11.28.2009

Resurrection and the Source of the Tyrant's Power

Here is another great reason why I wish people red mor ded peepl. This is a passage from 2 Maccabees. Now, regardless of questions of historicity, canonicity, and so on; it illustrates a theology of resurrection (not disembodied afterlife) alive in Judaism before Jesus and Christianity. In fact, it is illustrative of a belief in bodily resurrection, which would become foundational to the Christian proclamation and hope. The fear of death is the secret to the tyrant's power. This is a moving passage illustrating how the hope of resurrection fueled the courage of faithful martyrs in the face of torture and death. (This story is set within the Jewish revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes.)

It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”

The king fell into a rage, and gave orders to have pans and cauldrons heated. These were heated immediately, and he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out and that they scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother looked on. When he was utterly helpless, the king ordered them to take him to the fire, still breathing, and to fry him in a pan. The smoke from the pan spread widely, but the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, saying, “The Lord God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song that bore witness against the people to their faces, when he said, ‘And he will have compassion on his servants.’”

After the first brother had died in this way, they brought forward the second for their sport. They tore off the skin of his head with the hair, and asked him, “Will you eat rather than have your body punished limb by limb?” He replied in the language of his ancestors and said to them, “No.” Therefore he in turn underwent tortures as the first brother had done. And when he was at his last breath, he said, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.”

After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said nobly, “I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.” As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man’s spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing.

After he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourth in the same way. When he was near death, he said, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!”

Next they brought forward the fifth and maltreated him. But he looked at the king, and said, “Because you have authority among mortals, though you also are mortal, you do what you please. But do not think that God has forsaken our people. Keep on, and see how his mighty power will torture you and your descendants!”

After him they brought forward the sixth. And when he was about to die, he said, “Do not deceive yourself in vain. For we are suffering these things on our own account, because of our sins against our own God. Therefore astounding things have happened. But do not think that you will go unpunished for having tried to fight against God!”

The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory. Although she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their ancestors. Filled with a noble spirit, she reinforced her woman’s reasoning with a man’s courage, and said to them, “I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of humankind and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”

Antiochus felt that he was being treated with contempt, and he was suspicious of her reproachful tone. The youngest brother being still alive, Antiochus not only appealed to him in words, but promised with oaths that he would make him rich and enviable if he would turn from the ways of his ancestors, and that he would take him for his Friend and entrust him with public affairs. Since the young man would not listen to him at all, the king called the mother to him and urged her to advise the youth to save himself. After much urging on his part, she undertook to persuade her son. But, leaning close to him, she spoke in their native language as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant: “My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. And in the same way the human race came into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers.”

While she was still speaking, the young man said, “What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king’s command, but I obey the command of the law that was given to our ancestors through Moses. But you, who have contrived all sorts of evil against the Hebrews, will certainly not escape the hands of God. For we are suffering because of our own sins. And if our living Lord is angry for a little while, to rebuke and discipline us, he will again be reconciled with his own servants. But you, unholy wretch, you most defiled of all mortals, do not be elated in vain and puffed up by uncertain hopes, when you raise your hand against the children of heaven. You have not yet escaped the judgment of the almighty, all-seeing God. For our brothers after enduring a brief suffering have drunk of ever-flowing life, under God’s covenant; but you, by the judgment of God, will receive just punishment for your arrogance. I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our ancestors, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by trials and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.”

The king fell into a rage, and handled him worse than the others, being exasperated at his scorn. So he died in his integrity, putting his whole trust in the Lord. Last of all, the mother died, after her sons. Let this be enough, then, about the eating of sacrifices and the extreme tortures.
(2 Macc 7:1–42, NRSV)

10.03.2009

Tadeusz Borowski and Postmodernism

Borowski has written some fine Holocaust literature based on his experiences in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. He delves into the psychology of evil and gives a glimpse of the beginnings of postmodernism in Europe. I disagree with the movement, but I understand that some have suffered much more than I have, and that has led them to conclude that "The world is ruled by neither justice nor morality; crime is not punished nor virtue rewarded, one is forgotten as quickly as the other. The world is ruled by power and power is obtained with money. To work is senseless, because money cannot be obtained through work but through exploitation of others. And if we cannot exploit as much as we wish, at least let us work as little as we can. Moral duty? We believe neither in the morality of man, nor in the morality of systems. In German cities the store windows are filled with books and religious objects, but the smoke from the crematoria still hovers above the forests. . . . Responsibility for the world? But can a man living in a world such as ours be responsible even for himself? It is not our fault that the world is bad, and we do not want to die changing it. We want to live--that is all" (from "The January Offensive," part II).

But is this the only option after experiencing or even just seeing the horrors of Auschwitz? The Enlightenment view of man has certainly been blown out of the water; man cannot save himself by reason (or science, for that matter). Do we then need merely to try to live our lives and avoid moral matters? Should we just look out for ourselves and hope that brutality will never find us?

There is another response, but we'll have to be patient. There is One who has said all along that the heart of man is desperately wicked, and seeks overwhelmingly to do evil, so much so that he is thoroughly depraved. We could hear these stories as a call back, a call to repentance. Perhaps love is the answer. Perhaps Love will conquer all.

9.30.2009

Dietrich and Judging Others

From Cost of Discipleship:
"Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are. But in the love of Christ we know all about every conceivable sin and guilt; for we know how Jesus suffered, and how all men have been forgiven at the foot of the cross. Christian love sees the fellow-man under the cross and therefore sees with clarity. If when we judged others, our real motive was to destroy evil, we should look for evil where it is certain to be found, and that is in our own hearts."

May we pray the prayer of the tax-collector and not the Pharisee - "Have mercy on me a sinner!"

9.29.2009

What is Wrong with the World?

What's Wrong with the World What's Wrong with the World by G.K. Chesterton


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Again, never disappointed. He has been called "The Apostle of Common Sense" and "The Prince of Paradox" - and rightfully so. What may be maddening for some is that Chesterton does not give a straightforward argument from science or reason. His style is the argument from fairy tales. He draws on things that ring true and smell right.

In this book, he takes on the problems with liberalism and conservatism. Essentially, he argues the problem with both of them is that they lack an "ideal." Without an ideal there is nothing to progress towards, and neither is there anything to conserve.

In the scope of this book, Chesterton takes the ideal of the happy and healthy family, and demonstrates how the collectivism of the liberals and the oppression of the conservatives both work against and undermine the sustainability of the family. But if I continue to try and describe his argument, I will fail miserably because I will describe it with such inferiority that you will lose your motivation to actually read him.

I will only attempt to describe for what he is arguing. It is distributionism. Unlike socialists, he believes in property. He believes in each family working, possessing, and caring their own family and their own property. Unlike the so-called "Capitalists" - and I say so-called because he argues that they are actually the enemies of capitalism - he believes in the distribution of wealth (not state ownership but that each person would be given land and a house to own). He argues that there is no other way to make progress toward this ideal than to redistribute wealth because the poor families will not be able to attain to the ideal under the current inequalities of wealth.

The book is written in 1910 but is still very relevant for today. However, you quickly notice that he lives on the other side of such movements as woman's suffrage and politically correctness. So, you may find a few things uncomfortable, but you need to take him in his context.

