Wednesday, December 31, 2014

This is the end...

...of the year of our Lord two thousand and fourteen.

As I write, the New Year has already swept over Asia and Europe, and very shortly will be reaching the North America continent. Time is a peculiar thing. We know time is not absolute but is relative. Or as the fictional Doctor would put it time is, “Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey-stuff”. The Apostle Peter tells us that with God, one year is as a thousand, and a thousand years are as one. But for us in our finiteness, time goes forward without any going back; though we know it is not absolute in the scale of the universe, it is absolute to us in our experience of it. The end of the year means we are another year closer to the end; the end of our finite lives; the end of the world and universe as it will someday soon or later come to its cataclysmic end. Thus we are told to number our days, knowing that our life under the sun is brief and transitory. But we do not count them with the angst of stoic resignation. We count them in the hope of ultimate redemption and restoration; the New heavens and new earth where in dwells righteousness. So it is in that ultimate hope we enter into this new year of our Lord, two thousand and fifteen.

Peace be unto you...


A Union Soldier's Year End Reflections

"Another year has rolled past and joined the many gone before in the vistas of the past. Its glorious deeds of valor and achievements, its scenes of anguish and bloodshed, of wrong and oppression, are subjects for the future historian. Its ever varying scenes and emotions are indelibly impressed upon my mind, which death alone can efface. The snow has clothed the earth in a lovely mantle of white as though to hide the sad past, and offer a clear page for me in the coming year. Let me then look forward with hope and determination to keep in the path of virtue and right, striving to improve the blessings and privileges offered me, so that when 1865 closes I need not look back with regret at the year spent."

~ Jenkin Lloyd Jones, 6th Battery, Wisconsin Artillery, December 31, 1864, writing from Nashville, TN.

(Copied from DOTCW.)

Friday, December 19, 2014


"...Blessed is he who is alone in the strength of the fellowship and blessed is he who keeps the fellowship in the strength of aloneness. But the strength of aloneness and the strength of fellowship is solely the strength of the Word of God, which is addressed to the individual in the fellowship."

~ Life Together, "The Day Alone", Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Understanding “Immanuel” in Isaiah 7

“Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.” (Isaiah 7:10-17)


Ahaz was asked to request a sign, but in his unbelief refuses to do so. Isaiah in his rebuke of Ahaz announces the Lord will “give you (in context referring to Ahaz) a sign.” A time frame is given which is a critical part of the sign to Ahaz. A child will be born, and by the time the child attains a certain age of discernment Syria and Israel will be no more. Commentators debate what that age is, but none will say it is more than the age of 12. Both the child and the child’s age are critical components of the sign to Ahaz. The name Immanuel (God with us) was a sign to Ahaz that God had not abandoned His people. God’s purposes for His people would be accomplished in spite of Ahaz’s unbelief.

As Leupold observes, “The major difficulty happens to be that a contemporary person is almost demanded by the very situation involved… At the same time a contemporary child seems to be inexorably demanded by the passage.” (Exposition of Isaiah, H.C. Leupold)

Then we come to the Gospel of Matthew where this prophecy of Immanuel is cited:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:18-25)

Leupold holds the view that the fulfillment of the Isaiah 7 prophecy was delayed until the time Matthew speaks of. I find that explanation unsatisfactory and problematic. For the matter prophesied to be a sign to Ahaz, there had to be some kind of fulfillment in Ahaz’s lifetime. The birth of Isaiah's child, Maher-shalal-baz, in the immediate succeeding context of Isaiah 8:1-3 seems the best understanding of the immediate fulfillment of the sign prophecy to Ahaz in chapter 7.

How then are we to understand Matthew’s use of the Isaiah 7 prophecy of Immanuel?

