Thursday, December 21, 2006

My Phenomenal Week

This week has been one of the most fun weeks I've had all year, particularly since I entered seminary in June. It started out with no small amount of trepidation; I had my Greek in Exegesis final exam to study for (Greek in Exegesis is the more advanced Greek course here at Covenant). I was concerned because the exam was a pretty big deal. We had to take a passage from Colossians and write what amounted to a mini-commentary on it. We had to deal with the cultural backgroud, Old Testament motifs, grammatical concerns, words that needed closer study, and more. All this had to be done in three hours, which was not easy. I managed it in the end, though, and came out feeling pretty good about it. I don't think I'm destined for an 'A' (thought I dare to dream...), but I think I studied well and 'left it all on the field,' to use a sports metaphor. Perhaps 'left it all in the exam room' would be better, but exams ended on a high note in any case.

Another plus that comes with the end of classes is a shortened work day. For those who don't know, I make my living scrubbin' toilets for The King's Cleaning Service. I work on the Seminary's campus, which has been reduced to a virtual ghost town since the semester ended. No Classes + Christmas Holiday= Empty Campus, which means few people are using the facilities here. I can zip through the campus in a fairly short amount of time and still have a little energy left at the end of the day.

And speaking of Christmas, that has only added to my good spirits. The prospect of seeing our families back in West Virginia is exciting, but that means we won't be able to have our own Christmas celebration here in St. Louis. That being the case, we're going to let the boys open their presents this Friday before we leave town. Our four-year-old, Max, is getting his first bike, so I'll be putting it together tonight (pray for me)!

Mary Ann and I, on the other hand, couldn't resist opening our presents. We tore into them last night, and I must say I'm pleased with the results. Mary Ann was pleased with the presents I got for as well, I think. In case you're interested, here was my haul:

1. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Movie)

One of two Harry Potter movies missing from my collection.

2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Movie)

This is the other one. It completes my Harry Potter DVD collection!

3. The Waiting: The Waiting

Definitely The Waiting's best CD.

4. The Pilgrim's Progress

This one was probably the crowning touch of the night. It is an illustrated edition from 1891. Veeeerrry cool. To say I was excited is putting it lightly.

The boys and I watched The Chamber of Secrets this morning, which put me in a Harry Potter kind of mood, so I checked MuggleNet to see if there was any news. To my delight, I saw some more good news that made this week even a little better. J.K. Rowling has released the title of book seven!!! I will reveal it at the very end of this post so I won't spoil it for you. Go to her website to find out (MuggleNet has instructions on how to find it out). Anyway, it's been a great week and it only promises to get better (we're getting a used Grand Caravan this Friday in Louisville which will actually reduce our car payment!).

I think that's it. I'll try to post again soon. Now for the title to book seven:


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


Friday, December 15, 2006

Back After a Long Hiatus

It's been a long time since I posted anything here, but both my brothers have been blogging lately so I couldn't let them get a leg up on me. My first two posts here are both papers written for my Covenant Theology class here at Covenant Theological Seminary. The second post, a defense of inerrancy, is definitely more readable, so I would recommend starting there. I know that will only whet your appetite for my writing, so then you can move on to my analysis of the Bronze Serpent story in Numbers. It's scintillating! I hope to be able to write a bit more over Christmas break, but we'll see. I certainly make no promises once classes start this January!

Understanding The Bronze Serpent Story in Numbers

Explore Your Assumptions About the Text
The bronze serpent story in Numbers 21:4-9 is one of the more famous stories in the Old Testament. I have heard many sermons on this text, yet I still do not have a good grasp on its significance. Most if not all of those sermons focused on the story's relation to the crucifixion of Christ. As the semester has progressed I have become very interested in understanding Biblical narratives in their original context. Why would Moses have included this story if its only significance was as a picture of the crucifixion? There must have been an original intent, and I want to find it.

As I read the story I noticed the importance of following God's commands in faith. Those who were bitten by the serpents would die if they did not look at the bronze serpent, but there is no sensible connection between the act of looking and physical healing, or at least not from a 21st Century perspective. In order to live, the ancient Israelites had to believe God's Word and obey.
Maligning God's provision is also an important aspect of the story. In verse 5 the Israelites call the manna God sent "worthless food." God sends the fiery serpents in response, and it is difficult to understand how to apply this punishment. Vague answers warning us not to treat God's provision as worthless do not satisfy because they do not grapple with the text. This first application is obvious, but what more is there to be said? Is the fact that God sent fiery serpents significant? I know that I have treated God's provision lightly, and that others have as well, but we have not all suffered the fate of these Israelites. What made that situation different? What sort of help might be provided by investigating the context into which this story was delivered?

Another interesting aspect of the text is the bronze serpent itself. A cursory reading of the text provides no clue as to God's reason for commanding Moses to forge it, yet I have difficulty believing no such reason exists. The only clue is that there were also serpents involved in the chastisement, but that does not provide much help.

Preliminary Summary: Numbers 21:4-9 served to warn the Exodus community against grumbling against what God has provided, or else chastisement will occur. It was also an encouragement, however, because it showed that God is merciful to those who repent and trust His Word.

Examine the Text With Guidance Toward its Original Significance
Clarify Your Understanding of the Original Setting and Purposes of the Book.
It seems that the presuppositions of the commentator are one of the most important factors in how he or she dates the book of Numbers. For instance, in his commentary, John Sturdy subscribes to source-criticism theory. Proceeding from an assumption of its accuracy he dates the J source at about 950 BC, and P around 450 BC.[1] Gordon Wenham's commentary, however, presents a very different picture. Rather than assuming a source-critical methodology, Wenham engages a number of arguments to establish a probable date range for the book's composition. He particularly attacks the late date for the so-called 'P material.' He points out that a number of institutions that figured prominently in the P material, such as the ark and the Urim and Thummim, had disappeared by the post-exilic era. He also points out that much of the technical terminology of the P material was obsolete after the 7th century. Comparison with Ezekiel and Deuteronomy lead Wenham to choose the 7th century as the latest date for Numbers.[2]

Wenham push for an even earlier date for Numbers by producing no fewer than thirteen arguments for its antiquity. For example, the Hebrew encampment was square with the Tabernacle, which was the divine king's tent, in the middle. This was the practice of 13th century Egyptians, and not for later nations like the Assyrians. The descriptions of cultural artifacts and literary forms were also more in line with a second-millennium date. Taking all this into consideration, Wenham suggests that we give the tradition of Mosaic authorship the benefit of the doubt.[3]

In determining the original pastoral purposes of Numbers it is now obvious that we cannot side with the proponents of source-criticism. The author was Moses, not J or P, and the audience was an ancient one. The question is, however, was the audience the Exodus generation or their children? The best answer to this question is provided by the text itself. Numbers contains the stories of the failures of the Exodus generation and the resulting judgments. This indicates that it is the children's generation Moses had in mind. This generation was actually entering the Promised Land and needed first to be assured that God was on their side. Just because their parents' generation died didn't mean God had abandoned the entire nation. They also needed to be reminded of the price of disobedience. There are a number of laws given in the book of Numbers and the book also provided examples of the cost of disregarding those laws.

Attend to the Literary Shape of the Episode
Numbers 21:4-9 opens with a broad, fast-moving statement about the Israelites traveling around Edom. The pace is slowed and the scope is narrowed quickly when the opening problem of the passage is presented. This problem is the impatience of the people of Israel (v. 4). This impatience then leads to grumbling against God and Moses in verse 5. The people complain about the lack of good food and water, and say that the food they do have is "worthless." In response to their complaint, God sends judgment in the form of "fiery serpents" (v. 6). This is the turning point of the story. After this
judgment the people change dramatically. They are the only dynamic characters in the story, because they realize that they have sinned against God and Moses and are humbled. They look to Moses, who they had earlier criticized and asked him to pray for them.

The strength of Moses' character is revealed by his response to the request of the people. He does just as they asked without complaint. There is a contrast between Moses and the people: When in trying circumstances (v. 4-5) the people complain and question Moses' leadership and God's providence. Moses does not answer back in kind. In fact, only God acts in response to their complaint. Once the people are repentant, Moses does not allow their past attacks to stop him from praying for them. He makes no complaint, but does as they ask (v. 7). Though it is not specifically stated, from the narrator sets Moses as the example.

