Saturday, April 30, 2011

book report: A God-Sized Vision by Hansen and Woodbridge (2010)

As a life long resident of Connecticut, but also a life long born again Christian, I have no idea what it's like to not live in a mission field. Connecticut, all of New England in fact, has some of the lowest concentrations of evangelical Christians in the nation. This means most (~95%) of my fellow flinty New Englanders do not share my belief in the Bible as the Word of God, in Jesus as the only savior of our souls, in salvation by grace, in a lifestyle of worship characterized by ethics defined biblically, etc. But it wasn't always so in the history of my neck of the woods. I was encouraged to read the similarity of the culture in New England 400 years ago before Jonathan Edwards witnessed a revival, America's First Great Awakening which broke out in his neighborhood of Northhampton, Mass. Then his grandson, Timothy Dwight witnessed a revival at Yale, in New Haven, Conn. a hundred years later. Dwight's observations show me that no matter who the anti-Christian philosopher of the era is, the effects are the same.
Striplings scarcely found that the world had been enveloped in general darkness through a long succession of preceding ages, and that the light of human wisdom had just begun to dawn upon the human race. The world they resolutely concluded to have been probably eternal, and matter the only existence. Man, they determined, sprang like a mushroom out of the earth like a chemical process; and the power of thinking, choice and motive were merely a result of elective affinities. If, however, there was God and man was a creative being, he was created only to be happy. As therefore, animal pleasure is the only happiness, so they resolved that the enjoyment of that pleasure is the only end of his creation. p. 64
Wow! The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The authors look at revival stories in Scotland, Korea, China, Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda. Ministers had labored so long and seen such a small change until God took over and suddenly the christians in name only were transformed and the unbelievers turned to Jesus in mass, as if God had decided when the tipping point was the proceeded in the tipping.

This book has encouraged me to not give up hoping that God can once again tip the hearts of my friends and neighbors. There is no region too hard for God to bring to life, to his glory. My only disappointment in the book is the choice to not mention the Pentecostal revival which seemed to have tipped at Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906 and has spun off numerous denominations that if counted as simply Pentecostals, account for the 2nd largest Christian group after the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps half a billion believers around the world. That's a very significant revival story to neglect in a book about revivals. I feel like I was served pineapple upside down cake without the pineapples. It is an excellent book, but it's missing an ingredient, if not the ingredient, that practically defines it. Who can think of Christian revival and not think of the Pentecostals and their emphasis on the power of the Holy Spirit? Apparently Hansen and Woodbridge do. But the rest of the cake they serve up is otherwise excellent.

Thanks to Zondervan for the free review copy.
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Friday, April 29, 2011

workshop review: earth bag building with Patti Stouter

A couple weekends ago, a couple guys from my church and I trekked over to Patti Stouter's house to learn from her how to build with dirt and bags and barbed wire. We want to provide permanent shelter for Haitians in a sustainable, affordable, culturally appropriate, disaster resistant manner and she has already designed and seen constructed a few buildings in post-earthquake Haiti. She has a website, Simple Earth Structures, which has a page for training workshops at her house. Her classes are not just for relief minded people such as myself, though she has had much interest from ex-patriot Haitians who want to go back and do something for their friends and family. There are Americans who want to build additions or entire domiciles out of earth bags for themselves, in the USA. One such couple was also in our class.

The class was great. We worked on rubble bags for the first rows of the foundation. Then we mixed dirt to the right mixture of clay and sand and moisture and added them to bags to lay on the foundation, and made sure two lines of barbed wired were between each layer. We tamped the bags and shifted them around so our walls stayed vertical. We looked at an earth bag that had been re-opened after tamping and marveled at how solid it had become. We learned how to determine if the local soil needs modification before use. Patti is a great teacher. I appreciated her scientific approach to this building method. She has multiple experiments in progress around her property and in her basement. She answered our questions, not as a salesperson, she is not selling bags, but as a friend. Sometimes she didn't have an answer, and put it on her mental list of things to either experiment with or ask someone else about.

