Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Literal or paraphrase

I ran across this definition of a literal versus free translation the other day: “The more a translation unit uses fixed equivalents, the more it is considered literal, and the less that such equivalents are found in it, the freer it is considered.” (Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible [2nd ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001], 125).

I like it, but it also raises some questions. Such as, what about the Cotton Patch Gospels? They definitely are not literal! But they use fixed equivalents. What am I missing here?

It really is a Trinity

The point to stress here is that the Spirit is more central to the story of Jesus than theology has usually acknowledged. It was by the Spirit that Jesus was conceived, anointed, empowered, commissioned, directed, and raised up. We emphasize God’s sending the Son and must not lose the balance of a double sending. God sends both Son and Spirit. Irenaeus spoke of them as God’s two hands, implying a joint mission (Against Heresies 4.20.1). The relationship is dialectical. The Son is sent in the power of the Spirit, and the Spirit is poured out by the risen Lord. The missions are intertwined and equal; one is not major and the other minor. It is not right to be Christocentric if being Christocentric means subordinating the Spirit to the Son. The two are partners in the work of redemption.— Flame of Love, pages 81-82

It's all ready and waiting for us

The potential for the holy life must be released by faith. It is not something that is entered into automatically by becoming a Christian. So Paul entreats his Colossian converts, “Let loose all the wonderful potential that was given you when you accepted Christ. Do so in an act of self-renunciation (death) and in an act of acceptance and faith (put on), so that the holiness which Christ came to give you may be yours.” There is nothing here of striving and struggling and constantly falling short of something which is outside of ourselves. Rather, we are invited to unlock a door in the new house that has been given us and to find there all the furnishings already in place.— Called to be Holy, pages 161-162

<idle musing>
I like the picture he paints here of a new house, just waiting for us. We only need to open the door. No striving, struggling, etc. Too easy, isn't it? That's probably the issue; we prefer to earn it, don't we?
</idle musing>

Still true today

It is astonishing, that many, within a few years, have maintained that it is right for a man to aim directly at his own salvation, and make his own happiness the great object of pursuit. But it is plain that God's law is different from this, and requires everyone to prize God's interest supremely.—Charles Finney

<idle musing>
The more things change, the more they stay the same...could it be that it's because humanity doesn't really change? Sure, we have the Internet, but we still have sin. If anything, the Internet has made sin more accessible.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Limiting God

Let us stop demoting the Spirit, relegating him to spheres of church and piety. His role in creation is foundational to these other activities. The whole creation is home to the Spirit’s operations, and the cosmic fruits issue in new creation. The Spirit is the perfecter of the works of God in creation.— Flame of Love, page 63

<idle musing>
Amen and amen! Most Christians are binitarians. Check that. Most trinitarian christians have a trinity (yes, lower case!) that is Father, Son, and Holy Bible. Go and do it! Imitate Christ (like you can do it without the power of the Holy Spirit!). No wonder you have so many failures in high place (they happen in low places, too; we just don't hear about them because they aren't scandalous enough). No power of the indwelling savior in the form of the Holy Spirit, no deliverance from sin. And no beauty in creation. You can't separate them. Physical creation is just one aspect of the Holy Spirit's ongoing work in creation...
</idle musing>

Sin cycle

So there is no excuse for anyone to say, “Oh well, I just don’t think I can live up to a standard like that.” Of course you can’t; the whole Old Testament teaches us that. But that is not the point. The point is: does God want to do this in us? Surely the answer is yes. And is he able to do it? Again the answer is yes. But now comes the frightening caveat. Yes, he is able to do what he wants if we will believe him to do it. Tragically, there are many people today who simply will not believe God to make them holy.— Called to be Holy, page 159

<idle musing>
Indeed. When we have bumper stickers that proudly proclaim, "Christians aren't Perfect, Just Forgiven," why should be expect holy living? If that isn't the epitome of heretical theology, then I don't know what is. When we have a major catechism that proudly proclaims that the grace of God isn't sufficient to deliver us from sin, how can we expect holy living?

And without holy living, scripture says we won't see God. Pretty scary...but it's just a matter of believing it is possible—by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, guiding, directing, empowering—indeed, living it—on a moment-by-moment basis. Believe and receive!
</idle musing>

Thought for today

It is not true repentance, to forsake sin on condition of pardon, or to say, "I will be sorry for my sins, if you will forgive me."—Charles Finney

A graduation

I just saw last night that Glen Stassen died over the weekend.

Most of you probably don't know who he is. I didn't until about 6 years ago. But my exposure to him was revolutionary. He (along with some others, but primarily he) is the author of the concept of Just Peacemaking.

I had been—and still am—a pacifist. Once I became a Christian, it seemed the only logically consistent course of action. I take the Sermon on the Mount seriously as the commands of Christ, not some high ideal that won't work (by the way, for a good study on the Sermon—aside from Bonhoeffer's Discipleship—you should try to find E. Stanley Jones's Christ of the Mount). But my pacifism always seemed to fall short of what I really saw in scripture. It wasn't until I read the last chapter in War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century entitled "Just Peacemaking Reduces Terrorism between Palestine and Israel" that it clicked. Just Peacemaking was the missing link in creating Shalom as opposed to just the absence of war.

I'm sure that the angels are rejoicing and that there is a major celebration on his homecoming, but the world is a poorer place because of his homecoming. May his many students carry on and expand the influence of Just Peacemaking.

Here are a few links to other tributes (with thanks to Jim Eisenbraun for them):
Peace is Possible
A Tribute to Glen Stassen

You can find his books by going to Google Books and doing a search.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Why create?

