Sunday, December 20, 2009

Did James Cameron just RIP OFF C.S. Lewis?

OK, I am digressing from William Perkins at the moment for a couple of reasons.

1. I am nearing the end of the term right now, and working on my final paper, which has nothing to do with Perkins. My focus has been sidetracked from blogging with the hovering fate of final grades.

2. We went and saw Avatar last night, and the more I thought about it, the more I think I may be on to something here.

I will try my hardest not to reveal anything too big about Avatar in this blog, but in case you are one of those people that are dying to see this movie and would like to know absolutely nothing about it, then by all means, go see the movie and then read this blog.

Lewis was questioned near the end of his life about several topics in Christianity and writing by a man named Sherwood E. Wirt who worked with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Mr. Wirt's and Lewis' discussion is recorded for us in the collection of essays, God in the Dock. The essay is entitled "Cross-Examination."

Mr. Wirt, reaching the end of the discussion, asks Lewis, "Do you think there will be wide-spread travel in space?" Lewis' response is this:

"I look forward with horror to contact with the other inhabited planets, if there are such. We would only transport to them all of our sin and our acquisitiveness, and establish a new colonialism. I can't bear to think of it. But if we on earth were to get right with God, of course, all would be changed. Once we find ourselves spiritually awakened, we can go to outer space and take the good things with us. That is quite a different matter."

Earlier this semester, I read Lewis' book Out of the Silent Planet for the first time. I was enthralled with Lewis' idea that we were the aliens invading another planet; humanity was bad, bent. The civilization on the planet, Malacandra, was not bent. The different species worked together in their own gifted ways to bring harmony to their planet, because this was the way of Maleldil. Ransom, our hero of the story, knew that if man remained on this planet then they would destroy the way of life on Malacandra and bring the bent-ness to this planet.

OK, so let's go over some similarities between Out of the Silent Planet and Avatar then.

First, the landscape - When Ransom first comes to Malacandra, Lewis writes, "He saw nothing but colors - colors that refused to form themselves into things." "Before anything else he learned that Malacandra was beautiful." Not too mention the purple vegetation, trees and moss that almost seemed to hang in the air. This colorful world filled with purple and light is pretty close to the world of Pandora in Avatar. Obviously, Cameron is more vivid in his ability to express an unfallen world, but there is something that is awfully similar between the two planets - beauty.

Second, the creatures - Now, the sorns are white beings, but they are described as extremely long, drooping noses, graceful creatures. I cannot help but think of the Na'vi. Yes, they are blue beings, but still very long, very graceful. The hrossa as well bring song and praise to Maleldil. When the Na'vi come together and "worship" their god, Eywah, they bring song to it. The hrossa were the poets of the land; they were the ones that came up with beautiful words and songs. They also were the hunters of the land - not hunting as some sort of mere killing experience, but the hunt was a work of pride, a work to be honored. The same idea was with the Na'vi - that the hunter must have a clean kill, and that they understood the circle of life as they took a life to feed their lives.

Third, Ransom - When Ransom has first arrived at Malacandra, he has spent a month nearly inactive. When he is running for his life, the description Lewis gives reminds me of Jake's first time using his Avatar. Jake was excited and wobbly using his legs for the first time in years since his spinal cord was shot; Ransom, while obviously having a far less tramatic experience, was wobbly and worn because he was not used to running in this new world. He had to learn the new world, the way to climb and run in it. Ransom also had to learn the language of the hrossa in order to become one of them, much like Jake having to learn the language of the Na'vi. They worked on changing everything about their humanity into something new. They both desired to leave behind what was bent (spiritually for Ransom and physically for Jake); they desired to be a part of the harmonious life on the new planet.

These are just a few of the things that I noticed that were similar between the two. I have NO idea if James Cameron has ever read Out of the Silent Planet. I guess I will have to ask him the next time I have him over for a cup of tea, oh wait, I'm not that famous yet.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mr. Plain Jane, er, John

Now that I have wet your whistle about Puritan Preacher, William Perkins (you are interested, right?), let's dive into some of the things he said and preached, shall we?

Perkins was a second-generation Calvinist. Can you imagine? Just one generation before him across the channel and over the woods of France, there lived and breathed J.C. - getting down to business, writing a ton, pastoring a flock and sticking it to the pointy-hatted man! What a time to be alive! I would be jealous, but I'm a woman, and more than likely would have been nursing babies, cooking meals and probably not have the ability to read or write; so you might gather that I would rather enjoy reading about these two men and what they wrote than living during their time. Unless I was Calvin's second wife? But I digress.

Perkins had a natural way of writing and preaching which came to be known as "plain style." Now, you might think that plain style would be something rather boring to listen to, such as the simplest of sentences or I don't know, listening to a doctor give out just the facts in the plain speech of medical terms or something of the sort. Well, if you thought this, I must inform you that you would be wrong. Plain style, as Sinclair Ferguson so eloquently put it, is along the following line:

“The sermons of many plain-style preachers scintillated with vivid language and illuminating illustration; but the main business was to preach Christ and to reach the heart. Everything was subservient to this."

Vivid language, illuminating illustration - the closest that I can think that comes to this type of speech in our present day would be Alistair Begg, but I am sure that you could think of others as well. I firmly believe that C.S. Lewis falls into this type of speaker/writer as well, but we all know that I have a biased opinion of Saint Lewis.

Perkins was very good at preaching though. This is why there are stories recorded of him early on in his pastoring career when he was in a prison ministry - there was a man on the way to his death sentence, fearing the fate that was coming, and Perkins stopped the man and asked if he was ready to die. The man, literally quivering in his boots, told Perkins that he was not ready. Perkins prayed over the man and through the prayer so effectually led him to the depths of hell to show him the wonderful mercy of God that the man saw the gates of death close before him and knew his Savior. He walked on to his hanging and died gleaming from the mercy he had found.

Now I don't know about you, if you have ever been put in a situation where someone is quite literally fearing death or so depressed that they are in complete despair or even simply facing the question of eternity and the idea of God, but those situations are extremely frightening for me. I am so worried that I am going to jumble up the basic message of the Gospel, or that my sarcasm and general sinful self will turn them off to the idea of being apart of the body of Christ, or simply that I should not say anything to them because I am not qualified. Perkins is an inspiration to me during those times. He relied fully on the fact that the Spirit would speak through him, and he used all of his faculties and resources that God had given him to speak appropriately during those times. He did not shy away, he did not lace the Gospel message with any sort of promises of blessings to come (outside of the blessing of eternal life, which when you put any other sort of "blessing" face to face with that, do they even compare?). He used plain style, vivid language, useful and illuminating illustrations - plain and simple as that.

Maybe you are saying, well that's great, but I am not that smart, creative or witty. How will I be able to use a great, vivid, illustration during these times? I can't even come up with a good, creative definition when I play Balderdash! The answer, my friend, is this: plagiarize! Now, I do not mean that you should start quoting John Piper or Tim Keller or, let's try to be ecumenical here, Thomas Aquinas or G.K. Chesterton and claim these words as your own brilliant thought. No, what I am saying is that you should start reading these people more and more and using the examples and illustrations that they give when you are faced in these situations. If you can't think of something on your own, then borrow, and later on give that person the book that you so eloquently quoted from!

OK, I am going to leave you with these thoughts now. I promise the next couple of blogs will contain actually plain style words of Perkins and his views of predestination and the assurance of salvation. Exciting stuff, yes? Well, at I think so.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I believe that you are the man we are looking for...

So, I really must apologize for not blogging at a more regular pace, but with having to research and type out 50 more pages for this semester's work, I am a bit busy.

But soft, what light through yonder computer screen breaks? It is a new blog post, and you are its reader!

Today, I am handing in a 21-page paper on William Perkins. Now, as I have done in the past (see here and also here), I typically post my paper. However, these have been nice, short 5 pagers that most of you graciously trudge through for the sake of my ego. I will NOT, I repeat NOT force you to read my 21-pages worth of thoughts on William Perkins in one sitting. I do say one sitting, because I am tempted at this point to break it up for you. he he he. However, what I think I will do is take some of the more applicable sections of what I learned about his writing and have you discover more about this, and hopefully walk away all the more blessed because of it.

First, for most of us, if I said the name, William Perkins - you have absolutely NO idea who I am talking about. Do not fret, my friend, you are in good company. I looked over the list of 7 authors that I had to read this semester for the course, English Puritanism, and I could not tell you who 5 of these strapping young lads were either (William Perkins being on the "who?" list). Perkins was born in Marston Jabbet (that would be in jolly-old England) sometime in 1558. He had the privilege of receiving a great education, being tutored as a boy by the Puritan Laurence Chaderton, and then doing both his BA and MA at Christ's College in Cambridge.

Now, for a little history - Perkins lived during the wonderful prosperous time of Queen Elizabeth I. I have not read too much about Queen Bess, so I won't be giving too much information about her in particular (if you want to read more, please do so, or you can always enjoy Cate Blanchett preening and commanding storms to reign down on Spain). She was the Protestant Queen though, and from what I have learned this semester about these times in England - they were a raging turmoil of constant shift between Catholic and Protestant (i.e. Church of England/soon-to-be called Anglican) rulers. So, with every changing of the guard, the people and churches would either be Catholic people and churches or they would be Protestant people and churches. This, I grant you, is a VAST oversimplification of the events that took place, but you are reading a blog, aren't you?

