Category Archives: Uncategorized

Flotsam and jetsam (8/2)

The feelings of well-being and the abundance of accolades can cause church members and leaders to get comfortable and proud. If and when that happens, the church is already on a downward trek. Decline may not manifest itself right away, but it is inevitable unless serious steps are taken toward a corporate attitude change.

Ordinary Christians do what Bush did all the time, Leonard says. They use coded Christian terms like verbal passports – flashing them gains you admittance to certain Christian communities.

We live in a culture that tends to focus narrowly on pragmatic concerns and to regard the arts as peripheral. Faced with budgetary constraints, our public schools have massively cut funding for classes in visual art, music and theater; financial resources are focused instead on preparing students to pass standardized tests. It is not hard to see that such educational policy impoverishes the imagination of students and deprives them of the collaborative joy that comes from working together to produce a play or perform a concert.

Hedonism of whatever kind implies a calculus….What are the units of satisfaction? How do we decide when we have enjoyed fewer or more of these? Are there different qualities of such units, some ‘higher’ than others? It is easy to see that such questions are not easy to answer. But if we cannot answer them satisfactorily, Christian hedonism falls at the first fence, along with its non-Christian cousins.

I’ve Fallen and I Need to Confess

I dabbled for a while in college, but I’ve resisted the temptation ever since. I knew it was the right thing to do. Others fell. But not me. I was the strong one. I was faithful.

That’s over now.

I’ve fallen.

Eve had her apple. And now, I have mine.

I bought a Mac.

In my defense, it’s not just any Mac. Less than 2.5 pounds. Just over half-an-inch thick. Barely bigger than a iPad. And faster than a greased cat on a slip-n-slide. The MacBook Air 11.

Eve lost her soul for a piece of fruit. At least I held out for a sweet laptop.

Regular readers know that I’ve been searching for the right laptop for a while. Actually, it’s been almost a year now. And, that’s mostly because I’m a cheapskate. So, I kept trying to find the least expensive laptop that would do what I wanted. (Translation: I was trying to find a $400 laptop that would perform like a $1000 laptop).

So, it’s been a bit of a journey:

  1. Mainstream “Value” Laptops: I think I’ve tried at least four different laptops in this category. And, along the way I discovered that 14″ laptops are too big to use comfortably on an airplane. Maybe when my plans for world domination finally come to fruition and I can fly first class on a regular basis, this won’t be as much of a problem. But, for now, something smaller than 14″ is necessary. And, “value” laptops tend to be pretty heavy. I need more exercise, but this doesn’t seem like the best solution.
  2. Netbooks: I’ve also gone through three different netbooks. And, I really thought this would be the solution. After all, I was looking for small, light, and cheap, and that’s exactly what a netbook is. One problem: I also need some power. I always have multiple applications open (including a multi-tabbed browser), and I switch between them frequently. Even the higher-end netbooks start to bog down after a bit. This wouldn’t be a problem if I only used a laptop when I travel, but I use my laptop extensively when I’m at home as well. So, I need something a bit more functional than a netbook.
  3. iPad 2: Okay, I knew this probably wasn’t going to work, but I thought I should try anyway. So, last week I bought an iPad. And, I now have one more week to decide if I’m going to keep it. So far, I’m torn. It’s a nice little device and does a great job with what it’s designed to do. But, it clearly isn’t a laptop replacement. Even adding a bluetooth keyboard didn’t do the trick. It’s a niche device. I’m having fun with it, but I don’t know if I’ll keep it.

Having exhausted these options, I’ve developed a pretty clear picture of what I’m looking for. My perfect laptop needs to be (1) small enough to use comfortably on an airplane, (2) light enough to carry everywhere I go, (3) powerful enough to use every day without bogging down, and (4) have enough battery life to run at least 4-5 hours without being plugged in.

I’m sure you can see now why I was having a hard time finding something in the $400 range that met my needs. So, I’ve decided to shove frugality to the side and go with a laptop that actually fits those criteria. That’s how I ended up with the Macbook. I now have two weeks to determine whether this is the right move. If I’m not convinced by then, I’ll take it back and keep looking.

