Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pray the levees hold this time

May the rebirth continue and a pox on the idiots trying to turn this into a political opportunity. Michael Moore, that means you.

UPDATED 9/2: In light of the fact that the levees seem to have held and Gustav wasn't as strong as feared -- these commenters have it right. Now let's be praying that everyone gets home safely.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Why blog?


Fame? Perhaps. But it's a highly exotic species of fame; hovering in some demilitarized zone between the Warhol 15 minutes cliché and something of marginally greater duration. Few bloggers, however, will ever experience what passes for true fame in this culture (what we call Celebrity Status); simply because the blogosphere doesn't lend itself easily to the kind of social stunts that now facilitate the condition (even the bloggers who took down Rather back in '04 dropped back into obscurity after a few news cycles had passed).

As for fortune... forget it. No this racket will ever make a nickel at it. We are, all of us, idealists who blog for love, glory and the honor of our peers; and will solemnly turn down all fistfuls of cold hard cash offered to us.

From Behind the Blog: Tom Sutpen of If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats

Friday, August 29, 2008

Nobody saw this coming...

But maybe McCain took the advice of this guy. Good call, Tim!

UPDATE: Sarah Palin on Wikipedia and a 2006 NPR story

Why great films make it hard to enjoy the merely mediocre ones

One of the glories of watching Kubrick (and any great director) is that your eye becomes more perceptive, your mind more sensitive to the possibilities of cinema. Your whole being is more engaged. Follow that up by watching something typical, and you can’t help but be let down.

J. Robert Parks, Barry Lyndon/Brideshead Revisited: A Double Feature

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Coffeehouse apologetics

I'm reading my friend Paul Copan's new book When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics. I wrote about Paul's last book -- Loving Wisdom -- here. As opposed to a coffee table book that collects dust, this is a coffee shop book that should find itself dogeared from frequent use. It displays Paul's knack for engaging difficult topics in language easily understood by the average reader -- and for those who want to delve deeper -- the ample footnotes and further reading suggestions are a treasure trove. WGGTS tries to answer some of the tough questions that might come up over a cup of joe with a friend. Questions like "Is it okay to lie to Nazis?" or "Aren't people born gay?" or "Aren't the Bible's 'holy wars' just like Islamic jihad?" If you want answers, you'll have to read the book.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Another alternative

Joe Eszterhas -- the writer of some of the worst screenplays in Hollywood history -- has written a memoir about his conversion from Hollywood playboy to devout Roman Catholic. You can read more about Eszterhas' journey of faith in this interesting profile by David Yonke. It's encouraging to read testimonies like this that show God working in surprising ways in unexpected places. At the same time, the part of his post-conversion experience recounted below left me shaking my head, and I think it points out a common misconception/false dichotomy about what it means to be Roman Catholic or Protestant. Maybe I'll send him this book.

Although he is a devout Catholic, Mr. Eszterhas writes bluntly of his disgust for priests who are pedophiles and bishops who have covered up for them. He and Naomi decided they could not, in good conscience, donate a dime to the church because of the clerical sexual abuse scandal.

He also writes about the inner turmoil he felt when he took his boys to catechism classes or other church events and kept a protective eye on them the whole time, making sure they were never alone with a priest.

And he complains about priests' homilies being boring and pointless.

When Mr. Eszterhas visited a nondenominational megachurch, he heard a sensational sermon. But he felt empty afterward, missing Holy Communion and the Catholic liturgy.

"It may have been a church full of pedophiles and criminals covering up other criminals' sins … it may have been a church riddled with hypocrisy, deceit, and corruption … but our megachurch experience taught us that we were captive Catholics," he wrote.

Mr. Eszterhas told The Blade that despite his mixed feelings over the church and the abuse scandal, the power of the Mass trumps his doubts and misgivings.

"The Eucharist and the presence of the body and blood of Christ is, in my mind, an overwhelming experience for me. I find that Communion for me is empowering. It's almost a feeling of a kind of high."

It would be sad if the only two options for Christians were "a church riddled with hypocrisy, deceit, and corruption" (his words not mine) or megachurch emptiness. I wish Eszterhas would investigate historic Protestantism as expressed in the Reformed faith. There he would find liturgy, a high view of the sacraments, a robust ecclesiology, and sermons that point to Christ rather than being pointless. He might even find it "overwhelming" and "empowering." I do. And I'm thankful my spiritual journey took me to Geneva, not Rome.

