In the Castle Storeroom Long Enough to Get Hilariously Drunk

Thankful for a preacher (and father) that exemplifies the enthusiasm, joy, and wonder Capon describes here:

“There is a lesson in [the parable of the net] for preachers. So often, whether because of thickheadedness, lack of study, scant preparation, or just plain boredom, they unceremoniously heave the treasure of Scripture out of the pulpit as if they were flopping out so many dead fish. There is no fascination in their monologues, no intrigue, no sense whatsoever that the ministry they have been given is precisely that of being major-domo over a house to end all houses. The most they ever achieve is a kind of monomaniacal enthusiasm for the one or two items that happen to suit their own odd tastes: hellfire, perhaps; or their sawed-off, humanistic version of love; of their short-order recipe for siprituality; or the hopelessly moralistic lessons in good behavior that they long since decided were more palatable than the paradoxes of the Gospel. There is nothing that resonates with anything like the enthusiasm of, ‘Hey, look at this fantastic footstool I just discovered!’ or, ‘You’ve simply got to taste this incredible old Port!’ But alas, only that kind of enthusiasm is contagious and joy-producing. We should all pray for them. May God hasten the day on which they will stay in the castle storeroom long enough to get stark staring bonkers about the Word and hilariously drunk on Scripture.”

Robert Farrar Capon in Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2002; volume 1 originally published 1985), p. 143

Theology as Wind-Surfing

The last four paragraphs have been about theology – an enterprise that, despite the oftentimes homicidal urgency Christians attach to is, has yet to save anybody. What saves us is Jesus, and the way we lay hold of that salvation is by faith. And faith is something that, throughout this book, I shall resolutely refuse to let mean anything other than trusting Jesus. It is simply saying yes to him rather than no. It is, at its root, a mere ‘uh-huh’ to him personally. It does not necessarily involve any particular theological structure or formulation; it does not entail any particular degree of emotional fervor; and above all, it does not depend on any specific repertoire of good works – physical, mental, or moral. It’s just ‘Yes, Jesus,’ till we die – just letting the power of his resurrection do, in our deaths, what it has already done in his.

My purpose in saying this so strongly, however, is not simply to alert you to some little band of intellectuals called theologians who may try to talk you into thinking otherwise. Such types exist, of course, but they are usually such bores that all they do is talk you out of wanting to even breathe. No, the reason for my vehemence is that all of us are theologians. Every one of us would rather choose the right-handed logicalities of theology over the left-handed mystery of faith. Any day of the week – and twice on Sundays, often enough – we will labor with might and main to take the only thing that can save anyone and reduce it to a set of theological club rules designed to exclude almost everyone.

Christian theology, however, never is and never can be anything more than the thoughts that Christians have (alone or with others) after they have said yes to Jesus. Sure, it can be a thrilling subject. Of course, it is something you can do well or badly – or even get right or wrong. And naturally, it is one of the great fun things to do on weekends when your kidney stones aren’t acting up. Actually, it is almost exactly like another important human subject that meets all the same criteria: wind-surfing. Everybody admires it, and plenty of people try it. But the number of people who can do it well is even smaller than the number who can do it without making fools of themselves.

Trust Jesus, then. After that, theologize all you want. Just don’t lose your sense of humor if your theological surfboard deposits you unceremoniously in the drink.

Robert Farrar Capon in Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2002), pp. 24-25

Life in Winter Hid in the Root

“We must not judge of ourselves always according to present feeling, for in temptations we shall see nothing but smoke of distrustful thoughts. Fire may be raked up in the ashes, though not seen. Life in the winter is hid in the root…

“It is one thing to be deficient in grace, and another thing to lack grace altogether. God knows we have nothing of ourselves, therefore in the covenant of grace he requires no more than he gives, but gives what he requires, and accepts what he gives…What is the gospel itself but a merciful moderation, in which Christ’s obedience is esteemed ours, and our sins laid upon him, wherein God, from being a judge, becomes our Father, pardoning our sins and accepting our obedience, though feeble and blemished? We are now brought to heaven under the covenant of grace by a way of love and mercy.”
-Richard Sibbes in The Bruised Reed (Banner of Truth, 1998/1630), p. 37-38

2014 Books: 2Q

Seems as if the blogging well has run dry lately. But even if I move, start a new job, welcome a new baby, and embark on a house hunt, the quarterly book list still must be posted! I read the following books from April through June. My next quarterly reading list is available by clicking here. Running yearly count: 19.

All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture – Ken Myers (1989); Print // This was my third (fourth?) time reading this gem, as I read it with friends for a discussion group. Dated, but the general principles and applications are sound and challenging. Myers has said that he can’t simply revise this work because it require an entire new book. Well, Ken, we’re waiting.

Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us – Murray Carpenter (2014); Print // Well written journalistic look at the world’s most used and (one of the) most addictive drugs. Carpenter travels from China to Columbia and everywhere in between in his journey to discover more about this ancient, mysterious white powder present in chocolate, coffee, tea, and energy bars. Fun and interesting.

God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World – David F. Wells (2014); Print // Wells’ magnificent heavily-researched trilogy and subsequent mainstream overview were absolutely fantastic. I did not find this latest work nearly as engaging, helpful, or tightly argued. The final two chapters on the necessity of recovering God-centered worship and Christian service were very good, but the first seven chapters were a non-cohesive fluctuation between biblical theology, cultural criticism, and general introduction.