Sometimes the why of creation is revealed by the nature of God. He creates in a way that is consistent with his loving nature as a relational being. Not narcissistic or self-enclosed, God is inwardly and outwardly self-communicating a gracious being. Creation arises from loving relationships in the divine nature. God creates out of his own abundant interpersonal love—it is the expression of his generosity. No outside force compels it; no need drove the decision.— Flame of Love, page 55

a change of perspective

Thankfulness will be our normal attitude ([1 Thess. 5] v. 18) because, unlike the days when we were dominated by the “flesh,” we will no longer be thinking of all that we deserve that we never get. Rather, we will be astonished that we, who deserve nothing but eternal damnation, have been made the very heirs of heaven. When the “flesh” rules, it is constantly chafing at the “unreasonable” demands of God; not that his demands are unreasonable, but that the unsurrendered self finds all commands unreasonable. Now having exercised faith to allow the Spirit of Christ to fill us, we are amazed that God gives so much and asks so little. Has God changed? No, we have changed, with the result that we now see things as they are, and are filled with gratitude.— Called to be Holy, page 157

<idle musing>
Debbie and I were just discussing this very thing on our walk yesterday. I think one of the reasons why there is so little gratitude is because what we call repentance isn't really repentance. Finney, for all his problems, didn't let people think they were saved until they had a consciousness that a. They needed a savior, and b. they were consciously aware that they were forgiven and made new. Wesley had a similar mode of operation. No sinner's prayer for these guys. They wanted to see a life transformed by God. But they also knew that you can't encounter the living God and not know it. There was a very real sense of gratitude for what God had done in us through Christ and the Holy Spirit. Would that we had some of that now in popular evangelistic techniques...
</idle musing>

Thought for the day

If you aim at doing good for its own sake, then you will be happy in proportion as you do good. But if you aim directly at your own happiness, and if you do good simply as a means of securing your own happiness, you will fail. You will be like the child pursuing his own shadow; he can never overtake it, because it always keeps just so far before him.—Charles Finney

<idle musing>
Indeed. Reminds me of Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. He says essentially the same thing, but illustrates it from psychology. (Excellent book, by the way; highly recommended!).
</idle musing>

Friday, April 25, 2014


The Trinity underlines the fact that the world exists by grace. It was not strictly necessary. It did not have to exist. God did not need it, since he exists in Trinitarian fullness. The world exists not necessarily but freely, because God takes pleasure in it. God is like an artist who makes the world because he delights in self-expression.— Flame of Love, page 44

A truism

Right living rests upon right doctrine, and right doctrine is not right unless it results in right living.— Called to be Holy, page 157

<idle musing>
</idle musing>

Thought for a snowy Friday

It's snowing here—again. We're expected to get about 10-12 inches; so far we have about 8 inches of slushy, slippery, but beautiful snow. White snow, covering over the dirty remnants of our winter snows and the sand and mud that accumulate over the season. Reminds me of Isaiah..."white as snow." The contrast is even starker this time of year, before new life appears. But I digress; here's a snippet from Finney that seems to fit:
A person may believe that Christ came to save sinners, and on that ground may submit to Him, to be saved; while he does not submit wholly to Him, to be governed and disposed of. His submission is only on condition that he shall be saved. It is never with that unreserved confidence in God's whole character, that leads him to say, "Let thy will be done." He only submits to be saved. His religion is the religion of law. The other is gospel religion. One is selfish, the other benevolent. Here lies the true difference between the two classes. The religion of one is outward and hypocritical. The other is that of the heart, holy, and acceptable to God.—Charles Finney

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Atheism's cause

Atheism is partly the result of bad theology, an unpaid bill resulting from failures in depicting God. How often have people been given the impression of God as a being exalting himself at our expense! One might be afraid of such a God, but no one would be attracted to love him. So often lacking has been the vision of the triune God as an event of open, dynamic, loving relations. It is not surprising that many have rejected God when there has been so little to attract then to him. Perhaps they would not reject as readily the God disclosed in Jesus, who is an event of loving relationality and relates readily to the temporal world.— Flame of Love, page 42

<idle musing>
Hmmm...written as if yesterday, addressing the claims of the "Young, restless, and Reformed" crowd...and right on the money. Who would want to spend eternity with a God that is only concerned with his glory? I find the God depicted in the Bible far preferable to the constructed God of the systematic Calvinist theologians...they need a good dose of Brunner! He was Reformed, but he got it right—God's actions spring from the Trinitarian loving fellowship within the Godhead.
</idle musing>

The way forward

If God’s will that his people be holy in their behavior is to be realized, it is not, above all, a matter of trying harder. That is “the flesh” about which Paul had just warned the Galatians, and about which he was shortly to warn the Romans. No, if we are to be the holy people that God has longed for from the beginning, it must be a matter for faith. This is precisely the point Paul was making in Galatians when he said that if we live by the Spirit we will not gratify “the flesh” (5:16). In our own strength and selfish desires we can never live God’s holy life. But if we live in the Spirit, we will produce that fruit which the Old Covenant required, but could not produce because of that twisted, self-centered spirit within us which Paul calls “the flesh” (5:17-6:10).— Called to be Holy, page 153

<idle musing>
Indeed. It must be by the Spirit of God. If it is done any other way, it won't be real. Reminds me of the story about Ben Franklin. He used to keep a little book where he recorded how he was doing on certain virtues that he felt important. After a while, he noticed that he was getting proud of his accomplishments, so he added another column for humility!