Elizabeth I, for what it is worth, brought some stability to the church world during her reign. Those with Puritan sympathies as well, were able to coexist at this time. This would not be the case in about 50 years, but William Perkins had the great benefit of living during the time of Elizabeth and not later. He became the pastor and preacher of St. Andrews in Cambridge and was able to preach more about reform, Calvinist theology and a great deal on the assurance of salvation without ever having to feel the wrath of the government or flee for his life (unlike his successors).

What is known about Perkins' early life will come as a shock to some - the man was known for his drinking and galavanting, possibly had a child out of wedlock, oh and it is thought that he liked to dabble in astrology. The story goes that he had a great awakening of the soul one night when he overheard a mother telling her child that he better hold his tongue, or she would give him to the drunk Perkins. Whether this is true or not, we really cannot say. However, he did change his ways and started following the Lord sometime between 1581 and 1584. He died in 1602, this leaves us with just about 20 years.

These 20 years proceeded to be some of the most influential 20 years of a man's life. He published many works, and his own books moved to the top of the "best-seller" list, outshining the late, great John Calvin. This is quite a feat in and of itself. He also was able to preach to many, soon-to-be, great Puritan thinkers and theologians - men like William Ames, Thomas Goodwin and Samuel Ward (just to name a few).

This is the man: a former drunk, well-educated man, who more than likely had a penchant for the ladies. What we will see in the blogs to come is that he was quite possibly one of the most well-spoken, effectual preachers of his day (and I would argue could teach some of our preachers today a thing or two about it as well!). The most wonderful thing of all is that God used this man, despite his former life of sin - God used him for great and wonderful things. It is a lesson to us all - don't get hung up on the sins of the past; repent and offer yourself as a servant all the more. Who knows, maybe you are the next William Perkins?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mediate, Mediate, Mediate - If you say it fast, it sounds funny, right?

This is my paper on Calvin's view of Christ as Mediator for all time. What I am basically disagreeing with is that he says that the Old Testament fathers and godly KNEW Christ as Mediator. It is long, but hopefully not boring. And it goes to show that I don't agree with EVERYTHING that Calvin says. So there. And here we go...

If man is unable in any capacity of his own to come to the Heavenly Father by his own work and own righteousness, then there must be a Mediator between man and the Heavenly Father who has perfected, imputed and imparted righteousness. The view of God the Father that Calvin has presented in the Institutes of Christian Religion is a view that holds to a completely holy, completely other Deity. Man is incapable of even coming to a true knowledge of God unless He somehow acts in their lives to reveal Himself to them. God cannot and will not have anything to do with sin – He abhors and rejects it. In order then for a fallen world that is tainted and covered with sin to have a relationship with this holy, other God, He has to provide a way for a different covering; a holy, righteous covering that will not be tainted by sin. This covering has come through the life, death and resurrection of the God-man, Jesus. His perfect, stainless righteousness now covers all who believe and trust in Him through faith. Jesus’ act came at a specific time in human history. God, who is outside of time, came into our time and as the Word of God tells us, at the “fullness of time… God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” This news is beyond anything we, who are in time after Christ, can imagine or believe to be possible; however, it does leave a question for what has happened to God’s chosen people, the faithful of the Old Testament, who were before the time of this redemptive act. If one is only able to be reckoned righteous under the righteousness of Jesus, then how are these who lived before Christ able to come to their Heavenly Father? Calvin answers this in several ways throughout 2.6-2.10 – that they had faith not in the acts of the Law, but in the future hope of a Redeemer, that God chose them and communicated completely with them, and that they knew Christ as Mediator. It is the third of Calvin’s assertions that I will hope to show has overstepped boundaries of interpretation and translation.

In the summary of his points on the law, Calvin writes, “There are two remaining points: that the Old Testament fathers (1) had Christ as pledge of their covenant, and (2) put in him all trust of future blessedness.” By the end of this four-chapter discussion, Calvin puts these last two points in to tie together all that he is holding to in concern with the salvation of the Old Testament fathers. It is interesting that Calvin has used the description of a pledge for Christ here, since up to this point, his words have been mingled with the idea of future hope and present knowledge and use of the word Mediator, not pledge. Calvin’s view of the law and interaction with God for the Old Testament fathers has quite a pendulum swing throughout these four chapters. By the end, he is more amiable towards the law as it points to Christ and sees the patriarchs as having “a real participation in God.” However, as Calvin begins to look at the law, he sees it through the lens of Paul, someone who is known for seeing the law as a curse, bringing with it the knowledge of sin. He states that, “In the precepts of the law, God is but the rewarder of perfect righteousness, which all of us lack, and conversely, the severe judge of evil deeds.” To even imagine that the offerings and sacrifices that the law required was a way for redemption to happen was laughable to Calvin. He writes, “In short, the whole cultus of the law, taken literally and not as shadows and figures corresponding to the truth, will be utterly ridiculous.”

The shortcomings of the law are seen because of the New Testament and the better work of Christ. However, I do not agree that this view of the law can be forced upon the Old Testament fathers and their own view of the law. While it may seem ridiculous to take the law as literal, the whole of Israel took the law very literally, and in that literalness it brought about a love for the law. This is why the writer of Psalm 119 can say that those “whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD” are considered blessed. The sacrifices and offerings that the LORD provided to the people of Israel, as a way for redemption, was a delight to them. When the people of Israel returned from captivity, Ezra opened up the law of Moses to them and read from it for days. Their response was one of weeping, worship, and of thankfulness that despite their turning away from the law, the Lord is “ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Yet, at the same time the law was not only about an action of sacrifice and offering. At the end of the second giving of the law, Moses says, “For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statues that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” There is something in the law that will point the men and women of Israel to love God the Father with more than just mere actions, but with their entire being – heart, soul and mind. The psalmist expresses this when he says, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” The law did not give the Old Testament fathers free reign to continue sinning, much as the Gospel of Christ does not give us this freedom either. Offerings made without a repentant heart are worthless; likewise our worship and offerings today are worthless if we are not repentant of the sin that is constantly in our lives.

Thus, when Calvin writes, “For what is more vain or absurd than for men to offer a loathsome stench from the fat of cattle in order to reconcile themselves to God? Or to have recourse to the sprinkling of water and blood to cleanse away their filth?” , I think that Calvin has grossly exaggerated the point. Do not we as Christians rely upon the spilling of the perfect blood of Christ now? I cannot imagine that the bruised, bloodied, stricken, smitten body of Christ smelled particularly aromatic while it hung on the cross for hours. In fact, our Savior had even partaken of a last meal hours before this torture that had to be moving through his intestinal system at some part during this time. Sweaty, bloody, beaten – and we believe that this will reconcile us to God? Yes, a resounding yes – because it would not be absurd to believe this, because this is how God has chosen to redeem His people. The law is the same. While it may sound ridiculous to slay animals, sprinkle blood and to find one perfect lamb among thousands every day and year, this is how God chose to reveal His redemption to His people.

In agreement with Calvin, it was not the acts of following the law that brought redemption, but the faith for the future, better Redeemer that was promised to them. Calvin, however, takes this future hope one step further and states that the Old Testament fathers “had and knew Christ as Mediator.” It is because they trusted “in their Mediator, they may freely dare to come forth into God’s presence.” I agree fully with this statement that the Old Testament fathers understood that drawing into the presence of God required a mediator, but I do not think that they held this view to be Christ, at least not the Christ that is revealed to us in the New Testament. When the people of Israel were at Mount Sinai, they feared the LORD and relied on Moses to intercede and mediate for them. The law provided that priests should mediate and make the offerings for the people after they consecrated and purified themselves. All of this was done so that the LORD could dwell in the midst of His people; “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.” The mediation by the priests was not something that was taken lightly. Somehow by offering an unauthorized fire to God, the priests, Nadab and Abihu, died before God because they were not permitted to offer this fire either because of lack of purity or incorrect timing. The priests took great care to enter into the presence of God. Flippancy, complacency and disrespect were not allowed in this setting. To offer anything before God took not just blood of an animal, but one’s whole heart bent towards God, one’s whole mind concentrated solely on God, one’s whole soul repenting from the sin it contains and turning to God.

Calvin would argue though that this system still required knowledge of Christ as Mediator. He supports this by saying that the godly of the Old Testament knew of Christ as can be seen through their prayers and writings. He states that,
“Hannah, the mother of Samuel, describing the happiness of the godly, already says in her song: ‘God will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his Messiah’ [1 Samuel 2:10]. By these words she means that God will bless his church. To this corresponds the prophecy that is added a little later: ‘The priest whom I shall raise up… will walk in the presence of my Christ’ [1 Samuel 2:35].”
This is an interesting translation that Calvin is giving to these verses. The ESV reads verse 10 as “he will give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed.” In verse 35 the ESV reads, “he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.” , The Hebrew word, Messiah, has been translated as “anointed one” here instead. It holds the force of anointed as the “king of Israel, Saul, David and his descendents.” What is interesting is that Calvin, with his translation of Christ, is pointing ahead to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, not to any sort of earthly king for Israel, like David. Calvin has interpreted this passage through the lens of the New Testament in order to show that Hannah’s prophecy is not about a coming king for the present day Israel, but rather she was looking ahead, as all godly people of the Old Testament did, for a Mediator Redeemer that was promised.

