Monday, January 24, 2011

Die mittens die!

Mittens have all the functionality of five fingered gloves, save for the functionality part.

I John 1:2

"The Life appeared"

We finally arrive at the action of the book. The first verse is set-up and proclamation, verse two is where we see God's action at work. "The Life Appeared." The words are carefully chosen:
-"Life", that which is proclaimed. The world groans under the weight of sin and death; the rebellion of creation against God has brought down the sentence of death upon our heads. So God promises
I am about to pour out my wrath on you
   and spend my anger against you.
I will judge you according to your conduct
   and repay you for all your detestable practices.
I will not look on you with pity;
   I will not spare you.
I will repay you for your conduct
   and for the detestable practices among you.
   “‘Then you will know that it is I the LORD who strikes you. (Ezekiel 7: 8-9)
Life, then, after so many promises of death, is shocking news.

-"Appeared": the implication is not that Life was called out of nothing, but rather that the Life was somewhere else, but now has appeared here. The Life has come to those who are dead, Christ has entered a world in rebellion against Him and proclaimed the message of redemption.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

First Amendment I: Origins

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Having written the Constitution, the Framers remaining at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 (roughly 40 out of around 80 original attendees) had to find a way to get it enacted. They decreed (quite illegally) that special conventions would be called in each state, and that once 9 of the 13 states had approved, the Constitution would replace the Articles of Confederation as the governing document of the land. Small states quickly ratified the Constitution, realizing that the existence of the Senate would give them more power than they could hope for under any other form of representative government. But, no matter how many small states adopted the Constitution, it was understood that without the big four, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York, either the Articles would stay in place or the nation would divide.
The Pennsylvania political machine quickly rushed through ratification before opponents of the Constitution, called "anit-federalists" could get organized.
Massachusetts was under the rule of a political machine headed by Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock. Supporters of the Constitution, called "Federalists", and was brought around when the Federalists hinted to Hancock that there would be a new office called "President", and, well, it was his name that was so large on the Declaration...
New York was the last to accept, and was the location of a series of famous debates, which included the publications that have been collected as the "Federalist Papers".

Virginia, however, is the state which concerns us. It ws the location of the first major (rhetorical) battle between the Federalists and the anti-federalists. By May of 1788, 7 states had voted for the Constitution, and 1 against (Rhode Island), and Virginia was beginning its own process of debate.
Supporting the anti-Federalists were George Mason, the influential Lee family, Edmund Randolph, and, most importantly, Patrick Henry. The Federalist proponents were John Marshall, James Madison, and, above all, George Washington (Thomas Jefferson was currently serving as ambassador to France, though he was in spirit on the side of the anti-Federalists).

The primary concerns of the anti-federalists in Virginia were twofold:
1) there is no Bill of Rights to defend the states and the people from the potential power of the new federal government;
2) there is no mention of God in the Constitution.

Rather than let the state be swept up in a bitter debate, George Washington personally intervened, promising on his own reputation that a Bill of Rights would be added to the Constitution which would include a defense of religion and liberty. Based on this, Edmund Randolph switched sides and Virginia ratified the Constitution, including proposing twelve amendments for the consideration of Congress (once it had been formed).

In a rare occurance in American politics, the Federalists kept their word and supported ten of the twelve proposed Amendments, creating our current Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

First Amendment woes...

The recently inaugurated Governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, has drawn fire on himself for comments he made shortly after taking office. The full story can be found here. The short version is that the Governor announced that he has a special relationship with Christians, they are his "brothers and sisters", which he does not have with non-Christians. While there's nothing particularly revolutionary about this idea (with certain 19th and 20th century exceptions, Christians have always held some form of this), Bentley is getting flak for speaking as Governor, which some have interpreted to mean that he will favor Christians over non-Christians, perhaps even to the point of violating the First Amendment.
This, in turn, has (as always) led to debate over what the First Amendment actually means. Fortunately, what is a headache for a politician is mere fodder for the blogosphere, fodder which I intend to feast upon. I intend to blog occasionally through the First Amendment, trying to explain and put into context what I can (which will in turn hopefully tie in with my dissertation). I've never quite done anything like this before, so it should be a bit of an adventure...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ezekiel 6:5

I will lay the dead bodies of the Israelites in front of their idols and I will scatter your bones around your altars.
Someday, I'll write my own "One-a-Day-Promises-From-the-Bible" book...

Teaching in the Middle Ages

How the times have changed:
The professors took oaths to the student bodies, to follow their codes. If they wished to be absent from their duties, they were obliged to get leave of absence from the rectors. They were required to begin and close their lectures promptly at the ringing of the bell under penalty of a fine and were forbidden to skip any part of the text-books or postpone the answer to questions to the end of the lecture hour. Another rule required them to cover a certain amount of ground in a given period [called reaching a certain 'point', or punctum]. The professors were kept in awe by the threat which the student body held over them of migrating when there was cause for dissatisfaction.
-Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol 5, pg 565-566.

Arnold's greatest hits...