Frightfully anxious

Monday, August 25, 2008

It's Biden

I'm probably one of the few Americans that hasn't been watching the Olympics or the endless speculation about Obama's choice of running mate (I doubt if I missed too much). I don't plan on spending a lot of time watching the conventions either. Wifey and I were at Disney this weekend where presidential politics didn't seem to be big news. Maybe because most there were European tourists enjoying the buying power of the Euro (currently 1 Euro = 1.48 USD). I did see one guy wearing an "I'm fired up!" Obama t-shirt, but that paled in comparison to the hundreds of adults and children wearing the colors of their favorite football club. I didn't count, but I'd guess Liverpool had the most fans at Epcot on Saturday.

When I saw back at the hotel that Obama picked Biden it struck me as a wise choice even before reading this from David Brooks. I was particularly interested to read about Joe Biden's working-class upbringing in Scranton (I married a Scranton girl and recognize the world Brooks describes). So. Well done, Senator Obama. But I'm betting McCain will make an equally wise choice, and that in the end the running mates won't make much difference in how people vote.

And while we're on the subject of politics, here's a good word from Stephen Nichols.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Much of Proverbs consists of statements in parallel form, with the second line either contrasting with or building on the first line -- a distinguishing characteristic of Hebrew poetry called parallelism.

The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
- Proverbs 16:1

The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.
- Proverbs 16:9

The Reformation Study Bible comments on these two proverbs.

The sages occasionally remind us that human responsibility to reason and act does not contradict God's sovereignty.

Paul states the same principal using a similar parallel form.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
- Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Dying to dance

In 1947 at the height of their creative powers, British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger decided to make their next movie a story of the backstage life of a ballet company. The Red Shoes (1948) was the result and is the film that's launched a thousand little-girl-dreams of becoming a ballerina, but it's a dark movie -- as dark as the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale that it was inspired by. There, a girl is danced to death by a pair of red shoes she acquires from a diabolical shoemaker (I wonder if Andersen would be deemed too depressing for nurseries today). Powell and Pressburger use it as a template to create a familiar tale of life imitating art, though one can never quite be sure where the line between life and art falls in this movie. Cameraman Jack Cardiff's Technicolor photography and director Powell's anti-realist style combined to create a fantastical milieu quite different from what audiences of the time would have expected. Britain was still recovering from the devastion of war and art was not a high priority. Powell explained their motivation, "For ten years we had all been told to go out and die for freedom and democracy; but now the war was over. The Red Shoes told us to go out and die for art."

Michael Powell (left) and Emeric Pressburger on set

While many fans of The Red Shoes love it for the audacious 15-minute ballet sequence that anchors the film -- and which inspired MGM spectacular's like An American in Paris -- many others are drawn to the mesmerizing character at it's center -- Boris Lermontov, the impresario of the fictional Ballet Lermontov. Boris is played by the Austrian actor Anton Walbrook and was loosely based on Serge Diaghilev and Alexander Korda. He's a distillation of the driven and dictatorial artist. His god is art and his religion is ballet. He tolerates no rivals, nor lukewarmness. Film historian Ian Christie writes, "Lermontov lives through his creations. People and relationships are ruthlessly subordinated to a drive which inevitably reminds us also of the passion to create films. More than any other film, The Red Shoes deals with the dangerous, magical process by which art is distilled from preparation and effort." Contemporary directors Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese are among those who credit The Red Shoes with first kindling their desire to make movies.

Dangerous and magical. Must one sell one's soul to achieve artistic greatness? To the extent that Boris Lermontov is it's spokesman and most magnetic character, The Red Shoes would seem to say yes. "You cannot have it both ways. A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never!", Lermontov barks to his young protege Vicky Page, played appealingly by real-life ballerina Moira Shearer. He has room in his life for only one thing, and he expects the same single-minded devotion from his company. Powell and Pressburger show us both the triumph and tragedy that results. Christie writes that they set out to make "nothing less than a manifesto for the claims of art over mundane life." That Romanticist worldview can be attractive, but those of us who recognize a higher claim on our lives than art (or mundane life) must reject it. Making a god out of art instead of art's source, or to put it another way, worshiping creation instead of the Creator, carries with it the seeds of destruction.

