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Posts by rossneir

Chesterton on the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy

“This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There was never anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic.

The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any war-horse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to the left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the early power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob.

To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom — that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 152-153.

The Shortest Verse in the Bible?

A paragraph from my Greek textbook:

Everyone knows that the shortest verse in the Bible is “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). But is it? In Greek, John 11:35 is ἐδάκρυσεν ό Ίησοῦς; three words instead of two (and sixteen characters). There is a two-word verse that is shorter in Greek: 1 Thess. 5:16, Πάντοτε Χαίρετε, “Rejoice always,” is only fourteen characters. The next verse, 1 Thess. 5:17, is also two words, but it contains twenty-two characters: ἀδιαλείπτως προσεύχεσθε (“pray unceasingly”). Both of these two-word verses contain imperatives.

From Decker, Reading Koine Greek: An Introduction and Integrated Workbook.”  Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2014. 29.5 (484).

The problem is that the past tense word “wept” is much longer in Greek because the aorist tense requires an augment and extra letters at the ends, while in English “cry” is only lengthened by one letter to make “wept,” and that the noun for Jesus takes an article. These both add letters in Greek, but make little difference in English.

Conversely, the Greek imperative has no augment, and only adds two letters or three letters more than the indicative conjugation would have. Not to mention that there is no article, because the imperative needs no subject.

For both of these reasons, and obviously also because 14 just is less characters than 16, 1 Thess. 5:16 is the shortest verse in the Bible.

Four Reflections from the MLKJ Day event at Trinity

king slide

Today my university’s Intercultural Development Office hosted a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day program over lunch and into the afternoon. I just got back from it, and wanted to write out a few reflections before I get busy again or forget. None of these are very insightful, but even regular truths can be important to remember. Here are four.

Giving a platform to black people does not require us to stoop low. Sometimes it is thought that picking speakers “because diversity” means that more qualified white people are left out. I sometimes think this. But today reminds me that there are equally-qualified black people who can speak and lead. I was thinking about this throughout the program, which intentionally had a diverse speaking lineup. I also thought about this earlier in the morning as I read an article from Thabiti Anyabwile on the TGC website. He is such a qualified speaker and writer. I ask myself, “why aren’t there any theologically conservative black pastors?” but the answer is clearly “they are out there, but we don’t usually listen to them.” Maybe another Kevin DeYoung or Matt Chandler lies in the wings, but if they are, they will rise up anyways. So, give black people the platform every once in a while. Even if it hurts our pride and feelings of supremacy, it won’t hurt the message preached.

Justice can require personal sacrifice. Today I sacrificed four and half hours of my time, and the opportunity to finish an essay that could have won me $250 in a paper competition on campus. Those sting. But getting to hear the perspective of my black peers outweighs the loss. Being there, as a white student, means something — that their voices aren’t just bouncing around an echo chamber. But man I wanted to submit that paper. I spent the past week on it, and 10:00-1:30 this morning at O’Hare while I waited for my ride, writing the paper. The clear parable, obviously, is that you should do what you can for racial justice even if it stings. Also I’d add that justice can require getting uncomfortable, like talking to people you don’t really know (e.g., every black student and every white student on campus to each other). Or it could mean not speaking up to share my opinion, when I’m the boisterous, extroverted, verbal-processing guy who always speaks up.

Love remains the motivation. The middle of the program was a reading of King’s “Paul’s Letter to the American Church.” Here is the text, it is worth reading. He mimics Paul’s tone and style but addresses the American Church in the 1950’s, not Rome in the 0050’s. Near the end he gets around to reframing the Love passage from 1 Corinthians 13 into his day. Here’s the relevant bit:

I must bring my writing to a close now. Timothy is waiting to deliver this letter, and I must take leave for another church. But just before leaving, I must say to you, as I said to the church at Corinth, that I still believe that love is the most durable power in the world. Over the centuries men have sought to discover the highest good. This has been the chief quest of ethical philosophy. This was one of the big questions of Greek philosophy. The Epicurean and the Stoics sought to answer it; Plato and Aristotle sought to answer it. What is the summon bonum of life? I think I have an answer America. I think I have discovered the highest good. It is love. This principle stands at the center of the cosmos. As John says, “God is love.” He who loves is a participant in the being of God. He who hates does not know God.