Further into the story, Moses acts in a godly fashion again by obeying the Lord's command. God resolves the conflict by telling Moses to make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. Anyone who is bitten by a serpent need only look at the bronze serpent and they will live. This 'look and live' phrase is emphasized by repetition in vv. 8-9. Wenham suggests this repetition emphasizes the physical contact of looking as analogous to the touching of the sacrificial animal required in other Old Testament cleansing rituals. Without the physical contact, the sacrifice is ineffective.[4] At this point the scope has broadened and time has quickened again. The scope is focused on the nation as a whole and the time in which the remaining action takes place is nonspecific.

Summarize the Original Significance of the Story
It is difficult to determine how Numbers 21:4-9 serves the larger book of Numbers because at first blush Numbers does not seem to have much purpose. It can look like a smattering of legal texts and narratives that could not fit anywhere else. This is, however, a false impression. According to Wenham the book is highly structured, with the legal portions operating on several levels. First, they teach how Israel is to behave once they are in the land, and second, they function as evidence that the land promises will be fulfilled.[5] Why give a bunch of nomads a book of laws on how to live when they settle in a land unless it is certain that they are settling?

The narrative portions of Numbers describe the journey to the land itself. Specifically, 21:4-9 is the last instance of the Israelites complaining about their food.[6] This had occurred previously in Numbers 11 and judgment ensued. It did again, but God's grace was demonstrated because they were allowed to move forward with the campaign after their repentance.

The sinfulness of man and the graciousness of God are strong themes from the covenant relationship. As is always the case, it is God who works the reconciliation after we mess things up. Yet, as always, God is faithful to his promises. He told Abraham his descendents would have the land, and God took them there in spite of their failures.

Original Significance: The original significance of this passage was to show the continuing faithfulness of God and the continuing sinfulness of men. This is a repetitive cycle, but it also gave the audience a warning against such rebellion against God.

Trace Biblical Elaborations of the Text Through the Canon
There is not much specific reference to Numbers 21:4-9 in the other books of the Old Testament. The bronze serpent itself is mentioned in 2 Kings 18:4. Hezekiah destroyed the serpent, then called 'Nehushtan,' during his reforms because the Israelites had begun worshipping it. Beyond that I could find no mention of the story.

The three characters of the story, the Israelites, God, and Moses, are obviously mentioned throughout the Old Testament. The Israelites are often shown to be impatient and prone to complaint, as they are in the Numbers passage. In Exodus 16:2-3 and 17:1-3 the Israelites grumble for food and drink, respectively. Earlier in the book of Numbers itself the Israelites make a similar complaint. In 14:1-4 they again grumble against both God and Moses. This cycle of unfaithfulness calls into mind the cycle of rebellion in the book of Judges. Both occurred because of the persistent sinfulness of the Israelites.

These stories emphasize some facets of God's character as well. In all three instances God is shown to be merciful and two of three show God's judgment. In the Exodus passages the people grumble for lack of food (16:3) and water (17:2-3). They were certainly sinning in doing so, but God was merciful on both occasions, providing for their needs. Numbers 14 is heavy with judgment since this is the passage in which God tells the Exodus generation they will not enter the land (v. 20-23), but even here He shows His mercy. Earlier God shows what He could have done when He offers to disinherit the Israelites and make a nation of Moses (v. 11-12). After Moses' intercession (v. 13-19) God pronounces His judgment, but also promises to allow the children of the Exodus generation into the land. In Numbers 21 God begins His action with a judgment, the sending of the serpents (v. 6), but He ends with mercy, giving the people an opportunity for healing (vv. 8-9).

The compassion and intercession of Moses is featured prominently in two of the aforementioned stories. On all three occasions Moses comes before the Lord with the complaints of the people. He prays in Numbers 14 that God will not destroy the people of Israel even though God would have made him a great nation. In Numbers 21 the judgment of God has already fallen upon the Israelites, and when they are repentant Moses goes before the Lord with their request for deliverance. In all of these stories we see the mercy of Moses alongside the mercy of God. This gives legitimacy to Moses' role as God's messenger.

The most famous biblical reference to the Numbers 21:4-9 story is found in John 3. It is also the only New Testament reference to the story and Christ uses it as a picture of his crucifixion. In verse 14 Jesus says that he must be "lifted up" as Moses lifted the bronze serpent in the wilderness. It is plain that Jesus' focus is on the serpent's God-given power to heal because of his statement in verse 15: "…that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." Looking to the serpent brought physical life (Numbers 21:8,9), but believing in Jesus brings eternal life.

How Does the Episode You Are Studying Function in Relation to Other Chapters of the Biblical Storyline?
The biblical storyline should be viewed in a 'Creation-Fall-Redemption- Consummation' framework.[7] At least two of these 'chapters' throw light on the Numbers 21:4-9 narrative. The story begins with a confirmation of the Fall. The Israelites are characterized by impatience and complaint. They grumble not only against their leader Moses, but also against the God who appointed him. God had steadily provided for them, yet they called His provision "worthless" (v. 5). The result here is the same as the result of the original Fall: a curse. God sends poisonous serpents among the people, bringing death (v. 6). The people have no hope on their own, but they realize they have done wrong and ask Moses to intercede for them (v. 7).

Now the story moves from the confirmation of the Fall to the execution of redemption. Through the bronze serpent, God provides a means of delivery from death (vv. 8-9). In one small story we see both fall and redemption.

What Would Be Lost if Your Episode Did Not Appear in the Biblical Story?
If Numbers 21:4-9 did not appear in the biblical story there would be two major losses. First, the story completes a tripartite cycle in Exodus and Numbers that highlights man's continued sinfulness and God's continued grace.[8] Strictly speaking, both of these are present in other episodes, but the tripartite literary device adds beauty and emphasis. Perhaps the greatest loss, however, would be the loss of the rich redemptive imagery Christ uses in John 3. His use of the bronze serpent imagery certainly resonated with Nicodemus and provides us with insight on the nature of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf.

Come Under the Coaching of Other Christian Interpreters Who Apply this Text
Throughout the centuries it seems that Numbers 21:4-9 has only had a few types of application. I was interested to see that both Luther and Calvin applied this text with reference to sacraments. For instance, Calvin says that along with receiving manna and the water from the rock, the bronze serpent was a sacrament. He goes on to say that this regular variation should have told the Jews that they were not to hold on to these practices, but to wait for something better and more abiding. These better things are, of course, the two Christian sacraments of the Lord's Supper and baptism.[9]

Luther, while staying with the theme of sacraments, applies the text differently. He uses the brass serpent as a weapon against "sacramentarians." Accusing such people of seeking the Spirit apart from the Word, he says they would want to see the serpent held up on the pole but not bother with the Word of God that came with it.[10]

Not surprisingly, Catholic commentator Robert Culley takes a different approach to the text. Culley focuses on the "punishment…followed by a rescue or mitigation"[11] in the text. When the text is combined with other narratives in Numbers, one strong application is that God should never be provoked. His punishments are often deadly. Yet, this particular story intrigued Culley because the rescue actually draws more attention than the punishment.[12] He does not elaborate on that theme.

Gordon Keddie takes a similar approach as Culley. He claims the snakes were meant to teach the Israelites that rebelling against God will lead to their death, and that there was no hope for them to rescue themselves. Any salvation would be of grace and grace alone.[13] Keddie believes that "[t]he bronze snake preached gospel grace to Israel and speaks to us of Jesus, the only Saviour of sinners like ourselves."[14] Here, of course, Keddie is referring to Christ's use of Numbers 21:4-9 in John 3. It is useful to point out this both applications although the first was originally to Israel. Christians can still understand and appropriate the truth for our own context.

Unlike other sources I found, the Westminster Confession of Faith did not refer specifically to the Numbers passage. I was, however, able to draw an interesting connection between the Israelites in Numbers and the Church in the Confession. Both Israel and the Church represent the covenant community, and as such what is said about one will often apply to the other. Chapter 25.5 states "[t]he purest churches under heaven are subject to both mixture and error."[15] Israel in Numbers, like the church today, had people in the covenant community with rebellious hearts. This is what lead to the terrible offense when the Israelites called God's provision worthless. It should give us cause for thought as well because we are not so different from them. The book of Numbers shows over and over that mankind is marred by the Fall, so we are capable of just such a rebellion. When we cry out against God in our hearts, this one statement of the Confession should stand as a warning.

