Archive for April, 2008

Just heard about a proposed decision on a recent case in the PCA that had been appealed to the Standing Judicial Commission. There are a number of interesting points in the proposed decision of the majority but look at this one:

The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America is of course subject to and subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. We need to be able to affirm that the use of words in our Standards is faithful to Scriptural intent and meaning. However, we cannot now argue that because the Constitution uses a word in a single way, the church must restrict its formal use of that word to the manner in which it is used in the Constitution. To do so would be to subject the Scriptures to our Standards, and effectively sever the tie that allows for our historic understanding of semper reformata. [emphasis mine]

Now a little context. The issue before the SJC panel was whether a church had violated the Westminster Standards and the PCA Book of Church Order by calling a woman who had been hired to work on the church staff, a “minister” (specifically the “minister of church life”). She was not ordained though she does have a degree from a seminary. Some members of this church’s presbytery objected to this claiming that our standards only used the word “minister” to refer to an ordained, male-only position. In their defense, the church responded that even though that is how the standards use the word, in the Bible, the term has a much broader meaning. AND, since our standards are subject to the Bible, calling a woman a “minister” is not something that should bring them under any discipline, as it is perfectly biblical though not in accord with the stipulated definition of the term as it is used in the confessional standards.

In the part of the decision cited, the SJC panel agreed with this reasoning, stating as you saw, “we cannot now argue that because the Constitution uses a word in a single way, the church must restrict its formal use of that word to the manner in which it is used in the Constitution. To do so would be to subject the Scriptures to our Standards, and effectively sever the tie that allows for our historic understanding of semper reformata.” To which I respond first with a hearty “wow” and second with a question: Does this mean that the PCA is now ready to admit the same in regard to the terms “election,” “elect,” “regeneration,” “union with Christ” and “church”? Or is it only the term “minister” which can be understood in a broader way than the Confession defines it?

And further, if this preliminary judgment is adopted by the full SJC, does that mean that the PCA is now ready to allow this kind of “confusion” and “lack of clarity” not to mention the potential such a decision has for opening the door to another “departure from the Reformed Faith which-strikes-at-the-vitals-of-religion”? Will they allow this revolutionary judgment to stand? A judgment which, as even the panel itself admits, protects “our historic understanding of semper reformanda“?

And, one more question: the panel states that “we cannot now argue that because the Constitution uses a word in a single way, the church must restrict its formal use of that word to the manner in which it is used in the Constitution.” So what has happened to bring about the prohibition of this argument now?

I don’t know . . . . all this sounds mighty fishy if you ask me.

[thanks to the Bayly brothers and John Allen Bankson for the heads-up]

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Quick Book Reviews

Here are my brief takes on some interesting novels I’ve read recently:

The Dogs of Babel, by Carolyn Parkhurst – A linguisist’s wife dies unexpectedly amid curious circumstances and the only one to see her on the last day of her life was the family dog. So the linguist does what any of us would do in the same situation—he devotes himself to teaching the dog to talk in order to uncover the mystery surrounding his wife’s death. As over-the-top and contrived as this story could have been, Parkhurst actually weaves a compelling tale that tugs at the heart of any dog lover and depicts the love of a man for a woman that far surpasses all her faults (which are many). In flashbacks you get to know the wife, and find her more and more unloveable the more you get to know her, and yet in the present her husband is pursuing the impossible in order to understand her death. You find that she is indeed lovely because she is loved and the extent to which he demonstrates his love for her, even after her death, while bordering on insanity, is a sad/sweet story of self-giving, sacrificial love.

On a related, but completely irrelevant note, my dog can say “I love you” (actually it’s more like “Arrr Ruh Roo”, but we know what he means.)