Calvin’s translation is poor, but it is his interpretation and hermeneutic that forces this translation. He does not seek to know the original intent of the author of the book of 1 Samuel. He forgets about the context of the books of Samuel as a whole and their focus on the Kingdom of David. He sees only that the promise has come in our Savior Christ, and that this must be the same for all time. It is very hard to say that from these verses, Hannah had any knowledge of what Jesus would actually be and that in her present time as offerings and sacrifices were made, she knew that Jesus was mediating these for her.

It is not that we cannot say that Jesus was also mediating for the Old Testament fathers and godly by enacting his righteousness instead. It is that we cannot know that the people of Israel in the Old Testament knew Christ as Mediator. They had hope in the LORD and His steadfast love. They knew that the LORD God was their Redeemer and had hope for the LORD to redeem his people here on earth. However, from the reactions of the people of Israel when the Redeemer did come to this earth, one can see that they were not ones of expected anticipation. Peter said at Pentecost, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” The Old Testament fathers and godly people had faith in the future Redeemer, but when the fullness of time came, they did not know their Redeemer, their Mediator, their Christ.

Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), vol. I.

Koehler, Ludwig and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Boston: Brill, 2001), vol. I.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Apparently I'm NOT Generous in terms of Orthodoxy

For this Ethics class that I am taking down at Boston College, we must write a pretty hefty paper by the end of class in mid-December. Part of the work building up to this massive, looming paper that is hanging over my head along with a few more that are due for other classes in the next couple of weeks... back to the point, part of the work that we have to do to prepare writing this paper is to write a book review for one of the books that we are reading for said paper.

This class is entitled Ethics in an Ecumenical Perspective. For this paper, it is completely up to us on what we choose to write, as long as it has something to do with Ethics. Now, since this is not my only class, and since this is my first major encounter on a scholastic level with RCC scholars, I chose NOT to write a paper on Thomas Aquinas, Natural Law, and/or anything to do with that. I am enjoying my reading for class, preparation for discussion in said class, and constant bewilderment about casuistry; but I cannot say that I am prepared to write a paper on any of these things and have it make any sort of sense whatsoever in order to have a passing grade.

Instead, I decided to write on something that I have a little more familiarity with, and something I would actually enjoy learning more about. So, the paper I will be writing is on this whole emerging/emergent church/movement (yes, I do know there is a difference, but I choose to lump them all together, except for the RC, Johann Metz, that actually started the emergent church in the 1980s - he is different). I will be writing about them, what they believe, what their idea of ethics is or should be, and how that is affecting the rest of the followers of Jesus world. I must say, I am excited to write this paper. I am both excited, but also extremely nervous. The more that I read from these emerging men (and women? although I don't know of any women authors yet), the more confused and bewildered I end up becoming.

I usually begin reading these books and get excited about the ideas. I often think to myself, "Yes! We need to be doing more as Christians! Yes! Jesus went to the poor, the blind, the sick, the lost, the completely helpless! Man, we really need to be doing more with this! Sign me up!!!" Then, usually about 1/3 into the book, they begin to ask questions. Now, let me say this - I am NOT against asking questions. Please, let's ask questions. The only way that we can actually dialogue and move onward, upward, outward, whateverward is by asking questions and work on giving answers. But here is where I usually want to start throwing the books against the wall - they start asking questions and refuse to accept answers to the questions. And then, instead of saying that what Orthodoxy has given as answers and has tested and questioned and tested and questioned over and over, that these answers are good and by definition Orthodox, they decide that it's time for something new, because these are new times, new places, new situations, new knowledge (secret knowledge?), it's just NEW.

But will they say it's new? No, I doubt that. They will claim that it is something that has been said before. And in a way they are right. They are grasping at ideas from history, throughout history, and taking them for their own; then they change and twist those ideas to what they would like to say and claim it for themselves. To say the least, by this point, I get frustrated. Is this the point of the emerging movement? To frustrate? I think that some of them would say that THAT is exactly the point! They would whole heartedly like to frustrate you, but have that frustration be with the complacent little religious affiliation that you hold near and dear. This is not the frustration that I am experiencing. No, my frustration is with the authors, with their denial (or really lack of affirmation) of anything Absolute. It leaves me puzzled and questioning and not in a good way. If anything were to drive me to atheism, I am beginning to think that this movement could be it. And that, dear friends, is a frightening thought to me.

At the same time though, I'm getting a little sick of the bashing of each other on both sides. And I have tried VERY hard in this blog to not point my finger, make fun and belittle the opinions, thoughts and beliefs of these fellow followers of Jesus, because I do want to engage in this conversation, and there is no room for name-calling in this conversation - and it is there. It is rampant. And it hurts, offends, and has no part in what Jesus calls loving your neighbor or even your enemy.

I think then the only way that I can end this blog entry is with some ideas for both sides in how they should approach the next meeting. Since the ones in the past have gone so, well, um, let's just say that they haven't really gone at all.

1. Meet.

2. Emergent/ing leaders need to recognize that a refusal to answer serious questions does not look like they are constantly pondering or that the question is not one that even needs to be asked (because it does need to be asked, some people do find them serious enough to ask them, and that is the point), but that when they don't answer, this seems to affirm in the minds of the non-Emergent/ing a denial of these questions. And in turn, this means some more serious questions will be asked.

3. Non-Emergent/ing leaders need to take a step back from what they have always claimed to be truth and be willing to discuss WHY this is claimed, HOW this is claimed, and if indeed what is claimed as truth is truth for ALL time. I know that this part of it all EXCITES me. As someone who has been fed a TON of information and regurgitated it well and often for quizzes and tests, I get more excited when I read the Holy Scriptures and am able to articulate a particular truth from it because of what I read, not because of what a professor or author told me (not that those classes are bad, may it never be! Most of those classes have been my favorite classes and have taught me more than I can actually ever realize. But sometimes we need to reevaluate what we are doing and why. This is not a bad thing, even companies have to do this. And just because we stop and question does not mean that we do not come out with the same truth in the end, but we might come out with a better way of teaching?).

4. Meet again, because there will be a lot more questions after the first meeting, and continue this process.

The one thing that I can see happening from this, if done properly, is a better understanding of each other and oneself and maybe even a growth towards an understand of how to work together, despite differences. Another thing that I could see happening is that we discover that the differences are truly far too different, meaning that we are no longer even followers of the same Jesus. If that is the case, then at least clarity will be had and we can divide and learn how to coexist until whatever end comes, whenever and however that comes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

You May Ask Yourself, Where is That Large Automobile?

I am going to disclaim this blog that this will fall under the very recent times of Church History, as in the past few weeks, months and a years. But, I feel that this is appropriate, since it is something that I have been thinking through lately.

There is a particular Pastor, who lives in Texas, who has a perma-grin on his face and rather puffy hair, that has published a few books and made a tidy profit in this world that we call Religious Publishing. A couple of weeks ago, his latest book has come out about how to find wealth, health and a good life in these rough, poor economic times. I will say this, I have not read this book, nor any of his other writings. I saw a televised interview about this particular book, and I gathered from that interview and the book-flap what this book is about. So, please, take what I have to say with a grain of salt in that I am NOT the expert in this particular time of Church History; but also know that I do understand the basic gist of what he and others like him are saying.

Now, my question is should we expect that our time as Christians be filled with any sort of wealth, health, prosperity and/or general riches that accumulate in the world? If these books and their titles reflected that the best life that you can have starts now because Jesus is saving you from this world, the sin, the corruption, and the worldly riches, I might blog about something else. However, there is a misconception here that once you become a Christian, you can have some sort of better, worldly life. God is going to "bless" you with wealth, with a healthy body, with a basic desire to do better and better in this world.

Here is a list of just a few biblical passages of why I do not think that becoming a Christian means that we will have a better earthly life from the world's perspective:

John 15:18-25
Acts 7:54-60
Acts 14:19-23
2 Timothy 3:12
1 John 2:15-17

When we become a Christian, should we prepare ourselves to be blessed with earthly riches, wealth, healthy lives? Is that the peace and joy that God promises to us? I really don't think so. There is one story in history that I believe will shed some light on what a Christian should do to prepare. I once read this book by Noel Piper called Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God. If you enjoy John Piper, then I assure you that you will LOVE Noel. This book is wonderfully beautiful in its storytelling, extremely humbling in its honesty by the author, and really a treasure as we discover more about faithful women throughout Church History.

One story from this book, which can also be found in several other books as well, is about Esther Ahn Kim. This Korean Christian woman spent six years in a Japanese prison during WWII. The amazing thing is that when she became a Christian, she did not start preparing for an abundance of wealth and health to come her way, but she began to prepare to become a martyr. Her mother and herself moved into tighter quarters to begin to prepare their bodies for the cramped space of the prison cells. They ate old, discarded food so that their bodies would become accustomed to eating the garbage that the prisoners were fed. They spent their time and energy memorizing whole portions of Scripture, great hymns of the faith, and other wonderful truths about their Savior.

