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Fulfillment in Christ

From Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the storyline of the Bible. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002. 114-115.

The New Testament never leads us to expect that there will be any fulfillment of 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.’ [1].

Another writer draws an analogy with a father a century ago, who promises his young on 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 been 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 promise 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 fulfillments 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. [2].

All the promises of the kingdom of God are fulfilled in Christ; he is God’s people, God’s place, and God’s rule.

 

[1] Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom (Exeter: Patermoster, 1981), p. 91.

[2] Chris Wright, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament (London: Marshall Pickering, 1992), p. 77.

Biopolitics and Race

The difference between European countries and the US on race is that the former do not have it.

racism shades

At least, not in the same way that we do. Where European countries — say, Romania, as was the case in a conversation I had today over the book scanner at the library with a Romanian — have nationality, this does not mean the same thing as nationalism in the US. What we call Nationalism in the US is not really nationalism.

In Romania there is a strong identity, (“being Romanian”), that is understood biologically. My friend Jon. He has a Romanian face. Romanian blood. Romanian DNA. In this way, his very nature, his biological life itself, is bound up with a group of other people into the nation of Romania.

Importantly, the nation of Romania and the State of Romania are not the same thing. Within the boundaries of Romania there is another group of people called the Roma — he used the term Gypsy, although someone told me once that that is a really loaded word. The Roma are another group. A person in that group could be said to have a Roma face, Roma blood, Roma DNA. Yet they live within the State of Romania, not the State of Roma, which does not exist.

These two separate concepts — (1) the nation and (2) the state — refer to (1) a group of people who are associated together by common biology, and (2) the governing structure that occupies a certain territory within really, really specific boundaries. Like, wars happen if those boundaries get crossed. The boundaries are really important. The land too.

But something strange has happened in the course of history. I’m not sure when it happened, or if it was destined to happen. But at some point these two separate concepts blended together and became the same thing. This is called the nation-state. Clever name. The nation-state is when a state gives up the territorial definition and instead tries to define itself by the biological life of its people. Instead of saying, “Romania is this land mass,” the governing authorities began to say, “We, the ethnic Romanians, are Romania.”

The connections to Thor: Ragnarok are too obvious to pass up. Loki takes the set of antlers from the death god (whatever his name was) and resurrects him. Death-god comes back to life, fights a massive 1v1 against Hela, destroying the entire city of Asgard. Then, repeatedly, at least five times — a truly nauseating number of times to hear the same sentence in a film — the lead protagonists all declare that “Asgard is not a place; it’s a people.” Of course, they have to say that, because the place has been destroyed. But in their minds, if all the citizens of Asgard got onto a ship and landed somewhere else to plant a new city, that would be Asgard. The nation-state defines itself not in terms of its territory, but its people.

The same is true of all the European countries. The bloodiest century in recorded history was the 20th century for exactly this reason. States were able to mobilize their young men to war because those young men believed that they are their State, biologically.

volk recruitment poster

What is the problem with all this? Why is this not the best system? Better put, why does this always spiral out of control into a ghastly, totalitarian death-machine? Because biological identity is not flexible, but who lives under the jurisdiction of a government is very flexible. A Roma person cannot change their face, their blood, their DNA. But their location can change. And they are the minority in the place they live now.

Key today is immigration and refugees. Refugees cannot decide their biology. That isn’t flexible. But the place where they live is, clearly, something that can change. Especially when their country descends into war-torn Failed State chaos. They can run away. But the problem with running away is that the State in whose jurisdiction they will later arrive has defined itself in terms of the nation, the biological life of its people. And so the refugee cannot truly assimilate. They cannot actually “become” a part of that new State, because they cannot possibly become a part of the Nation that resides there.

You can change states. But you can’t change nations. Sounds pretty 50-50. Except that there are no states anymore. Only nation-states. So, it’s really 0-100, and everyone living outside their home nation-state loses.