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell – A story spanning several centuries, beginning in the late 1700’s and stretching into a far distant post-apocalyptic future, Cloud Atlas contains a series of accounts of different, seemingly unconnected people set together in a quasi-chiastic fashion. Each story stops right in the middle at a pivotal climactic point, only to be picked up and concluded at the end of the book, with each conclusion appearing in reverse order. Like a set of Russian nesting dolls, each story fits inside the others until the connections between the lives of the individuals begin to come clearer and the book concludes right back where it started in the 18th century. Mitchell is full of imagination and creativity. There is a good deal of fun to be had in pulling apart the mystery of the connections between the various lives, but the pay-off at the end of the work is not so hot. It’s kind of a disappointment actually. Still, it’s worth reading just because of the innovative way he tells the story.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Max Brooks – Set in the near future, World War Z is a collection of survivor’s accounts of a recent global outbreak of a virus that has turned a substantial portion of the population into zombies. Brooks writes as a journalist who is traveling the world, gathering an oral history of the rise and fall of the zombie hordes. What Brooks is in fact providing is a commentary on the way that different world cultures tend to deal with their problems, and the failures and successes of each worldview. Like most stories set in the future, it is all a commentary on the present (understanding the undead-walking-the-earth simply as a metaphor, of course).

The Road, Cormac McCarthy – The author of No Country for Old Men tells the tale of a father and his young son struggling to survive in the decade after an undefined global catastrophe. There’s no vegetation left, no animal life, only humans fighting to make the best of what remains of the burned-out husk of civilization. This is probably the most terrifying book I’ve read in a while. There’s a sense of dread hanging over it all. Some of the scenes are the stuff of nightmares. With every page turn, you just know something awful is about to happen any moment, and yet (without giving anything away) there is redemption and hope and resurrection on the other side of the grave. This is one of those that you can’t say too much about without giving it away, so I’ll stop, but I’d say if you have a strong constitution for such things, I would highly recommend it to you.

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole – This is one of those that I’ve started on and put down a number of times, and finally forced myself to plough through it to the end. And it was worth the work. The story centers around a slothful, directionless, glutton of a man named Ignatius Reilly who lives with his mother in 1950’s New Orleans. As he flits from one sure-to-fail pursuit to another, blaming everyone and everything but himself for his failures, surviving off of other people’s patience and embarrassment, he works himself into such a state of self-deception and hopelessness that he puts himself into a position far beyond any forseeable redemption. It appears that Reilly learns nothing from his misadventures, but the reader should. I intend to direct my own son to read this when he’s 16 or 17 if for nothing else than to give him an example of what kind of man he is not to be.

So what have you read lately?

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After the Children of Israel had been freed from bondage in Egypt they were commanded to take the land of Canaan as their reward and inheritance, but they quailed in fear. So God determined for the next forty years they would wander in the wilderness and that everyone of age, save Joshua and Caleb would die and would not enter the promised land.

Something that has struck me when considering the number of people that died over that forty years in the wilderness, how that concentration of death must have impacted these people. If there were roughly 600,000 men age twenty and up when they came out of Egypt (Exodus 12:37), we can assume then that there were roughly the same number of women, making an over-20 population of about 1.2 million people.

Those 1.2 million people all died in that forty year window of wilderness-wandering. Which means that, on average, there were

30,000 funerals a year.
580 buryings a week.
83 deaths a day.
3.5 eulogies read every hour.

Every 17 minutes someone died in the wilderness.

Isn’t that normal? People are always dying now. Well, let’s do a little comparison—in America today there are 260 million people, and about 6400 die every day. The death rate in the wilderness was nearly three times the death rate in America today. So that today 1 out of every 41,000 people in America die each day. In the wilderness, 1 out of every 14,000 people died each day.

The point being, with someone dying every 17 minutes, the wilderness sojourn was time of perpetual mourning, and grief and thoughts about death, and burial rituals. That was life in the wilderness during those forty years. In the camp of Israel, everywhere that someone went there were mourners. Everyone was losing or were about to lose their brothers, aunts, grandmothers and cousins to the grave.