So, when Esther Ahn Kim was imprisoned, she was prepared for this life. Her teeth fell out during this time. The guards thought it was fun to torture the prisoners by giving them old, mushy apples that were quite disgusting for a normal human to eat. But since she had prepared her stomach for this food, and since her teeth were already out - a mushy, old apple that had been discarded in the trash was all she could have eaten anyway! If the guards had really wanted to torture her, they should have given her fresh, hard fruit, but they didn't know! During her nights, she would often recite the Bible and sing hymns aloud to the other prisoners and the guards. While other prisoners were being driven mad by their own minds not knowing enough, she was able to express fully her faith and grow in this faith in the midst of persecution. I won't tell you all the rest, because I think that this whole story is really a wonderful thing to discover on one's own.

Here is my point though - we as American Christians will have a lot to answer for on the final day. We live in a place where religion can be freely expressed and conversed about, where one will not be arrested for expressing their beliefs. Sure, people will laugh, argue, and even slander you; but I really doubt one is going to be beaten for saying that they believe in Jesus. And if they are beaten, then maybe we should be thankful for the news coverage that story will get, because it will shed a light on Christianity that is not filled with sayings of hypocrisy.

Should we expect wealth? Should we expect health? Should we expect God to give us great riches of this world? I sure hope not. We should expect persecution. We should expect to be disliked. We should expect to one day face our Lord and Savior and to have Him say, "You answered the call, I sent you; well done, good and faithful servant."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

To the Holy Spirit

Something that I have always found delightfully challenging in my Christian journey is my theology of the Holy Spirit - some use the big term pneumatology here. I remember being challenged at Moody that I do not think through pneumatology enough in my life. I usually focus on other areas of theology - like Theology Proper (Study of God), Soteriology (Study of Salvation) and even Ecclesiology (Study of the Church). What is funny though is that the Spirit is working in all of these things, and I rarely pay enough attention to notice.

This week as I was reading Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, he spoke on faith, for quite some time - I believe something in the range of 150 pages would be accurate. Calvin gets into the nitty-gritty on what faith actually is and what the object of faith is (Belief in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, not just in God). He manages somehow near the end of this contemplation on faith to swing the focus to the work of the Holy Spirit. It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit in one's life and heart that one can have faith in the first place. So, if you are reading this today as a Christian, true follower of Christ, you have faith because the Holy Spirit worked in you to bring this about.

When I first became a Christian, there was a lot of doubt in my mind on several subjects. Questions like - is this really all true? What will really happen when I die? How can I truly know that I am saved? These plagued me for quite some time. Despite these questions though, my faith grew over the years. As I read more of the Word, my faith grew more assured. The questions that haunted me slowly faded away and I became more and more sure of the Truth in my life and in my faith.

Calvin writes in 3.2.36 and 37:

"The Spirit accordingly serves as a seal, to seal up in our hearts those very promises the certainty of which it has previously impressed upon our minds; and takes the place of a guarantee to confirm and establish them."

"Faith is tossed about by various doubts, so that the minds of the godly are rarely at peace - at least they do not always enjoy a peaceful state. But whatever siege engines may shake them, they either rise up out of the very gulf of temptations, or stand fast upon their watch. Indeed, this assurance alone nourishes and protects faith."

I am continually learning that the Holy Spirit's work in my life has always remained constant. From the time that faith was given to me, He has sealed it upon my heart. Throughout this time, I may have had my doubts and experienced temptations, but His seal has always remained the same! My faith grows because the Holy Spirit's assurance and seal is nourishing it and protecting it. Once again, Faith is ALL about God the Spirit! There is nothing that I can do in it - He imparts it, He protects it, He seals it, He nourishes it. If any part of myself were left to preserving it, I would have utterly failed years ago. Temptation would have overtaken me; doubt would have ceased me; death and destruction would be awaiting me. But Praise Be to the Holy Spirit, for He has protected me and sealed me, and death, doubt and temptation have no reign over me!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bleak Moments...

About a week ago, I read Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis for the first time. Yes, I know what you are thinking - Steph, how is it that you have not read this book with your great love for Jack? Let me tell you, friend.... I don't know. I truly have no excuse. A great friend of mine has been hounding me about the Science Fiction trilogy of Lewis' for almost a decade now. And I will say it now - he is right, I was wrong in neglecting this for so long.

One of the biggest lightbulb moments for me while reading this was in the discovery of what exactly the Silent Planet was and why it was Silent. This is what I would like to write about now, so if you have not read the book, and you would NOT like to be spoiled - don't read this blog. However, if you don't mind a little spoiler, go ahead and read it - or you could go pick yourself up a copy of this very short 158 page book, read it, then come back here to discuss some thoughts.

OK, so spoiler readers and readers of the book from here on out.

Here is an excerpt from the book. It is Oyarsa (basically the head "angel" on the planet Malacandra) speaking to Ransom (our human hero of the book) telling him about Planet Thulcandra (aka Earth). Lewis writes,

"Thulcandra is the world we do not know. It alone is outside the heaven, and no message comes from it... It was not always so. Once we knew the Oyarsa of your world - he was brighter and greater than I - and then we did not call it Thulcandra. It is the longest of all stories and the bitterest. He became bent. That was before any life came on your world. Those were the Bent Years of which we still speak in the heavens, when he was not yet bound to Thulcandra but free like us. It was in his mind to spoil other worlds besides his own. He smote your moon with his left hand and with his right he brought the cold death on my harandra (upper level of the current planet, Malacandra) before its time... There was great war, and we drove him back out of the heavens and bound him in the air of his own world as Maleldil (God) taught us. There doubtless he lies to this hour, and we know no more of that planet: it is silent."

Lewis' myth-making here of the story of the fall of Satan is pretty amazing. He has an uncanny gift to be able to take what we know to be true from the Word of God and make it into another story/reality/myth that explains an idea about what we know. So for Lewis, Earth which is ruled by the Bent One is silent to all other angels. They cannot see or receive any messages from it, because the Bent One has silenced it to them.

This idea of silence as sin is striking to me. When I think of the injustices in the world - like a teenager being gang-raped for 2 1/2 hours while onlookers do nothing about it - I do not think of silence. The sounds of that one incident ring out in my ears - rage, anger, loudness, yells, screams, terror - sin is not silent here. It cries out in a loud, boisterous voice of ugliness to all the world. Yet the angels do not hear this, because they are separate beings and sin is not a part of them. To them, this world that is ruled by the Bent One is silent; and this is what brings great sorrow into my heart. Because sin has overtaken this world, and what God truly designed for this world is no longer visible or heard to angels.

The wonderful flip side to all of this is that once we leave the world of the Bent One and become a part of the plan of God, the angels rejoice in seeing us and hearing from us again. Luke 15:10, "Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

I have been challenged this week to be more active in this bleak, silent world. To borrow a phrase from Dr. Plantinga, this is "not the way it's supposed to be."

Monday, October 26, 2009

See the Art in Me

Well, a couple of days late on the promise, but here is the paper on Calvin, icons, and art that I recently wrote (slightly shortened and modified, but still pretty long - take it in chunks, if you must).

In Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin has proclaimed a very high view of God from the outset of the book. God is the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Author of Salvation. This very knowledge of God leads to a knowledge of self that finds humanity as utterly hopeless and constantly fallible in its search for God. Humanity does not find God; God finds humanity and declares Himself to them. Having set the stage for the relationship between man and God, Calvin begins 1.11 by titling it, “It is unlawful to attribute a visible form to God, and generally whoever sets up idols revolts against the true God.” It is through man’s “folly, nay, madness” that the icons of religion have been produced. Calvin writes that, “this brute stupidity gripped the whole world – to pant after visible figures of God, and thus to form gods of wood, stone, gold, silver, or other dead and corruptible matter – we must cling to this principle: God’s glory is corrupted by an impious falsehood whenever any form is attached to him.”

Something to understand about the time that Calvin, Luther, Zwingli and the other Reformers is that the Church was dripping with fashioned icons to Saints and God. Images of God were everywhere, little pictures (or icons as they were known) were in all of the Churches and people's homes, and worship was being given to these icons. So, Calvin addresses this problem head on and says that it is against God's second commandment - Do not make a graven image. For my Lutheran and Catholic friends out there, you may be saying to yourself, this is not the second commandment, so let's take a brief look into God's command in Exodus 20:4.

Calvin has separated out verses 3 and 4 of Exodus 20 into the first and second commandment of God. First, God has commanded that He alone is deity. To follow this up, the second commandment relates to the first and for Calvin, explains what worship is approved or rejected by God. Worshipping God alone is accepted and approved; creating any sort of image, likeness, carving that could represent God or any other gods is rejected. Calvin writes, “But God does not compare these images with one another, as if one were more subtle, another less so; but without exception he repudiates all likenesses, pictures, and other signs by which the superstitious have thought he will be near them.”

Luther, however, has combined Exodus 20:3, 4 to represent the whole of the first commandment of God. The force of the commandment under Luther’s view is that one is to “regard me alone as your God.” Luther is concerned with the intention of the heart, not the display of icons or art. He says, “That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.” Luther distastes the practice of works in faith and views this as the god that is against God, rather than a veneration of icons. He writes, “Idolatry does not consist merely of erecting an image and praying to it. It is primarily in the heart, which pursues other things and seeks help and consolation from creatures, saints, or devils.”