Evaluate Your Preliminary Summary of the Text's Significance
When I began this paper I wanted a deeper understanding of the significance of Numbers 21:4-9. I thought I had a superficial one, but was eager to see what deeper investigation might reveal. My original summary of the text's significance was: Numbers 21:4-9 served to warn the Exodus community against grumbling against what God has provided, or else chastisement will occur. It was also an encouragement, however, because it showed that God is merciful to those who repent and trust His Word.

I find that to be a fairly accurate assessment of the text. I would change the original audience from "the Exodus community" to "the children of the Exodus community." What has changed is my appreciation for the literary structure and the emphasis that it places on the sinfulness of men and the graciousness of God. I better understand the passage's place in the overall narrative of Scripture.

Taking the literary factors into consideration, I might word the significance like this: "Numbers 21:4-9 served to warn the children of the Exodus community of their own rebelliousness and sinfulness while also strongly emphasizing that God is gracious and faithful to keep His promises even in the midst of our sin." This does a better job highlighting the story's role in the larger biblical storyline because it takes the other stories of grumbling and rebellion into consideration, broadening the scope of application.

I am still curious about the significance of the serpent as a symbol in ancient Israel. I did find some intriguing theories about its significance, but I was not able to devote much time to that. I would also love to investigate the literary structure of Numbers and the Pentateuch as a whole in order to better grasp how it coheres.

[1] John Sturdy, Numbers, The Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 4.
[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers, The Tyndale Old Testament Commentary Series (Leicester, Eng: Downers' Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1981), 22-24.
[3] Ibid., 24
[4] Ibid., 158
[5] Ibid., 14,15
[6] Ibid., 157
[7] Michael Williams, "Covenant Theology," class lecture notes p. 1, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, 20 October 2006.
[8] Wenham, Numbers, The Tyndale Old Testament Commentary Series, 16-17.
[9] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. by Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville, London: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 2:1447.
[10] Martin Luther, Luther's Works, trans. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), 54:97.
[11] Robert C. Culley, "Five Tales of Punishment in the Book of Numbers," in Text and Tradition, ed. Susan Niditch (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1990), 30.
[12] Ibid., 31.
[13] Gordon J. Keddie, According to Promise: The Message of the Book of Numbers (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1992), 147-148.
[14] Ibid., 148.
[15]Westminster Confession of Faith (Lawrenceville, Georgia: Committee for Christian Education and Publications, 1990), 84.


Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. 2 vols. Translated by Ford Lewis Battles. Vol. 2. Louisville, London: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960.

Culley, Robert C., "Five Tales of Punishment in the Book of Numbers." In Text and Tradition, ed. Susan Niditch, 25-31. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1990.

Luther, Martin. Luther's Works, 55 vols. Translated by Theodore G. Tappert. Vol. 54. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967.

Sturdy, John. Numbers, The Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1976),

Wenham, Gordon J. Numbers, The Tyndale Old Testament Commentary Series. Leicester, England, Downers' Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1981.

Westminster Confession of Faith. Lawrenceville, Georgia: Committee for Christian Education and Publications, 1990.

Williams, Michael. "Covenant Theology." Class lecture notes, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, 20 October 2006.

Lesslie Newbigin and B.B. Warfield: A Mini-Dialogue on Inerrancy

The doctrine of inerrancy is not popular. Many evangelicals hold to it, but it is assailed on all other sides. For instance, the certainty inherent in the doctrine is off-putting to many postmodernists. To them, it seems nothing more than a power grab. Theological liberals and humanists, on the other hand, find inerrancy foolish. Biblical criticism has demonstrated many biblical errors, they think, so the matter is settled.

If the first two attacks weren't enough, another has joined the fray. Lesslie Newbigin, in his book Proper Confidence levels an attack that purports to be neither modern nor postmodern. Newbigin's attack is supposed to be biblical, or at least from a biblical worldview. How should evangelicals defend against such an attack? We must begin by examining how Newbigin understands inerrancy, and then we must analyze that understanding to see if it matches what we actually believe. This last step will involve delving into the works of one of the most brilliant inerrantists of all time, B.B. Warfield.

Newbigin defines inerrancy by asserting that anyone believing in inerrancy "affirms [the] factual, objective truth of every statement in the Bible", and believes that any factual error would destroy biblical authority.[1] Newbigin's use of the term 'objective' in the definition reveals his opinion of inerrancy. In Proper Confidence Newbigin thinks of the modernist's quest for objectivity as an attempt to rid oneself of all subjective prejudices and presuppositions, which is impossible.[2] For him, inerrancy is necessarily shackled to this illusion.[3]

Newbigin levels these accusations at evangelicals because he believes we hold an Enlightenment epistemology. In fact, he believes this to be the common ground we share with liberal Christians. The difference, in his view, is that evangelicals try to make the Bible meet Enlightenment criteria for knowledge while liberals are happy to say it does not. He refers to these criteria as "alien norms" which take our focus off a proper biblical epistemology. In this way, according to Newbigin, evangelicals end up placing their confidence in human rationality rather than the personal God of the universe.[4] This is Newbigin's error, and a proper understanding of Warfield will expose it.

Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield was perhaps the greatest defender the doctrine of inerrancy ever had. The greatness of his defense is doubted by many, however, because his writing is not easy to comprehend. Many have erroneously called Warfield a modernist, thereby making him appear vulnerable to Newbigin's criticism. From there it is easy to extend the reasoning: if Warfield is the best defender of inerrancy, then most other inerrantists will follow in his footsteps. Therefore, whatever criticism is true of him must also be true of the whole lot. A fair reading of Warfield tells a different story.

In his book The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, Warfield states that the
proper way to approach the Bible is to assume its accuracy.[5] Problematic passages are 'innocent until proven guilty.' This is not in line with the Newbigin's conception of inerrancy. If Warfield was a modernist he should have used the principle of critical doubt here. Instead he approaches the text in faith, which is exactly what Newbigin desires.

Warfield also rejects the view that it is impossible to trust Christ because he can only be known through history. The modernist aversion to arguments from history is well known. Historical events cannot be proven by reason, so they are suspect. While Warfield agrees in Revelation and Inspiration that historical study is not enough to give someone full confidence in Christ, he still asserts that such confidence should be given.[6]

These two facts (presumption of accuracy and full confidence in Christ without deductive certainty) demonstrate that Warfield was not mired in the Enlightenment when he defended inerrancy. On the contrary, one could say that Warfield's understanding of Scripture was in the same ballpark as Newbigin's. Newbigin says, "the locus of our confidence (if one may put it so) is not in the competence of our own knowing, but in the faithfulness and reliability of the one who is known."[7] Warfield would have added a hearty 'amen' to this statement, but would want to take that confidence even further.

One must not assume, however, that Newbigin and Warfield are in complete agreement, regardless of the similarities we previously noted. Though some disagreements are without merit, others remain. As one reads the two theologians side by side an interesting dynamic emerges. Both acknowledge that Scripture involves interaction between the human and the divine, and they agree that humans are fallible creatures. The difference is in which side of the revelatory partnership they emphasize.

Newbigin emphasizes the effect the fallibility of man has on Scripture. He states, "at every point…we are dealing with the interaction of men and women with God. At every point human judgment and fallibility are involved…"[8] To Newbigin the debate is over at this point. Once humans enter the picture fallibility follows. This assumption is made more plain by another statement: "The idea that at a certain point in this long story a line was drawn before which everything is divine word and after which everything is human judgment is absurd."[9] Perhaps, but which inerrantist proposed such a line? What of the role of the Holy Spirit?
Warfield provides the answer. In The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible he points out that the Church has always believed that the Holy Spirit superintended the wording of the divine revelation. He did so because, in Warfield's opinion (which is likely correct), falsehood is inconsistent with the divine nature.[10] If I may, I will supplement Warfield with a quote from Sinclair Ferguson's essay, "How Does the Bible Look at Itself?":

Because words express meaning, and a particular word may possess different
meanings in different contexts, the meaning communicated depends on the
significance of all the words used. If Scripture is God-breathed at all,
that inspiration must extend to all the words that are employed.[11]

The nature of God and the nature of language conspire to make verbal inerrancy not only a viable doctrine, but also a needful one. As a result, evangelicals should not fear to believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. This is proper confidence indeed.

