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Posts from the ‘Theology Not Yet Applied’ Category

The Old Testament in 1000 words

The Old Testament is the Christian Bible from Genesis to Malachi. It begins with a magisterial description of God creating the universe, the world, and everything in it. Stars, the sky, fish, “things that creepeth upon on ground,” birds, and humans, too. The first pair of humans, Adam and Eve, live in bliss among a perfectly-functioning world. But quickly the picture deteriorates. Adam and Eve, famously, eat the forbidden fruit, signaling disobedience against God and the fracture of the perfect-functioning world. Suddenly people die, they feel shame, and they avoid God. Deeply dissatisfied with this, God promises that he will destroy the evil unleashed in Eden, though, in an unclear statement, he says that that evil will harm God first. 

Adam and Eve have children, who eventually get bad enough that they all must die, spare the few that will then repopulate the Earth. This is Noah’s Ark. Those ones that are spared destruction, as planned, repopulate the Earth and then fade into history.

One of their descendants, Abraham, is told by God to leave his hometown and travel West. Abraham obeys, despite not having much to gain from following this God’s instructions. And so God sees his trust, his faith, and blesses him, saying that Abraham will have many, many descendants. Which does, in fact, happen. This was a promise, and God cannot break his promises.

Unfortunately, a couple generations later, there is a bitter famine in the Palestinian land and the descendants of Abraham have to move south to Egypt. They remain there for several hundred years, by which time they are basically slaves. They have a slave revolt led by Moses, filled with all kinds of miracles and plagues that only God could have orchestrated. In fact, God was with the descendants of Abraham the whole time, and he leads them out from Egypt, and back into the Palestinian land that once belonged to Abraham.

Along the way God gives them Laws. These are contained in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Together the first five books of the Old Testament are called the Torah, and they are chock full of history and laws. When Moses dies, God promises to send someone even greater than Moses to the people. But this doesn’t happen, at least, not yet. A class of religious leaders are established, who serve as Priests, sacrificing the animals of the people as acts of submission to God. They have no temple, though, and carry around a portable tent instead.

The people arrive in Palestine, things settle for a while, but then the people start to stray from God and adopt some of the gods of the surrounding countries. This results in destruction and chaos, until someone (called a “judge,” though not in the usual sense of that word) convinces them to return to God. So it continues: the first generation follows God from the heart, the second from routine, and the third not at all, and repeat.

In time the people start to ask for a king. (God strongly dissuaded from them doing this). They get one, named Saul, though he starts to go off the rails in a few years. Then a prophet named Samuel selects a new king, named David, who is much better — though, in at least one notable extramarital-affair-and-murder-plot, David is seen to be imperfect. David wants to build a temple, but God, slightly out of the blue, turns the tables and promises that God will build “a temple” (a house, a lineage, i.e. descendants) for David. This is a repeat of the earlier promise to Abraham. God symbolically defers the building of the temple to David’s son, Solomon.

Solomon is okay, but he also worships the regional gods and goddesses. Then, unable to retain power of the whole Palestinian territory when Solomon dies, the kingdom fractures in two. Now the north, called Israel, is ruled by one set of lousy king, and the south, called Judah, is ruled by a different set of lousy kings. Awful, really, just awful rulers.

Then, calamity. The northern kingdom starts worshiping more gods than God alone, so God withdraws from them. They are promptly destroyed. The Assyrians swoop down and destroy most of them, carrying some others off into exile.

Then, 136 years later, calamity. The southern kingdom does the same as the north had done, and God withdraws from them, allowing the Babylonians to cart them off into exile/slavery. (A few prophets had predicted all of this, but nobody listened).

In exile, the people retain their previous culture and religion, refusing to integrate. This almost gets them killed, especially Daniel and friends. However, God miraculously saves them from death. After a regime change, the Persians control the whole area, and Esther and friends convince the Persians to allow them to return to home, which they do…

…only to find the old homeland in shambles, the temple destroyed, the city without walls. A major rebuilding efforts begins that restores the Temple and the city walls, though not to their original glory. Ezra and Nehemiah are the leaders of these important projects.

Then, things settle down.

All throughout this time, mysterious, shadowy figures called Prophets have been writing long books of commentary on the history of Israel and the future of Israel, along with interpretations of current events. These make up a large portion of the Old Testament. Along with some books of poetry, these prophets cry out in confusion: God promised to destroy the evil from Eden, to make Abraham’s descendants great, numerous, and powerful. He promised to send someone after Moses, he promised to give David “a house,” and so on. But all they saw was destruction and failure. Is God a liar? Clearly not! So, then, God will fulfill his promises. The prophets predicted that God would send someone else, a selected one (Hebrew word: Messiah), who would fulfill God’s promises.

This is how the Old Testament ends. Everything is calm, but the people are confused, concerned, and expectant of more to come.

New project: @abrahamofur

Abraham — an otherwise fine person — makes for really boring sunday school lesson material, especially for junior high students. A lecture would have been BO-RING!, and I wanted to be Exciting! The thought process was, simply, that junior high students only connect with two things, Instagram and Fortnite. Fortnite would perfectly for the battle scene in chapter 14, and maybe the destruction of Sodom and Gammorah in chapter 19, but nothing else. So I opted to create an Insta account and walk through it with them. Here it is:

https://www.instagram.com/abrahamofur/

Abraham of Ur

~~ I’m all about believing God, having it credited to me as righteousness, and #becomingthefatherofmany ~~ 🤙🏽

 

After touring Abraham’s life, we talked through some of Romans 4. This is part of Paul’s interpretation of Abraham. (He does more in Galatians). The promises were given to Abraham and his descendants. But we are not ethnically Jewish (i.e. descendants of Abraham) and many ethnic Jews reject the Messiah, and by extension, the one who sent him, God. How did that happen? Did God break his promise to Abraham?

No. Instead, the division between Jew and Gentile is itself divided.

(Agamben talks about this around page 50 of his commentary on Romans, The Time That Remains. I am reading that book for a class right now and strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to go much deeper into Paul.)

Here is the set-up that Agamben gives:

pauline theology agamben.png

The important thing here is that Abraham, being a man of faith, was given the promises not because of his works, but his faith. In fact, as Paul will point out in Galatians, the official works of the law were not written for another 400 years! In the Romans passage, Paul is concerned not with the law as such, but with circumcision. Abraham “trusted God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” in chapter 15, whereas the sign of circumcision was not given until chapter 17. In this case, as in Galatians, faith precedes works.

Paul says, “So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” This is the verse that the diagram. Notably, Paul does not eliminate the main distinction between Jews and Gentiles, as some extreme covenant theologians may say, but also does not base salvation in any way on that distinction, as some extreme dispensationalists may say. 

At this point we stopped going further, because some of these students have never heard of Paul before that morning, and many are 11 or 12 years old. So we circled back and kept reexploring these ideas.

One of them asked me if Abraham had really made that Instagram account.

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 root of the problem

This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. . .The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Hebrews 9:9, 13-14

If your doctrine of sin runs deep, your doctrine of God’s grace must run deeper. Someone holding a very superficial view of sin will normally only seek the Savior in a superficial way, to the extent that He solves their sin problem.

