Monthly Archives: December 2020

2020 Reading

 

The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot
The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot
Kirk, Russell
5/5. Encyclopaedic history of conservative thought.

 

Commonwealth Theology
Commonwealth Theology
Krieger, Douglas W.
3/5. Interesting alternative to Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism.
Black Rednecks and White Liberals
Black Rednecks and White Liberals
Sowell, Thomas
5/5. Masterful telling of history of slavery and racial conflict.

 

Demons: What the Bible Really Says about the Powers of Darkness
Demons: What the Bible Really Says about the Powers of Darkness
Heiser, Michael S.
3/5. Fairly well-argued case for demons being disembodied spirits of Nephilim.
Middle Knowledge: Human Freedom in Divine Sovereignty
Middle Knowledge: Human Freedom in Divine Sovereignty
Laing, John D
4/5. Careful study of the Molinist view of foreknowledge, election and free-will.

 

The Infinite Variety of Music
The Infinite Variety of Music
Bernstein, Leonard
4/5. Great, but difficult to follow if the printed music is not played for you.

 

The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time, #1)
The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time, #1)
Jordan, Robert
4/5. Surprisingly rich world with clear allusions to a biblical cosmology.
My Life among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority (Sacred Order/Social Order, #1)
My Life among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority (Sacred Order/Social Order, #1)
Rieff, Philip
3/5. Poetic philosophy but impenetrable to a dunderhead like me.

 

What to Listen for in Music
What to Listen for in Music
Copland, Aaron
4/5. Excellent introduction.

 

The Body: A Guide for Occupants
The Body: A Guide for Occupants
Bryson, Bill
4/5. A page-turner, and always delightful to see a Darwinist express wonder, gratitude and awe, and have no one to thank.

 

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
Peterson, Eugene H.
3/5. Worthy, but not outstanding, comments on the Songs of Ascent.
The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great
The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great
Merkle, Benjamin R.
5/5. Warm, gripping and interesting telling of perhaps England’s greatest king.
J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life
J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life
Miller, Paul E.

5/5. Excellent, excellent telling of one of the great themes of Scripture and central themes of Philippians.

The Warden and the Wolf King (The Wingfeather Saga #4)
The Warden and the Wolf King (The Wingfeather Saga #4)
Peterson, Andrew
The final book of a wonderful series read to my children.
Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth
Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth
Tolkien, J.R.R.
5/5/. Some gems and jewels for lovers of Middle-Earth.
Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion
Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion
Guinness, Os
4/5. Unorthodox but wise retelling of apologetic methodology.
Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God
Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God
Crabtree, Sam
3/5. Simple reminder to affirm and praise those in our lives we lead and serve.

 

Modern Physics and Ancient Faith
Modern Physics and Ancient Faith
Barr, Stephen M.
4/5. Heavily scientific explanations of God’s glory in cosmology and physics.
Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution: A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First
Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution: A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First
McGrath, Alister
4/5. Self-attesting Scripture leads to the principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture, which led to the Reformation and modern Protestantism

 

Narrative Apologetics: Sharing the Relevance, Joy, and Wonder of the Christian Faith
Narrative Apologetics: Sharing the Relevance, Joy, and Wonder of the Christian Faith
McGrath, Alister
3/5. Good introduction to the importance of story and mythos for overall worldview and perspective.

 

Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience, and Imagination in a Disenchanted World
Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience, and Imagination in a Disenchanted World
Gould, Paul M.
5/5. Tremendous understanding of cultural perspectives that shape the reception of the Christian message.

 

Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith (Living Faith Series)
Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith
Ordway, Holly *
3/5. A good start spoiled by an overbearing and proselytising Romanism.

 

Apologetics Beyond Reason: Why Seeing Really Is Believing
Apologetics Beyond Reason: Why Seeing Really Is Believing
Sire, James W.
3/5. A retired apologist reflects on the many methods beyond evidentialism
Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present
Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present
Gibson, Jonathan
5/5. Superb collection of all the Reformation liturgies from Luther through Westminster.

 

Theology of the Reformers
Theology of the Reformers
George, Timothy
5/5. Readable, wise, thorough historical theology.
Shapers of Christian Orthodoxy: Engaging with Early and Medieval Theologians
Shapers of Christian Orthodoxy: Engaging with Early and Medieval Theologians
Green, Bradley G.
3/5. Several essays, of varying quality, on early ante-Nicene fathers.
The Stripping of the Altars
The Stripping of the Altars
Duffy, Eamon
3/5. Voluminous, but overwhelming study of pre-Reformation England.

