Of Prayer and Pride

Recently, a friend and I made a prayer pact: We decided to pray for a certain length of time each day and to hold each other accountable to the pact. I faithfully honored the pact every day - until yesterday, when I forgot to pray for the required length of time. When I first realized that I had forgotten, I became somewhat frustrated with myself. Then I began to think about why I was frustrated with myself.

The reason my friend and I had decided to make our prayer pact was obvioust enough: Having faith in the power of prayer, we wished to be consistent in daily prayer in spite of our cluttered schedules. My objective (and my friend's) was a stronger prayer life - nothing more. And yet it quickly became clear to me that I was not frustrated with myself because I had failed to meet this objective. After all, my prayer life had become more consistent as a result of my pact; my one day of "insufficient" prayer, though unfortunate, did not seriously hinder my walk with God. On the contrary, I was frustrated with myself because I had not met the terms of the pact, because I would no longer be able to tell myself that I had fulfilled the pact - because, in my quest for righteousness, I had left no room for grace.

The problem was not that I was striving to pray more consistently, or even that I had made a specific, potentially "legalistic" pact with my friend. The problem was that I cared about being righteous for the sake of thinking of myself as righteous, rather than caring about righteousness for righteousness' (or, better yet, Jesus') sake. The problem was that I was more worried about demonstrating to myself that I was a man of prayer than I was worried about actually being a man of prayer.

My mistake reminded of this quotation from J.B. Phillips' When God was Man:
"The 'good' man, the man whose god is righteousness, has as his life’s ambition the keeping of rules and commandments and the keeping of himself uncontaminated by the world. This sounds admirable; but, as the truth of Christ showed, the whole of such living, the whole drive and ambition, the whole edifice, is self-centered. That entire process of effort must be abandoned if a man is to give himself in love to God and his fellows. He must lose his life if he is ever going to find it."
For me, an admirable enough pursuit - prayer, of all things! - became a self-centered means of proving myself to myself, of earning my salvation. I had been pursuing righteousness so that I could avoid my need for grace, so that my faith could rest in my own good deeds and not in Christ's redeeming sacrifice. Of course, when I made the prayer pact, I was not consciously attempting to pray my way out of a need for grace; but that is what happened nonetheless.

The culprit, unsurprisingly, was the great sin, pride. And there is an important lesson here, I think, for all of us. In my experience, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who do not think they need forgiveness and those who do not think they can be forgiven. We can identify the former as the "self-righteous souls" - the souls out of touch with their own sins - and the latter as the "self-pitying souls" - the souls out of touch with God's amazing grace.

Interestingly, the self-righteous soul and the self-pitying soul are not that different, for self-righteousness and self-pity are both manifestations of pride. It is pride that reassures us that we have no need of grace, that our sins are minor or justifiable, that we are actually quite good people (and certainly better than him or her); and when we do (inevitably) stumble and fall, when the truth of our sinfulness becomes inescapable, when we can no longer pretend that we have it all together, it is pride that tells us that it is too late, that nothing can be done, that we are eternally stained and unforgivable.

Notice how these two superficially different attitudes are both fundamentally egocentric in nature. The self-righteous soul cares not at all (or very little) that his good deeds please God or benefit his fellow men; he cares only that his reputation with others - and with himself - be preserved. The guilty soul cares not at all (or very little) that his sins have injured God; he cares only that he can no longer think of himself as good, that he has toppled himself from his own imaginary pedestal. The self-centeredness evident in both cases is the hallmark and calling card of pride.

Pride convinces the self-righteous soul that grace is beneath him and the self-pitying soul that grace is above him. Both are wretched lies, but they are not lies that are easy to spot; the devil is too cunning for that. No, these lies can only be discovered if we are on the lookout for them - rather like the moonwalking bear.

If we are willing to catch our pride in the act, we will, of course, succeed. ("Seek, and ye shall find" goes for sin, too.) After all, pride is plenty common, and it can be found virtually anywhere - as I recently learned, even in prayer. Unfortunately, the first step with pride, as with alcoholism, is admitting we have a problem - and this we are not always willing to do. If we are courageous enough, however, to resist our pride - to pray for humility, to seek advice and correction, to submit to others, to confess our sins, to search out our hearts, and to cast off our façades - then the Scriptures are clear: "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up" (James 4.10).

Francis Chan: Are Your Beliefs Biblical?

I was pleasantly surprised by this video from Francis Chan, a leading Evangelical church leader and author of the book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God:

Of course, even if we in the Restoration Movement got baptism right, we've got a long way to go...

(Hat tip to WCW.)


Fumerton and Skepticism

From Richard Fumerton's Metaepistemology and Skepticism:
"This reminds us, of course, of Quine's injunction to naturalize epistemology. Quine suggested that we give ourselves full access to the deliverances of science when it comes to understanding how we have knowledge of the world around us. Contemporary externalists have simply given us more detailed metaepistemological views which allow us to rationalize following the injunction to naturalize epistemology. If the mere reliability of a process, for example, is sufficient to give us justified belief, then if that process is reliable we can use it to get justified belief wherever and whenever we like.