Sin is not a behavior, but an orientation. We are “totally depraved” not in the sense that we always do the most sinful possible things… but that everything we do is done in a sinful way. We are tempted to look at ourselves as morally neutral with sin as an addition to our person; the Biblical perspective holds the contrary, that sin is our person, and the filter through which we make all decisions.

Jesus battled this perspective throughout his earthly ministry. Mark 7:14-23 is a good example: “nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them. . .what comes out of a person is what defiles them.” Or also Matthew 23:25-26 “You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. . .First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean”. In Matthew 5, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has a famous moment where he explains murder in this way: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subject to judgment.” He then repeats with adultery: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” He concerns himself not just with actions, but with the heart. To Jesus, motives matter.

Paul’s logic in Galatians 5 is the same. The word picture of “fruit of the Spirit” means that if the Spirit indwells you, these different attributes will become evident in time. The same is true of the flesh, with its parallel list in vs. 19-21. Because the logic is not “do these good things, and you will get the Spirit” but rather “those with the Spirit will evidence these good things,” Paul is able to freely say in the same passage that “against such things there is no law.” The OT law only exists to give a portrait of what the sinful orientation creates, not actually a list of things themselves to avoid, as such. (I could go on about similar logic in Romans 14, Acts 10 and Galatians 3).

Now addressing the Hebrews passage at the beginning of this post. The ceremonial laws could not purify at a deep level because they were designed only to address the surface level. They do not change a person’s sin orientation, but instead only put a covering over it so that the person can continue to function within the religious life of the Jewish community. Because it did not change the person on the inside, their sin orientation, their true self, the ceremonial laws beckoned for something better, a more full solution to the problem than rituals or even humans could provide.

That answer is Jesus Christ. His death, symbolized here by his blood, is able to cleanse the deepest recesses of a person and change them from the inside. The death/blood of a heifer could not reach the true root of the human condition. Through Him who brought us from “acts that lead to DEATH” to “serving the LIVING God” (vs. 14), we have received forgiveness, the cleansing of our sin.

Pascal on other-wordly longing

A beautiful though long reading from one of my classes today.
From Blaise Pascal, Pensées.

246 [536-434]

The chief arguments of the sceptics- I pass over the lesser ones- are that we have no certainty of the truth of these principles apart from faith and revelation, except in so far as we naturally perceive them in ourselves. Now this natural intuition is not a convincing proof of their truth; since, having no certainty, apart from faith, whether man was created by a good God, or by a wicked demon, or by chance, it is doubtful whether these principles given to us are true, or false, or uncertain, according to our origin. Again, no person is certain, apart from faith, whether he is awake or sleeps, seeing that during sleep we believe that we are awake as firmly as we do when we are awake; we believe that we see space, figure, and motion; we are aware of the passage of time, we measure it; and in fact we act as if we were awake. So that half of our life being passed in sleep, we have on our own admission no idea of truth, whatever we may imagine. As all our intuitions are, then, illusions, who knows whether the other half of our life, in which we think we are awake, is not another sleep a little different from the former, from which we awake when we suppose ourselves asleep?

And who doubts that, if we dreamt in company, and the dreams chanced to agree, which is common enough, and if we were always alone when awake, we should believe that matters were reversed? In short, as we often dream that we dream, heaping dream upon dream, may it not be that this half of our life, wherein we think ourselves awake, is itself only a dream on which the others are grafted, from which we wake at death, during which we have as few principles of truth and good as during natural sleep, these different thoughts which disturb us being perhaps only illusions like the flight of time and the vain fancies of our dreams? These are the chief arguments on one side and the other.

I omit minor ones, such as the sceptical talk against the impressions of custom, education, manners, country and the like. Though these influence the majority of common folk, who dogmatise only on shallow foundations, they are upset by the least breath of the sceptics. We have only to see their books if we are not sufficiently convinced of this, and we shall very quickly become so, perhaps too much.

I notice the only strong point of the dogmatists, namely, that, speaking in good faith and sincerely, we cannot doubt natural principles. Against this the sceptics set up in one word the uncertainty of our origin, which includes that of our nature. The dogmatists have been trying to answer this objection ever since the world began.

So there is open war among men, in which each must take a part and side either with dogmatism or scepticism. For he who thinks to remain neutral is above all a sceptic. This neutrality is the essence of the sect; he who is not against them is essentially for them. In this appears their advantage. They are not for themselves; they are neutral, indifferent, in suspense as to all things, even themselves being no exception.

What, then, shall man do in this state? Shall he doubt everything? Shall he doubt whether he is awake, whether he is being pinched, or whether he is being burned? Shall he doubt whether he doubts? Shall he doubt whether he exists? We cannot go so far as that; and I lay it down as a fact that there never has been a real complete sceptic. Nature sustains our feeble reason and prevents it raving to this extent. Shall he, then, say, on the contrary, that he certainly possesses truth- he who, when pressed ever so little, can show no title to it and is forced to let go his hold?

What a chimera, then, is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe!

Who will unravel this tangle? Nature confutes the sceptics, and reason confutes the dogmatists. What, then, will you become, O men! who try to find out by your natural reason what is your true condition? You cannot avoid one of these sects, nor adhere to one of them. Know then, proud man, what a paradox you are to yourself. Humble yourself, weak reason; be silent, foolish nature; learn that man infinitely transcends man, and learn from your Master your true condition, of which you are ignorant. Hear God. For in fact, if man had never been corrupt, he would enjoy in his innocence both truth and happiness with assurance; and if man had always been corrupt, he would have no idea of truth or bliss. But, wretched as we are, and more so than if there were no greatness in our condition, we have an idea of happiness and can not reach it. We perceive an image of truth and possess only a lie. Incapable of absolute ignorance and of certain knowledge, we have thus been manifestly in a degree of perfection from which we have unhappily fallen.

It is, however, an astonishing thing that the mystery furthest removed from our knowledge, namely, that of the transmission of sin, should be a fact without which we can have no knowledge of ourselves. For it is beyond doubt that there is nothing which more shocks our reason than to say that the sin of the first man has rendered guilty those who, being so removed from this source, seem incapable of participation in it. This transmission does not only seem to us impossible, it seems also very unjust. For what is more contrary to the rules of our miserable justice than to damn eternally an infant incapable of will, for a sin wherein he seems to have so little a share that it was committed six thousand years before he was in existence? Certainly nothing offends us more rudely than this doctrine; and yet without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves.

The knot of our condition takes its twists and turns in this abyss, so that man is more inconceivable without this mystery than this mystery is inconceivable to man. Whence it seems that God, willing to render the difficulty of our existence unintelligible to ourselves, has concealed the knot so high, or, better speaking, so low, that we are quite incapable of reaching it; so that it is not by the proud exertions of our reason, but by the simple submissions of reason, that we can truly know ourselves.

These foundations, solidly established on the inviolable authority of religion, make us know that there are two truths of faith equally certain: the one, that man, in the state of creation, or in that of grace, is raised above all nature, made like unto God and sharing in His divinity; the other, that in the state of corruption and sin, he is fallen from this state and made like unto the beasts. These two propositions are equally sound and certain.