 

The Scandal of Money: Why Wall Street Recovers but the Economy Never Does
The Scandal of Money: Why Wall Street Recovers but the Economy Never Does
Gilder, George
4/5. Illuminating. Money is supposed to be a measure of value, not a thing of value itself, an item to trade with, not to trade in.

 

Budgeting for a Healthy Church: Aligning Finances with Biblical Priorities for Ministry
Budgeting for a Healthy Church: Aligning Finances with Biblical Priorities for Ministry
Dunlop, Jamie
4/5. Helpful, but should be titled “Budgeting for a Healthy American Church”.

 

Lectures on Calvinism
Lectures on Calvinism
Kuyper, Abraham
4/5. Rich, but somewhat dated, lectures on why orthodox Protestantism has produced the best culture history has seen.

The Doctrine of Impeccability: A Test Case for the Hypostatic Union

During this time of Christmas, the church rightly turns its attention to the mystery of the Incarnation. That God became man, while remaining fully God, is one of the deepest biblical doctrines to plumb. Whenever there is some intersection of the human and the divine, there is a fathomless mystery at work: divine election and human freedom, divine and human authorship of Scripture, divine agency and human action. So it is with the Incarnation: the mystery of how one Person could come to have two natures, without dividing the Person or mixing the natures. Orthodoxy always seems balanced on a knife-edge: the fall into heresy is swift if one attempts to explain away the biblical data while leaning too heavily to one side or the other.

One way to illustrate the peril and the precision which is required when handling this doctrine is to consider the doctrine of impeccability. Simply put, impeccability states that Christ was not able to sin. When it is put as prosaically as that, the usual pushback is that the doctrine of impeccability makes a farce of Satan’s temptation of Jesus. Why tempt One who is immune to temptation, and unable to fall? One may as well seek to lure herbivores with red meat, or entice the deaf with a beautiful melody.

Those comparisons are flawed, as we’ll see. Before we answer the question of temptation, we should begin with the two natures of Christ, and how they affect impeccability.

Christ is fully God. God cannot sin, for sin is a violation of God’s will and nature. God cannot be other than himself. For this reason, sin is not tempting to God at all (Jas 1:13).

Christ is fully man. Born of a virgin, and through the miracle of divine conception, Jesus was born without a sin nature. Adam before the fall was able not to sin. Adam after the fall, with a sin nature, was not able not to sin. Christ’s human nature was as Adam’s pre-fall: able not to sin.

Whatever is true of the nature propagates to the Person, according to that nature.  According to His divine nature, Christ was not able to sin. According to His human nature, Christ was able not to sin.

Whatever belongs to natures, Christ has two of, and whatever belongs to Persons, Christ has one of. Christ has a divine will (identical to the will of the Triune Godhead), and a human will (“not My will but Thine be done”, Jesus said in the Garden). It is impossible for the divine will to sin. It is possible for the unfallen human will not to sin. These two unite in the hypostatic union, where the Formula of Chalcedon describes the union as, “two natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He was parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ”.

Here we see the nearly unbearable weight of this doctrine upon human understanding. If we were to say that the divine nature cancelled out any ability to sin, that would be the heresy of Eutychianism, mixing the natures. If we said that he never did possess any real human inclinations but only a human body, we’d be guilty of Apollinarianism. If we claimed that “His human side” could sin, we would be guilty of Nestorianism – dividing the person into two. If we claimed that Jesus the Man could sin and only avoid sin because of God’s presence, we’d be close to Ebionism, denying the divinity of Christ.

Instead, we are left with the same kind of conundrums we have in other areas. According to His divine nature, Jesus is omnipresent; according to His human nature, Jesus is localised in a glorified body. According to His divine nature, Jesus was immortal; according to His human nature, Jesus could die. These are both true in the Person, without cancelling the other out.

In the case of impeccability, most theologians have landed on impeccability. There have been exceptions, Charles Hodge and A. W. Tozer being two notable ones. But most have decided that a nature that cannot sin, when united with a nature that is able not to sin, leads to a Person who is not able to sin. Impossibility united with mere potential seems to still result in impossibility. Natures don’t sin, persons do, and it is simply impossible that the Person who is God could sin.

This returns us to the Temptation of Christ. What was the point of tempting an impeccable Person? First, we are not sure of what Satan knew of the incarnate Christ’s peccability. If it is a mystery to us, it could certainly have been a mystery to spiritual forces of darkness. Second, the fact that Jesus could not sin is not the reason He did not sin. It is true that Jesus could not sin. But the writer of Hebrews never posits Christ’s divine nature as the reason for His perfection. Instead, we read that “He learned obedience by the things He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). In other words, Jesus did not sin because of His faith and obedience – the same tools available to us.

