Sunday, November 30, 2008

Me vs. 5 Year Olds.....bring it on!

I am a peace-loving person so allow me this audacious speculation.

In college I was blessed with a great group of friends. My favorite activity we did was talk. During meals (and especially after) we would entertain ourselves with conversation. Normally the topics were ridiculous and absurd. But always hilarious.

One of my contributions took place during our sophmore year. Sitting in the commons after dinner I asked the question, "How many 5 year olds could you beat up?" We discussed what qualified "beating up," where this would take place, the resources at your disposal, etc.

During my time in Scotland and here in Chicago my friends have also been humored by this conversation topic. Our imaginations can be absurd!

I shouldn't be surprised that we aren't the only ones. If you go to this interactive website it will tell you exactly how many 5 year olds you could take in a fight. The website is aptly called How Many Five Year Olds Could You Take in a Fight?

I'm not going to lie, when my brother-in-law sent me the link I was a little too excited. This helps me know that I am not alone in the world.

I can take 23.

(Take a note of the forum that inspired this blog. After the idea was posted there was over 50 responses in 45 minutes!)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Not that you need to know this but I thought of this post in the shower last night. Remember that show Best Week Ever, on VH1? Actually it might still be on so I might be showing some ignorance. Well here is the best and worst of the last three days. Very random categories. I think I thought of better ones last night but oh well....

What I heard on Monday at the high school

Worse-A teacher told me, "The next class you have is a challenge and some pretty bad kids."

Best-Two kid's conversation, "Chuck Norris' tears cure cancer. Too bad he never cries."

What I saw on while running Monday

Worse-A Salvation Army ringer outside of Walgreens with Christmas music blarring. Come on, let's wait until T-giving.

Best-my apartment, because I was done running.

What I heard on the radio

Worse-This song called Hot n Cold by a girl name Katy Perry. One line goes, "You change your mind like a girl changes clothes." Great simile.

Best-The song Two Set of Joneses by Big Tent Revival. That is old school Christian music. Also one of my sister's favorite songs!

What I thought

Worse-This semester is ending soon. I have a lot of work to do.

Best- I have a couple days off to get some homework done.

What I ate

Worse--Some cantaloupe that tasted like it was dug out of the trash.

Best-Some cornish hen. Never had it before. Thanks to my bro and sis-in-law.

Football I watched

Worse-I watched the St. Louis Rams play a little bit. That is bad.

Best-PSU beat MSU. Every year we have a bet and the loser has to make the winner creme puffs. So Dad, get out your famous recipe.

What I saw driving

Worse-Chicago traffic

Best-Does that gas station sign say $1.76?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fixed Points

“The next place I live,” Mike was saying, “I’m going to settle in. I’m going to have a place for everything and really unpack.” We were talking about the next chapter, after this apartment. In a few months, all of the current tenants here will be looking for new homes. They’re making the building ready for sale. This change wasn’t unexpected really, just not for that reason. Mike has been in school the past three years, and he’ll be done in the spring too. I’d always anticipated we’d all move out after he graduated.

About the time we found out about our deadline, our apartment building became the set of Friends (since everything in real life is defined by hit TV comedies). I live with two other guys, and on the floor below we have three female friends who live together. When they all moved in, I proposed that we have community dinners together once a week. We’ve been doing it now for only a month or two, but I look forward to it every week.

When we moved in, I had no idea that I’d still be here two and a half years later, or that it would feel this familiar. I think when most people think about the future, they project it out in straight lines from the present. What we can’t foresee are all the lines that will intersect with our own and change our course, in small and large ways. There are certainly intersections we hope or plan for, but they aren’t certain, and there are many more we just can’t anticipate. For a single 20something, intersections can change a lot of things. I don’t have to tell you that.

I was reading an article this weekend about cell phone and they’re being used by billions of impoverished people. It’s saving them time too. When a billion people are each saving a little bit of time, that’s a lot of time savings. It’s a small change, but it creates a big difference.

In the article, this line hit my life: “In an increasingly transitory world, the cell phone is becoming the one fixed piece of our identity.” How long have you had your cell phone? I’ve had this model for about a year. I’ve had this phone number for probably six or seven years. Anyone I’ve given my phone number in the last 2000+ days could call me tomorrow and get a hold of me.