But that's the end result of striving—well either that or despair because you can't attain. It is only by the Spirit living within us that we can truly be holy and good...
</idle musing>

Thought for today

The true convert chooses, as the end of his pursuit, the glory of God and the good of His kingdom. This end he chooses for its own sake, because he views this as the greatest good, as a greater good than his own individual happiness. Not that he is indifferent to his own happiness, but he prefers God's glory, because it is a greater good. He looks on the happiness of every individual according to its real importance, as far as he is capable of valuing it, and he chooses the greatest good as his supreme object.—Charles Finney

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

There we go again

Theology always gets into trouble when its practitioners think they know what God is like apart from what revelation says God is like. — Flame of Love, page 33

<idle musing>
But we do it all the time, don't we? Lord forgive us! May we "tremble at your word" (Isa 66:2, 5)!
</idle musing>

High expectations

What is John talking about here [in 1 John 4:16-18]? He is saying that it is possible for a Christian to love God and others completely, in a finished manner. He is saying that it is possible for a Christian to experience a love which is, from God’s point of view, without defect. He is saying that it is possible for a Christian to experience an unreserved love for God and a self-forgetful love for others. In other words, he is saying that what Jesus commanded is not merely an ideal, and not even a possibility, but is an expectation. — Called to be Holy, pages 138-139

Thought for the day

We learn from what has been said, one reason why there is so much spasmodic religion in the church. They have mistaken conviction for conversion, the sorrow of the world for that godly sorrow that worketh repentance unto salvation, not to be repented of. I am convinced, after years of observation, that here is the true reason for the present deplorable state of the church all over the land.—Charles Finney

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Circle of Love

On another level, however, the phrase “God is love” refers to the inner life of God. God loves sinners in history because, prior to that, God loves the Son and the Spirit, and loves us in relation to them.

John is saying that the love God has for sinners flows from the love that circulates everlastingly within the Trinity. As Jesus says, “as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you” (Jn 15:9). God’s love for sinners is not just the love of a single, Unitarian Subject. John is making reference to a triune love that flows among the persons of the Godhead. Not only concretions of the divine field of deity, these person make up a relational Being, a community of love and mutual indwelling.— Flame of Love, page 30

Provision made

How shall we keep the commandments of God’s covenant? How shall we live the holy life that is necessary if we are to enjoy God’s fellowship? Through the Holy Spirit! The same Spirit through whom the Father raised his Son has been made available to us who died with Christ on the Cross. Through his energy flowing through us we can renounce the flesh and all its works. Our divided hearts can be made one, and we can live holy lives for God’s sake.— Called to be Holy, page 126

That's not repentance

Such persons always need to be crowded up to do duty, with an express passage of scripture, or else they will apologize for sin, and evade duty, and think there is no great harm in doing as they do. The reason is, they love their sins, and if there is not some express command of God which they dare not fly in the face of, they will practice them. Not so with true repentance. If a thing seems contrary to the great law of love, the person who has true repentance will abhor it, and avoid it of course, whether he has an express command of God for it or not...So the man that has true repentance does not need a "Thus saith the Lord," to keep him from oppressing his fellow men, because he would not do anything wrong. How certainly men would abhor anything of the kind, if they had truly repented of sin.—Charles Finney

Monday, April 21, 2014

Transcendent power of creation

It is easy for us to be misled about the meaning of spirit, since in Western languages and philosophies we think of it standing in antithesis to matter. So when we hear that God is spirit, we think in terms of Platonic ideas of incorporeality. But spirit in the Bible has to do less with immateriality than with power and life—the invisible, mysterious power of the gale-force wind that we cannot begin to track (Jn. 3:8). Spirit is the Bible’s way of speaking of what we would call the transcendent power of creation.— Flame of Love, page 25

<idle musing>
Nicer definition than ghost, but still a bit abstract, don't you think? Let's see what he does with it...
</idle musing>

Must or may?

We must die to the life of the flesh and we must put to death all that springs from that life. But these “musts” mask a much deeper truth. It is not so much that we “must” do these things as that we “may”! To attempt to live the life of God in our own strength is indeed to fall into a life of slavery—dual slavery: slavery to the higher life we know we ought to live but cannot, and slavery to a lower life which we hate but cannot avoid. In place of that slavery Paul shows us a picture of family. We are God’s children, through the blessed Spirit whom the Son has made available, and all we need do is to cooperate in the life that is naturally ours as children of the Father.— Called to be Holy, page 121

<idle musing>
Excellent exposition on the Christian life. We need to live out what we already are—by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are simply cooperating with the Holy Spirit—It's not striving, but resting in His power at work within us. Isn't that freeing?
</idle musing>

True repentance

If you have truly repented, you do not now love sin; you do not now abstain from it through fear, and to avoid punishment, but because you hate it.—Charles Finney

<idle musing>
Indeed. Finney had no time for a Christianity that didn't result in transformation. Would that we were as intolerant!
</idle musing>

Friday, April 18, 2014

It isn't a new idea

Creation as well as redemption flows from the Trinity as pure gift. God did not invent grace when sin entered the world. What happened then was that grace abounded all the more (Rom. 5:20). The goal of redemption as union with God was not thought up later on but is the outworking of God’s original purpose.— Flame of Love, page 23

Good Friday thought

Christianity is not primarily a set of ideas to which we give intellectual assent. Christianity is not primarily a moral code to which we agree. Christianity is not primarily a set of ethical standards to which we adhere. Christianity is a life that has been crucified with Christ and is continually resurrected by his resurrection power in us. — Called to be Holy, page 109

Thought for the day

Of what use would it be to have a thousand members added to the church, to be just such as are now in it? Would religion be any more honored by it, in the estimation of ungodly men? One holy church, that are really crucified to the world, and the world crucified to them, would do more to recommend Christianity, than all the churches in the country, living as they now do.—Charles Finney