Scripture manifestly declares this to us, when it says in some places: Deliciae meae esse cum filiis hominum [ Prov. 8. 31. “And my delights were with the sons of men.”]. Effundam spiritum meum super omnem carnem [Joel 2. 28. “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.”]. Dii estis [ Ps. 82 .6. “Ye are gods.”], etc.; and in other places, Omnis caro faenum [Is. 40. 6. “All flesh is grass.”]. Homo assimilatus est jumentis insipientibus, et similis factus est illis [ Ps. 49. 12,13. “He is like the beasts that perish; this their way is their folly.]. Dixi in corde meo de filiis hominum [ Eccles. 3. 18. “I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men.”].

Whence it clearly seems that man by grace is made like unto God, and a partaker in His divinity, and that without grace he is like unto the brute beasts.

247 [853-438]

If man is not made for God, why is he happy only in God? If man is made for God, why is he so opposed to God?

Christ, the τέλος of the Law

Paul writes that Christ is the “end of the law” (NASB) [“τέλος γὰρ νόμου Χριστὸς” (GNT)] (Romans 10:4). This is not a very straightforward phrase, because “τέλος” could mean several different things.

Is Christ the end of the law, as in, the goal of the law? A similar usage to the Westminster confession’s first statement “the chief end of man” meaning the very purpose and direction in which something is supposed to act. In this interpretation the law convicts men of their sin, without providing the solution, because Christ is that solution.

Is Christ the end of the law, as in, the illustrative or thematic culmination of the law? This would be a covenantal, Biblical theology type answer where the various parts of the OT law were retrospectively indicative of various parts of Christ’s atonement. For example the “end” of the priestly class is Christ, the “end” of the ritual sacrifices is Christ, the “end” of ceremonial uncleanliness is Christ, etc.

Is Christ the end of the law, as in, he terminates the law? S Lewis Johnson interprets this to mean that “the old order, the legal age, is done away in Christ, even as a hypothetical means of salvation (no one could be saved by the Law, for all men are sinners, Christ excluded; cf. Gal. 3:10, 11, 12),” and claims that this is likely the force of the text.

If the third interpretation is correct (which it seems to me for those reasons and also from the context of verses 1-4), then doesn’t that directly contradict the other NT statements that the Law will never pass away, that Christ came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and so on? I am thinking in particular of Matthew 5:17-20. Does Paul’s statement on the Law not oppose Christ’s, and if not, how do I understand both of them?

 

From study notes by S Lewis Johnson.

Faith Unconfined by Time or Place

From a book I’ve been reading this week, remarking on John 4:

“The woman asked our Lord whether Samaria or Jerusalem was the true place of worship. He answers that henceforth worship is no longer to be limited to a certain place: ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem shall ye worship the Father.’ As God is Spirit, not bound by space or time but in His infinite perfection always and everywhere the same, so His worship would henceforth no longer be confined by place or form, but importance.

How much our Christianity suffers from this, that it is confined to certain times and places. A man, who seeks to pray earnestly in the church or in the closet, spends the greater part of the week or the day in a spirit entirely at variance with that in which he prayed. His worship was the work of a fixed place or hour, not of his whole being. God is a Spirit: He is the Everlasting and Unchangeable One; what He is, He is always and in truth. Our worship must even so be in spirit and truth: His worship must be the spirit of our life; our life must be worship in spirit as God is Spirit.”

Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer, 7.

As I shared this paragraph with my group of high school campers yesterday, they (and I) were struck by the concept of a faith unconfined by time or place. What does it mean to be a Christian person who does things, rather than merely a person who does Christian things? How do these students fully integrate their faith into their mindset so that nothing escapes the Christ filter: that we see all things through the lens with which Jesus saw them?

I remember the fall semester of my Sophomore year in high school… coming up on four years ago… when this change happened in me. Oswald Chambers had written about exactly this concept in MUFHH one day. I distinctly remember ignoring my math teacher to read instead. It took a real work of the Spirit to affect this change in me, especially at that time in my life, but the perspective shift was clear and long lasting. It still lasts today; it is how I see the world.

The eternality and omnipresence of God are considered two of his incommunicable attributes; ‘incommunicable,’ meaning, we cannot experience them in the same way he does. We also cannot really be faulted for failing to be eternal or to be everywhere at once. Is anyone going to blame you for those ‘failures’? No reasonable person would, because they are not possible. But like all the incommunicable attributes of God, they are only relatively incommunicable, because we can experience something like them.

This is what Murray means when he says “As God is Spirit… so his worship would henceforth no longer be confined.” Another way to put this statement is to generalize it as “As God is a certain way… so our worship should be too.” Our consistency as people and our ‘lifestyle’ of worship are not done just because they are considered good things, or their alternatives are worse, or they look good to non believers, or even because they are commanded. Rather, we are emulating the very Being of God himself in the best way we humans can.

ἀγαλλιάω (Agalliao)

A quick word study on ἀγαλλιάω (Agalliao; Strong #21) in the New Testament.

Definition

Thayer: to exult, rejoice exceedingly, be exceeding glad

Strong: From ἄγαν agan (much) and G242 [leap; spring up]; properly to jump for joy, that is, exult: – be (exceeding) glad, with exceeding joy, rejoice (greatly).

Mounce: to be filled with delight, with great joy

Usage

It appears that there are 11 New Testament uses:

Matthew 5:12 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad [agalliao], because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Context — immediately after the Beatitudes (or the final statement of them?) in addition to the other “Blessed are…” statements.

Luke 1:47 And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord / and my spirit rejoices [agalliao] in God my Savior, / for he has been mindful / of the humble state of his servant.’

Context — in the Magnificat, the song sung by Mary after she meets with Elizabeth. (Interesting, John the Baptist is described in the verses before as “the baby in my womb leaped for joy” which sounds suspiciously like the word agalliao, but is instead each word used individually (eskirtēsen en agalliasei (noun), leaped in exultation) rather than this portmanteau.

Luke 10:21 At that time Jesus, full of joy [agalliao] through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

Context — Jesus has just received back the 72 whom he had earlier sent out as missionaries. The antecedent to “these things” appears to be specifically the power of God to overcome the enemy (and snakes), but more general the “all things” later in verse 26.

John 5:35 You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy [agalliao] his light.

Context — After a section on the authority given by the Father to the Son, Jesus makes this statement in reference to John the Baptist, and then says that the person testifying that Jesus’s words are true is the Father, because the Father validates Jesus’s ministry through the miracles (“works”?) that he does.

John 8:56 Your father Abraham rejoiced [agalliao] at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

Context — Right after Jesus accuses the Pharisees of being the children of Satan. They naturally object, saying that they are the children of Abraham. Here Jesus makes the claim that he existed before Abraham and then uses the title “I am” which almost certainly refers to the burning bush in Exodus 3. The author of Hebrew also has something to say about Old Testament figures looking forward to or rejoicing over seeing Jesus’s day.

Acts 2:26 [quoting Psalm 16] David said about him: “‘I saw the Lord always before me. / Because he is at my right hand, / I will not be shaken. / Therefore my heart is glad [agalliao] and my tongue rejoices; / my body also will rest in hope, / because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, / you will not let your holy one see decay. / You have made known to me the paths of life; / you will fill me with joy in your presence.

