Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It's been a while since I posted anything on my favorite band...

Video created by Iain Tait


Vanity is so anchored in the human heart that a soldier, a cadet, a cook, a kitchen porter boasts, and wants to have admirers, and even philosophers want them, and those who write against them want the prestige of having written well, and those who read them want the prestige of having read them, and I, writing this, perhaps have this desire, and those who will read this...

Blaise Pascal, Pensées (520)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

John Piper's best book?

Yesterday I finished reading The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright. It's an excellent book. I've always been more a fan of John Piper the preacher than writer, and have been shaped in profound ways by listening to what I'd guess to be hundreds of hours of his sermons. I've benefited from his books too (especially Don't Waste Your Life -- which rocked my world a few years back), but I've always found Piper's message more compelling from the pulpit...perhaps because most of his books are so much a reflection of his preaching, which I think is his singular gift. But this book displays a different facet -- Piper the theologian and intellectual (in the best sense) more so than Piper the pastor. Although, in writing this book he has a pastoral purpose in view, namely, to prevent future (thus the title) confusion in preaching and teaching these essential doctrines if N.T. Wright's views on justification gain wider currency within the church. This has become my favorite book by Piper and may turn out to be his most important.

The "future" of the title also alludes to one prominent strand of Wright's thought. His view that although justification happens in the present by faith alone, apart from works, there will be a future/final justification at the last judgment based on the record of an entire life lived. As with a lot of Wright, how this works out in practice is difficult to come to grips with. Piper bends over backward to give Wright the benefit of the doubt and is quick to highlight areas of agreement. He praises Wright for his valuable work in NT studies, his stress on the cosmic/corporate nature of the gospel -- so often neglected in our individualistic "Jesus and me" age -- and his defense of the substitutionary, penal atonement. (This isn't mentioned, but I enjoy how Wright mixes it up with those who conflate Christianity with unfettered free-markets or right-wing political preoccupations -- see his recent exchange touching on that and other issues with Richard Neuhaus in First Things.) Piper mentions a lengthy correspondence with Wright during the writing of the book which caused it to grow dramatically in size as Piper engaged various texts suggested by Wright. I look forward to a response from the Bishop of Durham. I'm an admirer of Wright and nothing in this book will keep me from reading and listening to him in the future, though in this area I think he's dead wrong or (at best) does more harm than good with some of his emphases.

On balance, I think Piper fairly and plainly (one of his writing strengths) expresses Wright's ideas on justification and the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) and effectively refutes them in the light of Biblical exegesis and the history of Protestant thought. One section of TFOJ deals with Wright's reading of Paul that sees his use of the phrase "the righteousness of God" as meaning God's covenant faithfulness. This affects Wright's edifice of thought in many ways, not least in leading to his writing that the traditional Protestant view of the imputed righteousness of Christ becoming our's at the moment of justification "makes no sense" and is a "category mistake." Piper demonstrates how it's Wright's definition that doesn't make sense, not least in a chapter toward the end where he soundly refutes (in my opinion) Wright's iconoclastic reading of 2 Corinthians 5:14-21. Yes, covenant faithfulness is an implication of God's righteousness (just as honoring contracts is an implication of integrity) but it's misleading and confusing to end there.

This book is an example of a scholarly of work written with the average layman in mind. Better yet, it springs out of a pastoral, passionate heart for the gospel. I agree with the Baptist preacher from Minneapolis that, despite his formidable gifts and accomplishments, Wright isn't a modern-day Martin Luther standing up against centuries of misguided tradition. Here's an excerpt to give you the flavor of the book. In it Piper discusses another distinctive Wright and NPP reading of Paul which he'll go into in more depth later.

Wright is recognized for his unusual definition of justification as the declaration that a person is in the covenant family. For example, he says, "Those who hear the gospel and respond to it in faith are then declared by God to be his people.... They are given the status dikaios, 'righteous', 'within the covenant.'" Or again, and more sweepingly, "'Justification' in the first century was not about how someone might establish a relationship with God. It was about God's eschatological definition, both future and present, of who was, in fact, a member of his people."

Is Wright true to the apostle Paul's thought when he makes covenant membership the denotation (as opposed to implication) of the divine act of justification? It seems to stretch Paul's language to the breaking point. We will deal with Wright's use of the concept of justification more fully in later chapters, but it may be helpful to register an initial objection here. Will Paul's use of δικαιóψ (I justify) bear the weight of Wright's meaning? I doubt it for at least two reasons.

One reason is that there are uses of δικαιóψ in Paul where the meaning "declaring one as a covenant member" does not work. For example, it does not work in Romans 3:4 where God is the one who is justified: "Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, 'That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.'" The usual meaning of "reckon one to be just or innocent" fits in Romans 3:4, but "declare to be a member of the covenant" does not. Similarly, in 1 Timothy 3:16, Christ himself is said to be justified: "He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated [εδικαιψθη = justified] by [or in] the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory." That is, Christ was shown to be, or declared to be, in the right, just, vindicated.