Both Calvin and Luther have a strong opinion formed before coming to the text. They have both seen an abuse of the first and/or second commandment in their time. For myself, the thrust of this commandment(s) comes in verse 5, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them.” It is because of this verse that I tend to agree with Luther’s view of the commandment that the action that God detests or loves is the intention of the heart in worship. If our heart is inclining towards worshipping an idol, then the purpose of sculpting that form will be for worship. However, if our heart is inclined for worshipping the one, true God, then the purpose for forming or painting an icon will be for aid in worship of the one, true God. The heart’s intention is pure, and the commandment is not broken.

During the time of the Iconoclast Controversy and the Seventh Ecumenical Council, iconophiles (people who were pro-icon) were asked to draw a clear line between worship and veneration. Veneration for man was done as an act of honor; worshipful veneration was “given only to the uncreated God.” Through the centuries, this distinction did not remain clear. The views of mankind as “brute stupidity” (said by Calvin) and “lazy-bellies and presumptuous saints” (said by Luther) shed light on why the distinction was no longer clear enough for the average layperson to grasp. A theology of worship and the place of icons in this worship needed to be addressed. Calvin argues in 1.11.9 that even a bow of veneration to the icons is a superstition. He says, “And there is no difference whether they simply worship an idol, or God in the idol. It is always idolatry when divine honors are bestowed upon an idol…because it does not please God to be worshiped superstitiously, whatever is conferred upon the idol is snatched away from Him.” Here is the heart of the matter for Calvin – worship is for God alone, man cannot distinguish between veneration and worship because the very act of bowing implies worship to the idol. Worship for Calvin must be “soli Deo gloria (to God alone be the glory) and finitum non est capax infiniti (the finite cannot contain the infinite).” In 1.11.10, Calvin describes the lengths these Christians are going to for icons – by taking up the sword in order to defend those who would burn them, by taking long, taxing pilgrimages in order to see images even if they have a likeness of it in their home. The outward actions show Calvin what is at the heart of the people. There has been a veneration not of just honor, but a bestowing of deity to the icons.

The use of icons in worship crosses a dangerous line. They had ceased being used as an aid in worship. They became the objects of worship, and therefore, took away what God alone deserved and should be given. For Calvin, there is no distinction between latria (worship) and dulia (service) – both are for God alone, not man and not an image. Since man cannot separate the image from worship, the image or icon should be destroyed. Calvin held firm to his convictions on theology and worship. Churches were stripped bare in Geneva. While he briefly accepts that art and sculpture can be a gift from God in 1.11.12, Calvin is vague about what can be painted or sculpted and in what function it can serve a purpose. William Dyrness writes, “Whatever Calvin’s good wishes might have been for those gifted in these arts, Calvin gives them no positive encouragement or guidance. As a result, artists and sculptors were mostly out of work in the Geneva of Calvin’s time.”

The theology of God that Calvin presents is one that I firmly believe and hold accordingly in my life. Worship as a response to this belief is an all-encompassing act. It transcends time and generations, and is an invitation by God to join in on something that is far bigger than ourselves that He has initiated through both nature creation and human creation. All of our actions in worship should point to God, and I agree with Calvin that the veneration of icons had crossed the line into worship of the icons and saints rather than of God. However, I believe that a reform in the area of iconography would have been more beneficial to the community rather than a destruction of church buildings and church art.

Luther had to deal with these matters more specifically because of the destruction of church buildings, icons, images and art in Wittenburg by the leadership of Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt. Luther addresses the destruction of images by seeking a reform of the heart first, rather than a destruction of property. He writes, “For when they are no longer in the heart, they can do no harm when seen with the eyes.” Mere destruction of images, for Luther, will only swell up pride and preserve the idolatry in the heart of “false confidence and pride in works.” In his sermon on the destruction of images, Luther uses the first commandment as his basis for what should be obeyed. It is the command not to have any other gods that Luther upholds as the principle. If images are made in order to be a god, then sin and disobedience to the command has occurred. He states, “where, however, images or statues are made without idolatry, then such making of them is not forbidden, for the central saying, ‘You shall have no other gods,’ remains intact.”

Luther’s concern for the heart and proper worship are evident throughout this sermon. His strong stance against strictly enforced destruction is because he sees the church replacing the works of pilgrimage and indulgences with the work of destruction. In faith and belief there is nothing that one can do to achieve any sort of good standing with God, and Luther sees Karlstadt requiring people to destroy images as a call for works to be performed. Luther desires that through right preaching and the Holy Spirit’s work on man’s heart, the veneration and worship of images will be destroyed in man’s heart and the icons that are improperly used and abused will be destroyed accordingly.

What then should become of works of art in the church? Cathedrals were built higher, more ornately to draw men’s eyes heavenward towards thoughts of God the Creator. Art, structure and images have been found to serve the church in didactical purpose. Today, power point screens run during times of praise with pictures of God’s creation – working to focus the thoughts and minds solely on God. One would be hard-pressed to find a church that did not have an operating flannel graph in use every Sunday during Children’s Church twenty years ago. Windows are filled with stain-glass that depict the lives of saints – reminding us of the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us and the communion of saints that we as believers now have come into.

Every aspect of artistic life in the church should serve as a means to bring glory and worship to God. In the construction of the tabernacle in the Old Testament it is said:

“Then Moses said to the people of Israel, ‘See the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahsamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver – by any sort of workman or skilled designer.” Exodus 35:30-35

Not that this can be a proof-text for art in Christianity, but it shows that God valued giving talent and skill to His people in order that a place of worship, a place where they could encounter God and receive forgiveness, could be constructed in a way that brought beauty and glory to God.

Calvin’s strong stance against any sort of images in the Church and subsequently a lack of direction for artistic expression does not sit well with me, a daughter of the Creator who has been given a creative drive and talent with which I have tried very hard to find avenues to express my faith and give glory back to God through my art. The abuse in the Church during the period of the Reformation and before is clearly a sin in the heart of man. Worship belongs to God alone. There is room for art and images in the Church though, as they serve to point to God, to direct the congregations thoughts and vivid images of their mind to God, and as they serve as an outlet for the artistically talented to express notions of Joy, Grace, Peace, Faith and Love in ways that only they are capable of doing – whether by a paint stroke, a click of a camera or the molding of clay.

The Book of Concord, ed. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959).

Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), vol. I.

Dyrness, William, Reformed Theology and Visual Culture (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Eire, Carlos M. N., War Against the Idols (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

Giakalis, Ambrosios, Image of the Divine: The Theology of Icons at the Seventh Ecumenical Council (New York: E.J. Brill, 1994).

Luther’s Works, ed. Conrad Bergendoff (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1958), vol. 40.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

One Step Closer to Knowing

By the end of tonight, I will have had a total of 3 classes in the past two weeks, as opposed to my normal 4 every week (8 every two weeks). Last week was "Reading Week" for Gordon-Conwell, but since I still have a class down at Boston College through the BTI, Ethics in an Ecumenical Perspective was still on! This week, two of my teachers had cancelled class for the week, so suffice to say I have had lots of time to read from the stacks of books that are required, work on my photography skills, and knock out a paper for my Calvin class (of which I promise to share my thoughts on tomorrow, but am not fully ready to blog about today).

For today, I have a rather "humorous" observation from my most eye-opening class of the semester - Ethics in an Ecumenical Perspective. It has not been the reading that I have found particularly eye-opening. I mean, for the most part I have understood that Catholics and Protestants think differently, approach ethics differently, and therefore, our writing on the subject will differ. What has been most eye-opening to me has been my interactions with my fellow classmates. The woman that I sit next to in the class, let's call her Kerri, happens to be a practicing Universalist (they come in all shapes and sizes at these "Jesuit" schools!). For the most part, she has identified whole-heartedly with those Ethicians that have proclaimed an Ethic of Love, Free-Spirited Will, and Good for Humanity type stuff. For those of you who are lost - just think Utopian Society based on Love and Respect for Humankind (without the hippy-dippy free love of it all).

For this class, we have a rather daunting 25-30 page paper that is due by the end of the course, and since we are quickly approaching November, most of the students' thoughts have turned to this paper along with their topics of conversation. So, Kerri asked me what I would be doing my paper on. I told her that I would be exploring this movement in the Evangelical world called the Emerging/Emergent Movement/Church (I am not going to particularize here on the differences, if any), their theological ethic, and how this has affected the Gospel of Jesus. She was intrigued and asked a little more about this, so I let her know that this movement was very missional focused, and related a lot to what Stanley Hauerwas (a moral theologian that we had read about three weeks prior) had written about in his book Resident Aliens. She asked what I meant by them being missional focused, so I told her that they had gone above any approach prior in Evangelicalism on how to affect and care for the poor, needy, diseased, etc. Their focus was to be like Jesus - the "pure Jesus" that came with a message of healing, etc.

I want to disclaim right here and now that I am still in the early stages of my study on this paper, so there will be more unfolding on this topic, but this is what I understand about this movement so far.

After I told her this, she got really excited about the movement, and asked what exactly I was against with it. Simply put, the Emerging Movement is doing great things in the way of affecting the world, the poor, and those that Jesus would have gone to first; however, there is an EXTREME disconnect between what they are doing, and what they are presenting as the Gospel. Long gone are the days of unrighteousness, sin, and repentance. The Gospel has become something else - a Secret Message, something that the Church has gotten wrong for centuries, and something that today is too offensive to be a part of any longer.