The Hidden Life of Prayer: The Life-blood of the Christian – David McIntyre (1913); Audio // A pleasure to listen to, due to the robust vocabulary and writing style employed by an early-20th century Scot. I just wish it was read by a Scot. Also a pleasure to listen to a practical, biblical, and encouraging challenge to develop a robust prayer life.

Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened – Craig Evans & N.T. Wright (2009); Print // Short, accessible, and convincing introduction to the history and reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you don’t have time for Wright’s magisterial The Resurrection of the Son of God (I sure don’t), this is like a very short Cliff’s Notes version (though I’d recommend the larger Cliff’s Notes version Surprised By Hope more).

Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens (1838); Print // Before reading Great Expectations in 2012, I never thought I would ever admit to being a Dickens fan. Now that I’ve read and enjoyed two of his novels, I can safely say that I am on the road to fandom. An excellent work of fiction.

The Truth of the Cross – R.C. Sproul (2007); Kindle // Sproul at his best: explaining and illuminating theological truths concisely, accessibly, precisely, and passionately. This book focuses on the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the eternal covenant and plan of God, and the necessity of the atonement.

War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles – Paul David Tripp (2007); Print // Really helpful book about how the gospel can and should transform our talk and communication. After laying the theological foundation, Tripp turns to the practical side in the later chapters. He repeatedly hammers home the point that without gospel transformation and application, one’s communication problems (indeed, all relational problems) cannot be solved. One to revisit through the years.

The Field is Tilled and Left to Grace

beetsIn light of winter’s slowly loosening grip, I’ve been reading Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poems (collected in A Timbered Choir). Poem X of 1979 (p. 18) is especially beautiful :

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.

I have always liked to think that there is something magical about gardening and farming, but Berry describes this magic in a more romantic way: the field is tilled and left to grace. Isn’t there also something magical, fantastical, about grace? Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3, one plants, another waters, but God gives the grace for growth, and we are God’s field. Like Jesus says in Matthew 13, seed is sown in faith, but in God’s mysterious providence the good soil is all that produces good fruit. It’s not surprising that Paul and Jesus use agricultural pictures for the gospel. The hand aches and the face sweats as the Word is sown and hearts are tilled, watered, and ultimately left to grace. That we may reap, great work is done while we’re asleep.

Magic is all around us. Whether it’s in God’s special grace or common grace, it is inescapable. To relate it to another recent read of mine, this was one of C.S. Lewis’ purposes with his space trilogy: there should be an aspect of romance and magic in science. Lewis’ work in part was a criticism of the cold, hard, distant scientism of his day, which has only since strengthened. Science isn’t (or shouldn’t be) cold and hard; because it is sustained and ordained by a personal, loving God it is warm and wonderful and and magical. Like Robert Farrar Capon described the magic and grace of wine: “Sugar in the grape and yeast on the skins is a divine idea, not a human one. Man’s part in the process consists of honest and prudent management of the work that God has begun.”

Berry views the science of agriculture from a different viewpoint than magic: that of grace. Grace can be magical, but grace trumps magic because grace comes from somewhere, Someone.

Let the Nations Be Glad

It’s difficult to read Scripture with the eyes of faith and not come away with an optimistic view of the future in light of the myriad promises of God that are breathtaking in scope and which promise success for the spread of the gospel. Though most of the Psalms are laments, the Psalms especially are filled with such global optimism and promises for the successful reign of Christ. Keith Mathison, in his excellent book Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope, devotes an entire chapter to the optimism of the Psalms. His summary at the end of the chapter is especially helpful, and I quote it here:

“In each of the psalms we have examined, a different facet of the reign of the Messiah is brought to light:

1. Psalm 2. Christ is the rightful heir of all the nations.
2. Psalm 22. The same Christ who was crucified and is now exalted will fulfill the Abrahamic promise, and all the nations of the earth will remember and turn to God.
3. Psalm 47. All nations of the earth will be united to Christ and will become the one people of the God of Abraham.
4. Psalm 67. Although national Israel has failed, Christ will succeed as the mediator of the Abrahamic blessing to the nations of the earth.
5. Psalm 72. The people of God should faithfully pray for Christ to have worldwide dominion, to have all nations bow before Him, and to have all nations call Him blessed.
6. Psalm 86. The same omnipotent God who made all the nations will convert all the nations.
7. Psalm 110. Christ will reign from the right hand of God until He has brought all His enemies into either willing or unwilling submission.

“The Psalms continue to expand upon the covenant promises of the Pentateuch and the Historical Books by expressing Israel’s faith in the sure fulfillment of those promises. In doing so, they reinforce the postmillennial foundation, even as they begin to build upon it.”

-Keith Mathison in Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope (P&R, 1999), pp. 81-82

The Gospel Increases Spiritual Privileges

Bishop J.C. Ryle on infant baptism:

“Children were admitted to into the Old Testament Church by a formal ordinance, from the time of Abraham downwards. That ordinance was circumcision. It was an ordinance which God himself appointed, and the neglect of which was denounced as sin…Now if children were considered to be capable of admission into the Church by an ordinance in the Old Testament, it is difficult to see why they cannot be admitted in the New. The general tendency of the Gospel is to increase men’s spiritual privileges and not diminish them.”

And Ryle, a little later, endorsing infant baptism but confronting baptismal regeneration:

“Baptism signifies a change of state, bringing the child within the realm of grace, but it does not signify a change of nature.”

-J.C. Ryle, quoted in J.C. Ryle: That Man of Granite by Eric Russell (Christian Focus, 2001), pp.132-133