View all my reviews >>

9.22.2009

Dostoyevsky and Human Depravity

In his Notes from Underground, Dostoyevsky directly challenges the enlightenment thinkers of his day (the late 19th Century). He does so through the testimony of the underground man, who has sought to live their ideology to its logical ends. To those who believed that man’s freedom and happiness was to be found in becoming an awakened or enlightened—or we might say educated—individual, he offers the underground man. This man’s new consciousness opened his eyes to his own wickedness. This man’s quest for personal enlightenment, made him isolated and inactive. He was awakened to a war within himself, and he was at war with everyone around him (precisely because he thought himself more intelligent and more conscious). He is miserable. He lives in a world of ideas unable to “live life” and unable to love. He is presented as enlightened individualism at its logical end.

Even today, enlightenment is presented as our answer. How many times have you heard education as the answer to the problems plaguing our world? The assumption is that when we become conscious of what is good for us, we will stop doing destructive things. The underground man offers the following rant:

“Oh, tell me, who first announced, who as the first to proclaim that man does dirty only because he doesn’t know his real interests; and that were he to be enlightened, were his eyes to be opened to his real, normal interests, man would immediately stop doing dirty, would immediately become good and noble, because, being enlightened and understanding his real profit, he would see his real profit precisely in the good, and it’s common knowledge that no man can act knowingly against his own profit, consequently, out of necessity, so to speak, he would start doing good? Oh, the babe! Oh, the pure, innocent child! And when was it, to begin with, in all these thousands of years, that man acted solely for his own profit? What is to be done with the millions of facts testifying to how people knowingly, that is, fully understanding their real profit, would put it in second place and throw themselves onto another path, a risk, a perchance, not compelled by anyone or anything, but precisely as if they simply did not want the designed path, and stubbornly, willfully pushed off onto another one, difficult, absurd, searching for it all but in the dark. So, then, this stubbornness and willfulness were really more agreeable to them than any profit…Profit!”

According to the introduction of this book, Fyodor wrote to his brother lamenting the fact that the editors of Epoch (the magazine in which it was originally published) had censured the parts where he deduced “the need for faith and Christ.” As it stands, the book is an effective defense of the first half of the Gospel—there is no one who is good, not one. The book begins with the words: “I am a sick man…I am a wicked man.” And like the tax-collector in the Temple, that is the place where we must begin as well. “Have mercy on me a sinner!”

9.11.2009

Two Words with Terribly Broad Definitions

In The Mark of the Christian, Francis Schaeffer urges true Christians to love all human beings, especially to love their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ; and this love is the mark of the Christian (drawn from John 13:33-35). But in light of the failure on the part of so-called Christians to love one another, plus their wide divergence of beliefs, he remarks: "The meaning of the word Christian has been reduced to practically nothing." Schaeffer has in mind the question of whether the liberal theologian is really in the same camp as the Christian fundamentalist sitting in the pew. What is it to be a Christian?

Perhaps we can restore the meaning of this word by asking what it was in the first and second centuries to be a Christian.

A second word that suffers from a similar loss of meaning is the word evangelical. Grenz, Guretzki, and Nordling's Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms provides a concise definition: "In its most general sense evangelical means being characterized by a concern for the essential core of the Christian message, which proclaims the possibility of salvation through the person and work of Jesus Christ. More specifically, evangelicalism has been used to refer to the transdenominational and international movement that emphasizes the need to experience personal conversion through belief in Christ and his work on the cross, and a commitment to the authority of Scripture as the infallible guide for Christian faith and practice." My question at this point is whether this leaves Joel Osteen out of the evangelical camp. I gather from the popular culture that Osteen is considered to be an evangelical; but the dictionary definition seems to rule him out. Is the popular definition of the word evangelical too broad, as is that of the word Christian? I tend to think it is. But what do you think? What comes to mind when you hear that someone is an evangelical?

(Note: The quotation from Schaeffer's The Mark of the Christian appears on p. 135 of his The Church at the End of the 20th Century, published by IVP, as the former book was originally an appendix of the latter book.)

8.28.2009

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was a prominent Irish playwright. His works address serious social issues through satire. Though you would not be able to tell from his picture, he was pretty freakin' funny.

He was an advocate for liberalism and socialism and a critic of religion, moralism, and capitalism. He was friend and sparring partner of one of my favs, G.K Chesterton, and though they fiercely disagreed with each other's worldviews, they maintained a cordial relationship. Reading them together is very interesting as many of their debates are predecessors of today’s. Thus, while reading them, I am always surprised by how relevant they are for today, even though they were writing in the early 20th Century.

Pygmalion is one of his most celebrated plays, which earned him both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar. Eventually it would be adapted into the musical My Fair Lady. It addresses the relationships and conflicts between the classes.

Doctor's Dilemma seems every bit as relevant - and perhaps more so - than it was in 1906, given the current health care debate. It addresses the problems of health care driven by profitability and self-interest as opposed to patient care. Obviously, it makes a case for socialized health care.

8.08.2009

The Practice of the Presence of God

Brother Lawrence gives us an example of what it is to "pray without ceasing." This book is a real challenge -- an invitation, even -- to pray and to spend your entire day contemplating God. The end result of such a spiritual discipline is a kind of ecstasy, as the Christian realizes the glory of God. The Christian who practices the presence of God seeks to honor God in every task, whether it be washing dishes or going away for a quiet time of prayer. Brother Lawrence made no distinction between the two:

"The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament."

8.07.2009

The Great Divorce

Exegetes and expositors no doubt wish that Lewis had been a more precise interpreter. Rationalists no doubt wish he had stuck with explaining what is real. But I think Lewis' brilliance is his ability to use fantasy and mythology to speak of things more real than could properly be exposited or explained.

To read this book for facts about Heaven and Hell would be a mistake. To read this as an exposition of the afterlife, I think, would be a mistake. This book, I believe, is an exposition of the great gospel truth: "He who loses his life, finds it." Lewis is illustrating real life, real love, and real happiness. And the key is self-forgetfulness. Those who fail to enter Heaven are those who cannot get over themselves - their ambition, their suffering, their rights, and so on. Those who enter, who become more real and experiences life more fully than they could imagine, are those who come into the light to have their shame painfully exposed and lose themselves in love for God and others.

Put down your self-help books! Your discontentment comes not because you have failed to consider yourselves. You are unhappy not because you have not attended properly to your own happiness. It is precisely your grasping, which keeps you from it. You are dying because you have not lost yourself. You have not yet forgotten yourself.

7.11.2009

A Warning against Making "Converts" and against Dead Orthodoxy

"Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate." [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (revised ed.), trans. R. H. Fuller (New York: Macmillan, 1959), p. 47]

When we evangelize the lost, are we making converts or are we making disciples? I once read on a fundamentalist Baptist Bible college's website that it was having great success making thousands of "converts" each year. (The school emphasizes "soul-winning," which prima facie does not seem to require more than a person's "accepting" Christ.) I had to wonder whether these converts truly continued in the Church or whether they slipped back into their lives immediately after their evangelists departed. Is this college making disciples? Are pastors and teachers watching over the new converts, or are the converts just being left to themselves after the evangelists get a "decision for Christ" out of them? Bonhoeffer calls us to exercise more care in evangelism and in the Christian life.

