Friday, March 24, 2023

On trial—again!

Though modern interpreters have long considered the scene in Athens to be a placid philosopher’s dialogue, the ancients would have read it differently. In antiquity it was known not only that Athens grew its own philosophers but also that it could try and kill them. Socrates was the best remembered, but he was not the only thinker who met his doom in Greece’s most famous city. In fact, Paul’s appearance before the court of the Areopagus is a trial. Luke’s Paul is enough of a rhetor to combine a skillful avoidance of the capital charge—bringing in strange deities, as did Socrates—with a comprehensive critique of pagan “piety” as “superstitious” idolatry. Turning to the God who is now newly known in Athens would in fact expose the city as a place “full of idols” rather than of wisdom (Acts 17:16-34).—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 136–37


Paul rescues a “prophetic” slave girl by exorcising the spirit that made her fortune telling possible. In so doing he simultaneously destroys the economically exploitative work of her owners. Seeing the destruction of their business, the girl’s savvy masters carefully rephrase their worries in dangerous political terms. Going before the Philippian magistrates, they accuse Paul and Silas: “These men are Jews and are disrupting the city, and they advocate practices that are unlawful for us Romans to accept or to do” (Acts 16:21). Given the gravity of the accusations against the Christian missionaries, it is no great wonder that the magistrates “tore their clothes off, gave orders to beat them with rods," and “after they had inflicted many blows upon them," threw them into prison (16:22-23). Of course the two men are freed from prison, but the businessmen and magistrates have rightly intuited the potential for cultural wreckage in Philippi.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 135–36

<idle musing>
He develops these ideas of the accusation of stasis ("rebellion, sedition") much more in his previous book, World Upside Down, which is definitely worth your time reading. I excerpted from it a few years back; you can search for it to see them.
</idle musing>

And can it be?

445 1st P. M. 6 lines 8s.
No condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.

AND can it be that I should gain
   An int’rest in the Saviour’s blood?
   Died he for me, who caused his pain?
   For me, who him to death pursued?
   Amazing love! how can it be,
   That thou, my Lord, shouldst die for me?

2 ’Tis myst’ry all,—the’ Immortal dies
   Who can explore his strange design?
   In vain the first-born seraph tries
   To sound the depths of love divine;
   ’Tis mercy all! let earth adore:
   Let angel minds inquire no more.

3 He left his Father’s throne above;
   (So free, so infinite his grace!)
   Emptied himself of all but love,
   And bled for Adam’s helpless race;
   ‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
   For, O my God, it found out me!

4 Long my imprison’d spirit lay,
   Fast bound in sin and nature’s night:
   Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray;
   I woke; the dungeon flamed with light:
   My chains fell off, my heart was free,—
   I rose, went forth, and follow’d thee.

5 No condemnation now I dread,—
   Jesus, with all in him, is mine;
   Alive in him, my living Head,
   And clothed in righteousness divine,
   Bold I approach the’ eternal throne,
   And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
                        Charles Wesley
                         Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Thursday, March 23, 2023

A new beginning

“If you are the Son of God,” the Devil tempts (Luke 4:3, 9), if you are the son of Adam, then go the way of Adam—and sin. Three times the Devil tempts, and three times Jesus parries the temptations. The son of Adam repeats his father’s history of temptation, but this time God’s son does not sin. Humanity, it is implied, is given a new beginning in the second son of God.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 132

<idle musing>
And praise God for that new beginning!
</idle musing>

Kindness and mercy

Whether this parable [of the prodigal son] is meant more to map sinners and Pharisees, or Gentiles and Jews, or waywardness and self-righteousness in more general terms is impossible to decide. For in fact it is all of them in turns or at once. At each level and in every case, the Father is the one whose mercy is worked out as kindness to the wicked and ungrateful. In Luke’s Gospel, this is the God whom Jesus calls Father.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 128

Take flight!

440 C. M.
Peace in believing.

JESUS, to thee I now can fly,
   On whom my help is laid:
   Oppress’d by sins, I lift mine eye,
   And see the shadows fade.

2 Believing on my Lord, I find
   A sure and present aid:
   On thee alone my constant mind
   Be every moment stay’d.

3 Whate’er in me seems wise, or good,
   Or strong, I here disclaim:
   I wash my garments in the blood
   Of the atoning Lamb.

4 Jesus, my strength, my life, my rest,—
   On thee will I depend,
   Till summon’d to the marriage-feast,
   When faith in sight shall end.
                        Charles Wesley
                         Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

But it's not supposed to happen that way!

This [the definition of "Messiah"] is particularly important to remember for the title Christ, for in fact nowhere before Jesus is there any indication that the Messiah was expected to be denounced by the leaders of the Jewish people and subsequently killed by pagan decree. Luke himself articulates the novelty of this notion through the mouth of Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus. The two are returning home after Jesus’ death at Passover and meet a stranger along the road. In response to his question about the cause of their obvious dejection, they say, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21; cf. Acts 1:6). The implication could hardly be more apparent: their messianic hope went unfulfilled. The rest of the Gospel, together with Acts, then develops the transformation in the meaning of Messiah to include suffering and death. In the final scenes of the Gospel, for example, an exegetical lesson is given by no less than Jesus himself. And what did he teach? “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25–27). The idea of a suffering and dying Messiah is unexpected enough to require a lesson by the Messiah himself.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 122

Early Christology?

Where modern New Testament scholars have routinely believed that Jesus was acclaimed Lord only after his death and resurrection, Luke makes clear that he was Lord from the moment of his existence. Jesus’ identity is inseparably bound to his emergence in the world as the Lord. To be Jesus, Luke's story line says, is to be the Lord.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 120

<idle musings>
Agreed! I never understood the late Christology position. Even Bart Ehrmann, a self-avowing agnostic, when he researched for his book on Christology ended up in the early Christology camp.
</idle musing>

The presence of God

425 L. M.
Hope springing up.

MY soul before thee prostrate lies;
   To thee, her Source, my spirit flies;
   My wants I mourn, my chains I see;
   0 let thy presence set me free.

2 Jesus, vouchsafe my heart and will
   With thy meek lowliness to fill;
   No more her power let nature boast,
   But in thy will may mine be lost.

3 Already springing hope I feel,—
   God will destroy the power of hell,
   And, from a land of wars and pain,
   Lead me where peace and safety reign.

4 One only care my soul shall know,—
   Father, all thy commands to do;
   And feel, what endless years shall prove,
   That thou, my Lord, my God, art love.
                        Christian Friedrich Richter; trans. John Wesley
                        Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

More than an analogy

The answer to Mary’s question is simple, if also startling. “The Holy Spirit will overshadow you.” With “Holy Spirit” Luke speaks of God in the dynamic way of the Jews. For Jewish tradition, as for Luke, God was alive—“the living God,” as Scripture said again and again—and such life meant for them that God could never be understood as a monad or an analogy to any of the philosophical accounts of “God" as the top Being in a variously tiered universe. God was, rather, a self-relational God, one whose internal life required the Jews to speak with a more subtle theological grammar: to talk of the Living God was to talk not just of his being God but of his Word and Spirit and Wisdom and Presence.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 119

Right next door

For Luke, the continuation of God's dealings with the Jewish people thus results in a division within Israel itself between those who see Jesus as “fulfillment” and those who do not.” Nothing in the story suggests that God has passed Israel by or left behind those Jews who do not see fulfillment. The narrative pattern of Acts shows rather that they continue to receive the prophetic call of their own Scriptures. Paul may well shake the dust off his feet—and then move in next door.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 117

A cry for companionship

423 6th P. M. 6 lines 7s.
The Light of light.

O DISCLOSE thy lovely face!
   Quicken all my drooping powers ;
   Grasps my fainting soul for grace,
   As a thirsty land for showers:
   Hasten , Lord, no more delay;
   Come, my Saviour, come away.

2 Dark and cheerless is the morn,
   Unaccompanied by thee;
   Joyless is the day’s return,
   Till thy mercy’s beams I see:
   Till thou inward life impart,
   Glad my eyes, and warm my heart.