[1] Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995. p. 85
[2] Newbigin, Proper Confidence, p. 45
[3] Newbigin, Proper Confidence, p. 85
[4] Newbigin, Proper Confidence, p. 85-6
[5] B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible," 215-16 quoted in Michael Williams, "Covenant Theology," class lecture notes 16, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, 4 October 2006.
[6] B.B. Warfield, Revelation and Inspiration," 67 quoted in Michael Williams, "Covenant Theology," class lecture notes p. 16, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, 4 October 2006.
[7] Newbigin, Proper Confidence, 67
[8] Newbigin, Proper Confidence, 86
[9] Newbigin, Proper Confidence, 86
[10] Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, 296 quoted in Williams "Covenant Theology" lecture notes, 16
[11] Sinclair Ferguson, "How Does the Bible See Itself?," in Inerrancy and Hermeneutic, ed. Harvie Conn. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Co., 1998), 47-66.

Ferguson, Sinclair. "How Does the Bible Look at Itself?," in Inerrancy and Hermeneutic, ed. Harvie Conn, 47-66. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Co., 1998.

Newbigin, Lesslie. Proper Confidence: Faith Doubt & Certainty in Christian Discipleship. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Williams, Michael. "Covenant Theology." Class Lecture Notes, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, 4 October 2006.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Habakkuk: Who? What? When? Where? Why?

The book of Habakkuk is not often preached upon in evangelical churches today. This, I believe, has lead to a lack of familiarity with the contents of that book, which is a shame. Sometimes Old Testament books can seem intimidating so people avoid studying them on their own. I would like to encourage every Christian to delve into all these books, but I will highlight Habakkuk specifically. In order to provide a quick intro to the book I thought I’d post some of my incomplete sermon notes. I hope they’re helpful. I focused on the '5 W's'.

Who? Habakkuk

What? Generally: He is questioning God’s inaction against a sinful Judah. He is not sinning because his complaint actually assumes God’s righteousness. Since God is righteous, why is He allowing Judah to go on without judgment?

Specifically: What are Habakkuk’s complaints?

A. The complaints: vv. 2-3a
B. Expanding on the complaints: vv. 3b-4

The Lord is unresponsive: v. 2-3 “…how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.” Habakkuk had been praying long and hard for deliverance from an unjust society. Violence was running unchecked through the streets and God was doing nothing. Habakkuk was tormented in his soul because of the sin of his society. Are we tormented when we see society’s sin? Do we take it seriously?
The torment was made all the more severe by the fact that Habakkuk knew That God is holy. He knew God’s righteous standard and the judgment violation of it would bring (Deut. 28:15-68), but such judgment was nowhere to be seen.
Even in the courts of law there was no respite from cruelty. In v. 4 Habakkuk cries, “So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” The authorities who should have been executing judgment against evil twisted it for their own purposes. The wicked used the law as a weapon against the righteous. Of course, Habakkuk wasn’t ready for God’s response.

When? Probably during the reign of Jehoiakim, not long before the Babylonian captivity. Jehoiakim was the second son of the godly king Josiah. Josiah’s first son, Jehoahaz, had been deposed and taken to Egypt by Pharoah Neco (2 Chron. 36:1-4). Jeremiah was also active as a prophet during this time. (2 Chron. 35:25)

Where? Judah.

Why? Habakkuk is questioning God because he is astounded that God hasn’t judged the sinful nation yet. He knows the promises of judgment for unfaithfulness (Deut. 28:15-68), but he sees nothing of happening. This confuses him, as it would confuse me. It is hard to remember that God’s timing is perfect when sin surrounds you as it did Habakkuk. Yet Habakkuk remained faithful to God and ultimately trusted His providence. Even though he knew judgment was coming he ends his book with a psalm of joy in the Lord (3:17-19).

Monday, June 19, 2006

Habakkuk: The Providence and Justice of God

A foremer professor of mine once told me that Barnhouse (or at least I think it was Barnhouse) would not set his pen to paper regarding a book of the Bible unless he had read it at least fifty times. I don’t think I’ve read any book of the Bible all the way through fifty times, but I know in recent days I have at least gotten into double digits with Habakkuk. Like most of the Minor Prophets, evangelicals generally ignore Habakkuk, but there is much to be learned from this book.

It comes as a surprise to some that a large part of Habakkuk’s first chapter is comprised by a complaint or questioning of God. In 1:2-4 we find the prophet complaining about God’s lack of action against a rebellious people. “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?” he asks.

The book takes place in a time before the Jews were taken captive into Babylon. According to the study notes in the Reformation Study Bible Habakkuk prophesied during the reign of King Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:36-24:6; 2 Chronicles 36:4-8). This was a time marked by wickedness, as Habakkuk’s complaint indicates. The Bible gives little information on him other than the fact that he did evil deeds. Habakkuk was grieved, as would be any godly man. He saw violence and destruction (vs. 2, 3) and mourned the lack of justice that was found in the land (v. 4). Why wasn’t God doing anything?

As is always the case, God was doing something. The LORD answered Habakkuk’s question with words of impending judgment.
Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded.For I
am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if
told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter
and hasty nation,who march through the breadth of the earth, to
seize dwellings not their own. (vs. 5, 6)

The description of the Babylonians goes on to verse 11, but his is good news, right? God is not just allowing sin to pass by unnoticed. This is what Habakkuk wanted. Or…was it?

Therefore he sacrifices to his net
And makes offerings to his dragnet;
For by them he lives in luxury,
And his food is rich.
Is he then to keep on emptying his net
And mercilessly killing nations for ever? (vs. 16, 17)

Habakkuk is referring to the Babylonians here. The ‘net’ is a metaphor their ability to conquer nations and then attributing their victory to their gods and their power (see v. 11). He cannot understand why God would judge Judah using an even more wicked nation. Why allow God’s people to be conquered by someone who is not even going to give the glory to God?

God gives his answer in the form of a vision. The bulk of chapter two is a prediction of the downfall of Babylon. There are five woes pronounced upon them. Again, God will not let deeds of wickedness go unpunished. Perhaps I will write on the five woes later this week.

The close of the book is a prayer-song by Habakkuk. Though the book opens with doubt and questions, it ends with certainty.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines,
The produce of the olive fail
And the fields yield no food,
The flock be cut off from the fold
And ther be noherd in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet like the deer’s;
He makes me tread on my high places.

To which I say, "Amen."

Friday, June 16, 2006

On 'The Mortification of Sin' Part 2

Yesterday I began an examination of John Owen’s classic The Mortification of Sin. I had only just begun to look at chapter one when I had to step away from the computer, so I will be picking up where I left off.

Owen begins a more in depth look at the verse by starting with the conditional statement. “But if.” There are two things, according to Owen that such conditionals can actually mean. One conditional is uncertain. Owen describes it thusly: “the uncertainty of the event of the event promised, in respect to them to whom the duty is prescribed.” It is not as though, on this sort of conditional, that the desired outcome is certain when the duty is performed. One does not necessarily follow from the other. For instance, if I say, “if I get to St. Louis I will attend seminary” I do not mean that going to St. Louis secures my position in Seminary.

Owen denies that this is the conditional Paul has in mind in 8:13. If we look at 8:13 this way we will discover why. “If you mortify the deeds of the body you will live.” If there is uncertainty between these two then it is possible, even if the person in question mortifies the deeds of the body, for that person to die and miss out on eternal life. Owen, however, points out that verse 1 of that same chapter of Romans says Christians face no condemnation. We are set free from the law of sin and death.

What sort of conditional do we have? This conditional is one of certainty. “If I get all the answers right I will pass the test.” This ‘life’ is the guaranteed result of mortification, though not through strict cause and effect. God promises the end (life) and he ordains a means (mortification) to get us there. The promise of life is the motivation for mortification.

To some this may sound dangerously close to salvation by works. It is not because eternal life is not earned through mortification. Rather the life is granted by God, but mortification will be exemplified in the actions of he who has been given life. If you do not mortify, you will die because you did not receive life.

Next Owen focuses on the people to whom the duty of mortification is given. A quick glance through Romans 8 will reveal that Paul’s audience is a Christian one. The chapter begins, as we saw above, by telling us how we no longer face condemnation when we are in Christ. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.” This is certainly written to the Christian, and there is nothing between this verse and verse 13 to indicate Paul is referring to anyone else. We must not try to push this duty onto non-Christians. It’s foolish and they lack the power of the Spirit that is necessary. It is, as Owen indicates, the beginning of superstition and a perversion of the gospel.

