 Your Price: $33.00

"Grapes in the Desert: Metaphors, Models,
and Themes in Hosea 4-14"
by Goeran Eidevall
Coniectanea Biblica Old Testament Series - CBOTS 43
Almqvist and Wiksell, 1996. Paper. English.
ISBN: 9122017097
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"The Text of 2 Chronicles 1-16:
A Critical Edition with Textual Commentary"
by Kjell Hognesius
Coniectanea Biblica Old Testament Series - CBOTS 51
Almqvist and Wiksell, 2003. Paper. English.
ISBN: 9122020012
List Price: $50.00 Your Price: $35.00

"Sein Name Allein ist Hoch: Das Jhw-haltige Suffix althebraischer
Personennamen untersucht mit besonderer Berucksichtigung der
alttestamentlichen Redaktionsgeschichte"
by Stig Norin
Coniectanea Biblica Old Testament Series - CBOTS 24
Almqvist and Wiksell, 1986. Paper. German.
ISBN: 9122009361
List Price: $35.00 Your Price: $17.50

"Towns and Toponyms in the Old Testament:
With Special Emphasis on Joshua 14-21"
by J. Svensson
Coniectanea Biblica Old Testament Series - CBOTS 38
Almqvist and Wiksell, 1994. Paper. English.
ISBN: 9122015817
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"Die Hexteucherzahlung: Eine literaturgeschichtliche Studie"
by Sven Tengstrom
Coniectanea Biblica Old Testament Series - CBOTS 7
Almqvist and Wiksell, 1976. Paper. German.
ISBN: 912200906X
List Price: $27.50 Your Price: $13.75

"Prophecy as Literature: A Text-linguistic and
Rhetorical Approach to Isaiah 2-4"
by B. Wiklander
Coniectanea Biblica Old Testament Series - CBOTS 22
Almqvist and Wiksell, 1984. Paper. English.
ISBN: 9122009345
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"The Ephesian Mysterion: Meaning and Content"
by Chrys C. Caragounis
Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series - CBNTS 8
Almqvist and Wiksell, 1977. Paper. English.
ISBN: 9122009132
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"The Sign of Jonah Reconsidered:
A Study of Its Meaning in the Gospel Traditions"
by Simon Chow
Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series - CBNTS 27
Almqvist and Wiksell, 1995. Paper. English.
ISBN: 9122016953
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"The Earnest Expectation of the Creature: The Flood-
Tradition as Matrix of Romans 8:18-27"
by O. Christoffersson
Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series - CBNTS 23
Almqvist and Wiksell, 1990. Paper. English.
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"Rethinking the Judaism-Hellenism Dichotomy: A Historiographical
Case Study of Second Peter and Jude"
by Anders Gerdmar
Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series - CBNTS 36
Almqvist and Wiksell, 2001. Paper. English.
ISBN: 9122019154
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"Aspects on the Johannine Literature: Papers Presented at a
Conference of Scandinavian New Testament Exegetes at
Uppsala, June 16-19, 1986"
Edited by Lars Hartman and Birger Olsson
Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series - CBNTS 18
Almqvist and Wiksell, 1987. Paper. English.
ISBN: 9122009299
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"Das Visionenbuch des Hermas als Apokalypse: Formgeschichtliche
und texttheoretische Studien zu einer literarischen Gattung--
Methodologische Voruberlegungen und makrostrukturelle Textanlyse"
by David Hellholm
Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series - CBNTS 13/1
Almqvist and Wiksell, 1980. Paper. German.
ISBN: 912200923X
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"To All the Brethren: A Text-Linguistic and
Rhetorical Approach to 1 Thessalonians"
by Bruce C. Johanson
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Almqvist and Wiksell, 1987. Paper. English.
ISBN: 9122008659
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"Jesus and "This Generation": A New Testament Study"
by E. Lovestam
Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series - CBNTS 25
Almqvist and Wiksell, 1995. Paper. English.
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"Forum fur Sprachlose: Eine kommunikationspsychologische
und epistolar-rhetorische Untersuchung des Galaterbriefs"
by D. Mitternacht
Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series - CBNTS 30
Almqvist and Wiksell, 1999. Paper. German.
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"The Origins of the Synagogue: A Socio-Historical Study"
by Anders Runesson
Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series - CBNTS 37
Almqvist and Wiksell, 2001. Paper. English.
ISBN: 9122019464
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"Principles of Chinese Bible Translation as Expressed in Five
Selected Versions of the New Testament and Exemplified by
Matthew 5:1-12 and Colossians 1"
by Thor Strandenaes
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Almqvist and Wiksell, 1987. Paper. English.
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"Mark and Mission: Mark 7:1-23 in its
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by J. Svartvik
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Almqvist and Wiksell, 2000. Paper. English.
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"The Epistle of Jude: Its text and transmission"
by Tommy Wasserman
Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series - CBNTS 43
Almqvist and Wiksell, 2006. Paper. English.
ISBN: 9122021590
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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Ritual impurity and physical impurity