We took a lunch break and got these massive Philly cheese steak BLT sandwiches on long rolls, that were out of this world. The calorie count was massive, but we worked hard. We didn't stay for dinner with Patti and her husband, but we had at least an hour of conversation in their living room. Her husband is an architect, but also a great guy to talk with. We were treated like old friends. I can't speak highly enough of this workshop. I highly recommend it to anyone considering building with bags.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

book report: Johann Sebastian Bach by Rick Marschall (2011)

Finishing this book was like eating a supreme pizza but in the personal size, oh so good, but not enough. At almost 200 pages, Rick Marschall, has introduced me to a world I'm woefully clueless about and put an intense desire in me to indulge in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach until my ears bleed. My musical upbringing consisted of pop music then heavy metal then grunge then alternative pop music and now my teenagers listen to hip hop. I find myself as the parent who seeks out the classical station on the car radio and at work as well. I have no clue what I'm listening to, or by whom, but now I know what I want to listen to and it seems that if I really wanted, I could listen to Bach for a long time before anything repeated itself. Marschall brings to the forefront an essential dimension of Bach's music, his Lutheran faith. I love this quote of Bach's, "The aim and final reason of all music should be none else but the glory of God and refreshing the soul. Where this is not observed there will be no music, but only a devilish hubbub."

Marschall wants us readers to appreciate Bach's faith. He refers to Bach's Bible and the Lutheran commentary he used and made notes in. He also points to his employment in several churches including his last post for the last 27 years of his life at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. His musical output was beyond any other human's. "Whereas he once composed a cantata a month to the astonishment of fellow musicians, at Leipzig he composed one a week over several periods. The mighty Passions, of which the St. Matthew and St. John survive today, were written for the St. Thomas Church. The majestic B minor Mass was written during Bach’s Leipzig period." Marschall spends a chapter on Bach's dedication to church music to support the assertion that Bach is the fifth evangelist. He did not mention any of the anecdotes of those who converted to Christianity because of the works of Bach, from Mendelssohn to communists in countries without freedom of religion but with appreciation for great music.

I am very thankful for Marschall's appendix explaining different musical terms. I needed a clue, not just on musical terms, but on the genius, gifted by God to create worship music that has endured the centuries.

I received this book for free that I might review it from Booksneeze.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

book report: Our Triune God by Ryken and LeFebvre (2011)

Crossway Books has released another book on the Trinity. Last summer, Fred Sander's book, The Deep Things of God, came out, and I was able to read and review it over Christmas break. It was a phenomenal book. Of course, not everything that can be said about the Trinity has been said, but I was curious how the authors of this volume, Philip Ryken and Michael LeFebvre, would distinguish it. Whereas Sanders approached the subject philosophically, but not to the exclusion of the Biblical revelation, Ryken and LeFebvre approach the topic biblically, but not to the exclusion of philosophy.

This book is half the length of Sander's book. It has four chapters. The first chapter, The Saving Trinity, is an exposition on the opening prayer in Paul's letter to the Ephesian church. The second chapter, The Mysterious Trinity, is more philosophical, but surveys the Old Testament, looking at the bread crumbs left by God to point towards the New Testament's fuller revelation. The third chapter, The Practical Trinity, is an exposition of Jesus's discourse on the night before his betrayal, from the last third of John's gospel. The final chapter, The Joyous Trinity, is a survey of Luke's gospel and the repeated demonstrations of the Trinity,Luca Rossetti da Orta, The Holy Trinity', fres...Image via Wikipedia including Jesus's baptism and transfiguration.

I read this on my Kindle, and it is so much easier for me to highlight great passages and share them here. However, I do not have page numbers.
Salvation is administered by the Father, accomplished by the Son, and applied by the Spirit.

To express the same truths in yet another way, the salvation that was planned by the Father has been procured by the Son and is now presented and protected by the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is sometimes considered the forgotten member of the Trinity. But this is because the Holy Spirit is always directing our attention to the Son and thereby fulfilling the Father’s plan of salvation.

