Month: June 2011

on marriage: meaning and significance

My sister is getting married today, and I could not be more excited for her and the life she about to enter. Not too long ago she asked if I would be willing and able to do the ceremony–a request that touched my heart deeply. I responded with: ‘Absolutely!’ However, circumstances (geographical, chronological, financial and personal) prevent me from being able to fulfil my sister’s request, and it pains me that such is the case. In spite of this set back, I would like to quote something that I would have read anyway at the ceremony. The quotation, I think, captures the root meaning and significance of what marriage is and how it is to be treated by those who commit to it.

Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which he wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at the post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal–it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. As you first gave the ring to one another and have now received it a second time from the hand of the pastor, so love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God. As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘A Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell (May 1943)’, in Letters and Papers from Prison.

Cat, I love you dearly and I am eternally grateful to have you as my sister. I wish you and Brennon the absolute best in your new life together, and I will pray continually for its challenges, adventures, struggles and successes. My only two bits of advice (for now–haha) are these: 1) never waste an opportunity to say ‘I love you’ and never let it become merely something to say, and 2) realise that ‘fights’ are inevitable, but always remember to ‘fight’ fair. (I confess the second one comes from Derek; it was something he said at my wedding). Okay, one more bit of advice: never give up. Giving up is easy and it only shows the thing given up as not worthwhile, whereas not giving up is extremely difficult; but it shows the thing held onto as worth fighting for.

reads of the week

While taking some personal time off, my wife, her parents and I have visited a couple of interesting places. When arriving in a new village or town, our custom is to search for the nearest coffee shop and then peruse the various charity shops. However, on one of our more recent excursions, we broke pattern and did things the other way round. Thus, the charity shops became the first task of the day (after lunch, of course) and I could not resist the temptation of popping in Oxfam bookshop. I’m glad I couldn’t resist, because if I had I might have missed these:

  • A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh (1979) . . . . £2.99
  • Glenn N. Davies, Faith and Obedience in Romans: A Study in Romans 1–4. JSNTSup 39 (1990) . . . . £1.49
  • I. Howard Marshall, The Epistle to the Philippians. Epworth Commentaries (1991) . . . . £1.99
  • Nigel Watson, The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Epworth Commentaries (1992) . . . . £1.99

And yes: not only did I give into to temptation, I also indulged in it (i.e. I bought them). However, this was not the first time I was ‘carried away and enticed’ by such things. On an earlier outing, we travelled to a place that is a hotbed of captivation, temptation and sinister persuasion: Hay-on-Wye, a.k.a. the town of books. (Here’s a list of the numerous bookshops in Hay. A few are missing from the list). At the thought of being surrounded by c. 1,000,000 books, and knowing my somewhat recent predilection for books,* I was given a budget of £15. This forced me to be selective and creative. Sixteen bookshops later, I came home with these:

  • J.L. Houlden, Patterns of Faith: A Study in the Relationship Between the New Testament and Christian Doctrine (1977) . . . . £2.00
  • John C. Hurd Jr., The Origins of 1 Corinthians (1965) . . . . £3.95
  • John C. Kirby, Ephesians: Baptism and Pentecost: An Inquiry into the Structure and Purpose of the Epistle to the Ephesians (1968) . . . . £3.50
  • A.J.M. Wedderburn, Beyond Resurrection (1999) . . . . £3.50

Not a bad day, I think. Will I get through reading these any time soon? Not likely, but I’ll give it a go. Am I a dork for being excited about finding, buying and reading books? Pretty much.

* I must confess that, before University (‘college’ for the US readers) I never really read books. To be completely honest, even while at University I did not read the (assigned) books thoroughly. I usually skimmed them so that I could write the required report. It was only in my senior year and after graduation (in 2002) that I developed a penchant for studious reading, and with this came the compulsion to purchase books.

quotes of the evening

These are just two of the many I could have noted from the short introduction of my recent purchase (from the Uni’s learning centre):*

Man’s reality is his life with others. Everything private is necessarily privatio, a deprivation, an isolation opposed to life, opposed to man, opposed to God, a deadly abstraction, just as any theory, when it is made a life-principle, becomes also an opposed and deadly abstraction. Human life is always life in the community. Insofar as it is not, it is not life but death.

And then this one:

By true belief, however, nothing can be meant by that belief by which man sees himself as he really is. True belief is the opposite of the ideology by which man surrenders to an unreal dream of himself.

–H.E. Brunner, The Theology of Crisis (1931), xiv, xx.