I will wrap up this post for now. It is taking me longer to sort this chapter out than I thought, and I can only assume it will continue on this path. I could blog on this 176 page book for the next year and a half. It seems likely, since I am preaching on June 25, that I will shift my focus next week and write about the text of my sermon, which is the book of Habakkuk. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Examining Owen's 'The Mortification of Sin'

I have of late been reading John Owen’s classic The Mortification of Sin. It has been revolutionary for me in my dealings with indwelling sin. The entire book is a meditation on Romans 8:13, which was the text I took for my own sermon on conquering sin. More accurately, it is a meditation on the second half of the verse, which reads, “…but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Owen goes on to say how mortification is to be done through the rest of the book. I have read it from cover to cover, but it is not really solidified in my mind. Since I do not have a good command of the material I have decided to go through each chapter in greater detail, and I will use this blog as a means of organizing my thoughts.

Chapter one is an exposition of the aforementioned verse. He first lays out a motivation to holiness, namely that “if you live according to the flesh you will die”. However, since his focus lies on the second half of the verse he moves on without much further comment.

The different parts of the verse are then divided and examined. He comes up with five parts that will help us grasp what Paul was saying. First, there is a duty prescribed, namely ‘mortify the deeds of the body’. But who should mortify? That is the second part. ‘You’, that is the Christian, should mortify the deeds of the body. Then there is a promise given. “You will live” if you mortify. Fourth, Owen shows that it is the Spirit who is the means of mortification. Only through Him can mortification be done. Finally, the conditionality of the verse is emphasized. “If you mortify…”

Tomorrow I will cover the second half of chapter one in greater detail, and if I am able I will do some work on chapter two as well.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Dreaming of Virtuous Sons

I have a bit of a dream. Here I am going off to seminary, my wife and I trying to beat back worry over our finances. I have a few prospects for some good jobs, and my wife could probably get a job if need be, but…that’s just not how we want to do it. Not that I don’t want a job, but we would rather she not have to work. What does my dream have to do with this? Wait and see.

We are planning on homeschooling our children. Classical homeschooling, no less. That’s reading-intensive stuff. I’m a pretty conservative chap, as you may have guessed, and I can tell you from experience that good reading material for young boys is hard to come by. You can’t just run to Border’s and pick up whatever is on the shelf. You might as well give your child unrestricted access to TV. There will be material there that is toxic to the Christian worldview.

No, I want books that will build virtue in my sons. I want books that build distinctively masculine virtues. Let’s face it: we live in a declining civilization. The young males in college, high school and on down are mostly barbarians. They live to satisfy whatever urge hits them the hardest. The kind of book I’m after teaches my sons to be disciplined, kind to those in need, and unflinching in the face of evil. I want characters that defer gratification, treat women like human beings worthy of honor, and swallow their fears in order to sacrifice themselves for greater things.

I know such books exist, but they’re often difficult to find. Because the demand in young culture is for smart mouthed kids with idiots for parents (see almost every cartoon on the air) good books are hard to come by. Few people are writing them now, and the old ones are out of print. Some homeschool parents spend hours searching antique book stores for little treasures, but that takes a lot of time. The boys are worth it, and I’ll do it if comes to that…but that brings me back to my dream. My dream would kill two birds with one stone.

I don’t imagine clairvoyance is necessary now to discern the content of my dream. I want to write my books. I don’t want to do anything enormous, perhaps just 250 pages worth of text, but if I could capture the virtues I’m thinking of in a compelling adventure story I would be thrilled. That might play a part in the inculcation of virtue in my sons. And if I could sell these books then my wife’s dream of caring for our home and children full time could come true as well!

I’ve already begun spinning my first tale of adventure and virtue about a cooper’s son who is thrust into more adventure than he bargained for. The story is set in an alternate world where magic does not necessarily have the occult connotations it does here (like Narnia and Middle-Earth in that sense), and there will be plenty of swordplay. I know it all sounds vague and underwhelming, but I’m just starting out. Who knows? The book may flop and nothing may come of this. But maybe the book will be well done and well received! Maybe one book will become a series! The future is uncertain, but for the sake of my sons, and for any of yours who may encounter my book(s), I must try.

Friday, June 09, 2006


I have been absent most of this week due to a family situation and personal illness. I will resume regular posting next week.

Monday, June 05, 2006

God's Word: The Pillar of Certainty

I spoke with a friend over lunch of doubt and uncertainty. He had read my entry titled ‘God is in the Move’, which is about our troubles with money and the uncertainty they caused. His words were very encouraging to me and I appreciated them very much, but I think he’ll understand if I say that no word from his mouth can provide comfort and assurance like the Word of God.

Yesterday, just before our pre-service prayer at church, my brother Aaron shared a powerful verse that provides just such comfort.

Psalm 119:89
Forever, O LORD, your wordis firmly fixed in the heavens.

First Romans 8:28, now Psalm 119:89. God planted such amazing peace in my heart through that verse I immediately stood up from the table so I could grab paper and pen to write down the reference. I knew I had to take the time to meditate on it later.

There is a beautiful harmony between Romans 8:28 and Psalm 119:89. Romans 8:28 says those who love God are in His plan and their lives will work out for the good. We know that this good may not be our cultural ideas of good (comfort, ease, health and wealth), but instead the highest good, which is to glorify God. Whatever circumstance we face we can take comfort that God’s hand is in it.

But how do I know that this promise will stand? How can I be sure that God will abide by Romans 8:28? This is where Psalm 119:89 swoops in and provides a mighty pillar of support. “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.”

God’s word is firmly fixed. It will not, cannot be moved. It is established. It is not tentative, and God does not hold it loosely. This means that not only Romans 8:28, but God’s sovereign plan for each of us as individuals is set. There is nothing that you, I, or Satan can do to destroy that plan, and if you love God and are called according to his purpose all the events of your life will work together for good.

How long is God’s word firmly fixed? The first word of verse 89 is ‘forever’. There is no time limit to the validity of God’s word. It is not as though Romans 8:28 was a limited time offer. God’s promise is out there for us to rely on today and it will be there tomorrow.

Finally, God’s word is firmly fixed in the heavens. Even the place of the fixing adds comfort to the verse. As John Calvin stated in his commentary on Psalm 119:89, “As we see nothing constant or of long continuance upon earth, he elevates our minds to heaven, that they may fix their anchor there.” Grass and flower fade away (1 Peter 1:24), the earth will crumble and decay. But God’s word, fixed in the heavens, is not affected by such things (1 Peter 1:25).

Every day that passes gives more reason to trust in the word of God. His promises will not fail, and no change in our circumstances should alter our trust.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Putting to Death the Deeds of the Flesh

In recent years I’ve become a bit of a church history buff. I love looking back at the lives of faithful men and women and seeing what they did to represent Christ. Their stories serve as an inspiration and a warning to me.

One of my favorite historical figures is Athanasius. Athanasius lived in the 4th Century and was a key figure at the Council of Nicea, though he was mainly there to assist his bishop, Alexander. The heresy of Arianism, which held that Jesus was created by God the Father, was poisoning the church in those years and Athanasius was the principle defender of orthodoxy. There was, in fact, a time when nearly the entire Christian world held to Arianism but Athanasius held to the truth.

Because of his unwillingness to compromise with these powerful heretics he was kicked out of his bishopric in Alexandria, Egypt and banished. He returned, only to be banished again. He was banished no less than five times, but still he refused to acquiesce. Not even when he was falsely accused of murder and witchcraft did he waiver in his faithfulness to the Lord. There is a reason why we say ‘Athanasius Contra Mundum’.

A second of my favorite church fathers is Augustine. In his public life, he, like Athanasius, defended the Christian faith against heresy. Interestingly, we also know a great deal about Augustine’s internal struggles. In his autobiography, called Confessions, he spoke his intense battle against sin. Lust was a major issue for Augustine, but he was eventually able to subdue the temptation that raged in his heart.

As I said, these figures are a source of inspiration for me, and well they should be! They did tremendous things in defense of the truth and did not deny Christ with their deeds as so many have done (Titus 1:16). But how? How did these men stand so firmly for Christ in the face mounting temptation? How did Athanasius conquer the temptation to save his own life and position as bishop? How did Augustine control the fire of lust that burned in his chest? The answer to this question is not found in a history book. For this we must look no other place than the Bible.

How Do We Treat Sin?

Before I actually look at a Biblical text I want to take some time for introspection. I want to examine how I, and I believe many Christians, have looked at sin. As I have reflected on my own life I can recall times that I have laughed at my own sin. When I was 15 I went to the beach with my cousin. Long story short, I got drunk and left my shoes on the beach where they were washed away with the tide. Though losing my shoes is a bit humorous, there is nothing funny about my drunkenness.

