Friday, August 31, 2007

A Fly is a Fly is a Fly

All of the evidence points to one conclusion: no matter what we do to a fruit fly embryo, there are only three possible outcomes—a normal fruit fly, a defective fruit fly, or a dead fruit fly. Not even a horsefly, much less a horse.

Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, p.36.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Reverential and Relevant Textual Criticism

Dave Black shows that textual criticism can be relevant to the Christian life, and it can be done reverentially. By the way, my current position on the different text families is similar to his, just not as well-informed. Incidentally, Dave, it was just today that I ordered these two books of yours.

Quick note at the end of a good day. I just got back from campus where I taught on that most “popular” of subjects, New Testament textual criticism. I even showed an ancient papyrus I acquired in Egypt. (Okay, so I bought it there in 1986.) How do you explain the importance of an obscure, pedantic-like subject to 120 young people (and some not-so-young people) that have never studied it and will probably never study it again in their entire lives? I don’t really know. For better or for worse my approach was to take a couple of examples that impact real life – what we believe and how we live. John 3:13 either says that Jesus was claiming to be in heaven while talking to Nicodemus or He wasn’t making that audacious assertion. That’s Christology, and that’s important. Matt. 5:22 either says that Jesus nixed all anger or only ungodly anger. That’s Practical Theology. We even got into the “King James Version Debate,” though I doubt there’s anyone in my classes who would die defending the 1611 edition. One of my most cherished possessions is an autographed book by my former professor and colleague Harry Sturz. It’s called The Byzantine Text Type and New Testament Textual Criticism, and it argues that the Byzantine/Majority text is not that evil, corrupt thing that most modern critical scholars make it out to be. No, I don’t slavish follow the MT (Majority Text), but I still think it has its place in textual criticism. In the end, I gave my opinion: the evidence points to Jesus saying to Nicodemus that He was actually on earth and in heaven at the same time, and that He condemned only unrighteous anger (“if anyone gets angry with his brother without a good reason he’s going to be judged”). I could go on and on. But the text that we teach or preach is important. It’s just that we’re not always sure whether the original text is reflected in the NKJV or the NASB tradition. And that’s why textual criticism is more than ancient history.

Want to Start a Barroom Fight?

In a 1999 article arguing that the rarity of transitional fossils does not count as evidence against Darwinism, Padian and Angielczyk wrote: "Want to start a barroom fight? Ask another patron if he can produce proof of his unbroken patrilineal ancestry for the last four hundred years. Failing your challenge, the legitimacy of his birth is to be brought into question. At this insinuation, tables are overturned, convivial beverages spilled, and bottles fly. Not fair, claims the gentle reader. This goes beyond illogic to impoliteness, because you are not only placing on the other patron an unreasonable burden of proof, you are questioning his integrity if he fails. But isn't that what creationists do when they claim that our picture of evolution in the fossil record must be fraudulent because we have so many gaps between forms?"

Yet Padian and Angielczyk have it exactly backwards.

Imagine this: A Berkeley professor walks into a bar and goes up to a guy who's peacefully sipping a beer. The professor looks down at the guy and declares with an air of authority: "You are the lineal descendant of a worm." The guy stands up, tempted to deck this bozo right then and there, but he's in a good mood and decides to play along. "Look," the guy says, "I've read about this Darwin stuff in the papers, but what makes you think you can tell me who I'm descended from? I don't even know anything about my great-great-grandparents, except that they were Irish. And here you are, claiming to know that one of their ancestors was a worm? Are you just trying to start a fight?"

"Look," says the professor, quoting comedian Lewis Black as his authority, "I'm right, and I don't have to argue this point any more. Fossils. Fossils. FOSSILS! I win."

Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, pp. 23-4

Bedtime Stories

I just started an interesting book entitled The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. As you can tell from the title, this book is a lot of fun. The front cover settles all doubts.

