Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Language is a Portrayal of Reality (Monday with Mounce 173)

Mounce's regular Monday updates are incredibly helpful to anyone struggling to keep Greek alive, and anyone with a reasonable grasp. You don't have to agree to find it mind-expanding.

Language is a Portrayal of Reality (Monday with Mounce 173):
Monday with MounceI am back from Asia, safe and sound. I discovered, among many things, that the native language has four tones, and the differentiation in tones is as significant to them as a change in consonants would be to us. I was trying to say “Thank you” and almost no one recognized my feeble attempt. But when I changed the tone just a tad, their eyes lit up.
It is kind of like slurring the end of a German word. It doesn’t mean much in English since most of the meaning is front-loaded in English, but for German it is significant how a word ends.
I thought a lot about how we say Greek words, especially if you use modern pronunciation and pay attention to the tones (i.e., accents), the voice going up and down, or up and down. Now add another tone. Greek isn’t that hard after all, is it? But I digress.
Someone asked me about the use of present tense verbs in Romans 7:14-20. Does it allow us to see these verses as a description of Paul’s past? Absolutely. Aspect is always primary to time, even in the indicative. The present describes as action from the inside out, as without beginning and end.

I could use a grammatical term like the historical present (although Wallace argues that the use of “I” makes this not possible, page 531f.). Or you could talk about the “I” not being Paul but rather any person who tries to live by the law, in which case the verbs become gnomic, but I think that unlikely as well.

Rather, I go back to  Wallace’s common assertion that language is just a portrayal of reality. Language does not state what is; it is a projection of what we want people to project. This means we use the indicative to lie. It also means our words can create an image in a person’s mind in which we are trying to say, “This is the way it is.”
As I have often said, language is the stringing of one ambiguity after another. Language is not precise, often because it is creating images. It is up to the context to provide, among other things, a chronological framework. Paul is describing something that he knows to be true as it is part of his experience. “I am of the flesh.” “I do not do what I want.” “The law is good.” The flexibility of the Greek language system only adds to the possibility of increased ambiguity and the need for context.
By the way, did you know that Chinese verbs do not have time? Basically, it requires contextual indicators to specify past, present, or future. And all Hebrew readers respond, “Amen.”
Ambiguity upon ambiguity. Language is truly analog, not digital.

MouncewWilliam D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more about Bill at BillMounce.com, and visit his other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at BiblicalTraining.org.

A Corrosive Culture? (Carl Trueman)

Carl Trueman warns about the danger of conferences:

A Corrosive Culture? (Carl Trueman): Paul's post on elders and accountability is most apposite.  One of the elements which the recent celebrity culture in American conservative evangelicalism has fostered is the unspoken conviction that the primary ministry of a church leader does not take place at local level but at large conferences, through ministries detached from ecclesiastical structures or even on websites.   Conferences, specialist organisations and websites have their uses and are extremely helpful in many ways; but they should never be a priority for anyone.  They are occasional tonics and supplements, an encouraging boost or a source of alternative opinion; they are not the real thing. One might say that real Christianity takes place at local level, through the ministry of properly constituted churches with biblical oversight and accountability.  To give conferences, independent 'ministries' and websites decisive influence on anything theological or ecclesiastical is to hand over that which requires careful and clear biblical accountability to those things which have no clear lines of accountability at all.   Eloquence, good writing skills and the ability to market oneself and one's organisation with panache do not amount to what Paul describes as necessary for the preservation of the faith in the Pastoral Letters.

Christian church members who do not spend the vast majority of Sundays each year in the church which is their home congregation are making themselves dangerously unaccountable to those placed in authority over them and charged with the care of their souls. And the minister who does not spend the vast majority of Sundays preaching for the congregation which has called him does the same, only with even greater culpability. He is, after all, unlikely to be held to account for the souls of the people who heard him at the conference; but he will most certainly be held to account for the souls of those who have called him to the pastorate in their congregation. 

As for the free floating Christian leader with his own independent 'ministry:' well, surely the same strictures apply to him as to any other member of the church.  Are there not six days of the week when he can do his thing?  He ought to be back in his home church most Sundays.  And if he is not there, he is scarcely qualified to speak to those who are.