Another summer I spent time some time at a camp. While there a friend and I had a contest in which we tried to see who could eat the most pizza during lunch. We both gorged ourselves to the point that we vomited. For a long time I thought of both of those stories as good anecdotes. We’ve all been there, right? We’ve all overindulged in one way or another and that point of commonality makes the story funny. But here’s the rub:

It’s not funny.

What is drunkenness? What is gluttony (my experience with the pizza was certainly gluttony)? These things are sin. They reveal a lack of self-control, which is a quality essential to Christlikeness (Galatians 5:22-24). They reveal intemperance, which disqualifies one from being an elder (1 Timothy 3:2-4) at the very least. I am convinced that if I tell these stories God is not laughing.

Perhaps, though, you do not laugh at your sin as I have. But still we can stumble upon another error, that of excusing our sin. I was riding in the car listening to a sermon give by a prominent young Christian. He made light of his lack of compassion in his description of his failed pastoral ministry. According to his thoughts, his personality made him ill-suited for that sort of work. I understand that we are not all called to be pastors, but the compassion should mark pastors should also mark those of us who are not pastors. Galatians 5:22 says that gentleness and longsuffering are fruit of the Spirit. Whatever our ‘personalities’ are like is irrelevant. Our personalities are to be brought under the subjection of Christ so that we may be conformed to God’s image, not to be used as an excuse for sinful attitudes and actions. Would this man have spoken similarly if lust had been his problem rather than a lack of compassion?

The Bible’s Attitude Toward Sin

The Bible’s attitude toward sin is much different than those described above.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. -Romans 8:13 (ESV)

Romans 8:13 tells us to ‘put to death the deeds of the body’. What does this mean? It means we must kill those deeds. This is radical, violent language that must shape our attitude toward sin. We don’t laugh, we don’t excuse. These deeds of the body are to be destroyed in a ‘give no quarter’ fashion.

The question we must ask is, ‘are we ready to be radical?’ Many Christians in America are too interested in comfort and money to be ready to kill sin. The necessary steps cut too close to the things we hold dear. We like our lives as they are, and trading our pleasures can be a painful experience.

How to ‘Put to Death’*

What are these ‘radical steps’ we must take to kill our sin? How do we ‘put to death the deeds of the body?’ Romans 8:13 tells us that it must be done in the power of the Spirit. But what does that mean?

First it means that we cannot do this in our own power. There is no room for legalism in the killing of sin. No pharisee’s rule-keeping can conquer the lusts of our hearts. Such things affect only our external lives. This course will make us ‘whitewashed tombs’, to use Christ’s metaphor (Matthew 23:27).

John Piper has identified three steps in mortifying sin through the Spirit. First we must set our minds on the things of the Spirit. We can’t just say ‘no’ to sin. That is not enough. Our minds must be full of the things of Spirit. They must be our chief focus. We must also set our minds on the Words of God and the realities they stand for. This identifies what ‘the things of the Spirit’ are. 1 Corinthians 2:13-14 says that the things of the Spirit cannot be understood by the natural man. These things of the Spirit to which he refers are Paul’s own inspired writings. To put to death the deeds of the body we must embrace God’s Word. This is not simple reading, as the next step indicates. In Galatians 3:5 Paul tells us that God provides the Spirit for us not by the Law, but through hearing with faith. Hearing what? The Word of God. But simple hearing, like simple reading, is insufficient. It must be hearing with faith. Take God’s Word and believe it. Meditate on it. The Word must become so much a part of you that it changes the way you think and live.

Now we know it is through immersion in the Word that sin will be killed. Let me emphasis, however, that there is action that must be taken on our parts. We must be ruthless in removing those things from our lives that draw us into sin. Do you struggle with anger? Ask yourself, what do I have in my life that makes it easy for me to indulge my anger? The same goes for gluttony, drunkenness and lust. Often there are little things we allow to creep into our lives that lead us slowly down the wrong path. They must be rooted out and eliminated, remembering that it is only the power of the Spirit that enables us to conquer sin.
We are useless to God if we are enslaved by sin, and we bring reproach to His name, not glory.

My exhortation and counsel in conquering sin is that which I have learned from better men than myself. Make the Bible your bread. Root out those things that carry you away to sin. If these things are done in the power of the Spirit and not by your own flesh your life will bring glory to God. And there is no higher end than this.

*I am indebted to John Piper’s sermons on Romans 8:13 for much of this portion of the essay.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

God is in the Move

The move creeps closer. On the first of July my family and I will move from Huntington, WV to St. Louis, MO so I can attend Covenant Theological Seminary. This is obviously a huge step for us. We will be far from our families. We will be ‘on our own’ for the first time. The thought of being known primarily as ‘The Duncans’ and not as the children of our parents is quite attractive.

But we are not taking this step without risk. We worked on a budget a couple of nights ago, and it was UGLY. Our expenses are too high. We’re taking out student loans. The specter of tremendous debt looms overhead. Worse, my wife has seen her dream of being able to leave work and stay at home with the boys full time slip away yet again. Long story short: we were depressed.

I travel for my job every Wednesday. I got into the CRV my mood was nearly as bleak as it had been the night before. My brain was swimming in fear and second guesses. What in the world will happen to us? How will I ever get my degree? Should I have just planned to stay in Huntington? The issue was compounded by the fact that I had already tendered my resignation for my job. I felt trapped. I went through the work day seeking relief and finding none.

On my way to Praise Team Practice that night God spoke to me.

Romans 8:28.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

A wave of joy washed over me. Somehow, some way, I had forgotten that Romans 8:28 was true! Once I thought about it, I realized that it really doesn’t matter if I get my M.Div. or not. It doesn’t matter if I have to take a semester off, or have to start taking classes part time. God is in this move. If I never finish my degree at CTS, yet remain faithful to Him and serve His purpose I am a blessed man.

After practice I drove home glorifying the Lord. He would not abandon me. He has promised to sustain me. My wife, however, was still hurting. When the time came for our evening Bible study she struggled for motivation. We turned to the book of Revelation and read chapter seven. We discussed different eschatological positions and enjoyed the praise that the multitudes gave to God. Toward the end of the study one of our boys woke up and I went to get him back to sleep. When I returned she pointed verse 17:

“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

“I guess God never promised to make things easy for us here, did He?” she said. I sat down and we hugged each other for a while. Before we went to bed we prayed that we would find our satisfaction in God alone, not in money and not in a job or the lack thereof. That nigh sleep came easily.

Mark Dever on the Differing Approaches to Advocating Complementarianism

Mark Dever has written a fantastic post about complementarianism and the consequences of the egalitarian hermenutic over on Together for the Gospel. Read it!

Undermining Tolerance of Egalitarianism

HT: Justin Taylor

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Lazy Logician No More?

When I first started this blog I wanted to choose a name that reflected my personality and goals. At the time my desire was to be a philosopher in the analytic tradition, so technical precision and formal logic meant a great deal to me (they still do, but my trajectory is now toward the ministry, be it in a seminary or the pastorate). I chose the term 'logician' to reflect my philosophical aspirations.

I called my blog, and by extention myself, 'The Lazy Logician'. In that title I emphasized a rather unpleasant trait of mine: laziness. I referred to this blog's title as 'my scarlet letter' because it drew attention to something I wanted to change about myself. I suppose I was trying to use it as motivation, but it didn't work.

I have found that the only thing that can motivate me out of my laziness is Christ. Only God and His Word have proven sufficient to make me deny myself and do what must be done. I have known for many years that I represent Christ in everything I do, but only recently has that truth begun to sink in. I had fallen prey to one of the dangers of being raised in a Christian environment: my ears had been dulled by hearing the same truths over and over. I had not allowed them to impact my life.

By the grace of God all this is changing (and just in time for seminary!). Pray for me that this progress will continue. Since these changes are taking place, I have decided to change the title of this blog. I hope everyone who has linked me will update their blogrolls to reflect this change, but my blogging has been so spotty I doubt many people stop by anymore.

Regardless, here are some candidates for a new blog title:

1. Only and Good: Exercises in Glorifying God- 'Only and Good' referring, of course, to God. He is the only God, and He is a Good God.

2. A Puritan Path: Reformed, Always Reforming- This expresses my hope for my life as a Christian. As I've begun reading the Puritans I've been astounded by their devotion to living a holy life before God and through His power, all the while coupling it with deep, sound theology.