One could also pull from Bonhoeffer a much-needed warning against dead orthodoxy, the acceptance of Christian doctrine with little or no improvement in sanctification and a lack of good works. The ability to recite the creeds, confessions, and catechisms does not amount to salvation. These can certainly instruct Christians, and I value them greatly; but Christians must always remember their Shepherd, who calls them take up their crosses daily, following him (and loving him in obedience). Christians must remember what (or who) their faith is in and not take the gospel message lightly.

7.08.2009

Dietrich and a Deadly Infection

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church.

These are the opening words of the first chapter in Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. In his introduction, Bonhoeffer laments over a church life that is surprisingly similar to our own even though the book was published in 1937. The complaints of this 31 year old pastor mirror eerily those of today’s emerging leaders. For Bonhoeffer, however, the need was not for updates in our forms or our theologies. The disease was not an outdated church. The church’s irrelevance was not due to the style of worship or preaching. The disease, rather, was cheap grace.

I have long suspected that the origin of our spiritual impotence was being misplaced, that the problem with our lives and our churches had little to do with our modes of communication or with our ways of doing church. The problem was simply unbelief. We were deceived to think that if we possessed the right message and signed off on the right doctrine, or if we just updated in the right ways, we would be ipso facto Christ’s church—and effective. The life of repentance and obedience had nothing to do with it. We asked for greater faith but were unfaithful with the most basic commands. We prayed for miracles, but never risked doing anything that would require one. We desired more of the Spirit in our midst, but never got on our knees to pray, much less got up and obeyed him when he led.

Bonhoeffer is dealing with this problem. If you are concerned with the state of Christianity, you could do worse than setting down your church strategy books for a moment and engaging the prophetic message of this young Lutheran pastor. If you are wondering why your own life sucks so bad, you could do worse than setting down your self-help books for a moment and wrestling with the call Bonhoeffer sets before us.

7.07.2009

Brett recommends...

American's are profoundly unhappy. I can say this without doubt. This is evidenced in our commitment to entertainment. This is evidenced in our worship of celebrity. This is evidenced in our addictions to things. And this is evidenced in our reading. How-to's and self-help's line our shelves. From money to marriage to sex, American's are wookin' pa'nub in all the wrong places. Might I suggest a very small piece of fiction written by a very dead person?

Read Manalive by G.K. Chesterton. I know I quote him a lot. I fully confess that I have a non-sexual and trans-historical crush on this man. It's just that I have never met someone I wanted to be like more than him. And with that, I prove my own unhappy and covetous heart. Even when I don't agree with him, I am never bored with him. And in this story you will find something of the Art of Happiness.

A little sample. A quote about he main character, Innocent Smith.
There grew upon Inglewood an almost creepy sense of the real childishness of this creature. For Smith was really, so far as human psychology can be, innocent. He had the sensualities of innocence; he loved the stickiness of gum and he cut white wood greedily as if he were cutting cake. To this man wine was not a doubtful thing to be defended or denounced; it was a quaintly-coloured syrup, such as a child sees in a shop window. He talked dominantly and rushed the social situation; but he was not asserting himself, like a superman in a modern play. He was simply forgetting himself, like a little boy at a party. He had somehow made a giant stride from babyhood to manhood, and missed that crisis in youth when most of us grow old. (p. 14)

7.04.2009

Brett Recommends...

Just skimmed through George Eldon Ladd’s The Gospel of the Kingdom. I have been edified before by his New Testament Theology and Blessed Hope. I think I can safely recommend this as a book all Christians sitting our pews would benefit by reading. Ladd himself makes it clear that this book is proclamation and not detailed argumentation, so it is clear and easy to read. It is a good introduction.

Ladd’s theology is indebted to German theologian Oscar Cullman (see his Christ and Time), but a reading of Ladd is a great cure for all kinds of infections like:
*Pre-tribulational rapture
*Dispensationalism
*Gospel as getting to Heaven
*The Left Behind Series
*Hal Lindsey

7.03.2009

The Didache: Reconciliation Required

Jesus made a pretty big deal about being reconciled with others, which makes it even more surprising that in contemporary churches there is such apathy over reconciliation with each other. It seems that many are quite content to leave all that for heaven. This was not Jesus’ thinking, however. A forgiven people ought to be a forgiving people. A people reconciled to God should reconcile with each other.

This was so for the early Christians represented by The Didache. After laying out the criteria for authenticity, the text turns to the commands about their gathering on the Lord’s day. What is interesting to me, is that there are only two instructions: (1) break bread and give thanks (Eucharist) and (2) reconcile with each other before hand.

Chapter 14 says:
Now after gathering for the Lord’s own day, break bread and give thanks, having confessed your trespasses before hand, so that your sacrifice may be pure. But if anyone has a quarrel with his companion, let him not come together with you until they reconcile, in order that your sacrifice might not be defiled. For this is what was spoken by the Lord, “In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice because I am a great king,” says the Lord, “and my name is wonderful among the nations [Mal 1:14]. (Did 14:1-3 BB)

This is clearly an application of Jesus’ words from Matt 5:23-24, where Jesus addresses the command “You shall not murder.” Beyond literal murder, Jesus condemns anger, hatred, and conflict. Jesus says that if somebody is going to offer their sacrifice and realize that one of his brothers has something against him, he is to drop everything and reconcile before coming back to make the offering. Most people can say, “Well, I haven’t killed anybody.” Nobody can say, “Well, I have never been angry with anybody or been in conflict with anyone.” But these sins are just as severe in the mind of Jesus. Our relationship with each other was closely related to our relationship with God, such that Jesus could say if you do not forgive others, neither will your father forgive you. And these early Christians took this seriously. Confession and reconciliation had to happen before worship with the community would be allowed.

Can you even conceive of this taking place in today’s churches? What would it take to take this seriously? Do you think a commitment to this might be necessary for any kind of spiritual renewal to begin?

7.02.2009

On scholarship and the church

"When a gulf exists between the lecture-room and the pulpit, sterility in the class-room and superficiality in the pulpit often result." George Eldon Ladd in the Forward of The Gospel of the Kingdom

7.01.2009

The Didache: Discerning the Real Deal

In chapter 10, we saw the instructions for how the community was to order their Eucharist. This was clearly a shared meal rather than a snack appended to a worship service.

This leads to what I think is the most interesting section of the text as it gives a window into early Christians’ ethics and the criteria of authenticity. In chapters 11-13, we find instructions on how the community was to go about the process of discerning whether someone was the real deal. What it assumes is that—in the same way we see it in the NT—the itinerate teachers and traveling Christians passing through town occurred regularly. It demanded a great deal of hospitality but also a great deal of discernment.

The section breaks down as follows:
(1) Visiting teachers (11:1-2)
(2) Visiting apostles and prophets (11:3-12)
(A) Apostles (11:3-6)
(B) Prophets (11:7-12)
(3) Fellow-Christians (12:1-5)
(A) Passing through (12:1-2)
(B) Wishing to settle (12:3-5)
(4) Prophets and teachers wishing to settle (13:1-7)

Because many came through in the name of the Lord, it was important to discern the legit from the posers. Jesus made it clear that many would claim to be his but will not be (Matt 7:15-20). Nevertheless, Jesus’ true apostles and prophets were sent traveling, and their lives depended upon the hospitality of others. This, I think, provides a better context to understand Jesus’ words: “He who receives you receives me” (Matt 10:40) and “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40).