Context — At Pentecost, Peter is quoting Psalm 16 (from the LXX) and saying that David prophetically hinted at the eternal life of one of his descendants.

Acts 16:34 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy [agalliao] because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

Context — The Philippian Jailer who turned to Christ after an earthquake and hearing the testimony of Paul and Silas.

1 Peter 1:6, 8 In all this you greatly rejoice [agalliao], though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy [agalliao], for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Context — the beginning of Peter’s epistle (or perhaps encyclical) to the various exiles in Turkey. Peter is saying that believers are filled with joy (“inexpressible and glorious joy”) in both happy times and in the midst of suffering.

1 Peter 4:13 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed [agalliao] when his glory is revealed.

Context — roughly the same as before; later in the letter.

Revelation 19:7 Let us rejoice [agalliao] and be glad / and give him glory! / For the wedding of the Lamb has come, / and his bride has made herself ready.

Context– Babylon falls, which is probably symbolic of all of Sin itself being destroyed, near the end of Revelation. Then, several praise choruses break out in Heaven, including this one. We are to rejoice because the consummation of all things (wedding feast and bride imagery being relevant for this reason) is then about to happen soon.

The best rendering of this word in the NIV is either the above use of “overjoyed” in 1 Peter 4:13, or Jesus being “full of joy” in Luke 10:21.

Here are the non-apocryphal Septuagint (LXX) uses: 66 verses with 50 uses in the Psalms and 10 in Isaiah. (2 Sam. 1:20; 1 Chr. 16:31; Ps. 2:11; 5:11; 9:2, 14; 13:4f; 14:7; 16:9; 19:5; 20:5; 21:1; 31:7; 32:11; 33:1; 35:9, 27; 40:16; 48:11; 51:8, 14; 53:6; 59:16; 60:6; 63:7; 67:4; 68:3f; 70:4; 71:23; 75:9; 81:1; 84:2; 89:12, 16; 90:14; 92:4; 95:1; 96:11f; 97:1, 8; 98:4, 8; 118:24; 119:162; 132:9, 16; 145:7; 149:2, 5; Song 1:4; Isa. 12:6; 25:9; 29:19; 35:1f; 41:16; 49:13; 61:10; 65:14, 19; Jer. 49:4; Lam. 2:19; Hab. 3:18) (source)

The Precept Austin source (immediately above) also notes that “Agalliao is not used by secular Greek writers” and comments that this is likely because they did not have things to be so joyed about to need this strong of a word. Rienecker adds that agalliao “appears to be used always with the connotation of a religious joy, a joy that springs from the contemplation of God or God’s salvation.

Potential for Application

We cannot draw many applications just from an analysis of a word itself. This term and its positive usage in the New Testament do seem to indicate, at least, that our threshold for joy should be high. It is possible to reach this high threshold for joy. I would even make the stronger claim that we can understand joy this powerful through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, like in the Luke 10:21 section.

That this term does not appear in secular Greek texts (if true) implies either that it was an idiosyncratic term used only by people who had contact with the first person to coin the word, or that there was truly no “jumping for joy” absent of the power of God. I am not sure which is more reasonable. Peter advised Mark in writing his Gospel, yet both Matthew and Luke include variations on the Beatitudes while Mark does not; this eliminates the main potential source of downstream influence for use of this term, but even still, it could have just generally been in use during the first century in the region.

Three of these passages (Matthew and both the 1 Peter passages) describe joy in the midst of suffering. This joy is not just the usual word for joy (χαρά, chara), but instead the colorful word picture of “jumping for joy,” which goes further. In our times of sorrow, we want to do much less than be joyful, but Jesus and Peter both imply here that our joy should be further increased than normal.

Flagged paragraphs from textbooks this year

Here are all the paragraphs I flagged in my course textbooks this year.

(“This year” is inaccurate; I gradually stopped flagging my readings as the year continued, and in retrospect it looks like all of these come from first semester).

 

Kenneth Berding and Matt Williams, eds. What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publishing. Second edition: 2015. 

19-20:

Daniel 5 begins recording the second story that is essential for understanding those living during the time of Jesus. Here we read of the Persian king, Cyrus II, who surprisingly overtook the great city of Babylon and her king, Belshazzar, in 539 B.C. Unlike the Babylonian Empire, the Persian Empire was more tolerant, allowing 42,360 Jews to return to Jerusalem. According to Ezra 1-4, an altar was set up in 537 B.C., and approximately twenty years later the temple, while far from the glorious Solominc temple, was reconstructed.

Imagine the flood of emotions as the Jews returned to their home and began rebuilding their beloved temple. Ezra tells us that when they laid the foundation of the temple, the people sang together in praise, giving thanks to the Lord for his mercy and goodness (cf. Ezra 3:11). Pro-Jewish sentiment prevailed throughout the Persian monarchy; and in 445-444 B.C., Nehemiah began to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. These years were marked with great sacrifice on the part of those who resettled the land. While certainly not free from foreign control, the Jews were at liberty to worship once again in their temple and celebrate their festivals in the land given to them by their God. The story of the return from exile and rebuilding the temple impacted the Jewish people all the way down to the first century, becoming a rallying point for the Jews for centuries. As a result, it is not surprising that several generations later the Jewish religious leaders would not take kindly to Jesus’s threats to destroy the temple (Matt 27:40).

27:

The Zealots are the last of the important Jewish sects of this time period. Similar in many ways to present-day terrorists, these Jewish fanatics did anything possible to advance the cause of God in the midst of pagan rulers in Israel. Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived during the latter part of the first century, blamed the Zealots for the downfall of the Jewish people under Rome in the Jewish War of A.D. 66-70. The story of the Zealots is important for understanding the story of Jesus and his disciples because Simon (not Simon Peter) was called a Zealot (Luke 6:15), while Matthew was a tax collector, formerly aiding the Roman cause.

46-47:

Matthew recounted that Jesus called twelve disciples and gave them authority to continue his ministry. Remarkably, the disciples’ mission would replicate Jesus’s in almost every detail: they would drive out evil spirits, heal diseases, preach the kingdom of heaven, raise the dead, and cleanse leapers ([Matthew] 10:1-8). Like Jesus’s own mission, the disciples’ mission would provoke persecution, but the disciples could rest in Jesus’s promise that the Holy Spirit would enable them in times of crisis (10:18-20).

The disciples’ remarkable power and authority is to be understood against the background of the Semitic Shaliah principle, which maintained that persons sent carried the authority of the one who sent them. With this understanding Jesus was able to tell the disciples, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me” (10:40).

74:

Mark 8:22-10:52 is central to Mark’s presentation of discipleship. Within this section, mark repeatedly described Jesus as “on the way” (8:27, 9:33, 10:17, 32, 46, 52). He was on his way to Jerusalem, where he would suffer and die (10:32-33). While Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, he also taught about the way of discipleship, about the pattern of life expected of all those who desire to follow him.

