Sunday, November 16, 2008

Unanticipated (Divine) Fingerprints

"Likewise the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God." Romans 8:26-27

God of our Fathers,

We are in continual awe of Your marvelous creativity and provision!

You ordained the rise and recession of the tides, and decreed that they should be governed by the moon's gravity. You designed plant life to rely on an annoying black and yellow bug with a stinger for pollination, and for good measure gave that same bug the ability to make honey! Only You would have thought to hide such amazing potential in fermented grape juice, and only You would have chosen this as the metaphor by which we remember Your Son's death. -- All these things You have done according to Your perfect, eternal plan, and all for Your own glory.

And yet despite all these amazing demonstrations of Your control over the universe, we still balk at giving thanks in all things! We persist in worrying over trifling matters like the latest shenanigans of the Supreme Court and whether our 401(k) numbers appear in black or red, forgetting that You are the Alpha and Omega Who has ordained the end from the very beginning. When we find ourselves surrounded by hand-wringers and brow-furrowers, help us to trust You more and more! When we are tempted to worry or doubt, remind us that You are infallibly working all things together for our good, and teach us to spot Your fingerprints as they appear in what seem the most unlikely places... elections and recessions included.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

What "Old Covenant"?

A couple trips out of town and some other reading have slowed me down in The City of God, but I'm still trying to work through at least a few pages every couple of days.

Book 16 finds Augustine showcasing some scientific ignorance (such as "...The fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets to us..."), but this doesn't bother me too much because more or less every generation has spoken presumptuously of things they didn't fully understand. The exploits of Columbus and Magellan, the existence of giant squid, space travel, the advent of antibiotics, and the Copernican revolution have all failed to teach us any humility in the realm of science; the idiocy of evolution and global warming bear ongoing testament to this sad fact. So while Augustine certainly had a lot to learn about the world in which we live, he's certainly not alone here.

Of more interest to me are his thoughts on circumcision and the relationship between the Old and New Covenant. This partly because the terminology of "Old" and "New" as manifested in "Covenant of works" and "Covenant of grace" has, for many years, struck me as imprecise and problematic. Obviously, wiser men than I have employed these terms for years, so I'll attempt to be cautious in my criticism. But weren't the pre-Christ saints saved by grace just as we in the Church age are? We would think it heretical to suggest otherwise! Secondly, righteous works don't compete or contrast with grace at all, they showcase it (see Romans 4, 11:5-6, and James 2:18). Why then would we set up works and grace as mutually exclusive in our covenantal terminology? Of course works can be elevated to a position of primacy over faith, which is a problem... but would also disqualify them from being righteous works. All of Church history from Genesis to the present is grace upon grace, and calling the pre-Christ portion of this chronology a "Covenant of works" serves only to muddy the waters.

So how about distinguishing between the two time periods by calling them "Old Covenant" and "New Covenant" respectively? Well, I find that less problematic than "Works" vs. "Grace", as Augustine seems to agree in this quote about the birth of Isaac:

"Here there are more distinct promises about the calling of the nations in Isaac, that is, in the son of the promise, by which grace is signified, and not nature; for the son is promised from an old man and a barren old woman. For although God effects even the natural course of procreation, yet where the agency of God is manifest, through the decay or failure of nature, grace is more plainly discerned. And because this was to be brought about, not by generation, but by regeneration, circumcision was enjoined now, when a son was promised of Sarah. And by ordering all, not only sons, but also home-born and purchased servants to be circumcised, he testifies that this grace pertains to all. For what else does circumcision signify than a nature renewed on the putting off of the old? And what else does the eighth day mean than Christ, who rose again when the week was completed, that is, after the Sabbath? The very names of the parents are changed: all things proclaim newness, and the new covenant is shadowed forth in the old. For what does the term old covenant imply but the concealing of the new? And what does the term new covenant imply but the revealing of the old?"