The Test -
The teacher: Should be received and listened to if their teaching conforms to the teaching they have already received. If the teacher strays from it by teaching another teaching which undermines it, they should be rejected. Only teachers, who promote righteousness and knowledge of the Lord, should be received as the Lord (cf. Matt 10).

The apostle: This clearly implies the position of apostle extends beyond the twelve. Just as with teachers, the apostles were to be received as the Lord. Interestingly, the sole criterion for discerning false apostles had to do with their disposition to provisions. The apostle was only to stay one or two days. If they stayed longer, they were false. Likewise, the apostles were to be sent away with a day’s provision of bread that would get them to next stop. If the apostle asked to be paid in money, they were false.

The prophet: The criteria for judging prophets was severely complicated by their understanding of Jesus’ teaching on the unforgivable sin in Matt 12:30-31, which is paraphrased here: Every sin will be forgiven, but this sin will not be forgiven (Did 11:7 BAB). This sin, in the context of Matt 12 is clearly the attribution to Beelzebub (or Satan) things done and said by the Holy Spirit. For this reason, the community was commanded not to judge the prophet’s words in a spirit but rather the deeds of his life: But everyone who speaks by a spirit is a prophet, but if he should have the behavior of the Lord. Therefore, by the behavior, the false prophet and the prophet will be known (Did 11:8 BAB). What behavior were they to watch? One, which I do not quite understand, seems to have something to do with their behavior at meals (v. 9). Second, if they teach truth but do not do it. Third, if they have been tested and found genuine and then practice worldly mystery for the church, they should not be judged by the church. This a difficult line to understand, but may be something like when the OT prophets would enact bizarre and sometimes inappropriate acts to illustrate their prophetic message. Finally, with regards to money, if someone requests money for himself, they are false; on the other hand, it is fine if they are requesting money for others.

Fellow-Christians: Those who came in the name of the Lord but were not teachers or prophets, were to be tested. However, no details are given, only that they will be able to discern it. These Christians were only to stay a couple of days—like the apostles—and then sent on their way. However, if these brethren desired to settle with them, they were required to apply a trade to provide for themselves. If they could not, then the community was to decide how to handle it, but they are warned not to accept anyone who refused work.

Finally, teachers and prophets wishing to dwell with them permanently, were to be provided for. It says, the community should provide for them out of their first fruits. These leaders are likened to the OT prophets and priests who were to be provided for by the rest of the nation. If no such leaders lived among them, however, they were to collect for the poor.

6.29.2009

The Didache: Communion

Didache 10:1 begins Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks in this way. Actually, there is a little word play here, in that the Greek word eucharistia means thanksgiving. So it reads almost like Now concerning the thanksgiving, give thanks in this way. This is actually significant in that the teaching here seems to emphasize giving thanks more than themes of remembrance (of the blood and body) or covenant (cf. Matt 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:15-20; 1 Cor 11:23-25). The emphasis of these prayers has more to do with thanksgiving, unity of the church, and a prayer for preservation until the Lord’s return (cf. 1 Cor 11:26).

It seems that this practice was an actual meal rather than what we are accustomed to in our worship services. This is evidenced by the fact that prayers of thanksgiving are given for the cup, the broken bread, and after being filled.

The meal was limited to baptized believers; the unbaptized were explicitly prohibited from sharing in the meal (Did 9:5). Interestingly enough Jesus’ words in Matthew (7:6) “Do not give dogs what is sacred,” are used as the rationale.

This protocol was to be generally followed by the church, but if a prophet wanted to lead the meal in a different way, the church was to submit to them. This is followed by criteria for discerning legit prophets from the false, which we will get into next time.

6.27.2009

"The Mystery of Godliness": A Sermon by John Calvin

The title of this sermon may lead one to expect Calvin to give a mystical spin on proper Christian living, what we today often call "godly behavior." But the sermon is actually an exposition of 1 Timothy 3:16 -- "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." Calvin takes this occasion to give a clear, orthodox presentation of the doctrine of the two natures of Christ.

Francis Schaeffer in How Should We Then Live? remarked that the Reformation was no golden age of Christianity, and Calvin here evidences that Christians in his time resemble Christians in our own. It is now as it was then: Christians don't know what they believe. That is, Christians don't know Christian doctrine, the teachings foundational to the Gospel. As Calvin notes, people are too occupied with their lives and fail both to read the Scriptures and to comprehend the truth of God as given in the sermons they hear. Indeed, how often do even faithful church attenders walk out the door and immediately forget the content of that day's sermon! Lunchtime afflicts us with a dulling amnesia. (Perhaps we should schedule the sermon earlier in the service.)

Calvin stresses the centrality of the doctrine of the two natures of Christ to the Gospel. Our atonement is secured in the righteousness of the one Jesus Christ, who is both God and man. As the righteous man, Christ sacrificed himself so that we might be justified, and he now mediates between God and us, as he is able to represent us, being of the same nature as we are. Yet as Christ is also God, we can trust in him. When Calvin quotes part of Jeremiah 17:5, it becomes evident that Calvin is not merely saying that Christ is trustworthy or dependable, but rather that he is more than just a man; observe Jeremiah 17:5a & 7 (NIV) -- "This is what the LORD says: 'Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength. . . . But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him." This passage reflects Calvin's frequent contrasts in this sermon between the power and majesty of God (particularly as revealed in Christ) and the weakness of man. All in all, Calvin invites us to meditate on the mystery of the Incarnation and of the two natures of Christ in order "to nourish our faith" and to avoid past heresies, which Satan has used to threaten the salvation message of Christianity.

6.22.2009

The Mystery

"All science, even the divine science, is a sublime detective story. Only it is not set to detect why a man is dead; but the darker secret of why he is alive." - G.K. Chesterton, The Thing

The Didache: Baptism, Fasting, & Prayer

This is to me is where The Didache gets interesting. Moving from broadly accepted virtues, the text begins to describe the very specific rules prescribed for this community’s daily and weekly practices. We get more detailed description on how things were actually performed here than in the NT (and maybe there is a reason of that). It should be noted that this document represents a particular tradition and it would be too much to say this is how the early church did it. Nevertheless, for those who reference the early church as the ground for how things ought to be done, an appropriate question to ask is “How early?” because this is an example of an orthodox community existing during or closely after the apostolic period. As you will see, this is not where you want to go if you want to demonstrate how the early church was a free-wheeling, ritual-less organism (as opposed to our ritual-laden institution).

The first thing said about baptism is that:
after all of these [things] are spoken beforehand, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living water. (Did 7:1 BAB)

“These things” probably refers to the material in “The Two Ways” (chs 1-5). What is literally “speaking beforehand” isn’t clear exactly what that is but definitely includes some period of instruction and perhaps the memorization and recitation of “The Two Ways.” This is the earliest example—outside of Matthew 28:19—of the Trinitarian formula being used in baptism. Living water shows that it was preferable to baptize in a running body; however, the text gives an order of preference to be followed depending on availability (7:3):
(1) Living water
(2) Cold water
(3) Warm water
(4) A pitcher over the head 3x (for the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit).