In this section, Mark arranged his material around Jesus’s three predictions in which he looked ahead to his suffering, death, and resurrection (8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34). Each prediction led to an action on the part of the disciples that revealed their lack of understanding. After the first prediction, Peter rebuked Jesus in response to his teaching on the suffering of the Messiah (8:32-33). After the second prediction, the disciples discussed among themselves which one of them was the greatest (9:32-34). After the third, two disciples, James and John, asked Jesus for the most honored positions in his kingdom (10:35-41). This angered the other disciples because they coveted the same honor. Jesus responded to each instance of misunderstanding by teaching about the nature of true discipleship (8:34-38; 9:35-50; 10:42-45).

133:

Jesus’s sacrificial death, however, did not automatically bring eternal life to everyone in the world. In order to receive that life, one had to believe in Jesus (20:31). John never used the noun “faith”; he always used the verb, “to believe” or “to have faith” (ninety-eight times!). By constantly using the verb, John emphasized the active response of believing.

The idea of “believing” in today’s church is often seen as an action that is performed solely by the brain, that is, an intellectual action. Belief certainly includes the intellectual assent to facts, but John showed that real belief in Jesus always leads to obedience. For example, it was only because the royal official believed Jesus that he could leave him and return to his son (4:50). It was only because the blind man believed Jesus that he went to the pool of Siloam to wash (9:7, 38).

 

Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the storyline of the Bible. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press. 2002.

105:

‘The time is coming,’ declares the LORD,
‘when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.’
(Jeremiah 31:31)

This covenant will not be a completely new start. God is not abandoning the promises he has made in the past. But how can he fulfill those promises to bless his people? In his faithfulness, he must do so if he is to keep his word. And yet he is also bound to punish the Israelites if they disobey him. So how can he bless them, given their continued sinfulness? The new covenant will make this possible. It will be unbreakable. God will find a way of dealing with sin, so that all his people will be forgiven and know God intimately. he will change them from within: ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts’ (31:33). Ezekiel and Joel make it clear that this is a promise of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in the lives of all God’s people (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Joel 2:28-32). This new covenant was to be inaugurated by Jesus’s death. When he took the cup at the last supper he said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’ (Luke 22:20).

114-115:

The New Testament never leads us to expect that there will be any fulfillment of the Old Testament promises other than their fulfillment in Christ… We are not encouraged, for example, to look for their fulfillment in the State of Israel and to expect a new temple to be built there. That is to expect a renewal of the model that has now been dismantled. The permanent reality is found in Christ. Graeme Goldsworthy has put it like this: ‘For the New Testament the interpretation of the Old Testament is not “literal” but “Christological”. That is to say that the coming of Christ transforms all the kingdom terms of the Old Testament into gospel reality.’

Another writer draws an analogy with a father a century ago, who promises his young son that he will give him a horse on his twenty-first birthday. Cars are subsequently invented, and so, when the birthday finally comes, the boy is given a car instead of a horse. The promise has still be fulfilled, but not literally. The father could not have promised his son a car because neither could have understood the concept. In a similar way, God made his promises to Israel in ways they could understand. He used categories they were familiar with, such as the nation, the temple, and material prosperity in the land. But the fulfillment breaks the boundaries of those categories. To expect a literal fulfillment is to miss the point: “To look for direct fulfillment of, say, Ezekiel in the twentieth-century Middle East, is to bypass and short-circuit the reality and the finality of what we already have in Christ as the fulfillment of those great assurances. It is like taking delivery of the motor car but still expecting to receive a horse.” All the promises of the kingdom of God are fulfilled in Christ; he is God’s people, God’s place and God’s rule.

116-117:

When Jesus is a child, Joseph and Mary take him to Egypt to protect him from Herod’s persecution. Matthew comments ‘So was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son”‘ (Matthew 2:15). Some commentators suggest that this is an unprincipled use of Old Testament prophecy. The question is from Hosea 11:1, which is not a messianic promise referring to an individual. The original context makes it very clear that it refers to the exodus of the nation of Israel. But Matthew is neither naive nor unprincipled. He knows exactly what he is doing. He is deliberately identifying Jesus with Israel. But Jesus is different. He too is temped, as the Israelites were in the wilderness, but, unlike them, he does not fall (Matthew 4:1-11).

Michael Anthony, ed., Christian Education: Foundations for the Twenty-first Century. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2001.

28:

George Knight has cited seven hallmarks of a Christian epistemology. In a slightly adapted form, they are:

1. The biblical perspective is that all truth is God’s truth. Therefore, the distinction between sacred and secular truth is a false dichotomy.

2. The truth of Christian revelation is true to what actually exists in the universe. Therefore, the Christian can pursue truth without the fear of ultimate contradiction.

3. Forces of evil seek to undermine the Bible, distort human reasoning, and lead individuals to rely on their own inadequate and fallen selves in the pursuit of truth.

4. We have only a relative grasp of the absolute truths in the universe. In other words, while God can know absolutely, Christians can know absolutes in a relative sense. Thus, there is room for Christian humility in the epistemological enterprise.

5. The Bible is not concerned with abstract truth. It always sees truth as related to life. Therefore, knowing in the biblical sense is applying perceived knowledge to one’s daily life and experience.

6. The various sources of knowledge available to the Christ — the special revelation of Scripture and the person of Jesus Christ, the general revelation of the natural world, and reason — are complementary and should be used in light of the biblical pattern.

7. Given the unity of the truth, the acceptance of a Christian epistemology cannot be separated from the acceptance of a Christian metaphysics and vice-versa. The acceptance of any metaphysical-epistemological configuration is a faith choice, and it necessitates a total commitment to a way of life.

118:

The art of teaching is reflected in a competent teacher’s excellence in balancing the complementary, though often conflicted, attributes of the teaching task. The teacher as artist is constantly working out the right combination of exhorting and complimenting, warning, reassuring, and supporting. The teacher must avoid the desire to control or to remake another person in his or her own image. Integrity demands that an artist-teacher should take very seriously the responsibilities of the career. Any marks of insincerity are displaced by a more thoughtful style marked by realistic judgement calls and underlined by warmth and gentle humor. This sort of sincerity can become warmly appreciated, even eagerly anticipated. Ultimately, it will come to reside in the learner’s own capabilities for self-direction.

126:

Contrary to the popular belief that the Holy Spirit’s voice is primarily a subjective expression of a person’s inner spirit, the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit represents an objective manifestation of the truth of God that never contradicts biblical truth. While the Spirit often expresses himself in subjective ways within an individual, his voice can be tested as to its authenticity by comparing it to truth from the Word of God. The Holy Spirit’s teaching never contradicts God’s objective revelation in Scripture.

 

Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. Second Edition: 2006.

60:

In Genesis 22, God commands Abraham to take this son of the promise to Mount Moriah in order to sacrifice him. Abraham shows that he now trusts God completely when the narrative informs the reader that he silently and without complaint carried out God’s request. The reader is left to make the connection between the Mount Moriah of the sacrifice (Gen. 22:2) and the location of the future site of the temple (2 Chron. 3:1).