I would take Augustine's closing observation one step further to say that the two covenants are, in fact, one. In Genesis 17:7 God established his everlasting covenant, singular, with Abraham (see also Judges 2:1, 2 Samuel 23:5, and Psalm 105:10 for other references to a single, everlasting covenant). Referencing "Old Covenant" and "New Covenant" isn't a problem in my mind, as long as we recognize this as a distinction of chronology rather than one of identity -- as if the two were completely distinct and separate compacts. This is how the terms are employed in scripture too, distinguishing between the different administrations of the same covenant. The "New" Covenant builds and expands upon the "Old" in much the same way that a knowledgeable man can build upon the talents of his youth. Or we can think of it as the unveiling of a sculpture: the whole masterpiece is the "Covenant of Grace", but the curtain is only part of the way up in the "Old" covenant, and perhaps half or two thirds of the way up in the "New". The complete unveiling will have to wait for our final glorification (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Finally, on a separate but closely related note, I had never heard "the 8th day" element of circumcision linked to Christ's resurrection in this fashion. I'm very interested to pursue this line of thinking as it relates to paedobaptism, but this will have to wait for another post.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Eternal Unchangeable

"Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:3-4

God of our Fathers,

You are the eternal Unchangeable, the point of reference from which all rational thought is derived. Without Your continual sustenance atoms would break down, the solar system would implode, the changing tides would wash away entire coastlines, and we would indeed be of all men most miserable. But having made this world, You did not give it up to destruction after Adam’s sin. You promised instead to send a Redeemer to crush the head of the serpent and restore Your people to a position of covenant familiarity. Then, as You always do, You made good on your promise; adopting us as sons and setting us on the path of righteousness.

Help us more and more to trust in You, and do good! After all, when You have given us so much, how could we dare to follow the example of the ungrateful servant by refusing to pass Your gifts on to those around us? Help us to do good! First to the household of faith, and then to the world at large; spreading the fame of Your greatness throughout the globe, and making disciples of every creature. This is the desire of our heart.

And as we bring our requests before You, keep us mindful of Your faithfulness: for You are the God who keeps covenant to a thousand generations, and Who works all things together for the good of those whom You have called.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Not Forgotten

We've just returned from a most enjoyable visit with my wife's family in California, and I look forward to resuming regular posting... including further commentary on the unfinished tobacco and baptism threads.

I should mention, however, that while away I delved into Peter Leithart's book, The Baptized Body (, which is causing me to rethink my position on baptism a bit... Though lest my Baptist readers get too excited, this "rethinking" is more a matter of terminology than anything else (in fact "refine" might be a better word than "rethink"). But of course words (terms) are the building blocks of ideas, which invariably have consequences. So while the baptism thread will probably have to wait until I've finished the book and digested some of the arguments a bit better, rest assured that it has not been entirely forgotten.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Beauty of, um... Beauty!

A few more thoughts on Book 15 before I move on...

While brilliant and essentially orthodox, Augustine was also a man of his times; times that included a tremendous theological preoccupation with monastic self-denial, and general distaste for the physical world over against the spiritual. However, I suspect Augustine was inwardly uncomfortable operating within this context because he can't help acknowledging the praiseworthiness of beauty:

"Beauty is indeed a good gift of God..."

Even though he immediately feels compelled to qualify, almost apologize for his appreciation of something in the material created order:

", which is indeed God's handiwork, but only a temporal, carnal, and lower kind of good..."

But for all that, he still can't help the fact that he does appreciate it!

"It is this which some one has briefly said in these verses in praise of the Creator: 'These are Thine, they are good, because Thou art good who didst create them. There is in them nothing of ours, unless the sin we commit when we forget the order of things, and instead of Thee love that which Thou hast made.'"

Most of his caveats have their place; we should only love creation insofar as it reflects the glory of its Creator. Taking that appreciation too far, to the point of loving creation on its own merit, is nothing short of idolatry. But we must also recognize that there are ditches on both sides of the path. If idolatry is on the right, then ingratitude is just as surely on the left. And while balance is key, that doesn't make it unreasonable to know which ditch is in more need of exhortation. After all, a drowning man doesn't need a lecture on the necessity of staying well hydrated!

