Thursday, July 31, 2008

Personal Knowledge of God

In imitation of my friend, the host of, I will today post a quote that recently (about an hour ago) affected me powerfully. It is from John C. Puddefoot's essay in BELIEF IN SCIENCE AND IN CHRISTIAN LIFE. In a completely different language (philosophical) he says roughly what I was trying to say in a couple of recent posts about the Christian life.

"In the Church we are not concerned to produce congregations of biblical scholars or dogmatic theologians; we are concerned to impart the knowledge of Jesus Christ which can be received as his own personal encounter. Our efforts are necessary, but not sufficient to enable others to obtain an understanding of Jesus and the Triune God, and thereby to find life more meaningful, richer and less puzzling. A purely formal education which remains formal is susceptible to any attack which can destroy formal evidence, but by enabling people to acquire the non-formal skills of the Christian life we provide them with an endelible character, a character with which they can enver be separated from the love of God. Kowledge of God is personal, and personal knowledge is not made, but discovered. Personal knowledge comes from love, and love never fails. Love cannot be described, and relies upon no formal treasures which moth and rust can corrupt. The process by which the child acquires such knowledge unconsciously must be folloed by application of effort in the adult. By taking up the Bible and doctrines of the past into ourselves, and accrediting and reaffirming what we find expressed there ourselves, not because it is there but because we perceive it to be true, we find ourselves in continuity with a great crowd of witnesses living and departed who have searched for and in some degree found the love of God."

Psalm of Life

This Longfellow poem is performed magnificently by Malcolm Dalglish and the Ooolites, a musical group from here in Bloomington where I live. I was singing their version of it today as I carried my mail. I wish I knew how to put music on this site. But the words are musical even by themselves.

A Psalm of Life

Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust thou returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, - act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sand of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solenm main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Father Loves the Son

Why would an eternally happy God create the universe? Without the Creation Jesus would never have had to suffer. The Father would not have had to turn away from his own beloved Son. The Spirit would never have been blasphemed and offended. They could have been eternally happy together without us!

In my book, Covenant and Community, I take some space to emphasize that the central motive (from the Father's perspective) behind the creation of the universe, creation of humanity, human history, the sending of the Son to Earth, the crucifiction and resurection, and the marriage supper of the lamb~the central motive of it all is the Father's love for his Son. This whole grand creation is a means whereby the Father can bring glory to his Son, shower his love on his Son, elevate his Son. I hesitate to give citations for this doctrine, because that makes us think that we only believe what is stated catagorically, whereas this fact is attested to throughout the New Testament as a constant theme that is being developed but not always explicitly stated. But if you insist on catagorical statements, look at the first chapter of Ephesians, the middle portion of John 5, the first few and last few chapters of Revelation.

Jesus insisted that his own actions, both those that made the crowds love him and those that lead to his death, were proof that the Father loved him. You may answer, "For God so loved the WORLD. . .." Yes, that is true. Jesus came into the world because of the Father's love for the world. But why was there a world to love? What motive was there to create in the first place? I think that the consistent thrust of Scripture is that the motive for Creation is "For the Father so loved the Son. . .." That love was prior to and always has priority over his love for us.

Consider Jesus' words, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." The Father loves us for the Son's sake. He loves the one who loves his Son.

If this is the starting point for God, should it not also be our starting point? Should not the Father's love for the Son be at the very center of our understanding of what the Gospel is? Should it not even be the starting point in our evangelism? Jesus repeatedly said that the things he did and the things he said were so that people would know that the Father sent him, hears him, loves him. He wanted us to see their relationship.

(This is a very truncated explanation. In its full scope it should acknowlege that the Father's love for the Son is fully reciprocated and the Son is using the Creation and his own incarnation to heap up honor to his Father. Also, their relationships with the Holy Spirit display more intricacies of loving communion. This is gone into in more detail in Covenant and Community.)