76:

Attempts like those of a movement called theonomy to impose the laws and penalties found in the Book of the Covenant to contemporary society… are ill-founded and dangerous… They simply do not take into account the radically different cultural and, more importantly, redemptive-historical differences between Old testament Israel and contemporary society. Theonomy used to be an attractive lens through which to read Scripture for many Christians, particularly in Reformed and Pentecostal circles in the 1970s and into the 1990s, among those who looked with horror at the secularization of society and longed for a more powerful Christian influence. Fortunately, as we begin the twenty-first century this movement has lost significant influence.

The law remains relevant for today, however, as the principles behind the various stipulations are summarized in a general way in the Ten Commandments. The Christian is now given a specification of the law in the New Testament along the lines of the Book of the Covenant or the other law codes of the Pentateuch. The Christian must think through contemporary ethical issues with the Ten Commandments as a guide. How does the commandment not to steal apply to computer theft? How does the commandment not to kill apply to the abortion pill? Nuclear arms?

The New Testament, of course, is not bereft of comments on law. Jesus shows that he is God himself as he deepens our understanding of the law in his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). Certainly, the most startling news in the New Testament about the law is that Jesus Christ has freed his followers from the curse of the law (Rom. 7). Thus the law, which was never the means to a relationship with God, becomes for Christians a guide to God’s will for their life.

 

James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press. Fifth Edition: 2009.

43-44:

Looked at in this way, history itself is a form of revelation. That is, not only does God reveal himself in history (here, there, then), but the very sequence of events is revelation. One can say, therefore, that history (especially as localized in the Jewish people) is the record of the involvement and concern of God in human events. History is the divine purpose of God in concrete form.

This pattern is, of course, dependent on the Christian tradition. It does not at first appear to take into account people other than Jews and Christians. Yet the Old Testament has much to say about the nations surrounding Israel and about God-fearers (non-Jewish people who adopted Jewish beliefs and were considered a part of God’s promise). And the New Testament stresses even more the international dimension of God’s purposes and his reign.

101-102 n13:

The scientific concept of chance is vexed. The Heisenberg principle of indeterminacy holds that one cannot determine with accuracy both the location and the momentum of any given electron. One can have precise knowledge of either, but not both at the same time. It is an epistemological principle. But many scientists, including Werner Heisenberg, drew ontological implications from the epistemological principle that are clearly not warranted. Heisenberg himself said, “Since all experiments are subjected to the laws of quantum mechanics,… the invalidity of the law of causality is definitely proved by quantum mechanics” (quoted by Stanley Jaki, “Chance or Reality,” in Chance or Reality and Other Essays [Lanham, Md,: University Press of America, 1986], pp. 6-7). The implication is that not only is the universe not understandable at a fundamental level, but the universe is itself irrational or, even, unreal.

Heisenberg, along with at least some other scientists and popularizes of science, has moved from ignorance of reality to knowledge about that reality. I cannot measure Xtherefore does not exist. It is just such a movement from the limits of knowledge to the declaration that we have no justification for thinking we know anything that constitutes much of the postmodern pattern of thinking… Reality has to conform to the human mind in a theoretically completely knowable way or it does not exist. In fact, solipsism “has for long been recognized as an inevitable implication of the drastic meaning of Heisenberg’s principle” (Jaki, “Chance or Reality,” pp. 12-13).

One way out of the dilemma was taken by Niels Bohr, who insisted that “all statements about ontology or being must be avoided” (ibid., p. 8). As Jaki says, W. Pauli agreed “that questions about reality were as metaphysical and useless as was the concern of medieval philosophers about the number of angels that could be put on a pinhead” (ibid., p. 10).

Another way out, taken by Albert Einstein and other scientists, tried to get around the principle itself by finding ways of conceiving how measurements could be complete and accurate at the same time. Their attempt failed. All that could be said is, in Einstein’s words, “God doesn’t play dice with the universe” (ibid., p. 9). But this was more a pretheoritical commitment, a presupposition, than a conclusion drawn from successful theorizing from either laboratory or thought experiments. This then left the ontological conclusion to be drawn as many did: the universe is not fundamentally understandable (ibid., p. 8).

A premodern humility about the human ability to know might have prevented this rash and illogical move. Think of the apostle Paul’s caution (“Now we see through a glass darkly”) and then hope (“but then face to face”; 1 Cor 13:12 KJV).

The issue, Jaki concludes, boils down to a confusion of ontology and epistemology. “The science of quantum mechanics states only the impossibility of perfect accuracy in measurements. The philosophy of quantum mechanics states ultimately the impossibility of distinguishing between material and non-material, and even between being and non-being… At any rate, if it is impossible to distinguish between being and non-being, then efforts to say anything about freedom and determinism become utterly meaningless” (Jaki, “Chance or Reality,” p. 14).

134-136:

As in atheistic existentialism, theistic existentialism emphasizes the disjuction between the objective and the subjective worlds. Martin Buber, a Jewish existentialist whose views have greatly influenced Christians, uses the terms I-Thou and I-It to distinguish between the two ways a person relates to reality. In the I-It relationship a human being is an objectifier. “Now with the magnifying glass of peering observation he bends over particulars and objectifies them, or with the field-glass of remote inspection he objectifies them and arranges them as scenery, he isolates them in observation without any feeling of their exclusiveness, or he knits them into a scheme of observation without any feeling of universality.”

This is the realm of science and logic, of space and time, of measurability. As Buber says, “Without It man cannot live. But he who lives by It alone is not man.” The Thou is necessary.

In the I-Thou relationship, a subject encounters a subject: “When Thou is spoken [Buber means experienced], the speaker has nothing for his object.” Rather, such speakers have a subject like themselves with whom to share a mutual life. In Buber’s words, “All real living is meeting.”

Buber’s statement about the primacy of I-Thou, person-to-person relationships is now recognized as a classic. No simple summary can do it justice, and I encourage readers to treat themselves to the book itself. Here we must content ourselves with one more quotation about the personal relationship Buber sees possible between God and people:

“Men do not find God if they stay in the world. They do not find Him if they leave the world. He who goes out with his whole being to meet his Thou and carries to it all being that is in the world, finds Him who cannot be sought. Of course God is the “wholly Other”; but He is also the wholly Same, the Wholly Present. Of course He is the Mysterious Tremendum that appears and overthrows; but He is also the mystery of the self-evident, nearer to me than my I.

So theistic existentialists emphasize the personal as of primary value. The impersonal is there; it is important; but it is to be lifted up to God, lifted up to the Thou of all Thous. To do so satisfies the and serves to eradicate the alienation so strongly felt by people when they concentrate on I-It relations with nature and, sadly, with other people as well.

This discussion may seem rather abstract to Christians whose faith in God is a daily reality that they live out rather than reflect on. Perhaps the chart in figure 6.1 comparing two ways of looking at some basics elements of Christianity will make the issues clearer. It is adapted from a lecture given by theologian Harold Englund at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1960s. Think of the column on the left as describing a dead orthodoxy contrasted with the column on the right describing a live theistic existentialism.

When put this way, the existential version is obviously more attractive. Of course, traditional theists may well respond in two ways: first, the second column demands or implies the existence of the first column and, second, theism has always included the second column in its system. Both responses are well founded. The problem has been that theism’s total worldview has not always been well understood and churches have tended to stick with column one. It has taken existentialism to restore many theists to a full recognition of the richness of their own system.

