Sunday, March 11, 2018

4 new thoughts from Screwtape

When lauding yourself, your various successes and many virtues, always use superlatives, and always round up. When speaking of others, and especially of people who oppose you in any way shape or form, always load your language with negative connotations, and always round down.

Never pass up the chance to be the naysayer in the room, the discourager, but do so in the interest of what you call "being realistic." People should leave your presence with fewer dreams and less lofty goals than before they met you.

Our war against peace is going very well. We've convinced the enemy's followers that though they may rhetorically claim to serve the Prince of Peace (how the very name makes me retch!), that fact need have absolutely no effect on their daily life, let alone on their unquestioning support for their nation's wars. The Prince of Darkness, I am happy to report, is very pleased with our work on this front.

In a similar vein, the P of D is also pleased with how we've managed to confuse the enemy's followers into conflating nationalist pride (which they call "love of country") with love of, well, the enemy himself. Over the centuries we've got them so used to thinking of God and country as an inseparable tandem that now they can't think of God at all apart from country. Again, good work, my legions.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Reading Report

I've just finished reading A New Heaven and New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, by J. Richard Middleton. It's a fine book, making the Biblical case--to put it simply--that God's plan is to restore his creation. I didn't need convincing* where this matter was concerned, but I'd never seen the Biblical case made so thoroughly. The final chapter, looking at the ethical consequences of this eschatological understanding--how then should we live?--was the highlight, even though it only scratched the surface.

*N. T. Wright's Surprised by Hope (one of m favorite books) dealt with this same issue.

Next up, Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction, by Jonathan T. Pennington. I'm really looking forward to this one. I recently read his book, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, which I found to be profoundly helpful. In short, I've become a fanboy of Jonathan Pennington.

Clearly, my reading has taken a turn toward the theological. Another recent book for me was What is Biblical Theology?, by James Hamilton. It's a brief and inspiring book. It has rekindled my interest in reading the Bible attentively. Anyway, I recommended it to my pastor, who knew the author from his days at Southern Seminary. Now my pastor is urging the whole church to read it, so it looks like I'll be going through this one a second time (and I know it'll be worth it!).

So I'll be pursuing "Biblical theology" beyond the Hamilton book (I've put a few likely volumes on my Amazon Wish List). Biblical theology, as opposed to the "systematic" kind, is tied to the Biblical narrative. In other words, rather than extracting various theological concepts from the Bible and arranging them in a sort of encyclopedia (that would be systematic theology), Biblical theology is tied to the progressive unfolding revelation, the arch of the Biblical narrative. Meaning is not extracted from the Biblical narratives but found within it. That's my understanding thus far, anyway.

But another subject that I've only recently become interested in as a kind of sub-category of Christian theology is Biblical ethics. The question is, how should the Bible, the revelation of God's wisdom, his plan for creation, impact how we are to live? Or: given the foundational truths of the Bible, how then do we define the virtuous life?

What are some books on the subject? Well, one that is high on my to-read list is N. T. Wright's After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. Another might be David Gushee's Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context.

Anyway, that's my reading report. Good reading to you!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday 5 (that I forgot to post on Friday)

An interview with Fleming Rutledge, author of The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. The discussion ranges widely, and Rutledge has much to say. Fascinating interview. That book is certainly going on my Wish List.

35 Truths that Have Changed My Life, by Mitch Chase. A lot of these are great, and some I'm not sure of, but I love these kinds of list. Someday I will make one of my own.

1 Corinthians 12:9 and Nick Foles.

Richard Beck: How to become a Christian.


I'm always intrigued and sometimes challenged by Phoenix Preacher's Things I Think.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Friday Five (late again)

The Super Bowl was great, wasn't it? And then all the celebrating in Philadelphia! The amusing thing about all the tsk-tsking of Philadelphians (you know, for climbing light poles, eating horse poop, etc.) is that their behavior is essentially no different than it would have been in any other city (except Boston, I suppose, where winning is no surprise). I'll tell you a little secret: football fans everywhere, well, they're kind like Philadelphians. In other words, this was merely football fan behavior, not Philadelphia behavior. 