The best understanding of Matthew’s reference is that the woman who at the time of the prophecy was an unmarried virgin and then became Isaiah’s wife and bore him the son spoken of in chapter 8, is a type or foreshadowing of the Virgin Mary. Likewise the child of Isaiah 8:1-3 was a type of or foreshadowing of the Messiah Jesus. This is in essence, the view of the following commentators:

"Language is selected such as, while partially applicable to the immediate event, receives its fullest, most appropriate, and exhaustive accomplishment in Messianic events. The New Testament application of such prophecies is not a strained “accommodation”; rather the temporary fulfilment of an adaptation of the far-reaching prophecy to the present passing event, which foreshadows typically the great central end of prophecy, Jesus Christ (Rev 19:10). Evidently the wording is such as to apply more fully to Jesus Christ than to the prophet’s son; “virgin” applies, in its simplest sense, to the Virgin Mary, rather than to the prophetess who ceased to be a virgin when she “conceived”; “Immanuel,” God with us (Jn 1:14; Rev 21:3), cannot in a strict sense apply to Isaiah’s son, but only to Him who is presently called expressly (Is 9:6), “the Child, the Son, Wonderful (compare Is 8:18), the mighty God.” Local and temporary features (as in Is 7:15, 16) are added in every type; otherwise it would be no type, but the thing itself. There are resemblances to the great Antitype sufficient to be recognized by those who seek them; dissimilarities enough to confound those who do not desire to discover them." (Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown, “Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible”)

A virgin shall conceive. The word for virgin here is carefully chosen. Etymologically ‘almậ does not necessarily signify a virgo intacta (an untouched maiden). In actual usage in the Hebrew Scriptures, however, it refers only to a maiden chaste and unmarried (so far as the context shows). This well fits the prospective mother alluded to in this situation. Judging from 8:1-4, the typical mother was the prophetess who became Isaiah’s wife within a short time after this prophecy was spoken. Therefore she was a virgin at the time this promise was given. She serves as a type of the Virgin Mary, who remained a virgin even after her miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit. The son of this prophetess, correspondingly, is a type of the Messianic Immanuel as shortly will be explained.” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Isaiah contribution by Gleason L. Archer Jr.)

This view of type and fulfillment best satisfies the demand for an immediate fulfillment in the time of Isaiah and Ahaz, and allowing for an understanding of Jesus Christ being the fullness of what is meant by the name Immanuel per Matthew’s citation. This is what is pointed to by the more direct prophecy in Isaiah 9:6-7:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”

Monday, December 01, 2014


Salvation is not a one time experience. Salvation is a lifetime experience. I was saved. I am being saved. I will be saved. Solo Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Old Meaning of the term "Theologian"

“In the Christian East, a “theologian” is not someone who has thought hard about theological categories and labored at their construction. A theologian is someone who has drawn near God and experienced His transforming presence in a palpable way. This is what Peter means by becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4 KJV). A theologian is someone who has “seen the Uncreated Light,” a reference to the light that shone forth from Jesus on Mt. Tabor (Mark 9:2-3), and which illuminated the burning bush without consuming it (Exod. 3:2). Being a theologian is akin to being a mystic—though I hate to use that word, because in the West mysticism seems like an odd calling for odd people, while in the East it is the whole purpose of Christian life and the calling of every person: union with God, theosis, In the fourth century Evaggrius of Pontus said, “A theologian is one whose prayer is true.”

Today some of you have the job description “theologian” and may be thinking that you did not even have plans to see the Uncreated Light. How refreshing it would be to understand your calling as being a source of light for others, a living example of what God can do with a fully yielded person, someone whose deep meditation on the things of God has led tp personal transformation and even holiness. That’s the old meaning of the term “theologian”. Contrast this with a framed print I saw in the vesting room of the National Cathedral in Washington. It showed a shining candle surrounded by darkness, and the test read: “I was wandering all alone in a dark forest, with only the light of a candle to guide me, and along came a theologian and blew it out.””