3 Visit then this soul of mine;
   Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
   Fill me, Radiancy divine;
   Scatter all my unbelief :
   More and more thyself display,
   Shining to the perfect day.
                        Charles Wesley
                        Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Tozer for Tuesday

We must be careful that we do not separate God’s gifts from God Himself. What is wrong with Christians in our day is that they have the gifts of God but have forgotten the God of the gifts.—A.W. Tozer, Living as a Christian, 93

Monday, March 20, 2023

Not a self-help/self-improvement program

Paul is, however, hardly an optimist. Indeed, in his view our natural capacities to seek God and do the good—or to quench our thirst for truth and beauty—inevitably lead us away from that which we seek. Sin overpowers us, enslaves us, and makes us sick unto death. And no amount of spiritual exercise or striving against our illness can make us well. Recovery and repair come to us from the outside, from God’s side of the human predicament. Paul’s letters, therefore, are not lessons in self-cultivation or community organizing or social criticism or any such things in themselves. They are rather more like passionate summonses to receive and undergo the disciplines of the free life that only God can grant. Faith, not available knowledge of the immanent world, is the gift—and, subsequently, the virtue—that imparts true vision (Gal 3:15). And church is the name for faith’s “meantime,” reparative pattern of life in the world.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 111

Caesar, a god? Not so much

He does not explicitly contest Caesar’s rule—indeed, he can even see the authorities as allowed by God (Rom 13:1—7). Nor does he overtly criticize the imperial cult or judicial miscarriages or any other obviously problematical political practices. But he does, simply by placing all things under the dominion of Christ, help to create the political conditions under which Christian communities can live out the demotion of Caesar from “a god” to a servant of God. Implicitly, that is, Paul’s way of conceiving of Caesar’s authority is finally an uncompromising challenge to Rome’s construal of the emperor. For Rome, precisely because the emperor founds the political order and is the fulcrum on which it all turns, he requires ultimate and unchallenged allegiance. Caesar not only is “the Lord of the whole world," as an inscription in Greece once said of Nero, he can also be nothing less than what his politics require: a god, the extrinsic founder of the political reality called the Roman Empire. For Paul, however, such claims would smack of idolatry: for him, as for other Jews, only the true God can found a political order. All other political players are but actors on this more fundamental, God-given stage. As Paul tells the Corinthians, the Gentiles may well think there are “many lords and many gods” in the world—with Caesar among them—but “for us there is only one God … and one Lord” (1 Cor 8:6). At bottom, therefore, while Paul may remind the Romans to “pay taxes to whom taxes are due and give honor to whom honor is due," he does so only because he can judge such realities momentarily to cohere with the divine economy. When push later came to shove, congregants schooled in Pauline logic would have no difficulty discerning the Christian difference from Dea Roma, her emperor, and the wider religiopolitical practices that held them necessarily together. Final allegiance belongs only to Christ.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 107

<idle musing>
He develops this idea a good bit more in his earlier book, World Upside Down, which I read and excerpted from a few years ago (do a search on "World Upside Down" to find them). That book is also definitely worth your time—or as one of my theology profs used to say, "You owe it to yourself to read this book." Love that line!
</idle musing>

Grieving the Spirit

422 C. M.
The surrender.

HOW oft have I the Spirit grieved,
   Since first with me he strove;
   How obstinateiy disbelieved,
   And trampled on his love!
   How have I sinn’d against the light;
   Broken from his embrace;
   And would not, when I freely might,
   Be justified by grace.

2 But after all that I have done
   To drive him from my heart,
   The Spirit leaves me not alone,—
   He doth not yet depart;
   He will not give the sinner o’er;
   Ready e’en now to save,
   He bids me come as heretofore,
   That I his grace may have.

3 I take thee at thy gracious word;
   My foolishness I mourn;
   And unto my redeeming Lord,
   However late, I turn:
   Saviour, I yield, I yield at last;
   I hear thy speaking blood;
   Myself, with all my sins,
   I cast On my atoning God.
                      Charles Wesley
                      Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Thank you, Fitbit

I have a Fitbit Versa 1; I've had it for about a year and a half now. Our son, Ryan, bought a Versa 2 and handed the Versa 1 down to me.

Because it's an older model, it lacks some of the newer bells and whistles, but I don't miss most of those things. What I did miss was Saturation Percentage of Oxygen (SPO2), Heart Rate Variance (HRV), and Resting Breathing Rate (RBR). But I love the sleep tracking and heartrate monitoring.

The sleep tracking confirmed to me what I had thought for years: I sleep more deeply than average and have fewer dreams. Below is a screen shot from my sleep profile from about six weeks ago, but it's typical. The shaded range is average for men my age. You can see that I'm well below average for REM and well above average for deep sleep:

Now, what I said about SPO2 isn't quite true. Probably about nine months ago now Fitbit made SPO2 tracking available on the Versa 2 and above. With the Versa 1, you could add the SPO2 watch face and see your SPO2 from the night before, and in the sleep profile, if you scrolled all the way down, you could see the variation for that night. But, you couldn't track it day-to-day to watch for trends.

But, man, does SPO2 tracking drain the battery! After activating it, I was getting about 48 hours per charge. But recently, that has become 36 hours. So, I decided to start looking at replacements—not that I was planning on taking the plunge soon, but I wanted to see what was available. I was really attracted to the Garmin stuff because nothing was behind a paywall—no subscription required. But, their basic models weren't touch screen and didn't include an altimeter for hill tracking. But I certainly wasn't happy that in order to access some of the more advanced stuff on Fitbit you had to subscribe. I didn't want the information that badly!

But all that changed about four days ago. Fitbit made SPO2, HRV, RBR, and skin temp variation available outside the paywall! And, what truly surprised me is that the Versa 1 can track HRV and RBR!

To activate it, go to your Fitbit app and click on Health Metrics; it will ask to you approve the tracking and then show you the metrics. See the screen shot below:

Because I have a Versa 1, the HRV, RBR, and skin temp spots were empty, which didn't surprise me because I knew it wasn't being tracked. But, the next day, I was very surprised to see the HRV and RBR there! (See the screen shot below.)

So, thank you Fitbit! The next smartwatch/fitness tracker I get will be a Fitbit. It has the best bang for the buck and fits my needs very well—especially now that more data is available without a subscription.

By the way, I'm not sure how Fitbit calculates the RHR, but using the more traditional way of looking at your heart rate when you first get up, my RHR whould be about 47 bpm, not 53. In the summer, Fitbit tells me it is about 50, whereas I see it as 45 bpm—but I'm not going to quibble; it's still in the excellent range!

And a further note about HRV: The higher the number, the better. Do a quick google search to find out more, but it varies by age. And as far as RBR, unless you are in excellent shape, my RBR would be a warning about sleep apnea. But, for a person in good physical condition (i.e., an athlete), anything in the 8–10 breathes/minute is normal. Again, do a quick google search for more info.

An added little tidbit that many people don't know: On the Fitbit, swipe up to see your stats for the day. Scroll down to the heart rate and swipe left twice. It will show you your cardio-fitness score. It will give a range and tell you where you fall in your age bracket. I'm in the 56–60 range, which for a 67-year old is considered excellent.

Now, if only I could find out how to calculate my functional threshold power (FTP) on my Cycleops mag trainer (it's a dumb trainer). It's about seven or eight years old now; it was given to me by our son-in-law and replaced a fifteen-year-old Cycleops mag trainer. I don't have wireless speed/cadence detectors on this bike, either, so it's all guesstimation. I always keep the resistance set to maximum, too. I've looked everywhere on the internet for help calculating it, and the closest I can come is a graph that shows average speed mapped to approximate FTP. Based on that, I'd guesstimate it at about 200 watts. Is that good? Apparently it's pretty fair, earning a Cat 4 rating.

Sun of Righteousness

394 C. M.
The Sun of righteousness.

O SUN of righteousness, arise
   With healing in thy wing;
   To my diseased, my fainting soul,
   Life and salvation bring.

2 These clouds of pride and sin dispel,
   By thy all-piercing beam:
   Lighten mine eyes with faith; my heart
   With holy hope inflame.

3 My mind, by thy all-quick’ning power,
   From low desires set free;
   Unite my scatter’d thoughts, and fix
   My love entire on thee.

4 Father, thy long-lost son receive;
   Saviour, thy purchase own;
   Blest Comforter, with peace and joy
   Thy new-made creature crown.

5 Eternal, undivided Lord,
   Co-equal One in Three,—
   On thee all faith, all hope be placed;
   All love be paid to thee.
                  John Wesley
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Friday, March 17, 2023

Separate? Nope!