Should not all of our faith, doctrine and conduct begin with the relationships of the Father, Son and Spirit, for it is those relationships that prompted even our very existence.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ogden Nash

After the gravity of the poems of Turbina and Yevtushenko, I thought I should lighten the mood a little with a few pieces from Ogden Nash. He would, however, I think not have liked for me to use the word "light" in connection with his name. He was a witty poet, with a style all his own, but he did not think of himself as a writer of "light verse." His poems had serious points to make (except when they didn't, which was often), and although the point was couched in playful rhymes he did not want the reader to toss off the serious undercurrent as part of the joke. He expected the reader to be able to discern seperate serious and humorous threads within the same poem. Too much to ask? Perhaps. Even his obituary in the NY Times called him a writer of "light verse."

It is this flippancy of presentation combined with his expectation that the reader was discerning enough to distinguish serious trains of thought in playful banter that links him to the great newspaper voices of the past. Although not really a newspaper man himself, he has much in common with the presentation of Benjamin Franklin (Poor Richard), Mark Twain, James Thurber, Ambrose Bierce, and James Whitcomb Riley (those last two being my fellow Hoosiers, that is natives of Indiana). If one wanted one could trace the geniology of that style of newspapering back to the likes of Addison and Steele, or even back to Senaca and Juvenal if one were working on a dissertation, which I am not.

The hunter crouches in his blind
'Neath camouflage of every kind,
And conjures up a quacking noise
To lend allure to his decoys.
This grown-up man, with pluck and luck,
Is hoping to outwit a duck.

Unwillingly Miranda wakes,
Feels the sun with terror,
One unwilling step she takes,
Shuddering to the mirror.

Miranda in Miranda's sight
Is old and gray and dirty;
Twenty-nine she was last night;
This morning she is thirty.

Shining like a morning star,
Like the twighlight shining,
Haunted by a calendar,
Miranda sits a-pining.

Silly girl, silver girl,
Draw the mirror toward you;
Time who makes the years to whirl
Adorned as he adored you.

Time is timelessness for you;
Calendars for the human;
What's a year, or thirty, to
Loveliness made woman?

Oh, Night will not see thirty again,
Yet soft her wing, Miranda;
Pick up your glass and tell me, then~
How old is spring, Miranda?

May I join you in the doghouse, Rover?
I wish to retire till the party's over.
Since three o'clock I've done my best
To entertain each tiny guest;
My conscience now I've left behind me,
And if they want me, let them find me.
I blew their bubbles, I sailed their boats,
I kept them from each other's throats.
I told them tales of magic lands,
I took them out to wash their hands.
I sorted their rubbers and tied their laces,
I wiped their noses and dried their faces.
Of similarity there's lots
Twixt tiny tots and Hottentots.
I've earned repose to heal the ravages
Of these angelic-looking savages.
Oh, progeny playing by itself
Is a lonely fascinating elf,
But progeny in roistereing batches
Would drive St. Francis from her to Natchez.
Shunned are the games a parent proposes;
They prefer to squirt each other with hoses,
Their playmates are their natural foeman
And they like to poke each other's abdomen.
Their joy needs another's woe to cushion it,
Say a puddle, and somebody to push in it.
They obeserve with glee the ballistic results
Of ice cream with spoons for catapults,
And inform the assembly with tears and glares
That everyone's presents are better than theirs.
Oh, little women and little men,
Someday I hope to love you again,
But not till after the party's over,
So give me the key to the doghouse, Rover.

Children aren't happy with nothing to ignore,
And that's what parents were created for.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Another Russian Poet

Yevgenny Yevtushenko was already an upper middle aged poet when he "discovered" Nika Turbina in 1983. She was eight. He had lived through most of the communist years, at first in love with the ideals but later coming to hate and fear the realities of communist totalitarianism. He had been a Russian hero and icon, been denounced by the authorities and become a real Russian hero and icon in people's secret hearts. Among the very many accomplishment of Yevtushenko, he served on the Russian Parliament as a staunch advocate of democracy.

For the second poem here, Babii Yar, he has been nominated for the Nobel Prize. We will see in December whether he wins it. In my opinion it is much deserved and long overdue. If he does indeed win, it will almost certainly be the shortest work for which the Nobel has ever been awarded, though of course the award would be in recognition of all of his work and not only the one poem for which he was nominated.