All of this will, of course, drive the skeptic crazy. You cannot
use perception to justify the reliability of perception! You cannot use memory to justify the reliability of memory! You cannot use induction to justify the reliability of induction! Such attempts to respond to the skeptic's concerns involve blatant, indeed pathetic, circularity. Frankly, this does seem right to me and I hope it seems right to you, but if it does, then I suggest that you have a powerful reason to conclude that externalism is false. I suggest that, ironically, the very ease with which externalists can deal with the skeptical challenge at the next level betrays the ultimate implausibility of externalism as an attempt to explicate concepts that are of philosophical interest. If a philosopher starts wondering about the reliability of astrological inference, the philosopher will not allow the astrologer to read in the stars the reliability of astrology. Even if astrological inferences happen to be reliable, the astrologer is missing the point of a philosophical inquiry into the justifiability of astrological inference if the inquiry is answered using the techniques of astrology. The problem is perhaps most acute if one thinks about first-person philosophical reflection about justification. If I really am interested in knowing whether astrological inference is legitimate, if I have the kind of philosophical curiosity that leads me to raise this question in the first place, I will not for a moment suppose that further use of astrology might help me find the answer to my question. Similarly, if as a philosopher I start wondering whether perceptual beliefs are accurate reflections of the way the world really is, I would not dream of using perception to resolve my doubt. Even if there is some sense in which the reliable process of perception might yield justified beliefs about the reliability of perception, the use of perception could never satisfy a philosophical curiosity about the legitimacy of perceptual beliefs. When the philosopher wants an answer to the question of whether memory gives us justified beliefs about the past, that answer cannot possibly be provided by memory."
(Hat tip to Agent Intellect.)


Lewis on Fern-seed and Elephants

An excellent address given by C.S. Lewis originally entitled "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism," nicely summarized here.


Communion: October 17, 2010

"Hi, everyone. My name is Joseph Porter, and I am a junior at Harvard College. I would like to share some thoughts about the cross.

There is one thing that most people think about when they think about the cross: forgiveness. And forgiveness is a beautiful thing. Jesus has washed our sins away, our consciences have been cleared, we've been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb! Forgiveness is awesome. But it's just the beginning.

Turn with me to 1 Peter 2.24.

'He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.'

'He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.' There's the forgiveness. Jesus nailed our sins to the cross. And that's great, but it's not the end of the story. That's not all Jesus did. The forgiveness comes with a purpose: Jesus nailed our sins to the cross so that we could 'die to sins and live for righteousness.'

Think about that. Jesus didn't just die so that we could be forgiven; Jesus died so that we could be
transformed. Jesus didn't just die for our sins; Jesus died to destroy our sins. Jesus didn't just die to set us free from Hell; he died to set us free from sin and temptation and anything that entangles or separates us from God. Jesus was crucified so that our sins could be crucified - so that our lives could be changed forever.

You know, the world does not think that our lives can change. The world says that we are the way we are and that's the end of the story. 'He was born that way.' 'That’s just how she was raised.' 'He’s a sex addict, he'll
never be pure.' 'She'll always be short-tempered.' 'You can't teach an old dog new tricks.' 'He'll never change.'

And maybe that's what you think about yourself. Maybe you think that you'll never overcome that one sin. Maybe you think that it will enslave you for the rest of your life. Maybe you think that you can't do it, that you're not good enough to be a Christian, but God says,
'No! It doesn't have to be that way! You can do it! You can change! You know why? Because I have crucified your sin!'

Guys, God has crucified our sin. Colossians 2.11 says, 'In [Jesus] you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ.' Jesus cut off our sinful natures! Romans 6.18 says, 'You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.' That's not a typo. We have been set free from sin!

Do we live as though we have been set free from sin? Do we allow God to work in our hearts so that we can 'die to sin and live for righteousness'? Or do we listen to the world's lies and think we can't change? Do we treat our sin as something that happens to us inevitably? Or do we see it for what it is - something that we can overcome?

It's true that we'll never be sinless or temptation-less. Being a disciple of Christ is not easy. But guys, the sky is the limit. Jesus is the limit of how righteous we can be. We are free to serve God in every way, because Jesus has set us free from sin.

The cross sends the most powerful message of forgiveness and love that I can imagine. But that's not the only message the cross sends. The cross also reminds us that God doesn't just sit back and hope that we repent. God sends his son to the cross and says, 'Do you see My Son up there?
That is what I'm going to do to your sin. I am going to crucify your sin.'

Guys, Jesus has paved the way of righteousness for us. All we have to do is to follow in his steps. As we take the bread and the wine today, let us remember Jesus' sacrifice and give thanks that we have died to sin so that we can live for righteousness."


The Sinner's Prayer: A Brief History of a Novel Practice

A great introductory article by Steve Staten to the Sinner's Prayer.


Paul's Conversion

  • A light from Heaven blinds Saul (Acts 9.3, 22.6, 26.13).
  • Saul falls to the ground and a voice says to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (9.4, 22.7, 26.14)
  • Saul asks, "Who are you, Lord?" (9.5a, 22.8a, 26.15a).
  • Jesus identifies himself (9.5b, 22.8b, 26.15b).
  • Paul asks, "What shall I do, Lord?" (22.10a)
  • Jesus says, "Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (26.15b-18).
  • At this point, Paul has faith in Jesus. He has confessed Jesus as his Lord (22.10a) and Jesus has appointed him as his servant (26.15b-18). However, Paul has not yet received the gift of the Holy Spirit and thus has not been saved (Romans 8.9b).
  • Paul's companions lead him to Damascus (Acts 9.8b, 22.11a).
  • Paul waits for three days without eating or drinking (9.9).
  • Jesus sends Ananias to Paul (9.10-16, 22.12).
  • Ananias tells Paul that he has been sent so that Paul may receive the Holy Spirit (9.17b).
  • Paul regains his sight (9.18a, 22.13).
  • Ananias tells Paul to "be baptized and wash [his] sins away" (22.16b).
  • Paul is baptized (9.18b)
Paul is saved not when he comes to faith in Christ, but three days later, when he is baptized and receives the Spirit.


