“It is said that he had naturally a very dull wit, and that he was upon the point of leaving the cloister, because he despaired of attaining what his friar’s habit required of him, but that the Holy Virgin appeared to him, and asked him in which he would chuse to excel, in philosophy or divinity; that he made choice of philosophy, and that the Holy Virgin told him he should surpass all men of his time in that science, but that, as a punishment for not chusing divinity, he should before his death, relapse into his former stupidity. They add, that, after this apparition, he shewed a prodigious deal of sense, and so improved in all the sciences, that he quickly surpassed his preceptors; but that, three years before his death, he forgot in an instant all that he knew: and that, being at a stand in the middle of a lecture on divinity at Cologne, and endeavouring in vain to recal his ideas, he was sensible that it was the accomplishment of the prediction. Whence arose the saying, that he was miraculously converted from an ass into a philosopher, and, afterwards, from a philosopher into an ass.” (The Magus, Book II, Francis Barrett)
Archive for February, 2008
The death of William F. Buckley yesterday made me think — it seems like a lot of prominent people have died so far in this year. After a little checking around, it appears that I was right. In only two months we’ve seen an unusually large number (or so it seems to me) of well known folk leave this world. I recall one of the statements I read in one of the Slave Narratives, where one former slave observed, “I notice that if I live through March, I usually live the rest of the year.” It is said that more deaths occur in the first three months of the year than in any of the other three quarters. Whether that’s so or not, there have been quite a few notable deaths. Here are a few of the famous (and infamous) who have died so far this year: (more…)
Flannery O’Connor’s story, “The Enduring Chill,” contains one of the most entertaining confrontations between the Church and the world in modern literature. In the story, Asbury, the spoiled son of a Southern farmer, has been forced to return home from New York City because of illness. Asbury fancied himself a highly sophisticated artist. In fact, he was an abject failure. But now, he’s convinced that he’s dying and has badgered his mother into calling a Roman Catholic priest to visit him. Asbury had met a Jesuit priest in New York who was hip, witty, intellectual—all the things he fancied himself to be. Starved for intellectual stimulation, Asbury assumed that another priest would be the perfect conversation partner. At least he would be far better qualified than any of the narrow minded, uneducated Protestant clergy in town. When the local priest finally arrives, however, he is not at all what Asbury was expecting. What entered his room was not a polished intellectual but “a massive old man” who introduced himself as “Father Finn—from Purgatory”:
“It’s so nice to have you come,” Asbury said. “This place is incredibly dreary. There’s no one here an intelligent person can talk to. I wonder what you think of Joyce, Father?”
The priest lifted his chair and pushed closer. “You’ll have to shout,” he said. “Blind in one eye and deaf in one ear.” (more…)
It seems like all my wife and I are doing these days is putting a bottle in my infant son’s mouth and then minutes later cleaning up the other end. Wash, rinse, repeat.
The other day I asked my dear wife if it wouldn’t be much more efficient for us to simply put the formula directly into the diaper, you know, to cut out the middle man.
She stared at me in that special way that lets me know she’s laughing on the inside.
The word “regeneration” for most of us today refers to that one-time, unseen, inner moment when the Holy Spirit flips the switch and brings us from death to life. We’ve heard time and again, “Regeneration precedes faith. Regeneration precedes faith. Regeneration precedes faith.” And therefore if anyone should start using the word “regeneration” and “baptism” in the same sentence, he would quickly find himself in hot water.
But where does this modern definition of “regeneration” come from? How has the Church and her scholars traditionally used this term?
John Calvin seems to have a pretty broad definition for the word –
In Institutes III.3.9, he says “I interpret repentance as regeneration whose sole end is to restore in us the image of God… [then he lists a number of verses we normally associate with sanctification – 2 Cor. 3:18, Eph 4:23, Col 3:10]… this restoration does not take place in one moment or one day or one year; but through continual and sometimes even slow advances.”
Reformed people are familiar with J. Gresham Machen’s quote from his telegram to Dr. John Murray, “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.” We surely must be thankful for Jesus’ “active” obedience, but it is equally true (as Machen well understood) that this alone brings no hope. Unless our sinless Savior had voluntarily laid down His life on the cross, we would all be without hope. But if we stop at the cross, we still have no hope. What about the resurrection? Apart from it, our Savior’s life and death would be worthless to us. “Thank God for the resurrection of Christ. No hope without it.” Yes, but what about having the benefits of His work applied to us? Apart from faith, we cannot partake of the blessings of Jesus’ work. Ok, then, “Thank God for faith. No hope without it!” True indeed, but, one can’t believe without also repenting, so, “Thank God for repentance. No hope without it!” And we’re just beginning. Think of all the other things Jesus tells us are necessary for us to enter the kingdom or to see life. Here are a few more things without which, according to Jesus, we have no hope (and note: I’ve put them in slogan format, which apparently is the way to communicate effectively nowadays):
“Righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, no hope without it!” (Matt. 5:20)
“Plucking out the right eye and cutting off the right hand, no hope without it!” (Matt. 5:29-30)
“Forgiving other men their trespasses, no hope without it!” (Matt. 6:14-15)
“Doing the will of the Father, no hope without it!” (Matt. 7:21-23)
“Refusing to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, no hope without it!” (Matt. 12:31-32)
“Losing your life for Jesus’ sake, no hope without it!” (Matt. 16:24-25)
“Becoming like little children, no hope without it!” (Matt. 18:2-3)
“Serving your brothers, even the least of them, no hope without it!” (Matt. 25:44-46)
“Eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking His blood, no hope without it!” (John 6:53)
and there are many more . . . . . . .
I’ve suggested that the various efforts of pastors and churches to ride the currents and model their worship in the image of pop culture are evidence that these Christians are essentially uneasy about the sufficiency of the Word of God and the sacraments. I’ve also pondered the question of whether unbelievers and the unchurched are even really demanding this sort of thing of the Church.
I have just a couple more thoughts on this.
In so many discussions about this type of thing, you will hear someone suggest that it is our evangelical duty to make the gospel relevant to the culture. And there is a seed of true concern there. We don’t want to conduct worship in Latin. We don’t want to be cold toward outsiders. We don’t want to put unneccessary barriers between them and worship. But at the same time, it isn’t the Church or her message that is to be made relevant to the world, the mission of the Church is to make the world relevant to Christ.