Anton Walbrook was perfect for the role of Lermontov. His piercing eyes, Mitteleuropean accent and aristocratic bearing created a character alternately charming and terrifying -- but always watchable. I find myself admiring and pitying him. In this short clip he's reacting to the news that Vicky has defied him by going off and getting married. Note the gauzy, dreamlike atmosphere I mentioned earlier. Lermontov almost seems an apparition. The music is from the Academy Award winning score by British composer Brian Easdale.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The sad case of Woody Allen

I count a handful of Woody Allen's films among my all-time favorites...films I never tire of revisiting. Funny thing is, none of the titles I have in mind were made later than 1989. There have been some minor gems among Allen's film-a-year output since then, but mostly he's been churning out product worthy of yawns, or outright avoidance, as in the case of his latest. What's happened to Woody Allen?

Redeyespy offers an answer

Death Star over San Francisco

HT: Daily Plastic

Monday, August 18, 2008

Solitude and fellowship (part 2)

Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray. You are not alone, even in death, and on the Last Day you will be only one member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ. If you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you. "If I die, then I am not alone in death; if I suffer they [the fellowship] suffer with me" (Luther).

We recognize, then, that only as we are within the fellowship can we be alone, and only he that is alone can live in the fellowship. Only in the fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship. It is not as though the one preceded the other; both begin at the same time, namely, with the call of Jesus Christ.

Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (pp. 77-78)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Solitude and fellowship (part 1)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Chapter Three "The Day Alone" of Life Together, "Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone." Here is Bonhoeffer at his most penetrating.

Many people seek fellowship because they are afraid to be alone. Because they cannot stand loneliness, they are driven to seek the company of other people. There are Christians, too, who cannot endure being alone, who have had some bad experiences with themselves, who hope they will gain some help in association with others. They are generally disappointed. Then they blame the fellowship for what is really their own fault. The Christian community is not a spiritual sanatorium. The person who comes into a fellowship because he is running away from himself is misusing it for the sake of diversion, no matter how spiritual this diversion may appear. He is really not seeking community at all, but only distraction which will allow him to forget his loneliness for a brief time, the very alienation that creates the deadly isolation of man. The disintegration of communication and all genuine experience, and finally resignation and spiritual death are the result of such attempts to find a cure.

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out. If you refuse to be alone you are rejecting Christ's call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called. "The challenge of death comes to us all, and no one can die for another. Everyone must fight his own battle with death by himself, alone....I will not be with you then, nor you with me" (Luther).

But the reverse is also true: Let him who is not in community beware of being alone...

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (pp. 76-77)

I'll pick up here tomorrow.

Friday, August 15, 2008

StudiVZ me

Fans of Facebook may get a kick out of this NPR story.

Facebook Faceoff: German Rival Gets Poked

"A film that defends the old against the young"

Powell and Pressburger were to British cinema what Gilbert and Sullivan were to musical theatre or Baskin and Robbins to ice cream. I've been revisiting two of their 1940s films on DVD recently: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) and The Red Shoes (1948). Both were shot in glorious Technicolor and both have been lovingly refurbished and made available on home video by The Criterion Collection. What would we film buffs do without Criterion? The first time I watched Colonel Blimp I was lukewarm, but on subsequent viewings I've come to appreciate it more and more. It's old-fashioned moviemaking at it's best. Melodramatic, high-gloss and thoroughly enjoyable!

The character Colonel Blimp was created by political cartoonist David Low. In Low's hands Blimp was a buffoon who represented the most reactionary elements of the British establishment...sort of an Edwardian Donald Rumsfeld with a walrus moustache. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger took the kernel of Low's Blimp and turned him into a more developed, sympathetic figure with the grand name of Clive Wynne-Candy. Powell and Pressburger's Blimp-ish Clive Candy still comes in for his fair share of well-deserved satire, but they invite us to "walk a mile in his moccasins" and so understand how and why the cranky, pompous old man came to be such -- a wise thing to do before harshly judging our elders. Roger Ebert wrote of this film:

One of the many miracles of "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" is the way the movie transforms a blustering, pigheaded caricature into one of the most loved of all movie characters. Colonel Blimp began life in a series of famous British cartoons by David Low, who represented him as an overstuffed blowhard. The movie looks past the fat, bald military man with the walrus moustache, and sees inside, to an idealist and a romantic. To know him is to love him.

Made in 1942 at the height of the Nazi threat to Great Britain, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's work is an uncommonly civilized film about war and soldiers--and rarer still, a film that defends the old against the young...rarely does a film give us such a nuanced view of the whole span of a man's life. It is said that the child is father to the man. "Colonel Blimp" makes poetry out of what the old know but the young do not guess: The man contains both the father, and the child.