But his poems really do not need my introduction.

One note however: Babii Yar was originally spaced all over the page, causing one to search somewhat for the next phrase. This silly host site does not support such a format and therefore everything is left justified by default. I can't make it obey me and format it as it should be!


No, I'll not take the half of anything!
Give me the whole sky! The far-flung earth!
Seas and rivers and mountain avalanches--
All these are mine! I'll accept no less!

No, life, you cannot woo me with a part.
Let it be all or nothing! I can shoulder that!
I don't want happiness by halves,
Nor is half of sorrow what I want.

Yet there's a pillow I would share,
Where gently pressed against a cheek,
Like a helpless star, a falling star,
A ring glimmers on a finger of your hand.


No monument stands over Babii Yar.
A drop sheer as a crude gravestone.
I am afraid.
Today I am as old in years
as all the Jewish people.
Now I seem to be
a Jew.
Here I plod through ancient Egypt.
Here I perish crucified, on the cross,
and to this day I bear the scars of nails.
I seem to be
The Philistine
is both informer and judge.
I am behind bars.
Beset on every side.
spat on,
Squealing, dainty ladies in flounced Brussels lace
stick their parasols into my face.
I seem to be then
a young boy in Byelostok.
Blood runs, spilling over the floors.
The bar-room rabble-rousers
give off a stench of vodka and onion.
A boot kicks me aside, helpless.
In vain I plead with these pogrom bullies.
While they jeer and shout,
"Beat the Yids. Save Russia!"
some grain-marketeer beats up my mother.
O my Russian people!
I know
are international to the core.
But those with unclean hands
have often made a jingle of your purest name.
I know the goodness of my land.
How vile these antisemites--
without a qualm
they pompously called themselves
"The Union of the Russian People"!
I seem to be
Anne Frank
as a branch in April.
And I love.
And have no need of phrases.
My need
is that we gaze into each other.
How little we can see
or smell!
We are denied the leaves,
we are denied the sky.
Yet we can do so much--
embrace each other in a dark room.
They’re coming here?
Be not afraid. those are the booming
sounds of spring:
spring is coming here.
Come then to me.
Quick, give me your lips.
Are they smashing down the door?
No, it’s the ice breaking...
The wild grasses rustle over Babii Yar.
The trees look ominous,
like judges.
Here all things scream silently,
and, baring my head,
slowly I feel myself
turning gray.
And I myself
am one massive, soundless scream
above the thousand thousand buried here.
I am
each old man
here shot dead.
I am
every child
here shot dead.
Nothing in me
shall ever forget!
The "Internationale", let it
when the last antisemite on earth
is buried forever.
In my blood there is no Jewish blood.
In their callous rage, all antisemites
must hate me now as a Jew.
For that reason
I am a true Russian!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Postman Life: An Analogy

An analogy related to the post a couple of days ago regarding the need to live the Christian life:

I am a mailman, a postman, a letter carrier. However you say it, that is what I am.

But what makes me a mailman? How do I know that I am a mailman?

Yes, the post office hired me. I applied, took a test, waited for months and then they called. They hired me. But that in itself did not yet make me a mailman.

I went to training. But that did not quite make me a mailman.

I went to work, was given a spot in which to work and shown what to do. But I wasn't a mailman yet.

I began to sort the mail. I prepared the mail and took it to the street. Not a mailman yet.

I put mail into people's mailboxes, checking the names and addresses carefully to make sure it was the right mail in the right box.

I was a mailman! Suddenly it wasn't theory, it wasn't a possibility, it wasn't a goal, and it wasn't dubious. It was certain! I was a mailman because I was doing what mailmen do.

Yet I didn't make myself a mailman. I was called to it. Actually I was called via a postcard in the mail that told me to report to training. No amount of walking down the street fiddling with other people's mailboxes would have ever made me a mailman if the US Postal Service had not chosen and called me.