Enter the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave. A nation of immigrants. While European states can define themselves in terms of the nation, and so can group themselves by face, blood, and DNA collectives… The US doesn’t seem to have much going for itself in terms of nationhood. Is there a “nation” to the US? Is there anything physiologically or biologically that can be called “American?” What would that look like? I can sort of tell you if someone is German, but can a German tell if someone is an American?

This is because, again, the US is a nation of immigrants. The British came over, also the French, also the Dutch, latter Germans and Italians, and even later Polish, Ashkenazi Jewish, Russian, Slavic, and so on. And over time everyone mostly integrated with each other and now I have no idea what my ethnic heritage is. I’m probably German, maybe some Irish? Am I British? I usually tell people that I am Swiss, but I made that up. Who knows? 23andMe has probably already collected data from some relative of mine and is now creating a probabilistic map of my entire Genome. Wonder if they could just tell me without my paying the $129 fee…

And yet, this has not really forged much of a common American identity. It has almost totally excluded the African-American population from the integration process. Plus all Native Americans. And it has led to us using terms like “White” and “Black” instead of “British,” “German,” or “Italian,” “Gambian,” “Ghanan,” or “Cameroonian.” We have a general sensation that the US is “mostly white,” but what is whiteness? Is it just having light skin? Because many, many people in Europe have light skin but would recoil at being tagged together with similarly-skin-colored Europeans of other national backgrounds. Meanwhile, white Americans are the descendants of those same groups, and have no issue with it.

To put the problem shortly. There is a deep contradiction in the way that the American State defines itself. It has abandoned the land-based understanding of statehood. So, you would think that the other option is to have the understanding of statehood be some biological national identity. But, alas, there really is no way to understand American identity biologically.

Not that our country hasn’t tried!

eugenics photo burden

This is the same problem facing all Nation-States. The US just tries really, really hard not to resolve the tension. Want an example of a country that has tried to resolve the tension? Let’s go with the most obvious one. Germany in WWII. Definitely a nation-state. Defined itself explicitly in terms of the nation, the biological life of its people. The term they used for this was Volk, which just translates to “People.” But it could not be avoided that Volk cannot be everyone, or it would be a meaningless term. To define who is the nation is also to define who is not the nation.

So, they had to define Volk, and this definition did not include the Jews. They did not share in the same face, blood, and DNA as the Germans. So, they were not included in the Nation-State. Which is really, really bad if the German government has labeled you The Problem. As someone who is not a member of the nation-state, you have no citizenship within its jurisdiction. And since you have no citizenship, i.e. you have no part to play in the national scene, you do not “exist” in the same way that a German does. You are not “alive” in the same way that a German is. In the eyes of the Nation-State.

(All of this comes from Agamben, by the way, not me. Here is a primer video).

So, the United States is not returning to the land definition of the State. But it also doesn’t have much of anything to go on as far as defining who, biologically, is in the nation. So that decision remains capricious and arbitrary. Don’t get me wrong — that decision is made every day when the Black body is deemed outside the nation, and thus expendable. This racism is palpable. There is an Us-vs-Them mentality in the minds of many of my also-white friends. While my friends would never say something as forward as “Black people do not deserve life,” there is certainly an underlying mentality that sees the Black body as different and therefore incompatible with (white) American life. That same mentality, transposed from my normie friends to a police officer with a gun and 0.4 seconds to respond, leads to death.

why is color separating us

The United States absolutely has the power to make arbitrary and capricious decisions about whose life is on the inside and whose life is on the outside of the American body. And while European governments may have the semblance of national-biological identity to them, they are just as arbitrary and capricious. Every country in Europe besides Portugal has a separate national identity somewhere within its jurisdiction. Should the gun be drawn and Camps be built again, these national-others would be the first to experience the destructive force of the now-militarized police. Nobody really has any basis to decide who, biologically, is “in” and who is “out.” That is legal fiction used by atrocious rulers to keep their power. And anyways, when one of these countries invades another country and sets up shop, everyone in the occupied country faces this fate.