Father” is the preeminent title for the First Person primarily because it teaches us that he is the source of all the Trinity’s purposes.

Jesus wants us to see God the Father as the source of the love behind the Son’s work for our redemption (cf. John 10:14–18).

Jesus is explaining that he is the one who fulfills the Vinedresser’s purpose for Israel. The fruitful vine that Israel failed to be without Christ, we now become in Christ.

We often succumb to the mistaken idea that “God’s chief end is to glorify me and help me enjoy myself forever” and that Jesus’ death was to pay for my sins so I can keep on enjoying my life without God getting on my case. In his Upper Room Discourse, Jesus gives us a vision of the First Person of the Trinity that challenges that error.

Do not rejoice that the demons are subject to you in my name, but rejoice that your name is written in heaven.” Then he said, “I am perfectly content.” This is the deepest source of the believer’s joy through life and on into eternity: our salvation is not based on what we have done but on God’s saving grace, for our names are written in the Book of Life.

This powerful gift happens to be the best gift that Jesus could possibly send us because it is the gift of God himself. Like the Father and the Son, the Spirit himself is divine. This makes Luke 24:49 one of the most strongly and completely Trinitarian verses in the entire Bible: “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” This verse is spoken by God the Son with reference to both the Father and the Spirit. Jesus is telling us that the gift of the Spirit is sent from the Father and the Son. To receive this parting gift, therefore, is to receive the gift of the triune God himself.

Despite all these great insights and the great format, a Biblical survey of the doctrine of the Trinity, I was unsatisfied with a couple aspects of the book. This is written from a distinct reformed position. Having read Sanders, I expected a big tent perspective. Sanders attempted to show from all evangelical quarters a Trinitarian orientation. But Ryken and LeFebvre prefer to quote almost exclusively from Reformed sources and use the lingo peculiar to their stream. They also write with Reformed presuppositions, so that, occasionally, I would see assertions without references to support them. For example, they write, "God's chief end it to glorify himself and enjoy himself forever." I am familiar with the Westminster Confession that begins with man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. But this twist on that statement sounded strange to me. I would have appreciated a reference to understand their statement. A book written with so many presuppositions and lack of references for them, leaves the reader, such as myself, bewildered at times and detracts from the reader's experience.

Overall, I think this is a great book. I loved their approach, in contrast to Sanders, of a Biblical exposition of the doctrine of the Trinity. I only wish they had written more inclusively and adequately explained some terms and provided sources for their presuppositions. The shortcuts may have saved some ink, but it makes some of the ingredients taste like substitutes, like when your mom puts chopped up vegetables in your meatloaf. It makes the loaf taste a little funny, but gets the stuff you don't like past your selective palate.

I'm thankful to Crossway for providing a free copy (for my Kindle) to review.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

book report: The Gospel of Ruth by Carolyn Justis James (2009)

The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules by Carolyn Justis James has all theCover of Cover via Amazon ingredients of a nutritious meal for the brain yet still comes across as dry, like an over-cooked meatloaf. The study of Ruth is great. The personal anecdotes are powerful. The writing is good. But it lacks vitality. It might be an air of melancholy, but I'm not sure. There is also a glaring omission.

James has done her research well and presents new insights into this short story from the Old Testament. I am very grateful for the new things she has brought to me from recent scholarship. I also found her personal story heart wrenching. She identifies with Ruth as someone who is also in a marriage that did not produce children. Her ability to identify with Ruth's pain and bridge the distance between a character on the page and her own experience is one of the best aspects of this book. But there was another experience that happened in the midst of writing this book, that seemed to cast a pall over the rest of the book. Just as Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, lost husbands and sons, so, too, did James lose a brother-in-law on a mountainside in a blizzard while alpine climbing.

