Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Dancing Street Light

For some reason there were not any light poles as we know them today. In those days of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, to illuminate the streets of the small rural town, lights were stretched across the streets; wires would go from a pole on one side of the street to another pole directly across the street and the street light would dangle there suspended in the middle, the metal fixture including a shade that directed the light from the incandescent bulbs downward, illuminating the street and immediate adjacent sidewalks and lawns.

It was the end of October, the Halloween time of the year. The local fire department had put on their annual Halloween party for the kids of the area; bobbing for apples, the “haunted house”, and we in our varied Halloween costumes. Along with the fire department festivities we also did the usual trick or treating; a time to fill the sack with candy, popcorn balls, cookies, and other goodies. This was a whole generation before sick psychos used Halloween trick or treating to intentionally put harmful things in the treats handed out on Halloween. That year was going to be my last year of trick or treating. The general rule of thumb was once you were in junior high, your trick or treating days were over. So it was I headed out from the school were the firemen's Halloween party was held, to hit the town and pick up a few treats.

The first street of houses I worked that particular night was a cul-de-sac running off of the main street. At the corner of the main street and the cul-de-sac was a street light stretched across the main street as previously described. I had hit all the houses on the cul-de-sac and was ready to head back to the main street. There were was a good steady wind blowing, and I was struck with how the street light was swaying back and forth, dancing in the wind. It was there that a sort of magic took hold of my imagination.

Oddly enough the sense was not a foreboding fear of some evil supernatural apparition coming to life an All Hallows Eve. It was more a sense of being alone in a deserted place. There was no traffic on the street. There was just the street light dancing in the wind. For those few brief moments the only living things in that town were myself and that dancing street light. In those moments, the image of that dancing street light was forever indelibly imprinted on my mind and in my memory.

In the years that followed I would from time to time come across a few literary descriptions that reminded me of that image.

In Ray Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” the point comes toward the end of the book were all the Earth people who settled on Mars are called back to Earth at the outbreak of war. The Earth colonies and settlements on Mars are abandoned, but a few people are left behind; left behind to wander over the surface of Mars from deserted town to deserted town living out the rest of their lives alone. In that narrative the image of the dancing street light comes to my mind.

I sat in the theater as the movie; “To Kill a Mockingbird” was nearing its end. The fall harvest festival at the local school is over, and Scout and Jem are about to walk home and into the dramatic climax of the whole story. It is night and we see the street lights of that small rural town through the eyes of Scout as she peers through the eyes of her ham costume. In that image, I see the dancing street light of my youth.

Over fifty years later as the fall of the year comes around and the leaves on the trees are changing color, and the corn is ripe for the picking, and the days grow colder, I think back to that autumn night so long, long ago when the street light danced, sparking the imagination and stirring the feelings; one of those magical moments that stay with you for a life time; those moments in life that give hints of stories to be told, other worlds to be discovered, and adventures yet to come.

~ The Billy Goat ~

Monday, October 13, 2014

Questions Regarding Annihilationism

The doctrine of annihilationism says basically that the damned in hell do not suffer forever but at some point simply cease to exist. A lot is being said in the Evangelical church at large about the teaching of annihlationism, both pro and con. Dr. Mike Wittmer recently addressed that phenomena in a blog article you can find here, as well as a link to the "Rethinking Hell" web site. I will leave you to read the Dr. Wittmer's article where he sets forth a few of his objections to the annihilationist argument. For myself, two questions come to mind and those questoins are the focus of this post.

The first question: Will God annihilate those created in His own image?

"God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." ~ Genesis 1:27

“Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man." ~ Genesis 9:6

My argument here is that if God annihilates those created in His own image, then the enemy, the devil Satan, wins. He has to some degree accomplished what he set out to do in the temptation in the Garden. The reason for making that assertion is found in the second question below. Are we going to say Christ did not gain total victory over death, Satan, and hell? May it never be!

The second question: Was Jesus Christ annihilated on the cross for my sins?