So American Christians, you may master the intricacies of the English language. You may possess all of the eloquence of articulate speech. But even if you “speak with the tongues of man and angels, and have not love, you are become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

You may have the gift of prophecy and understanding all mysteries. You may be able to break into the storehouse of nature and bring out many insights that men never dreamed were there. You may ascend to the heights of academic achievement, so that you will have all knowledge. You may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees. But all of this amounts to absolutely nothing devoid of love.

But even more Americans, you may give your goods to feed the poor. You may give great gifts to charity. You may tower high in philanthropy. But if you have not love it means nothing. You may even give your body to be burned, and die the death of a martyr. Your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as history’s supreme hero. But even so, if you have not love your blood was spilt in vain. You must come to see that it is possible for a man to be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. He may be generous in order to feed his ego and pious in order to feed his pride. Man has the tragic capacity to relegate a heightening virtue to a tragic vice. Without love benevolence becomes egotism, and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.

So the greatest of all virtues is love. It is here that we find the true meaning of the Christian faith. This is at bottom the meaning of the cross. The great event on Calvary signifies more than a meaningless drama that took place on the stage of history. It is a telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity and see the love of God breaking forth into time. It is an eternal reminder to a power drunk generation that love is most durable power in the world, and that it is at bottom the heartbeat of the moral cosmos. Only through achieving this love can you expect to matriculate into the university of eternal life.

Maybe this can be added to the list of differences between King and Malcolm X. I think it also stands in sharp contrast to the way that people think about racial issues today. Today we think of protesters and activists who are frustrated with the system, who say disparaging things about “white people” generally (though often this is a misinterpretation of the point being made), who are more about getting justice by putting down the privileged classes rather than getting justice by expressing love to them. Here is a fair example of what I think King would do today. This comes from love, not resentment.

Its also worth pointing out that love for a black person as such isn’t really love of them, its a love of their skin color and upbringing. Which is not really love for them. So while this doesn’t scale on to the policy level, it does apply on a person-to-person level. It applies for me in the Trinity community. I’m really open to being friends with black students on campus (current number of black friends = zero) (and that is not unique to me or below average for white students). But I’ve got to make sure that it is because of them themselves, not some heteronomous factor like my belief in diversity.

Racial justice is not just secular. During this morning’s daily perusal through the TGC website I also read Russell Moore’s new post about Dr. King. Here is the relevant bit:

King’s understanding of human dignity was founded upon the Christian Scriptures. As the struggle for civil rights advanced on multiple fronts, he spoke courageously from this foundation. In the political realm, Dr. King pointed out how the American system was inconsistent with Jeffersonian principles of the “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Americans had to choose: be an American (as defined in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence), or be a white supremacist; you can’t be both.

But the civil rights movement was, at its core, also an ecclesial movement. King was, after all, “Rev. King” and many of those marching with him, singing before him, listening to him, were Christian clergy and laity. To the churches, especially the churches of the South, the civil rights pioneers sent a similar message to the one they sent to the governmental powers. You have to choose: be a Christian (as defined by the Scripture and the small “c” catholic apostolic tradition), or be a white supremacist; you can’t be both.

Segregation, like slavery, was shown to be what all human consciences already knew it to be: not just a political injustice or a social inequity (although certainly that) but also a sin against God and neighbor and a repudiation of the gospel. For conservative Christians, and especially Southern Baptists, we must be careful to remember the ways in which our cultural anthropology perverted our soteriology and ecclesiology. It is to our shame that we ignored our own doctrines to advance something as clearly demonic as racial pride.