3. Joy and Slavery: Life in Christ- This one couples two concepts many would find difficult to reconcile. For the Christian, however, being a slave to Christ is essential for joy.

Right now I'm leaning toward 'Joy and Slavery', though I may change the subtitle a bit. I like 'A Puritan Path' but it might cause people to think I'll constantly be analyzing Puritan literature. I hope to do a lot of that, but that's not all I will be doing.

So here you have it; my own miniature blog revolution. The Lazy Logician will soon be dead, only to be replaced by a new blog with (hopefully) new motivation. I hope to post a worthwhile essay of at least 500 words every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. June promises to be my most prolific blogging month ever.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Book Update: Harry Potter and the Puritans?

Last week I mentioned that I had read the second and third installments of the Harry Potter series. I now inform you that I have read the fourth and fifth books, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, respectively. I am chuckling at myself because that's over 1500 pages in a week, and quite possibly over 1600. I usually don't read that much in a week, but as J.K. Rowling's fans can tell you, the books are page turners.

I do not yet have a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, so I cannot go on reading that. What I do have is even better.


I received three monetary gifts due to my recent graduation from Bible College. Out of this money I allowed myself $50 for books. A quick (internet) trip to the Westminster Seminary Bookstore yielded fantastic results. For $49.99 (including shipping) I purchased these books:

The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes

The Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson

Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices by Thomas Brooks

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs

The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel

The Mortification of Sin by John Owen

The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture with comments by Thomas Vincent

Yep. Seven books for $49.99. Needless to say, I am quite happy. I've started in on The Mortification of Sin and Precious Remedies already, and I've given a quick glance to The Christ of the Covenants. I've only gotten as far as the table of contents for Precious Remedies. If you've ever read it you'll know what I'm talking about. Brooks' ToC is detailed enough to be worth the purchase price on its own. So I'll have plenty to read between now and the time I start seminary.

I hope to emerge from each of these books a better Christian. Please pray for me in that regard.

Monday, May 08, 2006

God Chastened My Doubting Heart

Just a few weeks ago I was asked if I would deliver a sermon at nearby Kenwood Baptist Church. I had been there before and enjoyed the warmth of the congregation. They are good people as far as I can tell. I do not think of myself as a preacher, but I do not mind filling a pulpit when God provides the opportunity.

As a text I chose Romans 8:13:

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

I chose that text because I had heard John Piper speak on it and I was moved with conviction against my own sin (if you’re wondering, no I didn’t plagiarize his sermon). It is a powerful verse, especially considering our culture, which takes sin lightly. I really wanted to convey a passion similar to that of Dr. Piper when I spoke. I wanted to see that the people were moved as I was moved. I failed.

When my sermon was over and I stepped down from the platform my heart sank into my stomach. The sermon was too short. I fumbled with my words. I lacked the intensity I thought necessary for the subject matter. The people of the church congratulated me on my sermon and said they enjoyed it. I suspected either the Holy Spirit had done a work in spite of me or the saints of God were lying in an attempt to be kind. I chose to believe the former because, again, these were good people.

As my wife and I pulled out of the parking lot she asked how my sermon went (she had to take our sons down to the nursery). I told her that I laid an egg. She tried to raise my spirits by telling me someone had said they thought I would go far, but to no avail. I had failed in my own eyes, and I saw no one to blame but myself.

Roughly two weeks passed and my college graduation ceremony arrived. I enjoyed it very much and rather liked celebrating my achievement with my family and friends. After the ceremony was finished and the time for refreshments had arrived, I was approached by Jane Waddell, who attends Kenwood.

Mrs. Waddell took me aside and told me the story of what happened after my family and I left two Sundays ago. In the sermon I made the comment that we often laugh at our sin, as though it’s some big joke. This struck the heart of a young woman in attendance. She thought, “That’s me!” As I understand it she left the auditorium after I made this comment.

After the service was over and the pastor and some of the congregation had gone out to eat, he received a call on his cell phone. It was the young woman. She wanted to meet him back at the church. Long story short, she wanted to reaffirm her commitment to Christ. When I heard this I praised the Lord. God had shut my mouth for doubting the power of His Word, and I can think of few better outcomes than this.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A Time for Fiction

For the first time in a number of years I have begun reading fiction. For almost a decade I read little or no fiction because my experience as an English major in college sapped the joy out of the experience. It was then that I started focusing on philosophy, and the analytic branch at that. I wanted to get as far away from fiction as possible. The last year or so has softened me toward fiction, however, and I have polished off a few novels in the last few days. I must admit that none of them are difficult works, but one of them is a classic.

Two of the books are from the Harry Potter Series. Yes, yes, I know there are Christians out there who hate the books and think they're evil, but I'm not one of them. The two I've read in the last week or so are Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I read Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone early some time last year.

I'll admit it: I love the Harry Potter books. They are utterly delightful to read, whether they're considered children's literature or not. The stories are full of adventure and humor. But by far my favorite things about the series are the emphases on bravery and fighting evil. Harry gets scared, but he perseveres because he must do what he can to conquer evil (Voldemort).

The books also show that we do not come through these battles without scars, emotional and physical. Harry's parents lost their lives because they chose to do what was right. **SPOILERS AHEAD: IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE BOOKS SKIP THIS SENTENCE** Sirius Black died fighting the same evil, and so did the honorable Albus Dumbledore.

Harry Potter shows us that things will not always turn out as we want, but we must continue the fight. There are some things that are more significant than our lives. I think this is actually a valuable lesson for Christians in the West, though it is unfortunate if we have to learn this through Harry Potter when it should be learned from the Bible.

Obviously there are negatives about Harry Potter, but those have been well covered. If you're looking for a fun read, I recommend them.

The other novel I recently read was Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Treasure Island. Like Harry Potter, this book took me in with its story of adventure, piracy, and honor. Once I started reading it was difficult to stop. Though I knew the basic story, I didn't know all of the details. Not surprisingly, I recommend this book as well. I can't wait untill my sons can read!

Monday, May 01, 2006

I'm A College Graduate!

It’s over. I have finally, after 10 years, finished my Bachelor’s degree. On Saturday May 6, 2006 I will graduate from Tri-State Bible College with a BA in Biblical Studies. Praise God!! It has been a long road, but I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had for anything. I can see how God has made me into a more mature person in the years between my high school graduation and today. I was ill equipped to make life-changing vocational decisions in 2000, which is when I would have graduated from college had I taken the traditional route.

Soon my family and I will move to St. Louis, taking us hundreds of miles from our parents and siblings. We will no longer have quick access to baby sitters. The boys’ cousins will see each other with less frequency. These are definite negatives.

On the positive side, I am sure as I can be that this move is the direction in which God wants us to go. Covenant seems to be a great school, and I very much look forward to my education there. There are also plenty of kids on campus for the boys to befriend and plenty of educational opportunities in the St. Louis area. Missouri is also pretty friendly toward homeschoolers as well.

I am still a little concerned for our finances. We’re taking student loans right now, but I would like to not have to do that any more after this year. That may be an unattainable dream, but I’m going to try to find a way. Pray for us that I will be able to find a job, as this will ease the burden somewhat.

Also, my wife and I are considering raising support. Pray for us to make the right decision on this matter, but most of all pray that we will rely on God no regardless of our money situation.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Mark Dever Writes on the Atonement in Christianity Today

Mark Dever has written an interesting article on the importance of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement in Christianity Today. Here's a link:

Nothing But the Blood

The gist is that the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement is under attack in the evangelical church today. I agree with Dr. Dever that it is, and I also agree that defending that doctrine is of the utmost importance. I'm glad that CT printed such a good piece.

HT: Justin Taylor

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Link Changes

I added two links and dropped another today. I added the "Together for the Gospel" blog which features four men who I admire greatly. Alber Mohler, J. Ligon Duncan, C.J. Mahaney, and last but not least, Mark Dever. All four men have a passion for God and His truth, and just about anything they write will be worth reading. I enjoy Dr. Dever's work in particular, and secretly dream of living in the D.C. are one day so I can attend Captiol Hill Baptist Church!

I also added the "Trivium Pursit" blog, which is run by the Bluedorn family. Some of you will recognize the name Bluedorn from Harvey and Laurie's book, Teaching the Trivium, which has helped many parents provide a Christ centered and classical education for their children. The Bluedorns have a large number of cool resources in their on-line store. They are pretty conservative (moreso than me), but I recommend a lot of their material.

