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January 24, 2011

We’ve officially launched our website on its own server, all the posts and comments have moved there, so you should go there.

Doctrinal chaos and ordination

January 24, 2011

So here’s the deal. I’m a theological mutt. I’m all over the map. I’m Reformed, but not five points. I love the new perspective on Paul. I have a view of baptism and the sacraments that would make R. Scott Clark wet his paints (that’s a good thing). But, I’m also a charismatic. Sam Storms is my homeboy. And I love liturgy. I’ve never been to a covenant renewal service, but from what I hear I think I’d love it.

I’d love to pastor a church someday. My problem is getting ordained. Who in their right mind would ordain a mutt like me? The baptists won’t have me because … I’m not a baptist. The presbyterians won’t have me because I think glossolalia is a ok.

Normally I teeter from hope to despair when I think about getting ordained. But lately I’ve been pretty hopeful. I used to think it’d be pretty hypocritical of me to pastor say a baptist church or a church that had women elders given the strength of my convictions, but now I’m not so sure. Upon reflection every church (outside of strict confessional churches) has quite a bit of wiggle room when it comes to their leaders’ theology.

Two examples of this come to mind.

The first is John Piper. John Piper has a view on divorce and remarriage that doesn’t line up with the rest of the elders at his church. From the pulpit, Piper will share his perspective, but from what I understand (and I’m open to correction) his view is not enforced via church discipline. It seems that a plurality of views is respected. This is noteworthy given the stark consequences Jesus and Paul give to adulterers in and outside the church.

Another group that is a little hypocritical on this issue are federal vision people. People of a federal vision persuasion tend to believe in paedocommunion (not only should infants be baptized but they should also be able to partake of the Lord’s supper). Unfortunately, paedocommunion is not really in vogue in big reformed denominations so most FV pastors aren’t allowed to actually administer the sacraments to children. The hypocrisy here comes in when these pastors would express incredulity over a presbyterian pastor shepherding a baptist flock. How could they do that? Baptists wrongly administer the sacraments! Except by the paedocommunionists (sounds like a species of communist) own standards then, his church doesn’t administer the sacraments properly if paedocommunion is not permitted. A double standard is clearly in play.

If it’s ok for Piper’s church to permit divergent viewpoints on divorce and it’s ok for Presbyterians to have multiple viewpoints in leadership on paedocommunion then I don’t see the force of the argument against diversity in church leadership with regards to women in ministry or baptism.

Perhaps such a church would be messy, but I think before critiquing it, most churches would have to first clear the doctrinal 2X4 out of their eyes.

These are just exploratory thoughts though. Any questions or comments? I’m open to being persuaded that this line of reasoning is faulty.

Peter Leithart on Contentment

January 23, 2011

Given that I just posted on contentment a few days ago, I was pleased to discover Peter Leithart posting on the topic today:

Contentment is a spiritual challenge, but it is also something of a puzzle. Scripture urges us to hope, but how do hope and contentment fit together?  How is contentment compatible with work, proper ambition, planning and goals?  Am I discontented if I want my business to make more profit next year?  Are we being discontented if we pray for healing?  Am I discontented if I want to read yet another book?

In this as in everything else, God provides the model.

On the first day of the creation week, He makes light, separates light and darkness, names day and night, and then stops.  “It’s good,” He says. “I’m content.”  But the next day He’s at it again, rearranging and improving the world.       During the creation week and all through history, God’s “Good” means “Enough for today,” but the next day He always wants another good thing, and then another and another.

The test of contentment is not whether you’re willing to lay down your tools and be satisfied with the status quo forever.  The test of contentment is whether you’re willing to lay down your tools for now, ready to take them up with renewed hope and energy tomorrow.

That is to say: The test of contentment is keeping the Sabbath.  Can you come to evening and cease, enjoying the daily Sabbath of sleep?  Or do you toss through the night, anxious about the tasks of morning?  Does your feverish week spill over into the Lord’s day?  Or are you able to say at the end of a busy week, “Good; enough, enough for today”?