My public school upbringing did not showcase this side of King. But he was a pastor, and drew on Biblical imagery and principles not just as rhetorical fluff or pandering to a Christian audience; it is usually the core of his arguments.

Likewise our motivation for racial justice today should not be from non-Christian principles. Why would that be necessary? We’ve got everything we need in human dignity and autonomy, the spiritual equality of all people under Adam (and in Christ), a theology of the nations, and love for neighbor.

I am going to be a pastor in a few years and will stand face-to-face before a 90+% white audience to deliver my first pastoral sermon. That will be an interesting time. As king points out in the sermon above, 11:00 on a Sunday morning is the most segregated time in American Christianity. I’m not sure what I’ll do to seek racial desegregation in that church where I will work. I have no idea. But King reminds me that it doesn’t take much of a theological stretch for a Christian to do that. Just a willing heart. The principles are already there; will I do anything with them?

Maturity, a Twostep

In the first step we cut out things that do not belong.
  • Do you domineer conversations? Cut it out.
  • Does your humor make others uncomfortable? Stop it.
  • Did that social faux pas need to happen? Never again.
In the second step we add things that do belong.
  • Can I be more encouraging to others? I should start that.
  • Could my jokes be funnier? Let’s improve them.
  • Would my generosity help people? Time to give.

The twostep of maturity is a complicated dance. As in the real twostep, our feet feel awkward moving in the same direction at the same time. It takes time and experience to learn. But you know what is even more awkward? Moving one foot forward, again and again. Likewise in life it is easy to fall into phases of cut-cut-cut or add-add-add.

two step image

When we keep eliminating things, but do not replace them, we become empty inside. Instead of becoming a fuller, more alive person, we become the hallow shell of the lesser person we once were. Remember that stoic, emotionless guy you met in 8th or 9th grade? That could have been you. It was me. Being in control of your emotions does not mean killing them. The mistake is that to mature is to cut out bad emotions. Sure, do that. But without replacing them with better emotional states, you have not grown.

The same is true of seasons of adding. We can add all kinds of new character traits or habits. But in time we will have accumulated the baggage of old ones that should have died, hard. When I receive harsh criticism that seems out of place for “how mature I am” generally, this is the problem. In total I have grown, but in this one area I have not eliminated the old way.

We dance the awkward step-step-restep until, by their grace, someone comes by to help. They show us how to dance life. By watching them, we see new things to cut, new things to add. This, by the way, is mentorship. Teaching others by example how to grow.

Enter David Hume.

Hume wrote a book in the 1740’s called “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.” The book focuses on the limits of what we can know. In the first chapter, he includes a great meditation on what it means to be a human being:

Man is

•a reasonable being, and as such he gets appropriate food and nourishment from the pursuit of knowledge; but so narrow are the limits of human understanding that we can’t hope for any great amount of knowledge or for much security in respect of what we do know. As well as being reasonable, man is

•a sociable being; but he can’t always enjoy—indeed can’t always want—agreeable and amusing company. Man is also

•an active being; and from that disposition of his, as well as from the various necessities of human life, he must put up with being busy at something; but the mind requires some relaxation, and can’t always devote itself to careful work.

Here are three different dimensions to our lives: thinking, socializing, and acting. In each dimension we bump into limits, at some point. We can’t know everything, we can’t always have good company, and we can’t always work. Our minds are finite, and as Hume will argue later, knowledge cannot be certain. (I’ll also add that socializing can drain us of action, and action can drain us of socializing. So those limit each other.)

balance heart and brain

He continues:

It seems, then, that nature has pointed out a mixed kind of life as most suitable for the human race, and has secretly warned us not to tilt too far in any of these directions and make ourselves incapable of other occupations and entertainments.