Another reason that δικαιóψ will not bear the weight of Wright's meaning is that Paul's use of the word regularly signifies a definite action that accomplishes something now. It is not simply a declaration of a person's covenant membership that came about decisively through another prior action (e.g., God's effectual call).

John Piper, The Future of Justification (pp. 39-41)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Share it or lose it

I read this yesterday in the Global Prayer Digest and its stuck with me. The writer is commenting on Philemon 6 and makes what I think is a great point.

It has been observed that only when we share the gospel across cultural barriers can we fully comprehend the gospel message ourselves. When we see the truths of the gospel through the eyes of another culture, those truths come alive for us in a new way. Sharing our faith with another people group forces us to examine what in our worship must be universal and what is only cultural. Perhaps the confusion which pervades so many of our churches about the content of the gospel message is due to our failure to seriously share this message with other groups.

Those of us in Reformed churches believe we have a good grasp on what the gospel is/what it does/how it works, but if this knowledge makes us insular and closed off to God's great global purposes there's a danger we'll lose what we have. I agree with this writer that having a "frontier missions priority" in our churches will bring a greater understanding and firmer grasp of the riches of the gospel.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hungry like the wolf (for a Cubs win)

Looking for God on IMDb

Many Christian observers of the culture have noted the increasing role of movies in filling our universal longing for the transcendent. The cineplex is indeed the new church of the masses where "worshipers" sit in the dark to encounter something bigger than themselves. Craig Detweiler is one such observer. He's an author and director of the Reel Spirituality Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary. His latest book is Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century (another one to be added to my always-growing mental list of books to read). Detweiler shares some of his findings in an article in the most recent issue of Modern Reformation.

It begins by discussing the debate between 20th-century theologians Karl Barth and Emil Brunner on the validity of sources of divine revelation outside Scripture. Can there be a "point of contact" between God and man in cultural artifacts like movies? Brunner said yes, Barth answered emphatically "Nein!" In Barth's defense, he was defending the unique revelation of Scripture against its theologically liberal detractors like Brunner, but he may have too quickly dismissed the idea that God can use art (in this case movies) to -- in Detweiler's words -- "open us up to neglected truths of Scripture" and "sharpen our appreciation of Scripture." That's been my experience as a Christian and astute (I hope) student of cinema. Art can't in any way replace Scripture -- or the preaching of the gospel -- but it can help the believer see the world with more compassionate, discerning eyes and point the unbeliever toward God: the source of truth and beauty.

For Into the Dark the author went to the popular IMDb (Internet Movie Database) to study the top movies of the young century as rated by this online community of passionate and opinionated filmgoers. He surveyed forty-five films which could be broken down into three thematic groups: cautionary tales about evil ("the next generation of filmgoers isn't afraid of sin-they welcome frank portraits of our fallenness"), explorations of the meaning of community (e.g. The Lives of Others), and portrayals of hope...especially in the fantasy genre. One of the movies from the first group that he highlights in the MR article is Memento. I remember well the disorientation I felt the first time I watched this film. It was one of those "what just happened?" moments. Detweiler sees it as a case study in self-deception. I see the protagonist's memory loss as an illustration of Paul's indictment of unrighteous man: "they exchanged the truth about God for a lie."

Memento (2000) reinvents the tropes of film noir. It turns the jaded private eye into an unreliable narrator. Leonard's short-term memory loss keeps us off balance, trying to piece together clues. By the conclusion of the film, we discover our endless capacity for self-deception. So what are the scriptural connections? These dark, violent films take us back to the garden, to God's first question to humanity, "Why are you hiding?" I was reminded of the excuses we make. How we blame everyone but ourselves for our failing. Memento is a brilliant meditation on original sin.*

What's interesting is that Memento was the film that launched the careers of two brothers from England -- Christopher and Jonathan Nolan. You may have heard about their latest project, a little movie called The Dark Knight. There's a lot I could say about the latest installment of the Batman franchise, but one thing is clear to me -- the character of The Joker as played by Heath Ledger is the most frightening, compelling Satan-figure to ever fill (I can't say grace) the big screen. He's the embodiment of pure chaos -- living only to steal, kill and destroy, and in so doing prove to someone (Batman, God?) that humans are depraved savages not worth the effort to save. He's the father of half-truths. The character of Bruce Wayne/Batman is more complicated. If one chooses to see this movie as some kind of parable -- then depending on how you interpret it -- the Dark Knight could be seen as representing George W. Bush, Christ, or the principal of "good" inherent in a dualistic universe. Then again, maybe it's just a Superhero Movie. But I digress...

Despite all the darkness at the 21st-century moviehouse, Detweiler found that hope is still a powerful theme running through many of the most representative films of our age. Not cheap hope, but hope born out of a filmic world that takes evil seriously -- as in cinematic fairytales like Pan's Labyrinth and the epic Lord of the Rings films. This reflects what we find in the Bible, where neither pessimism or optimism are strong enough words to describe what's revealed to us about the evil that lurks in men's hearts and the hope of a world where good triumphs and there is "no more death or mourning or crying or pain." A new heaven and new earth ushered in at the return of the King. Detweiler uses imagery from LOTR to illustrate the attraction of his third category of films.