If Jesus Christ was not annihilated for my sins, but the end of the unrepentant sinner is annihilation, then my sins are not fully covered by the work of Christ on the cross on behalf of guilty sinners. In my mind by the mere fact of asking that question, a stake is driven into the heart of the error of annihilationism. Jesus Christ was not annihilated, but rose again from the dead, conquering death and hell, and is ascended and now seated at the right hand of God the Father.

To sum up, exegetical questions about the Biblical passages on hell and the damnation of the unrepentant of necessity need to be answered in a way that does not diminish the importance of the clearly taught doctrines of man being created in God's image, and the full and complete victorious work of Jesus Christ on the cross on behalf of a fallen and sinful humanity. Intended or not, annihilationism diminishes both, and is thus found wanting.

~ The Billy Goat ~

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Of This & That

It has been a while since I have posted anything here. It is not for lack of ideas or issues to write and comment on. That said, it must be confessed there has been a certain lack of energy or enthusiasm to rush to print my pontifications on the latest cascading waves of news that have swept through the Evangelical church as well as the world at large. In an age of 30 second sound bites, news is here today and gone tomorrow.

Part of the ennui also has to do with the deja vu nature of the news cycle. How many fallen mega-church pastors have we heard about over the last umpteen years or more? How much political BS keeps repeating and repeating and repeating? What can you say that has not been said before, or at the issue in hand, others have already written about? Lord forgive me and deliver me from cynicism. With all that said, I will attempt to set forth a few thoughts.

Being a Deacon in an Evangelical Baptist church is interesting. Oddly enough, the greatest satisfaction I have from being a Deacon is in serving the Lord's Supper to the people of God. The tradition in our church is for the Deacons to serve the bread and cup, or more accurately in our case, the gluten free wafers and the trays holding the little cups of grape juice. The Communion assignments are rotated so that over time, a Deacon will have opportunity to serve the bread and cup to just about everyone in our congregation, I really enjoy and receive much satisfaction in the performing of that service,

There are of course, other duties and responsibilities I have as a Deacon. One of the questions we as a Deacon Council ask ourselves from time to time is, "Are we what we say we are, or are we what we do?" That tension comes from those responsibilities we have and perform that might more properly fall under the office of Elder. I am not convinced there are any churches that have a perfect form and organization for church government. I know there are some who like to make that claim, but from what I have seen, they doth protest to much. Nor am I convinced that the Bible and New Testament in particular, are as clear on how church government should be organized as some would have us believe.

Our church is a relatively large church, though not what I would call a mega-church. That larger size presents challenges in terms of ministering to the whole body. None of us want anyone to fall through the cracks. That is always a challenge. There is more I could say, but will leave it for another time.

The seasons are changing; another week and Autumn will officially be upon us. The days continue to grow shorter. I have now been retired for ten months. I am still sort of working out what "retired" means. I had visions of doing more writing, but though I did finish some projects earlier in the year, not much has happened over the last three to four months. Getting our kitchen renovated was part of the reason for lack of writing output as well as the general ennui spoken of above. Writing is a discipline, and if I am to be any kind of writer at all, I will need to be disciplined in pursuing it.

The Football season is in full swing,(Go MSU Spartans!), and hockey is not far behind. In the meantime our Tigers are doing what they can to make it to the baseball post-season playoffs. Will this be the year the Tiger roars? Time will tell...

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Party

I was just a few years out of high school. I was working a summer job, having finished another year of college, and needing money for the resumption of classes in September. One of my co-workers at the shop was also a college student, a year younger than me; an acquaintance from high school; one of those small rural high schools where everybody knows just about everybody.

Sometime in the course of that summer, this acquaintance made it known to me he was going to have a party at his house. His parents were going to be away for an extended period of time, and he was going to take advantage of the opportunity to have a beer party.

The context of this intended party would involve a number of people like him and me who had recently graduated from our local high school, but were not yet of the legal age of 21 which, in our particular state, was the minimum age for the legal possession of and/or consumption of alcoholic beverages. Understand dear reader that one of the reasons for waiting for over forty years to tell this story is that the statute of limitations for any violation of the laws of the state detected in this saga has long since ran out. Nevertheless, names will not be used so as to protect the guilty as well as the innocent.