Thursday, April 17, 2014

He pegs it

Spirit in Western traditions tends to be confined to the institutional church and to be seen as the power of salvation, not of creation also. We have placed emphasis on the sermon and the clergy at the expense of the Spirit. We have prized our versions of decency and order so highly that outpourings of the Spirit pose a threat. Many appear afraid of the Spirit, lest their worlds be shaken and they be swept up into God’s Sabbath play. So often we set up barriers to the Spirit and stifle the voices that speak to us of openness and celebration. “Forgetfulness” may be too kind a way to refer to the problem. We cannot even rule out the possibility of suppression at times.— Flame of Love, page 11

<idle musing>
He pegs it, doesn't he? I had heard a lot about this book over the years, but have only now gotten around to reading it. Excellent book; I always liked Pinnock's stuff—although I think his open view is wrong—totally wrong.
</idle musing>

More than forensic

So when we died with Christ, we died to sin. And when we rose from the dead with Christ we rose to a new life, a life that did not include sin. Why were we justified? So that we “may live a new life.” Nor is that merely figurative, because “our old self was crucified with him" so that the body of sin might be “rendered powerless.” Is that merely forensic? Is Paul merely saying that Christ died so that our record could be clean, while in fact we continued to sin? Not at all, for the rest of the sentence says, “that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” — Called to be Holy, pages 108-109

<idle musing>
Amen! Imputed, yes, but just as importantly—maybe even more importantly!—imparted righteousness. Of course, it is only through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit...but it is real and for now.

By the way, read Roger Olson's post from today. Here's a good excerpt to whet your appetite:

I feel exceedingly sorry for Christians who find the Christian life to be a struggle, drudgery, boring, mainly just a way of avoiding hell and eventually landing in heaven. What they need is an infilling of the Holy Spirit (not just “spiritual formation” although there’s nothing wrong with that).
</idle musing>

Get knowledge

Let ministers be educated as well as they can, the more the better, if they are only holy enough. But it is all a farce to suppose that a literary ministry can convert the world. Let the ministry have the spirit of prayer, let the baptism of the Holy Ghost be upon them, and they will spread the gospel. Only let Christians live as they ought, and the church would shake the world.

<idle musing>
Amen! Holiness combined with education.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Thought for the day

A holy church, that would act on the principles of the gospel, would spread the gospel faster than all the money that ever was in New York, or that ever will be. Give me a holy church, that would live above the world, and the work of salvation would roll on faster than with all the money in Christendom.—Charles Finney

The response

The astronomical regularity—which Job understands as an example of God’s manipulation of mere objects—reflects the knowledge of astronomical phenomena as regular and predictable and thus useful for calendrical matters. God’s response to Job acknowledges this chronological reliability but asserts that this is not a reflection of God’s pitiless handling of soulless entities. The stars, though they function chronologically, are not simply some sort of cosmic clock. On the contrary, their calendrical reliability is a willful and compliant response to God’s guiding constraints. These astral agents are members of God’s court and are divinities in their own right (Job 38:7), who understand and respond favorably to God’s overall plan.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 326


So the New Testament exhibits the same pattern for relating to God as does the Old Testament: (1) we come into the relationship solely by receiving God’s grace; (2) to be in the relationship requires that we manifest Christ’s character; (3) but we cannot do this in our own strength; (4) therefore it is necessary for us to rely entirely upon the Holy Spirit who reproduces Christ’s character in us. — Called to be Holy, pages 104-105

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Thought for the day

Who can wonder that the world is incredulous as to the reality of religion? If they do not look for themselves into the scriptures, and there learn what religion is, if they are governed by the rules of evidence from what they see in the lives of professing Christians, they ought to be incredulous. They ought to infer, so far as this evidence goes, that professors of religion do not themselves believe in it. It is the fact. I doubt, myself, whether the great mass of professors believe the Bible.—Charles Finney

<idle musing>
Indeed. Romans 2:24 comes to mind: As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (TNIV)...
</idle musing>

He's still at it

Nevertheless, by underlining that there are exceptional creatures in the sky (the sun and moon) and the sea (Leviathan and Rahab) and by simultaneously referring to them in deliberately oblique terms, the author is depotentizing them all to a large degree. Furthermore, the preexilic tradition of Canaanite-Israelite astral religion is so strong that it is hard to dismiss the idea that the author is making the point that, though the starry hosts are members of God’s court and are sovereign agents, they are nonetheless created beings like the birds and fish. Moreover, within Canaanite-Israelite astral religion, Yahweh was occasionally, it seems, identified with the sun, and the author is making it perfectly clear that no celestial agent is to be equated with God.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 319


John the Baptist says that the difference between the Messiah and himself is that he baptizes with water while the Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). What would the average Christian say was the purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world? Almost certainly they would not say what John said. We would be much more likely to say that he came to die for our sins. To be sure, he did come for that purpose. The Gospel of John also has John the Baptist saying, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29). But Jesus’ atoning death was an intermediate goal, not the ultimate one.— Called to be Holy, page 90

<idle musing>
The atonement only gospel strikes again! We're selling God short when we reduce the gospel to anything less than the total transformation and remaking of our entire life. Yet we do it all the time...may we rediscover the richness of what God wants to do in our lives—and through our transformed and renewed lives!
</idle musing>

Monday, April 14, 2014

A stumbling block

What do sinners think, when they see professing Christians acting with them in their political measures, which they themselves know to be dishonest and corrupt? They say, "We understand what we are about, we are after office, we are determined to carry our party into power, we are pursuing our own interest; but these Christians profess to live for another and a higher end, and yet here they come, and join with us, as eager for the loaves and fishes as the rest of us." What greater stumbling-block can they have?