Given all the ugliness we've witnessed, we are despereate to get back to the garden to reverse the curse of sin. The hobbits in The Lord of the Rings long to get back to the verdant Shire, to enjoy a pint of ale, to savor the strawberries. But that peaceable kingdom will not arrive without a struggle. We need a fellowship to navigate the journey to Mount Doom...the finest fantasy films remind us of how imaginative and hopeful Revelation 21 and 22 remain. As we wander into the dark of cinema, the longing for the light of God's promises emerges. That's a point of contact I am eager to embrace.*

*Craig Detweiler, Points of Contact: Into the Dark (Modern Reformation, July/August 2008)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Great music radio still exists!

You can find it at the new and improved Radio Paradise.

Listen for free here or click on the RP logo below right. Bill & Rebecca thank you.

Post-rapture evangelism for $40

At You've Been Left Behind

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A splendid guide

Next year marks the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth. To celebrate the occasion and his most famous work, P&R Publishing has just come out with A Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes edited by David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback. My copy arrived from Amazon last week. It appears to be the kind of book that will lend itself to careful, intermittent reading and I look forward to digesting it over the next few months. Appearance-wise it's handsomely bound, well organized and very readable. It features an eloquent (of course!) foreword by J.I. Packer and essays by 21 Calvin scholars. According to the editors, contributors were chosen with three criteria in mind: "(1) their sympathetic readings of Calvin's work, although not uncritically so; (2) their teaching of this material for a considerable span of time, normally in seminaries or universities; and (3) their willingness to meet a rigid publication schedule."

Calvin is often singled out at the expense of the other Reformers, both by his detractors and disciples, but it's difficult to overestimate the impact of his ideas on theology, culture and politics. And it's his Institutes of the Christian Religion (expanded to four densely packed volumes by the final 1559 edition) that cement his place as both "the Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas of the Reformed Church" (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church). Each essay of this collection focuses on a different section of the Institutes and covers topics as wide-ranging as the work itself...everything from Calvin's doctrine of the trinity to his views on church and human government. But before that, historian William S. Barker contributes an interesting piece on the historical and theological context of Calvin's magnum opus.

The first edition (1536) of the Institutes contained a preface addressed to King Francis I of France from his exiled 26-year old subject John Calvin. Francis was a Catholic monarch, but he wasn't above making common cause with Protestants when it suited his geopolitical interests. Most likely, he never read Calvin's appeal before his death in 1547. Barker explains the dual purpose of Calvin's address. On the one hand, he sought to disprove the "charge of newness" leveled at the Reformers by the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, distance the nascent Protestant movement from the radical sedition of the Anabaptists. He achieved the first by showing that the Reformers were closer to the early church fathers than the medieval Roman Church (Barker points out that 60 percent of Calvin's citations come from church fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries), and the second by disclaiming "any effort to overthrow kingdoms...even though we are now fugitives from home." Barker writes:

Having refuted the Roman Catholic charge of newness by showing the consistency of the Protestant Reformers with the orthodox ancient church, Calvin next answers the charge of seditious tumults resulting from the Reformation...Calvin ascribes such tumults to the work of Satan, who always through history seeks to oppose the true faith with false religion. As was the case in the day of the apostles, so now in the Reformation there are movements that Satan has inspired in order to discredit the genuine Reformers.

After placing the Institutes in its historical context, Barker then draws from a variety of sources to place it rightfully at the pinnacle of Christian thought. Barker cites historian Philip Schaff who describes some of the telling reaction from its opponents. "Roman Catholics called it 'the Koran and Talmud of heresy' and had it burned by order of the Sorbonne at Paris and other places." But a contemporary Roman Catholic scholar compares Calvin to "a composer who borrows several themes and then orchestrates them according to his personal inspiration" (Alexandre Ganoczy, The Young Calvin). Nearly 500 years after Calvin's birth, his Institutes continue to (paraphrasing Packer) search, humble and challenge its readers. Barker traces Calvin's influence on the English-speaking world and church up to today.

By the time of the publication of the 1559 edition of the Institutes Calvin was recognized as the chief theologian of the Protestant Reformation. That reputation would continue in Reformed circles because of the distinctive relation between theology and the exegesis of Scripture as propounded and lived out in the context of the church. Particularly in the English-speaking world this would be apparent in such subsequent theologians as John Owen in the seventeenth century, Jonathan Edwards in the eighteenth century, Charles Hodge and Benjamin B. Warfield in the nineteenth century, and J. Gresham Machen, J. Oliver Buswell Jr., and John Murray in the twentieth century. Like Calvin, these theologians were expositors of Scripture and also preachers of the Word in the context of the church.