Other than cost, the only real drawback is that I now have to adjust to a Mac environment. I haven’t used a Mac regularly since I was an undergrad. So, there’s a bit of a learning curve involved.

If you’re a Mac person, I’d love to hear what programs you like to use. Feel free to comment on any of your favorite programs, but I’m particularly interested in the following:

  • Word Processors: MS Word has been my processor of choice up to this point. But, if I move to a Mac, I may branch out a bit. So, I’m starting to toy around with Scrivener, Pages, Open Office, and Mellel.
  • Bible Software: I’ve used Bible Works for years now, but I’ve heard that working the BW inside an emulator is less than satisfying. So, I may need to move to Accordance or Logos on the laptop, though I’ll keep using BW regularly on my office system.
  • Research Manager: Zotero and Sente seem to be the leading candidates here, unless someone has another suggestion. (I’ve been using Endnote for a while, but there has to be something better.)

Anyway, that’s the story of my great fall. Thanks for letting me confess. I feel better now.

July’s Top Posts

July was an interesting month. Between family vacations (Disneyland, camping, etc.) and going to Cambridge for a few days to present a paper, I didn’t get much serious blogging done. Nonetheless, we did post a few interesting articles. So, here are the top posts for July.

  1. God Created the World for Himself
  2. How to deactivate a cat
  3. A Handy Map of Hell
  4. John Stott, rest in peace (1921-2011)
  5. When Parents Ask the Wrong Questions

Two Men or One: Jonathan Edwards and David Brainerd

[This is a guest post by Billy Cash.  Billy is a graduating Th.M. student at Western Seminary and is participating in this summer’s Th.M. seminar on Jonathan Edwards.]

It is not entirely clear how close Jonathan Edwards was with David Brainerd prior to his coming to live with him on May 28, 1747.  Edwards certainly knew of Brainerd, whose reputation, especially in his latter years, preceded him.  Edwards had met him on a couple of different occasions and they were both involved with the Scottish organization that endeavored for the evangelism of the Indians.  Edwards also counseled Brainerd in his attempt to be reinstated to Yale after his dismissal for speaking ill of Mr. Whittelsey, a tutor at the time.   Needless to say, Edwards was very impressed and held Brainerd in high regard even before his lodging at the Edwards estate prior to his death.  I think it is possible he regarded Brainerd so highly because of the similarities to himself he perceived within him.  In reading The Diary of David Brainerd one might begin to think that Edwards and Brainerd were long lost twins.

In Edwards preface he writes that a particular weakness of Brainerd “was his being excessive in his labors; not taking due care to proportion his fatigues to his strength.”  I found it ironic Edwards would call this a weakness because of his own struggle in this area.  Indeed, this weakness was, I believe, was to be the undoing of Brainerd.  In college he was sent home because he studied so much and ate so little, that he became weak, disordered, and sickly.  Many times, as a missionary he would ride for days, spitting up blood and being extremely weary, only to spend the entire next day fasting and preaching.  Like Edwards, Brainerd did not seem to have a capacity for rest unless a bedridden fever forced him to do so.  It is clear that Edwards struggled with this same weakness, many times finding himself so physically broken he could not get out of bed.  He does leave Brainerd, and possibly himself an out, saying that “Providence…made it extremely difficult for [Brainerd] to avoid doing more than his strength would well admit of; [because] his circumstances…were such that great fatigues and hardships were altogether inevitable.”  Brainerd, and Edwards, seemed always to feel the weight of eternity, the pressing reality that a meeting with the Almighty God was just around the corner.  I wish it did more on me.

This points to a second similarity: both were concerned with redeeming the time for the glory of God.  Not one second, of one minute, of one day was to be wasted.  Both of these men were keenly aware that time was a precious stewardship given by the Lord, and to waste it in frivolous worldly adventures was sinful.  Edwards had “Resolved, Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.”  He wrote of Brainerd that he took constant care “from day to day not to lose time but to improve it all for God.”  On one occasion Brainerd wrote that he “was obliged to spend time in company and conversation that was unprofitable.  Nothing lies heavier upon me that the misimprovement of time.”   This was perhaps one of the more challenging aspects of these men’s lives for me.  After reading this diary  I have been convicted about how fruitless much of my time may be.