Conversely, (some extra sensitive Calvinists won't like this part) the US Postal Service did not make me a mailman either. In one sense they did. They called, hired, and trained me; they gave me uniforms, a title, and a place to work. But until I began, rather slowly and hesitantly at first, to actually deliver mail I was not a mailman.

I know that I am a mailman because I live the life of a mailman. Similarly I know that I am a Christian because I live the life of a Christian. (The question of how to define what that life is does not concern me here, just that there is such a life.)

Now as a mailman I do not know everything. I do not really know who lives in the houses. I know only who the tenants tell me lives there, if I can get them to tell me. On my mail route there are very many college students. They tend to move rather frequently, often three or four times a year. And they don't always let me know. So, as I deliver the mail I am very careful to always put only the mail that belongs to a house in their mailbox. I often knock on doors to ask exactly who should currently be getting mail at that address. I am careful.

But no amount of being careful could ever make me one hundred percent accurate. These students move far too often. I know as I am delivering my mail that there are likely to be some homes to which I am delivering mail that no longer belongs there. I am sure to make mistakes that are purely my own fault too. But I am still a mailman, even if I can't be a faultless mailman. I am a mailman because I deliver the mail, not because I am never wrong in some deliveries.

However, lest you hear me saying that it does not matter whether the mail goes to the right home or not, let me assure that it matters very much. I would not be a mailman for long if I didn't care whether the deliveries were accurate. In fact if I really didn't care you might say that I was not even a mailman at all, just some guy who wore a uniform that didn't rightfully belong to me and who was embarrassing the postal service.

Likewise, people who are living the Christian life will not be right in all doctrine, they will not be perfect in all matters of conduct, and their worship style may fall short of the angels saying "Holy, holy, holy," before the throne in heaven. Yet we are truly and exuberantly living the Christian life. We are LIVING, despite our shortcomings.

These shortcomings do not stop us from living the Christian life. Not at all. But they matter. They matter to God, perhaps. But they also matter to the people engaged in this life that Jesus has given us. We care! It is not that by getting it right we will suddenly become true Christians. We already were true Christians. It is that if we didn't care whether our understanding, actions, and worship were appropriate, that would just be proof that we really aren't living the Christian life. We would be disclosed as those who are merely wearing a uniform that doesn't really belong to us.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Nika Turbina

Nika Turbina began composing poetry before she could write. When she was three she would tell poems to her grandmother who would write them down for her. "I began composing verse out loud when I was three. . . I banged my fists on the piano and composed." In fact her poems were composed so early that one of them is about learning to count, and her fear of the zero's that was making it difficult to learn to count above nine.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko pointed out one great value in her verse. "Nika's poetic diary, thanks to its vulnerable sincerity, becomes the diary of other children, those who do not write poetry."

At eight years old she was "discovered" and was soon giving readings of her poetry around the world, including a private reading for the Pope. But it is not the fame and fortune, nor the tragic turn that her life soon took, but the poems themselves that I want to share here.

See what you think.


Whose are the eyes I look through at the world
of friends and family, of trees and birds?
Whose are the lips I use to catch the dew
from a leaf that has fallen in the street?

Whose are the arms I use to hug
this helpless and precarious world?
I lose my own voice in those of forests,
fields and blizzards, heavy rain and night.

But who am I?
Where should I look for myself?
How can I answer
all these natural voices?

7 years old

We speak a different language,
you and I.
The script may be the same,
but the words are strange.
You and I
live on different
islands, even though
we are in the same apartment.

8 years old

My poems are heavy,
hauling rocks uphill.
I'll carry them to the cliff,
its sheer, blank face.
I'll fall face down into the grass,
I won't have enough tears.
I'll tear up my line-
the verse will weep.
will dig pain into my hand!
And the bitterness of the day
will all be transformed into words.

6 years old


I need your tenderness
as a dying bird
needs air.
I need the worried tremble
of your lips.
And when I feel lonely
I need the sparkling laughter in your eyes.
But they weep,
as they watch me.
Why is there so much black
pain in the world?
It must be because
you are alone.