Before the baptism, both the baptizer and the baptized were to fast for one or two days. Others in the community were invited to fast along with them (7:4).

Their fasts were not to coincide with the “hypocrites,” which is likely a reference to Jews. The “hypocrites” fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, and so these Christians were commanded to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays (8:1).

Their prayers were also not to be “like the hypocrites”, rather they should “pray like this”, which introduced The Lord’s Prayer essentially as we find it Matthew (6:9-13; contrast Luke 11:2-4). (It is interesting that the Lord’s Prayer is given in Matthew to distinguish them from the way the Gentiles prayed, and here it is to distinguish themselves from Jews.) This prayer was to be prayed three times per day.

You can clearly see the formation of daily and weekly rituals and rhythms regarding fasting and prayer. What I also find interesting is how baptism is taken seriously and given time. This is far different than the spontaneity you find in Acts. New converts spent time being initiated and instructed in the faith before they were baptized. I am impressed that fasting accompanied the baptism and that it was communal in that others were invited to participate—not the just the baptized.

What do you think? Is this an example of Christianity already being spoiled? Or is there something to learn from here?

6.19.2009

The Didache: Food and Idolatry

Many of us have read Paul’s teaching on meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8-10) with a certain level of confusion. It, for one, is one of those passages with a tremendous amount of common knowledge assumed between author and audience. These situations and practices are simply foreign to us. It, for two, is a long argument and takes some effort to follow. It, for three, seems to be broken up by a strange rabbit trail about his right earn a living, take a wife, and Israel’s wilderness wanderings (9:1-10:13) before returning to food sacrificed to idols.

Many interpreters understand Paul’s command on this subject to go something like this: eating meat sacrificed to idols is acceptable, just be careful not to cause others to stumble (or of course if it was a part of actual idolatrous worship). Enter a problem, in two other books of the Bible this practice is prohibited. First, when Paul met with James concerning his Gentile mission, James gave him a short list of things for the Gentiles to avoid, the first being meat sacrificed to idols (Acts 15:29; 21:25 NRSV). Second, in the letters to the seven churches, the practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols is one of the things Christ condemns in the churches of Pergamum and Thyatira (Rev 2:14, 20 NRSV). So, why should Paul think it is OK?

Enter another problem. The Didache also seems to prohibit the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. We have discussed how this manual opens with the doctrine of the two ways (chs 1-5). The second section (chs 6-15) is the “rulebook” and prescribes the specific practices in the church. The very first issue in this section has to do with food.

Now concerning food, bear what you are able, but because of meat sacrificed to idols be extremely careful, for it is worship of the gods of death. (Did 6:3 BAB)

The first part, bear what you are able is a little ambiguous, but echoes the verse before where the writer says that if you are able to bear the whole yoke of the Lord, you will be complete, but if you are not able, do what you can (6:2 BAB). Maybe this means that they should do everything they can to avoid meat sacrificed to idols, but acknowledges that culturally this would be very difficult? At any rate, to eat this stuff is to participate in the worship of the gods of death.

Back to Paul, is Paul saying that consciously eating meat sacrificed to idols is OK in certain circumstances? I used to think so, but now I think he might be doing something else. This post is already too long, so let me briefly explain what I think Paul is doing. Paul is doing what I think every father has to do with his children. When one son takes the toy from another who refuses to share, a father has to address two issues. First, the thief must understand that he must not steal, and he must not covet but learn contentment. Second, the hoarder must understand it is good and right to share and must learn to enjoy the joy of others.

I think this is what Paul is doing. He first grants the argument of those who think food is no big and demonstrates why even so they are wrong to eat it because they fail to love and consider their brothers. They have destroyed fellowship and unity and disregarded their brothers by their insistence on exercising their rights. This is where Paul’s apparent rabbit trail fits perfectly as he demonstrates how he has surrendered his legitimate rights for the sake of his love of God and the Corinthians. After that, he gives a warning in the example of Israel, who after being redeemed, sinned and failed to enter the Promised Land. “Therefore,” he says, “Flee from the worship of idols” (cf. Did 6:3). What is the big deal though? For Paul, just as the Christian eating of the bread and drinking of the cup is a mysterious participation in the sacrifice of Christ—and in addition to that, it is a symbol of unity with all the members of the church—so consciously eating meat sacrificed to idols is a participation in idolatry, which Paul says is demonic. Thus, the believers’ allegiance to Christ made it impossible for them to then divide their loyalty in unity with the idolatrous culture that surrounded them.

For those with a sensitive conscious, Paul then gives them instruction on how to practice this, which basically amounts to this: if you are ignorant of the meat’s origin, you are innocent, but when you become aware that the meat is sacrificed to idols then you must abstain. Because these idolatrous practices were so pervasive in the culture it would have been extremely difficult to avoid, and perhaps this is why The Didache in the same spirit says, “Do what you can.”

To summarize, for Paul there are (at least) two principles at work in this issue. (1) Our love and unity with our fellow-believers trumps our personal rights and desires. (2) Our love and loyalty to Christ means we must not divide loyalties with the idolatrous practices of the surrounding culture. Even our food provides an opportunity to embody this. The Didache, in profoundly fewer words, agrees by putting this first.

6.18.2009

"The End" with the Church Fathers

Contrary to what appears to be popular belief, the earliest church fathers (e.g., Papias, Polycarp) were premillennial, largely because of the teaching of a certain apostle named John. Eusebius claims he is differnt than the son of Zebedee, but most Fathers claim he, in fact, is the one who walked with Jesus in Galilee. Irenaeus, who essentially defines "orthodoxy," preserves the following saying from Jesus. I will provide his context, the saying, and a few comments:

The blessing thus foretold undoubtedly belongs to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall rise from those who are dead and reign, when creation, too, renewed and freed from bondage, shall produce an abundance of food all kinds from the dew of heaven and from the fertility of the earth, just as the elders, who saw John the disciple of the Lord, remembered having heard from him how the Lord used to teach about those times and say:

“Days shall come, when vines shall grow, each having ten thousand shoots, and on each shoot ten thousand branches, and on each branch ten thousand twigs, and on each twig ten thousand clusters, and in each cluster ten thousand grapes, and each grape when crushed shall yield twenty-five measures of wine. [3] And when one of the holy ones takes hold of a cluster, another cluster shall cry out: “I am better, take me, bless the Lord through me.” [4] Similarly, a grain of wheat will produce ten thousand heads, and every head will have ten thousand grains, and every grain ten pounds of fine flour, white and clean. [5] And the other fruits, seeds, and grass shall produce in similar proportions, and all the animals feeding on these fruits produced by the soil shall in turn become peaceful and harmonious toward one another, and fully subject to humankind.”

[6] Papias, a man of the early period, who was a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp, bears witness to these things in writing in the fourth of his books, for there are five books composed by him. [7] And he goes on to say:

“These things are believable to those who believe.”

“And,” he says, “when Judas the traitor did not believe and asked:

‘How, then, will such growth be accomplished by the Lord?’

the Lord said:

‘Those who live until those times will see.’”