That could be a scary thought, but it’s that reliable. I haven’t had anything in my life that stable in the last six or seven years. Since then, I’ve lived in three states, called at least five places “home,” dated a few different girls, bought a new car, worked three or four jobs, and had maybe a dozen roommates. My cell phone has been one of the few settled parts of my life, and even at that it’s only the ten digit number, not the physical phone (I’m on number 3). Why is something mobile the thing I can rely on most?

Recently I also started reading a book called Searching for Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls. It was selected at a book club I’m a part of. I didn’t go looking for a book to tell me how rootless my life is, but it came and found me.

All in all, it’s had me thinking more about the upcoming move. Mike was speculating last week about where the whole cast would end up after the series finale in May. He rattled off where he thought each character would be. Closer to work, closer to home, out of state, toward downtown, with another friend. He didn’t tell me where I would be. Even I only have a direction: northeast. Like Abraham (the similarities end there).

Most clear from Mike’s quick analysis was that none of the cast would still be together in 8 months. We would be dispersed in all directions from here. We would all find a new place, with new casts, new shows. We’d be new characters.

In Searching for Home, Craig Barnes outlines how we, without other stable points of reference, establish identity in relation to the roles we have in our lives. For me, in different contexts, I am a supervisor, a friend, a roommate, a small group leader, a brother, a son, an uncle.

Barnes put it this way: “The individual becomes nothing more that a collection of roles defined by unrelated demands.... She knocks herself out to succeed in all of the identities because they each offer her something.” He goes on to quote Kenneth Gergen: “Who and what we are is not so much the result of our ‘personal essence’...but how we are constructed in various social groups. The initial stages of this consciousness result in a sense of the self as social con artist, manipulating images to achieve ends.” As much as I try to live consistently, I can’t, if only because different people bring out different sides of me. Things like Facebook and even this blog are a challenge because it is the intersection of many of those images.

Of course, my cell phone isn’t the most stable thing in my life. I should say that God is, and I believe that’s true. But when life takes a new trajectory at every intersection, it’s hard to approximate anything like the stability of relating to the immutable God. When I can’t project a straight line off the front of life into the future with any certainty, then outlining what an lasting relationship looks like feels quite impossible. It’s outside my experience.

This summer, I attended a meaningful and heartbreaking funeral. He was the father of a friend of mine. Three people gave eulogies: two “old friends,” and one “new friend.” The two old friends had known him for more that twenty years. I sensed in their words an abiding knowledge of him, a commitment to him, and a desire to carry on the investments he’d made in them. I wondered what that was like.

There are a lot of people who pick up and move to advance their careers and build better lives. And perhaps one day I will find myself faced with a decision like that. But I witnessed in those eulogies something that no career could build.

I’ve lived in Chicagoland now for three years and been committed to a church that comes and goes in much the same way. I’ve led a small group that whole time and have probably had 40 people come and go. Only two or three of them have I known in any consistent way for more than a year.

Now, I’m certain that any sort of faithfulness on my part will never approach any similarity to our reliable and unchanging God. And I’m learning that few 20something friendships last longer than a few seasons of Friends. But I can take a more modest aim and hope to be more faithful and reliable than my cell phone number.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rock Steady

I titled this post and then realized it is the name of one of the bad guys in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Don't act like you didn't know that already. Everyone loves TMNT.

I woke up at 6:50 this morning to my phone ringing.

The voice said, "Hi Mike, are you available to sub today?"

After fighting through my pillow I managed to say, "yes."

So in an instant about 20 minutes I rearranged my other work schedule. Canceled/re-arranged a meeting. Decided that the Greek homework would have to wait. Looked up directions from the high school to the airport to pick up my friend, etc, etc.

I'll be honest, it's not always fun. My day can instantly because of a phone call from someone I have never met before! Since today was altered it means that the rest of the week is changed as well. I push back appointments, time to do homework....and I just realized while writing this I missed a meeting today. Whoops. I totally stood somebody up.

My evening was just as unpredictable. Soccer game, canceled, back on, canceled again. Stopping to visit a friend, he's gone, he's back home, calls me, too late. Meeting friends later in the evening. We play phone tag. Where are we meeting? When?