Russell on Loving One's Neighbor

Christ said, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself', and when asked 'Who is thy neighbour?' went on to the parable of the Good Samaritan. If you wish to understand this parable as it was understood by his hearers, you should substitute 'Germans and Japanese' for Samaritan. I fear my modern day Christians would resent such a substitution, because it would compel them to realize how far they have departed from the teachings of the founder of their religion."

Tolstoy on the Rich and Powerful

From Tolstoy's "What Is Art?":
"No longer able to believe in the Church religion, whose falsehood they had detected, and incapable of accepting true Christian teaching, which denounced their whole manner of life, these rich and powerful people, stranded without any religious conception of life, involuntarily returned to that pagan view of things which places life's meaning in personal enjoyment. And then among the upper classes what is called the 'Renaissance of science and art' took place, which was really not only a denial of every religion, but also an assertion that religion was unnecessary."


Attitudes and Points

Bad attitude + good point < good attitude + bad point. It is better to have a good attitude than a good point. If I have a good attitude, I'll figure out the good points eventually. If I have a bad attitude, I'm in trouble.


Lewis on First Things

From God in the Dock:
"The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping.

The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels of intoxication.

It is a glorious thing to feel for a moment or two that the whole meaning of the universe is summed up in one woman - glorious so long as other duties and pleasures keep tearing you away from her. But clear the decks and so arrange your life (it is sometimes feasible) that you will have nothing to do but contemplate her, and what happens?

Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made."


2 Corinthians 8 and Giving

I read 2 Corinthians 8 today in my quiet time and was taken aback by how much we can learn from it about giving! My impression was that the Bible did not say very much specifically about financial giving; I do not think that impression took the wealth of information in 2 Corinthians 8 (pardon the pun) into account. I recommend reading it yourself, but here are some of the things that I noticed:
  • Paul describes the generosity of the Macedonian churches as a grace given to them by God (v. 1).
  • "[I]n a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints" (vv. 2-4). Wow!
  • We should "excel" in our giving (v. 7).
  • Our giving reflects the sincerity of our love (v. 8).
  • The goal is equality (vv. 13-15). That is certainly worth some thought.


The Unacknowledged Success of Neoliberalism

What I read, what I write, and what I think has become less political in the past years, for a few reasons: the chances that I can meaningfully influence politics are slim to none; expressing opinions on political issues can foment unnecessary division within Christian circles; politics and the economy are frickin' complicated, and I do not have the time or desire to become an expert in either; and, finally, talking about politics (and especially arguing about politics) is unhealthy for me.

That being said, I really liked this column by Scott Sumner. What I liked about it the most was that it distinguished between two different topics that often seem to be conflated in our thinking: government control of the economy and transfer of wealth. (That's probably an oversimplification on my part, but it's better than nothing! I've never even taken an economics class.)

To me, the evidence is quite clear that government control of the economy - price controls, tariffs, direct government ownership of different companies, &c. - is generally bad. Free markets are better.

However, I think the evidence about transfer of wealth - taxes, social services, &c. - is more mixed. Sumner notes how the Nordic countries have done quite well for themselves even with high tax rates (to the chagrin of many right-wingers here in the States); there's also the moral question (which can't be answered solely by economists) of whether it is worth sacrificing some efficiency for some equality. (Again, this is all muddled simplifying on my part!)

I think this distinction is absent in most American discourse on politics, and I think that is unfortunate. Conservatives think that the Nordic countries are all left-wing, when in fact some of them do quite well on scales of economic freedom (see the article for details). Liberals, meanwhile, probably resist a lot of pro-market reforms because they think "pro-market" means "anti-poor people"; again, the Nordic countries show that this thinking is incorrect.

Anyway, good article, and what Sumner says is of much more value than what I say.


The Log and the Speck

The simple message of Jesus' famous speck-in-the-eye analogy in Matthew 7.3-5 is that hypocrisy is bad. And that is a worthwhile message, as far as it goes.

But I think the analogy runs deeper than that. Notice what Jesus says in v. 5: "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye." What Jesus is saying is not "Focus on your own log; the speck is none of your business." Rather, he says that you cannot see clearly enough to take the speck out of your brother's eye until you have first dealt with your own log. Intuitively, hypocrites do not judge themselves as they should. Jesus' point, though, is that hypocrites cannot judge others as they should as a result of their hypocrisy.

I am sure this is not an original observation, but I had not really thought about it before.


It Shall Not Be Forgiven


Fish Tank Post: Balance


The Hound of Heaven

The Hound of Heaven

Francis Thompson

I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat - and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet -
'All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.'

I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followèd,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside).
But, if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of His approach would clash it to.
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their clangèd bars;
Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o' the moon.
I said to Dawn: Be sudden-to Eve: Be soon;
With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over
From this tremendous Lover-
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!
I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue;
Or whether, Thunder-driven,
They clanged his chariot 'thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o' their feet:-
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat-
'Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.'