For the citation, see Against Heresies 5.33.3-4.

Comment: The language echoes Jesus’ canonical teaching (e.g., the parables throughout Matthew 13; see also 5:5). We find a similar yet less extravagant vision in 1 Enoch:

"Then all the earth will be tilled in righteousness, and all of it will be planted with trees and filled with blessing; [19] and all the trees of joy will be planted on it. They will plant vines on it, and every vine that will be planted on it will yield a thousand jugs of wine, and of every seed that is sown on it, each measure will yield a thousand measures, and each measure of olives will yield ten baths of oil." (10:18-19; tr. Nickelsburg and VanderKam)

The early church valued 1 Enoch, which eventually became canonical for the Ethiopic Church (Jude 14-15). As we noted already, the saying fits the theological vision of Revelation 20. These logia of Jesus also explain the millennialism of Papias, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Victor, and others.

The two primary states are fecundity and peace. There is a surplus of food and wine, in anticipation of the Messianic Banquet. The earth will also produce food (fruits, seeds, and grass) that will create harmony among the animals, which previously ate another.

The Mosaic Law begins with the ideal setting of a garden, in which human beings and animals do not eat one another but live in peaceful harmony (Gen 2:19-20). God says:

"Look, I gave you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. [30] And to every creeper of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every grass for food." (Gen 1:29-30)

God also intends human beings to sow and harvest grain from the field:

And no plant of the field was yet on the land, and no (cultivated) grain of the field had yet sprouted, because the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land and there was no man to work the ground. (Gen 2:5)

Literary parallelism ties “cultivated grain” with “man” (Hebrew roots). God gave us hands with opposable thumbs to cut channels for irrigation, cast seed, cut the harvest, and separate the chaff from the head of grain (wheat, barley, etc.). God provides what we need for our daily bread. Only after the fall and subsequent flood does God allow the consumption of animal flesh (Gen 9:3-4).

Perhaps the central claim of the Gospels is that Jesus inaugurated a messianic era, the Kingdom of God, which is presented by the Prophets and Gospels, in part, as a return to Eden. Jesus reverses the curse (Gen 3:14-19).

The disciple may embrace vegetarianism as a prophetic act—“a witness to the world that God’s creation is not meant to be at war with itself,” as S. Hauerwas and J. Berkman put it (1993, 62). As Isaiah’s messiah, Jesus will one day bring peace between predator and prey (11:6-9). But this vision requires the physiological transformation (resurrection?) of a predator’s body. Animals still eat animals, and, more importantly, some animals must eat animals to thrive—“obligate carnivores,” such as lions.

We do not find an equivalent saying in the Fourth Gospel, but John or his circle of disciples claim to have been profoundly selective (21:25).

6.10.2009

a switch for studying ded peepl

Perhaps I have taken a deep draft of the Kool-Aid, but if you have seen the light and gone Mac, then you must look at Accordance for your Bible Software. It is great for accessing the writers of Scripture, but it also includes tons of other writers - ded and alive. Brett gives it two thumbs up.
Accordance Bible Software

5.27.2009

The Didache: The Way of Death

While the first section is dominated by an extended discussion on the way of life, it closes with a brief vice list illustrating the way of death.

Now the way of death is this: First of all, [it] is evil and full of cursing, murders, adulteries, lusts, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, sorceries, extortions, false witnesses, hypocrisies, fickle (lit. double-hearted), deceit, pride, evil, stubborn, greed, filthy speech, jealousy, audacity, pride, boasting, persecutors of good, haters of truth, lovers of a lie, those who do not know the reward of justice, those who do not cleave to good nor a just judgment, those who are not on alert for the good but for the wicked, those who are far from gentleness and endurance, lovers of vanity, pursuers of repayment, those who do not show mercy to the poor, those who do not labor for the oppressed, those who do not know the one who made them, murderers of children, corruptors of what is formed by God, those who turn away the needy, those who oppress the afflicted, advocates for rich [men], lawless judges of the poor, thoroughly sinful; may you be delivered, children, from all of these [things]. (Did 5:1-2, BAB)

As was said in a previous post, this is a vice list in similar form to many found in other ancient ethical texts. The content of this list does not parallel any one NT example, but it is clearly a compilation of vices found through the NT. It is interesting to compare this list with those found in Matt 5:19, Luke 6, Romans 1, Galatians 5, Ephesians 4, Colossians 3, 1 Peter 2, and 2 Peter 1.

What is also interesting is that the beginning of this list begins: “First of all it is evil [poneros].” It concludes with a prayer for new members: “may you be delivered [rhuomai] from all these things.” Anything come to mind? “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us [rhuomai] from evil [poneros].”

This first section (i.e., the two ways) leads into the meat of the manual, but this beginning section spells out the values of the community. New members would have likely accepted and learned (possibly memorized) this section before they were baptized. The rules on baptism (in ch. 7) begin with: “after [they] have previously spoken all of these [things], baptize…”

5.26.2009

Free Ded Peepl

Here is a great little resource if you are (1) an audiobook type of person or (2) looking for a way to catch up on your ded peepl.

http://librivox.org/

Thousands of pieces of literature in the public domain are being recorded by volunteers and made available to all for download - FOR FREE.

5.22.2009

The Didache: First Things First


If you had a new convert to Christianity joining your church, or if you had somebody inquiring about what such a conversion would mean, what would you tell him or her? What is the instruction to which you would point them? You might want to point them to correct theology. You might want to help them get to know Jesus. You might want to ground them in the doctrine of justification by faith. If you wanted to emphasize the way of life rather than theology, what would you present as of first importance? You might point them to the disciplines of prayer, meditation, or scripture reading. You might help them clean up their mouth or their life.

The Didache, our earliest extant church manual, begins, as we have noted, with the doctrine of two ways. The new member to their community is grounded in the choice between two ways of life. Just like Jesus, and several strands of Judaism before him, the person is presented with two paths—one leading to destruction and the other to life.

The two ways are then explained (Way of Life = 1:2-4:14; Way of Death = 5:1-2). We will focus on the way of life in this post. This way is summarized:

Thus, on the one hand the way of life is this: first, you shall love the God, who made you; second, your neighbor as yourself. And as many things as you would not want to happen to you, neither shall you do to another. (1:2, BAB)

Although not a word for word quotation, this summary very clearly alludes to the Greatest Commandments and the Golden Rule found in the Synoptic Gospels. In Matt 7:12 and Luke 6:31, Jesus presents what we know as the Golden Rule in the positive form (i.e. as you would want men to do to you, do to them also). The Didache’s use of the negative (i.e., do not do) is not unknown to Judaism. In the Mishnah (b. Shabb. 31a), the command is attributed to Rabbi Hillel, who lived 100 years before Jesus. In addition, a version of this is found in the Pseudepigraphal work Letter of Aristeas (Aristeas 207) written in the second century B.C. The former presents it—as Jesus does—as the summation of the Law. The latter presents it as the answer to the question: What does wisdom teach?

Jesus’ answer to “What is the greatest commandment?” is to combine the commands of The Shema (Deut 6:4-5) and Lev 19:18. The language of The Shema (i.e., to love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength) is found here as “You shall love the God, who made you.”