6 years old


Down the parkway
like a crystal ball
your ringing voice
passed me.

It ran along rooftops,
it ran along leaves,
in the autumnal rustle
it captured music.

Suddenly, it stopped
near the bench,
with the smashed
lamp post.

Your crystal ball
sparkled with laughter.
And the smashed lamp post
suddenly glowed light.

6 years old

Friday, July 25, 2008

Life and Death

Often I think the presentation of the Gospel gives the impression that on the Cross Jesus purchased for us future life in Heaven. Life after death. And this is of course true. But it is not even close to all that he bought on Calvary.

More and more I am impressed with the need to accentuate the life that he brings us into here and now also.

In focussing primarily on the future aspect we seem to have abandoned the sense of reality for the life in which we now find ourselves. If I am content to know that I will be saved on that final day, and this verdict is sure, then it is hard to fathom the purpose of leaving me here on earth for the next twenty, thirty, fifty years. Often, to see Christians live and to hear them talk, I think that they are just living humdrum lives waiting to die and be ushered into "real" life.

There are very many factors that may contribute to this attitude. I won't analyze them all here, but merely mention a couple. One is perhaps the emphasis in some circles on the fact that God accomplished all the work of salvation. And he has given it all to us as a free gift. While this is true, in its extreme form it can lead to a distrust of claiming any work as our own. And claiming that we need to live the Christian life could be construed as a work. Also an over emphasis on what is sometimes called "eternal security" can lead one to wonder why one should bother because the outcome is the same whether one matures as a believer or not.

But Jesus did not simply purchase for us a Get-Out-of-Hell-Free card. His life will not be imparted to us after death if it was not imparted to us before our death.

No, there is nothing I ever did our could have done that would have gained for me the life that Jesus bought for me on the Cross. It was all a free gift, given to me for no reason that I can discern other than the love of God working through his Son. In absolutely no way did I manage to earn his love; in no way did I manage to acquire the benefits of Jesus blood. He did it. All of it.

But, and this is a very big "but," what the Father sent his Son to Calvary to do, what Jesus sent his Spirit to seal me into, is LIFE. And because I have been given life, I must LIVE.

It has been said that life begins at fifty. I don't know, I'm not there yet. But if a child is born, not breathing, temperature falling, no pulse, etc., the family mourns the loss of their child. They do not put it in storage waiting for that magic moment, on it's fiftieth birthday, for the child to suddenly spring to life with grey hair and a bum knee from an old football injury.

Likewise, when we see conversions, or when we ourselves are converted, we should expect to see and experience life. We may not be able to adequately describe all of the signs of life, nor can we say that they will all be always discernable in each living member of Christ's body. Neither are they all and always discernable in our human bodies. All living humans breath, but when I hold my breath that does not mean that I am dead. Living humans feel warm to the touch. But not when they are climbing out of the ice after one of those crazy "polar bear swims." Nevertheless, any mature living human can distinguish another living human from a corpse. Just so in the community of believers there are signs of life.

This is not at all a call for us to "weed out" the "false brothers" from among us. Rather it is a very simple reminder that we were not brought from death to life so that we might sit in some Limbo until our bodies die so that our spirits can then float off into real life. Rather we were given life so that we would live it.

For some this earthly life is the beginning of eternal life, while for others it is the beginning of eternal death. If eternal life does not begin here it will not begin. Rather at the ends of our lives we will find that we move from life to life, or from death to death. "For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him."

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Commentary Review

I have been missing from the website for quite some time as I prepared to write a review of a largish commentary. I sent it off a couple of days ago, I hope they will use it as I put rather more time into it than the short length of the review would suggest. Here is what took me so long.

Edited by G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson
Baker Academic (in America), Apollos (in England), 2007

This commentary on the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament is, without a doubt, the most useful reference tool that I have added to my collection since I acquired Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament some years back. Yet it would be a great shame if it were only used as a reference book.