Another admirer of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is Martin Scorsese. Scorsese has been a catalyst for the renewed interest in Powell and Pressburger's films after decades of neglect. He remembers seeing Colonel Blimp as a boy of around ten in a shortened version on black and white television. It's a testament to the film's power that he was captivated despite missing out on two of it's major assets -- the bold Technicolor palette and epic quality. This is a movie, after all, that tells the story of a man's life over the span of 40-plus years. It begins in 1943 with General Wynne-Candy leading the Home Guard in a mock exercise defending London against attack. This leads into a seamless flashback to 1902 and the story begins which will eventually bring us back full circle.

Michael Powell wanted Laurence Olivier to play Clive Candy, but the role eventually went to 36-year-old Roger Livesey. With the help of makeup and strategically placed padding Livesey convincingly portrayed Candy from dashing dandy to pot-bellied old general who's become an object of mockery to the young soldiers in his command. Livesey's performance embodied the mix of naiveté and charm that make this film a tragicomic masterpiece.

The Faces of Roger Livesey in Colonel Blimp

"Do you know who I am?!"

Middle-aged gentleman of leisure

The young officer on the left

Next Friday I'll talk a bit about The Red Shoes. BTW I'm curious if anyone can name the movie featured on this month's masthead?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The end of the road

It is good to be weary and tired from the useless search for the true good, in order to stretch one's arms out to the Redeemer.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées (524)

Monday, August 11, 2008

The fight of faith is a marathon (pardon the mixed metaphor)

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

1 Timothy 6:11 (ESV)

Here Paul sums up in a nutshell his message to Timothy. As I read the preceding section, Paul has four main things in mind from which Timothy must flee.

- False teaching/doctrine (6:3)

- Pride/conceit (6:4)

- Love of controversy/divisiveness (6:4, 6:5)

- Desire to be rich/love of money (6:9, 6:10)

Conversely, what he is to pursue is nothing less than a Spirit-led life (Gal. 5:16-26) and the "wisdom from above" (James 3:17-18). Exactly the things not evident in the false teachers that provoked this letter. Paul could have asked them the same question he asked of the foolish Galatians. "You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?"

Friday, August 8, 2008

Treat them like family (cause they are)

Two things jumped out at me on reading 1 Timothy last week. In 5:1-2 Paul instructs Timothy on the proper way a pastor/elder should relate to those in his care.

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father. Treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.

I believe we can apply this beyond the specific context and see here a paradigm of how every member of the "household of faith" (Gal. 6:10) should relate to one another. This admonition is a natural outgrowth of the family language found throughout Paul's letters, indeed throughout the New Testament. Jesus didn't do away with family ties, but he strikingly redefined them (see Matt. 12:46-50, Luke 14:26). In the New Testament church blood-bought ties (Rev. 5:9) trump blood ties. We are the ekklesia -- the called out ones. "A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation...God's people." (1 Peter 2:9-10) This lofty language describes a reality that's hard to see sometimes. Uncle Screwtape counseled nephew Wormwood to make his patient's mind "flit to and fro between an expression like 'the body of Christ' and the actual faces in the next pew." (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters) Succeed in that, and soon disillusionment with the church would set in.

But back to 1 Timothy 5:1-2. What might this look like in practice? Pastor John Day of Bellewood PCA shares an example.

Those who engage in various ministries in our churches (whether paid staff or volunteer) aren't just people -- they're family. The pastors and support staff are not just employees who can be chastised and sacked with hardly a second thought; deacons, nursery workers, Sunday school teachers, and choir members are not just volunteers who can be used up and thrown away -- they're my father or mother, my sister, or brother. We are to strive for excellence, yes; but encouragement must be our motto, and the code we live by. One person I would like to highlight in my own church is our 92-year-old organist, who has devoted his life and talents to the Lord. And what a blessing he is. Now, he'd be the first to tell you that he's no spring chicken (and is beginning to feel increasingly the frailties of his age). But as I've said to him on more than one occasion: "As long as you feel able and want to continue to play, we'd love to keep you as our organist." That's a completely different attitude than you'll find in the world...and it's supposed to be!

Church Is Family, Modern Reformation (July/August 2008)

In closing, I think it's implicit in the way Paul and the other New Testament writers speak of the church that it's to be a multi-generational community. Just like family! Something to think about in a society where churches are increasingly segmented according to age.

Tomorrow I'll briefly note another wonderful admonition from this highly doctrinal, yet highly practical epistle.

The death of the moment?