I sought no more that after which I strayed
In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children's eyes
Seems something, something that replies,
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.
'Come then, ye other children, Nature's-share
With me' (said I) 'your delicate fellowship;
Let me greet you lip to lip,
Let me twine with you caresses,
With our Lady-Mother's vagrant tresses,
With her in her wind-walled palace,
Underneath her azured daïs,
Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.'
So it was done:
I in their delicate fellowship was one-
Drew the bolt of Nature's secrecies.
I knew all the swift importings
On the wilful face of skies;
I knew how the clouds arise
Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings;
All that's born or dies
Rose and drooped with; made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine;
With them joyed and was bereaven.
I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the days dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning's eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
I laid my own to beat,
And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven's grey cheek.
For ah! we know not what each other says,
These things and I; in sound I speak-
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
The breasts o' her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth.
Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
And past those noisèd Feet
A voice comes yet more fleet-
'Lo! naught contents thee, who content'st not Me!'
Naked I wait Thy love's uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten me to my knee;
I am defenceless utterly.
I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o' the mounded years-
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! must-
Designer infinite!-
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i' the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsèd turrets slowly wash again.
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man's heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
Be dunged with rotten death?

Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
'And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught' (He said),
'And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited-
Of all man's clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child's mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!'
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
'Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.'


Acts 8 and Sola Fide

Unlike the majority of Evangelical Christians today, I do not believe that salvation is through faith alone. On the contrary, I believe that salvation - the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit - is usually received at baptism. For my purposes here, it does not matter why I believe there are exceptions to the baptismal rule, or what those exceptions might be. What matters is that my position allows for exceptions.

Importantly, my Evangelical friend does not have the luxury of allowing for exceptions to the sola fide rule - for if exceptions exist, then salvation is not actually through faith alone, but also (at least sometimes) through something else.

With that in mind, consider Acts 8.14-17, a passage that has often been cited against theologies of baptism such as mine. Acts 8 does indeed present a problem for me, because it indicates that baptism was insufficient for the reception of the Holy Spirit on at least one occasion.

In light of this scripture, I have a few options. I could perhaps say something about how the practice of laying on hands died out with the apostles. I could argue that this instance is merely an unexplained exception to the rule. I could even concede that I was wrong about baptism and begin laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What options, however, does the Evangelical have? His theology has no room for exceptions. It would be untenable to argue that the Samaritans came to faith in between baptism and the laying on of hands. He could (maybe) argue that forgiveness of sins is through faith alone, but that the Holy Spirit comes afterward - but even this lesser concession would constitute a radical shift from the understanding of baptism (or the laying on of hands) as an "outward sign of an inward grace."

This much, at least, seems undeniable to me: Regardless of how we handle Acts 8.14-17 (and I by no means have a "set" understanding of the passage), we cannot avoid the simple fact that practices such as baptism and the laying on of hands were not instituted as mere symbols closely associated with the act of conversion, but spiritually efficacious practices in and of themselves. Here, we see that the gift of the Holy Spirit came distinctly after the Samaritans' initial profession of faith and baptism - not through faith alone.

The Evangelical has often argued that the New Testament's description of baptism as being "for the forgiveness of sins" (Acts 2.38) is a result of baptism's temporal proximity to the act of coming to faith. But such an argument cannot, as far as I can tell, make sense of Acts 8.14-17.


Fish Tank Post: The Myth of Half-Christianity

Here it is. (A bit rushed on my part, but oh well.)


The Didache

Richard Beck's post about the Διδαχή (Didache), or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, got me re-interested in that early Christian text, and so I read Tony Jones' translation (linked to in Dr. Beck's post) in about twenty minutes. I thought I'd jot down a few quick thoughts on different verses that struck me:
  • 2.5-6: I've always wondered about how absolutely we should apply commands like "Give to every one who asks you." For example, should I give money to a homeless person if I know that person will use the money to buy cigarettes or liquor? The saying in v. 6 - "Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give them" - suggests that it is wise to use discretion with our almsgiving. This discretion should not lessen our generosity, but it should focus it.
  • 2.2: Notice the prohibition of abortion.
  • 2.7: "Hate no one; correct some, pray for others, and some you should love more than your own life."
  • 3.3: Filthy talking is put on the same level as lust.
  • 4.2: Daily fellowship! Apparently, they needed it, too.
  • 4.6: Hmm...  
  • 4.8: This comes close to saying that Christians shouldn't have private property (echoing Acts 2). We could probably do a lot better in sharing what we have; after all, if we will share everything in Heaven (as the author argues), why not share everything on Earth?
  • 4.9: Spare the rod and spoil the child!
  • 4.10-11: It seems that the early Christians had servants - or slaves, for the Greek word (δοῦλος) translated "servants" here and "slaves" in Ephesians 6 (among others) is the same. This is something worth keeping in mind (not to condone modern institutionalized slavery).
  • 4.14: Confess before you pray!
  • 6.2: "For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able, then at least do what you can." Perhaps a reference to martyrdom?
  • 6.3: It seems that the author(s) weren't aware of 1 Corinthians 8. This is interesting for determining how authoritative we should consider early Christian texts to be (in this case, this particular text seems to go against Paul's writings)  and for understanding how doctrinally and theologically united the early Christians were.
  • 7.4: Already, the Christians seem to be moving away from the immediate baptisms of Acts. I am not sure if this is a good thing; after all, we take our time as well!
  • 8.2-3: We probably do not focus enough on the Lord's Prayer.
  • 9.4: This is a side of Communion that we almost certainly neglect: the communal aspect. For the author(s) here, the Eucharist (i.e., Communion) symbolizes the Church's desire for unity. (And, of course, the Eucharist was originally part of a meal - a social event.)
  • 9.5: Baptism marked the entry of Christians into the Church - not faith. Notice that candidates for baptism (i.e., catechumens) - people who were presumably believers - were not yet considered full members of the Church.
  • 10.6: I love this.
  • 11.1: Teachers have a distinct role in the Church.
  • 11.3ff: "Apostles" and "prophets" seem to be used relatively interchangeably. Also, the different tests for evaluating the legitimacy of prophets are interesting.
  • 11.7: Probably a reference to the unforgivable sin (cf. Matthew 12.31-32, Mark 3.29-30). Not sure what to make of that.
  • 12.1: Discretion!
  • 12.4: "[A] Christian should not live idle in your midst."
  • 13.1-3: Yeah, full-time ministry! (Seriously, though, that's what it sounds like.) Notice that teachers are entitled to support just as much as prophets.
  • 14.1: cf. 4.14.
  • 14.2: This is something Jesus commands as well - and yet I have never (to my knowledge) seen it practiced today. Maybe we should have a time for reconciliation and confession before every Communion.
  • 15.1: Bishops (what we would call "elders") and deacons (literally "servants") are appointed by their churches - not by some higher central authority. And they "render to [us] the service of prophets and teachers."
  • 16: A lot of interesting things here about the last days, imminent eschatology, and all that jazz.
  • 16.2: cf. 4.2. We come together "seeking the things that are good for [our] souls."
  • 16.4: Anti-Christ?
Overall, I find this glimpse into the practices of the first-century Christians quite illuminating. Nonetheless, I cannot help but agree with most of the early Christians that the Didache is non-canonical; it just doesn't have the right feeling about it. But it is very instructive, and worth the twenty minutes.