The Pauline language for human reality in the interval between our death and the consummation of all things derives from his sense of our participation in and union with Christ. Prepositions are theologically strong words for Paul. The human being cannot be divided from Christ because we are in him; when we die we are therefore with him. Nowhere in his letters does Paul explain how this can be so, that is, what part of the human being it is that can exist with Christ without its transformed body, how God relates to this part without a body, how this requires us to think differently about time, and so on. What Paul does express quite clearly, however, is the belief that Cod’s act of love in raising Christ from the dead defies the power of death to separate us from him in any way.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 101

Death, the great equalizer?

Death is ours due not simply to the way the world runs but to the curse. Death conquers and swallows up all perishable life. Rulers may harm, demons may torment, but to have to die is to perish and to be cursed. “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the dying puts on the undying, then the word that is written will come to pass: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory'” (1 Cor 15:54). For Paul death is a deep enough threat to the human creature that its defeat cannot come simply by existential posturing. Even the well—adjusted, authentically alive creatures are in the end defeated by death. Defeating death requires a great deal more than a well—adjusted soul; it requires, in fact, nothing less than the transformation of death to life.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 100

<idle musing>
Quite a bit different from the Stoic view. They were more interested in accomodating life to the fact of death than overcoming it.
</idle musing>

Rend the heavens!

376 C. M.
To God all things are possible.

O THAT thou wouldst the heavens rend,
   In majesty come down,—
   Streteh out thine arm omnipotent,
   And seize me for thine own.

2 Descend, and let thy lightnings burn
   The stubble of thy foe;
   My sins o’erturn, o’erturn, o’erturn,
   And make the mountains flow.

3 Thou my impetuous spirit guide,
   And curb my headstrong will;
   Thou only canst drive back the tide,
   And bid the sun stand still.

4 What though I cannot break my chain,
   Or e’er throw off my load;
   The things impossible to men,
   Are possible for God.
                  Charles Wesley
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Sophia? Not so much

Contrary to the reductive way sin is often spoken of in regular discourse, the Pauline epistles evidence not one but three complexly intertwined ways of speaking about what sin is. It is, first, a cosmic condition, an inescapable fact about the (broken) structure of the world in which humans emerge and out of which they cannot extract themselves (see Rom 8:18-26). It is, second, a description of certain behaviors, dispositions, or acts that contravene the moral order of Gods law—“sins” (see Rom 7:5), “trespasses” (see Rom 5:14; Gal 3:19), or “transgressions" (see Rom 5:16–18; 11:11–12). And it is, third, a power (see Rom 7:7–25), something that can, it seems, act within the world, seizing even the best that life can offer to its own destructive purposes.

Precisely because of its multifaceted reality, sin’s reach is broad and its damage deep. What normally appears as wisdom, for example—the quintessence of the philosophical quest—turns out to be nothing of the kind. Foolishness, says Paul, is the real name for human Sophia in the sight of God. Standing the truth on its head, he tells the struggling church in Corinth that genuine wisdom is what looks like foolishness. “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe … [and] we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:20–21). In short, Paul argues, sin blinds us, and our quest for the wise life leads us to reject as foolishness that which is really wise, the crucifixion of Christ (1 Cor 1–3).—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 97

What is freedom, anyway?

Had he lived to taste the modem flavor of such questions [What is freedom? What about the self?], Paul’s answer would prove profoundly unsatisfying to the champions of innate individual freedom and the exaltation of the “I" in the projects of self-determination. Anthropology is participatory at its core. Our humanity is determined on the one hand by our participation in Adam's sin and, on the other, by our participation in the new life in Jesus Christ. To go even farther, freedom as moderns conceive it is an abstract property of the human being in isolation from heaven or hell, something that supposedly exists entirely within the “immanent frame.” But in point of fact freedom is not entirely immanent and is not abstract: it exists only in participation in Christ. “Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Rom 6:16). We are slaves either to the one Adam or to the other. Freedom is, quite simply, becoming a slave of Christ. As Paul went on to tell the Roman Christians, “Thanks be to God that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were delivered, and, having been freed from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:17-18). Left to ourselves, we are not “ourselves” but rather agents of sin.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 96–97

<idle musing>
Or, as Bob Dylan put it, "You gotta serve somebody." God lays the choice before us: Either we accept the redemptive offer in Christ and become adopted sons and daughters, participants in the redeemed. Or, we reject it and serve sin and death.

Pretty start contrast, but I believe it is true.
</idle musing>

Heart of stone

373 S. M.
The heart of stone.

O THAT I could repent,
   With all my idols part,
   And to thy gracious eye present
   An humble, contrite heart;

2 A heart with grief oppress’d,
   For having grieved my God;
   A troubled heart, that cannot rest.
   Till sprinkled with thy blood.

3 Jesus, on me bestow
   The penitent desire;
   With true sincerity of wo
   My aching breast inspire.

4 With soft’ning pity look,
   And melt my hardness down:
   Strike with thy love’s resistless stroke,
   And break this heart of stone.
                  Charles Wesley
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Wednesday, March 15, 2023


Throughout his letters, then, Paul’s logic is clear enough: when Jesus died, he was dead—not partly dead, as if he possessed a soul that escaped death, but really, truly, and fully dead. Paul consistently speaks, in fact, of Jesus’ resurrection in the passive voice, as something that can only be attributed to the act of God (see Rom 4:25 et passim). Because he was dead, Jesus could not raise himself; it was God who raised Jesus from the dead. And when he was then alive again, he was alive with the body by which he lived his earthly life. This body, however, was not flesh and blood simpliciter, a resuscitation like Lazarus’s in John’s Gospel or a revivified corpse; it was, rather, transformed flesh, transformed blood, a body that required the word spirit to describe it.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 94–95 (emphasis original)

Tozer for Tuesday (yes, I know it's Wednesday, but I forgot)

I am sure that if the envious, the defamers, and the back- biters were taken out of the average church there would be a revival overnight.—A.W. Tozer, Living as a Christian, 86

The love of sin

370 4th P. M. 886, 886.
The man on Calvary.

O THOU who hast our sorrows borne,
   Help us to look on thee, and mourn,
   On thee, whom we have slain:—
   Have pierced a thousand, thousand times,
   And by reiterated crimes
   Renew’d thy sacred pain.

2 O give us eyes of faith to see
   The Man transfix’d on Calvary,—
   To know thee who thou art;
   The One Eternal God and True;
   And let the sight affect, subdue,
   And break my stubborn heart.

3 Lover of souls,—to rescue mine,
   Reveal the charity divine,
   That suffer’d in my stead
   That made thy soul a sacrifice,
   And quench’d in death those flaming eyes,
   And bow’d that sacred head.

4 The veil of unbelief remove;
   And by thy manifested love,
   And by thy sprinkled blood,
   Destroy the love of sin in me,
   And get thyself the victory,
   And bring me back to God.
                  Charles Wesley
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

<idle musing>
"Destroy the love of sin in me." That's sanctification in a nutshell. The replacement of the love of sin with the love of God. Wesley had it right: sanctification in nothing but the love of God. He put as "to feel nothing but love toward God and my fellow man."

Where there is love, nothing that isn't of God can live.

Make it so, Lord!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

But, who is this god?

In the end, putting the question “who is God?” to the Pauline letters elicits an answer that entirely resists simplicity. It requires instead a nimble movement between three distinct but inseparably related terms, with a willingness to hold onto the oneness of Israel’s God all the while. To tell the story that names who God is according to Paul, therefore, we have to speak distinctly and concurrently of God the Father, Jesus of Nazareth, and the Holy Spirit that is their Spirit. To leave out one of these would reduce Paul’s theological language to the point of destroying it; or, to say it another way, refusing the Pauline complexity results in the telling of another story and thus in the naming of someone other than the God about whom Paul writes. The fillip for the complexity, of course, is Paul's reflection on Jesus.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 91

Not so the biblical God!