Because I'm the quiet and sharing type:

According to Gee, we call new fossil discoveries missing links "as if the chain of ancestry and descent were a real object for our contemplation, and not what it really is: a completely human invention created after the fact, shaped to accord with human prejudices." He concluded: "To take a line of fossils and claim that they represent a lineage is not a scientific hypothesis that can be tested, but an assertion that carries the same validity as a bedtime story—amusing, perhaps even instructive, but not scientific."
Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, pp. 22.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Selections from Robert Chapman

Am I ever glad I checked the Morning Meditations blog today. Steve has recently posted twice on Robert Chapman, collecting some his thoughts on Scripture and on the Church. If you missed it, read my book review of one of the biographies on Chapman.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Anabaptist Essays

Dave Black has written some excellent essays on the Anabaptists. Essay #5 is one of my favourites.

Birth of a Hummingbird

Check it out! Thanks to a friend for passing on this link.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

"God is For Us in Christ Jesus" (Part 2)

"God is for us". This is too dangerous a statement to just throw out there with no nuancing. It could too easily set ourselves over God, as if, by successful campaigning, we have won God over to our side and now He supports our party platform. We know that this is not what the statement means by reading the context. For instance, verse 28 says

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Notice, it's His purpose—God's. God being for us does not mean that He changed. It means that He changed us.

There is one thing God has always been for: Himself, which is to say His glory. There was one thing we were always against: God and His glory (Romans 3:23, 5:6-10). So if we were against God's glory, and God was for His glory, something had to change in order for God to be for us. God cannot be for His glory and at the same time be for those who challenge that glory. So what changed so that God can be for us?

Did God change? Did He become enamoured with our beauty (glory) and switched His support to our glory in place of His inferior glory? Certainly not! God did not take sides with us against Himself. He did not join us in our cause of hating and suppressing Him. God's being for us is not and will never be at the expense of being for Himself. Rather, God is for us by bringing us over to His side. He is for us by saving us for Himself. He is for us insofar as we are for Him. God works everything for good to those who love God (not hate Him). God is "for those who are called according to His purpose" (not our purpose). God did not change whose glory He was for. He changed us!

This is further made clear in verse 29:

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

God is the one who is doing the predestinating. He's calling the shots. We are the ones being conformed, being changed. Thus, when we comfort our souls by saying "God is for us" we do not picture a God who saw our cause and heard our persuasive arguments and was won by our beauty and thus decided to come to our side. Instead, we see God being God unflinchingly and unchangingly as He spreads, supports, and sticks to his glory, carrying out His purposes. We are the ones who changed. We were the ones won by the Other's purposes, glory, and beauty. God has been for his glory longer than anyone can remember, and the only reason a group of sinners can say "God is for us" is because that group is also for His glory. They are conformed to that glory, for they are now conformed to the image of His Son. God has changed us from being rebels against His glory to being partakers of His glory. His glory has become our destiny. "God is for us" is merely shorthand for "God is for those who join Him in His passion for His glory." "God is for us" means that God is for Himself. It means He has changed us to be supporters of the same thing He has been supporting eternally.

In the context of counselling, is it worth taking the pains to nuance this hope-offering phrase, "God is for us", as we have done? Surely the troubled soul could use the self-esteem boost from someone as important as God being "for her." This post is already too long, so I'll give the short answer. In my (little) experience of emotional pain, in the hour of darkest darkness, I don't want to hear anything about myself. And I don't want anything to depend on me. After all, I'm usually the cause of all my own pain. For the troubled Christian soul, the truth that "God is for us" is made sweeter by all this nuancing. If God's being for us means that He was won by our beauty to pursue us, then there's always the nagging question, "What if my attractiveness runs out?" If God's being for us is dependant on His changing us to be for His beauty then God has never changed. And if God has never changed—and yet is still for us—then we can be sure, that God will always be for us. For now, were He to turn against us, He would be turning against Himself.

Brothers and sisters, no matter how ugly we sometimes get, no matter how insignificant, inferior, or insecure we feel, we will always be able to say "God is for us." After all, it is not the beauty of our holiness that this things resting on. It's God's.