The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce is an awesome book. You should read it.

Rather than writing a long blog post about it that wouldn't do it justice, I thought I'd just go through some of my favorite excerpts. Don't let these fool you into not reading it! What matters aren't the quotations as much as the characters.

Exchange between a sinner in Hell and a murderer in Heaven who (of course) repented:
"Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
"No. Not as you mean. I do not look at myself. I have given up myself."
Later on:
"But I got to have my rights same as you, see?"
"Oh no. It's not so bad as that. I haven't got my rights, or I should not be here. You will not get yours either. You'll get something far better."
Once we understand grace, we will stop insisting on our rights.
"I'm not asking for anybody's bleeding charity."
"Then do. At once. Ask for the Bleeding Charity. Everything is here for asking and nothing can be bought."
After the sinner describes himself as a "decent man":
"You weren't a decent man and you didn't do your best. We none of us were and we none of us did."
The repentant murderer confesses some sin:
"Murdering old Jack wasn't the worst thing I did. That was the work of a moment and I was half mad when I did it. But I murdered you in my heart, deliberately, for years."
"You mind your own business, young man.... Because I'm not taking any impudence from you about my private affairs."
"There are no private affairs."
And then the ultimate expression of pride:
"I'd rather be damned than go along with you."
Next is a discussion with a liberal theologian which you'll just have to read in its entirety.

One Ghost (people in Hell are Ghosts) says, "If they wanted to rescue us they could do it." But all that must happen for us to be rescued - and the only thing that can rescue us - is our willingness to be rescued: our willingness to repent.

Another great exchange:
"I wish I'd never been born. What are we born for?"
"For infinite happiness. You can step out into it at any moment...."
On shame:
"Don't you remember on earth - there were things too hot to touch with your finger but you could drink them all right? Shame is like that. If you will accept it - if you will drink the cup to the bottom - you will find it very nourishing: but try to do anything else with it and it scalds."
This latest Ghost is unwilling to repent:
"You've no right to ask me to do a thing like that. [...] And now - please, please go away!"
"Friend. Could you, only for a moment, fix your mind on something not yourself?"
A bunch of pearls of wisdom from Lewis' spiritual mentor (and guide through the afterlife) George MacDonald:
"[Y]e cannot in your present state understand eternity.... But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective."
"They say of some temporal suffering, 'No future bliss can make up for it,' not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. [...] The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven."
An interesting take on Heaven and Hell:
Hell is a state of mind.... And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind - is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakable remains."
Some metaphysics:
"Ye cannot fully understand the relations of choice and Time till you are beyond both."
Why do people go to Hell?
"The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words 'Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.' There is always something they insist on keeping, even at the price of misery. There is always something they prefer to joy - that is, to reality."
"There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened."
"The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing."
"[A] damned soul is nearly nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself. Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat on the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it. [...] First they will not, in the end they cannot, open their hands for gifts, or their mouths for food, or their eyes to see."
How sinful pleasures lead us astray:
"[T]he time comes on when, though the pleasure becomes less and less and the craving fiercer and fiercer, and though he knows that joy can never come that way, yet he prefers to joy the mere fondling of unappeasable lust and would not have it taken from him. [...] He'd like well to be able to scratch: but even when he can scratch no more he'd rather itch than not."
On bad emphases:
"There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself...as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist! There have been some who were so occuped in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ."
On conversion:
"Those that hate goodness are sometimes nearer than those that know nothing at all about it and think they have it already."
"It's only the little germ of a desire for God that we need to start the process."
"[T]he whole thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for His own sake."
"Nothing, not even the best and noblest, can go on as it now is. Nothing, not even what is lowest and most bestial, will not be raised again if it submits to death."
On the danger of art:
"Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him."
One Ghost is offered to drink from a special fountain:
"When you have drunk of it, you forget forever all proprietorship in your own works. You enjoy them just as if they were someone else's: without pride and without modesty."
A Fountain of Humility! Would I drink of it?