Excerpt from: Frederica Mathewes-Green, “The Old Testament Trinity”; God the Holy Trinity: Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice; Edited by Timothy George, Baker Academic, (2006)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Defining the True Theologian

“First, Owen lived before the concept of a theologian was scaled down to its current, intellectualized, and relatively narrow dimensions, Two centuries ago Enlightenment thinkers set up the curriculum for theological student’s in universities and seminaries as consisting of four distinct fields of inquiry: history and exegesis of the Bible, analysis of the church’s beliefs, church history, and ministerial practice. The new thing in this arrangement, the separation of the studies from each other, opened the door to specialization, which has been acidly but not unfairly described as getting to know more and more about less and less. Specialization produced exegetes who were not theologians, dogmaticians who were not exegetes, and practical theologians to whom past patterns of Christian life and pastoral care were a closed book. Unity was lost, fragmentation set in, and theology as a study came to mean no more than exploring facts and arguments in any or all of these departments from some personal standpoint or other, never mind what. This, of course, exactly fulfilled the freethinking intellectual ideal of the Enlightenment. Today, we children of the Enlightenment are so used to it that we can hardly believe mainstream Christians ever thought of theological study differently. But they did.

From the first Christian centuries down to, and past,Owen’s day, people conceived of theology as wisdom and in personal rather than academic terms: that is, as wisdom of those in whose head and heart, through the power of God’s Word and Spirit, true understanding of God’s revealed truth had taken root. The idea of a theologian was of a wise, godly pundit. Gregory Nazianzus and John Calvin were both called “the theologian” in their own lifetime, and in each case the title meant all of the above. On this view, real theologians embodied the unity of thought and modeled the reality of worship, obedience, and care that together amount to what the Bible means by knowing God. They would use exegesis to buttress their exposition of the faith: their exegesis would reflect and responsibly relate to, their believing sate of mind. They would read historical theology as narrating the wars of the Word in and with the world, and church history as recoding successes and failures in faithfulness to the gospel. The application of truth to life would be their constant concern. Intellectually and attitudinally, the theologian’s wisdom would thus be a single ball of wax, the product of all the disciplines of divinity and devotion operating together in one man’s life. In this sense John Owen aimed to be, and truly was, a theologian.”

Excerpted from: J.I. Packer, “A Puritan Perspective: Trinitarian Godliness according to John Owen”; God the Holy Trinity: Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice; Edited by Timothy George, Baker Academic, (2006)

As I read this, I could not help but think of a man who passed away a little over a year ago, who in his life and ministry was a true theologian of the caliber described above. Rest in peace Dr. James Grier.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

First Bloom

Our long winter is over. Spring is finally coming. For this O Lord, we give You thanks.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Images of War

"—I see all the little signs, getting ready in the hospitals &c.—it is dreadful, when one thinks about it—I sometimes think over the sights I have myself seen, the arrival of the wounded after a battle, & the scenes on the field too, & I can hardly believe my own recollection—what an awful thing war is—Mother, it seems not men but a lot of devils & butchers butchering each other—"

Walt Whitman in a letter to his mother dated March 22, 1864

Friday, February 21, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Trinity

"In one sense the doctrine of the Trinity is our admission--as beings created and finite, fallen and flawed--that we simply cannot fully grasp all that God is... ...The doctrine of the Trinity represents a chastened admission that we are unable to master God."

"The doctrine of the Trinity gathers together the richness of the complex Christian understanding of God; it yields a vision of God to which the only appropriate response is adoration and devotion. The doctrine knits together into a coherent whole the Christian doctrines of creation, redemption, and sanctification. By doing so, it sets before us a vision of God who created the world, whose glory can be seen reflected in the wonders of the natural order; a God who redeemed the world, whose love can be seen in the tender face of Christ; and a God who is present now in the lives of believers."

