Chesterton's What's Wrong with the World and Bonhoeffer on judging.


humility in doctrine

In Dr. Mouw's post A Bavinck Revival - May It Spread!, he cited this quote from the 19th Century Dutch Reformed theologian, Herman Bavinck:

[W]e must remind ourselves that the Catholic righteousness by good works is vastly preferable to a protestant righteousness by good doctrine. At least righteousness by good works benefits one’s neighbor, whereas righteousness by good doctrine only produces lovelessness and pride. Furthermore, we must not blind ourselves to the tremendous faith, genuine repentance, complete surrender and the fervent love for God and neighbor evident in the lives and work of many Catholic Christians. The Christian life is so rich that it develops its full glory not just in a single form or within the walls of one church.

ephesians [week 8]

Here is week 8 in Ephesians.
Week 8 [Eph 4:17-32]

I would welcome any feedback. Again the idea is that people would work through it during the week, and then the small group meeting would be a discussion of what we learned. It is also intended to teach people how to read the Bible, finding what it means not merely what it means to me.


good reads

Now I realize I have had some education and training, and I realize that I have a personality and temperament that takes some pleasure in abstractions, but I am aggravated when my reading and listening recommendations are answered with “I don’t get it” or “It’s over my head.” That’s the point! What is the point of reading a book or listening to a lecture that is not over your head? You wanted to read and listen to learn, right? We only learn when something is beyond our head’s current measure. Anything else is just masturbation, stroking what is already known—what is already believed. It is cheap and easy. It is painless. It does not pay. Monogamy, on the other hand, is difficult and demanding. It takes effort and may cost you your life, but you are better for it.

I think culturally, we've come to expect growth and health without effort, without blood, without pain. But where in time or space has that ever been so? Species are made strong through their struggle. Muscles and bones are made strong when they are stressed. Character is perfected through trial. And our brains are a made smarter by reading things over our head.

So, I will do my best to make appropriate recommendations, but it will be over your head—even if only enough to shave the bangs. I promise not to recommend Barth’s Dogmatics, but you must promise not to expect Green Eggs and Ham.

a good heart

A couple weeks back, Audra and I watched an interview with Jon Gosselin. Jon went from—as the interviewer said—America’s favorite dad, to kind of a deadbeat. The interviewer, who was kind of a hardballer, also questioned him about the days when his kids are going to become aware of all his antics. (Now, I should say that I can sympathize with Jon. Perhaps, I am the only one. His wife and his life were impossible to live with. I could see long before all of this that it would only be a matter of time before he cracked.) But Jon answered with a response I hear time and time again from all kinds of people—they’ll know my heart. Basically—my actions are shady but my heart is good. Now because Jon is/was a professing Christian, I can say this. What you do is your heart! Jesus does not allow us to make this distinction. You will know them by their fruit. Out of the heart comes all kinds of adulteries. Do not be deceived!


Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground


Here is week 7 in Ephesians.
Week 7 [Eph 4:7-16]

the golden age

Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this. (Eccl 7:10)

a prayer for the prosperous

I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on men: God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil. (Eccl 6:1–2 NIV)

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:16–18 NIV)

Father, may we not suffer this grievous epidemic. We are among the most prosperous. We are among the most unhappy. We have everything without the capacity to enjoy them. All things are gifts to give thanks, but we can only see them as rights to demand. Our desire is never satisfied. We can do nothing except covet. Our neighbor is our competition, and you are a bother. Forgive us, Father. Give us the eyes to see all things as gifts. May we be thankful people with the capacity to enjoy what is given. Amen.


quit your whining, brett!


ephesians study

We have been going through Paul's letter to the Ephesians with our small groups. The following are the sheets we have been using so far. I wondered if someone might want to give feedback - maybe even use them. Do they make sense? Are the questions clear? Are the questions the right questions?

A quick note on some of the thoughts behind them.
(1) The hope is that each person will use the sheet to work through the passage for their own personal study during the week. Then our gatherings would be about sharing what we've found. Admittedly, this has been little more than hope so far.
(2) One objective is to teach each person how to read the Bible. We want them to be able to see and discover things themselves, the goal being an increased confidence and motivation to read the Bible.
(3) The questions are few and focus on discovering the main points and themes of the passage. To the previous point, we want them to discover each passage's point, not necessarily what it means to them or how they have previously understood it.
(4) The implications for living are important, but cannot be properly understood, until one properly understands what the passage means. So, these kinds of question are saved for the end [a little delayed gratification]. There are general questions, but each person is also encouraged to consider specific scenarios to consider for the coming week.