On loving God first (a lot to think about here):
"Human beings can't make on another really happy for long. [...] You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God."
On fulfillment in Heaven:
"Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed."
On feelings:
"[N]o natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God's hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and themselves into false gods."
Repentance is freeing:
"That's what we all find when we reach this country. We've all been wrong! That's the great joke. There's no need to go on pretending one was right! After that we begin living."
On Heaven:
"Don't you know that you can't hurt anyone in this country?"
"Here is all joy. Everything bids you stay."
"Everything becomes more and more itself. Here is joy that cannot be shaken. Our light can swallow up your darkness: but your darkness cannot now infect our light."
"If it would help you and if it were possible I would go down with you into Hell: but you cannot bring Hell into me."
"The Happy Trinity is her home: nothing can trouble her joy. [...] He fills her brim full with immensity of life: he leads her to see the world's desire."
"[A]ll loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies and itchings that it contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt by the least in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all."
As sinners, we misunderstand love:
"When your own heart's been broken it will be time for you to think of talking. But someone must say in general what's been unsaid among you this many a year: that love, as mortals understand the word, isn't enough. Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried. [...] There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him."
"[W]hat we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved. [...] We shall have no need for one another now: we can begin to love truly."
It is amazing how we have confusing love with this craving.

False religion is dangerous and deceptive:
"The false religion of lust is baser than the false religion of mother-love or patriotism or art: but lust is less likely to be made into a religion."
On pity:
"Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way round. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity."
"Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves."
"[True pity] leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. [...] Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on still having jaundice...."
And finally, on Freedom:
"That thing is Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality. But ye can see it only through the lens of Time, in a little clear picture, through the inverted telescope. It is a picture of moments following one another and yourself in each moment making some choice that might have been otherwise. Neither the temporal succession nor the phantom of what ye might have chosen and didn't is itself Freedom. They are a lens."


Fish Tank Post: Magic


Is David Too Vindictive?

To me, at least, that can often appear to be the case. Consider, for example, Psalm 35.8-9:
"Let destruction take them by surprise!
Let the net they hid catch them!
Let them fall into destruction!
Then I will rejoice in the Lord
And be happy because of his deliverance."
On the face of it, David seems to be rejoicing in the destruction of his enemies. And, of course, there are countless passages in the Psalms similar to this one.

Notice, however, what David writes a few verses later (vv. 13-15):
"When they were sick, I wore sackcloth,
And refrained from eating food.
(If I am lying, may my prayers go unanswered!)
I mourned for them as I would for a friend or my brother.
I bowed down in sorrow as if I were mourning for my mother.
But when I stumbled, they rejoiced and gathered together;
They gathered together to ambush me.
They tore at me without stopping to rest."
David - long before Jesus exhorted anyone to love his enemies - prayed and fasted for his enemies as though they were his friends. That strikes me as remarkable - and it should give us all pause when we think about David and Old Testament morality in general.


The Importance of Insight

A miraculous story is not terribly difficult to fabricate. I imagine that considerations like that explain the ease with which many people reject the historicity of the Resurrection and other supernatural claims made in the Bible.

To a point, I am sympathetic to such skepticism; the Bible itself warns against false prophets and instructs us to test the spirits (1 John 4.1). But I ultimately find myself less than compelled by such worries, because other features of the Gospels do not strike me as the sort could be easily fabricated.

One such feature is the remarkable moral insight of the Gospels and New Testament writings. It does not take a genius to devise the Golden Rule - or even a particularly good man. But what the Apostle Paul says about (for example) godly sorrow and worldly sorrow - how contrition, in and of itself, is meaningless and even dangerous - is something that I have found to be remarkably true in my own life, and also something that I never would have understood on my own. What the Bible has to say about pride has struck at the central problem of the human condition unlike anything else I have ever known. And such wisdom, I think, is not the mark of "cleverly devised myths" (2 Peter 1.16), but of the Truth.


Fish Tank Post: The Myth of Individual Christianity

Here it is.


My Translation of Romans 11

[UPDATE: I hope to amend and improve this translation as time goes by. The original is preserved in my archives.]

For my final project in my Greek class, I had to translate Romans 11. Here is the final result:
I ask, then: Has God driven His people away? Absolutely not! For I myself am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God has not driven His people away, whom He foreknew.

Or do you not know what the Scripture says about Elijah? As he appealed to God against Israel, 'Lord, they have killed Your prophets, destroyed Your altars, and I alone have been left behind – and they seek my life as well!' But what is God's response to him? "I have left behind to Myself seven thousand men, whose knees have not bowed to Baal."

In this way, then, there has come to be at this very time a remnant according to the choice of grace: and if by means of grace, then no longer from works, or else grace would no longer be grace.

What then? That which Israel sought, it did not obtain, but the chosen did. The rest were hardened, just as it is written, 'God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that cannot see, and ears that cannot hear, up until this very day.' And David says, 'Let their table be a snare and a trap and a stumbling block and a retribution to them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and let the south wind bend them forever.'

I ask, then: Did they stumble in order that they might fall? Absolutely not! But what is a lapse to them is salvation to the Gentiles, in order to provoke jealousy in Israel. And if their lapse is riches to the world and their loss riches to the Gentiles, how much greater will their fullness be!

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch, then, as I myself am an apostle to the Gentiles, I extol my ministry, if I may in that manner provoke some of my kin to jealousy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what is their acceptance if not life from the dead?

If the firstfruits of the dough are holy, so also is the entire batch; if the root is holy, so also are the branches. If some of the branches were cut off, you of the wild olive tree who were grafted into them and became partners of the nourishing roots of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. But if you boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.

You will say, then: 'The branches were cut off in order that I could be grafted in.' Very well! They were cut off because of their faithlessness, but you have stood because of your faith. Do not, however, think yourselves exalted, but be afraid – for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you.

