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.