God Loves Wrestling

From a post at Stuff Christians Like:
I once wrote about something that my counselor said when I told him I felt like I was wrestling with God on some issues. He said, 'God loves that.' This is not the answer I was expecting. I thought he would say, 'You need to trust the Lord more.' Or 'You need to let go and let God.' But he didn't say that. Instead he remarked, 'Jon, do you know what is true about wrestling? Have you ever stopped to think about the nature of wrestling? God loves to wrestle with us, because you can't wrestle with someone who is far away. They have to be close to you. It's a very intimate, personal activity.' And I think he was right. I think that God wants me close. I think He wants me near to His side, close enough to feel His breath and know His strength. And when I approach to wrestle over an issue with Him, like Jacob wrestling, I don't think He is angry. I think He is happy, because I am close. Sure, I want to surrender and trust without question, but I no longer see wrestling as instant failure."


Health Care Reform Alternatives

This article gives a wonderful summary of the many problems with our health care industry and why Obama's proposal won't really help fix it (though the author isn't entirely opposed to the current bill in Congress). I'm not sure how well his HSA plan proposed on the final page will work, but it sounds a whole lot smarter than the system adjustments currently proposed. It's good to see an article written by a Democrat who doesn't deny established economic principles.

Hat tip to Dr. Mankiw for posting it.

Micah 6:6-8

"With what shall I come before the LORD
And bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
With calves a year old?

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
With ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
And to walk humbly with your God."


Churches of Christ and Baptism: An Historical and Theological Overview

A good summary of Restoration Movement thought about baptism, relevant to my most recent post. A couple notes:

1. The current ICOC view is not what Dr. Foster describes it to be.

2. The son of the Jimmy Allen mentioned in the article (who is also named Jimmy Allen) spoke at Harvard about baptism just a few months ago!

(Hat tip to Douglas Jacoby. Also, thanks to LT for the correction about which Jimmy Allen was mentioned in the article.)


Some Thoughts on the "Cognizance" Issue

(N.B.: A good portion of my argument depends on what Peter's hearers knew. I am certainly no expert on that subject, and would appreciate any corrections or further information about them. Furthermore, these thoughts are only preliminary.)

[UPDATE: In one of his podcasts, Douglas Jacoby states that most of the people whom Peter addressed on Pentecost had probably been aware of Jesus' ministry for a few years. In a way, I think this undermines my argument. However, certainly not all the people in the crowd - including those who were baptized - were familiar with the gospel beforehand.]

Recently, I've been thinking about the "cognizance" issue, the issue of whether one's understanding of the spiritual import of baptism affects the validity of one's baptism. The most germane question for those of us within the conservative wing of the Restoration Movement is this:

Do we have to understand that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins in order for our baptisms to be "valid"?

For conservatives within the Restoration Movement, this question is hugely important. Very few Christians today subscribe to the Restoration Movement view of baptism (i.e., immersion of adults for the forgiveness of sins and gift of the Holy Spirit); however, many Evangelicals, "born-again" Christians, and other Protestants (not to mention converts to Catholicism) are baptized as adults. This means that our position on the cognizance issue immediately affects what we believe about the salvation of many of our friends and people such as C.S. Lewis and Peter van Inwagen. If our answer to the question above is Yes, then C.S. Lewis et al. are not saved; if our answer is No, then they are. (Some people I know do not answer the question Yes or No, instead arguing that we cannot say with certainty. While this is true in theory, some tentative answer must be given in practice.)

I have not finalized my thoughts on this matter, but I thought it would be worthwhile to share a few thoughts on the implications of Acts 2 for the cognizance issue.

More conservative Church of Christers will argue that a proper understanding of baptism is necessary because Peter's hearers in Acts presumably understood that baptism was "for the forgiveness of sins" (cf. Acts 2:38). The argument, then, is that baptisms are only valid for those whose "cognizance" of baptism is at least comparable to that of the Christian converts in Acts 2.

Because the argument centers around the understanding of Peter's hearers in Acts 2, it would be useful to reflect on what exactly their states of mind were prior to their baptisms.

Peter's Acts 2 sermon was given during the Pentecost. Jews from all over the Roman world had traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Weeks.

These Jewish pilgrims were "amazed and perplexed" (v. 12) because the Christians were speaking in their native languages (vv. 7-11). On top of all this, the Christians had tongues of fire resting above their heads (v. 3). In other words, this was no ordinary day.

Jesus was well-known in Jerusalem and the surrounding regions, but most of those present for Peter's sermon - travelers from various distant lands - had probably never heard of him. They were religious Jews - familiar with the Tanakh (the Old Testament), not necessarily with Jesus' ministry. This means that what they knew about Christianity and baptism was, for the most part, limited to Peter's sermon (vv. 14-36). It is true that Peter's comment in v. 22 ("as you yourselves know") implies some prior awareness of Jesus' miracles; that notwithstanding, I find it difficult to believe that their insight into Jesus' life was anything more than cursory.

From Peter's sermon, they learned that Jesus had performed miracles (v. 22), had been raised from the dead (v. 24), had been exalted to the right hand of God (v. 33), and was Lord and Christ (v. 36).

That is pretty much it.

As far as I can tell, they did not know that Jesus had died for their sins (barring some extremely quick inference from Isaiah 53) or that God was Triune. They probably did not understand the entirety of Jesus' divinity. In all likelihood, some of them knew nothing about Communion, Christian morality, or the relationship of the New Covenant to the Old. For that matter, their understanding of baptism was incomplete or undeveloped at best; they did not know, for example, that baptism was a means of participating in Christ's death, burial, and resurrection (cf. Romans 6). Even if many of them were more informed than I suppose (which is certainly within the realm of possibility), it is clear that no emphasis was placed on their comprehension of Christian doctrine.