The other context coming into this story was a personal one for me. Over the past several years of college I had encountered that existential crisis of philosophy, life, and faith that in the end, much to my own surprise, took me into a conscious embrace of the Christian faith. There was much about that personal world view change that I had yet to work out in my own daily life.

The appointed day came. Through the provision of some legally of-age friends of my co-worker, the stage had been set. I cannot remember if I ever really thought about just not going at all. It would be an occasion of seeing some people I had not seen since high school. At the time I more or less left the whole under-age alcohol thing in an ethically grey area; a place that at this point in my life over forty years later, I would not be able in conscience to go to.

It was late in the afternoon when I drove down the dirt road to the farmstead where my acquaintance lived. I suppose looking back, the location was relatively ideal for the purpose intended; a dirt road with not much traffic; the farmhouse some distance from any neighbor’s ears and eyes. I turned in the driveway, parked off on the lawn by the barn. It was a warm summer evening, but not overly humid or hot; the sky clear and blue with a few fluffy clouds here and there; the sun slowly sinking towards the western horizon. I don’t remember how many people were there. The people who were there were familiar faces; some I had known most of my life. There we were, young adults pushing the boundaries in a way many of us had not done up unto that time. There was a keg of beer there. There was some bottled premium beer. There was also some hard liquor, Crème d’ menthe, and what else I do not remember; probably whiskey and rum or whatever.

I sampled the brew from the keg. I walked around and watched what was going on. Imagine a bunch of little kids greedily grabbing for some chocolate candy. Add ten or so years to their lives, and substitute the alcoholic beverages for the chocolate. I will admit my memory could possibly have distorted some things over the past forty pluse years, but that is how I remember it.

I don’t know if I stayed there even a full hour. At some point as I was watching it all, the question hit me right between the eyes.

“What am I doing here?”

Looking back later, I could see that the purpose of the whole affair stated or not, was to get soused; that is out right drunk. And even if those there did not consciously have that intent, there was a certain inevitability that such was where many of them would end up, unless they had more discipline over their alcohol intake then I gave them credit for.

At that point of epiphany, I knew I did not belong there, and needed to just leave. I went into the house to the kitchen. The teakettle was on the stove. I made sure there was water in it, and set it on the burner and switched the burner on. In a cupboard I found the instant coffee.

One of my acquaintances made a surprised comment, “Bill’s making a cup of coffee!” Another friend replied to him, “He’s the only smart one here…”

I finished the coffee, rinsed the cup and set it on the counter. I went out into the yard, got into the car and drove away.

Thankfully there was no public fallout from my friend’s booze party; no automobile accidents on the way home by inebriated guests; no surprise visit to the farmstead by the local constabulary with resulting embarrassment and public scandal. As far as I know most if not all who were at that party went on to become responsible and mature adults. Oddly enough, the guy who hosted the whole affair ended up in the Christian ministry. Such are the mysterious ways of grace.

~ The End ~

Copyright © June 2014 by J. William Newcomer All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Clement's Comments on God's Will

"Anyone who sincerely considers these matters one by one will understand the magnificence of the gifts that are given by God. For from Jacob came all the priests and Levites that minster at the altar of God: from him comes the Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh; from him come the kings and rulers and governors in the line of Judah; and his other tribes are held in no small honor, seeing that God promised that "your seed seed shall be as the stars of heaven." All therefore, were glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteous actions that they did, but through his will. And so we, having been called through his will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety; or works that we have done in holiness of heart, but through faith, by which the Almighty God has justified all who existed from the beginning; to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen."