There were two similarities in their theology that I found interesting, especially since their identical conclusions seemed to be formed independently of each other.  The first was the distinction between self-love and holy righteous love to God.  Edwards speaks directly to this in his work The End For Which God Created the World.  When teaching those in his care, Brainerd says that he also “took pains to describe the difference between a regular and irregular self-love; the one consisting with supreme love to God, but the other not; the former uniting God’s glory and the soul’s happiness that they become one common interest, but the latter disjoining and separating God’s glory and man’s happiness, seeking the latter with a neglect of the former.”  God’s glory and man’s joy were not at odds.  They were intrinsically woven together.  The type of love that separated them was an inappropriate self-love that made man the object of his own desires.  In all things, both of these men perceived that the glory of God was the highest ideal to be sought and the greatest fountain of man’s delight.

Secondly, having both participated in and seen the amazing work of revival, they went to great lengths to distinguish between true and false marks of religion.  After seeing emotional stirrings of a revival among a group of Indians Brainerd was working with he wrote, “I must confess that I had often seen encouraging appearances among the Indians elsewhere prove wholly abortive…”  Towards the end of his life, when experience, wisdom, and discernment had time to mature, he wrote, “Oh, the ignorance of the world!  How are some empty outward forms, that may all be entirely selfish, mistaken for true religion, infallible evidences of it!  The Lord pity a deluded world!”  Like Brainerd, Edwards knew that emotional stirrings were not the definitive mark of a true work of God.  Both men had on occasion, it seemed, placed more hope in immediate appearances.  This led Edwards to write several great works on this very issue.

Indeed there are more similarities that could be provided.  Both were Calvinist to the core, seeing conversion as an amazing work of God.  Both willingly submitted to the providence of God in all good and bad circumstances in which they found themselves.  Though a missionary, Brainerd had the heart of a pastor.  Both men had a heart to see the Indians converted, and were angered when they saw them being taken advantage of.   In the end, both were mighty instruments in the hand of God, fully submitted to his divine providence, and completely desirous for the glory of his name.   The strict discipline and regiment they both applied to their lives was challenging, to say the least.  Here were men who even after all their prayers, regimented schedules, and hatred for sin still felt as if they did not do enough.

The question that haunted me while I read Brainerd’s diary, and which I pose to the reader of this post, is what types of qualities and characteristics are indispensable for the man/woman of God, especially those called to vocational ministry?  The lives of these men challenged me because I see such a discrepancy in the way I live my life today.  Were some of their expectations and regimented schedules unrealistic, or have we become lazy?  I am haunted by the fact that the type of devotion I see in these men, seems to be lacking in my own life.

A Prayer for Graduate Students

Highlights from Acton Day 1

The first day of Acton has come and gone. And, although all conferences have their dull spots, I’d say the first day was a success. Here are a few of the highlights.

  1. Social and Economic Context of the New Testament. This was the first paper I attended, and it was quite good. I’ll be posting some of my notes on this session later, but the main idea is that we need to understand the economic context of the biblical authors if we’re going to understand fully the issues they’re addressing. I was a little disappointed that Dr. Grabill didn’t offer more specific examples of how economic issues from the surrounding context shapes our understanding of the text, but it was an interesting paper nonetheless.
  2. The Political Economy of the American Founding. Without question, this was the most interesting paper I attended yesterday. Of course, I like history, so maybe that’s no surprise. Regardless, Dr. Pinheiro did an outstanding job walking us through the various conflicting perspectives that the founding fathers had on economic policy and how these economic issues shaped both state and international relationships, and contributed to the shift from the Articles of Confederation to our Constitution.
  3. Medieval Economics. I’ll be honest and say that I was hoping for a bit more from this paper. But, it was interesting to see that a number of ideas we typically associate with Adam Smith and modern economic theory were alive and well in medieval Spain.
  4. Dinner with Chris Armstrong. The real highlight of the day may have been getting to sit at dinner next to Chris Armstrong who blogs over at Grateful to the Dead. We’d never met in person before, so it was fun getting to connect face-to-face. And, I always enjoy talking with people who are passionate about church history, historical theology, and their importance for pastoral formation. Chris is a great guy and I’d encourage you to check out his blog if you haven’t already.