‘Indulge your passion for knowledge,’ says nature, ‘but seek knowledge of things that are human and directly relevant to action and society. As for abstruse thought and profound researches, I prohibit them, and if you engage in them I will severely punish you by the brooding melancholy they bring, by the endless uncertainty in which they involve you, and by the cold reception your announced discoveries will meet with when you publish them.

Moderation is not something that we, as Americans, usually care about. If something is good, gimme as much as possible. If something is bad, keep it away. But seeking moderation is still helpful in all kinds of ways.

There is a difference between values and virtues. A value is something that you always want. Joy is a value — if I can have more, I’m taking it. Hope is a value. Peace is a value. Love too. Each of these is, itself, good.

Virtues can be overdone. Patience is a virtue because you should not be patient with everything. We exercise patience when a child throws food; we do not express the same patience with an adult. Courage is also a virtue. You can be too “courageous,” which we call recklessness. Running into battle without a shield is not courageous. It is reckless. So we need to have enough courage, or we are a coward. But not too much courage, or we are reckless.

David Whyte is one of my favorite poets. He says maturity “is not a static arrived platform, where life is viewed from a calm, untouched oasis of wisdom.” I agree, though for different reasons than Whyte meant. We seeking moderation in life, but our margin for error is thin. A little too much, or a little too little, and failure is inevitable. Maturity is not achievable because moderation is elusive.

An asymptote.

The golden mean.

Knowledge, socializing, acting — Hume says that these are all virtues, not values. We can only want them in moderation, never too little, never too much.

He ends with a summary:

Be a philosopher, but amidst all your philosophy be still a man.’

Now that is a quote for a philosophy major.

My first take-away from Hume is the obvious one: don’t be a Brain. Have a brain, and use your brain, but do more than that. Feel things, be sociable, create something, and be adventurous. Live a little.

The other, more circuitous take-away is that you must add and subtract to find this balanced life. If you cut-cut-cut out the negative sides of yourself, then on exactly 50% of virtues you will err. Likewise with adding.

We dance the twostep of growing older because in it we grow closer to the balanced life.

Certainty, God, Lived Experience, etc.

moonrise kingdom girl

As I veered wildly toward Atheism about two years ago, something key to the Christian life had been lost that I didn’t realize until later. I finally now have the categories to understand and explain this idea. It used to be vague and nebulous, but now it is clear.

The Christian Life is not phenomenologically possible without confidence in the existence of God. There are a couple of things to break down here. First, The Christian Life. This is the lived experience of being a Christian. Not the beliefs of Christianity — those are one thing. Instead, this is talking about things like the rhythms of prayer, fasting, Sabbath, and study. The community in which one lives. The subtle attitudes that emerge from believing the truths of Christianity. If the Christian message is true, how does that impact my day-to-day behavior, and how I engage in the ordinary things of life?

This is what the gross word “phenomenologically” means. Eliminate the suffixes. Phenom. Ology. The study of. The way that things appear. Truth questions can be asked separately from lived experience questions. My reading of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age lately has opened my mind up to this whole topic of study. What do things actually look like in practice?

moonrise kingdom blurry

If a belief is “not phenomenologically possible,” then nobody can live like that. The belief does not work in practice. The truths can all be there, the premises confirmed, the logic holds, the argument sound. But if it cannot translate into real action, what does it translate into? My newfound favorite example of this is Calvinism, and by that I mean Determinism. Determinism is not phenonemologically possible, meaning that you cannot live as if Determinism is true. If Determinism is true, then you have no motivation to do anything. There is not meaning in life. There is not meaning in anything. Also, since there is no free will, there cannot be moral responsibility for things that happen. Who is responsible for my sin? God, of course, because he decided I would do it. But no Christian, no matter how Deterministic they are, actually lives like this. They avoid sin as if they are an Arminian. They evangelize like they are Arminian. So, Determinism is not phenomenologically possible.

Confidence in the existence of God is important. The Bible is straightforward on this.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6.