Augustine goes beyond erring on the conservative side here. He is wrong to say that beauty is carnal, or even a "lower form of good". On the contrary, beauty is not exclusive to the created ("carnal") order, but is one of God's eternal attributes (Zec. 9:17)! Furthermore, in Augustine's time (as is often true in the church today) the ingratitude on the left was the ditch more commonly encountered than the idolatry on the right. But in reality we have no reason to look down on God's material creation as somehow inferior to the “spiritual things” (whatever that means) because He made both! Some things He made for utility and some for beauty, but all for His glory. Each piece of His creation can be viewed as a mirror designed to reflect His glory back to Him.

Don't be afraid to revel in the afterglow!

Inherently Selfish

From Book 15:

"...this is the characteristic of the earthly city, that it worships God or gods who may aid it in reigning victoriously and peacefully on earth not through love of doing good, but through lust of rule. The good use the world that they may enjoy God: the wicked on the contrary, that they may enjoy the world would fain use God."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Where the Tobacco Meets the Road

The poem by Ralph Erskine that I posted is fantastic, but beyond all the terrific allegorical interpretations and clever insights he provides... I really just enjoy a good cigar! I've tried smoking a pipe on a few different occasions, and though enjoyable, I don't think it will ever have quite the same appeal to me as a well-crafted cigar. To state my primary reason simply, heat moves upward; which means that in drawing air over the embers of a pipe, you have to puff pretty proactively to keep all the heat from escaping and your pipe from going out. With a cigar on the other hand, the ash plug that forms after a few minutes serves to insulate the embers at the end of the cigar, and allows you to smoke at a much more leisurely pace; even to the point of setting it down for a few minutes between puffs without having to re-light. But while this "low maintenance" factor draws me toward cigars, I also find I simply like the flavor of cigar smoke better than that of the pipes I've sampled.

But before I start rhapsodizing at length on my latest cigar, let's pause a few minutes to consider some of the reasons that conservative eyebrows often reach new heights when discussing this topic.

The objections can be roughly divided in to one of three categories, in this order of importance:
1. Sin Issues
2. Conscience Issues
3. Taste/Preference Issues

For now let's confine our discussion to the burning question, "Is it a sin to use tobacco?" But since tobacco use is nowhere explicitly forbidden in scripture, the question is not at all a simple one, and should therefore be more nuanced: "What element(s), if any, of using tobacco make its use sinful?" The three most common answers given to this question are the addictive nature of the nicotine, the negative health impact, and what I like to call the "guilt by association" argument (i.e., jailbirds and movie villains smoke, and we shouldn't imitate them); but this last one also wanders into "Conscience Issues", which I'll address in another post.

For those who argue against tobacco products because of the risk of addiction, the finger is really (and correctly) pointed at the addiction rather than the tobacco itself. Scripture speaks to the danger of addiction in a variety of ways, including the warning of Matthew 6:24 which states that, "No man can serve two masters..." Addiction is among the basest forms of slavery, being servitude to something rather than even to someone. It violates the first and second commandments by allowing some thing to dominate our habits and desires in a way that should be reserved to God alone, and is therefore rightly viewed as a form of idolatry. But "addiction" and the "risk of addiction" are two vastly different things. Depending on how tightly we define "addiction", dozens or even hundreds of otherwise lawful items from coffee or painkillers to food and shopping come with a gradated risk! Does this mean that we should swear off chocolate (which contains caffeine, so yes, it includes a risk of chemical addiction) and Advil because of the "inherent risk of addiction"? Hardly. It does, however, mean that we need to exercise discretion and temperance in every area of life, bringing each thought and action into subjection to Christ (1 Cor. 10:31 and 2 Cor. 10:5).

But what about the health risks? Isn't our body the temple of the Holy Ghost?