Day 2 holds a pretty diverse lineup of papers for me. I’m particularly looking forward to papers on “Christianity and the Scottish Enlightenment” and “Wealth and Poverty in the Scriptures.”

29 Ways to Stay Creative

via Neatorama

How Online Education Is Changing the Way We Learn

Here’s an interesting infographic from OnlineEducation.net about the development and current state of online education in America.

Click to view larger image.

via Mashable

Second Council of Constantinople

Today marks the end of the Second Council of Constantinople (or the Fifth Ecumenical Council) that was held from May 5 to June 2, 553.  There were two main topics of discussion.  The first was what was known as the “Three Chapters.”  These were the writings of three different men that endorsed Nestorian concepts (i.e. the disunity of Christ’s human and divine natures), as well as spoke against the First Council in Ephesus (which had debunked Nestorianism) and Cyril of Alexandria (the lead bishop in the fight against Nestorius).  The Second Council of Constantinople once again denounced Nestorianism and signed a condemnation against the “Three Chapters,” further establishing the Orthodox view of the church today that was clarified at the Council of Chalcedon (451).  The second topic that this council is most known for is the anathematization of Origen, and its 15 condemnations of his teaching, which included such things as the pre-existence of souls, supposed “subordinationism,” and universal reconciliation of all things, including the possibly of Satan’s reconciliation to God in the end (something Origen did not teach!).  Gregory the Great was one church father that did not submit to Origen’s excommunication.  Indeed, throughout history many have questioned the validity of this council since it was called by Emperor Justinian, and not by the Pope.  Furthermore, in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a homily concerning Origen in which he says that Origen was “crucial to the whole development of Christian thought.”

The Munster Rebellion and Scary Billboards

In light of the recent conversation on the Apocalypse, May 25th was a fitting day.  If you think that Harold Camping is the first to predict the end of the world, let me introduce you to Melchoir Hoffman.  Hoffman was an Anabaptist lay pastor in the 1500’s who thought the end of the world was near.  He was convinced that 1533 would be the inauguration of a new era, with the city of Strasbourg being the site of the New Jerusalem.   He was wrong.  City officials arrested and put him in prison, but not before he influenced a baker name Jan Matthys.  On January 5, 1534 Matthys entered the city of Munster, declaring that it would be the site of the New Jerusalem (apparently since the whole Strasbourg thing didn’t work out).  He kicked out the Catholic Bishop of Munster and initiated adult baptism, not something the Catholic church looked favorably upon.  They held the city under siege for over a year, introducing all kids of weird practices, including polygamy, and speaking about the end of the world and God’s immanent and immediate judgment.  Again, the world did not end as he predicted, and on May 25, 1535, the army of the city’s Roman Catholic bishop broke in, capturing and killing the radical Anabaptists who had taken control.

Some people seem to have an infatuation with declaring when exactly the world is going to end.  Hoffman, Matthys, Noah Hutching (1988), and Harold Camping (1994, 2011 – May, now October…..and maybe another after October), and hundreds of others fall into this camp.  Maybe it is a control issue.  Maybe it stems from a Gnostic type desire to have some secret knowledge no one else has access to.  Maybe it is from a genuine desire to see the Lord return, although terribly misguided as to the details.  The real danger for me, however, is that after so many radicals make these false predictions, people actually begin to think there is no end.  Each of these men was wrong.  Harold Camping was wrong, and he will be found to be wrong again in October.  However, the fact remains that Jesus will return one day and everyone will have to meet with him.  As Christians, our responsibility is to follow Jesus’ command to his disciples in Mark 13:32, “No one knows about the day or the hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on your guard!  Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come.”   Since no man knows when exactly the Lord will return, our focus should never be on days or hours.  Our focus is always the gospel and being faithful to the Lord.  If we learn anything, it is not that we should never preach about the end.  There is a time and place for that.  But, when we preach about the end, we never say more than what the Bible allows us to say, always offering the hope found in Christ.