137:

The full truth is in the paradox, not in an assertion of only one side of the issue. Presumably this paradox is resolved in the mind of God, but it is not resolved in the human mind. It is to be lived out: “God, I rely completely on you; do your will. I am stepping out to act.”

The strength of stating our understanding of our stance before God in such a paradox is at least in part a result of the inability most of us have had in stating our stance nonparadoxically. Most nonparadoxical statements end by denying either God’s sovereignty or human significance. That is, they tend either to Pelagianism or to hyper-Calvinism.

The weakness of resting in paradox is the difficulty of knowing where to stop. What sets of seemingly contradictory statements are to be lived out as truth? Surely not every set. “Love your neighbor; hate your neighbor.” “Do good to those who persecute you. Call your friends together and do in your enemies.” “Don’t commit adultery. Have every sexual liaison you can pull off.”

So beyond the paradoxical it would seem that there must be some noncontradictory proposition governing which paradoxes we will try to live out. In the Christian form of existentialism the Bible taken as God’s special revelation has set the bounds. It forbids many paradoxes, and it seems to encourage others. The doctrine of the Trinity, for example, may be an unresolvable paradox, but it does justice to the biblical data…

Among those who have no external objective authority to set the bounds, paradox tends to run rampant. Marjorie Grene comments about Kierkegaard, “Much of Kierkegaard’s writing seems to be motivated not so much by an insight into the philosophical or religious appropriateness of paradox to a peculiar problem as by the sheer intellectual delight in the absurd for its own sake.” Thus this aspect of theistic existentialism has come in for a great deal of criticism from those holding a traditional theistic worldview. The human mind is made in the image of God’s mind, and thus though our mind is finite and incapable of encompassing the whole of knowledge, it is yet able to discern some truth. As Francis Schaeffer puts it, we can have substantial truth but no exhaustive truth, and we can discern truth from foolishness by the use of the principle of noncontradiction.

 

Michael P. Schutt, Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press. 2007. 

20:

Lawyers no longer think theologically about the substance of the law and therefore are blind to the goodness (or wickedness) of their daily work, which might otherwise be apparent in light of Scripture and the teachings of the church through the centuries.

The failure of attorneys and students to think biblically about the law and their daily work opens the door for confusion about the lawyer’s calling and the goodness of the lawyer’s work. Does God have a purpose in tort law? What is a contract? Is there a biblical reason for corporations, and should I participating in creating one? For the most part lawyers don’t ask these questions about the meat of the law; that is, they fail to develop a theology of their work. This is a failure in the life of the mind, and it is a problem running through the entire church, not just the bar. A decade ago Mark Noll documented this failure in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

43-44:

The real problem posed by the law school culture is the insidious fruit of the two conditions discussed. After exposure to the unspoken amoral assumptions inherent in the law school climate, students are often deadened to the potential for Christian service in the law. They leave law school with a profound inclination toward a sort of spiritual apathy, fostered by the law school experience. It is a sluggishness about the pursuit of first things, about pursuit of ultimate goodness, truth, and beauty. Medieval scholars used the Latin term acedia for this spiritual sloth.

We are created to pursue the One who is good, who is the truth, and who is beauty. Our chief end, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, is to glorify him and enjoy him forever. This includes seeing his hand in the natural world, its laws and our duties. In our pursuit of the highest good, we pursue the good things and the noble and the true in the world, in our lives, and in our calling. Our stewardship of this material world is related in part to understanding that we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV). Our good works are in this world; they are here are now. Our great joy is to seek and knock, to search with our hearts, to discern our calling to serve God and others in what we do with our daily work. To abandon this quest is to reject the very privilege that comes with being created in God’s image. Yet acedia steals that joy and wrests the privilege of seeking and knocking from our hands.

This is the joyless state in which many lawyers find themselves. One reason they’re in this position is that, as law students, they gradually came tot understand that any desire for eternal truth in the law should be suppressed as irrelevant. This is a form of spiritual sloth.

Thomas Aquinas discusses this acedia in the context of the sin of despair: “The fact that a man considers an arduous good impossible to obtain, either by himself or by another, is due to his being downcast… [I]t seems to him that he will never be able to rise to any good. And since sloth [acedia] is a sadness that casts down the spirit, in this way, despair is born of [acedia].”

In other words, acedia arises when we look at some worthwhile good thing as impossible to achieve. It is this very despair of achieving a worthwhile good that is fostered in law school. Recall that Judge Posner tells us that we should not despair when we renounce the metaphysical quest, because there is no mystery at the heart of existence “worth troubling our minds about.” Yet because we know that we were created to pursue that mystery and that our happiness depends on it, we do despair. And if we are told enough times that the good is unattainable or irrelevant, we adopt Posner’s acedia as our own and experience the despair that arises from it.

60-61:

I watched as Stephen, who had just turned nineteen, stood before his church on a Sunday evening service. “The Lord has gotten hold of my heart,” he said, “and I just want to publicly announce that I have surrendered to the ministry.” By this, Stephen meant that he believed that he would spend his life in “full-time Christian work,” that is, in the clergy. Stephen’s announcement reflects common practice at many conservative Protestant churches: young people who feel a call to a deeper level of submission in their faith are encouraged to “surrender to the ministry.” Thus they begin informal preparation for a career as a youth pastor, evangelist, preacher, or missionary. In these circles, there is little consideration — at least no direct discussion or instruction — that “surrendering to God” might best be accomplished through full-time Christian work as a physician, teacher, writer, or lawyer.

Most often, an announcement like Stephen’s comes from a young person whose heart has been stirred to deeper submission to God. This stirring may have little or nothing to do with career or secondary calling issues. More likely, it is the longing to respond to God’s primary calling to surrender one’s life, in every area, to God. Stephen and his church leaders simply assume that his secondary calling in everyday work, based on gifts, talents and ability — will be professional ministry in the church. At a time in their lives when students should be encouraged to broaden their education and perspective on the world, this “surrendering to the ministry” has the opposite result. The student narrows his or her focus to biblical studies or youth ministry, narrowing the options and focus during an important formative period of discovery. Rather than gaining a broad education and wisdom in applying the things of God to real-world experience, the student is often isolated from the opportunities to develop various gifts and talents. Even in churches where the encouragement to “surrender to the ministry” is not phrased in those terms and where the narrowing effect is less obvious, Christians often think of a serious call by God as a call into “full-time” Christian work.

66:

The gravitation of Christian lawyers to political organizations may be a sign of our narrow view of culture-changing vocation. Political activism is often a knee-jerk response to the cultural drift away from moral truth. Yet the culture is almost never changed by politics; the culture must change first, and then political solutions will follow. It’s not that political activity is wrong — indeed, we are called to participate in and influence our political institutions — but we need to beware of our own brand of social engineering, in which we seek to remake the culture in our image through political means. This is the very instrumentalism I criticized in chapter two for being at the root of a shift away from our religious moorings.