Christians -- all Christians -- need to be rooted in, and serving, local congregations in order to grow under the word.  The current culture therefore needs a reality check.  The contemporary politics of evangelical influence is not conducive to biblical polity.  In fact, it is decidedly corrosive of the same.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Teaching Historical Sense to a Sophisticated and Discerning Lady (Aged 7) (Carl Trueman)

Is pretty Carl. Is pretty good:

Teaching Historical Sense to a Sophisticated and Discerning Lady (Aged 7) (Carl Trueman): I was asked last week why some evangelicals convert to Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism.   Reasons vary, I am sure, but I commented that one theme I have noticed over the years is the fact that evangelicalism lacks historical roots.  That is not to say that it has no history; rather it is to say that a consciousness of history is not part of the package. Rock band worship, Beautiful People everywhere (miserable middle aged plain people need not apply), and history nowhere in sight unless it is a reference in the sermon to an early Coldplay album. On that level, I can understand why people looking for something serious, something with a sense of theological and historical gravitas, simply give up on evangelicalism and start looking elsewhere.   Some adults want a faith that is similarly adult, after all. The questioner followed up by asking what I would suggest churches can do to inculcate such an historical sensibility. Good question. Here are a few ideas:

1. If possible, work towards making sure your church's doctrinal standard is one of the historic creeds or confessions.   We live in an age where, whatever the rhetoric, evangelicalism has its agenda set by individual churches and parachurch groups who write their own doctrinal bases.  That is not theologically obnoxious in itself: many such bases are quite orthodox, if somewhat minimal.  It is arguably a bit odd: it is hard to imagine the automobile industry being run by groups who keep redesigning the wheel and claiming it as a major breakthrough, after all.  And, of course, it does nothing to fuel respect for biblically normed historical confessional and ecclesiastical tradition.  So, if you have the choice, try to define your church in terms of something historic, not a half-decent document put together last week by a bunch of Top Men in a hotel conference room.

2. Deliberately mine the historic tradition of psalmody and hymnody for worship.  Not that anything written by anyone still alive is to be excluded.  Far from it.  But try to make sure the songs of worship reflect the chronological sweep of the church's life, from the Book of Psalms onwards.  Make people aware that praise did not begin six months ago.

3. Learn from historic patterns of worship.  There is a reason why each Sunday at the church where I preach we have a Bible reading followed by a prayer of confession followed by an elder reading words of forgiveness from scripture.  It dramatises the dynamic of salvation; and it connects the Sunday service at my home church with patterns of worship throughout the centuries.

4. Pepper your sermons with historical references.  That does not mean that you need to mention Calvin or 'the Doctor' in hushed tones every time you expound the word.   Too often that kind of reference functions merely as a shibboleth.  But help people to see how what you are saying is important and connects to what the church has believed through the ages.

5. Have the congregation recite a creed or a part of an historic confession during the service.  Not necessarily every Sunday but with some regularity.    And explain the historical, ecumenical power of such: that by so doing you are publicly identifying with Christians across the world the throughout the ages.

6. Give away free books as part of your regular ministry and make sure you include books on church history.  Further, make sure you do such book giveaways for the children as often as for the adults. At Cornerstone we do one for adults and one for children every month.  It is good to get them young and introduce them to the history of the church.   And there are some excellent contemporary children's authors who write on church history: for example, Simonetta Carr, Irene Howat and Linda Finlayson (the latter I believe, connected in some sinister way to the shadowy figure known to the world as the Librarian). 

Just as a postscript, my experience indicates that certain children love this stuff.  A week ago at coffee time after the morning service, one lady (aged 7) in my church approached me  to remind me (with what I detected as just a hint of gentle - and appropriate - rebuke in her voice) that it was time to give some more children's history books away and that I should remember that 'girls like reading stories about girls and boys like reading stories about boys.'  So yesterday I gave out two of Simonetta's books on Lady Jane Grey and two on Augustine.  

All the children have to do for me is draw a picture of some incident in the book which I can then hang over my desk in my church office. It is a good deal as far as they are concerned.  More importantly, they start thinking historically even before they know that that is what they are doing.   We need to start thinking now about how to set things up for the next generation, and that not simply theologically but historically too.

Monday, 14 January 2013

“A Hymn To God The Father” by John Donne

Such a comfort. Quoted on the Tolle Lege Blog.