An important point here gets misplaced sometimes.

moonrise kingdom adults

As Christians, we are not supposed to have faith in the existence of God. We do not “have faith” that he exists. No, the Bible treats the existence of God as a basic given, and then moves from there. We “have faith” that Christ’s work of atonement can be applied to our account. That is what we have faith in. There is no real reason that we should feel justified that the crosswork of Christ would mean anything in relation to us. But that is what faith is.

The existence of God, along with “believing that he rewards those who seek him,” are treated as basic givens that must be true in order to have faith. But faith is not just “believe in God + believe that he rewards.” It is something greater than the combination of the statements in Hebrews 11:6. Something like “drawing near” which is an action, not an idea. Nonetheless, those two ideas must be true for faith to happen.

The Bible never seriously poses the question, “does God actually exist?” because it doesn’t need to. God is all over the place. He sends fire, he communicates directly to people, Moses got to see him (but only backwards?), prophets speak in his name and are correct. Prayer withholds rain from the sky for three and a half years, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, and himself from the dead. God has created the world. God has put conscience in all people (“the gentiles are a law unto themselves”). The Jewish religion continues in perpetuity because of the promises of God.

Similarly, in The Christian Life, we cannot entertain the idea that God does not exist. Get it figured out. Decide. Does he exist or doesn’t he? Look at the Kalam Cosmological argument. The Ontological argument. How about the Teleological one? Recall from your own personal experience the work of God in your life. Become an Atheist, or resolve to be a Christian. But the worst of all options is to remain in perpetual uncertainty. Evaluate the evidence once, and then put the counterarguments out of your mind until, a few years later, you decide to reopen the case file.

moonrise kingdom narrator

I say this because all the great aspects of The Christian Life are impossible in the absence of such confidence. Without believing that God exists, you cannot have faith. You cannot experience the power of the Holy Spirit. You cannot encourage fellow Christians in the way of the cross. You cannot testify to the goodness of God, must less experience it yourself. You certainly cannot evangelize. How could you persuade someone to draw near to God if you aren’t sure he exists? You won’t. You’ll just give up on evangelism. You cannot exercise the giftings of the Spirit in the context of the local church.

At least, I didn’t. And I’m sure that my experience was not unique. Atheism may be true. But if it is, then you cannot also phenomenologically live the Christian life. And Christianity may be true. But without confidence in one of its most basic premises (“God exists”), it cannot be lived.


2017 in Review

Just to briefly list some of the events of the past year…

  • Took 39 college credits
  • Read well over 100 books
  • Got hired to work with an organization I love
  • Heather and I are now dating (?!)
  • Camp counseled through 6 groups of guys
  • Settled into a much healthier housing arrangement at school
  • Started exercising again
  • Became a volunteer at my church’s middle school youth group
  • Lost most of my appetite for politics
  • Considered changing majors / schools / jobs at least a dozen times
  • Actually changed majors / schools / job exactly zero times
  • Coached / coordinated with middle and high school students at: De Pere, Hononegah, Lincoln Park, Thomas Middle School, Schaumburg, Hononegah (again), Deerfield, and Washburne Middle School.
  • Two missions trips
  • Attended three conferences
  • Hosted discipleship training at school
  • Preached 8 different sermons
  • Was sick at least 10 times, the final three being devastating for my body and GPA
  • Completely changed by opinion on Calvinism and determinism
  • Went from 0 to 60 with respect to philosophy this year
  • Started writing a book
  • Became a Democrat? Or something? Not sure how this happened.

And the last point, which deserves much more than a bullet point but which will be brief anyways, is that I have seen the Lord at work in me in all kinds of confusing, redeeming, and sanctifying ways. He has eliminated a good amount of pride from me, and used a few things that were 100% my fault to do it. He has opened me up to a whole emotive way of being. He has graciously reaffirmed my calling to working with youth as a youth pastor. He has blown my mind away throughout the year by breaking out of doctrinal boxes I had held him in (Calvinism in particular comes to mind) (and Rationalism). He has opened my eyes up to seeing new connections between who I was, am, and am becoming. He has pushed me into greater Christlikeness, even to my own frustration at the time. He has shown me how sweet he is.