Something like “race” was necessary to develop because it mirrors the European concept of “nation.” In the biopolitical nation-state, whoever holds power must decide who is in the nation. Without some construct like a common identity based on the people who had always lived on that land (Hence Nazi “blood and soil“), a new identity had to be formed, somehow. For most Americans this is probably as simple as “my ancestors have always lived here.” But African Americans, and certainly Native Americans, have been here just as long if not longer than your white ancestors. Than my white ancestors. Yet, they are excluded from being considered part of the nation-state. They are seen as a thorn in the nation’s side. And so the biopolitical machine will seek to remove them.

Romantic and Modern Visual Art

[A term paper in preparation for my study abroad next month in Europe.]

To the Classical artist, there was no tension between representation and expression. As they focused on the object of their composition, representing it as it appeared through shape, perspective, plane, figure, and color, they sought to capture its true objective essence, expressing its form as it is. These tendencies come from a broad philosophical mindset in the Enlightenment period that prioritized reason and objectivity. As the Enlightenment mindset gradually broke down, so too did its art forms break down.

First, as objective expression was abandoned, the Romantic movement sought to represent their world through subjective emotional sentiments. They concerned themselves with the human element implicit in all things, rather than the highest Ideal aim of Reason. If all artists seek to find what Goethe called “what holds the world together most deeply,” then the Romantics “saw the path to this knowledge as lying not through the rationalism of science, but through exploration of their own, subjective perceptions, thoughts, and emotions” (621). While this did provoke a brief counter-movement of Realism, it would not be long before the second of the two pillars of Classical art would fall: representation. By the time of the Post-Impressionists, Cubists, Surrealists, and Dadaists – all of whom can be fairly tagged as “Modern” – visual art did not seek to express emotion in and through the real appearance of a subject, but in spite of the reality of that subject. Hence, Van Gogh: “I use color in a completely arbitrary way to express myself powerfully” (698). As Modernism progresses into the mid twentieth century, its artists increasingly left behind representation and objective expression.

What enabled these changes in visual art? How did representation and expression come to be opposed to one another? This paper will contrast Romanticism and Modernism by discussing first their perspectives on the world in general, then the major themes in each movement’s visual art, and finally one exemplary painting of each era.

Romanticism

The Romantic period emerged in response to many of the excesses of Enlightened thought. Enlightened thinkers like Rousseau and Locke considered all humans essentially alike, only differing in how civilized and ordered, or uncivilized and disordered, they were. Hence, a universal Reason and common rationality which all man could inhabit together. The tendencies of Romanticism were first seen beginning with the Sturm und Drang movement in Germany, then later blossoming into an entire period. This thought prioritized the particular over the general and expressing the inner emotions over the outer sensations. This is true on a personal level, but also collectively as societies:

As Goethe and Herder argued, peoples such as the Germans and the French had different spirits, which found expression in everything from the folktales told around their peasant hearths to the architecture of their greatest buildings. These writers advocated a return to nature, to the simplicity of the common people, and, as many of the Enlightenment authors had also urged, to sentiment. Out of these ideas would come the artistic, musical, and literary movement known as romanticism (589).

As Romanticism spread, it came to define the subjects and perspectives of artists in Europe. This mindset began to be seen in visual art with landscape painting, depictions of heroism, dramatic brushwork, light-dark contrast, and sad or suffering subjects. Romantic tendencies “[overturned] long-established stylistic practices and unsettles its audiences” (603); this was an intentional effort to provoke the audience (though not close to what the provocateurs of the twentieth century would attempt). They “put new emphasis on their audiences’ emotional reactions and tried to connect with them on a visceral level through a succession of vivid images,” with wider, less precise brush techniques, greater (and less real) coloring, and sharper lighting contrasts, all in an effort to “[ridicule] reason, preferring to celebrate life in all its glorious disorder” (621).

One exemplary Romantic painting is Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (1830).

40-11-02/54

The main subject, the Goddess of Liberty, stands atop a pile of bodies killed in the July Revolution. Horrifically, these twisted bodies together form a landscape characteristic of the Romantic period. She stands before the rebels – the people – waiving the national flag to symbolize that in them, and not the government they oppose, rests the heart of France. Delacroix has depicted a scene which would be sad, even devastating to experience. The white cloud of smoke behind Lady Liberty both centers the painting on her and alerts us that the scene is in motion, not still as classical art had largely been. The cloud also creates a misty, hazy look that was characteristic of the period.