This Theological Guide is a gift to the church and a treat for anyone with an interest in John Calvin, his life, and his thought.

Read an interview with one of the editors here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hope for Haiti

A friend of ours is co-producing a documentary on Haiti called Repiblik: each voice has a story to tell. This has been a four year labor of love, and if all goes well the finished film will be released in 2009. In the words of the filmmakers:

For those who are unfamiliar with the story of Repiblik, it is a unique social media project (created in 2004) not only highlighting the rich aspects of Haiti’s forgotten past, but also documenting the present efforts of Haitians at home and abroad who choose to fight for the future of their country—who continue to have espwa (hope) and believe that change is possible. Our vision is that Repiblik will educate our audiences on the value of Haiti’s history, culture and people, and attract further resources (primarily human) to accelerate the changes already taking place in Haiti.

You can watch the trailer and learn more about the project at their website.

Friday, July 18, 2008

From "feed my sheep" (John 21:17) to "sheep feed yourselves"

Christ, both Lord and Savior of his church, appointed an official ministry (including officers) so that he could continue to serve his covenant people and extend his kingdom of grace to the ends of the earth by his Spirit. Even in the present--every time we gather--it is God who summons us in judgment and grace. It is not our devotion, praise, piety, or service that comes first, but God's service to us...churches of the Reformation have always agreed that the true church is found wherever the gospel is truly preached and the sacraments are administered according to Christ's institution. But this means that the public ministry provided on the Lord's Day is primarily God's ministry to us. We are not individuals who come together simply for fresh marching orders for transforming ourselves and our culture, but sinners who come to die and to be made alive in Christ--no longer defined by our individual choices and preferences (the niche demographics of our passing age), but by our incorporation into Christ and his body.

Even the purpose of our singing is not self-expression (witnessing to our own piety), but is to "teach and admonish one another in all wisdom" so that "the word of Christ [may] dwell in you richly" (Col. 3:16), "giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of Jesus Christ" (Eph. 4:20). We come to invoke the name of our Covenant Lord, to hear his law and receive his forgiveness. Only then are we able to receive his gifts with the "Amen!" of faith and repentance, with a heart full of thanksgiving toward God and love toward our neighbors.

But if "church" is primarily about what individuals do (even if they happen to do it in the same building), then it stands to reason that our services will focus on motivating us for action rather than ministering to us God's action here and now in the Spirit, through Word and sacrament, that which he has already accomplished for us objectively in Jesus Christ. The liturgy will be replaced with various announcements of church programs; the songs will simply be opportunities for self-expression; the preaching will largely consist of tips for transformation; baptism and the Supper will afford opportunities merely for us to commit and recommit ourselves rather than serve as means of grace.

Before long, it will be easy for churches to imagine that what happens on the Lord's Day is less important than what happens in small groups or in the private lives of individual Christians. In fact, this is explicitly advocated today.

In a fairly recent study, Willow Creek--a pioneer megachurch--discovered that its most active and mature members are the most likely to be dissatisfied with their own personal growth and the level of teaching and worship that they are receiving. From this, the leadership concluded that as people mature in their faith, they need the church less. After all, the main purpose of the church is to provide a platform for ministry and service opportunities to individuals rather than a means of grace. As people grow, therefore, they need the church less. We need to help believers to become "self-feeders" the study concluded.

Michael Horton, No Church, No Problem? (Modern Reformation, July/August 2008)

So you wanna work in the movies?

I used to work with a guy that supplemented his day job by moonlighting as a grip on film crews in New York City. It may sound glamorous, but it's not. Grips do a lot of the "grunt work" on a movie set, which often involves supporting the lighting and camera departments -- but don't confuse them with the gaffer who's in charge of the lighting. The tools of the trade include a hammer, flashlight and walkie-talkie. While the actors are sipping Perrier in their trailers and the director is huddling with the DP, the grips are doing the heavy lifting. If you're a hard worker and quick learner you might eventually move up the chain of command to key grip or best boy grip.

According to Wikipedia there's more than one theory as to the exact origin of the term grip:

The term 'grip' dates back to the early era of the circus. From there it was used in vaudeville and then in today's film sound stages and sets. Some have suggested the name comes from the 1930s-40s slang term for a tool bag or "grip" that these technicians use to carry their tools to work. Another popular theory states that in the days of hand-cranked cameras, it would be necessary for a few burly men to hang on to the tripod legs to stop excessive movement of the camera. These men became known as the 'good grips'- as they were constantly being instructed to 'keep a good grip on the tripod'.

I enjoy the last explanation the most. Most of the work done by the grip crew is before the camera rolls. Here's a time-lapse video of a crew building a track for a camera crane.

All that work for a shot that will last only a few seconds in the finished film. Let's hear it for the grips -- the unsung heroes of moviemaking!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Euphemisms are often annoying reminders of the negative perception they're meant to conceal.

Is pre-owned supposed to inspire more consumer confidence than used?