<idle musing>
Haven't learned much in 150+ years, have we...
</idle musing>

We're missing the point

But this [the creation of the sun and moon in Genesis 1] is not simply about counting the days and nights; the invention of the sun and moon neither creates nor allows for the passage of time, per se. After all, several days have already passed and been counted without them. Clearly, mere chronological tallying is not the issue here. What is created is the actual calendrical framework that gives the passage of time significance and allows one to separate between sacred and nonsacred times. Indeed, the term used to refer to the light in the sky, ‏מְּאֹרֹת, is used in the Pentateuch to refer exclusively to the lamps in the sanctuary.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 313-314

<idle musing>
Interesting, isn't it? And this whole argument of 6 days totally misses the point, doesn't it? We're looking at the weeds in the garden and missing the flowers that are there...
</idle musing>

So what's the difference, then?

To suggest, as too many do today, that the New Covenant differs from the Old by offering forgiveness in place of demanding obedience is a sad travesty. The New Covenant demands obedience every bit as strongly as does the Old one...So what is the difference between the two covenants? The difference is precisely where Jeremiah and Ezekiel place it. The Old Covenant was external. It stood over against the worshipper and, as such, it showed him or her in no uncertain terms who God was, and who he or she was...The New Covenant differs from the Old in this one respect. It is internal. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, the temple of our heart and spirit can be cleansed from the sins of the past and the Spirit can take up residence within us. Now God’s will can function from within us; now his nature can flow out of us. Now what was once an unattainable goal becomes a living reality. — Called to be Holy, pages 86-87

<idle musing>
Indeed! The difference is "Christ in you, the hope of glory." With Christ in us, there is no command of God we are unable to obey—but only through the power of the indwelling Christ via the Holy Spirit. That's quite a promise, isn't it?
</idle musing>

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The centrality of the cross

In the current field of Pauline studies, it is often difficult to find a sane voice when discussing Paul's views on women. Either Paul is the greatest villain that women have ever encountered, or he is seen as a far-seeing champion of women's rights. I was reading recently (in conjunction with an editing job) and came across the following:
When trying to navigate the seeming contradiction between the hierarchical and egalitarian streams in Paul’s thought, it is important to remember that Paul views power, like everything else, through the lens of the cross. The cross is power, but it is power expressed through weakness, through humility, and through love. The power of the cross is power exerted for the benefit of others, not the benefit of oneself.—JenniferHouston McNeel, Paul as Infant and Nursing Mother: Metaphor, Rhetoric, and Identity in 1 Thessalonians 2:5–8 (dissertation)
<idle musing>
Indeed! And it is not just in matters of Paul's view of women. Paul sees everything through the eyes of the cross.
Would that we did too! Make it so, Lord Jesus!
</idle musing>

Friday, April 11, 2014

Who or whom?

I'm in the midst of editing a book—as usual!—and ran into a nice little phrase that made me stop and actually mentally diagram the sentence. It contains a few things that make you stop to think. Here's the phrase:
“...remind them of who they are…”
What's the problem, you ask? Shouldn't it just be "whom"? After all, it's the object of the preposition "of," right?

Well, yes and no. The whole phrase "who they are" is the object of the preposition "of" not just "who."

OK, you say, but it still should be "whom" because it is the object of "are," right?

Nope. "Are" is a copulative (linking) verb and takes a subjective case predicate (for those of you with Greek or Latin, a predicate nominative). So, it should be "who" as the subjective complement of "are."

Let's create a different clause with the same construction.

It comes down the to the problem of who is Santa Claus.
So you see, Virginia, there really can be an objective Santa Clause...

I know, it's terrible...

A different view on Genesis 1

The Sabbath Calendar, I have argued, is a deliberate rejection of the historical luni-solar calendar of the Canaanite-Israelite traditions and, perhaps more importantly, a rejection of the Standard Mesopotamian Calendar. In this light, Genesis 1 provides a narrative charter, a mythic justification for a novel calendar based not solely on the lunar cycle but on septenary cycles that the author maintains are linked to observable solar, lunar, and astral phenomena.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 314

The cure

A second important feature of the phenomena surrounding Saul’s spirit-filling is his receiving of “a new heart...” Here we have a clear connection between Spirit-filling and moral renovation. We also have the connection between the “heart” and the Spirit. It is the Spirit who gives us the ability to live wholly for God, an ability that we lack otherwise. Our hearts are terribly divided, and the imagination by which our thoughts (“the thoughts of our hearts”) are shaped is deeply and utterly corrupted. God expects us to share his character; that is his goal for us. Yet, as the Hebrew people learned to their dismay, there is that in us which seems to prevent us from reaching that goal, sincere though our efforts may be. What is to be done? Here it is: the Spirit of God must fill us, communicating the character and will of God to us, and giving us a heart which belong wholly to God. — Called to be Holy, page 74

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Because the politics of the world are perfectly dishonest. Who does not know this? Who does not know that it is the proposed policy of every party to cover up the defects of their own candidate, and the good qualities of the opposing candidate? And is not this dishonest? Every party holds up its candidate as a piece of perfection, and then aims to ride him into office by any means, fair or foul. No man can be an honest man, that is committed to a party, to go with them, let them do what they may. And can a Christian do it, and keep a conscience void of offense?—Charles Finney