The first pillar of Classical art to fall was objective expression; here, Delacroix has gone far out of his way to express the subjective, emotional quality of the people in rebellion, in mourning. However, the second pillar remains: the picture represents something, and it uses specific (if imprecise) techniques to capture the scene.

Modernism

Though the next hundred years of art – which I will recklessly skip in order to limit this paper to six pages – saw the Romantic school close, its tendencies lingered into later art. Post-Romantic artists would continue to sacrifice representational clarity on the altar of emotional expression. What caused these changes to continue?

First, Modernism “represented a conscious break with earlier styles of art” (696). The mid nineteenth century “historical turn” would eventually “join hands with the religious and artistic movements of the period” (623). Artists would study not just the techniques of old, but the entire progression of movements leading up to the present day, and so begin to react against the old art forms for the sake of reaction. In any context, this effect radically spirals out of control into nihilism, because “originality” cannot be a good in itself. Second, and third, and fourth,

Modernism has many other, complex roots. Modernist artists, writers, and composers sought to capture something of the fractured, frantic, and whirling existence they associated with urban life in the fin de siècle. They sought to give artistic expression to what was often perceived as the destruction of traditional certitudes by heady advances in science… deliberately sought to assert the value of their work by differen-tiating it from the unchallenging, sentimental compositions, artworks, and literature that were being churned out in ever greater numbers to satisfy the demands of burgeoning middle-class audiences. (697).

In this setting, Modern visual art used techniques like “the expressive use of brilliant color and coarse brushwork” and “strong colors, shapes, and departures from realistic representation” (696), the “pure play of color, light, and shape” (697), “deliberately [violating] the traditional rules of perspective and plane, [reducing] its distorted figures to the essentials of shape, and [placing] them at unconventional angles to one another” (698), and “wholly abstract compositions of lines and colors in a grid pattern” (750). With these techniques the Modernists began to push beyond both pillars of classical art, into non-representation and subjectivity.

One exemplary Modernist painting is Picasso’s Girl with Mandolin (1910).

girl with mandolin

Here, the titular subject faces away (perhaps?) from the viewer as she plays her mandolin. The background, not to mention the subject herself, is composed of the famous cube forms from which Cubism takes its name. The painting is monochromatic, with differing tints and shades of tan.

Girl with Mandolin is representational – of a girl, with a mandolin – but does not seek to depict the subject as she would appear in reality. Indeed, Picasso ten years earlier had said “I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them” (698), which clearly has remained his style a decade later. Her face and neck are a continuous block with two different widths; her eye is level with her nose; her breast, shoulder, and right arm are disjointed and attached at unnatural angles. Clearly this is moving beyond representation, and with it, Picasso seeks to express the subjective impression with which the Girl leaves him, rather than how she is herself.

Conclusion

The Classical movement’s twin emphases of representation and expression were gradually abandoned as they became opposed to one another. This occurred when expression became not an expression of the objective item being painted, but of the emotions underlying the item, and ultimately an expression of the painter himself. Now representation and expression stand opposed, and in order to resolve the opposition, artists increasingly favored the expressive end. Now the opposition is brought to its nihilistic conclusion, as non-representation and subjective expression together reach the mindboggling anti-synthesis that is late Modern visual art.

In both Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People and Picasso’s Girl with Mandolin, we have seen the turn to subjective self on full display, but it is only with the latter piece that non-representational art (if that is not already a contradiction in terms) begins to be seen. What can come after non-representational art? Now that these changes have taken place in the development of visual art, can they be reversed? Or should we seek a new form-of-art, one in which the art’s representation and subjectivity cannot be separated from each other?

Bibliography

Grafton, Anthony and David A. Bell. The West: A New History. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2018.