In short, any cognizance they may have had of any issue was rudimentary and disorganized - so much so that their exact understanding of the significance of baptism seems completely irrelevant.

Am I to believe that the very same men who may not have known that Jesus died for their sins were saved because they understood that baptism was for the forgiveness of sins? Is incomplete knowledge of baptism necessary for salvation if knowledge about Jesus' death on the cross is not?

Perhaps - but, at the moment, I find it extremely unlikely. And if our answer to the question posed at the beginning of this post is "No, such understanding is not necessary," then we should probably reconsider how we approach evangelism, re-baptism, and almost all of our interactions with the broader Christian community. Acts 2 never says that the Pentecost converts knew exactly what they needed to know to be saved; for all we know, they knew more than what was necessary.

But these are just my initial thoughts.


Pelagius on Will

From Pelagius's Defense Of The Freedom Of The Will, as quoted by Augustine:
"The man who hastens to the Lord, and desires to be directed by Him, that is, who makes his own will depend upon God's, who moreover cleaves so closely to the Lord as to become (as the apostle says) 'one spirit' with Him, does all this by nothing else than by his freedom of will."
"That we are able to do good is of God, but that we actually do it is of ourselves."
It seems to me that Pelagius has a valid interpretation. If we are not responsible for our own good behavior, it seems unjust for God to reward us for it. Heretics can still be right some of the time...


Fish Tank Post: Water and the Spirit

Here it is.


Fish Tank Post: Faith and the Binding of Isaac




Would thy beauty be lost forevermore,
If thou wast reforged again?
Or would thy glory be restored
Every day until the end?

Would some metal disappear with every fix?
Is the cut too deep to mend?
Or could mettle be added to the mix
Until the perfect descends?

What if the sword n'er were wrought
With gold so great to heal?
What if its life is merely bought
With refinement as its seal?

What is grace that we can be
Reforged, refined each day?
The perfect never, but we can see
His glory bestowed our way.

A Woman's Question

A Woman's Question

Lena Lathrop

Do you know you have asked for the costliest thing
Ever made by the Hand above?
A woman's heart, and a woman's life-
And a woman's wonderful love.

Do you know you have asked for this priceless thing
As a child might ask for a toy?
Demanding what others have died to win,
With the reckless dash of a boy.

You have written my lesson of duty out,
Manlike, you have questioned me.
Now stand at the bars of my woman's soul
Until I shall question thee.
You require your mutton shall always be hot,
Your socks and your shirt be whole;
I require your heart be true as God's stars
And as pure as His heaven your soul.

Your require a cook for your mutton and beef,
I require a far greater thing;
A seamstress you're wanting for socks and shirts-
I look for a man and a king.

A king for the beautiful realm called Home,
And a man that his Maker, God,
Shall look upon as He did on the first
And say: "It is very good."

I am fair and young, but the rose may fade
From this soft young cheek one day;
Will you love me then 'mid the falling leaves,
As you did 'mong the blossoms of May?

Is your heart an ocean so strong and true,
I may launch my all on its tide?
A loving woman finds heaven or hell
On the day she is made a bride.

I require all things that are grand and true,
All things that a man should be;
If you give this all, I would stake my life
To be all you demand of me.

If you cannot be this, a laundress and cook
You can hire and little to pay;
But a woman's heart and a woman's life
Are not to be won that way.


Miller on Despair

From Arthur Miller's After the Fall:

"You know, more and more I think that for many years I looked at life like a case at law, a series of proofs. When you’re young you prove how brave you are, or smart, then, what a good lover; then a good father; finally, how wise, or powerful, or what-the-hell-ever. But underlying it all, I see now, there was a presumption. That I was moving on an upward path toward some elevation, where - God knows what - I would be justified, or even condemned - a verdict anyway. I think now that my disaster began when I looked up one day - and the bench was empty. No judge in sight. And all that remained was the endless argument with oneself, this pointless litigation of existence before an empty bench. Which, of course, is another way of saying - despair."
(Hat tip to Nick Nowalk, who is writing an excellent series of blog posts on being known by God.)

Poem From a Slain Soldier

A poem written by an anonymous soldier killed in World War I:
If it be all for naught, for nothingness
At last, why does God make the world so fair?
Why spill this golden splendor out across
The western hills, and light the silver lamp
Of eve? Why give me eyes to see, and soul
To love so strong and deep? Then, with a pang
This brightness stabs me through, and wakes within
Rebellious voice to cry against all death?
Why set this hunger for eternity
To gnaw my heartstrings through, if death ends all?
If death ends all, then evil must be good,
Wrong must be right, and beauty ugliness.
God is a Judas who betrays His Son,
And with a kiss, damns all the world to hell,-
If Christ rose not again.


My Guest Post on Cloud of Witnesses

Chris Reese was cordial enough to allow me to write a post on his blog Cloud of Witnesses. Here it is.

Sayers on God's Way

From Dorothy Sayers' The Devil to Pay:

Hard it is, very hard,
To travel up the slow and stony road
To Calvary, to redeem mankind; far better
To make but one resplendent miracle,
Lean through the cloud, lift the right hand of power
And with a sudden lightning smite the world perfect.
Yet this was not God's way, Who had the power,
But set it by, choosing the cross, the thorn,
The sorrowful wounds. Something there is, perhaps,
That power destroys in passing, something supreme,
To whose great value in the eyes of God
That cross, that thorn, and those five wounds bear witness.