While helping the poor, remember to be human

January 17, 2011

Steve Hays recently wrote a post analyzing Peter Singer’s (the infamous advocate for infanticide) arguments about poverty. To briefly sum it up: Singer argues on a strictly utilitarian principle that every dollar earned beyond what someone absolutely needs should be given to the poor. No doubt, even if we haven’t read Singer’s arguments, many readers of this blog will have heard this logic expressed by a well-intentioned person at some point in their travels.

Now, Steve already replied along some lines, focusing partly on biblical principles and partly on ones of common sense, that would problematise Singer’s argument. But I wanted to suggest another possible line of response.

Stuart Brown (M.D.) and Christopher Vaughan have written a book about the function of play in the life of human beings (with some mention of its presence in other species as well), arguing about how important it is for human flourishing. They even spend time showing that some business managers have recognized this fact of human nature and have incorporated it into their businesses in some way or another, to good benefit for productivity.

These facts about human nature, then, would seem to suggest another problem with Singer’s position. For, if as all business-people know, “time is money”, by Singer’s logic, we should never spend any time playing. Yet, Brown and Vaughan have shown that play is necessary and beneficial for psychological flourishing and for productivity. The unavoidable conclusion from their work is that, in some sense, human beings need to spend some of their resources on play, rather than only charity, to be the best people they can be. Thus, Singer’s logic will inadvertently, if obeyed, lead to people being less helpful for the poor than they would be if they behaved more like human beings, and less like machines for helping the poor.

And in case the true darkness of such a Singerian ethically pure world escapes anyone, consider what Brown and Vaughan say:

The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.

If that seems to be a big claim, consider what the world would be like without play. It’s not just an absence of games or sports. Life without play is a life without books, without movies, without art, music, jokes, dramatic stories. Imagine a world with no flirting, no day-dreaming, no comedy, no irony. Such a world would be a pretty grim place to live.

Wisdom from the past – Watson on contentment

January 16, 2011

For my devotions, I’ve been reading through Thomas Watson’s The Art of Divine Contentment.

Here is something I’ve been feasting on over the past few days:

Wicked men are often disquieted in the enjoyment of all things; the contented Christian is well in the want of all things. But how comes a Christian to be contented in the deficiency of outward comforts? A Christian finds contentment distilled out of the breasts of the promises. He is poor in purse, but rich in promise. There is one promise that brings much sweet contentment into the soul: “they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.” Psalm 34:10. If the thing we desire be good for us, we shall have it; if it be not good, then not having is good for us. The resting satisfied with the promise gives contentment.


Christians under siege

January 16, 2011

Michael Coren recently hosted an important panel on the experience of Christians in the Islamic world, especially in Egypt. It’s downright appalling. This was brought to my attention over the past two weeks as some of the students I teach are Coptic and have been directly affected by the recent bombing in Alexandria which I’ve shown above.

I am disgusted at the fact that Western aid ($5 billion from the US alone) supports the Mubarak regime in Egypt which has created an environment where the persecution of Christians has been normalized and largely goes unpunished.

Now the counter argument to all this aid is that if the US and her allies withdrew support, an even more radicalized regime would come to power, perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood. Without aid, Egypt would turn into another Iran. The Lebanese contributor to the show pointed out that when you compare persecution of Christians under Ahmadinejad in Iran and Mubarak under Egypt, there doesn’t seem to be any discernable difference. So, this argument seems to suffer from a bit of weak sauce.

The reality is that we fund the Mubarak regime because we believe it’s in the best interests of the West. But as Christians who belong to another city, we have another primary allegiance, to the church of Christ. Our primary concern ought to be with the safety of other Christians, more so than other Canadians or Americans. And our brothers and sisters are being slaughtered in lands that we support financially and militarily.

I refuse to believe that something can’t be done about this. The real problem is with Western regimes who simply don’t give a damn about the treatment of Christians abroad and a Western church that is so provincial that it fails to notice expressions of the apostolic church abroad unless they listen to Joyce Meyer and sing “Shout to the Lord” on Sunday.