“A Hymn To God The Father” by John Donne:
“A Hymn To God The Father”

By John Donne, (1573–1631)
Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,

Which was my sin, though it were done before?

Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,

And do run still, though still I do deplore?

When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,

For I have more.
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won

Others to sin, and made my sin their door?

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun

A year or two, but wallow’d in, a score?

When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,

For I have more.
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun

My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;

But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son

Shall shine as He shines now, and heretofore;

And, having done that, Thou hast done;

I fear no more.
–John Donne, “A Hymn to God the Father,” in The Complete English Poems (New York: Penguin, 1977), 348-349.

Uncle Rudd

My great uncle Rudd Lee Gow—my father's mother's brother—used to box in Jimmy Sharman's Boxing Troupe. This Bob Marchant painting reminded me of him.
I can't work out if he is in this photo of the troupe (from Ballarat in 1934, in the Museum of Victoria Collection), but the date sounds right.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

What The Bible Considers "Trouble"

A good word from one of the blogs I follow:

What The Bible Considers "Trouble": "No ill befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble" (Proverbs 12:21).

When the Bible talks about the follower of Christ being free from trouble, it isn't talking about temporal trouble. Jesus promised his disciples in John 16:33 that "in the world" they will have tribulation. What the Bible is saying is that the Christian will not be ultimately harmed but will be brought safely through all the trials of this world and into Heaven at the last.

The Bible also does not say that "the wicked" (all of us who scorned and rejected Christ) will necessarily lead troubled and unhappy lives on this earth. But the Bible does make clear that the rejector of Christ is '"storing up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will appear" (Romans 2:5). In this way they are "filled with trouble" and this trouble certainly begins in this temporal life, even though it may not be outwardly apparent.

This is a brief, brief life; begun and then quickly over, and then eternity, and the great settling of all accounts before God. The righteous will suffer no harm in that accounting, because they have placed all their hope for rescue from wrath in the work of Christ on the cross.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Public Inauguration of a New Moral McCarthyism

Yes, I think this is right.

The Public Inauguration of a New Moral McCarthyism:
“The Presidential Inaugural Committee and the White House have now declared historic, biblical Christianity to be out of bounds, casting it off the inaugural program as an embarrassment. By its newly articulated standard, any preacher who holds to the faith of the church for the last 2,000 years is persona non grata…”

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Saturday, 5 January 2013

Imagining cities at night with no electric lights, only stars [10 pictures]

Abraham Piper's blog is eclectic, funny and visual:

Imagining cities at night with no electric lights, only stars [10 pictures]:
In his series “Darkened Cities,” photographer Thierry Cohen manipulates his photos to make various major municipalities around the world appear to have no electricity…

Hong Kong

New York

Rio de Janeiro

San Francisco

Sao Paulo



Friday, 4 January 2013

How to conduct theological debate in a godly way

According to Martin Luther:

I have, to be sure, sharply attacked ungodly doctrines in general, and I have snapped at my opponents, NOT because of their bad morals, but because of their ungodliness. Rather than repent this in the least, I have determined to persist in that fervent zeal and to despise the judgment of men, following the example of Christ who in His zeal called His opponents 'a brood of vipers', 'blind fools', 'hypocrites', 'children of the devil'.

Find the quote here, in Luther's The Freedom of a Christian.

It would be wise not to follow Luther in every detail, but here surely his approach is as wise and godly as it is counterintuitive to the spirit of our age.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Romanticism & Christianity 1

A friend, Andrew Moody, has promised a series. Yay! I'll be reading.

Romanticism & Christianity 1:
Scene from Pixar's movie "Up"

Today, to coincide with an essay published in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald I am going to begin a series of posts on Romanticism and Christianity. I am convinced that our culture be understood apart from understanding its Romantic sensibility, and that Christianity has important things to say to it.

What do I mean by Romanticism?

Romanticism has had enough definition and redefinition to make scholars throw up their hands. Historically it is associated with a reaction to modernity in the arts in the 17th and 18th centuries (I am only secondarily interested in that). Culturally, Romanticism is something much broader. Here’s my working defintion:

Romanticism is an act of the imagination which indulges the idea of richer and more emotionally satisfying worlds, times and modes of life.

Of course Romanticism is popularly associated with the idea of romantic relationships – which is understandable since we commonly believe that finding the right mate will fulfil us – but it also encompasses far more. For example:
  • Children’s stories are traditionally Romantic. Victorian children’s literature trades on the idea that there was once a free, joyful period in our early lives – a time where magic and adventure were plausible.

    At their most Romantic, children’s stories themselves explicitly incorporate nostalgic elements that remind us that childhood cannot last: Peter Pan; the final scenes in The House at Pooh Corner; the barring of older children from Narnia. Pixar, the most successful contemporary purveyors of children’s stories exploit this theme repeatedly – fils such as Up, The Incredibles and Up are suffused with a sadness of lost glories and joys that cannot last.
  • Cinema is, of course, thoroughly Romantic. When they convert your life into a movie it will be more exciting than it really was and you will be played by an actor who is better looking than you. But almost every genre of cinema is Romantic:
    • superhero stories imagine humans as gods;
    • action movies and thrillers allow us to journey with people stronger & smarter than ourselves;
    • science fiction movies imagine humans living among the stars;
    • dystopian movies might recall the present in a more golden hue;
    • romantic-comedies… obviously.
  • Much political and social theory tends to be Romantic. Left-wing politics is particularly prone to the Romantic spirit, a fact that can be glimpsed in:
    • the general instinct that non-Western cultures are more interesting (and sometimes more righteous);
    • the Marxist notion that a golden age (an end to history) might be ushered in through political action – particularly revolution;
    • green politics that attempts to move toward a world where humans live in Eden-like harmony with nature.
  • But there is Romanticism on the right too. Conservatives like to dream of a world pacified by free-trade agreements and democratic process. Fascists look toward a localised utopia with a unified culture and purified race.
  • We have Romantic ideals for our own lives. At the present moment this can be seen clearly in “Hipster” nostalgia for depression-era fashion, music and crafts, or in the Steampunk aesthetic which finds its starting point in the industrial revolution. But Romanticism can also be found in the preference for “extreme” sports; the dream of travel to exotic locations; the search for more creative and fulfilling work; various “good-life” TV shows which deal with food and renovation; the idea of making it big on a talent competition etc etc.
Am I defining Romanticism so broadly that it can encompasses pretty much everything? Yes, that’s the half the point.

Some random observations concerning Romanticism

Romanticism can often be sad because it imagines that the best times are past or passing.
(Left) Turner’s “Fighting Temeraire” (1839) offers a classic expression of Romantic sentiment – it depicts (in exaggerated tones) the final voyage of a majestic Napolean era battleship being towed up the Thames to be scrapped by an ugly steam tug.


Romanticism can be extremely dangerous if it imagines those times to be attainable (or recoverable) through political action (see above).
(Left) ”Arbeitsmaiden” by Leopold Schmutzler (1940) illustrates the Romantic impulse in German facism.

Romanticism frequently turns toward nature because it is here that the Romantic feels the pull of the transcendent.
(Left) Caspar Friedrich’s “Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon” (c. 1824). Doyen of Romantic painters, Friedrich’s scenes often depict wild and lonely locations with few human subjects.

Romanticism is peculiarly vulnerable to the accusation of sentimentalism – of pursuing emotion for emotions sake without any good reason for it. For the same reason it can easily slide into kitsch.
(Left) Recently deceased, and super-prolific, Thomas Kincaid remains the quintessential example of kitsch Romantic for respectable art critics. His work remains hugely popular at a popular level.

3 reasons to nix those New Year’s resolutions

Cool! A smart guy agrees with me!

3 reasons to nix those New Year’s resolutions:
CBS Moneywatch asked David Allen about New Year’s resolutions. His advice? Nix ‘em!

3 reasons to nix those New Year’s resolutions

January 1 always offers a tantalizing gift: the chance to start over again. We think that the right resolutions will make us more productive, healthy and successful. But productivity guru David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done” (and the creator of the widely-adopted GTD system) says that he doesn’t make New Year’s resolutions. Here’s why—and why you should reconsider the practice, too:
1. Review your life more frequently.  Allen and GTD enthusiasts schedule regular reviews (usually weekly) to study any open loops and look at where things are going.
2. Focus on the positive. “People don’t pat themselves on the back like they ought to do,” says Allen. Instead of New Year’s resolutions—which focus on what you haven’t managed to do in your life—he recommends trying New Year’s “recollections.” Allen and his wife sit down and reminisce about, “basically, what did we accomplish, what did we experience that was cool and interesting?”
3. Finish old business—and gain inspiration. “People would be much farther ahead just cleaning up at the end of the year, as opposed to moving things forward,” says Allen. “If you try to set goals—to recalibrate or refocus—and you’ve got old business hanging around your neck like an albatross, good luck,” says Allen. After all, most New Year’s resolutions fail. But tackling a few things on your to-do list? That you can do, and success breeds success.
Do you make New Year’s resolutions?

You can read the full article here.

Wonderful piece on hobbits and the like in the Age (and SMH) from one of my favourite theologians, Andrew Moody.
Hobbits, notes J.R.R. Tolkien at the start of their eponymous story, are easily forgotten, largely overlooked, and have little or no magic about them. Or not. In the 75 years since he penned those words, The Hobbit has sold more than 100 million copies. In its opening weekend, Peter Jackson's first instalment of the movie version broke records around the world. Clearly there is something a little magical about hobbits after all. The interesting question, however, is what that magic is. Why should an English boffin's fairytale of elves, wizards and dragons continue to command such devotion? What craving does it satisfy? To its literary critics, The Hobbit's success is simply a sign of widespread immaturity. The story, with its faux mediaeval cadences and reactionary archetypes is mere escapism - intellectual comfort-food for the politically disengaged. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, modernists and progressives muttered in protest as this ''juvenile trash'' (to quote Edmund Wilson) waxed in popularity and repeatedly won popular votes for most important book and author. A prominent expatriate Australian lamented that Tolkien's ascendancy was a nightmare come true, and heralded a general flight from reality. Advertisement Less dismissive evaluations have tended to major on broader social contexts. Despair in the wake of the world wars and grief over modernity's failures are frequently offered as explanations for both the book and its reception. From this angle, Tolkien's works are seen as both a turning away from contemporary evils and as romantic elegy to a (real or imagined) lost world where humans lived in proximity to nature, objects were made by hand, and battles, if necessary, could be fought with honour. The two assessments, of course, are not mutually exclusive - the second seeks to explain while the first merely judges. In any case, the social-historical perspective is insufficient. If the appeal of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were simply a matter of hankering for old times, then surely any historical drama would serve. Why this story? And what part do the supernatural and fantastical elements play in it? Without doubt, these are questions to which many true answers may be given: Laura Miller's recent insights concerning the way both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis bring together the homely and wild come to mind; as do Tom Shippey's observations concerning the importance of Tolkien's expertise in language. But we might also do well to pay attention to Tolkien's own thoughts on what he was doing. In an important essay, On Fairy-Stories , where Tolkien himself seeks to define and defend the fantasy genre, we find him unashamed to allow that it is both escapist and backward-looking. The impulse to escape, he argues, is indeed an appropriate response to the ugliness of the Industrial Age: but it also answers a sense of loss that goes deeper than that. Fairy stories and fantasy speak to the condition of humans separated from God and from other parts of the created order. Elves and talking animals console humans in their self-wrought alienation from heavenly realms. Fairy stories reassure us that morality will be rewarded and promise-keeping will be vindicated. Magic interrupts the sad patterns and necessities of mortal life with a joyful glimmer that there may still be an intervention from beyond this world - a happy ending, or ''eucatastrophe'', as he dubbed it. None of this means that Tolkien's work is simply a cypher for his Catholic convictions; he made his distaste for such allegorising clear. But he does believe that all successful fairytales respond to the human predicament as it is described in Christian doctrine. Indeed he will go so far as to argue that the story of Jesus Christ ''embraces all the essence of fairy stories''. With the concrete historical coming of Christ, the aspiration of the fantasy writer is raised to fulfilment. In the words of C.S. Lewis (who Tolkien converted to Christianity by this very argument) Christianity is the ''true myth'' that answers the longing expressed in every successful fairytale and fantasy. Whether we judge his opinion right or wrong, this is an approach that is capable of taking fantasy literature and its fans seriously. We love The Hobbit, not because we are immature, or because we are sentimental. We love it because it reflects and refracts the deepest - the most real - joys, sadnesses and hopes of being human. Andrew Moody is a Melbourne writer and lecturer in theology. Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/fairytales-magic-helps-define-our-morality-20130102-2c5fd.html#ixzz2Grul9nMv