Bruce Ware illustrates this with a long distance open-water swimmer. Such swimmers have support boats trailing them. These make it impossible for them to drown. The support boats, however, are not the reason they do not drown. The reason they do not drown is because they keep swimming with endurance, and finish the race. Yes, Jesus had the “support boat” of His divine nature: He could not sin. But the reason He did not sink into sin was that He kept obeying, kept trusting, kept resisting Satan to the end.

Behold, the wondrous mystery: God and Man, the Word made flesh, the born child who is the Mighty God. Come, let us adore Him.

24. Beauty: the Link Between General and Special Revelation

What relevance does understanding beauty in general revelation of creation have for understanding the special revelation of God’s beauty? This is a perennial question asked by evangelicals. What does beauty have to do with evangelism, discipleship, sanctification or church life?

To answer that, we need only consider the many similarities between art and religion. Art, after all, is creation in general revelation: the sub-creation of humans as they make and shape the raw materials of light, paint, colour, sound, words and ideas into imaginative symbols. Consider seven similarities:

1) Art and religion both deal with ultimate realities. Art and religion are sourced in, and aim at, an explanation of ultimate reality. The term ultimate reality refers to reality beyond matter and empirical verification: the regions of truth, morality and beauty. Both art and religion are concerned with these questions.

2) Art and religion both seek to incarnate transcendent realities. Beyond pursuing ultimate realities, both religion and the arts seek to give perceptible expressions to these ultimate realities, that would remain otherwise invisible. This is particularly important for Christianity as an incarnational religion.

3) Art and religion both point to another cosmos. Man seeks a better world, a world of perfection—a redeemed world. Both art and faith call one to seek another world: perfected, idealised, or merely different. Art uses symbolic meaning that transports its audience beyond its material nature, recreating the world. Religion, too, while using words, books, food, or music, points to a world beyond this one.

4) Art and religion both seek a similar form of knowledge. The knowledge that art and religion provide is the broadest and most foundational: the very frame of perception, the locus of value. This knowledge provides the lens through which a society does its thinking and explanatory work.

5) Art and religion are both concerned with creation. Christianity gives an explanation of existence or being that is essentially an explanation of creation. Understanding the world to be made by God, Christianity explains the nature of humankind, its purpose, and the future of the created order in light of this. The arts, as material (sound, paint, words) are necessarily part of creation. Artistic work is an act of sub-creation, not creating ex nihilo as only God can, but creating by using creation.

6) Art and religion are both concerned with transformation. In giving explanations of ultimate reality, both art and religion call for a response. Both speak in ways akin to that of a prophet, calling for some kind of change.

7) Art and religion both depend on the other. Scripture is the final authority for Christians, and Scripture is itself a work of art: a work of literature that contains poetry, epistles, Gospels, wisdom, narrative, apocalyptic and other genres. The Bible being used liturgically is itself an act of aesthetic reception. Scripture commands the use of at least two forms of art: poetry (psalms, hymns and spiritual songs) and music (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Christian worship therefore requires art, even if restricted only to the art of the Bible, such as the exclusive use of psalmody. Art similarly requires religion, even if it borrows the themes and questions that religion claims to answer. When art fails to deal with transcendent matters, it withers into kitsch and sentimentalism or self-referential trivialities, and fails as art.

One of the unfortunate fruits of the Enlightenment is the tendency to regard the aesthetic experience as one separate from faith. In fact, the aesthetic experience has a religious character, and the religious experience is aesthetic. Art requires selfless humility, imaginative faith, and wise judgements, just as Christian spirituality requires receptivity, imagination, and good judgement. These are not disparate experiences, except if one subscribes to the notions of non-religious art or artless religion.

Indeed, the aesthetic experience is actually the mode of perceiving the broadest and most universal things in life: beauty, values, persons, and ethics. In fact, it may be the proper mode to receive any truth at all. T. S. wrote, “Esthetic sensibility must be extended into spiritual perception, and spiritual perception must be extended into esthetic sensibility and disciplined taste before we are qualified to pass judgment upon decadence or diabolism or nihilism in art. To judge a work of art by artistic or by religious standards, to judge a religion by religious or artistic standards should come in the end to the same thing.”

Pursuing God’s beauty does not require the adoption of an unfamiliar or secular aesthetic
mode of approach. It merely requires that one unite what is unjustifiably sundered by Enlightenment secularism. The Christian in pursuit of understanding God’s beauty should abandon the Enlightenment’s view of autonomous human knowledge in the pursuit of beauty, understanding that persons, beauty, and goodness cannot be discovered through mere reason, or through empirical investigation and experimentation. One need only understand that in authentic moments of worship, one has been in the “aesthetic mode” all along: humbly receptive, faithfully interpreting, and discerningly judging.