For starters, the risks of lung cancer (and addiction, for that matter) so often attributed to smoking in general are almost completely exclusive to cigarette smoking. Because while cigars and pipes have a long heritage of being savored in a slow, deliberate manner for the enjoyment of their flavor, cigarettes were designed to deliver a quick nicotine fix. This was achieved by reducing the diameter of the traditional cigar down to about that of a pencil, and inserting a filter near the "mouth end" of the cigarette. These two features dilute the overall effect of the smoke sufficiently to allow the smoker to inhale the smoke into his lungs. Conversely with a pipe or cigar, the smoke is typically only drawn into the mouth and blown out -- without ever entering the lungs. Furthermore the bulk of the health risk associated with smoking is effected not by the tobacco or even the nicotine, but the tar (yuck...) produced by the burning paper and other additives peculiar to cigarettes! Of course with a pipe or cigar no paper is present, only dried tobacco leaves. So even though the cigar/pipe imparts more nicotine per puff, the cigar smoker who doesn't inhale is actually absorbing far less nicotine (let alone tar) than the cigarette smoker who is inhaling.

This distinction between the mechanics and physiological impact of cigarettes in particular as opposed to other forms of tobacco use should clear the air on virtually all the questions of addiction and health impact as they pertain to the occasional cigar smoker like myself. Ignoring it would be like blurring the difference between a fellow who enjoys a cup or two of coffee a day and one who needs regular doses of caffeine just to keep him functioning. And for the purposes of this discussion I would like to distance myself from cigarette smoking in particular, though I'm inclined to think that even this form of tobacco use (in moderation) could be defended as lawful for Christians.

One final comment on the health impact of tobacco: Its potential benefits remain woefully underexplored! Even the scant amount of study done on the positive end of the spectrum has shown that moderate tobacco use dramatically reduces risk for several types of heart disease and mental disorder. The fact that these benefits are referred to as "Smoker's Paradoxes" only serves to further illustrate our societal bias against tobacco in general. After all, despite the obvious negative impacts of overindulging on chocolate, nobody calls it a "Chocoholic's Paradox" when researchers discover another hidden benefit of cocoa consumption!

Rather than allowing our standards to be governed by the prevailing winds of cultural opinion or the latest prohibitionist crusade, we should search the scriptures and draw our own conclusions from its teachings (Acts 17:10-11).

Stay tuned for future posts on the "Conscience" and "Taste/Preference" objections.

Comments and questions are most welcome!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Great and Mighty One

God of our Fathers,

You are the great and mighty One, the Judge over all. You have made even the wicked for the day of judgment, and the devil for Your glory. You alone are Lord of the universe, the three times holy God, and we tremble at Your righteousness.

You are the Guardian of the fatherless, the Comforter of the widow, the Strong Tower of the defenseless, the Safeguard of all eternity, and we shelter in Your mercy.

You are the master Craftsman, the Creator of the ends of the earth, Maker of all things visible and invisible, Designer of rose petals and spider webs, mountains and oceans, and we revel in the majesty of Your handiwork.

You are the Giver of life, the Ordainer of marital bliss and parental nurture, the Fountainhead of all joy, and we marvel at Your generosity.

In You we live and move and have our being. You sustain the planets in their orbits, cause sunshine and rain to fall on the just and the unjust, and You alone set kings on their thrones or abase them at Your pleasure. You are the Amen and Amen before Whom even the angels cover their faces, and we give You all praise.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Two Cities Defined

Arriving in Book 14, Augustine decides that he has laid enough groundwork to begin formulating his thesis. The two warring cities to which he has been referring since Book 1 are called the City of Man and the City of God, essentially equivalent to the scriptural "seed of the serpent" and "seed of the woman".

"And thus it has come to pass, that though there are very many and great nations all over the earth, whose rites and customs, speech, arms, and dress, are distinguished by marked differences, yet there are no more than two kinds of human society, which we may justly call two cities, according to the language of our Scriptures. The one consists of those who wish to live after the flesh, the other of those who wish to live after the spirit; and when they severally achieve what they wish, they live in peace, each after their kind."

"Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, 'Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.' In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, 'I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.' And therefore the wise men of the one city, living according to man, have sought for profit to their own bodies or souls, or both, and those who have known God 'Glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; professing themselves to be wise' -- that is, glorying in their own wisdom, and being possessed by pride -- 'They became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.' For they were either leaders or followers of the people in adoring images, 'And worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever.' But in the other city there is no human wisdom, but only godliness, which offers due worship to the true God, and looks for its reward in the society of the saints, of holy angels as well as holy men, 'that God may be all in all.'"

Having thus defined and contrasted the two cities, it will be interesting to see how Augustine sets about praising the City of God and criticizing the City of Man in subsequent Books.

Sweet Home Alabama

Hard to believe... but today marks the two year anniversary of our arrival here in the great state of Alabama, fresh from the theological wasteland of the left coast. Praise God for allowing us to bring our children to the heritage-rich South, the homeland of my clan and the battleground of my ancestors!

May we be worthy of their legacy, proud of their example, and mindful of the cause for which they fought.

Deo Vindice!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Redeem the time!

From Book 13 of Augustine's masterpiece:

"...No sooner do we begin to live in this dying body, than we begin to move ceaselessly towards death. For in the whole course of this life (if life we must call it) its mutability tends towards death. Certainly there is no one who is not nearer it this year than last year, and tomorrow than today, and today than yesterday, and a short while hence than now, and now than a short while ago. For whatever time we live is deducted from our whole term of life, and that which remains is daily becoming less and less; so that our whole life is nothing but a race towards death, in which no one is allowed to stand still for a little space, or to go somewhat more slowly, but all are driven forwards with an impartial movement, and with equal rapidity. For he whose life is short spends a day no more swiftly than he whose life is longer."

"It is one thing to make a longer journey, and another to walk more slowly. He, therefore, who spends longer time on his way to death does not proceed at a more leisurely pace, but goes over more ground. Further, if every man begins to die, that is, is in death, as soon as death has begun to show itself in him (by taking away life, to wit; for when life is all taken away, the man will be then not in death, but after death), then he begins to die so soon as he begins to live."

Every day from conception to death is one more grain of sand passed through the hourglass of your life. We're all counting down -- the only question is how we'll use the time God has given us! So let us be mindful of Ephesians 5:15-16, "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Common Grace

The remnants of tropical storm Fay are providing an abundance of rain in the southeast today, and I'm reminded of Matthew 5:45b:

"...He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."

One of those great verses on God's sovereignty and transcendency that needs no commentary.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Tale of Two Baptisms, Part 2

Just how much bearing does the passage from 1 Corinthians 10 have on the discussion?

Briefly, for those who would say “none” or “not much”, I would point out that down in verse 11 Paul tells us why he bothered to bring the story up in the first place: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition…” Let’s also bear in mind the players in this discourse – the Apostle Paul is speaking here to the Corinthian church, a church filled with confusion around the sacraments. This is certainly not a situation in which we would expect the apostle to toss around sacramental terminology haphazardly; even if Paul didn’t transition smoothly from his comments on baptism in verse 2 and following to a discussion of communion in v.16-22 (which he does), to say nothing of his references to “spiritual meat” and “spiritual drink” in verses 3 and 4.

So while the first part of the chapter isn’t a treatise on baptism per se, I would argue that it has tremendous bearing on the discussion.

Obviously, he is speaking of baptism in a typological sense – but the entire point of Old Testament typology, or foreshadowing, is that it points forward to its New Testament antitype, or fulfillment. So having established that this early baptism is not and cannot be a declaration about the individual Israelite’s eternal status (since we know they weren’t all regenerate), we must ask again: what does it mean? In what way does it prefigure New Testament baptism?

To answer this crucial question, I would like to introduce what will be my primary argument on the significance of baptism as we move forward in the discussion. While baptism has many layers of significance and meaning, the two primary functions of baptism throughout the scriptures are to (1) formally denote covenantal identity and to (2) symbolize cleansing in the one baptized.

In the case of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea, we are given a prime example of baptism’s first function. They were baptized unto (or into) Moses. That is, by corporately passing through the waters they took advantage of God’s provision through Moses, and become formally identified in him as their covenant head.