All this to say that as I sit here, prepping for bed, one thing remains steady. That thing is what I read this morning. I can't explain it but these words just keep echoing in my mind. I don't know how or why but they do. It's nice that with all the variables and changes there is consistency...

Psalm 62:1-2
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Silence and Solitude in Bonhoeffer and Foster

Many people seek fellowship because they are afraid to be alone. Because they cannot stand loneliness, they are driven to seek the company of other people. There are Christians, too, who cannot endure being alone, who have had some bad experiences with themselves, who hope they will gain some help in association with others. They are generally disappointed. Then they blame the fellowship for what is really their own fault. … The person who comes into a fellowship because he is running away from himself is misusing it for the sake of diversion, no matter how spiritual this diversion may appear. He is really not seeking community at all, but only distraction which will allow him to forget his loneliness for a brief time…. (Life Together, 76, online here)

Jesus calls us from loneliness to solitude. ... Our fear of being alone drives us to noise and crowds. We keep up a constant stream of words even if they are inane. ...But loneliness or clatter are not our only alternatives. We can cultivate an inner solitude and silence that sets us free from loneliness and fear. Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment. Solitude is not first a place but a state of mind and heart. It is quite possible to be a desert hermit and never experience solitude. But if we possess inward solitude we will not fear being alone, for we know that we are not alone. Neither do we fear being with others, for they do not control us.

Without silence there is no solitude. Though silence sometimes involves the absence of speech it always involves the act of listening. Simply to refrain from talking, without a heart listening to God, is not silence. One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are so accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. If we are silent who will take control? God will take control; but we never let Him take control until we trust Him. Silence is intimately related to trust. (Celebration of Discipline, 84, 86, 88)

Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s Word and coming from God’s Word with a blessing. But everybody knows that this is something that needs to be practiced and learned, in these days when talkativeness prevails.

The day needs definite times of silence, silence under the Word and silence that comes out of the Word. These will especially be times before and after hearing the Word. The Word comes not to the chatterer but to him who holds his tongue. The stillness of the temple is a sign of the holy presence of God in His Word. (Life Together, 79, online here)

That's Indignorant

Adam introduced a new word to me; indignorant.

Indignorant-describes a person who is both indignant and ignorant. Most commonly becoming defensive and indignant when confronted about their ignorant speech or behavior.

Somebody was indignorant towards me on Monday. Substitute teaching provides for so many good stories. Aout 20 minutes ago, a 2nd grader asked if I would change the music in gym class because he didn't want to listen to High School Musical. I asked what he wanted to listen to instead. He said, "well if it was me I would put in Thriller, by Michael Jackson." Nice.

Back to indignorance. On Monday the 8th grade class was commenting on how I look like Jesus. (Nothing new) After a quick history lesson on how Jesus would actually look I said, "I look like a Scottish-German American, not a first century Jew."

A spunky little blonde hair girl stood up and scowled at me. She boldly spoke up and said, "Mr. Moore, Jesus was Catholic, not Jewish."

That's indignorant.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Blogroll Call 2

Despite advice to the contrary, a number of friends have started blogging in recent weeks. I wanted to give them a shout out from Mike and I here. I've also been meaning to post some other interesting posts that I've read recently that I really appreciated.

"Klyn" started blogging at Wonder and Wandering, a homonym pair I love. She posted some reflections on her experience at a recent Fall Retreat. I was there too, and we had a great time.

A newer friend of mine (since August I was informed), Laura, is blogging about her life. Among her interests are cooking and useful dogs. I've learned more about Laura's personality from her blog, and I really appreciate how different it is from ours here. She recently pondering the "Etiquette of Blogging," which is something I've posted on around these parts. But that was back before we were friends.

Rachael told me just last night that she'd started blogging. "I posted like 5 or 6 posts before I told anybody because I wanted to make sure I would actually do it before word got out." Well, the word is out. She posted on something close to my heart: "Community Dinners." I haven't even read it yet, but she said she talked about me (and my singing, I think), so I may regret linking to that post.

On my last Blogroll Call, I mentioned the Wolff Pack and Parisi Images. They both had posts recently that I really enjoyed.

Bryan Wolff posted "The Downpour of Worldliness." Now, I'm not a big us/them division fan. But I appreciated his reflections as a dad. It definitely hit me in the chest. His metaphor was powerful.