The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18) was generally taken to imply fellow Jews. At this time, this was narrowed by some to members of their particular sect (e.g. CD 1:9-10). Outsiders/enemies were to be hated. However, following closely—but not exactly—Jesus’ teachings in Luke 6:31-36, The Didache interprets this command in terms of love for enemies, blessing persecutors, and giving to those who will not be able to repay (1:3-6). For these early Christians, Jesus’ pattern of radical love for enemies, non-resistance, and selfless giving is of first importance. In fact, the one who is able to turn their cheek is said to be perfect, and the one who can give without demanding back is said to be innocent.

So, what does your membership curriculum start with?

4.20.2009

The Didache: The Two Paths


The Didache opens with the words “hodoi dyo eisi” (There are two ways/paths). One path, it says, is of life; the other of death. These two paths are explained in a list of virtues and vices.

This way of describing the ethics of a community is common in Judaism. Based in the blessings and curses of the covenant, life is set before each individual as a choice. But there are only two! Deuteronomy puts it this way:

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. (Deut 11:26-28, NIV)

In the Dead Sea Scrolls, we possess a fragment of what seems to be a comment on Deuteronomy:

He is setting [before you a blessing and a curse. These are] t[wo] paths, one goo[d and one evil. If you walk in the good path,] He will bless you. But if you walk in the [evil] path, [He will curse you in your going out] and in your [ten]ts. He will exterminate you, [smiting you and the product of your toil with blight] and mildew, snow, ice and hai[l …] along with all [….] [….] (4Q473 f2)

It is also of note that both of the manuals or rules found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (The Rule of the Community and The Damascus Document), which are not all that unlike The Didache in nature, contain a section grounding the initiate or member into the values of the community.

In The Rule of the Community (1QS), “The instructor” is to teach all “the sons of light” about their spirits. This is known as the “Two Spirits”. This community believed God had placed a spirit of truth and a spirit of deceit in each man to walk in until the day of judgment (1QS 3:17-19). Each of these “spirits” leads to a different path: “In the hand of the Prince of Light is dominion over all the sons of justice; they shall walk on paths of light. And in the hand of the Angel of Darkness is complete dominion over all the sons of deceit, and they shall walk in the paths of darkness (1QS 3:20-21). Later it says, “And he created the spirits of light and darkness, and upon them he established every deed” (1QS 3:25). This leads into a list of vices and virtue—just like The Didache—described again as paths. The path of light leads to healing, a long life, fruitful offspring, etc. The path of darkness leads to destruction, damnation, humiliation, etc.

In The Damascus Document, “all those who enter the covenant” are commanded to listen while the instructor opens their ears to paths of the wicked so that they can walk perfectly on God’s paths (CD 2:2-3, 15-16).

Jesus himself, after setting out the commands for those who want to enter the kingdom of God in the Sermon on the Mount, rounds it out with warnings, which include the challenge to take the narrow gate: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the path that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the path that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matt 7:13-14).

The Didache continues this tradition, setting before those who want to be members of the community a choice. Those who would choose to be a part of the community are those who choose the path of life. These deeds are to characterize the community, but there is also the sense in which this path is an ideal, and one will likely fall short as the section ends with “For if you are able to bear the whole yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect. But if you are not able, then do what you can” (Did 6:2). We will explore later some of the specific vices and virtues of these two paths in posts to follow.

4.12.2009

Aslan and the Girls

Now, in the spirit of Easter, here is Aslan's encounter with the girls at the stone table in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

****

Then at last, as they stood for a moment staring out at the sea and Cair Paravel (which they could not just make out) the red turned to gold along the line where the sea and the sky met and very slowly up came the edge of the sun. At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise—a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant's plate.

"What's that?" said Lucy, clutching Susan's arm.

...

The rising of the sun had made everything look so different—all the colours and shadows were changed—that for a moment they didn't see the important thing. Then they did. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.

"Oh, it's too band," sobbed Lucy; "they might have left the body alone."

"Who's done it?" cried Susan. "What does it mean? Is it more magic?"

"Yes!" said a great voice behind their backs. "It is more magic." They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.

"Oh, Aslan!" cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as frightened as they were glad.

"Aren't you dead then, dear Aslan?" said Lucy

"Not now," said Aslan.

"You're not—not a—?" asked Susan in a shaky voice. She couldn't bring herself to say the word ghost.

Aslan stooped his golden head and licked her forehead. The warmth of his breath and a rich sort of smell that seemed to hang about his hair came all over her.

"Do I look it?" he said.

"Oh, you’re real, you're real! Oh, Aslan!" cried Lucy and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses.

"But what does it all mean?" asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

"It means," said Aslan, "that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards. And now—"

"Oh yes. Now?" said Lucy jumping up and clapping her hands.

4.11.2009

The Didache: It is not Gospel, So Why Read It?


A pet peeve of mine is when people talk about the early church with very broad strokes and as a way of saying “this is how it necessarily ought to be.” In other words, “This is how things should be done because this is how it was done in the early church.” This gets me for a few reasons. First, it presupposes there was a way the early church did it. I don’t believe there was. Second, there is no clarity as to how early we have to go and when things went wrong. In other words, some people say the golden age was the time before Constantine (i.e., the first three centuries), others while the apostles were still alive (the first century), and others the first few days. Third, it is theologically dubious. If Paul says that the church should be maturing as a man, should we always be going back to childhood to find out what to be like? And if we were more mature 2000 years ago, what does it say about the truthfulness of Paul’s theology? Fourth, it is usually a matter of authority and institutionalism. Thus, we are fed up with the authority structures and institutional order of things, and so we look to the day when things were supposedly so much more free and egalitarian. Fifth, the early church is usually interpreted through our own prejudices. In other words, we see what we want in the early church and thus rationalize our own biases.

That brings me to the Didache (Alternately titled The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles for the Gentiles). What is the Didache? It is the earliest church manual we possess. How early? Most scholars believe that it was written near the end of the 1st Century or very early in the second. This means that the Didache—at least in part—may have been written before some of the later NT books. It seems to reflect an example of Jewish Christian practices. Ultimately, it was not accepted as a part of the NT, but is considered among the documents designated The Apostolic Fathers. It is worth reading—even if we don’t treat it as Gospel—because it gives a concrete example of actual practices in the early church.

The Didache breaks down into three sections that we will look at in subsequent posts.

I. The Two Ways (chs. 1-5)
II. The Manual (chs. 6-15)
III. The Eschatological Warning (ch. 16)

4.10.2009

Aslan and the Witch

In the spirit of Good Friday, some portions from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe when Aslan is put to death.

****

"The Fool!" She cried. "The fool has come. Bind him fast."

Lucy and Susan held their breaths waiting for Aslan's roar and his spring upon his enemies. But it never came. Four hags, grinning and leering, yet also (at first) hanging back and half afraid of what they had to do, had approached him. "Bind him, I say!" repeated the White Witch. The hags made a dart at him and shrieked with triumph when they found that he made no resistance at all. Then others - evil dwarfs and apes - rushed in to help them and between them they rolled the huge Lion round on his back and tied all his four paws together, shouting and cheering as if they had done something brave, though, had the Lion chosen, one of those paws could have been the death of them all. But he made no noise, even when the enemies, straining and tugging, pulled the cords so tight that they cut into his flesh. They began to drag him toward the Stone Table.