It’s time for the West to be cut the apron strings if Egypt fails to show a marked change in policy towards its Christian citizens. There is nothing more important in foreign policy than this to the Church. Smarten the hell up.

The power of believing in yourself

January 16, 2011

A motivational speaker demonstrates the power of believing in yourself ….


January 15, 2011

Serving up some tasty links on a snowy day:

Thankfully, economists don’t design highways.

Who is really on the margins? A debate ensues.

The limits of neuroscience.

Another story on Protestants converting to Eastern Orthodoxy. (I’m curious whether this phenomenon is real or just one of those things that reporters keep repeating as a stock story like razors in apples at Halloween.)

Lutheran humour on Cheers

January 14, 2011

Woody is Lutheran Church, Missouri-Synod. His bride, Kelly, is not.


Institutionalized: Endtroducing Calvin

January 13, 2011

So in order launch into my reading of the institutes I reckoned it would make sense to read all the various prefaces first. (Well, not all of them, I skipped the 50-or-so pages of stuff from later translators and so on and decided to start with Calvin’s own words of introduction.) Of course the various prefaces that Calvin wrote were completed after the main corpus and comment on the completed work as well as its impact in Europe (hence my DJ Shadow-referencing title for this post). I have to say for prefaces there were already a number of things that stood out to me:

Sufficiency of Scriptures?

This is actually not something particularly unique to Calvin, virtually all Protestant theologians hold to the idea that the text of the Bible is enough by itself. Calvin here is no different, modestly protesting that his own work doesn’t really add anything to what scripture already says. Of course this prompts one to ask the obvious question: why write it? Why not focus on translating and printing as many Bibles as possible in the common tongues of 16th Century Europe? If there were errors in the teachings and doctrines of Rome, then letting everyone have access to the Bible in a language that they understood should, by Calvin’s own admission be enough to correct things. Of course Protestants as a whole have spent a great deal of time and effort translating and distributing Bibles, but at the same many of them publish reams and reams of their own words and ideas. Has anyone else noticed this or thought it curious? It reminds me the quip that, for people who don’t believe words have any meaning, deconstructionists sure like to talk. Likewise, for people who believe that the Bible is a sufficient (or even infallible or authoritative) text, Reformed Christians (and Protestants in general) sure like to write a lot of their own books.

Appreciating the Early Church

In his preface to the King of France, Calvin cites extensively from various church fathers to defend the teachings of the nascent Protestant churches. It is fairly clear that he studied them in some detail since he clearly lived in an age before someone could just google for quotes. This is possibly because Calvin lived right near the close of the age where one could read “everything” – that is to say pretty much all of what one considered Western literature and thought – Ancient Greece and Rome, the Bible, the aforementioned church fathers, some medieval theologians, various epics of one’s own nation. Nonetheless the very fact that Calvin deploys them as evidence for his case (with a disclaimer that they are not on a par with scripture itself) seems to indicate that he took them seriously. This flies in the face of the common evangelical church history narrative (and practice) in which, outside of perhaps Augustine, no one wrote anything worthwhile between the completion the biblical texts and Luther’s 95 Theses. There is no reason why Protestants cannot join with Catholics and Orthodox Christians in learning from these authors.

On Custom

The most arresting aspect of Calvin’s preface has to be his rejection of custom. He appears to regard custom as a repository for bad habits and a justification for doing evil. This is in diametric opposition to the sort of classical Burkean conservative view where custom is general seen as the accretion of good or beneficial aspects of a society, something that is undone at our peril. Here is Calvin unwittingly setting the fuse for the whole of enlightenment rationalism down to the French Revolution. Actually, here’s a point about Calvin that’s often overlooked – he’s French! He’s prepared to tear everything back to the studs and start over again if he thinks something is wrongly constructed, just like Descartes will try to do with philosophy, like the Jacobins will do with the Revolution, like Napoleon will do with law and education and the military. It’s enough to remind me of the ideology of toilets:

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