Great stuff. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

* I have a feeling that Jim West will be pleased with this purchase.

great finds at ridiculous prices

The University learning centre is off-loading a ton of books, mostly theology and church history. Naturally, I became curious and was then unable to stop myself. Here’s what I found (and bought):

E. Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes (1964)
E. Schweizer, A Theological Introduction to the New Testament (1992)
C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary (1985)
M. Hengel, The Pre-Christian Paul (1991)
J. Ziesler, Pauline Christianity, rev.ed. (1990)
H.B. Swete, The Holy Spirit in the Ancient Church (1912)

Total cost:  £3.

pics of former shelves

Kevin Brown over at Diglotting posted on his new bookshelf and its slimmed down contents. Like Kevin I enjoy seeing what other people have on their shelves. At least in that respect, Kevin you’re not alone, and it’s not a boring life. In many ways I can sympathise (and empathise) with the tormenting feelings of what to do with one’s books, especially if that collection has more than ‘a few’ (which here means c. 1/32 of the collection). The shared struggle continues with the struggles of having to slim down.

Before my lovely wife and I moved from Cincinnati back to Atlanta before swimming the pond, I off-loaded roughly 150 books. That dropped my collection to just below 800. I think I cried that day. The second stage came when we moved from Atlanta to Cheltenham, a stage where tough decisions had to be made, simply because I could only (afford to) ship one box of books. I could only bring ‘a few.’ I have since made up for the loss, with the help of little used books shops in town, the goldmine of Hay-on-Wye, my University’s library sale and a close friend.

That aside, and getting to the meat of this post: I am responding to Kevin’s request. Below are pictures of my collection, although it’s the collection I had in Cincinnati and before trimming the 150 or so. (I readily admit that these pictures illustrate one of Kevin’s important concerns–i.e. too many books and shelves in a tight space can look a bit messy. That said, excuse the mess). Come Monday I will add two or three additional pictures to reveal my meagre collection here in Cheltenham. But until then, here we go (circling the room from left to right, all the way round):

Top shelves (spanning both): hermeneutics/exegesis, Bibles, Jewish texts, post-Apostolic texts
Second shelves:  historic creeds, OT introductions, NT introductions, Jewish/OT theology
Third shelves: NT theology; special studies on the Gospels, Acts and Pauline literature
Fourth shelves: historical Jesus, Christology, James, Paul
Fifth shelves: more Paul,  St Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley

Top: rest of John Wesley, Spurgeon, D.L. Moody; early Christian theology, systematic theology
Second: more systematic theology, specific theological topics
Third: additional theological topics, general Christianity, journals
Fourth: more journals, Greek philosophy, slightly more modern philosophy
Fifth: more modern philosophy/critical theology, introductions to philosophy

Top shelves: more journals, logic, Christian apologetics
Seconds: more apologetics, ancient history, Israelite history, Greek history, Second-Temple Judaism
Thirds: Roman history, 19th century US church history, ancient literature, Shakespeare
Fourths: modern classic literature, modern novels/fiction
Fifths: Christian literature, notebooks for classes

Floor (left side): assortment of don’t-really-fit-in-with-established-categories
Top: OT commentaries, NT commentaries
Second & third: more NT commentaries
Fourth: remainder of NT commentaries; Greek language, grammar and syntax; German
Bottom: theological dictionaries and other reference types
Floor (next to desk): library books, so not mine–with the exception of the notebooks; those are.

That just about does it for my collection (then). If anyone would like to see a list of my collection, let me know and I’ll add it to this post. (I have a feeling that demand will not be very high, but it seemed polite to offer it).

UPDATE: here are the remaining pics of my shelves, this time involving the ones here in Cheltenham. I’ll start with the two at the house and then end with the one at the office. Some of my eagle-eyed readers will notice a few repetitions from the previous pictures.

Top: odd mix of Farrar’s Life of Jesus and Ludlum’s Bourne series.
Second: Doug Adams, Tolkien, and an assortment of classic Greek texts
Third: another odd mix of Sherlock Holmes, Hebrew, educational stuff, German, maps
Bottom: nothing important

Top: Stephen Fry, funny learning aids, maps
Second: Pauline studies, Jewish studies, ancient history/texts, philosophy and ethics
Third: nothing major, except my two favourite paintings
Bottom: our assortment of movies (and TV shows)

Top: reference books, and Lenski’s Power and Privilege (borrowed from my second supervisor)
Second: a slew of library books on various topics, (American) football, Hebrew and Greek bibles
Third: language aids, OT history and theology, hermeneutics, primitive Christianity, epistolary theory
Fourth: Christian history, Pauline materials, random few
Bottom: journal articles needing to be (re)read.

transient theological thoughts (1)

This might become a series of posts and it might not; I’m not going to bother with deciding that now.  However there will be three posts with this heading, each describing a particular theological idea that piqued my curiosity.* Although, seeing that there will be three and seeing that I’m a faithful church-goer, and since anything done in the church more than twice constitues a tradition; it seems as though these three posts establish a tradition I now have to uphold. (Crap. Walked right into that one). With that, here’s the first topic:

Jesus Ain’t No Looker
(Got your attention, hopefully). I’ve mentioned before that while doing my research I continually seek opportunities to learn more, especially in areas outside of my field of interest. In some ways this is because I (occasionally) miss being in a classroom, but it’s primarily due to my awareness that learning is never finished; there is always something more. Lately, I have been listening to a series of theology lectures on iTunesU and for the most part they have been quite good.