Meanwhile, the SB commercials confirmed for me that we really do live in an excitement culture. Notice this? Everything has to be amped up, everybody has to be dancing, or conquering a mountain, or dreaming big big dreams, or running marathons at age 90 or something. Fireworks have to be going off all the time, and often people are leaping for joy. These tropes are so commonplace, it seems the advertisers have hit on something: the promise of stimulation sells everything from burgers to cars to insurance to prescription medicine.

Half-time show: I usually avoid these (like I'd avoid rats, used needles found in the trash, and, well, the plague), but sat through this one quietly. I don't know who this Timberlake guy is, in any case. There were some routine dance moves at the start, and then the guy just kind of strode from stage to stage amidst great displays of (you guessed it) excitement. The excitement, of course, was entirely staged. This just seems strange to me: a guy on stage "performing" for a faux crowd of super-excited "fans" (who are themselves "performing") who follow him (excitedly) as he strides from here to there to there, singing songs you can't really make anything out of: that is, you recognize the presence of rhythm, and you can tell there's lyrics of some sort, but mainly it's all just very exciting! The entire show was an encouragement to worship the "star." This is the entertainer-as-hero trope.

Getting away from all the pop culture nonsense, I'm reading this book (one chapter to go). It's really good,

And finally, to complete the once again tardy Friday Five: 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

5 for Friday (Super Bowl edition)

Why Tom Brady is not my favorite QB: he's spiritually goofy.

Whereas Nick Foles isn't trying to be a self-made superman.

I grew up in Pennsylvania, but have lived all my adult life in New England. I enjoy watching Pats games but do not love them. In the meantime, the Eagles are usually somewhere on the periphery of my football awareness. When they have a good season, I pay attention. Yeah, yeah, I guess I'm a fair-weather fan. Anyway, I've gotten myself pretty excited about these boys this year. They're a likable team and I'm rooting for the city as much as I am the team. Plus, they've got a lot of players with admirable faith:

The last time I watched an Eagles-Pats Super Bowl was with my church family at the time, a couple of hundred of them and all Pats fans. I can tell you this, some of them Christian brothers lost some significant ground in their sanctification that night! 

Eagles 37, Pats 34.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Wondering about the Prince of Peace

To be saved, to be born again is to be transferred from a domain of conflict to a kingdom of peace. This statement is, of course, a slight alteration (or perhaps expansion) of what Paul says at Colossians 1:13 (you can look it up!).

The "kingdom of conflict" is, of course, this world now. The world, as it has pretty much always been. This present darkness. The "kingdom of peace," on the other hand, is anywhere the Prince of Peace reigns. The Christ follower, every one of them, is called to be a representative example of the citizens of that kingdom. That might be why Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

High calling, that. We are representatives of a kingdom of peace. We aspire to be peacemakers, reconcilers. As children of God we bear the Spirit's fruit, one of which is peace. Peace is what Jesus came for, abiding and ultimately creation-encompassing peace. Angels sing about that in wonder.

Hard to follow in that high calling when we're always diving into conflicts, choosing sides, taking issue, grinding polemical axes. We do this over politics, we do it over theology, sports, or even styles of music, etc. It seems to be a natural inclination.

I'm as guilty as the next one when it comes to ax-grinding, but that inclination is always problematic. It's something that can darken the light that is in me. It can compromise the very mission that God has called me to.

So it's my goal to investigate the way of peace in the coming year. I must admit I hardly know what this means. For example, who are these peacemakers that Jesus speks of? How are they engaged in peacemaking? Is this always and only a spiritual matter, having to do with the reconciling of men with God? Or does the mission of the peacemaker encompass much more than that? I think the answer to that question is, yes, much more.