From the middle of the book to the end, the writing comes across to me as without passion. I also think she reads too much into a relationship between man and woman making it anachronistic. Finally, she agrees with disappointed feminist readers of the story, that the last chapter puts the focus on Boaz, the hero, and let's Ruth fade into the background. At this point, the gaping hole in James's interpretation reveals itself. There is a deeper reason than anti-feminism to portray, in children's Sunday school lessons, Boaz as the true hero of the story, a reason James never mentions: he is an ante-type of Jesus Christ. A quick search turns up brief outlines like this,

  1. Both Naomi and Ruth spoke about his kindness (Ruth 2:13, 20). Boaz provided water and food for Ruth. He provided and personally passed the roasted grain to her, and ate with her. She ate and was satisfied. This is a picture of the communion that we enjoy with Christ in His kindness. He invites us to dine with Him. In His kindness, the Lord not only provides the spiritual food that we need, but He wants to have fellowship with us.
  2. Boaz was a kinsman redeemer, and under the law the kinsman had several responsibilities. SeeRuth and Boaz (Ruth 2:2-20)Image via Wikipedia Leviticus 25:25 and Deuteronomy 25:5-10. Christ is our kinsman redeemer.
    1. he had to be a close relative
    2. he had to have the means to redeem
    3. he had to be willing. The Lord Jesus, as our kinsman redeemer fulfills these requisites perfectly. See Hebrews 2:14-15 and 1 Peter 1:18-19.
Here is another one.
Ruth Chapter 4
If Ruth is a picture of the Christian (or Church) then Boaz is a picture of Christ our redeemer.
Having decided to redeem Ruth, he set out to settle the account with the person who had a 'legal right over her'.
Who had a legal right over us before Christ came along and paid the price.
In the presence of elders of the city, Boaz made a legal deal, with reliable witnesses, and 'purchased the right' to marry Ruth.
Can you see any parallels here with our Christian faith? Romans 8:16, 1 John 5: 6-10
It's curious to me that she doesn't spend any time mining this rich vein of theological reflection. I think it would alleviate her frustration with the end of the story. It might have also helped her avoid reading into the text such an earth based and time constricted thesis. I have many feminist sympathies, but I can't go as far as James wants to bring me. Just as the Apocalypse of John finishes the Bible with a focus on Jesus, because he is the hero, so, too, does Ruth end, not with a focus on the redeemed, but on the redeemer, who is a picture of Jesus Christ. This is why the ending is a good ending and why Boaz is the hero in Ruth's story. It's not a feminist story by intent, but a set up for the mission of Jesus, a picture to anticipate his work.

As an aside, I read this on my Kindle. Shortly after I received the device, Zondervan briefly offered this book for free in the Amazon Kindle store. I did not notice any formatting issues and enjoyed using the light weight device to read a longer book.
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Monday, April 18, 2011

mountain bike riding with my son

I took my 13 year old son out to ride bikes at Haley Farm in Mystic, CT. It's divided from a state park called Bluff Point by train tracks, but connected by a bridge over the tracks. It had rained very hard the night before, so we went over trail that had become streams. We had a great time. We ended up on the beach at one point, and I had to walk my bike because I was riding a hybrid with skinny tires that sank right in. The trails in a Connecticut forest are clear of vegetation but rocks grow in their place. As I was careening down these trails trying to avoid an endo, I thought to myself, this is so much better than a video game. The video below made me think of our ride, but, to be honest, it was not nearly as exciting as this race video via helmet cam.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

book report: Now I walk on death row by Dale Recinella (2011)

There is a local Thai restaurant nearby that let's you pick the number of stars with each meal, one to five. But experienced guests know they can ask for as many stars as they want. I don't know what the authentic level is, but maybe ten stars, and I've tried three stars and shed a few tears. This book is like a New Englander walking into a Thai restaurant for the first time and picking five stars. This book shocks your senses and makes you weep. It's hard to prepare for the intensity of Dale Racinella's life, his commitment to Jesus, his practical love for the outcasts of our society, and his compelling writing. I read this in one day. I didn't want it to end, but I was exhausted. The complete title explains things pretty well, Now I Walk on Death Row, A Wall Street Finance Lawyer stumbles into the Arms of a Loving God. However, he is not on death row for committing a crime, but to be a volunteer minister to those condemned rightly or wrongly but inevitably to Florida's death chamber.