In short, Paul’s reply would affirm that neither Jesus nor the Spirit contradicts the oneness of God. Indeed, they express it, or articulate it historically, concretely, humanly. Conversely, God’s oneness articulates the final significance of Jesus the Messiah (1 Thess 3:2 and 2:8, 9). There is no competition between God and Jesus. The one God is for us and with us as the Lord Jesus. Had Paul lived after Kant, therefore, and learned about “monotheism" as a philosophical principle, he might have said his opponents thought of oneness or monotheism as abstractions, properties or attributes that match the highest form of speculative reason or even religious thought. Not so the biblical God. That God is one in exactly the way the Bible depicts his oneness: a dynamic, living oneness that culminates historically in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, who is made currently present by the power of the Holy Spirit.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 91

My infected nature

364 L. M.
Only by faith.

LORD, I despair myself to heal;
   I see my sin, but cannot feel;
   I cannot, till thy Spirit blow,
   And bid the obedient waters flow.

2 ’Tis thine a heart of flesh to give;
   Thy gifts I only can receive;
   Here, then, to thee I all resign;
   To draw, redeem, and seal,—are thine.

3 With simple faith, on thee I call,—
   My light, my life, my Lord, my all:
   I wait the moving of the pool;
   I wait the word that speaks me whole.

4 Speak, gracious Lord,—my sickness cure,—
   Make my infected nature pure:
   Peace, righteousness, and joy impart,
   And pour thyself into my heart!
                  Charles Wesley
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

<idle musing>
I like that: "Make my infected nature pure." It reflects who we are: infected. I don't buy the theology that says that in the garden the imago dei was destroyed. I've said that it was damaged, but infected is a better word.

It's sick, and without an infusion of Holy Spirit blood, it's on life support. But with an infusion of the Holy Spirit, we become whole again, or as Paul puts it, we are a new creation, the old has passed; the new has come.

Even so, Lord, even so!
</idle musing>

Monday, March 13, 2023

A radical claim—even now

But surely not, a skeptical reader might say. I can agree that God ought to mean the one from whom all things come (1 Cor 8:6). But, Paul, certainly you don’t mean that the God who creates all things and is over all things acts most fully in the life of a singular human being, just one man? The meaning of “God” is that particular, that restricted in scope? The high point of the story that names who God is comes through a fleshly Jew? That can’t be the claim.

Au contraire, Paul might reply, God’s eternal majesty and glory as Creator leads precisely to this: “In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). Indeed, Paul would continue, the glory of the God who made “the light shine in the darkness” is seen most fully “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). To see God’s glory, says Paul, one must believe in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son—that is, after all, what it is to look on the face of Jesus.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 88 (emphasis original)

And we come to Paul

As influential as the Stoics treated in this book have been, even their cumulative weight is virtually insignificant compared with St. Paul’s. Already within the New Testament itself, Paul is acknowledged as a foundation upon which the Christian tradition has begun to rest, and he has been both hero and foe in turns to almost everyone concerned with the rise of Christianity and its enduring impact. This is not to say he was always well and clearly understood. Indeed, the author of the little New Testament letter 2 Peter admits as much. In Paul’s letters, he says, there are some things “that are hard to understand, which the unlearned and unstable distort” (2 Pet 3:16). But it is to say that Paul’s legacy has been enormous. Down through the centuries from his time to ours no less than theology, philosophy, politics, law, literature, architecture, and visual and material art—in short, the whole field of human life we call a culture—experienced the gravitas of Paul.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 85

What's holding me back?

360 S. M.
To whom should we go

AH! Whither should I go,
   Burden’d, and sick, and faint?
   To whom should I my trouble show,
   And pour out my complaint?
   My Saviour bids me come;
   Ah! why do I delay?
   He calls the weary sinner home,
   And yet from him I stay.

2 What is it keeps me back,
   From which I cannot part,—
   Which will not let the Saviour take
   Possession of my heart?
   Searcher of hearts, in mine
   Thy trying power display;
   Into its darkest corners shine,
   And take the veil away.

3 I now believe, in thee,
   Compassion reigns alone;
   According to my faith, to me
   O let it, Lord, be done!
   In me is all the bar,
   Which thou wouldst fain-remove;
   Remove it, and I shall declare
   That God is only love.
                  Charles Wesley
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Sunday, March 12, 2023


354 C. M.
The wanderer recalled.

RETURN, O wanderer, return,
   And seek thy Father’s face;
   Those new desires which in thee burn
   Were kindled by his grace.

2 Return, O wanderer, return;
   He hears thy humble sigh:
   He sees thy soften’d spirit mourn,
   When no one else is nigh.

3 Return, O wanderer, return;
   Thy Saviour bids thee live:
   Come to his cross, and, grateful, learn
   How freely he ’ll forgive.

4 Return, O wanderer, return,
   And wipe the falling tear:
   Thy Father calls,—no longer mourn;
   ‘Tis love invites thee near.

5 Return, O wanderer, return;
   Regain thy long-sought rest:
   The Saviour’s melting mercies yearn
   To clasp thee to his breast.
                  William Bengo Collyer
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Saturday, March 11, 2023

A history of the Fundamentalist-Evangelical divide

Roger Olson invited a modern Fundamentalist to post the other day on his understanding of the history of Fundamentalism. Today Roger gives his version. Below are my reflections on some of the things he mentions:

I remember Key-73; our UMC church participated. I remember knocking on doors and handing out scripture supplied by the ABS and talking about Jesus—I had become a Christian the year before. I also remember the fundies not participating and the “church on the hill” across the street from us (SBC) being very narrow and critical of BGEA and anything remotely Evangelical. The Northern Baptists were of a different stripe altogether; the local pastor was the IVCF advisor and brought in some excellent speakers.

One farmhouse I visited for Key-73 was an SBC one. The mother was very friendly and warm. We were having a good time talking about what God was doing in our lives when their son, around 24 or so, came home. He was quite militant and said that Christians needed to get involved in politics and basically “take the country back for God.” The mom was appalled at the idea and said we were to be leaven and pray, not militant and divisive.

Obviously, the son’s version of Christianity has carried the day : ( Whenever I travel back toward Menomonie (WI) on I-94, I pass that farmhouse and I wonder what became of the mom, her son, and their family. That was 50 years ago now, so she has undoubtedly died and the farm might not even be in the family anymore.

I also recall the rise of the home school movement. It was when forced integration was mandated; probably around 1973 or so. I don't recall the exact year, but I do recall one specific interview, largely because of a comment my dad made at the time.

One woman, who was working full-time and also teaching a home school class, said that it was exhausting, but misapplying Isaiah 40:31 (they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength) and Philippians 4:13 (I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me), she said that because she was doing the Lord's work by taking her kids out of an integrated school, she would be able to endure. My dad's comment (he's a master of understatement)? "I'm not sure that's the Lord's work." Amen and amen.

All that to say, Roger’s version is the one that rings true in my experience. YMMV, obviously, depending on where you lived and the circles you moved in. Menomonie was a college town, so the dynamics were a bit different.

Break our hearts of stone

328 C. M.
The hammer of God’s Word.

COME, O thou all-victorious Lord.
   Thy power to us make known;
   Strike with the hammer of thy word,
   And break these hearts of stone.

2 O that we all might now begin
   Our foolishness to mourn;
   And turn at once from every sin,
   And to the Saviour turn.

3 Give us ourselves and thee to know,
   In this our gracious day;
   Repentance unto life bestow,
   And take our sins away.

4 Convince us first of unbelief,
   And freely then release;
   Fill every soul with sacred grief,
   And then with sacred peace.
                  Charles Wesley
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Friday, March 10, 2023

O vain attempt!

Like the raison d’étre for the philosophical labor of both Seneca and Epictetus, Marcus’s Meditations are an attempt to slake a certain kind of existential thirst—the thirst to be in the world in a pattern of happiness and healing, to deal with the damage brought to our door by our own action and by the far less scrutable workings of the wider world. And like both Seneca and Epictetus, Marcus knows that to slake this thirst is to be disciplined by a particular pattern of a thinking.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 81–82

Where to turn

Philosophy is therefore for Marcus [Aurelius] a style of life, a disciplined way of living according to nature by the light of reason—toward eudaimonia and away from chaos (cf. 7.17). How many times, Marcus reminds himself, “have I strayed from philosophy and nowhere found the good life—not in logical arguments, not in wealth, not in glory, not in self-indulgence, nowhere! Where, then, is the good life to be found? In doing what Nature demands of human beings” (8.1; cf. 9.29; 10.2 et passim).