More to follow.

God is For Us in Christ Jesus (Part 1)

The brother who was supposed to speak last Wednesday night couldn't make it, so yours truly attempted to share some thoughts. Now I share them with you:

Romans 8:31
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

[I began by making some comments similar to ones I expressed in my post Teach Us to Teach.]

Allowing, then, that biblical teaching will train us in not only what to believe, but also in how to live it out, I want to share with you how I have recently dealt with stress, distress, and restlessness in my life. My hope is that some will be able to imitate what has worked for me.

The other night, for the second or third night in a row, I was having difficulty getting to sleep due to poor health. For hours, it seemed, my mind was very confused, dark, and distorted. I may have been half-asleep, but if I was it was a kind of sleep more tiring than resting. Finally I recited slowly and meditatively the first 12 verses of Romans 1. I began praying with real deliberation to God, refusing to be distracted. Finally, God gave my mind peace. In the ensuing peaceful moments the words came into my head, "God is for us in Christ Jesus." I thought of how sometimes a Christian goes through such emotional turmoil that she needs to be led step by step. How helpful it would be for some Christians in some trying times of their lives to be told by one who has been there before, "Say these words out loud. Say 'God is for us in Christ Jesus.'"

I might not be there for you the next time your life is upside down, but I want to train you to say something, next time it is, that has helped me. Next time you feel such a heavy burden on your heart that you can hardly bear to face people, say "God is for us in Christ Jesus" and rest your very soul upon it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Baptism in Pine Creek

I forgot to post on this earlier, but August 5th was a special day for us because two young sisters of ours were baptized! The baptism took place in the creek where it crosses Highway 34. Want to know what else made it special? One of the "sisters" was my sister—by birth. And, Paul Thiessen, who normally serves the Lord in Mexico, was with us to give a message on baptism to all of us on either bank.

I definitely think indoor baptistries should be reserved for January!

See You in a Year

Yesterday a shipment came in from the States. Eight new Piper books plus many that I'm passing on to others. The best part of all was that each book cost $5 or less! Needless to say, I'm more and more impressed with the people at Desiring God.

Teach Us to Teach

The interplay between Christians and their emotions, and between Christianity and human psychology, has been floating through my mind constantly for likely a year now. Almost every time I read the Scriptures, or a related article, these matters surface in my thoughts at some point. I suppose this is largely due to the climate of our day. The stuff of psychology is everywhere: school, work, media, even the Christian bookstore. But it's also due to my exposure to several conversations and debates about this interplay.

One of the results of my mind being engaged on these matters is that I have been reevaluating our teaching when the church meets together. The relevance of teaching to this discussion is that, often, those who are getting help from professional counsellors find teaching irrelevant. And those who are all against Christians going "outside" for help hold up teaching as the only thing (almost) that is relevant.

So teaching in the church is something I want to make a New Testament study of in the near future. In the meantime, my hypothesis is that the concept of teaching in the NT is decidedly different from that held by many of us Christians. In my circles at least, teaching is considered to be the impartation of truth (doctrine) that forms up what Christians believe. That's it. Nothing more. Thus we will invite each other to come and hear a gifted teacher speak on some subject like the Church, Spiritual Gifts, or Justification by Faith. I'm starting to wonder if, in addition to this aspect of teaching, the NT further views teaching as including training. Training takes us beyond the question of what we believe to the questions of how we live.

In other words, what I'm suggesting is that the biblical concept of teaching embraces not only belief-modification, but also behaviour-modification. When Matthew tells us in Matthew 7:38 that "the crowds were astonished at his teaching", does he mean to suggest that Jesus' words, "Do not be anxious about your life" (7:25) constitute teaching? I think he does. We wouldn't call it teaching, but the Holy Spirit does. We would call it exhortation, encouragement, or practical ministry. Matthew calls it teaching.