A highly successful Wall Street career demanded all of his time and his family fell apart. He fell asleep at the wheel after a late night deal and crashed his car severely injuring himself. His world was a facade of success. His brother brought him back to church and the vitality of that Catholic church intrigued him. Then an attractive woman in a singles Bible study kept him coming back. God changed his life. Then he started reading the Bible and he let the words of Jesus change his life as well. He wanted to serve with his presence more than with his money. He needed time. They started downsizing. So many cool things happened.

They had family meetings to discuss any issues or decisions in the household. "That is part of our new Gospel life. Anyone in our family, even the three-year-old, can call a family meeting over their concerns. Everyone in the family has covenanted to hear them out and to take the concern seriously." p. 160

They sell everything and move to Rome and learn how the church can minister better than any government social services.
We find them, a huge Catholic community of laypeople, many of whom have spouses and children, who are using a third of a half of their time to relieve suffering at their own cost and without compensation. The group, known as Sant'Egidio, provides more services to the impoverished in Rome than the local and national governments combined. They do not share common housing and do not work within the community to support themselves. They do share personal finacnes; everyone must be self-supporting. The members share ministry and daily prayer every night in the churches throughout Rome. Since the 1960s, they have been growing in numbers and in geographic scope with the spiritual and practical focus of relieving human suffering because Jesus told us to do so. pp. 215-216.
This is solid spiritual food but dangerously hot.

He concludes with his awful experiences ministering on death row in Florida. He's seen executions gone awry. He's seen innocent men, with the liberating evidence ignored by the court, sent to their deaths. Even when the guilty ones die, he's seen the victim's relatives leave empty and unfulfilled, even in anguish. He contends that the death penalty is a large government hand out to the lawyers and is for all intents and purposes an industry unto itself which costs the state more money than life in prison. It also costs the state a hardened conscience. I can agree with him that the death penalty is wicked and does no good.

There is so much more to Recinella's life story in this book. He writes as a Catholic stripped down to the essentials of Christianity, something that any Protestant can feel comfortable reading if concerned about strange-to-your-ears prayers and rituals. This story is hot enough to make you uncomfortable by recounting a life radically committed to Jesus. I hope Recinella's story changes me, and I hope it changes all his readers to pursue the kingdom of God first in our lives.

I'm thankful to Bethany House for this free review copy.
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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Will only a few go to heaven?

I read this passage this morning and was arrested by it.
Luke 13:23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” So he said to them, 13:24 “Exert every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 13:25 Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, then you will stand outside and start to knock on the door and beg him, ‘Lord, let us in!’ But he will answer you, ‘I don’t know where you come from.’ 13:26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 13:27 But he will reply, ‘I don’t know where you come from! Go away from me, all you evildoers!’ 13:28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves thrown out. 13:29 Then people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God. 13:30 But indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
In the recent blogosphere conversation about hell, which I've read much of, but commented hardly at all on, I haven't noticed this passage in all the comments of others. I'm sure it's been referenced, but it is such a strong counter example to Bell's and Lewis's hell. Bell proposes in his book the opportunity for post-mortem salvation. Lewis's book, The Great Divorce, speaks of the doors in hell are locked from the inside. Hell's inmates, in Lewis's view, have no desire to cross over to heaven. Bell holds that the inmates will eventually realize the foolishness of their rejection of Jesus, repent is the technical word, and take the escalator up to heaven with their loving Father.

But here, in this passage, Jesus emphatically denies both options. Will only a few make it to heaven? Jesus affirms this indirectly by asserting the need to make effort to enter in because the door is narrow, and if you don't enter in, after the door is locked by the master, your knocking to enter will be rebuffed, spending time weeping and gnashing teeth. Mourning and anger seem to be the dominant emotions of the damned. Striving to enter into salvation apparently involves more than association with Jesus.