But how, most basically, do we achieve the kind of happy life that comes from the practice of philosophy? Marcus’s answer is simple: turn inward. “Go into yourself” (7.28). “Look within” (6.3). When the world's chaos rages, Marcus says over and over again, “go immediately into yourself” (6.11). People seek “retreats for themselves—the country, the seashore, the mountains—and you, too,” Marcus says to himself, “are rather prone to experience this yearning.” “But all this,” he continues, “is most unphilosophic given the fact that you can retreat into yourself at any hour you wish. For nowhere can a person retreat into more tranquility or solitude than in his own soul, especially the one who has the sort of inner habits of thought that immediately bring comfort. And by ‘comfort,’ I mean a well—ordered life. Continually, therefore, grant yourself this retreat and renew yourself” (4.3).—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 78-79

<idle musing>
The advice hasn't changed a whole lot in 2000 years, has it? Turn inward. But what happens when the inward is empty, as it is for so many?

The Stoic life seems designed for those who are well-off, aristocracy even, and who have a strong inner constitution. As for the rest of us? Well, tough cookies.

No wonder they thought Christians were weak-minded!
</idle musing>

Look at me!

316 L. M.
The inbred leprosy.

JESUS, a word, a look from thee,
   Can turn my heart, and make it clean;
   Purge out the inbred leprosy,
   And save me from my bosom sin.

2 Lord, if thou wilt, I do believe
   Thou canst the saving grace impart;
   Thou canst this instant now forgive,
   And stamp thine image on my heart.

3 My heart, which now to thee I raise,
   I know thou canst this moment cleanse;
   The deepest stains of sin efface,
   And drive the evil spirit hence.

4 Be it according to thy word;
   Accomplish now thy work in me;
   And let my soul, to health restored,
   Devote its deathless powers to thee.
                  Charles Wesley
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Thursday, March 09, 2023

But what about family?

The possibility of behaving well toward both father and brother depends upon the judgment that their character is not up to us. By observing this basic distinction, Epictetus teaches, we can be in accord with nature quite apart from how we are treated by father or brother; we can thus fulfill our natural duties irrespective of the behavior of others. The effectiveness of our accordance with natural duties, moreover, is not limited to the philosopher’s family dynamics. As the last sentence of this passage says, because of his harmony with nature, the philosopher’s relation to political life is not fundamentally different from that to his family.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 63

Stoics and empathy

Epictetus’s answer [to a question about grieving] eliminates true empathy as a possibility within the philosophical life. The Sage's inner security must not falter in the face of that which might disturb him (tarassein).

This does not mean, however, that the Sage cannot appreciate the gifts Providence brings his way, or exhibit affection toward wife or children; indeed, Socrates himself quite clearly “loved his own children.” Yet he loved them as a “free man who remember[ed] that it is first necessary to be a friend to the gods”—which is to say that Socrates’ “love” was free of pathos; it was an affection shaped by reasonable judgments about the mortality of his offspring (Disc. 3.24.59–60).—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 55

<idle musing>
Sounds pretty depressing to me. You can't truly love if you hold your emotions that tightly in check. Part of love is sharing in the joys and griefs of those you love, which includes grieving with those who grieve—but I'm coming at it from a Christian viewpoint, which just highlights the point that Rowe is making: You can't truly understand a different philosophical tradition without becoming part of it.
</idle musing>

The great physician

315 L. M.
Sin’s incurable disease.

GOD, to whom, in flesh reveal’d,
   The helpless all for succour came;
   The sick to be relieved and heal’d,
   And found salvation in thy name:-

2 Thou seest me helpless and distress’d,
   Feeble, and faint, and blind, and poor;
   Weary, I come to thee for rest;
   And, sick of sin, implore a cure.

3 My sin's incurable disease,
   Thou, Jesus, thou alone canst heal;
   Inspire me with thy power and peace,
   And pardon on my conscience seal.
                  Charles Wesley
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Be gone with you!

Philosophy unlocked from life is only show. Interpreting Chrysippus is never an end in itself, something toward which we should strive for its own sake. Philosophy is working on yourself! It is more like rough training for the Olympics than reading a book (Ench. 29), more like the contest of the event itself than lifting weights and flexing your bronzed muscles (Disc. 1.4.13)! Do not say, “See how I have mastered the treatise On Choice” (Disc. 1.4.14). It is “not that I’m looking for, you slave, but how you act in your choices and refusals, your desires and aversions, how you go at things, and apply yourself to them, and prepare yourself, and whether you are acting in harmony with nature therein, or not. For if you are acting in harmony with nature, show me that, and I will tell you that you are making progress; but if out of harmony, be gone with you!" (Disc. 1.4.14—15).—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 53

<idle musing>
Quite a bit different from a college class in philosophy or ethics, isn't it? It sounds more like Paul's "boxing against the air" metaphor. Or James, "show me your faith by your works."

Frankly, we could use more of that in the church. I think they used to call it discipleship back in the day. But, we can't have that, can we? No dying to self for us! No sirree! Live your best life now!

Only problem with that attitude is that the best life is one that is united with Christ—and his sufferings, his emptying himself.

Kenosis. Cruciformity. Theosis.

Good words, all of them. And necessary. May we learn to live them!
</idle musing>

Philosophy is a way of living

Speaking of philosophy as the way we learn how to make right judgments about impressions could lead to the notion that philosophy according to Epictetus was primarily intellectual exercise. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is true that the “first and greatest task of a philosopher is the ability to test and discriminate between impressions, and to apply none that has not been tested” (Disc. 1.20.7). But such discrimination already occurs within the context of a philosophical life. Like Seneca, Epictetus sees philosophy as a habit of being or a comprehensive style of existence, an emancipatory mode of living that includes not only thought but also the full range of human action.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 52–53

Heart of stone

313 C. M.
Without God in the world.

GOD is in this and every place;
   But O, how dark and void
   To me!—’tis one great wilderness,
   This earth without my God.

2 Empty of Him who all things fills,
   Till he his light impart,—
   Till he his glorious self reveals,—
   The veil is on my heart.

3 O Thou who seest and know’st my grief,
   Thyself unseen, unknown,
   Pity my helpless unbelief,
   And break my heart of stone.

4 Regard me with a gracious eye;
   The long-sought blessing give;
   And bid me, at the point to die,
   Behold thy face and live.
                  Charles Wesley
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Tuesday, March 07, 2023


311 S. M.
Dead in trespasses and sins.

HOW helpless nature lies,
   Unconscious of her load!
   The heart unchanged can never rise
   To happiness and God.

2 Can aught but power divine
   The stubborn will subdue?
   'Tis thine, eternal Spirit, thine
   To form the heart anew:—

3 The passions to recall,
   And upward bid them rise;
   To make the scales of error fall
   From reason’s darken’d eyes.

4 O change these hearts of ours,
   And give them life divine;
   Then shall our passions and our powers,
   Almighty Lord, be thine.
                  Anne Steele
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Envy (Tozer for Tuesday)

I have noticed that envy never crosses a line. One man is a painter, another a pianist; the painter hears the pianist praised without a ripple of unease. He can just join in the praise. He does not mind, because he is a painter, and the pianist is out of his field. But let some other painter be praised in his presence and he is very likely to feel rising in him emotions of discontent, chagrin and uneasiness because the person praised is in his field. You can praise a politician to the sky and it does not bother a singer, but if you praise another singer, he may squirm. It is when somebody in our field of interest is given a place that we are not being given that uneasiness comes.

The Holy Ghost says to put all that away. What do you do with it? What do you do with dirt? You expose it to water and soap. What do you do with the dirt of the heart? You expose it to the blood of the Lamb and the power of the Holy Ghost.—A.W. Tozer, Living as a Christian, 85

<idle musing>
Ain't that the truth. I can't draw worth squat, and I'm doing well to find middle-C on a piano, so go ahead and praise them all you want; it doesn't matter because it's not my lane. But, I know what he's talking about—and I'll bet you do too.

I don't know, but I think maybe academics are especially susceptible to it. OK, I know I am. I might hide behind imposter's syndrome, but maybe, just maybe, if I'm honest with myself, that shield of imposter's syndrome is just a nice way of saying I'm envious.

What do you think?

Just an
</idle musing>

Monday, March 06, 2023

Image of God?