The funny thing is that by the end of our conversation, I gave her the name of some Emerging writers and their books, hoping that this would be a step in the right direction, leading her to a saving faith with Jesus. Maybe there can be something good that comes from this after all? Who knows except God above.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

...just call me Jack

The one class that I have yet to comment on is probably my favorite class I am currently taking. This is not to say that I do not thoroughly love and enjoy my other three classes, I do, but this class tops them all. The reading for it is magnificent, the lectures are fascinating, and if there were to be a field-trip, I would be about as close to heaven as I am going to get here on earth.

Have I intrigued you enough yet? Peaked your interest? Well, for the A students who read the title of this blog, they can deduce that his nickname is Jack. This is a self-proclaimed nickname, by the way, because his proper name does not have any way of breaking down to Jack. Give up? This course is on C.S. Lewis. Clive Staples - author, poet, philosopher, theologian, teacher, student, and just about one of the most intelligent men that have entered into this wonderful thing called Church History.

For my own part, C.S. Lewis became a part of my life when I was very young, and my father would read The Chronicles of Narnia to me. As I learned how to read, I slowly started reading them back to him, a chapter a night. Thus began my love for reading, for story and for the mystical land of Narnia itself. As I grew older, Lewis remained a strong part of my life. I read the letters to Screwtape, I wrestled through what it meant to merely be a Christian, and I attempted, at a pre-mature age, to understand the journey of the Pilgrim's Regress (which I re-read this past weekend and I still need an Encyclopedia for many of the movements and philosophies that are mentioned). When I started my undergraduate education, I was introduced to what are now my three favorite Lewis works - Till We Have Faces, A Grief Observed and The Great Divorce. Lewis became not just an author of wonderful fantasies and philosophy, but he became my teacher and instructor in greater things:
- what does it truly mean to love unconditionally,
- how are we able to see anything clearly in this world,
- have I truly abandoned everything of this world and started the walk on blades of grass that will not be plucked,
- how does one observe grief and believe in a sovereign, loving God

Lewis has taught me more than I think he ever believed or intended possible from these small books. He opened up a completely new way of thinking and brought questions to my mind that I never had before. In short - C.S. Lewis has been God's instrument in teaching me throughout my walk of faith.

Recently, we were asked to read Surprised By Joy, this is Lewis' autobiography of his journey to Christian faith. He is very open in it, for the secretive man that he was. He shares briefly of pain, of loss, of deep-seated hurt, of struggles, but than he shares openly and honestly about Joy, about longing for something that cannot be named - sensucht, about expression, about far-off lands of imagination and about homes that require a cup of tea and a good book in every room. Everything about Lewis draws me in - his wonderful mind that is able to be both analytical and creative is something one day I hope to be able to say of my own.

It has been his notion of longing or sensucht that I have been focusing on lately. He was trying so hard to find Joy, but when he finally reached the longing, he discovered that Joy was not even it - Joy was merely a signpost along the way. Joy, as some of you know, was given to me as my middle name. I have always truly loved my name, Stephanie Joy. Stephanie means "crowned one" - so I have considered myself to be the Crowned One with Joy. Not that many would consider me to be particularly "joyous" in personality (I hear that snickering), quite the opposite actually. I am a rather sarcastic spirit who hears "Smile" a lot because apparently there is a permanent frown on my face.

However, I do not think that being happy is the correct meaning of Joy. Joy is not necessarily loud and flamboyant, it is also not always marked with a smile. I truly believe that Joy is a part of faith. This is something that I have thought through now for almost 10 years. Where there is contemplative peace - Joy is. Where there is inexpressible worship - Joy is. Where grace and mercy abound - Joy is. Joy is far deeper than mere happiness. Faith in God the Father, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the Spirit happens and Joy exists for us, not as a longing, but as reality. Lewis longed for something, thinking that it was called Joy, but when he discovered his longing in the Incarnation, he realized that Joy was just something that came with the Faith.

I want to leave you with the words of Lewis in Surprised By Joy on this subject, because let's face it - as much as I love to write, and think that I do a pretty descent job at it, Lewis waxes more eloquently than I am capable of.

"In so far as we really are at all (which isn't saying much) we have, so to speak, a root in the Absolute, which is the utter reality. And that is why we experience Joy: we yearn, rightly for that unity which we can never reach except by ceasing to be the separate phenomenal beings called 'we.' Joy was not a deception. Its visitations were rather the moments of clearest consciousness we had, when we became aware of our fragmentary and phantasmal nature and ached for that impossible reunion which would annihilate us or that self-contradictory waking which would reveal, not that we had had, but that we were, a dream."

Monday, October 12, 2009

an Eye-Opening Experience...

This past week, we were assigned to panel groups in the Ethics in an Ecumenical Perspective class and had to come ready to discuss one of the assigned topics:
Stem Cell Research
Homosexual Marriage/Homosexual Rights
Illegal Immigration/Border Control/Economic Refugees

You were also assigned a role to play in your particular panel. One was a Catholic, one a Baptist, one a United Church of Christ (Universalist), and one a Lutheran. The Lord was highly favoring me and gave me the Lutheran role in the less than hot topic border control/illegal immigration. So, what's a former Lutheran to do when she needs to sound like a Lutheran? Why, call up her old, Lutheran-to-the-core dad and talk about border control! Come panel time, I was a full-fledged Lutheran ready to cry out about the right and left hand of God (I think I got an A that day for participation, thanks dad).

The beginning of the eye-opening experience was the other students in the class. Now, most of these students, going to Boston College and doing master work in Theology or Ethics or something of the sort are Jesuit. In fact, I think there are myself and one other woman in the class who are NOT Catholic or Jesuit. So, one man, who had been assigned Baptist and given the topic of homosexual marriage, merely quoted Genesis 1:27 "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them," and used that as his opening statement. I laughed at this one A LOT, because this dear Catholic pretty much nailed the Baptist mentality on the head, and had a spot on southern accent while doing it.

During a break in the class, I was talking to one of the students - let's call him Harry for the sake of discretion. Now, Harry is a Jesuit, but also is a free-wheeling philosophical thinker. So, he would describe himself as a pantheistic polytheist. He told me this in week 2, we are now in week 6. I have been trying to wrap my head around this one for 4 weeks now, but it got further explained to me this week when he was talking about a paper he had to write for Christology. He said that he describes the incarnation as Christ being incarnated from all of the gods. Let's say this together, folks..... "WHAT???" A little later, when he found out that I still held the view of God's Providence and Predestination together, he called it "quaint." NO LIE, QUAINT!!!! When he asked for an explanation on this, I let him know that this is my hermeneutical view of Romans 9, and that I fully and firmly believe that God will be glorified through all of this mess that we call a world. I also shared with him something I had learned last week from my reading in Calvin's Institutes that God is restraining the devil from going completely off the deep end. So, while we see things as completely horrible and evil (like Hurricane Katrina, Hitler, Genocide in Africa, Apartheid, you name it), this is not the worst the devil can do. God is restraining absolute chaos, absolute evil, because He is working on reconciliation, He is giving the Church a chance to reach out and help. Now this is a completely separate topic that I have yet to fully think through, so I need to digress back to the point. My friend, Harry, once I mentioned "the devil roaming around like a lion," stopped me there and asked if I really believed in a person which is the devil or Satan. I sat there and said, "Well, yes. I do. I read my Bible and take it for what it says."

Now, this may sound like a Sunday School answer, folks, but what I was trying to tap into with Harry was that for me, as a Protestant Evangelical, I fully believe that the Bible has authority over my life as the revealed Word of God. I also read it in the literal sense, not some analogical/allegorical/morality myth mess. I really did not see the problem with John Calvin or William Perkins, who I had also read earlier that week The Art of Prophesying (fantastic book!), when they were saying that God has given us authority through His Word. We, as the Church, hold no authority over the Scriptures. And while I understood that these two men were speaking out against the Catholic Church in particular on this one, I did not really believe that any Catholic would really say that he has some sort of authority over what the Bible says. But, there is my friend, Harry, who has the freedom to become a pantheistic polytheist and conforming that to Christianity. Who also finds that my literal interpretation of the Word of God is quaint, and who when I said that my view of God is that "my God is far bigger than myself," said in response, "My God is Myself." I do realize that Harry is as far left as we are going to get in the liberal realm of Catholicism, but this was eye opening for me.

Some final thoughts. What is your authority? Do you truly live under an authority? If it is Scripture, are you attempting to explain away some passage in Scripture in order to no longer be under its authority? Have you really wrestled with that passage of Scripture, or do you just find it offensive and stick to your logical reasoning on the subject instead? Maybe it is time to wrestle?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

I hope that Someday I'll see without these Frames.

A couple of weeks ago, I started reading John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, as seen by angst-y post previous about a week back. Now, to ensure you that I am not just a "wrathful God" person, there have been marvelous thoughts in my head on eternity as of late.