In Luke 11:1 the disciples ask Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray." To which Jesus launches into a lengthy sermon on the difference in the Greek words of prayer, intercession, and supplication? No! Jesus, the great Teacher from a place farther away than Ireland, shows them how to pray by praying right in front of them, saying, "When you pray, say..."

None of this is meant to minimize the importance of what we typically call teaching. The impartation of doctrinal information is vital. But so is the impartation of how-to information. Thus a message on how a Christian husband can love his wife as Christ loved the Church belongs just as much under the rubric of teaching as does the sermon on marriage being a picture of Christ and His Church.

Incidentally, the secular world has much less difficulty with this concept of teaching. For instance, a basic Driver's Education course includes classroom instruction on the rules of the road and the functioning of a car, but it also includes instruction in how to drive the thing. This is how you parallel park. This is how you change a tire. In secular teaching, the rubber meets the road. Why should it not in the teaching of the local church?

How does all this apply to professional counselling, psychology, and emotional life? Well, if our teaching was more holistic in this regard, counsellees would likely find it to be much more relevant, and believers in the sufficiency of Scripture might actually see some day-to-day evidence for the Bible's sufficiency.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Biography of Robert Chapman

Just submitted to Scripture Forum. A while ago the Moderating Committee there graciously invited me to contribute book reviews to their forum. I have not been very faithful in contributing, but I hope to change that in the future.

Title: Robert Chapman
Author: Robert L. Peterson


Having wakened from whatever sleep I had last night with an obtrusive head cold, I took a sick day and settled down with this delightful biography of a delightful man.

In reading this book I encountered a remarkable servant of Christ. Robert Chapman (1803-1902) enjoyed a comfortable and cultured upbringing, but was converted to Christ in 1823. At the time of his conversion he held a promising career in law; after his conversion his business became “to love others and not to seek that others shall love me,” (p.13). He responded to criticism of his early preaching attempts by saying “There are many who preach Christ, but not so many who live Christ. My great aim will be to live Christ,” (p.29, original emphasis). Page after page reveals that this is exactly what he did.

The book records his tireless efforts in the gospel in Barnstaple, England, as well as his four missionary trips into Spain and his tour through Ireland on foot. We learn of his missionary zeal, financial dependence on the Lord, life of simplicity, and ministry of hospitality.

Of interest to many will be the accounts of his interactions with other leaders in the early Brethren movement. Darby could say of Chapman “He lives what I teach.” And again: “We talk of the heavenlies, but Robert Chapman lives in them,” (p.114). One thing that struck me was Chapman’s hospitality, a characteristic rarely associated with those who remain unmarried. He was “a missionary to missionaries” and many of God’s people found themselves refreshed and encouraged in his home.

Peterson writes as a careful and skillful biographer. He is careful by being well-researched, and by remembering that his subject had faults, even though, as in Joseph’s case, one must struggle to find them; He is skillful by organizing his material both chronologically and thematically.

Both Chapman and, it would seem, his biographer held more open views of reception than readers of this Forum would. But Chapman’s passion for unity—which lay behind his views on reception—is still good for us to hear. It should also be pointed out that Peterson does not have as much difficulty finding faults in Darby’s life as he does in Chapman’s; whether or not his criticisms of Darby are justifiable is a matter I am not qualified to judge.

Nevertheless, let us obey the command of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:29 (“honor such men”) by reading this biography. I recommend it to every Christian, especially to young men and women. In a day where Christian role models are those who show up at meeting nine times out of ten, we young people desperately need Christian biography of this calibre. Within these pages we shall discover the key not only to individual spiritual renewal, but to revitalization of our assemblies as well. Robert Chapman may have died over a century ago, but through this biography his love, life, and hospitality have today ministered to a worn-out Christian’s physical and spiritual needs one more time. May it not be the last time.

Resource Details

Number of Pages: 210
Publisher: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc.
Publication Date: 1995
ISBN: 0-87213-691-4

Monday, August 20, 2007

Shepherd = Border Collie?