I’d prefer less obfuscation with my car shopping.

Inspired by 22 Words

Monday, July 14, 2008

Monday morning Bonhoeffer

As many of us return to work after a Sabbath rest, here are some good thoughts from DB on the rhythm of prayer and work in the life of a Christian. He reminds us that the One who bids a man to "come and die" also "bids him work."

After the first morning hour the Christian's day until evening belongs to work. "Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening" (Ps. 104:23). In most cases the Christian family fellowship will separate for the duration of the working day. Prayer should not be hindered by work, but neither should work be hindered by prayer. Just as it was God's will that man should work six days and rest and make holy day in His presence on the seventh, so it is also God's will that every day should be marked for the Christian by both prayer and work. Prayer is entitled to its time. But the bulk of the day belongs to work. And only where each receives its own specific due will it become clear that both belong inseparably together. Without the burden and labor of the day, prayer is not prayer, and without prayer work is not work. This only the Christian knows. Thus, it is precisely in the clear distinction between them that their oneness becomes manifest.

Work plunges men into the world of things. The Christian steps out of the world of brotherly encounter into the world of impersonal things, the "it"; and this new encounter frees him for objectivity; for the "it"-world is only an instrument in the hand of God for the purification of Christians from all self-centeredness and self-seeking. The work of the world can be done only where a person forgets himself, where he loses himself in a cause, in reality, the task, the "it." In work the Christian learns to allow himself to be limited by the task, and thus for him the work becomes a remedy against the indolence and sloth of the flesh. The passions of the flesh die in the world of things. But this can happen only where the Christian breaks through the "it" to the "Thou," which is God, who bids him work and makes that work a means of liberation from himself.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (pp. 69-70)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Great Dane

The five symphonies of Danish composer Carl Nielsen (1865 - 1931) are hidden treasures of the 20th century orchestral repertoire. There were six actually, but Nielsen's First written in 1892 was more of a trial run. It wasn't until Symphony No. 2 "The Four Temperaments" in 1901 that he found his distinct voice. The dramatic power of these works belie the quiet life led by the composer, who sometimes had his best ideas while sitting in the village pub. Born of a musical family, Nielsen was an accomplished violinist who made his living as a professional musician before finding fame as a composer.

Denmark is Nordic, yet unlike her Scandinavian neighbors is connected to the Continental heartland. I think Nielsen reflects that. He's been compared to Anton Bruckner, and had that great Austrian's ability to make the orchestra sing like a giant pipe organ. But I can also discern some of the austere beauty of his Finnish contemporary Sibelius. In addition, I find that listening to Nielsen stirs up similar emotions as another favorite early-20th century symphonist -- Sir Edward Elgar. There's a melancholy nobility and nostalgia that comes through from both men. Other descriptives that come to mind when listening to Nielsen are vast, colossal, majestic.

Four of his six symphonies carry wonderfully evocative nicknames. Probably the most played and best known is Symphony No. 4, aptly named "The Inextinguishable". Music critic Michael Steinberg explains what Nielsen was going for.

'Inextinguishable' is not an adjective like 'Military', 'Unfinished', 'Scottish' or 'Pathétique'; rather, 'Det uudslukkelige' is a noun. Nielsen meant by it 'the elemental will to life', the force that would cause nature to breed new life even though the world had been the summer of 1914, as Europe was about to do its best to destroy itself, Nielsen laboured at translating his vision into music.

Nielsen's Fourth explodes out of the box with a series of memorable flourishes before giving way to moments of quiet lyricism and a triumphal ending. "Human aspiration and yearning...these forces, which are inextinguishable, are what I have tried to represent," Nielsen said. Listening to it on a decent home stereo can threaten to raise the roof. Nielsen didn't stray far from the European symphonic tradition stretching back to Mozart and Haydn, choosing to work within the confines of sonata form. There are elements of a more modern sensibility, though, especially in the unnamed Symphony No. 5 with it's percussive opening movement. Quoting Steinberg again, "a frightening vision of the invasion of order by disorder." The fact that it was written post-World War I may explain it's disturbing quality, but again, Nielsen ends on a note of triumph.

My experience of these symphonies comes from the cycle recorded in the late 80s by Herbert Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony for Decca Records. The Swedish Blomstedt was right at home in this repertoire, and you can't do better performance-wise or sonically than these recordings. Decca, Blomstedt and the SFSO had a fruitful partnership during this period utilizing the superb acoustics of Davies Symphony Hall. I also recommend their hair-raising recording of Mahler's 'Resurrection' Symphony. Happy listening!

Friday, July 11, 2008

"But how can a Christian vote for Obama?"

I have a friend who is a pastor at one of the historically black churches in West Palm Beach. I was visiting his church a while back and noticed in their fellowship hall a bulletin board celebrating Barack Obama with pictures and news articles on his historic victory in the Democratic primary. It's no secret that I'm not a fan of politics in the church, but I understand where these folks are coming from. I wouldn't feel right in criticizing them either, since I know that in the Sunday School building of my own church there's a large, glossy photo of George W. Bush displayed.