The French filmmaker/theoretician Jean-Luc Godard famously said, "photography is truth...and cinema is truth at twenty-four frames a second." On the other hand he's reported to have quipped that "every edit is a lie." I'm fascinated by the paradox that Godard was getting at, and which he and his Nouvelle Vague contemporaries played with to great effect in a handful of iconic films from the late 50's to early 60's. Yes, film is truth, but it's also an illusion -- a medium based on artifice. It's ephemeral, but in another sense permanent -- at least as permanent as the reels of celluloid on which those moments are captured. Film buffs of a philosophical bent might wonder, "If an actor is walking down a Paris street and there isn't a camera to film it, does the moment exist?"

David Cronenberg deftly articulates the paradox in Camera: a short film he wrote and directed to celebrate 25 years of the Toronto Film Festival. It stars veteran stage and screen actor Les Carlson, some resourceful kids, and an old movie camera -- "the kind you only see in books about old movies." In an extended monologue the actor muses on aging, death and their connection to motion pictures. Does recording the moment mean "the death of the moment", or does it give it a kind of immortality? Camera is shot on unflattering digital video until the final shot, which is on 35mm film. It's then, when the camera begins to roll that Cronenberg demonstrates the magic of film.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


I was going through some old school yearbooks and came across this relic of the past. It's a little booklet put together by my 8th grade class at Hobe Sound Bible Academy. Evidently reconciliation between North and South was a burning issue back in '83!

Inside this gift to posterity are profiles of the 31 members of Mrs. Deckard's unruly flock. 14 year old Stephen Ley defined himself this way:

Favorite color: Orange and blue
Favorite Bible verse: Romans 8:38-39
Favorite song: Love Lifted Me
Favorite sports: Baseball and football
Hobby: Sports, listening to music, and Chess
Ambition: Professional sports or singer
Favorite food: Steaks and B-B-Q ribs
Favorite person: Glen Hubbard
Favorite state: Tennessee

Who knows where the time goes...

Teaching the Bible to kids

Shannon and I participated in our church's VBS this summer -- a first for both of us. It was a great experience and one of the hardest things I've ever done. My respect for folks who do this regularly is huge. Our role was to teach and apply the daily Bible story to children ranging from K thru 6th grade. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to keep the focus on God and the gospel vs. the characters in the story and a moralistic message (the curriculum wasn't a lot of help here).

Wheaton professor John Walton identifies five hermeneutical (a fancy word for interpreting the Bible) fallacies that are prevalent in children's curriculum. They are:

1. Promotion of the trivial
2. Illegitimate extrapolation
3. Reading between the lines
4. Missing important nuance
5. Focus on people rather than God

I'd add that these errors are prevalent in a lot of sermons too, but maybe it's because the preacher learned them in Sunday School.

Hermeneutics and Children's Curriculum by John Walton

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

On a personal note...

I'm thrilled to announce to all my blog readers that Shannon and I are expecting the birth of our first early next year. As some of you know, it's been a difficult journey and we didn't want to announce the news generally until mommy and baby made it to month four. We just got back from the doctor's office and everything looks great!

I couldn't help but reflect on Psalm 139 as I watched the grainy images of our child today. 3000 years (more or less) before ultrasound was invented David got it right.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Psalm 139:13-16 (ESV)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Innocent When You Dream

This waltzing piece of bittersweet poetry from Tom Waits has been playing on an endless loop in my head today. Here's a video from his Houston show on 6/22/08. For a bootleg it's good quality. When Waits growls "louder" at the 3:40 mark it becomes a full-throated audience singalong. Simply perfect!

It's such a sad old feeling
the fields are soft and green
it's memories that I'm stealing
but you're innocent when you dream
when you dream
you're innocent when you dream

Bypassing Jesus

Russell Moore writing in Touchstone on Jeremiah Wright and the conservatives who preach just like him:

Where there is no gospel, something else will fill the void: therapy, consumerism, racial or class resentment, utopian politics, crazy conspiracy theories of the left, crazy conspiracy theories of the right; anything will do. The prophet Isaiah warned us of such conspiracies replacing the Word of God centuries ago (Is. 8:12–20). As long as the Serpent’s voice is heard, “You shall not surely die,” the powers are comfortable.

Jeremiah Wright’s pronouncements are tragic. But they are tragic not just because of what he said, but where he said it. He was standing in the place of Jesus, but channeling Che Guevara. Change the channel and you will find a smiling, non-threatening, pro-America preacher, also standing in the place of Jesus, but he’s channeling Ayn Rand or M. Scott Peck or Peter Drucker.