“The Sacrament of Living” by A.W. Tozer

[An excerpt from A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, 121-131. Read the whole book here]

aw tozer photo

One of the greatest hindrances to internal peace which the Christian encounters is the common habit of dividing our lives into two area — the sacred and the secular. As these areas are conceived to exist apart from each other and to be morally and spiritually incompatible, and as we are compelled by the necessities of living to be always crossing back and forth from the one to the other, our inner lives tend to break up so that we live a divided instead of a unified life.

Our trouble springs from the fact that we who follow Christ inhabit at once two worlds — the spiritual and the natural. As children of Adam we live our lives on earth subject to the limitations of the flesh and the weakness and ills to which human nature is heir. Merely to live among men requires of us years of hard toil and much care and attention to the things of this world. In sharp contrast to this is our life in the Spirit. There we enjoy another and higher kind of life — we are children of God; we posses heavenly status and enjoy intimate fellowship with Christ.

This tens to divide our total life into two departments. We come unconsciously to recognize two sets of actions. The first are performed with a feeling of satisfaction and a firm assurance that they are pleasing to God. These are the sacred acts and they are usually thought to be prayer, Bible reading, hymn singing, church attendance and such other acts as spring directly from faith. They may be known by the fact that they have no direct relation to this world, and would have no meaning whatever except as faith shows us another world, “an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1).

Over against these sacred acts are the secular ones. They include all the ordinary activities of life which we share with the sons and daughters of Adam: eating, sleeping, working, looking after the needs of the body and performing our dull and prosaic duties here on earth. These we often do reluctantly and with many misgivings, often apologizing to God for what we consider a waste of time and strength. The upshot of this is that we are uneasy most of the time. We go about our common tasks with a feeling of deep frustration, telling ourselves pensively that there’s a better day coming when we shall slough off this earthly shell and be bothered no more with the affairs of this world.

This is the old sacred-secular antithesis. Most Christians are caught in its trap. They cannot get a satisfactory adjustment between the claims of the two world. They try to walk the tight rope between two kingdoms and they find no peace in either. Their strength is reduced, their outlook confused and their joy taken from them.

I believe this state of affairs to be wholly unnecessary. We have gotten ourselves on the horns of a dilemma, true enough, but the dilemma is not real. It is a creature of misunderstanding. The sacred-secular antithesis has no foundation in the New Testament. Without doubt, a more perfect understanding of Christian truth will deliver us from it.

The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is our perfect example, and He knew no divided life. In the Presence of His Father He lived on earth without strain from babyhood to His death on the cross. God accepted the offering of His total life, and made no distinction between act and act. “I do always the things that please him,” was His brief summary of His own life as it related to the Father (Jn. 8:29). As He moved among men He was poised and restful. What pressure and suffering He endured grew out of His position as the world’s sin bearer; they were never the result of moral uncertainty or spiritual maladjustment.

Paul’s exhortation to “do all to the glory of God” is more than pious idealism. It is an integral part of the sacred revelation and is to be accepted as the very Word of Truth. It opens before us the possibility of making every act of our lives contribute to the glory of God. Lest we should be too timid to include everything, Paul mentions specifically eating and drinking. This humble privilege we share with the beasts that perish. If these lowly animal acts can be so performed as to honor God, then it becomes difficult to conceive of one that cannot . . .

Perversion, misuse and abuse of our human powers should give us cause enough to be ashamed. Bodily acts done in sin and contrary to nature can never honor God. Wherever the human will introduces moral evil we have no longer our innocent and harmless powers as God made them; we have instead an abused and twisted thing which can never bring glory to its Creator.

Let us, however, assume that perversion and abuse are not present. Let us think of a Christian believer in whose life, the twin wonders have been wrought. He is now living according to the will of God as he understands it from the written Word. Of such a one it may be said that every act of his life is or can be as truly sacred as prayer or baptism or the Lord’s Supper. To say this is not to bring all acts down to one dead level; it is rather to lift every act up into a living kingdom and turn the whole life into a sacrament.