Tomorrow morning I'll be gathering with a group of Christians from various churches to pray for our city. At least half of the group will be African American, and I'd guess that many of them will be voting for Obama. There might even be some "O" bumper stickers in the parking lot. I have Christian friends (of various skin colors) who are vocal Obama backers. These aren't wishy-washy people, but brothers and sisters who I'm blessed to know and labor with to advance the gospel. I won't be asking them the question above, conversely I won't be asking "how can a Christian vote for McCain?"

I say all that to introduce the following article from Eric Redmond. I found it helpful and enlightening. Redmond is a Southern Baptist pastor and blogger from Maryland who's part of a fresh, new breed within the SBC. I encourage you to read his entire piece (HERE), but I especially wanted to share his summation. It points out how all of us bring mixed motives into the voting booth, and I think points a way forward toward election year advocacy that doesn't do harm to the church of Jesus Christ. Perhaps you or I will feel compelled to try and change a fellow believer's mind about a candidate or issue in the months ahead, but doing it by casting aspersions on one's commitment to Christ (or the Bible) will be counterproductive. Redmond writes:

I should also say that even the most simul justus et peccator among us vote both righteously and selfishly at the same time. As I have said elsewhere,

Preserving what we each value the most serves as the motivation for almost everyone’s vote. It would be difficult to find anyone who votes from a purely selfless stance, i.e., “this is in the best interest of the entire country.” Rather, we each vote from either a “survival” or “success” stance. Those who have experienced financial and/or material success generally care about issues that will ensure that such success is maintained. Issues of survival seem trite to them. In contrast, those attempting to survive, or to get to a certain level of social achievement—whether that is to gain the American Dream so as to get out of coal mining and Black Lung disease, to get out of a neighborhood of poorer schools and crime to the suburbs, or to keep from losing all they have earned in life—generally do not concern themselves with the issues of the successful. They want mobility, access, opportunity and aid.

What person of success would selflessly vote in the interest of those needing aid at his own expense? And what citizen simply trying to survive would vote for smaller government, although this would certainly be the wisest and best choice for any successful business owner? Yet believers are called to consider others better than themselves, to deny themselves, and to care for the poor, needy and oppressed. This calling cannot be set aside as one exercises one’s right to suffrage (”Believers at the Ballot Box,” Beauty for Ashes Magazine [July/August, 2008]).

While it might seem a contradiction for Christian African Americans to vote for Senator Obama, each of us votes with many contradictions in both the righteous and selfish hopes of having the best possible earthly government and society. Such hopes yield appointments of pro-life justices and unjust war decisions. But when we “pull the lever,” we vote our consciences, our blind spots, and unknown future actions of our candidates and those in their selected cabinets and staff. At best, going to the ballot box as believers is one great act of hope in the God who rules all things for good, who “removes kings and sets up kings,” and whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion” (Dan. 2:21; 4:34). It is best that we look to his Son for true hope, identity and justice. This is the only way any of us will stop throwing cards on the table each election cycle.

Finding the right "ka-lunk"

Walter Murch mixing Apocalypse Now

Walter Murch's contributions to film sound are even more impressive than his work as an editor (see Part One). He's created some of the most memorable soundscapes in movie history. Many of the films he's worked on linger in memory as aural experiences, conjuring up characters and emotions based solely on sound. The mind's ear recalls the distant snatches of Wolfman Jack coming from the radios of the cruising hot rods in American Graffiti, the quiet hum of Harry Caul's tape machines in The Conversation, or the menacing whir of Huey rotors in Apocalypse Now. Murch creates sounds that are both realistic and metaphoric. What do I mean? It's the ability to conjure up something intangible about a character or location through subtle manipulation of commonplace sounds -- the drip of a faucet, a distant belltower, the sound of a door closing. In The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film novelist Michael Ondaatje asks Murch about the famous door-closing-on-Diane Keaton scene that ends The Godfather Part I.

Ondaatje: Speaking of specific everyday sounds that can be made metaphorical, there is the famous use of the sound of the door closing at the end of The Godfather. I believe you spent a good deal of time testing doors...

Murch: That's a small but interesting example of the kind of stuff that happens routinely. Something as innocent as a door-close. If you approach it coherently and seriously, you understand that there are many door-closes that would have been wrong for that scene. First of all because this is the last sound in the film--other than the music--and second because it is the decisive moment in which Michael is closing the door on his wife, and on a whole part of his emotional life, which ultimately leads to the tragedy of Godfather II, where you see the results of that decision on a very large scale.

The door-close...has to be true to what we perceive objectively: the physicality of the door and the space around it. But it also has to be true to the metaphorical impact of that door-close, which is, "I'm not going to talk about my business, Kay." That ka-lunk, that articulated sound of solidity, has to express something of the finality of the decision.