My photographer friend over at Parisi Images had some great reflections on "Experiencing Art." She makes some great insights on the aural and visual art experience, and how we generally experience it in a way antithetical to how it would best be experienced. I'm butchering it. You just have to read it.

Finally, my friend Dan, who lives in the room below mine and often sings me to sleep through the floor, pointed to an article in the Naperville Sun about a woman who threw a birthday party for the homeless in downtown Chicago. It's well worth your time. It's another one that hit me in the chest.

Oh and one more, from a blogger I don't know: a good poem called "Autumn Day" by a poet I've never heard of.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

At the End of the Decalogue

I conclude this series on the Decalogue with both pride and fear.

It is with pride because this is the first blog series I have started that I have seen through to the end. Last weekend, after my first few posts came in a flurry of activity, Mike said to me something like, “The Decalogue really must’ve captured you.” I didn’t respond, but thought about his comment (introvert that I am). I think he was right. Maybe it was the sheer intellectual stimulation of it. Maybe it was the way the Decalogue seems to be as big as world governments and specific as personal consciences. Whatever the case, I wanted to see the series through.

I’ve said to some of you before, “If you get detailed enough, even the most interesting subjects can be boring.” That is my fear with this series. I fear that of the faithful few readers we have (precious readers!), I have pruned a few from that number with this series. I’m sure the word “Decalogue” on this blog was, for many, synonymous with "boredom." While I certainly blogged this series for my own edification, I would not have done it if I didn't think there was value to be had. Still, thank you for indulging me. I intend to return to more customary fare now for a while (and shorter, as one reader complained).

If you missed any of the 13 parts in this series, you'll be glad to have here a full list of the posts.

  1. Big Questions about the 10 Commandments
  2. The 10 Words in the New Testament
  3. The Decalogue for the Early Church
  4. Aquinas’ Decalogue
  5. Luther’s Decalogue
  6. Was I predestined to post this?: Calvin’s Decalogue
  7. Luther and Calvin go head to head
  8. Lancelot Andrewes’ Decalogue
  9. The Greatest Commandment and the Greatest Sacrifice
  10. John Owen’s Decalogue
  11. John Wesley’s Decalogue
  12. Who is Christina Rossetti?
  13. Before the Decalogue: Karl Barth

“We do not write because we know. We write until we know.” And “you don’t really know something until you have to teach it to someone else.” That sums up this series. I was not communicating my own ideas but reiterating the ideas of others.

By the end of the Decalogue Conference, I found that there were are few major questions that the theologians kept answering. I decided they must be important. Here they are as best I could figure:

  • What is the relationship of the Decalogue to the Natural Law?

  • What is the relationship of the Decalogue to Jesus? How is Jesus connected to the Decalogue?

  • What are the uses of the Law? For the un/believer? This is, how does the Decalogue function in the relationship between God and people?

  • Why is the Sabbath commandment included in the Decalogue? Is it a universal law for all people, or a ceremonial law only for the covenant people of God?

If nothing else, I think these questions are a good entry point for someone who wants to think more about the Decalogue, what they believe about it, and—bigger—what they believe about God’s revelation, activity, and mission in the world. Jesus himself said, “I did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill the Law.” Somehow Jesus and the Law are connected, perhaps in a mysterious way. This Conference was all about exploring that mystery.

The 10 Commandments seem simple on the face of it. But once you begin to dig around, you find them to be more multi-faceted than first imagined. This series only scratches the surface of the Decalogue's complexity. It is as far as we go here. Through this complexity, we return again to the 10 Words in their simplicity. There is something called "the simplicity on the far side of complexity." It's a bit like the Hobbits returning home to the Shire after their long journey. Yes, it is home, and it hasn't changed much. Rather, they return to it, seeing it with different eyes, for in fact it is they who have changed. It seems fitting then that we should return home to the 10 Words and, changed, see them again for the first time.

“Listen carefully, Israel. Hear the decrees and regulations I am giving you today, so you may learn them and obey them!

“The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Mount Sinai. The Lord did not make this covenant with our ancestors, but with all of us who are alive today. At the mountain the Lord spoke to you face to face from the heart of the fire. I stood as an intermediary between you and the Lord, for you were afraid of the fire and did not want to approach the mountain. He spoke to me, and I passed his words on to you. This is what he said:

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.