If a sacrament is an external expression of an inward grace, then we need not hesitate to accept the above thesis. By on act of consecration of our total selves to God we can make every subsequent act express that consecration. We need no more to be ashamed of our body — the fleshly servant that carries us through life — than Jesus was of the humble beast upon which He rode into Jerusalem. “The Lord hath need of him” may well apply to our mortal bodies. If Christ dwells in us, we may bear about the Lord of glory as the little beast did of old and give occasion to the multitude to cry, “Hosanna in the highest.”

That we see this truth is not enough. If we would escape from the toils of the sacred-secular dilemma, the truth must “run in our blood” and condition the complexion of our thoughts. We must practice living to the glory of God, actually and determinedly. By meditation upon this truth, by talking it over with God often in our prayers, by recalling it to our minds frequently as we move about among men, a sense of its wondrous meaning will take hold of us. The old painful duality will go down before a restful unity of life. The knowledge that we are all God’s, that He has received all and rejected nothing, will unify our inner lives and make everything sacred to us.

This is not quite all. Long-held habits do not die easily. It will take intelligent thought and a great deal of reverent prayer to escape completely from the sacred-secular psychology. For instance, ti may be difficult for the average Christian to get hold of the idea that his daily labors can be performed as acts of worship acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. The old antithesis will crop up in the back of his head sometimes to disturb his peace of mind. Nor will that old serpent, the devil, take all this lying down. He will be there in the cab or at the desk, or in the field to find the Christian that he is giving the better part of his day to the things of this world and allotting to his religious duties only a trifling portion of his time. And unless great care is taken, this will create confusion and bring discouragement and heaviness of heart.

We can meet this successfully only be the exercise of an aggressive faith. We must offer all our acts to God and believe that He accepts them. Then hold firmly to that position and keep insisting that every act of every hour of the day and night be included in the transaction. Keep reminding God in our times of private prayer that we mean every act for His glory; then supplement those times by a thousand thought-prayers as we go about the job of living. Let us practice the fine art of making every work a priestly ministration. Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there . . .

In order that I may be understood and not misunderstood I would throw into relief the practical implications of the teaching for which I have been arguing, i.e. the sacramental quality of everyday life. Over against its positive meanings, I should like to point out a few things it does not mean.

It does not mean, for instance, that everything we do is of equal importance with everything else we do or may do. One act of a good man’s life may differ widely from another in importance. Paul’s sewing of tents was not equal to his writing of an Epistle to the Romans, but both were accepted of God and both were true acts of worship. Certainly it is more important to lead a soul to Christ than to plant a garden, but the planting of the garden can be as holy an act as the winning of a soul.

Again, it does not mean that every man is as useful as every other man. Gifts differ in the body of Christ. A Billy Bray is not to be compared with a Luther or a Wesley for sheer usefulness to the church and to the world; but the service of the less gifted brother is as pure as that of the more gifted, and God accepts both with equal pleasure.

The “layman” need never think of his humbler task as being inferior to that of his minister. Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act. All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For such a man, living itself will be sacramental and the whole world a sanctuary. His entire life will be a priestly ministration. As he performs his never-so-simple task, he will hear the voice of the seraphim saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”

[Prayer]: Lord, I would trust Thee completely; I would be altogether Thine; I would exalt Thee above all. I desire that I may feel no sense of possessing anything outside of Thee. I want constantly to be aware of Thy overshadowing presence and to hear Thy speaking voice. I long to live in restful sincerity of heart. I want to live so fully in the Spirit that all my thoughts may be as sweet incense ascending to Thee and every act of my life may be an act of worship. Therefore I pray in the words of Thy great servant of old, “I beseech Thee so for to cleanse the intent of mine heart with the unspeakable gift of Thy grace, that I may perfectly love Thee and worthily praise Thee.” And all this I confidently believe Thou wilt grant me through the merits of Jesus Christ Thy Son. Amen. 

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 ~~ 🤙🏽

 

Hanging out in Ur. This is my favorite cave. #JustChaldeanThings #Gen1131

A post shared by Abraham of Ur (@abrahamofur) on

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 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.