[talking about God, Epictetus says] that God exists, that God has forethought, that this forethought includes both important heavenly matters and earthly and human concerns, and that such forethought is related to human beings on an individual basis. God, Epictetus might say, relates not just to us but to you and to me. After all, we are God’s children.

God has made us, fashioned us as a master craftsman, begotten us as a father would his children. “Zeus has made you”; “you are the workmanship of the Craftsman" (Disc. 2.8.19, 21, dēmiourgos). Even Caesar can only adopt a divine son, says Epictetus, taking aim at standard imperial practice for securing an heir. “But you,” he tells a student, simply “are the son of God” (Disc. 1.3.2; cf. 1.9.6).—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 47

<idle musing>
Ah, there we go. We have the demiurge popping in, so god to Epictetus isn't fully transcendent, but a step down the ladder of divine beings. That's more in line with what I've always understood Stoics to believe.
</idle musing>

Stoic praise

As this prayer shows, Epictetus’s pious expressions are not simply mythological language intended to express intellectual truths. For Epictetus God means something that calls forth song, praise, prayer, and devotion. God is not simply identified with a correct set of reasoned judgments about the world. There is an irreducible flavor to Epictetus’s speech that cannot be eliminated by achieving conceptual clarity. Indeed, conceptual clarity about his addresses to God requires us to assume that Epictetus was serious. To study in Nicopolis was to learn that the word God means someone you can talk to.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 46 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Interesting, isn't it? I had always thought of Stoics as having a far-off god. This puts a different light on things, though. Wonder where this is going…
</idle musing>

The year of jubilee

300 3d P. M. 4 6s & 2 8s.
The jubilee trumpet.

BLOW ye the trumpet, blow
   The gladly-solemn sound;
   Let all the nations know,
   To earth’s remotest bound,
   The year of jubilee is come;
   Return, ye ransom’d sinners, home.

2 Jesus, our great High Priest,
   Hath full atonement made:
   Ye weary spirits, rest;
   Ye mournful souls, be glad:
   The year of jubilee is come;
   Return, ye ransom’d sinners, home.

3 Extol the Lamb of God,—
   The all-atoning Lamb;
   Redemption in his blood
   Throughout the world proclaim:
   The year of jubilee is come;
   Return, ye ransom’d sinners, home.

4 Ye slaves of sin and hell,
   Your liberty receive,
   And safe in Jesus dwell,
   And blest in Jesus live:
   The year of jubilee is come;
   Return, ye ransom’d sinners, home.

5 Ye Who have sold for naught
   Your heritage above,
   Shall have it back unbought,
   The gift of Jesus’ love:
   The year of jubilee is come;
   Return, ye ransom’d sinners, home.

6 The gospel trumpet hear,—
   The news of heavenly grace;
   And, saved from earth, appear
   Before your Saviour’s face:
   The year of jubilee is come;
   Return, ye ransom’d sinners, home.
                  Charles Wesley
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Sunday, March 05, 2023

The joyful sound

291 C. M.
The joyful sound.

SALVATION! O the joyful sound!
   What pleasure to our ears;
   A sov’reign balm for every wound,
   A cordial for our fears.

2 Salvation! let the echo fly
   The spacious earth around,
   While all the armies of the sky
   Conspire to raise the sound.

3 Salvation! O thou bleeding Lamb!
   To thee the praise belongs:
   Salvation shall inspire our hearts,
   And dwell upon our tongues.
                  Isaac Watts
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Saturday, March 04, 2023

What majesty and grace…

286 S. M.
Our debt paid upon the cross.

WHAT majesty and grace
   Through all the gospel shine!
   ‘Tis God that speaks, and we confess
   The doctrine most divine.

2 Down from his throne on high,
   The mighty Saviour comes;
   Lays his bright robes of glory by,
   And feeble flesh assumes.

3 The debt that sinners owed,
   Upon the cross he pays:
   Then through the clouds ascends to God,
   ‘Midst shouts of loftiest praise.

4 There our High Priest appears,
   Before his Father’s throne;
   Mingles his merits with our tears,
   And pours salvation down.

5 Great Sov’reign, we adore
   Thy justice and thy grace,
   And on thy faithfulness and power
   Our firm dependence place.
                  Samuel Stennett
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Friday, March 03, 2023

Position of power

These episodes [between Ruth and Naomi] demonstrate the way of indicating the speaker that is characteristic for the rhetoric of biblical narrative: the participant whose request, proposal or command prevails is mentioned by name or title, whereas the identity of the participant who complies is not indicated explicitly. In other words, the narrator uses the reference to the different parties in the exchange in order to point to their position in the interaction. This aspect of reference reflects “positioning,” which in social psychology and discourse analysis indicates “the assignment, shaping and negotiations of reciprocal relations between all parties involved in the interaction” (Weizman 2008: 16), in particular with regard to the social and emotional stances that individuals take vis-a-vis real or imagined others (Harré and van Langenhove 1999; Harré et al. 2009; Du Bois 2007). This concept has been introduced into narrative theory by Michael Bamberg (1997) and David Herman (2009: 55-63); in biblical context it has been used by Victor Matthews (2008: 101-7). For narrative theory this means the molding of internal “qualities” and “place in society” of the various characters by the narrator, through the interaction as it is shaped. The narrator marks the position he grants to the parties in the negotiation process, as successful and persuasive, or as doing concessions, as obeying and as failing to achieve intended aims.—Frank Polak, "Postioning, and the Pragmatics of Biblical Narrative," in Advances in Biblical Hebrew Linguistics, 161–62

Demiurge? or Creator?

God is the One who absolutely determines all things, and is determined by none. He is conditioned by nothing, therefore, not even by a “Nothing”. Were He to be thus conditioned He would not be Creator, but simply a demiurge. All that existed “before” all creation was God and His Word. The Creation has its foundation and its origin in God alone. “For He spake and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast”. “In the beginning was the Word … all things were made by Him”. This too is the meaning of the sublime story of Creation in the first chapter in the Bible! “God spake … and it was done.”—Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, 10

Thursday, March 02, 2023

Thought for the day

But I'd rather watch TV!

Philosophy, Lucilius is told, is in principle for everyone (Ep. 44), though admittedly he also learns that only a few will become wise—most, Seneca observes, would rather just mindlessly watch sports (Ep. 76.1–4). Still, they all need the invitation: even the mob can be helped by the witness of the philosophers.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 42

<idle musing>
Some things never change, do they? That's why bread and circuses is so effective.
</idle musing>

Embodied living

If philosophy is the practice of a wise life, its truth cannot be learned apart from its embodiment. Precisely, that is, because philosophy is “practicing the truth” (Ep. 98.17), apprenticeship is the requisite form of study and learning. “Cleanthes could not have been the express image of Zeno, if he had merely heard his lectures,” Seneca tells his pupil. That is why “he shared in Zeno’s life, saw into his hidden purposes, and watched him to see whether he lived according to his own rules” (Ep. 7.6). “What ought to be done,” my dear Lucilius, “must belearned from one who does it” (Ep. 98.17). Practice, Seneca repeatedly insists, is correlated with apprenticeship because knowledge comes by observing a master at work and being trained by his example. For this reason, says Seneca, "I hold that no man has treated humanity worse than he who has studied philosophy as if it were some marketable trade, who lives in a different manner from that which he advises” (Ep. 108.36). Such a person, Seneca’s logic runs, actively prevents the possibility of learning how to live, for he severs the necessary relation between knowledge and life. “A teacher like that can help me no more than a seasick pilot can be efficient in a storm. He must hold the tiller when the waves are tossing him; he must wrestle, as it were, with the sea; he must furl his sails when the storm rages; what good is a frightened and vomiting steersman to me?! And how much greater is the storm of life than that which tosses any ship!” (Ep. 108.36).—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 38–39

<idle musing>
Boy, we could sure use some embodied examples now, couldn't we?

The 18th and 19th century German Lutherans had a term for those who spouted orthodoxy but didn't live it: Confessionalism. And they created Pietism as an antidote.

Granted, pietism taken to extreme can be just as bad as confessionalism, but combine the two and you get a good recipe for effective change.
</idle musing>

A communion hymn

271 L. M.
Figure and means of saving grace.

AUTHOR of our salvation, thee,
   With lowly, thankful hearts, we praise;
   Author of this great ’mystery,—
   Figure and means of saving grace.