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The aftermath

I ran across this earlier today on the implications of the Mozilla decision. Definitely worth the read, but here's a key excerpt:
In every other respect we as humans act as individual organisms except when it comes to intercourse between men and women — then we work together as one flesh. Coordination toward that end — even when procreation is not achieved — makes the unity here. This is what marriage law was about. Not two friends building a house together. Or two people doing other sexual activities together. It was about the sexual union of men and women and a refusal to lie about what that union and that union alone produces: the propagation of humanity. This is the only way to make sense of marriage laws throughout all time and human history. Believing in this truth is not something that is wrong, and should be a firing offense. It’s not something that’s wrong, but should be protected speech. It’s actually something that’s right. It’s right regardless of how many people say otherwise. If you doubt the truth of this reality, consider your own existence, which we know is due to one man and one woman getting together. Consider the significance of what this means for all of humanity, that we all share this.
<idle musing>
Read the whole thing. Sure, I don't agree with their political viewpoint, but that doesn't mean they aren't speaking the truth here. Bonhoeffer, in his Ethics goes into quite a bit of detail about the danger of not standing against the social norms. George Orwell, in 1984 also explores it a bit. So does the book Fahrenheit 451, for that matter. Now that I think about it, not conforming for the sake of conforming, daring to stand up—without demonizing the other views—is a major theme in many books, to say nothing of the Bible. The biggest difference between the Bible and other literature (aside from its status of authority!) is the Bible says the response should be love, prayer, compassion, and turning the other cheek...something we're not terribly good at, are we?
</idle musing>

But I thought they were on my side...

[T]he stars are powerful agents in and of themselves who, when called for, are willing to do Yahweh’s martial bidding. They are active, conscious combatants in the conflict [in Judges 5] against the enemies of Yahweh’s people. Although the stars are members of Yahweh’s court, the fact that the stars are noted to fight “from their courses,” םָתוֹלִסְמִּמ, indicates that they have specific positions, even portions (dare I say, “inheritances”?) in the sky that belong, on some level, to them. This also adds to the active portrait that the author is painting. Thus, the kings of Canaan have their coalition composed of kings of various cities, who fight willingly alongside each other (v. 19). Yahweh does as well, and comprises both human tribes and cosmic forces (v. 20). Since the assumption is that the stars serve as the gods of the nations (the very nations against which they are fighting), the fact that they are nevertheless cast as Yahweh’s dutiful vassals serves the Deuteronomistic agenda of the redactor quite well, which is that Yahweh’s sovereignty demands unquestioning loyalty.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 303

<idle musing>
I know—the Hebrew is backwards, but I'm too lazy to fix it...don't let that distract you from what he is saying here...The very gods that the nations think they are calling on to help them are actually bound to work against them. That's a good dose of solid theology—and a radical idea...
</idle musing>

Don't remove it!

Between the request for an established spirit and a willing, or free, spirit is the plea that God should not take his holy spirit from David, In other words, the key to the new spirit that David is asking for is the presence of God’s Spirit. It seems probably that this request grows out of the memory of Saul, a memory that must have gained a horrifying power at this time in David’s life. For once Saul had been dramatically filled with God’s Spirit, as David had been after him. But then through disobedience and rebellion, Saul had lost that intimate presence, and the vacuum had been filled with an altogether different spirit. — Called to be Holy, page 70

Ordained by God?

The first reason why you are not to be conformed to this world in business, is that the principle of the world is that of supreme selfishness. This is true universally, in the pursuit of business. The whole course of business in the world is governed and regulated by the maxims of supreme and unmixed selfishness. It is regulated without the least regard to the commands of God, or the glory of God, or the welfare of their fellow men. The maxims of business generally current among business men, and the habits and usages of business men, are all based upon supreme selfishness. Who does not know, that in making bargains, the business men of the world consult their own interest, and seek their own benefit, and not the benefit of those they deal with?

<idle musing>
Yet I have heard people argue that capitalism in the God-ordained system of business! Not sure which god they are speaking of, but it certainly isn't the God of the Bible! Finney's insights here are just as relevant—and just as ignored!—today as they were 175 years ago...we are still just as badly in need of redemption and revival now as we were then.

Even so, come Lord Jesus! Come and bring revival to this land and especially to your church!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

It makes sense

Speaking of the sun standing still in Joshua, Cooley says
This elevated display of the dead and their descent into the ground—that is, the cave—is not coincidental, nor is the timing of the event at sunset simply the fulfillment of the statute in Deut 21:22. Just as the kings’ corpses were suspended above the land, motionless on poles, so the sun and moon, divested of their sovereignty, stood suspended in the sky above the land. And, just as the kings were buried and their reigns in the land were ended, so also the sun (and moon?) set, descended into the earth, and its reign in the land was ended.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 296
<idle musing>
I've never even pretended to understand what to do with the sun standing still in Joshua, but this interpretation makes sense...
</idle musing>

But it looks good

So we have this interesting juxtaposition; an Asa whose commitment to God was absolute even though his obedience fell short of all that it might have been, and an Amaziah whose performance was as upright as anyone could expect, even God, but who never finally yielded the control center of himself to God. What does such a juxtaposition say about God’s will and the possibilities for human life? Surely it says that what God wants above all—and what it is possible for us humans to give—is a life which is totally given over to him. This is the heart of the covenant. This is a life that exists for one purpose: the service and glory of God. An inescapable component of such a perfect heart is obedience. It could not be otherwise. But God does not want obedience. He wants obedience which is the natural outflow of a heart totally given over to him. If that obedience is not all that it might be in other circumstances, or in other persons, he is willing to work with that fact. What he does not want is obedience which is offered in place of a perfect heart. Such obedience then becomes a means of attempted self-justification, a fruitless enterprise. — Called to be Holy, pages 60-61