Behold, then, the kindness and strictness of God: strictness to the fallen, but God's kindness to you, if you remain in kindness. Otherwise you too will fall. And even they, if they do not remain in faithlessness, will be grafted in – for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from olive tree that is wild by nature and grafted into the cultivated olive tree contrary to nature, how much more will these natural branches be grafted into their own tree!

For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you will not be wise in your own eyes: A hardening in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in. And so all Israel will be saved, just as it is written: 'Out of Zion will come a deliverer; he will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this will be My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.'

According to the gospel, they are enemies for your sake; according to the choice, however, they are beloved for the sake of the fathers, for God's gifts and call are irrevocable. For just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy due to their disobedience, so too they now have disobeyed in order that by the mercy given to you they too may now receive mercy. For God shut up all men in disobedience so that he might have mercy on them all.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and inscrutable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has given to Him first, and been repaid by Him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things; to Him be glory into the ages! Amen."


Communion: April 25, 2010

"Hi. My name is Joseph Porter, and I am a sophomore here at Harvard. This is the time in our service when we celebrate what is called Communion, the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist. It is our time to remember Jesus Christ.

Oftentimes, we can think that the purpose of Communion is primarily to remember the cross – and indeed, Christianity is empty without the cross. But I do not believe that Jesus instituted Communion only so that we would remember the cross, because I do not think that the cross can be truly understood in isolation.

Christianity, as I said, is empty without the cross – but the cross is empty without the Resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15.14, Paul writes, '[I]f Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.' And again, in v. 17: 'If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.' Paul’s point is striking: If Jesus has not been raised from the dead -
even if he died on the cross – our faith is in vain. If Jesus has not been raised from the dead – even if he died on the cross – we have no hope of a new life, of citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. Salvation is found not in the God who died, but in the God who died and rose again.

As Christians, it can be easy for us to focus only on the cross or only on the Resurrection, forgetting that each depends upon and completes the other. When we focus only on the cross, we can make Christianity a guilt trip. 'Look at your sin! Look at what you did to him! Look at what he had to do for you!' We can forget that the true climax of Jesus’ time on Earth was not his death, but his
victory over death and over the grave.

On the other hand, when we focus only on the Resurrection, we can lose sight of the fact that God’s grace is not cheap – that we were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 7.23). We can think, 'God loves us, regardless of who we are!' That is true, but we were called to take up our
own crosses and to follow Jesus, to be united with him in death so that we could be united with him in a new life. Salvation required sacrifice on Jesus’ part, and it requires sacrifice on our part as well – sacrifice of time, money, ambition, and sin. Simply put: Just as the cross is meaningless without the Resurrection, the Resurrection is impossible without the cross. To focus on one and not the other is to distort the gospel. We desperately need both.

We are about to partake of the bread and fruit of the vine in remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ. The fruit of the vine represents Jesus’ blood shed on the cross – but it also represents the blood that flowed through his veins when he rose from the dead on the third day. The bread represents Jesus’ body hanging on the tree – but it also represents his resurrected body, which ensures that we too can be resurrected.

This is the beauty of Jesus Christ, the beauty I have found nowhere else. It is the beauty of strength in weakness, of life in death, of victory in defeat – of Resurrection in the cross. 'The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed' (Isaiah 53.5b).

As 1 Corinthians 11.26 tells us, whenever we eat the bread and the drink the cup, we proclaim Jesus’ death until he comes. It is not without reason that we take time every Sunday to meditate upon the cross. But the cross is a triumphant cross only because it anticipates the Resurrection. And so I ask you: As you eat the bread and drink the cup, remember Jesus in his entirety. Remember the life he led, the life he gave up, and the life he regained. Do this in remembrance of him."


Fish Tank Post: Infant Baptism and Covenant


Believe It or Not

My favorite parts:
"The most venerable metaphysical claims about God ... start ... from the fairly elementary observation that nothing contingent, composite, finite, temporal, complex, and mutable can account for its own existence, and that even an infinite series of such things can never be the source or ground of its own being, but must depend on some source of actuality beyond itself."
"It is not logically requisite for anyone, on observing that contingent reality must depend on absolute reality, to say then what the absolute depends on...."
"Above all, Nietzsche understood how immense the consequences of the rise of Christianity had been, and how immense the consequences of its decline would be as well, and had the intelligence to know he could not fall back on polite moral certitudes to which he no longer had any right. [...] He understood also that the death of God beyond us is the death of the human as such within us."
(Hat tip to RGD.)


Ichthus Article: Façades

What Is Original Sin?

Given my recent post on the matter, I've been thinking a lot about original sin and talking about it with different people. I've been a bit a frustrated by the vagueness of the doctrine. One friend told me that he never thought original sin implied (for example) the guiltiness of infants, but that it had something to do with the sinful nature or fallenness of mankind. I've heard different people suggest similar understandings of original sin.

Call such an understanding a "weak" view of original sin. A couple thoughts about the weak view:

1. No one I know of claims that Jesus was born with the stain of original sin. (I may not think that Mary was immaculately conceived, but I certainly think that Jesus was!) But Jesus was tempted, so he must have had a sinful nature in some sense...right? (Remember that what the NIV translates "sinful nature" literally means "flesh" - and Jesus clearly had flesh.) So it seems that, under the weak view of original sin, Jesus was born with the stain of original sin. But that is problematic.

2. Does anyone really dispute that we are born predisposed to sin or with sinful natures? And, if not, is the difference between proponents of a weak view of original sin and opponents of original sin just a semantic one?