"Stop!" said the Witch. "Let him first be shaved."

Another roar of mean laughter went up from her followers as an ogre with a pair of shears came forward and squatted down by Aslan's head...Then the ogre stood back and the children, watch from their hiding-place, could see the face of Aslan looking all small and different without its man. The enemies also saw the difference.
...

"Muzzle him!" said the Witch. And even now, as they worked about his face putting on the muzzle, one bite from his jaws would have cost two or three of them their hands. But he never moved. And this seemed to enrage all that rabble. Everyone was at him now. Those who had been afraid to come near him even after he was bound began to find their courage...
...

When once Aslan had been tied (and tied so tightly that he was really a mass of chords) on the flat stone, a hush fell on the crowd...

At last she drew near. She stood by Aslan's head. Her face was working and twitching with passion, but his looked up at the sky, still quiet, neither angry nor afraid, but a little sad. Then just before she gave the blow, she stooped down and said in a quivering voice,

"And now, who has won? Fool, did you think that by all this you would save the human traitor? Now I will kill you instead of him as our pact was and so the Deep Magic will be appeased. But when you are dead what will prevent me from killing him as well? And who will take him out of my hand then? Understand that you have given me Narnia forever, you have lost your own life and you have not saved his. In that knowledge, despair and die."

3.27.2009

Aslan and Shasta


Whatever you think of C.S. Lewis, I think his brilliance in The Chronicles of Narnia is in the way he depicts encounters with Aslan. Something probably resonates with people even if they don’t realize that the great lion is a type of Christ, but now having that understanding, I think it says something about what Lewis was able to accomplish that I get goose bumps every time I read them.

The following is the encounter between Aslan and Shasta in The Horse and His Boy as Shasta is riding alone on a lonely path through a dark, foggy forest. He had just begun to feel sorry for himself and cry for loneliness and disappointment when he realized something large, but which he could not see, was walking beside him.

*****
“Who are you?” he said, scarcely above a whisper.

“One who has waited long for you to speak,” said The Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.

“Are you—are you a giant?” asked Shasta.

“You might call me a giant,” said the Large Voice. “But I am not like the creatures you call giants.”

“I can’t see you at all,” said Shasta, after staring very hard. Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, “You’re not—not something dead, are you? Oh please—please do go away. What harm have I ever done to you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!”

Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. “There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”

Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. And then he told the story of this escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since he had anything to eat.

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.

“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta

“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.

“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and –“

“There was only one lion: but he was swift of foot.”

“How do you know?”

“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”

“It was I.”

“But what for?

“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”

“Who are you?” asked Shasta.

“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all round you as if the leaves rustled with it.

Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too.

The mist was turning from black and gray and from gray to white. This must have begun to happen some time ago, but while he had been talking to the Thing he had not been noticing anything else. Now, the whiteness around him became a shining whiteness; his eyes began to blink. Somewhere ahead he could hear birds singing. He knew the night was over at last. He could see the mane and ears and head of his horse quite easily now. A golden light fell on them from the left. He thought it was the sun.

He turned and saw, pacing beside him, taller than the horse, a Lion. The horse did not seem to be afraid of it or else could not see it. It was from the Lion that the light came. No one ever saw anything more terrible or beautiful…

..But after one glance at the Lion’s face he slipped out of the saddle and fell at his feet. He couldn’t say anything but then he didn’t want to say anything, and he knew he needn’t say anything.

3.16.2009

you can't judge a book by its title


If you saw a book on the shelf titled The Responsible Self: An Essay on Christian Moral Philosophy, aside from the fact that you probably would not pick it up to read it, you would probably think that it must be a dry book about duty. H. Richard Niebuhr has something else in mind altogether. You might think it dry, but you will not find dutiful.

First, who is H. Richard Niebuhr? Well, he is the younger brother of Reinhold Niebuhr! Ok…in spite of the fact that very few Christians I know have any clue who they are, the Niebuhr brothers—Reinhold especially—are considered some of the most influential American theologians of the 20th Century. Besides that, they are Germans from Missouri, which for a Berger automatically increases their awesomeness! His most well known book is Christ and Culture. He taught theology and ethics at Yale Divinity School for decades, and his work is considered one of the sources of post-liberal/narrative theology.

The Responsible Self (1963) is a collection of lectures he gave at University of Glasgow in 1960 and was published after his death in 1962. The basic ethic of this book might be illustrated in this quote: “Responsibility affirms: ‘God is acting in all actions upon you. So respond to all actions upon you as to respond to his action’” (p. 126).

Let me explain. There are two dominant ways people talk about what a person ‘ought’ to do. The first has to do with purposes and goals. As a system of ethics, this is called teleological ethics because it defines the good in terms of its end/purpose (Grk, telos = end/goal). It would be over-simplified to say this is the ethic of “the ends justify the means,” but for the sake of space, I will do it anyway. The second ethic has to do with law or legislation. As a system, this is called deontological ethics (Grk, deon = obligation/duty). There is a law that binds us. When you hear people argue for an “absolute moral law” or by non-absolutists like Kant who said, “Act only according to that maxim by which you can also will that it would become a universal law,” you are hearing this view of ethics.

Niebuhr is not rejecting either one of these outright; he merely says neither one of them is adequate in itself:

“What these debates suggest to us is that as helpful as the fundamental images are which we employ in understanding and directing ourselves they remain images and hypotheses, not truthful copies of reality, and that something of the real lies beyond the borders of the image” (pp. 55-56).

In other words, each view has something right about it but suffers some limitation. It is for this reason that Niebuhr suggests the ethic of response, saying the right thing to do is the fitting response to the things being done to or demanded of us. For the Christian, this comes from understanding what God is doing to us or demanding of us in any given moment. He summarizes:

“In summary…we may say that purposiveness seeks to answer the question: “What shall I do?” by raising a prior question: “What is my goal, ideal, or telos?” Deontology tries to answer the moral query by asking, first of all: “What is the law and what is the first law of my life?” Responsibility, however, proceeds in every moment of decision and choice to inquire: “What is going on?” (p. 60).

Therefore, what is fitting or appropriate for the situation alone is the right or good thing to do. This will sound to some like some kind of moral relativism—and in some sense, it is—but might it actually help to make sense of the ethics of the Bible? We have all run into the difficulties of taking the Bible as “an absolute law” or maintaining the truthfulness of competing demands. I do not think I need to explain what those difficulties are. I only propose the question:

Does Niebuhr’s ethic of response help to make sense of Abraham setting out to sacrifice his son at God’s command, why God can ask his people to kill their enemies in Joshua and love them in Matthew, and why Paul can say things like “the law came to an end when faith came” or “to walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel” or “whatever is not done in faith is sin”?

Tell me what you think!

3.10.2009

Now Open

This will be your home for regular digestion of the writings of dead people. Whether ancient theologians and philosophers or the recently departed, there are a lot of figures and works that people should be familiar with but are not. Our hope is that we can provide accessible and occasionally entertaining summaries, reviews, and even translations of these works and give you a reason to put down that self-help or how-to book and read with us.