Here's the scene starring Al Pacino, Talia Shire and Diane Keaton -- framed by the opening and closing of a door. It marks a point of no return for Michael Corleone, and Pacino plays it brilliantly (it's hard to believe that Paramount tried to have him fired from the picture). Yes, he's already "crossed the Rubicon" with his up-close-and-personal assassination of McCluskey and Solazzo -- as well as ordering the killings alluded to in this scene -- but one can make the case that they had it coming. Somehow, the way Michael calmly lies to his trusting wife carries more existential weight than murder. It's an example of how on-screen emotional violence is often more disturbing than the physical kind. Notice also how Nino Rota's score comes in at just the right moment.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

GAFCON and the rise of the Global South

Jason Miller shares a recap of the recent GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) in Jerusalem written by Rev. Briane Turley. This sounds familiar. Turley writes:

For decades, Western liberals saw in the Global South a tool and an ally to help advance their radical social/political agenda. Third world churches that received the West's "generous subsidies" were, the liberals thought, duty bound to embrace Marxist inspired liberation theologies that would abet their own cosmology. A remarkably paternalistic class, these same liberals now feel betrayed by a Global South Christianity that has rejected Marx in favor of a conservative theological position.

Recent commentary regarding the "GAFCON rebels" published by Anglicans in the United Kingdom and North America indicates that the gloves have come off and that a head-on collision between what remains of well-monied Western revisionist Christians and the economically poor, disfranchised emerging Southern orthodox is inevitable.

Why, precisely, have Global South Christians rejected Western ecclesiological neopatrimonialisms? In effect, at Jerusalem the South declared that the colonialist methods of maintaining the Anglican Communion represent a catastrophic failure. Heretical Western bishops openly teach with impunity that Christ was a sinner and that he was not raised from the grave while theologically faithful bishops like Dr. William Jackson Cox are publicly disciplined and then jettisoned from the church. All the while, the Archbishop of Canterbury observes what is happening in silence or, on occasion, calls on Anglicans to continue "listening" or to participate in "gracious conversation."

Read the rest here.

Probability Theory

According to the odds, you must take the trouble to seek the truth, because if you die without worshipping the true principal you are lost. 'But,' you say, 'if he had wanted me to adore him, he would have left some signs of his will.' And so he has, but you have ignored them. So look for them, it is worth your while.

Blaise Pascal, The Pensées (190)

An intro to covenant theology

If you asked me a few years ago what the main/defining characteristic of Reformed theology was I would have said the five doctrines popularly known as TULIP. Those are important. But ask me today and I'd say the main/defining characteristic of Reformed theology is it's understanding of the Covenants. I've been listening to a very helpful intro to covenant theology given by Ligon Duncan in 2002. He explains how it is "the Bible's way of explaining and deepening our understanding of four things." 1) The Atonement 2) Assurance 3) The Sacraments 4) The Continuity of Redemptive History

Listen or download here.

Some of the material is in written form here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Our national liturgy

Thankfully, there were no patriotic extravaganzas at our church this past Sunday. You know what I mean: giant American flags, patriotic skits, videos and stirring musical medleys. Not that I have a problem with all that, as long as it's not in the church and not on the Sabbath. Granted, our church isn't large enough to mount such a thing, but I hope that even if we were -- we wouldn't. Shannon and I were helping out in the nursery, but by all accounts it was a fairly "ordinary" service of Lord's Day worship. Our minister preached from 1 Corinthians 13, not exactly a traditional July 4 weekend text. Of course, that wasn't the case at many evangelical churches in America. The experience of this blogger was probably typical: standing for the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, but sitting for the reading of God's Word.

Baptist professor David Gushee has an interesting article on his experience this past weekend, and on our fondness for God and country services. He argues that the persistent popularity of these kind of services stems from a hunger in the pews for liturgy. As most Protestant churches have scrapped all remnants of liturgical worship (or never had them to begin with), creeds and confessions have been replaced by the Pledge and "My Country 'Tis of Thee". He writes, "the problem is that the liturgy is national rather than Christian—or national as Christian." He also points out that there's a tendency to use these occasions to idealize the past and demonize the present. I suspect the subtext at some of the July 4th celebrations this past Sunday was "God will bless America as long as such and such a candidate (you can fill in the blank) isn't elected in November."

Read Gushee's article here.

Is there a way to incorporate our national holidays into services of worship? Can patriotism comfortably co-exist with the gospel? Russell Moore discussed those questions with Mark Dever and Stanley Hauerwas on the Albert Mohler program.

Listen here.

A dispatch from the front lines


Monday, July 7, 2008

N.T. Wright on the fourth request

They said a lot of things about Jesus during his lifetime, by no means all complimentary. One particularly juicy phrase sticks out: he was, they said, 'a glutton and a winebibber'. You can just see Jesus' opponents rolling that one round their tongues with relish. But do you know where the phrase comes from? It's actually a quotation from Deuteronomy 21, in which the Israelites are told what to do with a stubborn and rebellious son. The parents are to bring him to the elders of the town, and say 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a winebibber', and they must stone him to death. So there was more to the charge against Jesus than just that he went to too many parties. It was a way of saying: he is being profoundly disloyal to our traditions; he deserves to die.