87:

Christian thinking must not intentionally politicize. Yes, the life of the lawyer’s mind usually has important political or legal consequences — of course it does. And if clear, biblical, Spirit-led, body-centered thinking leads you to agree with the Republicans, then agree. If it leads you to agree with the Democrats, agree. I am not warning against political involvement, which is one of the clear duties of the Christian. I am warning against equating truth with a particular political movement or goal rather than following the truth wherever it leads. One of the huge traps here is for Christians to follow leaders — presidents, professors, or politicians — because they are “Christian,” and therefore their ideas must be “Christian.” We need to worry about the truth, follow the person of Christ and his revealed Word, and stop worrying about the labels on others. Look to their conduct — is it right? Look to their ideas — are they true? Look to the fruit of their leadership — is it morally sound? We need, for example, to stop worrying about whether the Founding Fathers were Christians or deists or pagans and start faithfully evaluating their ideas and the consequences of their ideas.

126-127:

Many law students have the idea that the local congregation is unimportant during the law school years. This is simply one of the many little lies that flow from the big lie: I’ll never be any busier than I am now in law school. We need to get used to it, setting our priorities during our formal education so that we have habits that are worth keeping after graduation. Our interaction with church leaders is a great resource for us and a big help to them… Interact with leaders — give them the benefit of your thoughts regarding calling and scholarship. Law students must intentionally pursue belonging to a local congregation or parish. Anonymous attendance is not the point either: students should be involved in the in-going (singing in the choir, teaching Sunday school, assisting in the youth program) and out-going (visitation of the sick, working at the shelter or food pantry, volunteering with Christian Legal Aid) ministries of the local church.

155:

J. P. Moreland reminds us that the couch potato is a poor model for the person pursuing the disciple’s life of the mind: “We let other people do our living and thinking for us: the pastor studies the Bible for us, the news media does our political thinking for us, and we let our favorite sports team exercise, struggle, and win for us. From watching television to listening to sermons, our primary agenda is to be amused and entertained.” This passivity is just one of the seven traits of what Moreland calls the empty self, constituted by “a set of values, motives, and habits of thought, feeling, and behavior that perverts and eliminates the life of the mind and makes maturation in the way of Christ extremely difficult.” Part of his solution to the empty self, beyond recognizing the problem and choosing to be different, is a change of routine. He suggests that our routines can be changed to “get out of passive ruts” and replace them with habits that create physical and intellectual energy. In other words, turn off the TV and the Internet!

171:

Leisure is not vacation, napping, or even retreating, though each of these things may play a role in our pursuit of leisure. Leisure is a condition of the inner person, embracing what God has created him or her to be. Like Daniel, we can exhibit a worshiping heart as we work out the lawyer’s calling. We celebrate our roles in continuing creation work, we reflect on what it means to be human, we stop and consider, we struggle with motherhood or fatherhood, we contemplate the sunset, or wonder why God created gnats. leisure, in its true sense, is the quiet consideration of what is true, good, and beautiful, and it flows from worship of the One who is good.

Both workaholism and idleness are the enemies of leisure. We can pursue work itself out of a true heart of worship, as workers created in the image of God. Yet when we use work to fill empty souls, to replace our obligation to set our minds on things that are beautiful, or to avoid reflection on our lives and purpose, then work stands in opposition to our callings in life. True work compliments true leisure, but work as a tool for fulfillment or as an end in itself is acedia in the same sense that pure idleness is. Spiritual sluggishness can take either form: We might choose to fill our hours with mindless amusement, seeking to distract ourselves from the task of reflection and contemplation, or we might fill our hours with productive task after never-ending task, seeking to numb ourselves to the call to reflect and consider.

American culture is beset with both problems, and, in fact, they feed one another. We are obsessed with work as the means to happiness, and we fill our non-working hours with mindless distraction or expensive toys. Cultural observer David Brooks notes that there are “two work ethics” layered into the American psyche. The first is the perversion of the Puritan work-ethic we discussed in chapter three, filtered through “the secularizing pen of Benjamin Franklin” and moralists preaching the gospel of work. “According to this ethic, it is through work, and our contribution to society, that we define ourselves. Far from being solely a thing you do, work is a way of justifying one’s existence, of fulfilling one’s purpose on earth, and of creating one’s identity.” The other American work ethic, “layered on top of this Puritan sense of calling, ” is that work is the means to “grabbing the goodies.” Brooks calls this the “abundance mentality” that believes that “fanatical work is always worth it, because it can be lavishly rewarded.” Rising class status is part of the goal: if your neighbor can “pull himself up to the realm of Lexus drivers,” someday you can too. People fill their lives with the pursuit of abundance, waiting to be grabbed like candy in a candy shop. “It takes a force of willpower beyond that of most ordinary people to renounce all this glorious possibility. It’s easier to work phenomenally long hours and grasp at all the candies than it is to say no. It takes incredible dedication to renounce opportunity, get off the conveyor, and be content with what one is.” This observation is a prophetic word to lawyers. Stop working to grasp the candies and be content with what you are — and first, take the time to discover who and what you are! This is true leisure, the last of the lawyer’s disciplines.

Why chairs are a poor metaphor for faith

 

chair
Every so often in discussions of faith and reason, the metaphor comes up that I exercise faith by having confidence to sit down in a chair.

What if the chair were to break? Bet you didn’t consider that one.

As the idea stands, it depends upon a simple claim that faith and confidence are one in the same.

Does the certainty we have in chairs demonstrate that we have faith in general, and thus undermine by ad hominem the atheist’s claim that faith is irrational?

No, because it ignores an important distinction in the objects of faith in each scenario. In the first scenario, the reason I exercise such confidence in chairs is that I have observed in the past that they hold strong. My mind quickly estimates the probably of a chair breaking as the same as the number of times it has happened to me before divided by the number of chairs I’ve enjoyed. In this case, my faith depends upon the law of cause and effect.

In the case of God or more generally the supernatural, the faith exercised depends upon that which by definition exists external to the five senses. While you have observed the chair many times, you have not observed the supernatural many times. In fact, you have never observed the supernatural, because any interaction between the supernatural and natural is, from our perspective, natural. We don’t see the supernatural hand of God in rearranging human circumstances, we only see the circumstances themselves.

Notice that faith is the evidence of things not seen, per Hebrews 11.

But more generally than this ignored distinction, the real problem is in the equation of faith with confidence. Faith does not equal confidence. For far too long the concept of faith has been hijacked by fundamentalist streams of anti-modern Evangelical thought originating in the 1920’s which wholly posit the Christian experience as an intellectual one.

Yet the scriptures are absurdly clear that faith is not belief. James writes that “even the demons believe, and they shudder,” meaning that being convinced of an idea is not equivalent to faith in it. Supernatural beings like the demons are, I assume, explicitly aware of the existence of God. They are explicitly aware of his power and the metaphysical imperative to submit to his authority. Why do they not follow him?

Faith is a composite term for three distinct convictions. First, that a person believes that something is true. Then, that a person believes that thing is morally good and therefore worth acting towards, rather than against. Finally, that a person acts towards it.

The final step of action is what distinguishes faith from belief. A way to formulate this would be to say that Belief + Desire + Action = Faith. So to say that faith is confidence is to ignore the second and third steps.

Stop using this metaphor. It reduces faith.