Finally, in the spirit of adding influential classical home educators to my blogroll, I just added Susan Wise Bauer's blog to the roll. Susan wrote The Well-Trained Mind, which I own and highly recommend (full disclosure: I do not own Teaching the Trivium, but have read a number of resources by the Bluedorns and feel comfortable recommending their book). Enjoy!

On the other side of things, I have removed "Classical Education 4 Me". Kris is no longer doing classical education with her children, and that was why I linked her in the first place. Understand I am not being critical of Kris. She knows what's best for her kids and I know she would do nothing to harm their education. I hope God blesses her efforts, but linking her no longer serves my purpose.

God bless you as you enjoy these new links.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Road to St. Louis Continues

The day approaches. In July I will likely be heading to St. Louis, Missouri to attend Covenant Theological Seminary. I say 'likely' because I'm not entirely certain I'll be able to pay for housing and tuition for the summer Greek course I want to take. My family and I are living with relatives right now so we can save money, but I can't make guarantees. The good news is that my financial aid award came in the mail today. I haven't actually seen the letter from CTS, but my wife told me about it over the phone. The bad news is, I'm fairly certain that I won't be getting that money until the fall semester begins. That means it will be of no use during the summer. We're praying that we will be able to find the money so we can maintain our current plan. We're also concerned that the aid we are getting will not be enough, which brings up the possibility of an unsubsidized Stafford loan. We don't want to do that for obvious reasons.

I am confident, though, that God will provide.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Toward Literacy: Helping a 3 Year Old Recognize Letters

A few weeks ago I made my first post chronicling my oldest son's journey toward literacy. We're still working on recognizing the letters of the alphabet. We've made some progress over the last couple of weeks, with many letters moving up into other categories. If you recall, I categorized all the letters according to my son's level of recognition. There was "Always Recognizes" (AR), "Often Recognizes" (OR), "Rarely Recognizes" (RR), and "Never Recognizes" (NR). After last night I am able to recategorize many of the letters.

Always Recognizes

A, B, H, K, L, O, P, Q, R, S, T, X

Often Recognizes

F, G, J, M, N

Rarely Recognizes

C, D, E, I, U, V, W, Y, Z

Never Recognizes


As you can see, no letters remain in the NR category. Last night he remembered 'W'for the first time. That was a big event, and was pleased that 'K' had moved from 'NR' to 'AR'. We had worked hard on that one.

That was the good news. The bad news is today I realized that I haven't been showing him lowercase letters. I was reading The Well-Trained Mind today and it hit me like a lightning bolt. I felt like a doofus, but then I also realized that we don't have anything that actually has lower case letters except a dry erase board that it too advanced for him. My wife and I are trying to decide if we want to buy a banner with upper and lowercase letters or if we'll make one on our own. Hopefully by the time his 4th birthday rolls around we'll have both cases down.

Monday, March 20, 2006

More Alphabet News

I know everyone is itching to hear about my oldest son's progress in learning to recognize his letters. Let's take a look, shall we? As you can see in my previous post on the topic, I divided his knowledge into four categories:

Always Recognizes (AR)
Often Recognizes (OR)
Rarely Recognizes (RR)
Never Recognizes (NR)

Since March 3 most of the letters have moved out of NR. Some of them, in fact have made it all the way up to AR. Some letters, however, have moved down on the list a bit. Here is how it currently stands:

Always Recognizes

A, B, H, K, L, O, P, Q, R, S, T, X

Often Recognizes

F, G, M, N, J

Rarely Recognizes

C, D, E, I, U, V, Y, Z

Never Recognizes


He still struggles with 'W', wanting to turn it upside down and make it an 'M'. I also want to add about all of the letters in the 'RR' category. Many of those he will not recognize at first, but with some verbal prompting like making the first sound of the letter name he is able to get it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Congratulate Me! I'm a Daaaangerous Man!

I haven't mentioned it here before, but I am currently taking Tae Kwon Do courses at church (yes, you read right). I've always wanted to try some form of martial arts, so when we began offering a free Tae Kwon Do course as a ministry I jumped at the chance. Grand Master Chuck Martin has sponsored our church's group through the World Christan Taekwondo Federation, so we are an officially sanctioned school. It has been difficult, but rewarding. I'm fitter than I've been in a long time, my muscles are hardening, and I've even lost a bit of that fat that so stubbornly clings to my waistline.

Now that I've established some background I'll get on to the real topic of this post. Two weeks ago I passed the test for my yellow belt. The test was pretty easy, so my sense of accomplishment is small, but it's progress. It's funny because I used to look at people with belts beyond white as real 'martial artists', but now that I'm on the other side of the divide I know that I'm much too tenative to be any good in a fight. The main difference is that if I somehow did the right move at the right time it would hurt my opponent a lot more.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Teaching a 3 Year Old the Alphabet

As my *ahem* regular readers already know, my wife and I are homeschooling our children. The first thing I want to do is to get my oldest son reading. He's only three so I am trying to find a balance between being lax and being heavy-handed. I don't want to turn him off to reading, but I don't want to let him think it is unimportant. He loves books, and will sometimes "read" by himself. It's a pleasure to hear him tell a story he's familiar as he looks at the pages, or simply describe the pictures on the pages.

My main task at this point is making sure he can correctly identify all of his letters. He can recite the alphabet, but his recognition of the letters is spotty. I want this to be the initial post chronicling my Max's journey to literacy.

As far as I can tell, Max has four categories or levels of recognition for his letters. As common sense would have it, they are 1) Always Recognizes, 2) Often Recognizes, 3) Rarely Recognizes, and 4) Never Recognizes. Just to get them in order in my own head, I am going to categorize the letters.

Always Recognizes

A, B, H, L, O, P, Q, R, S, T

Often Recognizes

G, M, N

Rarely Recognizes

D, E, I, U, X,

Never Recognizes

C, F, J, K, V, W, Y, Z

There doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to which letters he knows. Sometimes his mood plays a factor in which letters he "knows." If he was always cooperative I think at least 'G' and 'M' would be in the 'Always Recognizes' category.

Three of the letters in 'Never Recognizes' are there because Max confuses them with other letters. He always calls 'K' 'R', he calls 'V' 'A', and confuses 'W' with 'M'. He thinks it's upside down. The other five we haven't worked on very much.

I must admit my approach has been scattershot. At first I was too pushy, so we both ended up frustrated. My more recent approach has been to play with magnetic letters we have, periodically asking him to name certain letters. When we clean up, I'll purposely drop letters he is less familiar with and say, "Oh Max, could you pick up that 'F' for daddy?" or something of that nature. It has been helpful, I think. He learns to recognize them without feeling pressured to perform for me. I also ask him to name letters when we read at night, going back and forth between letters he doesn't know well and letters he knows very well (to review and bolster his confidence). I praise his successes, but try to avoid being too effusive.

In sum, we're making progress. I look forward to the day when that "Never Recognizes" category is empty, and even more so to the day when he will "Always Recognize" all 26. If anyone has any tips, I'm definitely listening!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Homeschooling Makes Strange "Link-Fellows"

Three years ago last September my first child was born. From the beginning I was eager to determine what to do about his education, and my wife and I decided we would homeschool him. After a quick perusal of available methods we settled on the classical method. Fast forward to today, and that first boy is three years old (he also has a one year old baby brother). I decided it was high time we start preparing in earnest for his schooling, so I started surfing around to various blogs and other websites. As you will know if you've done any homeschool research online, there are millions of pages out there on the topic. Most of these pages are run by homeschooling mothers, which stands to reason since it is most often the mother who does the teaching (thought fathers seem to be taking a more active role, as I intend to).

Just yesterday I added links to a couple of homeschooling blogs, and I couldn't help but chuckle. I showed a friend of mine a blog that I linked because...well...its design is pretty much the antithesis of what I would choose. Click the "classical education 4 me" link and you'll see what I mean. I'm not really a "cross-stitch" kind of guy (or is it needlepoint?). I would not very often use the phrase "cozy cottage." Pink is not my color.

I don't mean to be insulting to Kris, by the way. She has a lot of great content, and that's why I linked her. It's just interesting the way that homeschooling connects two people with very different tastes.

Anyway, I'm excited. My wife and I are going to order The Well-Trained Mind as soon as we have some money and get our preparation started. My father-in-law also ordered a phonics program for my oldest. It supposed to get your kids reading in three weeks, so we'll see how that goes. I'll keep you posted!