But wait a minute! Didn’t the Israelites already have a sign of “covenantal identity” in circumcision, given to them in the Abrahamic covenant? Sure they did; but remember that not all of these people are ethnic Jews (Exodus 12:38), and that this is one example of God progressively renewing and expanding His covenant (more on that in another post). In many ways this baptism initiated the Mosaic covenant, which comes to fruition later in God’s provision of the Law at Mount Sinai. So while most of these people are already covenantally identified with Abraham through circumcision, this step in the progression of their covenant with Yahweh, in the typological figurehead of Moses, is formalized at the crossing of the Red Sea. True, Moses began operating as covenantal head of the Israelite people when he returned from Midian, but this relationship was “signed and sealed” at the crossing of the Red Sea.

In a future post we’ll talk about how this concept of covenantal identity is reflected in the New Testament sacrament.

Thus Think, and Smoke Tobacco! (2)

Was this small plant for thee cut down?
So was the plant of great renown;
Which mercy sends
For nobler ends.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Doth juice medicinal proceed
From such a naughty foreign weed?
Then what's the pow'r
Of Jesse's flow'r?
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The promise, like the pipe, inlays,
And by the mouth of faith conveys
What virtue flows
From Sharon's rose.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

In vain th' unlighted pipe you blow;
Your pains in inward means are so,
'Till heav'nly fire
Thy heart inspire.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The smoke, like burning incense tow'rs
So should a praying heart of yours,
With ardent cries,
Surmount the skies.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Smoking Spiritualized, Part 2
~Ralph Erskine~

Thus Think, and Smoke Tobacco!

This Indian weed now wither'd quite,
'Tho' green at noon, cut down at night,
Shows thy decay;
All flesh is hay.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The pipe so lily-like and weak,
Does thus thy mortal state bespeak.
Thou art ev'n such,
Gone with a touch.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the smoke ascends on high,
Then thou behold'st the vanity
Of worldly stuff,
Gone with a puff.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the pipe grows foul within,
Think on thy soul defil'd with sin;
For then the fire,
It does require.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And seest the ashes cast away;
Then to thyself thou mayest say
That to the dust
Return thou must.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Smoking Spiritualized, Part 1
~Ralph Erskine~

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Breakfast of Presbyterians

There are a lot of things I could say about food, drink, and other consumable items; and knowing my own penchant for voicing my opinion, I probably will say more at some point. For now though, I'm too busy heaving a well-stuffed sigh of fulfillment because of this:

Ah, the omelet. What an amazing invention! One of the penultimate examples of "The whole is more than the sum of the parts"! After all, sautéed mushrooms, fresh ground black pepper, three kinds of cheese, ham, crisp bacon, and a few red pepper flakes could each be quite enjoyable on their own; but some kind of Divine magic takes place when you fold them all into a fluffy blanket of scrambled eggs! Spicy, savory, sumptuous, and satisfying.

I'm reminded of a symphony.

Think of the omelet as the brass section; complimented by the rousing rhythm of spicy-crispy fried breakfast potatoes (percussion), a cooling draft of milk (the strings), and a steaming cup of aromatic black coffee (the resonant woodwinds). All of these brought into harmonic synergy by your humble maestro -- taking manly dominion in the kitchen.

I'd cry "Encore!" ...but I'm too full.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Augustine on The "Problem" of Evil

I'm about halfway through Augustine's magnum opus, The City of God, and will be posting a very small sampling of his brilliant quotes, along with some occasional commentary. Here are a pair of resonant thoughts from book 11:

"For God would never have created any... man, whose future wickedness he foreknew, unless He had equally known to what uses in behalf of the good He could turn him, thus embellishing the course of the ages, as it were an exquisite poem set off with antitheses."