Just take a look at the best-selling authors in Christian bookstores. Listen for a minute or two to the parade of preachers on Christian television and radio. What are they promising? Your best life now. What are they preaching about? How to be authentic. How to make good career choices. How Hillary Clinton fits into Bible prophecy.

How many times have we heard conservative preachers use the Bible in exactly the same way that Jeremiah Wright uses it? Wright uses the Scripture as a background to get to what he thinks is the real issue, psychological or economic or political liberation from American oppression. Others use the Scripture as a background to get to what they think is the real issue, psychological or economic or political liberation through the American Dream.

Either way, Jesus is a way to get to what the preacher deems really important, be it national health care or “your best life now.” Either way, the end result is hell for the hearer who accepts this gospel, regardless of whether God damns or blesses America.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Loving Psalms

2008 has been the year I fell in love with the Psalms. The last two Sunday mornings I've had the joy of teaching our young adult Sunday School class on the multi-faceted glory of the Psalms -- that which prompted Martin Luther to call the Psalter "a Little Bible." One of my aims was to show that the Psalms are about Christ (Jesus and the Apostles thought so, cf. Luke 24:44; Matt. 21:15-16; Acts 2:32-26; etc.) and full of gospel comfort. We finished up this morning by looking at the Psalms as poetry, prophecy, theology, a prayer book, and song book. I ended by pointing to this terrific article by Joe Holland on the renaissance of Psalm singing.

Rediscovering the Psalms

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Arguing from the confessions

Reading yesterday's selection at Daily Confession it occurred to me that it's a good idea when arguing for the truth of Reformed (or Calvinistic) theology to argue on the basis of Scripture and the Reformed confessions (Westminster Standards and Three Forms of Unity). This might seem like a self-evident statement, but usually people argue on the basis of what such-and-such popular conference speaker said or what so-and-so theologian wrote. That's unfortunate because the confessions are the finest distillation of what 16th and 17th century Reformed pastors and theologians believed Scripture taught. Yesterday's reading was Articles 15 & 16 of the Canons of Dordt, which came out of the Synod of Dordt convened to respond to the Arminian Remonstrants.

I was struck by the compelling way these two articles address two common objections to the monergistic doctrines of grace. Article 15 addresses the objection that these doctrines tend to foster pride or an exclusivistic attitude. I'm sure there are prideful Calvinists out there, but that's the fault of their sinful hearts not the theology. Properly understood, these doctrines cast down pride and remove all grounds for boasting. Paul writes to his child in the faith Timothy, "that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." Notice he didn't say, "of whom I was the foremost." This is Paul's appraisal of his present situation. How can we say any different?

Article 15: Responses to God’s Grace

God does not owe this grace to anyone. For what could God owe to one who has nothing to give that can be paid back? Indeed, what could God owe to one who has nothing of his own to give but sin and falsehood? Therefore the person who receives this grace owes and gives eternal thanks to God alone; the person who does not receive it either does not care at all about these spiritual things and is satisfied with himself in his condition, or else in self-assurance foolishly boasts about having something which he lacks. Furthermore, following the example of the apostles, we are to think and to speak in the most favorable way about those who outwardly profess their faith and better their lives, for the inner chambers of the heart are unknown to us. But for others who have not yet been called, we are to pray to the God who calls things that do not exist as though they did. In no way, however, are we to pride ourselves as better than they, as though we had distinguished ourselves from them.

An even more common objection is that the Reformed doctrines of grace negate human intellect and freedom of will...basically turning us into puppets or automatons at the mercy of a capricious God. I'll let Article 16 speak for itself.

Article 16: Regeneration’s Effect

However, just as by the fall man did not cease to be man, endowed with intellect and will, and just as sin, which has spread through the whole human race, did not abolish the nature of the human race but distorted and spiritually killed it, so also this divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and — in a manner at once pleasing and powerful — bends it back. As a result, a ready and sincere obedience of the Spirit now begins to prevail where before the rebellion and resistance of the flesh were completely dominant. It is in this that the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consists. Thus, if the marvelous Maker of every good thing were not dealing with us, man would have no hope of getting up from his fall by his free choice, by which he plunged himself into ruin when still standing upright.

Hallelujah what a Saviour!

Friday, August 1, 2008

The last thing I remember (a visual rhyme)

Jean-Pierre Léaud in Les Quatre cents coups "The 400 Blows"
(François Truffaut, 1959)

Jean Seberg in À bout de souffle "Breathless" (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)

Melora Walters in Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)

Inspired by this.