<idle musing>
And that, my friends, is the heart of Christian holiness. It all flows from a heart that is yielded to God. The performance will follow if the heart and will are in the right spot. Holiness of heart, not performance-based, rule-bound holiness. As Oswalt says, "Such obedience then becomes a means of attempted self-justification, a fruitless enterprise." Always has been, always will be.
<idle musing>

Higher authority

You see what it is to be a Christian. It is to be governed by the authority of God in all things, and not by public sentiment, to live not by hopes and fears, but by supreme consecration of yourself unto God. You see that if you mean to be religious, you must count the cost. I will not flatter you. I will never try to coax you to become religious, by keeping back the truth. If you mean to be Christians, you must give yourselves wholly up to Christ. You cannot float along to heaven on the waves of public sentiment. I will not deceive you on this point.—Charles Finney

<idle musing>
If only we were as honest pleading, begging, cajoling to get people to "give their heart to Jesus" in that statement. Just the plain, bare truth that it will cost you something—nay, everything!—should you decide to follow Jesus. Kind of reminds you of the rich young ruler in the gospels, doesn't it? He ended up walking away, but at least he didn't have a deluded sense that he was following Jesus.

Perhaps the first step in becoming a Christian is to realize that you aren't one least not if anything other than Jesus is at the center of your life, that is.

Too radical an idea? Perhaps, but you can't say it isn't a biblical one!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Thought for the day

If you allow yourselves in any sins secretly, when you can get along without having any human being know it, know that God sees it, and that He has already written down your name, HYPOCRITE. You are more afraid of disgrace in the eye of mortals, than of disgrace in the eye of God.—Charles Finney

Stars? Divine?

I maintain that the stars’ role as active agents is, in a certain sense, linked to a divine nature, even if the biblical authors often deny them this status outright. Put another way, agents that would have been considered divine in the broader ancient Near East are frequently labeled otherwise by the biblical authors. Despite the biblical authors’ theologically oriented reluctance, I understand biblical narratives that include astral features as active agents as a genuine literary reflex of Canaanite-Israelite astral religion, even if this reflex was heavily qualified by the monotheizing penchants of the biblical authors.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 291

<idle musing>
I've always been intrigued by C.S. Lewis's view of stars as expressed in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He puts words in the mouth of a recovering star in Narnia, saying something to the effect that even in our world, stars are far more than they appear to be. I would tend to agree—he develops this a bit more in Perelandra in a delightful exposition on sexless sexuality.
</idle musing>

Are methods neutral?

Whenever the world’s methods are used for God’s work, we must be doubly careful that those methods are sanctified by the fire of God. Perhaps Solomon thought his relationship with God was so secure that nothing could touch it. To his sorrow, he learned this is never the case. Our will, our decisions, our affections are never static. A heart that is perfect toward God does indeed have a new set of inclinations, inclinations to obey rather than to disobey, but unless those inclinations are carefully nourished from day to day, they will wither and die, like Solomon’s did.— Called to be Holy, page 57

<idle musing>
Indeed. I wonder how many of the methods being employed on in the cause of "God's work" have been "sanctified by the fire of God." I fear too few have been...
</idle musing>

Monday, April 07, 2014

Then that's your God

Obedience to God's commands implies an obedient state of the heart, and therefore nothing is obedience that does not imply a supreme regard to the authority of God. Now, if a man's heart is right, then whatever God enjoins he regards as of more importance than anything else. And if a man regards anything else of superior weight to God's authority, that is his idol. Whatever we supremely regard, that is our God—whether it be reputation, or comfort, or riches, or honor, or whatever it is that we regard supremely, that is the God of our hearts.

It just isn't there

It is clear that Iron Age Israel had a tradition of astral religion that was part of its ancient roots in the Levant, as is amply attested in both Iron Age material remains as well as biblical testimony. Astral religion, in this sense, was just like other ancient Canaanite traditions that the biblical authors dismissed and derided as foreign. In spite of the antiquity of astral religion in ancient Israel, celestial divination apparently was not part of Israel’s religious tradition. Material from Ugarit shows that any celestial divination in Syria–Palestine in the Bronze Age was nothing more than immature speculation, and the biblical text testifies only to foreign practice. Furthermore, when after the Iron Age Jews did engage in forms of astrology, those forms were basically Jewish adaptations of Late Babylonian or Hellenistic practice and show no Israelite or Neo-Babylonian/ Neo-Assyrian legacy. The paradigm in which astral religion and celestial divination are necessarily linked by us moderns in ancient Israel is ultimately and understandably based on the Mesopotamian model. But perhaps we should cite another parallel. We know, for example, that in Egypt, though astronomical calendars were used in support of astral cults from the Predynastic period on, there was no native tradition of celestial divination. Indeed, the first indication of any form of celestial divination in Egypt does not appear until the Hellenistic period, when Late Babylonian and Greek astrology were introduced. In the southern Levant, this seems to have been the case as well; the first indisputable evidence of Jewish astrology appears only at Qumran.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, pages 260-261


Being wholeheartedly God’s has much less to do with how we feel about God than it does with letting him slash out of our lives everything which stands as a rival to him so that he can fill our lives with himself and transform the very way we imagine reality. — Called to be Holy, page 54

<idle musing>
And I would go a step further and say it has less to do with how we feel than it does with believing—and acting—on what he says is true about us...
</idle musing>

Friday, April 04, 2014

Two-fold response

I wish you to remember this point—that the true friend of God and man never takes the sinner's part, because he never acts through mere compassion. And at the same time, he is never seen to denounce the sinner, without at the same time manifesting compassion for his soul, and a strong desire to save him from death.—Charles Finney

It ain't there, so why fight it?