Calvin begins Book 1 by explaining that we know ourselves by our knowledge of God. The two are "mutually connected." He then goes into great detail explaining natural revelation of God and special revelation of God that would put our dear friend Tony Evans to shame for his atrocity written a few years back. The artist/creative side in me has always been amazed at God's natural revelation to us. Calvin expressed it most eloquently in 1.5.1 by saying, "Yet, in the first place, wherever you cast your eyes, there is no spot in the universe wherein you cannot discern at least some sparks of his glory. You cannot in one glance survey this most vast and beautiful system of the universe, in its wide expanse, without being completely overwhelmed by the boundless force of its brightness." Boundless force of its brightness - what a fantastic thought!

Now, we recently moved to New England, and I have not been disappointed in the least with the bold claim that one must see New England in the Fall in order to really understand and grasp the purpose of this season. The colors, the air, the simple breeze that blows through and makes you begin to wonder... there is a boundless force of brightness occurring. I love it, every single second. The most wonderful aspect of all of this is that I can truly enjoy this beautiful brightness because it points me to the Creator. He is in charge of the workings of the trees, so that they change their color and become a vast array of chromatic display that painters can only hope to capture one day with their brush. He has created the idea of "crispness," so that when the air blows through my hair, a sense of happiness and longing for something more overwhelms me.

I began to wonder as I read through Calvin, if I enjoy Fall and New England's version of the season this much with my poor eyesight and confined word expression of it now, how much more amazing will eternity be? I sit and marvel at what the Creator has done here, in this fallen world, and He is up there laughing because He knows that my mind will be blown when I meet Him in eternity. This is the wonderful thing about God - He has created each one of us with amazing gifts and talents and desires, and we get a taste of it here in this earth, but the real Joy will be when we see without these frames, and He shows us All of Himself. God is holding back here. This thought makes me weep, because I am completely blown away here by the beauty of nature. Oh, how SMALL my mind is and how AMAZING our God was, is and will be!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Greatest Trick Ever Pulled...

Last week I was reading The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan for the first time (don't be shocked, growing up Lutheran, we rarely venture out of the Lutheran world of reading). One thing that struck me was the character Ignorance. Halfway through the pilgrimage we meet this guy who has hopped over a fence and started on his pilgrimage. Christian tells the guy that he needs to go through the Wicket-Gate in order to be received at the Celestial City, but Ignorance is quite convinced that he will be just fine. He tells Christian that his city is really quite far from the Wicket-Gate and closer to the Celestial City, so the Lord of the C.C. won't mind that he is coming this way.

By the end of the book, it is clear that Ignorance does not truly understand what Christ's righteousness and justification are, and that he believes he will be accepted into the C.C. by his own law-abiding merit. Ignorance is blind to his sin, and I believe that part of his blinding is due to the fact that the road seems to be quite easy for him to travel on. Christian and his companion, Hopeful, have to deal with a lot of obstacles and trials along the way, but Ignorance seems to always have some sort of help along the way that makes those hard trials almost obsolete to him.

It is interesting that he gets through these trials while others turn away at them. For example, lions on the path cause two other characters, Mistrust and Timorous, to go back home and cease the pilgrimage. By-ends, another character, is killed by falling off Hill Lucre and does not finish his pilgrimage. Most people in this book that are not true Christians fall into the traps. But Ignorance is helped along through these traps all the way to the very end. It is almost as if Satan wants Ignorance to think that he is successful through these "trials" because he is doing well on his own. He makes it over the River Death with help from a boat. Both Hopeful and Christian had to walk through the river and focus clearly on Christ in order to make it through (Christian nearly making it in this process), but Ignorance hops on a boat with ease! He marches up the Celestial City's gates and is ready for the pomp and splendor of being received, but his reception is not as he imagines. He is asked where his certificate is that he would have received at the Wicket-Gate. He fumbles in his pockets, but his own good merits cannot produce this certificate. Instead of being put on their shoulders and brought with much joy and jubilation into the Celestial City, Ignorance is brought to a door on the side of the hill that is the gate to hell.

While others in this book are easily turned aside by the trials that Satan puts in their way, Ignorance is helped through these trials by Satan only to be shown that this easy road taken was not the way of the Lord at all in the end. The story of Ignorance had me thinking that Satan can easily work through life being easy for us. When was the last time you had to face a hard trial? When was the last time that you felt perseverance being stretched in your very core? If the answer is hard to find, I want to submit to you to beware the greatest trick that the devil ever pulled. I say this in full reference to The Usual Suspects, that "the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn't exist." Satan is working hard, my friends, either through much trial and tribulation in your life, or through much ease and help along the way. Let us hold fast to the faith which comes only through one gate and persevere till we are before the heavenly throne!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Let's Call a Spade, a Spade

I am in the process of digesting the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. Last night, during the class on this subject, we were discussing natural and special revelation. Calvin begins by arguing through Romans 1. Basically affirming that God has revealed Himself to us through 1. the very idea of God/the Creator implanted in our minds and 2. through creation declaring His glory. Calvin gets up in people's faces, basically saying that we cannot do anything but sin with this knowledge. We take this innate discovery in ourselves that there is a God and use that to create idols transforming Him unto our own whim. He asserts that, and for all of our p.c. friends out there - I do not apologize, "no religion is genuine unless it be joined with truth" (Institutes, 1.4.3. page 50).

Our professor, playing the devil's advocate, asked us if this was something that we could agree to. How is it possible that Christianity is the only way to know God? This is radical thinking, right? It is my understanding that we should put Calvin into his context. I would say that this is not a radical statement in Calvin's time. The refreshing thing about pre-modernity is that they called heretics, heretics. They called pagans, pagans. The ungodly were the ungodly. They were not concerned about the hurt feelings, the incorrectness of the cultural or political statements, or if there was possibly a way that God would reach into the other's religion and work grace through its constructs. NO! There was no genuine religion unless it was joined with truth! There was an idea out there that what God the Father, the Creator and Redeemer said to be true through His revealed Word was actually truth, the only truth, and there was no other way but that. Not on some holier than thou sentiment, but on the pure basis that God was/is in control over everything as Creator and Sustainer of life.

What has become of this? Humanism has gone so far that our world is reaching in oneself to the point that we can now declare what is ultimately good or bad for ourselves because that is the chief end - discovering what my needs, wants are and how I am able to fulfill them. So, it does not matter if the revealed Word says that my desires are sinful, because I can pick out what is good for me from the text and the rest will be only useful for the past. We have evolved and moved on from the past. You know, there was a guy named Marcion in the early 2nd Century that tried to take out specific portions from Scripture too and have the Word of God be Jew-free. What happened to him? Oh yeah, they had the balls to call him what he was, a heretic.

Now, what becomes of all of this? We, as the Church, have entered into a world that deems judgment, whether authored by the Creator of the world or not, as a taboo. We are coming dangerously close to having our view of loving thy neighbor, despite their sin, be tolerance of their sin and acceptance of who they are. I am starting to believe that there should be a Reform to become more Reformed again. Maybe my offensiveness to the world would cause such a stir that they would finally declare a judgment against me, declare me a heretic against society and crisp me up on a stake. Could this be the start of an exit out of post-modernity? If so, bring on the marshmallows and weenies!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Let My Words Be Few, or At Least to Sound More Like This...

Yesterday was the beginning of my class in English Puritanism. I must say, my experience in reading Puritan work has been limited to Edwards, and for this I am greatly ashamed of myself. Part of the requirements of this class are to read through the book "The Valley of Vision" which is a compilation of Puritan prayers recorded for such devotional growth purposes. Something to understand about the Puritans and their prayers is that they did not write down prayers ahead of time, I repeat (as this is important), they did NOT write down their prayers. So, when they would pray at church or home, what they said was pure flow of thought from their constant dwelling on the Scriptures. They knew the Scriptures so well, that their prayers came naturally from this knowledge and were extremely eloquent of speech, highly filled with theology and dripping a passion that I have rarely ever seen before.

This morning, I began my exercise of reading through and praying these prayers - as I will begin to do for the rest of the semester in the morning and the evening (and I dare hope now the rest of my life). I wanted to share the prayer from this morning, as it moved me to tears, and it is my hope that you, dear reader, will find its breadth and width refreshing and awe-inspiring, but that you will also glorify God with me through these words.

"O Thou Most High,
Creator of the ends of the earth,
Governor of the universe,
Judge of all men,
Head of the church,
Saviour of sinners;

thy greatness is unsearchable,
thy goodness infinite,
thy compassions unfailing,
thy providence boundless,
thy mercies ever new.

We bless thee for the words of salvation.
How important, suitable, encouraging are the doctrines, promises, and invitations of the gospel of peace!
We are lost: but in it thou hast presented to us a full, free and eternal salvation;
weak: but here we learn that help is found in One that is mighty,
poor: but in him we discover unsearchable riches,
blind: but we find he has treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

We thank thee for thy unspeakable gift.
The Son is our only refuge, foundation, hope, confidence;
We depend upon his death, rest in his righteousness, desire to bear his image;
May his glory fill our minds, his love reign in our affections, his cross inflame us with ardour.

Let us as Christians fill our various situations in life,
escape the snares to which they expose us,
discharge the duties that arise from our circumstances,
enjoy with moderation their advantages,
improve with diligence their usefulness,

And may every place and company we are in be benefited by us.