(1 Clement, paragraph 32)

"The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts And English Translations" (3rd edition); Michael W. Holmes; (Baker Academic, 2007)

Monday, June 02, 2014

Paul's Warning in Galatians 5


"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other." (Galatians 5:13-15)

Bitter, angry, and vicious personal attacks. Ad-hominum argumentation. As I look on from a distance and see these things, what am I to think of you and the movement and person you purport to defend? I choose not to insert here any links to your "controversy". And I refrain from doing so more to protect you from the embarrassment of your own words. (I use plural pronouns here.) No my friends, this is not about the recent issues at the Gospel Coalition, but is something else entirely, of which most of you who read this have little or no knowledge, and for such unawareness you should be thankful. Where I had hoped for an increasing maturity, I find immaturity still reigns, and even if I thought one side did better at forbearance than the other, the back biting and scathing opprobrium speaks volumes. You bite and devour each other. Beware lest you end up destroying each other.

May God yet have mercy on you.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Losing the Meta-Narrative in Noah

All stories told assume a larger story of which which the specific story is a part of. It is that larger story which gives context and meaning to the people and events of the story being told. It is this Meta-Narrative issue that is particularly highlighted in Darren Aronofsky's March 2014 film release "Noah".

I knew from seeing the very first trailer release for "Noah", that it was going to be a film that at some point I would want to see. I never expected that this would be a film that closely followed the Biblical narrative of Noah and the flood in the book of Genesis. Subsequent reviews and rantings and ravings confirmed that.

I did not really follow how well "Noah" did at the box office. My general sense was that after the usual initial flash of a new "epic" film, it faded to the obscurity of the cheap re-run theaters where I just this week finally went to see "Noah" for myself. We live in a day when so called epic films have very little staying power in the mind of our media soaked and sated pop culture; that shallow culture that seems incapable of taking time to really think deeply about what it is seeing and hearing, and so quickly rushes on to the newest and "greatest" info spot factoid that grabs its attention. Only time will tell if Aronofsky has made a film that becomes a classic.

It was because of the previous reviews and controversy and hype that I went into the theater with low expectations. This film has some strengths. The depiction of the wickedness of the humanity of the world that perished, though colored by Aronofsky's own meta-narrative context, was not sugar coated, and illuminated the depravity of that per-deluge world. It was finally nice to see a Noah who was not portrayed as some kind of half senile bumbling old man. The passing down of the oral tradition from generation to generation is clearly illustrated; that oral tradition that later would be written down by Moses under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The horror of the destruction is not muffled, and the film, in my mind correctly ties the incident of Noah's drunkenness to the resulting post-traumatic distress he had to deal with after the flood.

Darren Aronofsky clearly took liberties with the Biblical story. There are a number of points where the film departs from the facts as told in Genesis. Those have been more then adequately covered in the essays of other reviewers. I would like to focus on what is the one thing missing from Aronofsky's view of the greater meta-narrative that, in my mind, is a crucial and critical departure from the Biblical meta-narrative, and that is the loss of the place of the promise in the story. I would also submit that it is the loss of this critical point, the promise, that explains much of the factual departures from the Biblical story that Aronofsky made.

Consider the words spoken by God to the serpent; the proto-evangelium:

"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

Add to that meaning of Noah's own name:

"Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and became the father of a son. Now he called his name Noah, saying, “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed.” (Genesis 5:28-29)

It was the purpose of God in the bigger story of the Genesis account, the purpose of redemption, that is absent from the film, and it is that loss which is the most disappointing thing about Aronofsky's telling of the Noah story. He gives us a Noah whose purpose in what he does is at best foggy and muddy; a Noah who seems to have no sense of the promise and meaning of his own name; a Noah who instead of believing the promise as Hebrews 11 describes him, is a Noah who despairs to the point of considering total xenocide; who as another "Adam" is put into the place of making a choice which way future humanity will or will not go. So it is that Aronofsky ends up giving us an essentially pagan Noah.

I leave it to others more qualified then myself to speak to the quality of the acting and the cinematography, as well as the special effects.

It is not my intent to tell you, the reader, if you should or should not see this film. Each of you are capable of making that decision for yourself. Whatever film you do or do not see, I encourage you to ask yourself the question, "What is the larger meta-narrative behind this version of this story?" The meta-narrative of the Bible contains as a crucial part of that narrative, the promise, and it is that promise that, in my mind, makes all the difference in the universe.