2 The sacred, true, effectual sign,
   Thy body and thy blood it shows;
   The glorious instrument divine,
   Thy mercy and thy strength bestows.

3 We see the blood that seals our peace;
   Thy pard’ning mercy we receive;
   The bread doth visibly express
   The strength through which our spirits live.

4 Our spirits drink a fresh supply,
   And eat the bread so freely given,
   Till, borne on eagles’ wings, we fly,
   And banquet with our Lord in heaven.
                  Charles Wesley
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Tozer for Tuesday: Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy lies close to guile but is not the same. Hypocrisy is to act with another’s character, to pretend to be what we are not or pretend not to be what we are. A true Christian never hides anything because a true Christian never needs to hide anything. If there is anything in your life that you need’ to hide, then youare not living the kind of life you should be living. No Christian, if he is right with God, should ever need to hide anything in his life.

That does not mean I must publish the amount of my income tax or that I must tell all of the embarrassing intimacies that are a part of any human life. That is another matter. It does mean, as far as moral conduct is concerned, that there is nothing to hide, Do not be a hypocrite, but be exactly what you are. Do not pretend to be what you are not, and do not pretend not to be what you are.—A.W. Tozer, Living as a Christian, 84

Buffeted here and there

In Seneca’s letters, then, there is at bottom a kind of dualism inherent in what is. God/Nature and Fortuna, that is, are simply different ways to name the character of what is. Neither God nor Fortuna is personal in any kind of significant sense. They are, rather, textures of the cosmos, reasonable and wild, respectively. To survive the wild, Seneca counsels his pupil, our lives must become aligned with the reasonable; we thereby live in accordance with nature and ourselves become God, thus achieving divine happiness in the midst of the world’s wild, excessive power (see Ep. 48.11; 59.14; 82.1).—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 30

<idle musing>
And there's the rub, isn't it? We are on our own. If we don't make the most of our lives, it's our own fault. Sure, we're gods, but gods without any real power. The only power we have is to live for the present—but in a reasonable way.

I don't know about you, but I'll take Christianity, with a personal (in the sense of having personality) god, who doesn't just show the way, but lives inside us to enable us. We aren't on our own.

We might still appear powerless, but we have "exceeding great and precious promises" that the Holy Spirit is within us and that God is in the process of re-creating all things new—including not just us, but the whole of creation.

Just an
</idle musing>


In contrast to the animals, who “avoid the dangers which they see, and when they have escaped them are free from care,” human beings “torment ourselves over that which is to come as well as over that or which is past.” “Many of our blessings,” Seneca continues, “bring bane to us; for memory recalls the tortures of fear, while foresight anticipates them” (Ep. 5.9). We are thus hemmed in from before and behind. We have only one space in which to live free of fear in the face of Fortuna’s power: it is “the present alone” that “makes no man wretched” (Ep. 5.9).”—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 25

<idle musing>
Again you can see the intersections with Christian thought. It's easy to understand why Stoicism was attractive and Christians raided from its thought. But, again, the differences are greater than the similarities, as we'll see in the next post.
</idle musing>

Day of God! Thou blesséd day!

248; 5th P. M. 4 lines 7s.
Life and immortality; brought to light.

DAY of God! thou blessed day,
   At thy dawn the grave gave way
   To the power of Him within,
   Who had, sinless, bled for sin.

2 Thine the radiance to illume
   First, for man, the dismal tomb,
   When its bars their weakness own’d,
   There revealing death dethroned.

3 Then the Sun of righteousness
   Rose, a darken’d world to bless,
   Bringing up from mortal night
   Immortality and light.

4 Day of glory, day of power,
   Sacred be thine every hour,—
   Emblem, earnest , of the rest
   That remaineth for the blest.
                  Hannah F. Gould
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Beware of gifts—not just Greeks bearing them

Beware, says Seneca, for gifts can possess you. Seneca’s claim here is more subtle than the typical Stoic injunction to avoid attachment to “externals" (though of course this is assumed). Indeed, his warning to “other men” is that gifts draw us in and accustom us to their presence, thus creating a set of dependencies that fundamentally determine us away from the happy life. Through our fear of the gift’s potential absence or the experience of grief at its departure—the loss of a fleet of grain ships, say, or a crash in the stock market—our lives reveal a basic conditioning by the presence of the gift and the existential vulnerability that is its direct result. We fear, we grieve, we damage our chance to live well. Over time, Seneca's logic suggests, our dependency on the gift is deepened, and we have learned to move within the gifts ambit. We have thus been ensnared by Fortuna, and we now belong to her. By giving us what we believed was a gift, Fortuna has in the end come to possess us. While we thought we held the gifts in our hands, she was holding us in her grasp. Fortuna’s gifts, says Seneca, make us vulnerable to defeat precisely because they are not gifts. Remember your own line, Lucilius, “What Fortune has made yours is not really yours” (Ep. 8.10). Don't be fooled, my friend, it's still the ol’ bait and switch.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 23–24

<idle musing>
It's lines like this that enabled the early Christians to say that Stoicism was a tutor—handmaiden is the word Rowe uses, I think—leading to Christianity.

It sounds almost Christian, doesn't it? "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be," as Jesus said. But, if you know much about Stoicism, you know that the theological presuppositions are diametrically opposed to Christianity. Their concept of God is pantheistic and impersonal.
</idle musing>

Sickness doesn't kill you—being mortal does (Seneca)

“You will not die,” he tells Lucilius in a startling turn of phrase, “because you are ill, but because you are alive.” He continues: “Even when you have been restored to health, the same end awaits you; when you have convalesced, it will not be death that you have escaped—only ill-health" (Ep. 78.6). The fear and worry brought on by pain and disease are thus not, in Seneca’s view, finally about these phenomena themselves but about our natural end in the grave. See that clearly, Seneca argues, and our worry can cease" (see Ep. 24.12).—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 17

<idle musing>
Can't say as he got the diagnosis wrong, but I think he badly misjudges people's response! But, then again, probably not, because he's tutoring Lucilius on what his proper response to death should be.

Truth be told, I prefer the Christian response; it seems a good bit less fatalistic!

Just an
</idle musing>

Eschatological Hope

238 9th P. M. 87, 87, 87, 87.
God her everlasting light.

HEAR what God the Lord hath spoken:
   O my people, faint and few,
   Comfortless, afflicted, broken,
   Fair abodes I build for you:
   Scenes of heartfelt tribulation
   Shall no more perplex your ways;
   You shall name your walls salvation,
   And your gates shall all be praise.

2 Ye, no more your suns descending,
   Waning moons no more shall see ;
   But, your griefs forever ending,
   Find eternal noon in me:—
   God shall rise, and, shining o’er you,
   Change to day the gloom of night;
   He, the Lord, shall be your glory—
   God your everlasting light.
                  William Cowper (pronounced "Cooper")
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Monday, February 27, 2023

Sickness unto death? Or fear of death as a sickness?

Seneca argues that we still treat death as that which happens to someone else. Like Tolstoy almost two millennia later, who knew that war can happen only because of our capacity to believe someone else will get killed in the battle, Seneca says that “we never think of death except as it affects our neighbor” (Ep. 101.6). Seneca ’s psychological point here is that human beings know they will die, but nevertheless deny their deathward existence by projecting it onto their fellows. In short, Seneca’s letters repeatedly display his concern to grasp the widespread human condition vis-a-vis death as a self-destructive denial of the way things are and must be: we know that we are mortal and must die, and yet out of a fear of our death we organize our lives to a stunning degree in an attempt to avoid it. For Seneca, this is a sickness from which we need to be healed.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 15

Are we missing the point?

The study of emergent Christianity within wider Greco-Roman philosophical culture has become a field of minutiae: we pick and choose this or that little theme from the Roman world, showing how it may relate to this or that small part of one New Testament document or author and miss entirely the significance of the questions that animated the sources we're reading. Both the New Testament and the ancient philosophical texts are inconceivable—tout court inconceivable—as documents of minutiae. To study them as if matters of life and death were not on the table is not to conceive their finer grained points in moments of scholarly repose. It is, rather, to miss the point altogether.—One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions, 9

<idle musing>
Scholarly abstraction. That's what we're trained to do, isn't it? To stand aside from our biases (as much as possible) and analyze the data. But in so doing, we miss the point, don't we? The ancients were altogether serious when they considered study a life-changing endeavor.