When considered in light of the flimsy material from Ugarit, it seems to me most likely that Israel did not have an indigenous form of celestial divination (§4.1.3). Supporting this is the biblical testimony, which neither depicts Israel engaged in the practice nor outlaws it. The Israelites did not practice celestial divination, simply because there was no such practice in their Canaanite religious heritage (except for evidence of some unsophisticated mantic experimentation at Ugarit). Furthermore, there is no evidence that they adopted any such foreign tradition before the exile.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 259

<idle musing>
In other words, it ain't a problem, so why even address it? We might do well to remember that when we go looking for answers in the Bible. There's a lot of stuff that we need answers to that isn't addressed—because it wasn't relevant to them! But, we can extract an overarching theme from the biblical text (yes, Virginia, there is a metanarrative!). Based on that theme, we can make informed (and humbly held, I might add!) decisions. But always be aware that we might be wrong—but that we definitely are called to love those who differ from us. That is a non-negotiable—love covers over a multitude of sins.
</idle musing>

The Goal

The goal of salvation is not that people should be free of physical and spiritual bondage in order to live as they choose. The goal of salvation is fellowship with God within the parameters of his character and nature. This has been God’s goal since the tragedy of Genesis 3 and it remains so in the Christian era. The thought that the primary purpose of the Cross is forgiveness is misguided at best. — Called to be Holy, page 33

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Thought for the day

They will make it manifest that this is their character, by their carefulness in avoiding sin. They will show that they hate it in themselves, and they hate it in others. They will not justify it in themselves, and they will not justify it in others. They will not seek to cover up or to excuse their own sins, neither will they try to cover up or to excuse the sins of others. In short, they aim at PERFECT HOLINESS. This course of conduct makes it evident that they are the true friends of God. I do not mean to say that every true friend of God is perfect, no more than I would say that every truly affectionate and obedient child is perfect, or never fails in duty to his parent. But if he is an affectionate and obedient child, his aim is to obey always, and if he fails in any respect, he by no means justifies it, or pleads for it, or aims to cover it up, but as soon as he comes to think of the matter, is dissatisfied with himself, and condemns his conduct.—Charles Finney

The defiling of the astral cult

The astral cult’s former devotees will be disinterred and thereby greatly dishonored. Simultaneously, they will be “allowed” to continue to worship their gods. Indeed, someone will וּאיִצי, “bring out,” the bones of the dead. It is significant to note that the root אצי can be used to describe the rising of a celestial body (for example, Gen 19:23, אָצָי שֶׁמֶשַּׁה; Judg 5:31, שֶׁמֶשַּׁה תאֵצְכּ). Thus, the corpses are themselves darkly “rising” from the underworld like some infernal celestial body for their former gods. But this is more than linguistic and cultic irony. By disinterring the bodies and exposing them to their sacred objects of devotion, those objects, the Host of Heaven, are thereby desanctified in the same sense that a physical cult site would be if it were exposed to human corpses, such as when Josiah disinterred the remains of the priests at Bethel and burned them on the altar there (2 Kgs 23:15–16) .—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 250

<idle musing>
Yes, I know the Hebrew is backwards, but I'm too lazy to retype it...

Interesting take on the significance, isn't it? I wonder how many commentators have caught it?
<idle musing>

What's the big deal about a new covenant?

In the context of the New Covenant there will be forgiveness and a Divine forgetfulness that will lose track of all our sins. But that forgiveness and forgetfulness are not so that God’s people may continue in their sin and rebellion. They are in order that the Old Covenant may be set aside and the New Covenant of the Spirit might be entered into. In that New Covenant, God’s people will be enabled to live for him as they could not when the covenant was external to them and not written on their hearts. — Called to be Holy, page 81

<idle musing>
Yes! But we must always remember that it is only by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is not outward performance. It is a transformed heart which results in holy living. That's why I have taken to calling it heart holiness. Otherwise we concentrate on works—a dead end it ever there was one!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

No need...

Despite the range and mass of primary sources in existence from ancient Israel, only scraps of celestial-science terminology are extant. Aside from basic terminology for the sun and moon, only a handful of specific star names and a single veiled reference to a planet remain. This situation can at least partially be explained by (1) preexilic Israel’s lunar calendar, which required very little astral systematization, as will be discussed below; and (2) its lack of celestial divination. Put simply, the writings from Iron Age Israel do not use sophisticated celestial-science concepts or employ complex terminology, probably because there was no need for these sorts of things.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, page 245

<idle musing>
And why not? Perhaps I'm overly influenced from my current reading in Isaiah, but it seems to me that the presence of a living, holy, communicating God obviated the need...
</idle musing>

Set apart?

If holiness was an automatic result of being brought into an exclusive relation with a holy God, then as soon as the covenant was sealed in Exodus 24, the nation would be holy and no more commands would be needed. But that is clearly not the case. The people are in an exclusive relationship with God, and yet they are commanded to become holy.— Called to be Holy, page 32

<idle musing>
How many times have you heard people say that holiness just means "set apart"? Well, it does, but it means much more than that—as the quotation above points out. The rest of the Torah/Pentateuch is designed to show us what that "much more" is...
</idle musing>

Stop it!

Do not talk about people's sins, but go and reprove them. It is very common to talk about people's sins behind their backs, but this is great wickedness. If you want to talk about any person's sins, go and talk to him about them, and try to get him to repent and forsake them. Do not go and talk to others against him behind his back, and leave him to go on in his sins, unwarned, to hell.—Charles Finney

Thought for today

"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." (Isaiah 43:1b-3aNIV)