Not safe for work. But safe for awesome.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

the infinite mercy of God

If all the world should drink free grace, mercy and pardon from Christ, the well of salvation; if they should draw strength from one single promise, they would not be able to lower the level of the water of grace in that promise one hair's breadth. There is enough grace, mercy and pardon in one of God's promises for the sins of millions of worlds, if they existed, because the promise is supplied from an infinite, bottomless reservoir. What is one finite guilt before this infinite and eternal reservoir of grace? Show me the sinner who can spread out his sins to infinite dimensions and I will show him this infinite and eternal reservoir of grace and mercy.
-John Owen, Communion with God, pg 62

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I John 1:1

"this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life"

John has by grammatical deftness shifted the focus from where it would naturally fall in the sentence, on the subject, "we", onto the object of the proclamation. By repetition and position, by the time we get to the subject and verb of statement the full weight of the sentence has already fallen on the object: "that which was from the beginning," "this we proclaim concerning the word of life." John leaves no doubt as to what is important, and in doing so gives us a picture of the responsibility of the Christian: we are to declare Christ.
The Gospel is primarily and fundamentally good news, but while it is good news for us, it is not good news about us. It is good news about God and what He has done for us in sending His Son, Jesus Christ. It our our duty and delight to share this news with others, both by expressing it verbally and by applying it to our lives and effecting change in how we live. The proclamation of the Word of Life is how Christians are born, and should be how we speak, think, and live.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A monk on books

"I sit here with no company but books, dipping into dainty honeycombs of literature. All minds in the world's literature are concentrated in a library. This is the pinnacle of the temple from which we may see all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. I keep Egypt and the Holy Land in the closet next to the window. On the side of them are Athens and the empire of Rome. Never was such an army mustered as I have here. No general ever had such soldiers as I have. No kingdom ever had half such illustrious subjects as mine or subjects half as well disciplined. I can put my haughtiest subjects up or down as it pleases me... I call Plato and he answers "here"- a noble and sturdy soldier; "Aristotle," "here" -a host in himself. Demosthenes, Pliny, Cicero, Tacitus, Caesar. "Here", they answer, and they smile at me in their immortality of youth. Modest all, they never speak unless spoken to. Bountiful all, they never refuse to answer. And they are all at peace together... All the world is around me, all that ever stirred human hearts or fired the imagination is harmlessly here. My library cases are the avenues of time. Ages have wrought, generations grown, and all their blossoms are cast down here. It is the garden of immortal fruits without dog or dragon."
-Found in Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol 5, pg 550-551.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Love of the Father




Many saints have no greater burden in their lives than that their hearts do not constantly delight and rejoice in God. There is still in them a resistance to walking close with God. Why is this? Is it not because they are not skillful and so neglect having loving fellowship with the Father? But the more we see of God's love, so much more shall we delight in him. All that we learn of God will only frighten us away from him if we do not see him as loving and merciful to us. But if your heart is taken up with the Father's love as the chief property of his nature, it cannot help but choose to be overpowered, conquered and embraced by him. This, if anything, will arouse our desire to make our eternal home with God... So do this: set your thoughts on the eternal love of the Father and see if your heart is not aroused to delight in him. Sit down for a while at this delightful spring of living water and you will soon find its streams sweet and delightful. you who used to run from God will not now be able, even for a second, to keep at any distance from him.
-John Owen, Communion with God, 32-33.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I John 1:1

"That which was from the beginning..."

John opens his first epistle with words universally applicable. "That which was from the beginning", the eternal, the infinite, the unchanging, that by which all else is to be judged. Every philosopher of the ancient world had some concept of this, be it the Good, the True, and the Beautiful of Plato, the Supreme Intellect of Aristotle, the Brilliant Light of Plotinus, the Supreme Morality of Epictetus, or even the Natural Law of Epicurus, there is always some universal and eternal standard by which we view and judge the world and ourselves.
And this is not merely an ancient phenomenon, the modern world likewise has its ideas of the eternal. we look to natural law and the physical universe for our eternal source. The bleeding of science into philosophy has caused us to look to order and law in the universe as that which stands forever.
This is not automatically a bad impulse, in order to understand ourselves and the world, we must begin with an eternal by which we may judge.

But here is where John throws us a curve ball. The next logical step is to describe the distance between the eternal and the transient. Aristotle's god is pure reason, and indifferent to mankind. To the Stoics, the fates were supreme and unconcerned with the pain or pleasure of mankind. Modern man's natural law is a set of cold equations, marching nature forward and trampling man uncaringly underfoot. The physical processes of life and death continue no matter how much we struggle against them.
John offends all of these systems. Where all others are forced to separate the eternal from our temporary selves -a physical, emotional, and spiritual separation- John declares to us a wonderful message:

"which we have heard, which our eyes have seen and our hands have felt."

The Eternal can be seen, heard, and touched. As John said in his Gospel, "the Word became flesh." The miracle of the Incarnation is that the distant and transcendent God has taken on a human face. There is no category for this in ancient or modern philosophy or religion. Fate and natural law have no body to be touched, voice to be heard, or face to be seen. But the beginning of the good news of the Gospel is that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, that He has bridged the gap between Himself and His creation by stepping into it. Christians do not have a God who is distant, aloof, or uncaring, we have a God with whom we can intimately relate, because He has become one of us.