When they refused to take the land, they were pining for Egypt and they longed to return (Numbers 11:5). Egypt was a place obsessed with death. Even today when we think of Egypt, the first image that comes to our minds are their pyramids – great tombs which dominated the landscape. Their pagan holy book was “The Book of the Dead”.

Because God’s people wanted to return to Egypt so badly, God did them the favor of allowing them to experience a little Egypt right there in the wilderness, by visiting them with death on an almost unimaginable scale.

And their apostasy is a warning to us. The psalmist exhorts us “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion… for forty years I was grieved with that generation…” (Psalm 95) God forbid us from longing to be part of and accepted by the culture of death and misery that we have been separated from, lest He give us a taste of it the way He did those in the wilderness.

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The taxman

According to the Americans for Tax Reform, in 2005: Americans worked 185 days to pay taxes and comply with the regulatory costs of government at the federal, state and local levels. In other words, the cost of government consumes 50.4 percent of national income. That means that every day’s salary up to July 4 went toward paying your tax bill. The report for 2005 indicated that on average Americans would work:

• 84 days to pay for all federal spending
• 43 days to pay all state and local spending
• 37 days to pay the costs of federal regulations
• 23 days to pay the costs of state regulations

Is it any better for this year? Maybe.

but I doubt it.

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“One reason why we Christians argue so much about which hymn to sing, which liturgy to follow, which way to worship is that the commandments teach us to believe that bad liturgy eventually leads to bad ethics. You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend.” — Stanley Hauerwas

[yeah, I know this is an old one, but sometimes you need to hear it again]

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Flannery O’Connor once described the “liberal” mindset (which is of course anything but liberal) to Cecil Dawkins in a letter written in 1958:

The Liberal approach is that man has never fallen, never incurred guilt, and is ultimately perfectible by his own unaided efforts. Therefore, evil in this light is a problem of better housing, sanitation, health, etc. and all mysteries will eventually be cleared up. Judgement is out of place because man is not responsible.

Modern liberalism produces not compassion but sentimentalism, not mercy but cruelty walking around with sandwich boards that say “mercy.” It is a mindset that talks of love and tenderness but ends up loving no one and nothing but death. Its logical end is tyranny and terror. (more…)

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From Russia with love

so, I’m minding my own business when I get an email containing this link.

[reminds me of Doug Wilson especially, the lead singer]

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Here’s how to defeat Islam. Botros is not intimidated by the fact that he has a $5 million bounty on his head. He’s not moved by anger, vengefulness, or arrogance. He’s moved by a love for Muslims and a desire for their salvation. While military might and political diplomacy fail miserably, grace conquers.

[thanks to Barb Harvey for pointing me to this story]

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Knowing how enamored I am by disasters of epic proportions and my penchant for crisis management (!), some fanatical fanlings of the TV series “Jericho” have been encouraging me to watch the first season (this was prior to its cancellation, they are much more subdued at present). So I did. I thought it was interesting, fun even, but one thing struck me — this has to be one of the most secular shows I’ve ever seen. We’re supposed to be in a small, Midwestern town, which has a church in which (we assume) people worship, get married, have their funerals, etc. and yet we never ever see or even hear about the minister (except for about 10 seconds when he’s concerned about the church building being damaged). amazing. There has been a nuclear holocaust, thousands have died across the country, there is no communication with the outside world, loved ones are missing, chaos is growing, and yet not a word from the minister? No one wants to talk to him? No prayer meetings? No services calling for public repentance or for God’s help, strength, protection, deliverance, etc? nothing. He is the invisible man (except for the 10 seconds when he is the whining, visible man). wow. I knew the Church was considered to be irrelevant to this culture, but “Jericho” is a stunning reminder of just how irrelevant we are in the eyes of this world.

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I’m not one who finds neat things on the Internet. I never have been able to use Google like everybody else I know (who seemingly can find anything within 30 seconds). But occasionally I stumble across a really nice site, like this one — (now of course, I’ll learn that everybody has known about this site forever! but that’s ok). One thing though: their list of contemporary women writers is far too short.

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