“The Israelites do not receive purity from their physical ritual impurities on the Day of Atonement, presumably because they have already received it directly through rituals earlier in the year. But remedying sin is another matter. First it requires sacrificial כפר, then divinely granted forgiveness (סלח), and finally communal purification (טהר) on the Day of Atonement. Therefore, on the Day of Atonement the people reach the טהר stage of כפר with regard to their sins that is equivalent to the טהר stage reached earlier in the year with regard to their ritual impurities. This is evident in the striking parallel between Num 8:21, expressing the טהר goal of an outer-altar purification offering that removes physical ritual impurity from the Levites, and Lev 16:30, stating the טהר benefit of the communal Day of Atonement rituals with regard to sins of the entire community:
Num 8:21: ‏וַיְכַפֵּ֧ר עֲלֵיהֶ֛ם אַהֲרֹ֖ן לְטַהֲרָֽם, and Aaron effected purgation on their behalf to purify them.
Lev 16:30: ‏יְכַפֵּ֥ר עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם לְטַהֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֑ם, . . . shall purgation be effected on your behalf to purify you.
In each of these verses, כפר for the collective offerer (Levites or whole community) cleanses (pi`el of טהר) them.”—Cult and Character, pages 231-232

<idle musing>
Did you follow that? I didn't think so :) It is difficult to follow without the context. What Gane is arguing is that physical impurities were cleansed through offerings at a higher level throughout the year than ritual impurities, which includes sins of omission and commission, were. So,טהר cleansing had to be reached for both of them in order for forgiveness (סלח) to happen. At least, I think that is what he is saying...
</idle musing>

The power of the New Birth

In line with my post yesterday ( What do you do with I John?), I thought I would post a few more thoughts on the new birth. Scripture is quite clear that when someone becomes a Christian, they become a new person (go ahead and compile your own list here, I'm sure you can...). But, what we forget is what happens to the old man/person (inclusive language really fails here!)—Romans 6 is clear about it:
οἵτινες ἀπεθάνομεν τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ, πῶς ἔτι ζήσομεν ἐν αὐτῇ; ἢ ἀγνοεῖτε ὅτι, ὅσοι ἐβαπτίσθημεν εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν, εἰς τὸν θάνατον αὐτοῦ ἐβαπτίσθημεν; συνετάφημεν οὖν αὐτῷ διὰ τοῦ βαπτίσματος εἰς τὸν θάνατον... (Romans 6:2b-4a)
“How can we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death” (NET Bible)

So why does our theology not allow for this? Is it because we don't see it? Maybe the reason we don't see it is because it isn't taught? What do you think?

Monday, January 04, 2010

The power of touch

I first ran across the concept of the power of touch while reading Le Guin's Wizard of Earthsea trilogy. In the first book, Ged is placed on a small island as the wizard in residence. He has an encounter at the (mystical) wall of death and falls down (in the physical world) as if dead. The people don't know what to do with him, so they leave him in his bed in a trance. His pet otok has more sense than the people do, and begins to lick his face and hands out of love. Le Guin's observation was fascinating; she observed that the beast had more sense of the power of love than the people. Ged comes out of the trance because of that power of loving touch. Being the cerebral kind of guy that I am, I tucked that tidbit away in the dark recesses of my mind and went on being a typical no-touch Scandinavian.