Amen, and Amen!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Discovering a Little More About Myself

The assignment for Ethics in an Ecumenical Perspective this week was to read the book by James Gustafson, "Protestant and Roman Catholic Ethics," then come prepared to discuss the Mrs. Bergmeier case from the perspective of a Protestant and Roman Catholic theologian. I ended up picking Paul Ramsay as my Protestant and J. Giles Milhaven as my R.C. Now, sparing you a lot of the details that could be wonderfully fascinating to some and like a butter knife boring into the skull for others, I will try to cut to the basic chase.

The Mrs. Bergmeier case is about a German wife and mother, during the time of WWII. She was out scavenging for food one afternoon, away from her children, when a group of Soviet army men came along, grabbed her and put her in a camp in Russia. Her husband and children had no idea what had happened to her. They basically became lost without her, to the brink of starvation. In the camp, Mrs. Bergmeier heard about her family's attempt to find her from a friendly commander. Another soldier, who was more congenial told her the two options that she had in order to be able to leave the camp. She could become violently ill, at that point they would ship her off to another camp where medical attention could be provided, or she could become pregnant, and they would ship her back to Germany and let her go.

Thinking through her dire situation and the situation of her dying family, she asked the guard to impregnate her. He did, and she was able to go home. The family accepted her back into their lives, even after she told them the circumstances of her return. The baby was born and they pored more love into that child than ever, because for them, that child was the savior for the restoration of the family.

Now, the question is - was she right or wrong? Briefly, again, Paul Ramsay, our Protestant theologian/ethician would say that Mrs. Bergmeier was wrong to do this. He would be very sympathetic to her case, but Ramsay has a deontological approach to Christian ethics - meaning that one has a duty, so very much like using "one ought to" phrases. Not only is he deontological in his approach, but he holds that mankind has held certain promises to each other entering into a covenant relationship with one another. So, while he sympathizes with the situation, Mrs. Bergmeier needed to uphold her marriage vows, not commit adultery and not break the covenant-partnership - this was her chief duty.

Our R.C. theologian/ethician, J. Giles Milhaven, has a much different approach to Christian ethics. The key for him is LOVE. So, love knows no a priori law, it sees only the ones loved and what experience shows is happening to them. He is very empirical and wants to look at all of the evidence in order to determine the good. For him, Mrs. Bergmeier would be justified in doing this act because her love for her family and the discovery of the hurt and near fatal conditions for them would justify her doing this sin; she is responsible to love them first and take care of them.

Now, before I get completely long winded, during this whole process, I have discovered a little more about my approach to ethics and in particular, this Mrs. Bergmeier case. I will say this about myself - I think that I am a heartless bastard. I am really not your typical weepy woman (don't get me wrong, stick Sleepless in Seattle on the tube and buckets of tears will be falling in a minute). But, I read this case and felt almost anger at it. Why didn't she trust in the sovereignty of God to pull her out of that situation? She was presented with two options (only really one that would get her home), but she forgot the all important third option - anything is possible with God, who is fully in control of the situation and will work out all things for the good of those who believe in Him. Now, I am not entirely sure that Mrs. Bergmeier held this view of God, she might not have been reformed and gone through Calvin's Institutes, so I will cut her slack if ignorance is in play. But, I think that if this situation was forced upon me (and Lord, I pray that the day never does come), that I would look for the third option - the trust that my sovereign Lord will assure me home, either back to my earthly family or home to Him in glory.

Friday, September 11, 2009

An Ecumenical Approach...

This year I was going to start taking Latin at GCTS (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), where I attempting to achieve an MA in Church History. However, do to some budget cut-backs and such, this course had to be dropped this year. This would not be a problem, typically, but I found this out on Tuesday morning, classes picking up this Friday.

So, I was pretty frantic in my search of something to do next. I needed to take a course on ethics at some point in this 2 year journey, so I looked into this wonderful thing called the BTI (Boston Theological Institute), which GCTS is a part of. The gist of the BTI is that 9 schools are participants in this institute, any student of these 9 schools can take courses at any of these institutions during their time and have it count as credit for their program. So, I found an interesting ethics course at Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry entitled "Ethics in an Ecumenical Perspective."

Now, I have somewhat of a mutt formation when it comes to my Christian heritage. I am formerly Lutheran, Emergent, and Non-Denominational, and now I am a part of an Assemblies of God church. This whole conglomeration of Denominational backgrounds for the Jesuit priest who is teaching my class is labeled "Protestant." For him, and the majority of the class, striving to look at ethics through an ecumenical perspective is reading through and attempting to understand how Protestants approach moral ethics. This can be done by reading Karl Barth, Diedrich Bonhoeffer, James Gustafson and other random Protestant moral theologians. At the same time, I am coming to the class to discover how it is that Catholics and Jesuits understand or approach moral ethics, so this can be done by reading Josef Fuchs, Germain Grisez, etc, etc.

I am very excited about this class, firstly because I have never really thought like a Catholic and this will take a lot of brain power on my part to be able to do well in this class. But, the thing that I loved most so far, is that this Jesuit priest/professor/doctor of moral theology and extremely sharp, intelligent man has quite a sense of humor. To lighten the class about halfway through he pulled up his desktop wallpaper and showed us two pictures of statues from a Jesuit Church in Rome. In one of the pictures you can see an angel towering over a Jesuit man, holding out his hand to him. The Jesuit man is being pulled downward by a Protestant woman whose breast seems to have fallen out of her robe. However, the Jesuits who view this can find courage in this statue because the man has his gaze firmly fixed on the angel - this serves as a reminder that they must keep firm and never waiver to the Protestant prostitutes (or just women) that would tempt to lead them astray.

The second picture was a statue where an angel was standing tall wielding a sword down upon two men. You can clearly see the faces of the two men, so the professor asked the class who these two men were. Well, immediately someone answered, "Calvin and Luther." And what was the reply of my esteemed professor? "Yes!" Of course it is those two brigands of the Reformation! And in the corner of the statue is a small angel, an angelite or cherub if you will, tearing up the pages of Luther and Calvin's books. My professor jokingly said that this was the Jesuit Church of Ecumenicalism. Funny.

So, to end this blog entry, I have found some of Luther and Calvin's more appropriate quotes about the Pope and the Bishops that assure me that this particular approach to ecumenicalism is on both sides. Enjoy!

“I feel much freer now that I am certain the pope is the Antichrist” - Luther

"Formerly laymen used to administer the sacraments as often as priests do now. Yet the superstitious of our day regard it as a great offence if a layman touch the bare chalice, or even the cover of it. Nor is a nun, though a consecrated virgin, allowed to wash the altar cloth or the sacred linen. O my God! this shows how far the sacrosanct sanctity of this sacrament has gone! I expect the time will come when the laity will not be allowed to even touch the altar -- except with money in their hand." - Luther

"We know well that under the Pope there is a bastard sort of Christianity." - Calvin

"As for the name of the Bishop of Rome, that is a foolish question to dwell upon. We bestow too much honour upon those horned cattle in calling them bishops, for the name is too honorable for them. Neither does the title of Pope any better suit the brigand who has usurped God’s seat." - Calvin

Monday, September 7, 2009

Great Expectations of Affections

I have been digesting Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections for a little while now (and when I say a little while, I think saying words like six and months might be in the ballpark). I think the thing that I love most about reading this work by Edwards is that he is so poignant at stating what is or should be a matter of fact for the Christian. Edwards is responding to the question how does one really know that he or she is saved? His approach to this topic is not meant for casual conversation or light theological discussions around the campfire. No, Edwards is thorough - as in so thorough I did not even realize that I had so many reasons or evidence why I was a Christian until I read this book.

There are two things that I want to briefly touch on from this book - one a subject matter and the second is merely a passage to leave you thinking.

I came up with the title of this blog while listening to a sermon a couple of Sundays ago. I think that the spiritual way of saying it is that the Holy Spirit planted in my head something I had read that morning and did not fully reveal its meaning to me until my mind began to wander in said sermon. One of Edwards' points about true religious affections is that "we must view humility as one of the most essential things that characterizes true Christianity." Edwards spends many words on how humility is characterized in a Christian, and I think that his main point is that humility will cause us to be affected by our sin. Now earlier, he had already noted that a true Christian will experience this thing called repentance in response to sin, but here he is making the point that a true Christian will be humbled by their sin because they truly understand their relationship to God - He is holy, I am not; He is great and good and wonderful and awe-inspiring and yet again I am not. The fundamental difference between God and us causes the true Christian to experience humility. And it becomes this wonderful cycle for the true Christian; as they discover more of God in their walk, they realize how much greater He is, causing further humility - while other Christians might see these great giants of faith before their eyes (such as when I read these books by Jonathan Edwards and think that he is incredible spiritual), that person as a truly affected Christian is experiencing humility before God causing a desire to know more, grow more and in the end experience more humility.

So, "A Lesson in Humility" has been born. Embarking on a journey to study more about the history of doctrine, faith, Christianity, etc., I have realized through the great words of Jonathan Edwards that I am heading into a journey that will not take me to great heights, but hopefully to a place of great humility and reverence, because the more that I will discover God through this process, the more affected I should become. And here is where I would like to leave you with a passage from Religious Affections that I have had highlighted for quite some time now *cough* six months *cough*

"Thus, truly Christian love, either to God or man, is a humble brokenhearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires. Their hope is a humble hope. Their joy even, when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is a humble, brokenhearted joy that leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, more like a child, and more disposed to humble behavior."