But Jesus was following the agenda he set out in the Lord's Prayer. He wasn't a rebellious son; he was loyal to the one he called 'Father'. His eating and drinking with his motley collection of friends was a deliberate sign of the Kingdom. His parties weren't simply a matter of cracking open another bottle for the sake of it; and the prayer to the Father for daily bread was part of his wider and deeper agenda.

At the heart of it stood a central biblical symbol of the kingdom: the great festive banquet which God has prepared for his people. This picture goes back to the vision of the land flowing with milk and honey; to the Psalmist, saying 'Thou shalt prepare a table before me, in the presence of my foes'; to the children of Israel, being fed with quails and manna in the wilderness; to prophecies like that of Isaiah, that

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for
all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud over all people;
he will swallow up death for ever.
He will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people
he will take away from all the earth.
(Isaiah 25:6-8)

The banquet, the party, is a sign that God is acting at last, to rescue his people and wipe away all tears from all eyes. Jesus' parties, and his feeding of his followers in the wilderness, were intended, for those with eyes to see, to pick up this whole theme and celebrate it. As so often, the most powerful things Jesus said were in actions, not words.

N.T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Grace and truth

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling (tabernacled) among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' " From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.

John 1:14-18 (NIV)

Are you captured by the grace and truth of Jesus? Are you dazzled by his glory? Shortly before going to the cross, Jesus prays for his disciples, "Sanctify them by the truth." (John 17:17) and "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory." (John 17:24) Jesus is not the means to truth, he is the exact representation of truth. He didn't come primarily to make it possible for us to escape Hell and live happily ever after in Heaven (although that's a true statement) -- he came primarily to make it possible for us to see and enjoy his glory for endless ages -- "the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

The Apostle John must have had the Exodus narratives in mind as he wrote his breathtaking presentation of the deity of Jesus in the prologue to his gospel. New Testament scholar D.A. Carson points out that there are six references in John 1:14-18 (the conclusion of the prologue) to Exodus chapters 32-34. "Now show me your glory", Moses asks Yahweh in Exodus 33:18. The LORD does so, but only indirectly, since "no one may see me and live." Even these indirect encounters with the glory of the LORD leave the Israelites terrified of Moses when he returns to them. Try to put yourself in their place. Begin to understand the terror of the Law and the awesomeness of the Lawgiver, then you'll begin to see the magnificent beauty of Christ. He is the greater tabernacle and the greater Moses, the consummation of all things.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Listen to him. Worship him.

Friday, July 4, 2008

You're a Grand Old Flag

Today is Friday, but it's also Independence Day. So in keeping with the occasion, here's Jimmy Cagney singing and dancing his way through a patriotic medley in Warner's 1942 musical Yankee Doodle Dandy. I'll continue my FIFF tribute to Walter Murch next week. Have a safe and happy 4th!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Theological cinema

I've long thought that the films of Woody Allen are among the most "theological" of Hollywood films. Robert Recio agrees, and shares some thoughts on Allen's latest Cassandra's Dream.

Read them here.

Recio's post reminded me of this bit of dialogue from Allen's 1989 classic Crimes and Misdemeanors. In that film it's Martin Landau wrestling with his conscience after having his mistress killed -- and getting away with it.

HT: Heidelblog

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Truth and beauty

When reading the confessions that make up the Three Forms of Unity, I'm often struck by the beauty of the language and expression. This is worth noting since I'm reading an English translation of what was originally written in German, French or Latin. In fact, I enjoy reading these more than the Westminster Standards written in the good olde King's English. Some credit must go to the translators, yes, but more must go to the original writers. Here are the first two articles of the Belgic Confession.

Article 1: The Only God

We all believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God — eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty; completely wise, just, and good, and the overflowing source of all good.

Article 2: The Means by Which We Know God

We know him by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse. Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.

I love that! The phrases "single and simple spiritual being" and "that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God" speak to my head and my heart (or whatever part of my being it is that takes pleasure in language and expression). I'm already convinced of the truth of the Reformed confessions -- or as I publicly affirmed a few Sundays ago "I do sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do..." -- coming to appreciate their aesthetic beauty is icing on the cake, so to speak.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A staggering statistic from Global Prayer Digest

There are more people in China under the age of 24 than the combined populations of the United States, Russia, Canada, and Australia. This group of over 500,000,000 people will soon be directing this emerging super power. Will they direct it in a positive or a negative way? One of the most important aspects of spreading the gospel is that it can change individuals and entire civilizations if new believers are willing to submit to Christ's direction. Potentially, reaching China's youth can make a huge difference, not only for China, but for the world that they will soon influence.

Continue reading here

Theologically unhinged

A response from New Wineskins to last week's disastrous GA.

Read it here.