Paul speaks to this directly in his letter to the Roman believers.
Romans 10:1 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation. 10:2 For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth. 10:3 For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.

10:5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: “The one who does these things will live by them.” 10:6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 10:7 or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 10:8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 10:9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10:10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. 10:11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 10:12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. 10:13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. NET
How must we strive to be saved? We must strive in faith, to believe that Jesus really is God and follow that conclusion to its end. We must obey God. The narrow gate is a symbol of the resistance we face in living with that truth.

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Saturday, April 09, 2011

book report: Rediscovering the Church Fathers by Haykin (2011)

Reading this book was like eating chocolate chip cookies freshly baked but short changed on the chips and salt. Everything in here was good, but there was enough missing to leave me dissatisfied. It's not as if Michael A. G. Haykin has any shortcomings in his academic training. He shares his personal experience of "Walking with the church fathers" at the end of the book, though I wish it was at the beginning. The Toronto School of Theology had a diverse faculty of experts from Lithuanian Hebrew Christians to Jesuit scholars. All of whom encouraged him to continue his study in original languages and patristic studies.

I need to insert some of my story here to clarify what expectations to this book. I'm a low church evangelical who is loves church history and is beginning to engage the primary writings, though not in Greek or Latin, and more of the academic literature, including recently finishing Pelikan's 1st volume in the development of Christian doctrine, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). In fact, as Lent began this year, I finished Pelikan's book and started a daily Lenten reading plan of patristics. So I had recently read The Letter to Diognetus before coming to Haykin's discussion of it in this book. All this to say, I am a true sophomore (wise dummy) reading Haykin's book, knowing enough to not trust everything he writes, but not enough to avoid looking dumb when expressing those doubts. If you are a Protestant with no exposure to the fathers of the church, then stop reading this review and get this book. You don't want to be this guy in Haykin's anecdote.
I vividly recall a conversation in the 1990s with an administrator of an academic institution with which I was associated. During the conversation the subject of the Nicene Creed was raised, and this particular individual remarked cavalierly that there was no way he would be bound by a man-made document like this creed. Honestly, I was horrified by his dismissive approach and considered and stil do consider, such a statement to be the height of folly and the sure road to theological disaster. p. 18
He points to Wesleyan's "inclusion of a number of Patristic spiritual classics: some of the writings of the apostolic fathers, the acts of early Christian martyrs, and the spiritually rich sermons of Macarius Symeon" (p. 28) in his fifty volume collection, in 1750.

The selection of fathers is haphazard, Ignatius, Origen, Cyprian, Ambrose, Basil, Patrick, and Mathetes, the letter writer to Diognetus. It turns out that the book is a collection of chapters and papers Haykin has written for other occasions over the past 20 years. Certainly there are tasty chocolate chips in every chapter, and I'll share a few more, but the lack of unified intention to this book is like the lack of salt in the cookie recipe.

I appreciated the demonstration from Ignatius's letters, some of which I read this month, his assertion of the deity of Christ at the turn of the 1st century, which some critics of historic catholic orthodox Christianity need to learn about our history.
For example, Jesus is declared to be God, but he is also said to suffer. This exchange of divine and human attributes is possible only because they are being predicated of a single subject. Thus Ignatius can say of Christ:

There is only one Physician -
Very flesh, yet Spirit too;
Uncreated, and yet born;
God-and-Man in One agreed,
Very-Life-in-Death indeed,
Fruit of God and Mary's seed;
At once impaaible and torn
By pain and suffering here below;
Jesus Christ, whom as our Lord we know. pp.42-42
From his letter to the Ephesian church, chapter 7.