As I read through its careful and scholarly analysis of each use the NT makes of the OT, I became increasingly aware of how very little the NT authors’ claimed that they had any new revelation to offer to the world. Yes, they had Jesus, and he was a new and more clear revelation of God, but as much as a new revelation Jesus seems to be in the NT a new hermeneutic.

Was Jesus a new revelation of God? Yes. The beginning of the letter to the Hebrews emphasizes that, and the whole New Testament seems to expound the statement. But the revelation of God in Christ set about a whole re-reading of the OT. As we consider in detail the utter reliance of the New Testament authors’ on the Old, Jesus continually provides to them a new way to understand all that the Old Testament authors have said. They now have a new lens through which to understand the act of creation (John 1, Romans 1−2, Ephesians, 1 Corinthians 15:45, and a host of others), the calling of Abraham, the slavery and redemption of Israel, etc.

The authors of the NT did not, as OT prophets had, introduce new topics with the phrase “Thus saith the LORD.” Instead, from the Gospels through the letters and Revelation, they quoted the prophets of old and explained their significance in light of the new revelation of God in Christ Jesus. Jesus was their hermeneutic for understanding the Scriptures. Therefore the importance of a work like this commentary can in no way be overstated. If we want to understand the Gospel of Jesus we must understand it in the terms in which it is presented to us and those terms are almost exclusively drawn from the Old Testament.

This prompts the question of the hermeneutical methods that the NT authors used in interpreting the OT. While they each approached Scriptural interpretation somewhat differently, there are a few constants that are worth noting. As has already been stated they read it in the light of the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus.

It is also very significant that they extensively used a typological hermeneutic. Thus the historical events of the Exodus are used throughout the NT not to give a mere illustration of how Christ is saving his people, but to actually build the theological understanding of what Jesus is doing. They can use scripture this way, not because they can proof-text their statements by saying that the Exodus story says what they are saying, but rather because they assume that the God who was at work in the exodus is the same God who is at work in redemption and at work in us. They also assume that this same God will work now in a similar pattern to which he worked then. Paul does not claim that God gave him a whole new revelation describing the salvation that came in Christ. Rather he and the other NT authors built their understanding of this ultimate act of redemption by examining the workings of God’s redemption of his people from Egypt, from Babylon, from the Philistines, and so on.

In doing this Paul and the other NT authors seem to reason that just as a good author will build up to the climax of a story with repeated foreshadowing and variations on a theme, God has been authoring the history of the world and of his people as a building up to the climax of the revelation of his Son.

Interestingly, this very typological mode of interpretation that seems to have been the bedrock of the New Testament’s understanding of history and theology is somewhat out of fashion at present.

One of the principle rules of hermeneutics that has been repeatedly hammered into theology students (especially in a Reformed context) is that we must always ask the question: What did this text mean to its original audience. For example the use of the plural form for God in the first chapter of Genesis should not be taken as a reference to the Trinity because that understanding would presumably have been foreign to its original audience. The New Testament authors however were not willing to follow this rule quite the way it is often taught these days. Examining their uses of the OT I was pleasantly surprised by how very careful they were in most cases in sticking very close to the original context to which they were alluding, generally including faithfulness to the way the texts would have been originally understood. However they emphatically did not allow themselves to be limited by that historical understanding. They worked from the older understanding by reading always through the hermeneutic of the fuller understanding that they had now gained through the recent revelation of God in Christ.

No commentary can be, and this one is not, truly complete. It seems to rely almost exclusively on wording similarities to pick out the NT/OT parallels. Thus stylistic echoes are not treated, even when they are so plain as when Jesus echoed the blessing on the new couple (Be fruitful and multiply. . .) with what is sometimes called the Great Commission (. . . make disciples of all nations. . .). Nevertheless, although we may each be sorry to see some pet echo omitted, there seem few that were missed. Overall this is a masterful and scholarly work that will not be soon surpassed.

This commentary will, I’m afraid, usually be used merely as a reference book in helping pastors to prepare sermons. That is fine in its way, but it can be so much more. It is really a rather thorough examination of how the Bible does, and how we should, understand the Bible.