I found Doug Wilson's selection from Mother Kirk suggestive. An elder's role in the local church is very much like "that of a well-trained border collie. There are shepherds above him."

More Thoughts on Bitterness

Why your arm fell off.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

New Greek Blog

Great news! Alan Knox has started up a Greek blog for his students. As a self-learner of koine Greek (using textbooks by Mounce and Black), I see very little in the way of educational interaction. This is a serious disadvantage for learning a new language, a disadvantage I hope this blog will help lessen. Time to revise my blogroll!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hard-Hitting Questions on the Church

There may well be such a thing as a stupid question, but you won't find one among this lot. Here's one of my favourites:

When we meet with other believers, why do we spend most of our time looking at one person and the back of everyone else's heads?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Doug Wilson at His Best on Bitterness at its Worst

Doug Wilson writes

Resentment is one of the most confused and confusing sins that we commit.

Another person has wronged you and hurt you, or you believe that he has, and so you store up bitterness in your heart. But this bitterness pollutes and eats away at your own soul, not the soul of the one who wronged you.

What this means is that someone came into your home and smashed your precious things. And let us say that you are not imagining it—he really did this. And so what does bitterness do? Bitterness goes to the workroom in the basement, finds a hammer, and goes through the house, smashing any of the remaining precious things that the other may have missed. At the basic heart level, this means that bitterness agrees with the vandal. For all the appearance of conflict, it is a false conflict.

Aggressive belligerence says that you should be hurt. And bitterness responds by saying, "No, I need to be hurt and damaged more than that. Leave me now—I can do the rest by myself."

Read the rest of the article here. By the way, if you want to read what first got me listening to Wilson, have some fun and read this (click here for the rest of the debate).

A Time of Fellowship, Anyone?

Join me in asking myself: "How does fellowship as I define it compare with how the early Church and her Lord defined it?"

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Amen to This

On a slip of paper from the late Mr. Robert Boyle, a great man of God. As his days on earth were winding down, his family graciously invited me to check over his library and take as many books as I wanted. I probably took half of a trunk full (including a bunch of Lange's commentaries)! In one of the books was this:

Do you say "Amen?"
When your brother sits,
After speaking to God in prayer?
Or does silence reign,
And there's not a word,
From those who are assembled there?

A hearty "Amen"
Is so good to hear,
And to God it must be so too.
For it shows our attention,
And fellowship too,
In all that we'd say and do.

So say "Amen"
When your brother sits,
After speaking to God in prayer.
Our hearts it will warm,
And our spirits unite;
We'll be blessed as we tarry there.
~ P.M. Weston

Saturday, August 11, 2007

To Post or Not To Post

Dave Black describes his self-check mechanism before posting:

Before I post anything (be it an essay or a blog entry) I always (a) pray about whether or not I should upload it and, if I get a green light, (b) ask the Lord Jesus to use it in the blogosphere to "strengthen, encourage, and console."

For the record, I would like to follow his example.

Entering the Blogosphere...

My first post, but first of how many? God only knows. If He should grant me a long and happy existence in the Blogoshere, this is what you should expect to see in future visits to my blog:

(1) The beauty, glory, and supremacy of Jesus Christ.
(2) Encouragement to read and study the Bible.
(3) A plug or two for learning to read the New Testament in Greek!
(4) Glimpses of what a local church should look like, and encouragement to join/remain in/re-shape one.
(5) Updates on life with Helen: how we're doing, what we're reading, where we're going, and who we're hanging out with.

I begin with a prayer.

Lord Jesus, I dedicate this virtual space to You.
You have so taken over my life that I can't even blog without You. Make this a place where everyone who stops by is loved and respected. Make this a place where Your people are encouraged, and where those who are not Yours are caused to give You second thought. I ask that You would save me from using this space to promote myself instead of You. Preserve me from causing others to stumble.
Give me Your wisdom, insight, and grace.