(Allister E. McGrath; "The Doctrine of the Trinity: An Evangelical Reflection"; God the Holy Trinity: Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice; Timothy George, Editor; (Baker Academic, 2006)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pilgrims' Hymn - Stephen Paulus

This & That

Thoughts on Retirement: I heartily recommend retirement as long as you do not have to spend it living in a cardboard box under a freeway overpass.  Every day is "Saturday" except Sunday, and Monday through Saturday are all "jeans day".  Naps are nice... I recommend them.  Not having to go to work or come home from work in a blizzard is nice too.  A cold snow-bound day at home retired will always beat a day in the office...   Did I mention the naps and sleeping-in in the morning?

The New Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T5i.... My choice from the options for the company retirement gifts.  I'm just getting in to figuring out some of the bells and whistles. 

The Long Winter 2013-2014:  We have had close to record snowfall this year, and some really cold weather. As I write this, I look out the window and we are getting another heavy snowfall.

 The woods behind our house.
                          The spirea bush in its Winter slumber...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Good Reading: Affirming the Apostles Creed

Affirming the Apostles' Creed by J. I. Packer (Crossway, 2008)

Though not an extended exposition of the Apostles' Creed, these reflections by J.I. Packer are very solid, and helpful The chapters are relatively short and are very devotional in writing style. But that devotional aspect does not detract from the solid basic foundational theological truths Packer reflects upon. This devotional design of the book makes it very suitable for personal devotions or as a study guide in a group setting. It would be very suitable to use as an introduction to basic foundational Christian beliefs.

I personally found Packer's discussion of what it means for Christ to be "eternally begotten" by the Father to be very helpful. God the Father and God the Son forever and eternally have had that Father/Son relationship.

Packer's discussion of the more controversial phrase "he descended into hell" was equally helpful. There is a difference in how the New Testament uses the words "hades" and "gehenna". Thus the use of the word "hades" in Acts 2:27 provides an understanding of "the descent into hell" as emphasizing the fullness and completeness of Jesus Christ's experience of death.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book as an introduction to the Apostles' Creed, and the foundational Biblical truths the Creed teaches.

~ The Billy Goat ~

Monday, January 13, 2014

Have Ye Not Known - Ye Shall Have A Song

The link below will take you to the YouTube page of the video of the National Lutheran Choir performing Randall Thompson's "Have Ye Not Known/Ye Shall Have a Song" based on the texts of Isaiah 40:21 and 30:29. Unfortunately embedding of this video is not allowed, so I can only provide the link. Many years ago we were in the Evangelical Choral Society of Grand Rapids, Michigan and this was one of the pieces we performed. It is very beautiful and I think if you love music at all, you will enjoy this.

National Lutheran Choir: Have Ye Not Known

"Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?" (Isaiah 40:21)

"Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the LORD..." (Isaiah 30:29)

Receiving Christ

"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name..." (John 1:12)

The above verse which has been used in some popular Gospel presentations, is that verse used to press upon the the unbeliever's conscience the need to receive Christ. It is phrased several different ways; "Receive Christ as your personal savior." or "Receive Christ as your Lord and savior." among others,

This of course begs several questions. Who is the "Him" we are to receive? also, what does it mean to "receive" Him?

In the context of the verse above, the "Him" is the one who is the Word that was with the Father in verses 1-4, and became flesh and dwelt among (vs 14). It is the "Him" who has been eternally with the Father and eternally begotten of the Father in the relationship of Father and Son.

In this context, the one who is the savior is the one who is Lord. Only He who is Lord can save us. How Savior and Lord became separated in the minds of some, I do not know. II Corinthians 2:17 speaks of those who ""corrupt the Gospel"... The imagery is that of a bartender watering down the wine. What the buyer gets is not the undiluted 100% pure wine they thought they were paying for. We need to be wary in our use of John 1:12 not to water down the meaning of the text as it comes to us in the broader context of John 1.

And what did John have in mind when he used the word "receive" in John 1:12 as quoted above? John 20:30-31 gives us the answer.

"Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."

There is much more that could be said on this point, but I will leave that for another time.

~ The Billy Goat ~