Fish Tank Post: Infant Baptism and Original Sin


A Resurrection That Matters

Reply to Evan Fales: On the Empty Tomb of Jesus


Fish Tank Post: The Man on the Cross


Evil as Privation?

There is a long tradition in Christian thought of describing evil as nothing more than a privation of good.

The thought that always comes to mind: What about pain? Pain is not a lack of a good experience, but a (sometimes quite powerful) experience all its own. There is a difference between experiencing a lack of pleasure and experiencing pain. But pain, ceteris paribus, is evil.


Two Sides of the Coin

I have noticed what I believe is a sort of confusion in Christian theology, especially on the popular level. It is not (I think) a particularly troublesome confusion - most of the time - but it is worth mentioning nonetheless.

Consider the two following claims: "We are saved by faith alone" and "We are saved by grace alone." Without delving into the precise meaning of the five solas, I can say at least this: It does not make obvious sense that we can be saved both by faith alone and by grace alone. It seems, rather, that we are saved by both, and that neither is alone; the one is accompanied by the other.

In making this observation, I have not uncovered any glaring inconsistency in classical Protestant theology; I have only demonstrated a need for clarification. Here, I would like to propose a rough draft of a clarification, using the analogy of a coin.

Salvation, like a coin, has two sides. It is a gift (or set of gifts) we receive both through God's efforts to impart it to us - through His grace and Jesus' sacrifice on the cross - and through our efforts to receive it - through our faith or baptism, or perhaps (controversially) through our works. My preliminary suggestion is to call the former the means of salvation and the latter the conditions of salvation. Faith, then, would be a condition of salvation - "[W]ithout faith it is impossible to please [God]" (Hebrews 11.6) - while grace would be a means of salvation. Christians often discuss the question "What saves us?" Such discussions should, in my mind, be divided into discussions of what God has done to bring salvation and what we must do to accept it.

Perhaps this distinction is simplistic at best - perhaps the line between conditions and means is not so clear-cut. Perhaps it is biased toward certain perspectives on salvation. I do not know. I find this distinction helpful because it emphasizes and brings to light the covenantal nature of salvation; salvation has two sides because it is a covenant which must be (like any covenant) both offered and accepted.

It could also illuminate certain theological debates. For example, I think that saying we are not saved by works is saying (primarily) that our works cannot and can never be a means of our salvation; in other words, we cannot earn our salvation. However, the question of whether or not works can be a condition of our salvation - whether "faith without works" can be enough - is, in my opinion, a thornier one.


Fish Tank Post: Resurrection


Fish Tank Post: Where Were We in Haiti?


James on Skepticism

From William James' The Will to Believe:
"We cannot escape the issue by remaining skeptical and waiting for more light, because, although we do avoid error in that way if religion be untrue, we lose the good, if it be true, just as certainly as if we positively chose to disbelieve. It is as if a man should hesitate indefinitely to ask a certain woman to marry him because he was not perfectly sure that she would prove an angel after he brought her home. Would he not cut himself off from that particular angel-possibility as decisively as if he went and married some one else? Skepticism, then, is not avoidance of option; it is option of a certain particular kind of risk. Better risk loss of truth than chance of error. [...] To preach skepticism to us as a duty until 'sufficient evidence' for religion be found, is tantamount therefore to telling us that yielding to our fear of error is wiser and better than yielding to our hope that it may be true. It is not intellect against all passions, then; it is only intellect with one passion laying down its law."
"To take a trivial illustration: just as a man who in a company of gentlemen made no advances, asked a warrant for every concession, and believed no one’s word without proof, would cut himself off by such churlishness from all the social rewards that a more trusting spirit would earn, — so here, one who should shut himself up in snarling logicality and try to make the gods extort his recognition willy-nilly, or not get it at all, might cut himself off forever from his only opportunity of making the gods' acquaintance. This feeling, forced on us we know not whence, that by obstinately believing that there are gods (although not to do so would be so easy both for our logic and our life) we are doing the universe the deepest service we can, seems part of the living essence of the religious hypothesis. If the hypothesis were true in all its parts, including this one, then pure intellectualism, with its veto on our making willing advances, would be an absurdity; and some participation of our sympathetic nature would be logically required. I, therefore, for one, cannot see my way to accepting the agnostic rules for truth-seeking, or willfully agree to keep my willing nature out of the game. I cannot do so for this plain reason, that a rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if those kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule. That for me is the long and short of the formal logic of the situation, no matter what the kinds of truth might materially be."
(Hat tip to JAM.)


Searle on the Overriding Question

From Searle's Freedom & Neurobiology:
"There is exactly one overriding question in contemporary philosophy. [...] How do we fit in? [...] How can we square this self-conception of ourselves as mindful, meaning-creating, free, rational, etc., agents with a universe that consists entirely of mindless, meaningless, unfree, nonrational, brute physical particles?

For the scientific naturalist, the answer is, 'Not very well.'"

(Hat tip to CoW.)


The Sorrow of God

Courtesy of BW3, a beautiful and simple Cockney poem called The Sorrow of God: A Sermon in a Billet. My favorite parts:
But what if 'E came to the earth to show,
By the paths o' pain that 'E trod,
The blistering flame of eternal shame
That burns in the heart o' God?
For the voice of the Lord, as I 'ears it now,
Is the voice of my pals what bled,
And the call of my country's God to me
Is the call of my country's dead.


Chesterton on the Way Things Are


Fish Tank Post: Atheistic Moral Realism?