2017 has been big, even for someone who says he hates nostalgia as much as I do. “Big” not in the sense of containing important things — although that is true. See the above bullet-pointed list. “Big” not in the sense that it is some pivotal turning point, since for the most part I have only continued in a trajectory that began at least six months before. I mean “Big” in the sense of densely packed. The events, learning, personal growth, etc. that happened the past 365 days seem like they should have taken years, not one year, and I barely remember the Ross I knew in January. Barely remember him. I already cannot empathize with him or his decisions, because they do not make sense to me — which is true of everybody with their past selves, but it seems to take more time than this has.

As a hint of what 2018 may hold, I will be taking (another) heavy course load in the spring, frolicking across Europe for a mayterm trip, serving as a Cabin Counselor again at Timber-lee for the summer, and then finishing up my undergraduate studies in philosophy in the fall semester, with the other bachelor’s degree still in progress via the attached 5 year masters degree.

Looking forward to whatever comes next.

What are Rights?

What are “rights”? What does it mean to “have” a right?

Are rights physical objects, so that I could go find a right by bumbling through the forest until I stubbed my toe on one? Rights are not physical objects that can be observed with the five senses… and for the record, nobody claims that they are.

If they are not physical, then are rights a property of some thing? Like how having gills is a property of all fish? But this too seems unlikely; what thing? Being human? This only pushes the problem back one layer to “human rights,” which still lacks a definition. Could we somehow objectively identify which humans “have” a certain right? Clearly being a human does not assure you the ability to free speech, for example, because there are millions of humans across the world without free speech. (Not to mention that nobody means that rights are properties of a category when they say “I have a right to X”)

Rights are neither physical objects nor properties of categories, so then, what are they? Could they be supernatural? But nobody claims that rights “exist” in a supernatural way, like that they have a personality or they permeate the material word in some electromagnetic field -like way. Besides, in the absence of some type of religious proof (I see no concept of rights in the Bible), if you take that to be a legitimate method of proof, there is no way to discuss or identify these rights.

So rights aren’t natural, properties of categories of things, or supernatural. What are they? They don’t “exist” in the same way that most things exist. They “aren’t real” in the same way that most things are real.

As far as I can tell, when someone says “I have a right to freedom of association” this means that their ancestors have managed to arm-wrestle the government into agreeing never to violate their ability to freely associate. So there is a rule on the books about free association, and we the people are going to take full advantage of that rule on the books, and file lawsuit after lawsuit against any government official that tries to stop us from freely associating.

The same is true of all rights. They do not “exist” in the sense that they are physical objects, or supernatural objects, or properties of categories of things… but they do “exist” in the sense that rights describe a relationship between two agents, A and B, with B = Government.

That A has the right to X means that A cannot be prevented from doing X by person B. (Or in a slightly more obnoxious formulation of positive rights, A must be given the opportunity to do X by person B; this is how the “right” to healthcare and education works).

So “where” is the right in this situation? It is no where! It cannot be found, it is not a phenomenon, and independent observers with no access to the national political rhetoric would not notice it. They would notice that the US government really never steps in to block free assembly. They would notice that. But they would not notice a “right” anywhere in the process.

A radio host I used to follow once called this “the Deadly Superstition of Human Rights,” because by claiming that some new thing is a right, we open the door to more taxation, less freedom in that topic, and the slow crawl of bureaucracy. Before claiming as a “right” some expectation that you — in this moment, in this cultural context, facing the current economic pressures you now face, on the front end of the enforcement of the law — currently have, at least consider the consequences of forever enshrining that provision into law.

What is a Safe Person?