"...There are, forsooth, many things, such as fire, frost, wild beasts, and so forth, which do not suit but injure this thin-blooded and frail mortality of our flesh, which is at present under just punishment. They [certain pagans] do not consider how admirable these things are in their own places, how excellent in their own natures, how beautifully adjusted to the rest of creation, and how much grace they contribute to the universe by their own contributions as to a commonwealth; and how serviceable they are even to ourselves, if we use them with a knowledge of their fit adaptations -- so that even poisons, which are destructive when used injudiciously, become wholesome and medicinal when used in conformity with their qualities and design; just as, on the other hand, those things which give us pleasure, such as food, drink, and the light of the sun, are found to be hurtful when immoderately or unseasonably used. And thus divine providence admonishes us not foolishly to vituperate things, but to investigate their utility with care; and, where our mental capacity or infirmity is at fault, to believe that there is a utility, though hidden, as we have experienced that there were other things which we all but failed to discover. For this concealment of the use of things is itself either an exercise of our humility or a leveling of our pride; for no nature at all is evil, and this is a name for nothing but the want of good."

Whenever discussing the "problem" of evil, which I keep putting in quotes because it's only a problem when we doubt God's perfection, it is critically important to distinguish between acts that are evil for man to perpetrate and events that we perceive as evil in the grand scheme of God's plan. In the first category, these acts are only evil because they violate God's commands to men, and therefore do not cast any aspersions on His own holiness. And Augustine, with his observations on fire, poison, etc. shows why the latter type of "evil" is really a flaw in our own perception rather than in God's creation.

Thinking of world chronology as God telling a story about Himself helps to illustrate how both types of "evil" can be rightly understood as the antitheses that Augustine talks about in the first quote above. Regardless of our perception of evil acts and tragic events, God causes all of them to work together for His Divine plan (Gen. 50:20) and for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Tale of Two Baptisms

Many of my Baptist brethren are fond of pointing out the fact that there are no explicit examples of infants being baptized anywhere in the Bible (I'm equally fond of pointing out that these same Baptist brethren aren't bothered by the lack of explicit scriptural examples for women taking communion... but perhaps more on that another day). They feel they hold the high ground of scriptural narrative because the typical baptism story told in the New Testament includes an adult candidate. But rather than combat this point by taking the oft-traveled road of "Household Baptisms" from the New Testament (Cornelius and the Philippian Jailer to name a couple), let's take a moment to consider one of the earliest baptisms documented in the Bible -- the story of Moses and all Israel passing through the Red Sea in Exodus 14. And before you object that this is pre-Christ, non-sacramental, and irrelevant to the discussion, lets take a quick look at 1 Corinthians 10:1-4.

Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. (emphasis mine)

Now if this were one of my sophomoric Calvinist buddies talking, I'd probably tell him that he should be a little more cautious with such evocative sacramental terminology. But since this is the apostle Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit we should certainly ask ourselves what this means. We have a story here of an entire nation being baptized... without any of them getting wet! At the very least this should cause us to pause and reflect on the questions of meaning and mode of baptism -- Meaning, because we know from later in the Exodus story that not all of these Israelites were faithful covenant keepers (see Num. 16); and Mode, because nobody even gets wet.

Friday, August 15, 2008


This will be the first of several posts exploring a few of the issues that play a part in the discussion of Christian baptism. And while there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of questions we could ask about this sacrament, I hope to at least address the following:

What is the purpose of baptism? What, if anything, does it accomplish? Is baptism a statement of preexisting faith, or one of the means by which God bestows and strengthens faith? Who are the proper candidates of baptism? What is the proper mode of baptism? What elements authenticate and/or disqualify the validity of baptism?

I'll look forward to receiving comments and perhaps additional questions as we go along, and hope you'll find the discussion interesting!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lawn Chair Theology

You may have heard the phrase "armchair theology" used in reference to musings from blokes like myself who take enough interest in theological issues to sally forth with occasionally outlandish observations thereon; but who may or may not have sufficient training or insight for the topics with which they tangle. But since I don't have an armchair, and not infrequently do my best reading and musing from a lawn chair on my back porch -- "lawn chair theology" seems a better nickname for my humble brand of ponderings.

I probably won't post on this blog with any great regularity or frequency, but hopefully the posts that do make their way onto the landscape of greater blogdom will reflect a desire to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with my God, and exhort my brethren to the same.