Here they are. I'll post more as we go along.
Week 1 [Eph 1:1-14]
Week 2 [Eph 1:15-22]
Week 3 [Eph 2:1-10]
Week 4 [Eph 2:11-19]
Week 5 [Eph 3:1-13]
Week 6 [Eph 3:14-4:6]



This is on the website for Mars Hill Church, but this could easily be said of almost every church I know of. This illustrates how even the most reformed—who identify themselves with Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)—can be just the same in practice as Catholics are in doctrine regarding tradition. In other words, reformed Protestants criticize Catholics for allowing Tradition (the church's interpretation of Scripture) to carry equal (or close to equal) authority as Scripture. However, almost every Scripture-loving Protestant I know—including me—reads the Bible through tradition(s). Could there be any other reason why all Baptist churches must have a Sunday morning service, a Sunday night service, and a Thursday night prayer meeting (which is mostly gossip in the name of the Lord)?

So the illustration...

On Mars Hill's site, on a page titled "The Gospel", we find:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures . . .” -1 Corinthians 15:1–4

What is the Gospel? The word gospel simply means “good news.” The central message of the Bible is the gospel, or good news, about the person and work of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:1–4, Paul provides the most succinct summary of the gospel: the man Jesus is also God, or Christ, and died on a cross in our place, paying the penalty for our sins; three days later He rose to conquer sin and death and give the gift of salvation to all who believe in Him alone for eternal life.

Did you notice anything?

1 Corinthians: "that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures"
Mars Hill: "the man Jesus is also God, or Christ, and died on a cross in our place, paying the penalty for our sins"

(Notice the leap that has been made. Corinthians only says that he died for our sins. Mars Hill interprets it through a specific mechanism of atonement; namely, the he died in our place paying the penalty that we deserved. Now this may be what it means by for our sins, but it is not obviously so from this passage. In fact, it may be that in this—most succinct of all—Gospel summaries the vagueness is meant to allow for other facets of Christ's death for sin. Notice, also, how they have imported a theological definition of Christ, which means that the man Jesus is "also God." Again, this may be a true statement, but it cannot be found in this passage. In fact, the most natural translation of Christ is Messiah, which in and of itself does not imply deity.)

1 Corinthians: "that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures"
Mars Hill: "three days later He rose to conquer sin and death and give the gift of salvation to all who believe in Him alone for eternal life."

(Notice again the leap. Corinthians merely says that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. Mars Hill imports the (1) conquering of sin and death, (2) giving the gift of salvation, and (3) to all who believe. But these ideas are not in the text (I acknowledge, however, that the conquering of death does come later in the chapter). What if this interpretation is unnecessarily limited and narrow? What about the interpretation of his resurrection as triumph over evil powers? Or the first fruits of our own resurrections? Or the vindication of his message and Messiahship? See, there may be more-or a completely different-meaning to the Corinthian summary. And in this passage there is nothing about giving the gift of salvation to all who believe.)

Mars Hill: "Religion leads to an uncertainty about my standing before God because I never know if I have done enough to please God. The gospel leads to a certainty about my standing before God because of the finished work of Jesus on my behalf on the cross."
Corinthians: "The Gospel...by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you - unless you believed in vain."

(Mars Hill has made a statement about certainty and assurance that-at face value-is actually in contradiction with Corinthians. The only assurance that Paul offers here is that they will be saved if they hold fast to the word. There is the possibility that without perseverance their faith will prove to be (or actually become) in vain. In fact, these conditional statements are found a few times in Paul’s writings. He even tells the Corinthians to test themselves to see if they are in the faith.)

So, what is my point? I actually do not know. I might just be trying to show off. As my wife likes to tell me, I’m smug. Nevertheless, I think I may be able to summarize what I am trying to say like this:
Let’s acknowledge that we all read Scriptures with a tradition/interpretation.
Let’s not let those traditions become more authoritative than Scripture.
Let’s try to read the Scriptures afresh; they might have more (or different) to say to us than we are allowing.


guerilla monastics

Billy Sunday (Travis Mullen) has re-emerged as Guerilla Monastics (Travis and Noah Johnson). Check 'm out at Noise Trade:

By the way, Noise Trade also makes the list of "cool companies." They have given musicians the opportunity to take more ownership of their music, its distribution, and promotion. Musicians are able to sign up and sell their music for free. Fans are able to download the music for either the price of their choosing or sharing it with five friends.