However in the most recent lecture, while dealing with modern views or conceptual images of Jesus, the professor** made a passing comment about Jesus’ appearance. He said: ‘The Bible says that [Jesus] had nothing in his appearance that would attract us to him. Nothing.’ This professor then went on to quote (loosely) Isaiah 53.2-3 to support his claim. For those unaware, this sort of argument is nothing new. Interestingly, Franz Delizsch briefly mentions the contrasting portraits of Jesus before and after Constantine, where previous depictions were ‘repulsive’ while later versions portrayed ‘ideal beauty’ (Isaiah [1884], 2.307 n.1).

Here are my thoughts on the matter. While I sympathise with the professor’s desire to move away from overly polished or idealised protraits of Jesus (especially those dictated by modern standards of beauty and acceptability), I cannot agree with his explicit–not to mention, absolute–claim. Moreover, I cannot bring myself to see Isaiah 53.2-3 as ‘biblical evidence’ that Jesus’ everyday appearance was completely unattractive. Why (on both)? Because aside from this solitary reference, there is no biblical testimony concerning the appearance of Jesus. Thus, the professor’s argument is one from silence. (Similarly, the polished and idealised depictions of Jesus are also without biblical foundation. We simply do not have enough information to decide either way). But what about the Isaiah passage?

My concern here is that the text does not speak of the ‘servant’s’ normal, everyday appearance; that’s not the focus of the prophecy. Instead, the context of the passage (i.e. 52.13–53.12) reveals that the focus of the prophecy is absolute exaltation from complete humiliation. Moreover, this larger context shows that the specific (ugly) appearance in question results from a specific series of events later in life and not to genetics. Let me explain.

Isaiah 52.14 contextualises the ugliness of 53.2-3: the unsightly form or appearance of the ‘servant’ results from him being ‘marred more than any man’. Isaiah 53.5 and 7 continue this theme by noting the piercing, crushing, scourging, oppression and ultimate sacrifice of the ‘servant.’ It is from this marred, humiliated and unsightly state that the ‘servant’ will be exalted, and this marred, humiliated and unsightly state that Isaiah 53.2-3 describes; the physical appearance of the servant (on a daily basis) is simply not a matter of concern (cf. John Calvin, Isaiah [1850], 4.114). From the perspective of fulfilled prophecy, Christians understand this Isaiah passage to refer to Jesus’ scourging and crucifixion; it’s not a desription of people’s musings on Jesus’ physical appearance as he wandered around Galilee and Judea.

* Feel free to jump in and give your thoughts on any of these three posts.
** For my non-US friends, read ‘professer’ as ‘lecturer’. I used ‘professor’ because the guy in question is in the US and because I didn’t feel like having ‘lecturer’ written right after ‘lecture.’

finally, some clarity on the origin of denominations

About three weeks ago, I began leading a six-week discussion at our church on how to study the Bible (theologically). During the most recent session, someone asked about the origins (or cause) of denominations within Christianity.

Because of time constraints, I opted for the simple (and somewhat over-generalised) response: denominations tend to emerge as a result of differing interpretations over certain important passages or specific beliefs.  Connected with this, denominations often form due to the practical outcome of these differences–i.e. people have different views over how the church should operate and/or conduct itself.

My response was either satisfactory (in spite of its brevity) or less than helpful (because of its brevity); it’s hard to know because no follow-up question was asked. However, it appears that I was completely mistaken in my understanding and I now need to go before the dear friends in this study and beg for mercy. How do I know I was wrong? Because Jack Kinsella has shown me why, in his wonderfully insightful ‘Omega Letter.’* About half way through his ‘article,’ Kinsella offers this bit of theological clarity:**

There are Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian, Anglican, Lutherans, Reformed, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Anabaptists, Brethren, Methodist, Apostolic, Pentecostal, Charismatic, African, United, Quakers, Mennonites, Unitarian, Messianic Judaism, and dozens more Christian-themed cults, like British Israelism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so on.

In Genesis we read of the Tower of Babel, an effort by Nimrod to unite the world under his authority, and how God dealt with it.

“And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.  Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. (Genesis 11:6-7)

According to the Bible, when the Holy Spirit is withdrawn, Nimrod’s effort will be duplicated by the antichrist who sets up a universal government under his authority and unites it via a single religion under his control.

During the Church Age, God divided the Church into denominations to prevent that from happening prematurely.

Human beings are not all born the same type of people.  We are split in profound and fundamental ways and then set radically free to find our own way.   We are born with a sense of God-consciousness, but we are free to seek His face or reject Him altogether.

The Bible is deliberately obscure enough to empower all the various denominations without any one of them growing too powerful – God demands faith in His Son, not faith in a church.

Who knew?! God is the cause for denominations.

(For those taking part in our study [who happen to read this]: this is a decent example of eisegesis).

* Said with tongue nearly burst through my cheek.
** I’m ignoring the multitude of problems with Kinsella’s argument.