A bit later, in seminary, I was doing a one month summer class. Debbie and the kids went to see the grandparents for two weeks and I was alone with the books. At that time, we were in a small Bible study group that met every two weeks. The meeting fell during the second week that Debbie and kids were gone. I will never forget the experience of walking into that small group and receiving a hug. I hadn't realized how much I missed physical touch! It was healing and reaffirming.

This concept was brought to the fore again over Christmas. I came down with a 24-hour flu on Christmas Eve and spent most of that evening and the next day in bed. While the fever was raging and I was trying to sleep, Debbie came in and gently touched my face. It was an almost spiritual experience; her touch broke through the fever and reminded me that I wasn't alone—that she loved me, others loved me, God loved me.

If we read scripture with the concept of the power of touch in mind, many of the encounters that Jesus had become even more powerful. Move to the book of Acts, and the epistles and bear in mind the power of touch. Church history talks of it, too. I am reminded of the encounter that Francis of Assisi had with the leper. It wasn't until he hugged the leprous man that he experienced the freedom of serving God from the heart.

I must confess, I am still not a hugger like Debbie—probably never will be. But, I am more purposeful in reaching out to others (literally). The power of touch is unbelievably healing.

Stages of purification

“If an offerer is already pure before coming to the sanctuary, what is there left for a חטאת sacrifice to remove from him/her? As we have seen in ch. 6 above, N. Kiuchi has pointed out that a scale-diseased person is declared pure (טהר) at each of three successive stages of ritual purification (Lev 14:8, 9, 20). This means that he is pure enough for that stage, but his purity at an earlier stage does not make a later stage unnecessary. Significantly, while the first and second stages involve various nonsacrificial rituals, including ablutions, it is the third and highest stage on the eighth day that is achieved through a complex of sacrifices (vv. 10–20), including a purification offering (v. 19). So a purification offering removes a kind of residual impurity that is left even after other means of purification have been carried out.”—Cult and Character, page 176

What do you do with I John?

I've been reading some exegesis of late that relegates Romans 8 and Hebrews 3 &4 (the rest for the people of God) to after death. They are doing it because it doesn't fit their theology; they believe the Westminster Catechism, which says in Question 149: Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
Answer: No man is able, either of himself, or by any grace received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God; but does daily break them in thought, word, and deed. [my italics]
Hence, they have to relegate those promises to heaven. They also have to hold to penal substitution exclusively and jettison any Christus Victor interpretation. [As an aside, if you want to dig into this further, I suggest Saving Power and A Community Called Atonement.] There can be no real transformation in this life, just sin and repent in an endless cycle!

While they can make a tolerably fair (actually closer to poor) argument, I want to know what they do with I John. I John has some very dangerous statements, for example: Τεκνία μου, ταῦτα γράφω ὑμῖν ἵνα μὴ ἁμάρτητε. My dear children, I write these things to you (plural) so that you will not sin. (I John 2:1a) or πᾶς ὁ ἐν αὐτῷ μένων οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει· πᾶς ὁ ἁμαρτάνων οὐχ ἑώρακεν αὐτὸν οὐδὲ ἔγνωκεν αὐτόν. Everyone who abides/remains in him does not sin; The one who sins has either seen him or known him. (I John 3:6), or (and this is the real kicker) Πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἁμαρτίαν οὐ ποιεῖ, ὅτι σπέρμα αὐτοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ μένει, καὶ οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτάνειν, ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται. Everyone who have been born of God does not sin, because his (God’s) seed abides/remains in him/her. Indeed (taking καὶ as emphatic) he/she is not able to sin, because he/she has been born of God. (I John 3:9) (my translations, but check your own favorite translation). So, what do you do with these? They obviously refer to life on earth.

I know that some try to explain it away by translating the present as “continue to sin” (NIV, TNIV, for example). But, that doesn't solve your problem; if one doesn't continue to sin, that means they stop sinning. I suspect what they are actually thinking is “doesn't continuously sin.” But that is not what the Greek says or even comes close to meaning! So, I repeat, What do you do with I John?

I recently heard N.T. Wright speak at SBL. His closing statement was that we should allow scripture to speak to us more than our traditions. (Incidentally, I was sitting next to Peter Enns when he said this. Peter said aloud, “amen!” He ought to know; he lost his job because he wasn't “reformed enough”). So, is the Westminster Catechism speaking louder than scripture?