“You must not have any other god but me.

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind, or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.

“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.

“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your oxen and donkeys and other livestock, and any foreigners living among you. All your male and female servants must rest as you do. Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day.

“Honor your father and mother, as the Lord your God commanded you. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

“You must not murder.

“You must not commit adultery.

“You must not steal.

“You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.

“You must not covet your neighbor’s wife. You must not covet your neighbor’s house or land, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.

Before the Decalogue: Karl Barth

Karl Barth brought the interpretation of the Decalogue into the 20th century. Dr George Hunsinger from Princeton Theological Seminary brought Barth’s views to Wheaton College in the last lecture of the conference.

Barth did not discuss the Decalogue any specific, systematic, or comprehensive way in his writings or lectures. Is this indicative of the place the Decalogue had in the 20th century? However, Barth did present a lecture titled “First Commandment as Theological Axiom,” which provided much of the content for Hunsinger’s own analysis of Barth’s Decalogue.

Barth introduced a number of metaphors to establish his theological framework and communicate his ideas. Dr Hunsinger presented three of them: the Sphere, Trinitarian logic, and Alphebung (sp? [ed. update: aufhebung]). The sphere, I gathered, was Hunsinger’s expansion of Barth’s metaphor of a circle. This circle put Christ at the center. Each arc along the circumference of the circle represents a different manifestation of Christ in the world. Of these, the Decalogue is one.

The metaphor of Trinitarian logic gets lost in my notes. I cannot accurately represent it, and in lieu of presenting a false understanding, I’ll leave it, like the Trinity itself, a mystery to us all.

The final metaphor, which I can’t even spell—it being a German word for which Dr Hunsinger finds no sufficient English equivalent—was a math metaphor as far as I could tell. Barth seems to have an affinity for such metaphors. (In my fruitless Google search for details about Trinitarian logic and aufhebung [ed. corrected], I found another metaphor using a line tangent to a circle, the intersection of which is Christ….yeah….) The metaphor of the aufhebung [ed. corrected] nature would be represented this way: -(-(+)). Okay, let’s break it down. First is the positive, (+), of which the Incarnation is one example. Next, we negate the positive, -(+), which would be Jesus’ Crucifixion. Finally, we negate the negation, -(-(+)), which is what the Resurrection did. Does that blow your mind or what? Another example would be grace, (+), then judgment, -(+), then transformation -(-(+)).

In his lecture on the first commandment, Barth asked two questions: “What did the first commandment prohibit?” and “What did it require and allow?” The fact that the first command was revealed gave it, for Barth, precedence over Natural Theology. So, Natural Theology had to be reexamined in light of the absolute claims of this revelation.

Further, Barth believed that the term “axiom” was also subject to these absolute claims. Thus, the word “axiom” had to be dismantled, reassembled, and sanctified to fit theology. Barth’s “conversionist” stance, to use Niebuhr’s categories, is apparent in this belief. The first commandment, then, was not an axiom, but “axiom” itself was premised upon the first commandment.

Thus, Barth’s conclusion in his lecture was that Scripture, having precedent as revelation, is the norm of norms. All else must be interpreted through Scripture (i.e., revelation, Christ).

This is a strong, absolutist conclusion to my sensibilities. I like it. Barth’s conclusion was somewhat of a reaction, by my estimation. His circle metaphor, which placed Christ at the center, stood in contrast to an elipse (similar to an oval), which had not one center but two. These two foci could be nature and grace (Brunner), or it could be systematics alongside Christ. These sorts of dual-center approaches, Barth argued, pervaded Roman Catholicism, modern liberal theology, and NeoProtestantism. In this light, Barth’s views seem to elevate Christ and center upon him in ways that other perspectives fail to do. It also speaks of the economy by which Barth was determining value, one which placed Christ as God before all.

After Dr Hunsinger developed Barth’s circle metaphor into a sphere, he expanded it again to include concentric spheres, or spheres within spheres, with Christ still at the center. Using this expansion, he discussed the various secondary and tertiary levels (theoretically, there are more) that Barth identified. Barth spoke of the first commandment as secondary revelation. He called Scripture secondary and dependant on Christ. A sermon was tertiary (third) to Scripture and Christ.