Let's enjoy the ride as Rowe takes us on the journey. We might discover that our techniques are lacking…
</idle musing>


While I was preparing the previous post, I checked, and in a rare happening, they linked to a similar, but different Wesely hymn. I thought it was superb, so I chased it down in my 1870 hymnal. Here's the version I have:

706 7th P. M. 8 lines 7s
Many, but one.

CHRIST, from whom all blessings flow,
   Perfecting the saints below,
   Hear us, who thy nature share,——
   With thy mystic body are.
   Join us, in one spirit join;
   Let us still receive of thine:
   Still for more on thee we call,
   Thou who fillest all in all.

2 Move, and actuate, and guide:
   Divers gifts to each divide:
   Placed according to thy will,
   Let us all our work fulfil:
   Never from our office move:
   Needful to each other prove:
   Let us daily growth receive,—
   More and more in Jesus live.

3 Sweetly may we all agree,
   Touch’d with softest sympathy;
   Kindly for each other care;
   Every member feel its share.
   Many are we now and one,
   We who Jesus have put on:
   Names, and sects, and parties fall:
   Thou, O Christ, art all in all.
                  Charles Wesley
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

What is really interesting, though, is that has shorter verses and more of them. I think they are worth posting too, so here you go.

1 Christ, from whom all blessings flow,
   perfecting the saints below,
   hear us, who your nature share,
   who your mystic body are.

2 Join us, in one spirit join,
   grant us still your help divine;
   still for more on you we call,
   you, O Christ, fill all in all.

3 Move, and animate, and guide:
   various gifts to each divide;
   placed according to your will,
   let us all our work fulfil;

4 Freely may we all agree,
   touched with loving sympathy;
   kindly for each other care;
   every member feel its share.

5 Love, like death, has all destroyed,
   rendered all distinctions void;
   names, and sects, and parties fall;
   you, O Christ, are all in all.

So, an interesting rabbit trail. I wonder which version is correct? Or, more likely, which version was first and Wesley went back a revised it? I'm not interested enough to chase it down, but if it tickles someone else's fancy and they do research it, please post it to the comments.

Glorious and spotless; may it be so!

225 C. M.
Glorious and spotless.

JESUS, from whom all blessings flow,
   Great Builder of Thy church below,
   If now Thy Spirit moves my breast,
   Hear, and fulfill Thine own request!

2. The few that truly call Thee Lord,
   And wait Thy sanctifying word,
   And Thee their utmost Savior own,
   Unite, and perfect them in one.

3. O let them all Thy mind express,
   Stand forth Thy chosen witnesses,
   Thy power unto salvation show,
   And perfect holiness below!

4. In them let all mankind behold
   How Christians lived in days of old,
   Mighty their envious foes to move,
   A proverb of reproach—and love.

5. Call them into thy wondrous light,
   Worthy to walk with thee in white;
   Make up they jewels, Lord, and show
   Thy glorious, spotless Church below.

6. From every sinful wrinkle free,
   Redeemed from all iniquity,
   The fellowship of saints make known;
   And, O my God, might I be one!
                  Charles Wesley
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Jesus, the name high over all

219 C. M.
The minister’s only business.

JESUS, the Name high over all;
   In hell, or earth, or sky; ’
   Angels and men before it fall,
   And devils fear and fly.

2 Jesus, the Name to sinners dear,-
   The Name to sinners given;
   It scatters all their guilty fear;
   It turns their hell to heaven.

3 Jesus the pris’ner’s fetters breaks,
   And bruises Satan’s head;
   Power into strengthless souls he speaks,
   And life into the dead.

4 O that the world might taste and see
   The riches of his grace;
   The arms of love that compass me,
   Would all mankind embrace.

5 His only righteousness I show,-
   His saving truth proclaim:
   ‘Tis all my business here below,
   To cry,—Behold the Lamb!

6 Happy, if with my latest breath
   I may but gasp his name;
   Preach him to all, and cry in death,
   Behold, behold the Lamb!
                  Charles Wesley
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Entire dependence on Christ

218 4th P. M. 886, 886.
Entire dependence on Christ.

EXCEPT the Lord conduct the plan,
   The best concerted schemes are vain,
   And never can succeed;
   We spend our wretched strength for naught;
   But if our works in thee be wrought,
   They shall he blest indeed.

2 Lord, if thou didst thyself inspire
   Our souls with this intense desire,
   Thy goodness to proclaim;
   Thy glory if we now intend,
   0 let our deeds begin and end
   Complete in Jesus’ name.

3 In Jesus’ name behold we meet,
   Far from an evil world retreat,
   And all its frantic ways;
   One only thing resolved to know,
   And square our useful lives below,
   By reason and by grace.

4 Not in the tombs we pine to dwell,
   Not in the dark monastic cell,
   By vows and grates confined;
   Freely to all ourselves we give,
   Constrain’d by Jesus’ love to live
   The servants of mankind.

5 Now, Jesus, now thy love‘ impart,
   To govern each devoted heart,
   And fit us for thy will;
   Deep founded in the truth of grace,
   Build up thy rising Church , and place
   The city on the hill.

6 O let our love and faith abound;
   O let our lives, to all around,
   With purest lustre shine;
   That all around our works may see,
   And give the glory, Lord, to thee,
   The heavenly light divine.
                  Charles Wesley
                  Methodist Episcopal hymnal (1870 edition)

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Reflections and links (updated)

I haven't said a whole lot about what's been going on at Asbury. I don't have much to add. I graduated from Asbury (then) College, attended Asbury Seminary, and lived in Wilmore for six years. I know the history of the school and revival. The revivals (or awakenings if you prefer) follow the same general pattern that is happening now. It's the Wesleyan way: allow the Holy Spirit to run things, but keep it orderly. Don't discourage supernatural manifestations, but don't highlight them.

John Wesley's journals record supernatural manifestations, but don't emphasize them. The emphasis was always on heart holiness to the Lord, which manifested itself in changed lives, reconciliation, and social action as a result of that. Wesley's favorite book of the Bible was 1 John, so all of the above flow naturally out of 1 John.

That being said, Christianity Today has published three very good articles/op-eds in the last two days that are worth reading:

  • No Celebrities But Jesus. This post reflects on the behind the scenes work that enabled the Holy Spirit to control the flow. It reflects the best of the Wesleyan view on revival that I mentioned above.
  • What Our Reaction to Revival Reveals About Us. This paragraph says enough to give you an idea:
    When I was there, I saw that the leaders had made a deliberate decision to amplify only the voices of the students and leaders on the campus. Both well-meaning Christian celebrities and grifting hucksters were turned away. There were no lights, smoke, or lasers. There was lots of prayer, Scripture, and testimony. Contrary to the complaints of some on social media, many spoke of God’s holiness, our sinfulness, and Christ’s saving work on the cross.
  • What Revivals Can Teach Us. By a historian of revival. He lists four important points that the current outpouring highlights, and then ends with this:
    Asbury is a reminder that salvation is supernatural. God’s Word is supernatural. Conviction of sins is supernatural. Compassion for the suffering and the lost is supernatural. We need a broad bandwidth and full-spectrum picture of the Spirit’s works. (emphasis original)
    Amen and Amen!
And, with thanks to Chris Gehrz, this reflection by someone watching via streaming is very telling.
I know that there can be a lot of cringe-worthy, ego soaked performance-y stuff in church. I know that when it comes to Christianity there are legitimate reasons for commentary and critique at every turn. But, as I like to say, nothing is only ever one thing. Because there is also God’s Spirit, who I believe is still stirring in the hearts of God’s people (is that what is happening at Asbury? Maybe). And while I remain suspicious of most human claims of a human project having “God’s favor” or being “Spirit led” (because it feels conveniently like using divine camouflage for human ego trips) I do trust more and more what I feel in my spirit and in my body.
I'm sure there are lots of other posts out there, but I'll leave you with one from John Fea, who has been doing a daily summary. Do a search for the name Leonard Fitch in that post. I worked at Fitch's IGA for about 18 months while we lived in Wilmore. Everything they say about him is true; if anything, they understate.

David Reimer posted two very good links in the comment section. I'm moving them into the main body for those who don't read the comments. Both are by Timothy Tennent, the president of Asbury Seminary: