Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Understanding In The Mind of the Spirit and The Mind of Flesh

John Scotus Erigena (ca. 810-ca.870) in his work, “On the Division of Nature,” wrote concerning the kind of mind that is able to see the Creator in the things He has made (we call this “natural revelation” or “general revelation). He wrote that we can see evidence of the creator, but are unable to discern the details concerning Him. The details He does give concerning Himself however, are staggering as we are able to scientifically subdivide creation into smaller categories (“essence, genre, species, differences and individuals”, whether things are in motion or immobile). Erigena correctly states that when we look the existence of things, we understand The Creator exists; when we look at the order of things, we can see His wisdom; by the way things move, we can see The Creator is living. This simply means that a mind that can think is able to acknowledge The Creator--but that is all.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:11-16)

Here we have an amazing explanation of how the mind of man works: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14). There is a natural and a spiritual working of mind. One is in the flesh, the other in The Spirit. Understanding of spiritual matters does not come by human reason, so one outside the faith “naturally” responds to spiritual matters with misunderstanding.

The other day I received an e-mail from a fellow with one simple question: “can you speak Arabic?” I cannot speak, read, write, nor can I think in Arabic; however, if I were born and raised in a culture that does speak, read and write Arabic, I would be able to do much more in that language. Creation helps us understand the existence of The Creator (such as my observing Arabic words on page), but to understand The Creator Himself requires that something happen to me spiritually. Knowing things of God is not the same as knowing Him.

Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years’” (Genesis 6:3). Matthew Henry helps us understand three major principles found in this small verse. First, The Holy Spirit speaks to the conscience and convicts of sin for the purpose of turning man from sinful flesh to God. If the Holy Spirit is resisted, quenched and the person would rather stay in his sin, He will not continue His work and the person will die in their sin. Second, all mankind have a corrupt nature and the soul is inclined to stay in sin and oppose the Spirit. When one takes sides in the flesh against the Spirit, the Spirit will withdraw. “None lose the Spirit's strivings but those that have first forfeited them.” Finally, there is a measure of grace in that God does not allow one to die in his sin immediately. God gives space, further opportunity for one to repent and come to know Him fully, that He may be enjoyed forever. “The time of God's patience and forbearance towards provoking sinners is sometimes long, but always limited: reprieves are not pardons; though God bear a great while, he will not bear always.”

The follower of Christ has a responsibility. Since we have received the Spirit of God and understand the things freely given by God (1 Corinthians 1:12), we are to speak and teach in the power of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 1:13), who gives understanding to those who are willing to reason. This may require our reliance on other gifts of the Spirit, such as love and patience, as we persist as long as the Spirit leads.

If you have received the Spirit of God, are you actively engaging others in dialogue, using what God has made known about Himself to make Himself known? We must pray in the preparation, pray in the going, pray in the acting and pray until they know Him. It is entirely possible for one to see and still not be reconciled to God, to have understanding but not understand. It is possible for one to be taught but never learn. A person sees the truth we profess when we engage them in the power of God’s Spirit, doing His Work His Way.

Monday, August 30, 2010

On: William Faulkner

I can’t say it was defeat, but I can’t chalk up a “victory” either. I often get distracted by the rabbit trails of footnotes and parenthetical notes, so when I read of the contributions and influence of William Faulkner on American literature, I just had to bump at least a couple of his works up on my reading list. Now I can scratch him off.

I first chose the smaller work, “As I Lay Dying.” This book has its own rhythm, a certain poetic feel at times and is very descriptive with sights and sounds. Many readers mention the humor of the book and others comment on the profound philosophy also contained therein. I had great difficulty connecting up much of the action. The little humor I did find was indeed very creative, such as the description of towing the aged and overweight doctor uphill by rope; or, the reason for putting Addie Bundren “head to foot” in her casket (to make room for her dress--that's what happens when men bury a woman). One profound philosophical nugget (“it takes two people to make you, and one people to die”) is reminiscent of the kind that comes after too many shots of whiskey (don’t ask me how I know that).

This novel correctly reminds us of the struggle to live in the face of death. It shows the impact of death on family of variant ages. It even reminds us that we no longer live as close family. When death comes, geography absorbs the impact.

“As I Lay Dying” is no easy read. Each chapter is from the perspective of a different character, sometimes carrying the action forward, sometimes going back to something that already happened. Faulkner is adept at weaving in and out of narrative, dialogue, recollection, contemplation and reaction.

Pressing on to his “magnum opus,” I then picked up “Absalom, Absalom.” I’ve read synopsis, critical remarks, and a few notes, but was simply unable to get past the first chapter. I am fairly accustomed to archaic language (and a couple of ancient ones, like Greek and Hebrew), but reading "Absalom, Absalom," is like getting into those one-sided conversations with an overtalkative person who says absolutely nothing. It took 20 pages to say, “the man moved here and built a house.” Sorry, but I just could not do it. A bit too much like Hawthorne in some ways, but Hawthorne moved us through the story.

Perhaps in the 1930’s people were less distracted and were thinking at a different level for this kind of material.

Perhaps Faulkner’s story telling (definitely a style of his own) is an acquired taste, like eating asparagus (bleh).

Regardless, I’ve never been so relieved to cross an author off my list. I appreciate when I have to work for something, but that kind of work is not for me.

Friday, August 27, 2010

"The Road" by Cormac McCarthy

Last May I made the comment that a good writer shows the reader what to see in narrative, he does not merely tell. Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” accomplishes this effortlessly, making the reader shiver in the cold, squint in the dark, feel the hunger and experience the smell. Why discuss the book, and not the movie? There are elements of McCarthy’s writing that are non-translatable to any screen.

His distinct, uncluttered writing style that carried him through the years is perfected in this novel. Forceful use of sentence fragments and a plethora of conjunctions drives the action (demonstrating a heavy dependence on the style of William Faulker). A rich vocabulary of carefully chosen words are treasures in the desolate landscape he presents in this work. He gives us in form what the plot of the book demands--barrenness.

“The Road” is brutal: entire days pass in a paragraph, immense passages of time that characterize the journey are felt in literal space on the page. The writer makes each page a canvas. New scenes are introduced and reintroduced in ash, and are closed with the reassurance that everything will be ok (so why am I holding my breath with every page turn?). This “colorless world of wire and crepe” where the sun is shines “like a grieving mother with a lamp,” one critic has correctly described as “Godot-like.” That says much, assuming one knows Beckett.
The artistry of McCarthy’s writing is masterful. Themes of light and dark, life and death, hunger and satisfaction, cold and warmth, love and hate, safety and danger—all these are among those that create the framework of the book. The mood is set and nearly never changes, but one may find elements of hope in the same way one looks over the shoulder. Other ways are nearly missed: several times the author goes out his way to help the reader understand which jar, bottle or containers is “half full;” only once does he say that something was half-empty (and that was a can of coffee). Hope is alive, but what is it?

“The Road” is also brutal in the sense that depravity is the action of the book, and this is beyond the cruelty of survival. Everything beautiful is already destroyed, so what is “good” and what is “bad?” The absurdist philosophy of meaninglessness and hopelessness shows occasionally, that death is preferred over life (or is it?). Happiness does not even enter the discussion. Moral and philosophical absolutes are as absent as his own quotation marks. Speaking through the character of “the man,” McCarthy presents what may be the core of the story: “In what direction do lost men veer? Perhaps it changed with hemispheres. Or handedness. Finally he put it out of his mind. The notion that there could be anything to correct for” [quotation marks, mine].

This author received Pulitzer prizes for his work, and is hailed as the one of the greatest authors of our time. His books are best-selling, recognized for their entertainment value to the place that many of his works have been very successful on the silver screen. There is a definite element that makes this and others of his works (“No Country For Old Men,” for example) fall in the “horror” genre’. His work is mesmerizing, reflecting the deep depravity of man and the accompanying desperation for salvation.

He is fascinated with death and dying. Once, McCarthy was quoted to say that he does not understand the author who does not write about either. Is there salvation, hope? The Old Man philosophizes, "When we're all gone at last there'll be nobody here but death and his days will be numbered too. He'll be out in the road there with nothing to do and nobody to do it to."

This book can be downright offensive with its depravity and brutality, yet it's ending (here the movie miserably fails) gives the reader an unexpected turn that redefines the kind of hope being searched for by father and son. Perhaps we need a little of that, to snap us out of complancey--especially for those who live "in a bubble."

The reader is caused to face mortality (often) and to consider what is most important: what is hope, what does it look like, is it attainable, and what happens if you find it?

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Truth in Religion

Solomon was right: there is nothing new under the sun. Augustine (November 13, 354 – August 28, 430), demonstrated the absurdity of the idea that truth cannot be found, an idea held by many in his day. This idea still persists, and the absurdity still stands. Truth calls man into account, and the attempt to deny truth is an attempt to reject accountability. If there is no truth, then one may do as he pleases, regardless of the implications on others. If there is no truth, then there remains nothing with which to charge a criminal. “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.” (Winston Churchill)

Nevertheless, man cannot tolerate ruptured relationships, so he must charge an offender with something—truth is more than probable. Those who concede that truth exists find themselves recipients of an invitation to reason with the author of truth. The options are few, so consider: the one who will not reason is intolerant and the one who will not reason does not want freedom. The nature of the discussion is the relationship between God and man is broken, and God is at work at repairing the breach with the offender.

Isaiah 1:10-20 is God speaking to hyper-religious people who were far from living in the context of truth. They sacrifice, give offerings, are regular attendees, burn incense, deeply devoted, fellowship often, and are fervent in prayer. God says their offerings are worthless and mean nothing to Him; they are a burden to Him; He cannot look at them and turns a deaf ear. Why? Because in all their effort, there is no truth. Even these people God calls evil, unclean. What they do is not good, there is no justice but ruthlessness (ferociousness) in their actions. Religiously, they were perfect, but there is no relationship with God. There is no abiding in truth.

Americans today are unable to identify the religious system followed by the President. What is more concerning is that Americans today are unable to be identified either! God’s perspective says that religiously, we are professionals; relationally, we are compromised. There needs to be a cleansing from sin, not mere forgiveness while sin continues unabated. Has anyone ever asked, “what is the ‘truth’ of my religion?” Christians are mostly those in name only, and this is blasphemy. Western Christians are practical atheists, living like truth is subjective, looking out for personal interests.

God offers a solution that leads to freedom: “come now, let us reason together” (v. 18). This is followed by two “if” statements: “if you consent and obey,” (v. 19) and “if you refuse and rebel” (v. 20a). These options are sealed with a promise, “truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (v. 20b). What are the terms of “if” #1? Simple: reason with God; that is, He is going to show you something (your heart) and what needs to be done about it. He says, “your sins are as scarlet . . . red like crimson (v. 18). God wants white, not red. God is presented with so much religiosity that He wants nothing to do with us because of sin. Agree with God how He sees the heart and by faith trust that He will both cleanse and forgive. “If you consent and obey” means you are willing to accept His invitation and think this through. Receive a blessing by doing something about that which offends God.

What are the terms of “if” #2? Well, it is just as simple: God is going to show you the same thing (your heart) and what needs to be done about it. If you will not agree with how God sees your heart and you are unwilling to accept His invitation to reason with Him, “if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” There is a payoff for keeping your little paper bag of sin and not exchanging it for what lies behind Door #1—you get death because there is no life in godlessness.

The one who will walk with God must have life that aligns profession and practice by faith in Christ Jesus—He is Way, Truth and Life. Is this something I can merely “improve” by trying harder? Read through Isaiah 1:10-20 again. God says we get to quit trying when we are reconciled to Him by His way.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Hazard of Getting Your Own Way

Somewhere in my reading list is Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” (perhaps I will read it sooner than later). This short work is supposed to be the definitive book on war and has been studied for centuries. I will be bringing a treatment of the book at this time; rather, I would like to concentrate on a passage in Matthew’s gospel that is very helpful for followers of Christ who face opposing viewpoints that amount to a different kind of warfare altogether. This is not the kind of warfare that constitutes the arm-wrestling of ideas, and the best debater wins. Instead, this is the kind of warfare that battles for clear thinking on the foundation of truth.

Our Lord Jesus Christ has been doing ministry in Galilee with Simon and others. Having already faced opposition at home, a multitude of people were following Jesus despite His withdrawal following the Sabbath controversy (He healed a lame man and people were seeking to kill Him for breaking the Sabbath and for saying He was equal with God). The Sermon on the Mount followed the appointing of the twelve, and His fame grew despite His continuous preaching on repentance. Now the Jewish leaders begin to make blasphemous accusations concerning Jesus, and they start by bring Him a demon-oppressed man who was also blind and mute (Matthew 12:22).

Jesus immediately heals the man, which brought two reactions. First, the people were amazed: “can this be the son of David?” (12:23). Second, the Pharisees shrugged off the miracle saying, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons that this man casts out demons.” (12:24) They were not interested in the man or the fact that Jesus was able to do the works He did per se. They were consumed with being contrary to Jesus. This kind of thing still happens today.

A number of years ago my wife was working as a nurse’s assistant in a nursing home. Late one night she and another assistant fell into a deep conversation on spiritual matters: the lady asking deep, “heart-felt” questions, and my wife answering to the best of her ability from scripture. If I remember right, there may have been a brief period of prayer together as this woman sought out the Lord. The next couple of days, my wife was seriously reprimanded by a superior regarding accusations for some ridiculous activities that never happened, that were all lies (such as refusing to work and throwing herself down on a couch in a crying tantrum, etc). My darling wife was moved to the most difficult section of the home permanently. Guess the source of the accusations?

The reaction of Jesus to the action of the scribes and Pharisees is quite interesting. First, He defends, then He opposes them by showing them the absurdity of their argument: a divided kingdom, city, or house cannot stand. “If Satan is behind this exorcism, then he is using his authority to undermine his own dominion, a patently absurd situation . . . . Being the adversary of God and man, he would never work to restore a man from the debilitating effects of demon possession.” (Howell, Don. The Passion of the Servant: A Journey to the Cross. Eugene: Resource, 2009.

The opponents can’t get a word in edgewise, because Jesus is still talking. “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.” (Matthew 12:27) The Pharisees themselves had to answer for their own experience, for exorcism (as such) was a money-making business. Think about it: even pagans acknowledge the existence of demons, some they call “good” and others, “bad.” There were professionals in Jesus’ day who were in the business of selling spiritual “protection” through prayers and other religious paraphernalia –perhaps not too much unlike many of our religion stores today . . .

This is all part of the deception of demons. They pretend to leave, only to come back again—and hell-bound people “play the game” while the devils laugh. Shortly after this whole incident, Jesus describes what happens to a spirit that leaves a man (for whatever reason): it is restless then returns with seven more “and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation” (Matthew 12:44-45).

It is easy to help those who want help, and I imagine the demon-oppressed man wanted to be delivered; however, the Pharisees were just as blind, deaf and oppressed. They did not want help. There are two kinds of people: those who want help and those who don’t. Much like the woman who made life difficult for my wife—she wanted information to use against my wife—she was not interested in being helped. The Lord Jesus said this generation is evil and overly demonically oppressed. We should not be surprised, but forewarned.

Jesus does something quite intriguing: He does not stay on the defensive, but now takes the offense. “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28) Satan would have man think that all men are under his control. Jesus said, “I’m a man” then defeated Satan with the authority that is all His in the power of the Holy Spirit. Note: Satan has not surrendered, but the Holy Spirit is still active today. Jesus actually gives an option that holds out hope to his opponents, if only they will acknowledge the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:30-31)

And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32) If anyone denies the truth revealed by the Holy Spirit, that one will never repent. Honest doubts and questions will be forgiven when a person repents, but if one is not under conviction and being taught by the Spirit, he will not come to God.

When we face opposition, we can ask questions that can help shed light on bad thinking:
“What do you mean when you say . . .” and “How did you come to that conclusion?” are rational ways we can help people think through their opposition; but for those who will not relent, insisting on keeping their ground (no matter how irrational it is), “have it your way” is the most horrible thing a sinner can hear. All we can say is, “have a nice judgment day!”

Monday, August 23, 2010

Uncle Jay Comments on NYC's Hollered Ground

Protestors chanting on both sides at the Ground Zero mosque have truly turned it into Hollered Ground. This issue is so complicated, it can’t even be explained in 140 characters! Thank goodness we have Uncle Jay!!

"The Apologists’ Evening Prayer" by C.S. Lewis

I am personally not a huge “drop everything” fan of C.S. Lewis, but I do appreciate many of his contributions. This sonnet goes nearly unnoticed and unmentioned of his writings:

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
at which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle's eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

Lewis’ transparency is staggering, for here he presents to the world the weakness of his argument: himself. Recall that apologetics is defending the faith, and here C.S. Lewis confesses that every flaw in speaking on behalf of The Almighty lies with himself. Winning an argument for the sake of proving a point is not the purpose of apologetics. Winning is lame, victory is a mere mark on the scorecard and the all witty cleverness that brought the house down makes angels weep.

Our actions speak louder than our words, so having the best intellectual argument means nothing when our lives do not follow suit. What Lewis is asking is for deliverance from himself, for sin clouds the clarity of God’s purity.

Lewis says “thoughts are but coins.” A thought is a self-contained mental form. I believe Lewis has in mind the minting process by which a coin is made, where an image is stamped on a lifeless thing. He asks for God to let him trust in the very person of He Who Is True and Living instead of an idea that easily becomes thin and worn.

A thought, like a coin, can be a throw away thing that covers well-bottoms.
A thought, like a coin, secures the purchase of an item meets our needs/wants at our command.

We do not put our faith in a representation—this is idolatry--and a god kept in a comfortable image is mockery. Lewis asks to be freed from his thoughts, which become improper when the thought itself is substituted for The Person.

The Apologist needs no other argument, no other plea. He needs The One who is Enough, “and that He died for me.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

"The Book of Eli" (spoiler alert): Is God blind?

Well, some of you kept telling me to see “The Book of Eli” and I finally have. We don’t rush out to see movies right when they come out for a few reasons, one of which is to let the dust settle—get the hype out of the way and watch the piece without distraction. We saw the film and here are my observations (and yes, I am intentionally repetitive):

The characters of the film are Eli, Carnegie, Solara, Redridge (Carnegie’s “right-hand man”) and Claudia and their symbolism is tied directly to the plot

The main character is Eli (Denzel Washington) who is on foot, making his way to some destination in the west to deliver a special book he is guarding with his life. Eli literally translated from the Hebrew is “My God,” so the title of the film is really “The Book of My God.” Eli is The Bible in a way appreciated by fans of Ray Bradbury’s “Farenheit 451.”

Carnegie (Gary Oldman) just so happens to be looking for a specific book. Despite the “survival mode” demanded by the setting (he may own the last shampoo bottle on earth) it is quite odd to be looking for a book—even this one—but then Carnegie is odd. When he discovers that Eli might have what he is looking for, he pursues Eli with every intention of acquiring it. Carnegie might be a reference to “The Carnegie Foundation for The Advancement of Teaching” (founded in 1905 by Andrew Carnegie to better build knowledge through teaching. There is saying that literature is the scripture of the Gnostics). While Carnegie rejects all other books brought to him by his illiterate minions (and I ask, “really?”), he is after the “source of all knowledge” with the desire of ushering in a revival of his own through the mystical powers of this particular. Carnegie’s influence is exercised by the spontaneous and bloody Redridge (Ray Stevenson), a synonym for a bloody blade.

Claudia (Jennifer Beals) is Carnegie’s wife—concubine might better describe her. This is a name that harkens back to any number of ancient figures, but some that might be implied here are Claudia, the wife of Nero; or, to Claudia Procula, the wife of Pontias Pilate (incidentally, Gary Oldman played Pontias Pilate in the 1999 movie “Jesus”, and “Jean Baptiste” in “The Fifth Element”). Her daughter is Solara (Mila Kunis) whose name means, “the sun”, later seems to become a protégé of Eli’s cause.

The story begins with a visual description of devastation and the desperation of survival. Eli winds his way westward meeting a variety of situations that allow the viewer to understand this man is a fighting machine (he chooses his fights), and is quite adept with a blade and other weapons. His journey takes him to an unnamed town where he crosses paths with Carnegie, who wants his book. Eli flees with an unwelcome companion (Solara) through scenarios reminiscent of “The Road,” and Mad Max films.

The thrust of the plot communicates the supposition that mystical powers are bestowed on the one who possesses this last copy of Bible. This is what drives Carnegie’s search for this Holy Grail: power. Man seeks power in a world destroyed by the misuse of power? Really? Is that all there is for a plot?

There is great difficulty trying to find an issue this film actually touches: there is nothing redemptive. One great example of this concerns the message of the Bible itself: God’s missionary heart. The character Eli fails to share the book and the contents of the book. For one as close to the contents as he is, why doesn’t he do what it says? There are prayers in the movie, and the acknowledgement of God, but what kind of God is He? He is clearly not the God of the Bible.

Eli is blind, and there are clues to his blindness throughout the film (heightened senses exercised in a “Daredevil” kind of way). Eli is The Bible in a Ray Bradbury “Farenheit 451” way; but there stirs a curiosity with a heavy implication: is “My God” blind? Considering the setting of the film (a world destroyed by nuclear holocaust), is the deity suggested by the story more concerned about getting a copy of His Book on a shelf between Torah and Qur’an than what happened to the world and the people in it? His blindness is further suggestive in Eli’s over-protection of the Bible: that the message of The Bible is not for all mankind but is to be preserved as literature (anyone paying attention to literature would know that the Bible is the most quoted book in existence, so it is impossible to destroy all copies). This completely misses the message of scripture.

There is a heavy suggestion that literature is worth something, but the writers completely miss one crucial point: the Bible is the most-quoted book of all time (beyond the fact it is also the best-selling). Destroying all copies of the Bible is impossible, for most all literature itself would have to be destroyed. The Bible can be completely reproduced from quotes alone, references and all.

A question I often ask people is, “Why do they call the Bible ‘The Good Book’ if it is filled with all sorts of violence: rape, war, incest, etc?” This is an appropriate question to ask here amongst the rolling heads, blood splatters, suggested cannibalism and general debauchery. The main issue clearly delivered by the film is the depravity of man both in the making of the story and in the story itself. Scripture shows how sinful man is and what God has done to rescue man from the penalty, power and presence of sin. The bigger question now is: what is man’s response to what God has done? The merely delivery of a book is nothing—the contents are everything.

Perhaps this movie should stand as a warning: you can have it all in the head, you can have it all in the heart; but, only a transformed life through the subject of its message brings the abundant life.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Reader input required

What scriptural teaching can you post that says something like: "don't intentionally make life difficult for other people"?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Veni, Creator Spiritus (Come Holy Spirit, Creator Blest)

This hymn of the early church is often attributed to Rabanus Maurus (776-856. This attribution at least helps us to place the hymn on the time-line). Currently, the hymn is used in the Catholic Church on at least five specific occasions (vespers, or early evening; at Pentecost; at the dedication of a new church building; during the sacrament of Confirmation; and at Holy Orders, or ordination) and whenever one is seeking encounter with the Holy Spirit. Since its introduction, Catholic tradition now attributes the granting of “a partial indulgence” to the one who recites it; or, a “complete (plenary) indulgence” if recited on January 1, or during Pentecost (like an incantation to keep one’s soul from hell, or purgatory).

Let us set current tradition aside for a moment, that we may consider a few thoughts about this hymn (translated from the Latin) without distraction:

COME, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,
and in our souls take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heavenly aid
to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.

O comforter, to Thee we cry,
O heavenly gift of God Most High,
O fount of life and fire of love,
and sweet anointing from above.

Thou in Thy sevenfold gifts are known;
Thou, finger of God's hand we own;
Thou, promise of the Father, Thou
Who dost the tongue with power imbue.

Kindle our sense from above,
and make our hearts o'erflow with love;
with patience firm and virtue high
the weakness of our flesh supply.

Far from us drive the foe we dread,
and grant us Thy peace instead;
so shall we not, with Thee for guide,
turn from the path of life aside.

Oh, may Thy grace on us bestow
the Father and the Son to know;
and Thee, through endless times confessed,
of both the eternal Spirit blest.

Now to the Father and the Son,
Who rose from death, be glory given,
with Thou, O Holy Comforter,
henceforth by all in earth and heaven.


The Holy Spirit is described to be The Blessed Creator; The Indweller; The Dispenser of Grace and Help; The Comforter; the Gift of God Most High; The Fount of Life and Fire of Love; the Anointing. Theology plunges deeper by mention of The Seven-fold “gifts” of the Spirit (Isaiah 11:2-5; Revelation 1:4; 4:5; Galatians 5:22-23); His delivering activity as “the finger of God’s Hand” (Luke 11:20); the Promise of God (John 14-16) and the one who gives the tongue it’s gospel power (Acts 2).

The prayer is simple: overwhelm our weakness with God’s strong love for others; deliver us from Satan and grant us peace; empower us to walk the narrow path, through the narrow gate. There is an implicit confession that we do not love God or others as we should. There is also an admission that there is an enemy of our soul, and we need deliverance from his damaging influence.

Whoever wrote the hymn (Rabanus Maurus or otherwise) recognized that reconciliation to the Father through Jesus is accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who brings the spiritual dead to spiritual life. The writer also reflects that spiritual growth marks life in the Spirit, allowing His ministry to be fruitful in the one who submits and will obey Him. The supplication for love is mentioned twice in this hymn: first, by exalting the Spirit as the Fire of Love; second, by asking for an enflaming of the senses with an overflow of love.

May The Holy Spirit make us grow in love for God in Christ and may His love consume others as we submit to His love.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Confronting the Cretan

The academicians themselves claim they follow only the probable in acting. Still they go to great pains to seek the truth, although they think it probable that truth cannot be found. Who would not laugh at this? What amazing absurdity! But let’s skip that; it doesn’t concern us or affect our lives or fortunes. . . . . For if this reasoning of academicians is probable, then one may perpetrate any crime if it appears probable he ought to, so long as he assents to nothing as true. It will not be charged to him as a sin or even a mistake. What about this? Did the academicians not see this? Indeed they saw it, for they were clever and cautious. I surely would not be so arrogant as to maintain I have come near to Marcus Tullius in industry, alertness, genius, or learning. And still, when he claimed man cannot know anything, he would not be able to refute one who answered: ‘But I know that it seems so to me.’” (Augustine, 354-430)

Augustine’s comments are just as relevant today as they were centuries ago. And Augustine got me thinking about how many objectors to the Christian faith attempt to undermine scripture by declaring assumed ignorance and shallow thinking on part of the writers. Many have heard me relate the occasion I met a student who declared his unbelief because the Bible was written by men (so he stated while holding a stack of books for a class). Such detractor would be well served to get a degree in simple “thinkology.” Truth is: you can't make it up as you go.

Writing to young Titus, the apostle Paul has in mind a certain “big thinker” of his day: “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’” (Titus 1:12) Easy to imagine Paul laughing here while this philosopher jerks the rug from under his own feet. But why was Paul bringing this to Titus’ attention? Because there are very vocal and very confusing people coming into fellowships of believers and are a threat to the life and peace of the church.

Three years ago, I got to know a man in our own fellowship who, after a very short period of time, began to reveal what was really on his mind: he was a prayer warrior and prophet of new revelation! The more he talked, the stranger he sounded (God told him to change his name shortly after he stabbed his former wife with a fork and was now living with another woman that God recognized as a truly spiritual marriage, that he did not have with his former wife).

Notice what Paul says to Titus: "rebuke them" (Titus 1:13). Why? The church is to be built UP, not torn down. What happened to the guy at church? I asked the man to share his testimony, then he told me about his visions, dreams and divine visitations. I asked him if he kept God’s perfect standard as seen in the Ten Commandments, and if he had ever lied, committed adultery or coveted. He got mad and left (all I did was ask a question)! I saw him again a few weeks ago—he actually came back to church with a woman (I don’t know who she was), but after we locked eyes (I really wanted him to know I saw him, too) they left and have not returned. The man was confronted, even rebuked, by the convicting ministry of God’s Holy Spirit.

We have a goal in building up: making one “sound in the faith.” We are to stand up to falsehood for the purpose of keeping the faith pure. This is part of the redemptive work of Christ, providing an opportunity to be saved from sin and submit to correct teaching. They must be pointed away from their lies to the truth, away from evil to righteousness, away from laziness to contributing productivity, away from gluttony to charity.

Friday, August 13, 2010

"You Should Be Discerning About Twilight"

Mark Driscoll shares about using discernment, particularly regarding today's reading list for teens (ht: Tim Challies):

Thursday, August 12, 2010


  • Greg Koukl writes, "Many critics of Christianity pose counterarguments and reubuttals of our claims. But some merely pose questions to sow seeds of doubt and think they've done enough to dismiss Christianity. Doubts and questions do not constitute counter-evidence." Skepticism needs evidence, too!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ramadan Begins Today

"If you are in doubt as to what we have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before you." (Surah 10:94)

Are you a person of The Book? The Qur'an says to consult the other holy books which were revealed before the Qur’an. Would you like to study the other Holy books with me during Ramadan?

"O People of the Book! you have no ground to stand upon unless you stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord." (Sura 5:71)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Psalm 58: The Silent and the Deaf

What is the difference between the one who keeps silent when he knows to speak up, and the one who turns a deaf ear (ignores) a warning?

There is a poster in our house that says, “If you don’t have time to do it right, you must have time to do it over.” Our baby granddaughter is fascinated with the sign (to the dismay of few other house-hold occupants). Certainly the sign is encouraging enough for daily tasks and responsibilities, but when reading Psalm 58, one realizes there may be only one chance to do “it” right (whatever “it” is).

Approaching Psalm 58, we must remember that these words are not limited to the time of the writer. People have not been living righteously with one another since long before David, the justice system certainly isn’t getting any better since then, so this is an excellent opportunity to learn from scripture what God thinks about justice, and make certain we get “it” right in application.

"Do you indeed speak righteousness, O gods? Do you judge uprightly, O sons of men?" (Psalm 58:1)

These are not two different questions for two different audiences; rather, this is one question repeated twice, placing emphasis on different elements for a deeper understanding. Righteousness and justice go together, and the ones whom God has appointed to speak on His behalf on this earth, managing His affairs among men by righteous judgment must know the meaning of the words and the principles of their reality.

The aftermath of World War 1 inspired William Butler Yeats to include the following words in his poem, “The Second Coming,” which gives us an idea of what lies behind the reason for the question concerning righteous judgment:

“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

When we move through the world as representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ, what unrighteousness do you see and hear? Is your heart close enough to God so that you know what repulses Him? Are the things that offend God offensive to you as well? The questions David asks are this, in essence: “why are you silent when you should be speaking up?”

“No, in heart you work unrighteousness; on earth you weigh out the violence of your hands.” (Psalm 58:2)

When we remain silent, wickedness grows. People plan wickedness, and carry it out without warning of consequences. Tertullian thought that if people merely heard biblical teaching, they would stop their wickedness—this is not wholly true, for men will continue to carry out their plans despite the warning. This is why this Psalm is so important, as we will see.

“The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth.” (Psalm 58:3).

One Latin proverb says, “No man ever became wicked all at once.” The Bible teaches otherwise, saying that men are born wicked. Look what it says here: when does one start telling lies? A.W. Pink summarizes, “No child has to be taught to lie--it comes naturally to him. Nor does he have to be corrupted by contact with others--he is born corrupt at the core of his being! This is the inevitable consequence of the Fall. Our first parents preferred the Devil's lie--to God's Truth, and all of their descendants inherit this poisonous virus.” This is a clue as to why men cannot judge righteously out of themselves.

“They have venom like the venom of a serpent; like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear, so that it does not hear the voice of charmers, a skillful caster of spells.” (Psalm 58:4-5)

David goes further, showing how we as sinners, miss opportunities to actually make righteous judgment. Perhaps “miss” is the wrong word: how about “ignore?” Here, in the middle of this Psalm we discover that the one who is silent about speaking out against sin is no different than the wicked person who turns a deaf ear. God sees both as wicked. The Bible teaches that the one who knows to do good and does not do it, sins. This holds true for the one doing the sin and the one who does not speak out against it.

“O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth; break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD. Let them flow away like water than runs off; he aims his arrows, let them be as headless shafts. As a snail which melts away as it goes along, the miscarriages of a woman which never sees the sun.” (Psalm 58:6-8)

These verses are a prayer of David, to the LORD. Notice what he is not asking, and notice what he is asking. First, he is not asking for the destruction of the wicked, but that the instruments of their wickedness be taken away: if they are serpents, then “shatter their teeth in their mouth,” break their fangs. Water can be very destructive, but let them dry up. Arrows are dangerous, but let them have their tips removed. Slimy though they be, let them be all used up, self-consumed in their self-absorption. They are already born dead in sin.

“Before your posts can feel the fire of thorns, He will sweep them away with a whirlwind, the green and the burning alike.” (Psalm 58:9).

When God moves against the wicked, it will be so sudden, so intense that if you were to light a fire under a cooking pot, they would be like the thorns on a branch that burn up before the bottom of the pot gets warm. “Poof!”

“The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He will wash is feet in the blood of the wicked.” (Psalm 58:10).

My grandfather had this awesome recliner chair and most often, he could be found doing what grandfathers are most renowned: napping. When I was much, much smaller, we had a game: I would sneak up on him when he was napping—or was he napping? He would pop his eyes open and scare me, and of course, I would take off running. But on rarest occasions, he was truly asleep, so when I got to the chair, I would jump on the footrest, causing my grandfather to rocket forward. And of course, I would take off running once again.

This verse rockets us forward out of complacency because of the astounding imagery. Can you picture it? Ever step in a mud puddle? You don’t intentionally “bathe” your feet in mud, but your foot is now “bathed” in mud—see the difference? Does this say that God is cruel, in squashing the wicked, like a bug? Not directly, but it evident that there is splattering when God wars against those who come against Him.

“And men will say, ‘Surely, there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.’” (Psalm 58:11).

This is easily understood when we put ourselves in the position of the boy who failed his college courses. He Twittered his mom, "Failed everything; Prepare Papa." His mother commented back, "Papa prepared; Prepare yourself."

God has already shed His own blood in the Lord Jesus Christ, if only they will repent. Those who repent and are made righteous by faith receive the promise of reward. The righteous will then see the judgment of the wicked and will fully understand what God is doing in light of His perfections. Those who will not turn from their wickedness will understand what righteous judgment really is. This is why in the end, when the great city of Babylon falls, heaven is called to celebrate: “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.” (Revelation 18:20)

Proverbs 21:15 reads, “The execution of justice is joy for the righteous, but is terror to the workers of iniquity.”

Monday, August 09, 2010

Religious Epic Fail

I had to watch this twice because I missed something the first time (the music should have been a clue):

Ok, perhaps a little too specialized.

Nestled two-thirds of the way through the Old Testament book of Isaiah, we find God discussing religion. Certainly this sounds strange, but in Isaiah 44 we find a tragic-comical commentary of what God thinks of those who make for themselves a god of their own understanding. First, we find a description of the Lord making a people for Himself (44:1-8): He chooses, forms, and pours out blessings as The Incomparable God. God is served by whom He forms, wiping out transgressions, redeems, receives worship and is glorified as The Maker of all things, “causing the signs of boasters to fail, making fools out of diviners,, causing wise men to draw back, and turning their knowledge into foolishness,” the One who performs His desires (44:21-28).

Isaiah 44:9-20 describes the contrasting action of idolatrous man, who in futility makes a profitless and shameful witness to himself. There are two definitions of religion being illustrated here:

  • “a system of beliefs, feelings, and behavior which issues in rights, rituals and liturgies “ where, “man is the focus of life and all forces (powers) are solely for his benefit;” or,
  • “an ultimate concern with a seeking and self-revealing God, which morally and ethically qualifies all other concerns, which motivates God-centered patterns of life, worship, and mission, and answers the question of the meaning of life.” (Steyne, Philip M. Gods of Power: A Study Of The Beliefs and Practices of Animists. Columbia: Impact International, 1999.)

Isaiah 44:12 reminds man, the practitioner of religion, that man gets weary whether he plays or works. The question assumed is, “what kind of god can he make?” The form of this deity is described in verses 13-14: man chooses wood, marks it, cuts it, and venerates it. What he does not deify, he burns to make a meal (44:15-17). Is his greatest desire in life to be delivered from hunger?

Men who are not God-centered are in rebellion against Him. Choose something to venerate, paint it up, dress it nice . . . but you can’t take it out:

People are deluded because they do not know or understand (44:18); they are without knowledge or understanding (44:19), being deceived by their own heart (44:20). There are more than 80 references in Isaiah to knowing and understanding—one gets the impression that God desires intimacy and comprehension!

What is your god like? Is He the true and living God, who reveals Himself; or, is he a god of your own understanding? Is He the same God who reveals Himself in nature and in scripture?

The beauty in all this is that God, though passing down judgment to those who will not reason with Him, offers grace and love to man. Should he have his eyes opened to his foolishness, God is ready to receive Him. Those who have been embraced by the true and living God are to extend the same love, grace and understanding by investing in those who do not yet believe.

A Break-Room Story

They call it the “break room,” but I call it my office. I work here, too, you know.

The Pepsi machine next to me thinks he is a real gift to the world. When footsteps echo down the hall announcing the arrival of a new customer, I hear him blow his fan just a little harder, trying to show how cool he is. I can’t stand it when he delivers. The money drops down (he makes a big deal out of swallowing sometimes—clickclickclick-cherchunk-plink) and the guy punches his Diet button.

Wait for it . . .

Wait for it . . .

Wait for it . . . (the guy punches his button again)

Wait for it . . . (thump) and he spits out the bottle.

The Juice machine, just on the other side, has issues. He blinks that annoying light behind that faded, washed out sign. Looks like he’s having a seizure: flick, flick . . . flick . . .flick, flick, flick . . . flick . . . The $1.00 sign barely hangs on, just above the money slot. What a character.

Me? I’m just a snack machine. I rule the world.

“How much is that Honey Bun?” I’m not going to tell, with that attitude. Well, ok. But only if you gently push the right combination of buttons on my face. If it’s in F-1, then push the “F” and the “1” and I’ll tell you.

Did you gently push--gently? Well, then you’d better have the correct change because my bill slot may not work . . . for a while at least. Or maybe I’ll run out of nickels . . .

I’m nice, so I might let you have some peanuts or something—they are cheaper anyway.

And if you buy water afterward, my friend on the end there will quit convulsing.

Hey, hey! I said “gently!”

  • Make another selection.
  • Make another selection.
  • Make another selection. (I can do this all day, buddy . . .)

Oh, alright. Here you go. B-2. Peanuts. Here, let me hypnotize you with my screw-arm:

  • Turning and pushing (you are getting hungrier) . . .
  • Turning and pushing (salivating now . . . lick your lips) . . .
  • Turning and . . . oops!

What’s this? The peanuts sitting right on the edge? Just a quarter-turn more to go?

Maybe if you calm down and take a few deep breaths . . .

Hitting me in the face won’t help. The package might slip and get caught sideways—it will never come out now . . .

Friday, August 06, 2010

“I Am Not An Exceptional Man."

Playwright Herb Garner introduced us to two brothers, Arnold and Murray Burns in his 1962 play, “A Thousand Clowns.” Arnold is a successful businessman who has “made his peace with the world” for the price of his annual income. Murray is basically a bum, who seems to be hiding from life while trying to get the most out of it. Their story centers around their 12-year old nephew their sister dropped off years ago with Murray, along with some luggage and other items (she later came back to claim the luggage and the items). Murray, an eccentric and a rebel against society, is faced with a decision: get a job or lose Nick to Social Services. This clip from the 1965 movie version gives a sense of Murray’s free spirit:

Why did their sister choose to drop her son off with the ne’er-do-well Murray and not well-to-do Arnold? Why doesn’t Arnold offer to take care of Nick? He drops off food every day at Murray’s apartment, but why will he not take care of Nick? One obviously cares for people while the other does not. Makes one wonder: “what kind of person am I?”

Murray tries to explain his perspective and why he cares for others so much, perhaps to his own hurt:

I was sitting in the express looking out the window same as every morning watching the local stops go by in the dark with an empty head and my arms folded, not feeling great and not feeling rotten, just not feeling, and for a minute I couldn’t remember, I didn’t know, unless I really concentrated, whether it was a Tuesday or a Thursday… or a … for a minute it could have been any day, Arnie… sitting in the train going through any day… in the dark through any year… Arnie, it scared the hell out of me.”

Perhaps the most well known portion of the play is Arnold’s reply:

I have long been aware, Murray . . . I have long been aware that you don’t respect me much. I suppose there are a lot of brothers you don’t get along . . . . But in reference to us, considering the factors . . . sounds like a contract, doesn’t it? Unfortunately for you Murray, you want to be a hero. Maybe if a fella falls into a lake, you can jump in and save him; there’s still that kind of stuff. But who gets opportunities like that in midtown Manhattan, with all that traffic. I am willing to deal with the available world and I do not choose to shake it up but to live with it. There’s the people who spill things, and the people who get spilled on; I do not choose to notice the stains, Murray.

I have a wife and I have children, and business, like they say, is business. I am not an exceptional man, so it is possible for me to stay with things the way they are. I’m lucky. I’m gifted. I have a talent for surrender. I’m at peace. But you are cursed; and I like you so it makes me sad, you don’t have the gift; and I see the torture of it. All I can do is worry for you. But I will not worry for myself; you cannot convince me that I am one of the Bad Guys. I get up, I go, I lie a little, I peddle a little, I watch the rules, I talk the talk. We fellas have those offices high up there so we can catch the wind and go with it, however it blows. But, and I will not apologize for it, I take pride; I am the best possible Arnold Burns

This is a stunning and revealing admission, demonstrating the destruction of narrow, prideful, backward thinking. As the Latin proverb goes, “Every man is eloquent in his own cause.”

Arnold implies there are two kinds of people: those who spill and those who get spilled upon—then he creates for himself a third category (population: 1): “I do not notice the stains, Murray.” Right now he is being a spiller, but cannot see it. For example, Arnold is an admitted liar, yet calls his brother “cursed.”

The role-reversal is not difficult to miss. Arnold states that taking care of people such as raising an abandoned nephew, (“being a hero”) is “unfortunate” and there are no opportunities to be a hero in midtown Manhattan. He completely ignores the absent sister, yet he unloads the wagon on Murray because he cares for 12-year old Nick. Perhaps Arnold is jealous that Nick looks up to Murray. Arnold is a bully and cannot stomach what is good—if he did, he would lose the “deal” he has made with the world, which is to be “the best possible Arnold Burns” for Arnold Burns. Arnold says he is married with children, but there is only room enough in the world for Arnold. How easy it is to think so selfishly that the world disappears.

Makes one think.

"For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it." (Mark 8:35).

Thursday, August 05, 2010


  • Is videotaping the police a crime? Seems that most missed the part about the driver committing traffic violations before being held accountable.
  • Science now affirms what the Bible already teaches: the chicken came first!
  • Professor Howard Marshall's book, "A Pocket Guide to New Testament Theology"is available for download at BiblicalTraining.org
  • Photoshop Time Travel. This makes one think twice about where we live and where we go. "Russian photographer Sergey Larenkov took some old photographs from World War II and combined them with new perspective-matching photos. The result are a series of time portals that help us contextualize the war into our current reality." (ht: Harlan Cone)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

How would you respond?

I lifted this quote from an interview published in Robert Raines’ book, “Creative Brooding,” and am interested in how you would respond to this man if he were sitting across the table from you:

“I’m not a real Catholic, anyway—even though I am religious. Jesus Christ is an admirable example, but he’s too remote from men of today to be a model. Or he’s too much of one to be understood and followed. A man who dies for others is moving and admirable, but how many followers can he have in a world filled with people who will hardly help you across the street, let alone die for you?”

Please post your response below.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Book Review: "Crime And Its Victims" by Daniel Van Ness

As of this writing, there are nearly 600 distinct crime-related shows on television each week. We have a strange fascination with crime: as long as it happens to someone else, we are easily entertained; yet, each of us have a personal relationship with crime in some way.

The problem of crime, the disservice received by victims of crime and recommended reforms from a biblical perspective are the subjects covered Daniel Van Ness in his informative 240 page book, “Crime and Its Victims” (Inter-Varsity: Downers Grove, 1986). Why offer a book review of a twenty-four year-old book? Van Ness has a great concern for the victims of crime. “[C]rime is a spiritual malaise, the result of individuals making wrong moral choices. It is a matter of the heart and can be solved only when we apply moral solutions” (p. 11).

This book is divided into four major parts, then subdivided into smaller chapters. The first section, “What’s Happening Here?” explains the relationship between victim and criminal. Chapter 1, “Victims,” explains that crime is “an encounter between a victim and an offender . . . an unexpected personal crises” left unresolved by the state, who distinguishes between criminal cases (determining “whether a defendant has indeed broken a law established by the state”) and civil cases (determining “whether one person has injured another and if so, how the wrongdoer will restore the victim”). Chapter 2,“Being Victimized” next describes categories of victims based on degrees of responsibility to crime: those “unrelated” to the criminal other than through the crime itself; those who were “provocative,” or victim-caused crimes, such as through retaliation; or “precipative,” in that one has nothing to do with the criminal, but behavior of the victim has instigated, tempted or allured the criminal to act. Regardless, there exists a permanent alteration in one’s view of self and world because of crime.

The next two chapters can be demanding on the reader as one is challenged to wonder if the punishment actually fits the crime. Chapter 3, “Prisoners” simply asks for sympathy on part of the reader by hinting through a specific case study and not fully explaining that varieties of people populate an ineffective prison system. Chapter 4, “Being Imprisoned,” underscores the cost paid by the prisoner for crime through loss of liberty (“a perpetual reminder that the prisoner has been judged and convicted”); loss of goods and services (i.e. loss of personal property, even basic needs); loss of heterosexual relationships; loss of autonomy (regulations, for the sake of security); and finally, loss of security (not every criminal is violent and are often victims of those who are). “For one brief moment the victim and the offender confront each other. The crime establishes a relationship in which one wounds another. But we never deal with the wound. We try offenders when we catch them. And we sometimes send them to prison, not for the injury done to the victims, but because they broke the law. So now we have two wounds, and no healing.” (p. 58)

The second section, “How We Got Here,” is historical, explaining in three illuminating chapters major shifts that have occurred regarding crime. Chapter 5 “The Rise of State-Centered Justice” shows how the victim-centered focus of ancient law (criminals and their families were held responsible to victims and their families) shifted to a state-centered focus and the role of the victim reduced to a witness “that a wrong had been done.” Chapter 6, “People vs. Defendant” presents the working definition of crime as “lawbreaking, an offense against law and government.” Additionally, subsequent approaches to criminology are explained followed by the history and philosophy of the prison system, which helps the reader appreciate words he or she daily takes for granted, such as: incarceration (“held in captivity until death”); penitentiary (a place to reflect on guilt and repent); the lesser-known “Auburn System” (discipline and hard work); and finally, the reformatory (education and training). Chapter 7, “The Purpose of Punishment” induces one to ask, “does punishment reduce crime, or it punishment imposed because of crime?” while exploring the roles of deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation.

Section three asks, “How Scripture Can Help Us?” Chapter 8 generally explains the context, purpose and application of the Mosaic law. The Mosaic law is presented as a paradigm, with universal character that defines righteousness and justice. Chapter 9, “Justice and Righteousness,” shows how “the biblical concept of justice is much different and even more foreign to modern Americans” (p. 114) in that: first, God is the source of both justice and righteousness; and second, how Justice itself has moved to the problem of due process and fairness. “Justice is . . . more than vindication of those who have been wronged . . . [but] to establish once again the shalom that existed before the offense. Justice is active and relational and it is redemptive in its intent” (p. 121). Chapter 10, “The Law and Criminal Justice” distinguishes between moral, civil and ceremonial law that distinguished Israel from the surrounding nations (elevating life over property, people over punishment). There is also discussed different kinds of punishment, and the role of restitution toward reconciliation in cases.

Section four, “Hope For the Future” closes the book, considering how restitution is beneficial in our time. Chapter 11, “Reducing Crime,” characterizes the peaceful community and offers suggestions on reducing crime, starting with the rejection of “the view that crime is simply an injury to the monarch or to the state” (p. 145). Chapter 12, “Responding to Crime,” presents options when crime does occur that includes the restoration of the victim with sensitivities toward appropriate punishments that fit crime: community service for non-violent offenders, and victim advocacy groups that lend assistance. Chapter 13, “Restraining Criminals,” explores the philosophy and purpose of restraint and confinement toward an appropriate use of prison. This is followed by a discussion on capital punishment. Chapter 14 answers the question, “Where Do We Go From Here?” by suggesting how the reader can offer “constructive assistance” by staying informed on the condition of local prisons, and how to discover what victim assistance and compensation programs are available.

Most helpful was the insight Van Ness brought concerning the relationship between victim and criminal. Writing from the perspective of a practicing lawyer, he is open and honest regarding challenges to his own presuppositions. As a victim of crime himself, he writes “It did not occur to us, nor to the prosecutor or judge, that the criminal justice process we were a part of was divorced from the crimes which we and countless other victims had experienced.” Defendants are accused of breaking laws established by the state, not for what they did specifically to other people. Victims only confirm as witness that law had been broken.

Van Ness confuses the reader in his presentation on victimology in Chapter 2. While trying to establish the relationship that exists (intentional or otherwise) between victim and criminal, and the subsequent crises created in the life of the victim(s), he leans without resolution on the responsibility of the victim and his part in the crime. Chapter 3, discussing the case of the prisoner and the ineffectiveness of the current system seems to call for sympathy. Crime indirectly creates victims out of those who pay taxes. “[L]ocking up more people is becoming prohibitively expensive . . . do we need to lock up all those people?” (p. 45)

The work Van Ness did in the second section covering the history and philosophy of crime and the prison system proves to be quite valuable. He demonstrates the inadequacies of current approaches concerning crime and punishment; however, many of his points are inferred and are difficult to identify.

While the third section is very informative regarding the biblical background to moral, civil and ceremonial law, and the point is clearly made regarding the need for restitution and restoration of the victim, very little is said regarding spiritual need of victim and criminal. The book underscores the difference between person and property, but the principles fail in application, focusing on restoring what was lost materially. While the author does an excellent job explaining righteousness and justice, he misses a perfect opportunity to point to the Cross and the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the need for atonement and the role of repentance by faith, to satisfy the justice handed down by God, to whom we are all accountable.

Monday, August 02, 2010


“A pair of good ears will drain dry a hundred tongues. Give us grace to listen well.” (John Keble, 1792 – 1866 Poet, leader of the Oxford Movement)

That’s a funny word, “listen.” We don’t say it like it’s spelled (we live by the exception of the rule) and it begins to make a strange sound in our own ears if we say it enough times. I wonder if Charles Stanley can hear how often he uses the word in a half hour? Regardless, I know why he uses it so much.

We get our word from the Old English, “hlysnan,” from the old High German, “khlusinon” or “hlosen” and “lauschen” (which is a far cry from the Sanskrit, “srnoti”). A deeper etymological study reveals a deep meaning we take for granted; in other words, “listen” means more than “hear.” The word includes the idea of listing, giving fame to or making famous, ascribing splendor and honor to, glory. The implication is that when we listen, we focus to the point of exalting the object of undivided attention.

So what?

Journalist and author Gay Talese described a bar tended by a young woman, who seemed very much out of place in a slum dive such as this. Truth be told, she was a sociology student who got a job at this specific bar so she could study people as she worked (she could have worked someplace else, but considering her field of study, this was an ideal setting). “A few of them said they knew of other jobs for me that weren’t so ‘low class’ . . . they wanted to rescue me—they who could barely help themselves.” Why did the people come to drink? They could have done any of a hundred thousand other things if they merely wanted to pass the time, so why come here, to the bar? They could have spent less money on a bottle at the liquor store if they wanted to be alone. They go to the bar because there, someone will listen.

Near my house there are two convenience stores and a gas station where daily one can see men and women standing outside all hours of the day, and many are passing the bottle. Look past the dirt, and ignore the smell for a moment and watch them—they are talking, and listening. They are a community of people who want to be heard, so they go to where someone will listen.

Listening calls for a response, action. Listening is a journey with someone else. Sure, you can hold hands, but when one walks by listening, one connects in a much more intimate way.

“When you talk, you repeat what you already know; when. you listen, you often learn something.” (Jaren Sparks, 1789-1866, the President of Harvard University from 1849 to 1853.)
Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners, listening.

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