The chapter on Origen was helpful for me. He was condemned a heretic, yet he was appreciated for so much of the other things he wrote. I learned how he was appreciated by the fathers and how to appreciate him, and those similar in these times from this helpful paragraph following a quote of his teaching an unorthodox understanding of the trinity.
It is passages like the one above regarding the "subordination" of the Son and the Spirit, as well as Origen's speculations about the possible salvation of the Devil and that created souls have an eternal existence before embodiment, that led some at the close of the Patristic era to write him off as having gone beyond the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. In this regard, it needs to be remembered that a paragon of orthodoxy like Basil of Caesarea thought Origen's works worth reading closely for theological and spiritual gems - he and his close friend Gregory of Nazianzus edited an anthology of such passages, the Philocalia (358 -359) - even though he knew that Origen's ideas about the Spirit were not always sound. The words of Robert Murray M'Cheyne (18130-1843) after hearing of the death of Edward Irving (1792-1834) - the preaching wonder of the 1820's, though a man who argued that the Son of God assumed sinful humanity - seem apropos of Origen: he was "a holy man in spite of all his delusions and errors." p. 75-76.
I learned more on the perception of the Eucharist in the early church in the chapter on Cyprian. It's different than mine. It seemed to me that Haykin liked to find points of contact between today's "Young and Reformed" but also point to boundary markers. Early on he likens a portion of the apologetic Letter to Diognetus to sounding like something "lifted stright from the pages of Luther." p. 19 On the other hand, he quotes a voice, Forsyth, accusing Cyprian of changing the eucharist from a sacrifice of praise by the church to a propitiatory sacrifice by the priest, then says whether Forsyth is right or not "in this regard is moot," p.98. Immediately, I wrote in the margin, "so did Tertullian." Haykin did, also, in a foot note and added Origen. It sounded to me like a cheap shot against non-Protestant understanding of the Eucharist. Cyprian wrote in the latter 200's but Tertullian was writing fifty years before him. For an introduction to the Fathers, mentioning a poorly supported accusation like Forsyth's and leaving powerful counter examples to a footnote is disappointing because it is uncharitable to our Catholic and Eastern Orthodox family members.

The chapter on Basil was excellent, because I know so little about him. His story is complex and full of the ups and downs of every man's life, even if he is one of the doctors of the church.

I found the appendix on Pelikan's, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, very interesting, having just finished it myself. Haykin writes, in regards to the accusation of the church being Hellenized to the point of losing it's distinction from the culture, "Personally, I would find myself in broad agreement with Pelikan's answer to what has been a major approach of numerous late nineteenth-century and twentieth-century students of Patristic thought." p. 161 But it's the footnote to this sentence that resonated with me.
It is noteworthy that a key aspect of the current debate about the openness of God has to do with the charge made by the proponents of Open Theism that classical theism has been deeply distorted by Hellenistic thought...More generally Brian D. McLaren has recently maintained that Western Christianity is preaching a gospel that is more shaped by what he calls "the Greco-Roman narrative" than the Scriptures...This is simply a new variant of the old charge of Hellenization raised by liberal theologians like Harnack. At best, it is uniformed; at worst, it is irresponsible. p. 161
I've written a few times about the deficiency of open theism, search for it on the blog, but to see it framed in terms of its lack of historical consistency, is encouraging as well.

Haykin goes on to complain about the "number of noticeable lacunas" in Pelikan's massive work. This is the same complaint I have of Haykin's book. Of course, the present book is only 165 pages and Pelikan's is more than twice as long. I'm sure Haykin appreciates Pelikan's struggle in making editorial choices. I wish Haykin had spent time on Tertullian or Athanasius, but I am glad to be introduced to Basil. Haykin's book should whet the appetite of the believer who knows nothing of his spiritual ancestry, and in that regard, this book is a success. But it would benefit from a better coherence, an essential ingredient in a tasty dessert of a book. Chocolate chip cookies always taste good, but they are even better with salt and extra chips.

This dessert was a complimentary review copy from Crossway.
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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

the UmBlog is 6 years old!

I never remember this day of beginning until after the fact, but here is what I wrote on March 24th, 2005.

I've grown up in the church and still remain committed to staying with this ship of fools until we reach the sunset and the welcome reception of Jesus Christ. I hope to point out the pirates on our journey but also give a hand to my fellow fools who might be accused of piracy.

I think I'm still doing that, after 2059 posts.