“What will we be looking for in a safe person? Henry Cloud and John Townsend offer three hallmark qualities of a safe person in their book ‘Safe People’:

1. They draw you close to God. Safe people do not try to take the place of God in your life by providing “answers” or solutions. They do not try to be your everything. Safe people understand your dependence upon God and gently draw you in the direction of receiving what you can and must from God directly. They encourage your spiritual development; they’re quick to remind you that God cares, that God is at work, to encourage your full surrender and participation in what it is God might ask of you.

2. Safe people also draw you close to others. This is significant in that a safe friend will not try to isolate you from your other important relationships. Safe people are for your marriage, for your work relationships, for your friendships beyond themselves. When appropriate, they gentle push you towards resolving conflict — not merely allowing you to vent your frustration.

3. And last, safe people draw you close to your true self. This is perhaps one of the most difficult to observe, and most powerful when working right. Many of us live lives of relatively deep deception about who we actually are, both the dark and the light. A true, safe friend can see where you are stuck and also see your potential — and they join the fight for your soul’s freedom from the barriers so that you more closely resemble the person God envisioned when he made you.”

Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Safe People, 1995, 143.

You are strong, and the word of God lives in you

“I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one”
1 John 2:14

Doubtless to me the word “strong” (ἰσχυροὶ) here does not refer to physical strength. Instead it is an analogy comparing the ability of the physical body to do something — something probably difficult, that requires a lot of effort — to the young man’s struggles concerning the New Life.

Similarly the word “word” almost certainly does not mean a single unit of vocal expression which, if combine with others, form the basis of language and transmission of ideas. No. This is John writing, and he has already written a biography of Jesus that opens up by using the word “word” (λόγος, ου, ὁ) to mean Jesus.

Also the word “lives” (ESV “abides”) (μένει) does not mean “lives,” and though “abides” gets closer, it too retains the level of metaphor and does not state straightforwardly what is happening. Jesus, in the strictest sense possible, does not “live in you” because he is somewhere else: he is at the right hand of the Father, and not in you. Of course, when we say “Jesus lives in my heart” what we really mean is “the Holy Spirit lives in my heart,” which generally is close enough to the same thing.

But even this does not overcome the semantic ambiguity of “abides.” Jesus, the Holy Spirit, “God” in general — when one of these is said to “abide in you” it does not mean that they attain biological life and could be found if inter-intestinal microscopy was performed. Rather, this is a qualified life, a life that does not consist in biology but rather in the potential for interaction with other things that, by whatever means, also have the same potential. This comes in spiritual, not biological, life.

John is using metaphorical language, like we all do all the time. His point cannot be taken by skimming the metaphor by the surface; you have to dig at least one layer down to see what two things he is comparing using the metaphorical language.

This is all quite granular. But put it back together. John is saying that the young men who are part of his audience are able to do great things with respect to their New Life in Christ, because Christ had enabled them to do these things. God (in particular the Holy Spirit) has given this enabling.

Also, fun fact, these young men have overcome the evil one.

Just some thoughts from a bit of prep I am doing for a sermon next week, not even on this verse, but on 4:1-21.

Two years of

Two years ago today I wrote my first post on this blog!

It was around Thanksgiving break my senior year of high school that I decided to give blogging a try. It turned out that I never got into it too much, but have still kept it around as a place to host anything I have written.

Here are some stats from my two years:

  • I have written 78 posts,
  • 5,578 views to these posts, and my other pages
  • 3,352 viewers have visited the site
  • my top post ever was… eyeroll… the Unicorn Frap review from April of this year.

I have several dozen posts lurking in my drafts, waiting to emerge once I have finally got the concept down right. The quantity of my thinking and writing has also improved so much since my senior year that I could, if I had time, write a new post each day rather than each week or so.

I have not yet turned on ads, but if I had, then given the 1/100 of a cent per view, I would have made 50 cents so far. So. There’s that.

Thanks to everyone who has supported this project, regardless of how much support that has been or what it has looked like.