In all, Barth’s Decalogue seems to be built on these ideas. Much of the discussion throughout the history of interpretation seems discontinued in Barth. Discussion of Natural Law is upended in a restructuring of thought wherein Christ precedes it and defines it, rather than the other way around. But even this restructuring answers the question of what the relationship is between the two.

As for his analysis of what the functions of the Law are and how the believer might use the Decalogue, these issues seem to be absent. It seems, perhaps, that Barth was more concerned with dismantling, reassembling, and sanctifying theological thought than he was in working it out its implications. The work of doing that, it seems, may have been left to us.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Who is Christina Rossetti?

Christina Rossetti represented, as best I could discern, the feminist interpretation of the Decalogue. While to more modern sensibilities, her views seem rather tame, a colleague of mine pointed out that to her own time (late 19th-century Britain), she was probably quite progressive. An example of this is the way that Rossetti looked at the temptations of Adam and Eve. Whereas Eve was tempted by Satan, Adam was tempted by Eve. Thus, Rossetti concluded that Eve’s temptation was one of the mind, and Adam’s temptation was one of the heart. In Victorian England, this sort of perspective starkly contrasted popular ideas about masculine and feminine strengths and weaknesses.

Dr Timothy Larsen from Wheaton College presented Rossetti’s views on the Decalogue, drawn mainly from her work, Letter and Spirit: Notes on the Commandments. By this time in the conference I felt I had discerned a number of the major questions that interpreters of the Decalogue have asked through the centuries. However, I found few answers to those questions in this presentation. This may be due to the fact that much of Rossetti’s work was poetry, not prose. Perhaps her most famous poem is “In the Bleak Midwinter.” Dr Larsen pointed us to another poem of hers called, “No Thank You, John.” That is, essentially a “Dear John” letter.

But I gathered very little about how Rossetti interpreted the Decalogue. The presentation itself seemed to emphasize her personal biography more than focusing on her views surrounding the Decalogue.

One of Rossetti’s contributions to this history of interpretation was her unique perspective as a woman. Dr Larsen summed it up well when he said that Rossetti’s modus operandi seemed to ask “What does the woman see that a man simply does not or cannot see?” Much of Rossetti’s interpretation, Dr Larsen said, read the Decalogue in typological and allegorical terms.

She drew many, many of her examples from the Biblical accounts of all sorts of women, named and unnamed. Her knowledge of them seems extensive, possibly unparalleled. Her work bleeds with these sorts of references. Beyond that even, her allusions to Biblical events and stories throughout her work reveals a knowledge and reverence for Scripture that is staggering, covering every book in the Bible.

Rossetti was a name I did not know prior to this conference. Her work and life are interesting and deserving of further inquiry. I leave that task to you, gentle reader.

John Wesley's Decalogue

John Wesley shared much in common with Lancelot Andrewes. A similar Anglican heritage moved them toward similar worship, prayer, confession, and moral life. However, in the time between Andrewes and Wesley stand some major shifts in the way the world was viewed. Men like Immanuel Kant, David Hume, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau ushered in the period of the Enlightenment. So while Andrewes collected his orthodoxy with pastoral grace during the preEnlightenment, Wesley developed a polemical edge as he reacted to the cultural values challenging the authority of the Christian faith, including the Decalogue.

Dr Stephen Long from Marquette University presented Wesley’s thoughts on the Decalogue. Wesley rejected Luther’s dualistic categories, law and gospel. Rather, to Wesley, there is no contradiction between the two. He also followed in the paths of Calvin and the church fathers, linking Jesus with the Torah. Dr Long said that Wesley linked the two with such emphasis that Calvin’s paled by comparison. Further, like Calvin and Aquinas, Wesley interpreted civil, moral, and ceremonial divisions of the Law. Dr Long wondered aloud how far back these traditional divisions went.

Wesley’s theology of the Decalogue is truly Christocentric. From beginning to end, Wesley sees Christ pervading every part. First, he is prior to Creation, creating according to the blueprint of the eternal law, God’s nature. He is the “light of Creation” on the first day. Wesley used the term “light of Creation” on purpose, noting that the sun did not appear until the 4th day, but that there was light on the first day. It represented the Natural Law by which the world was created, existing before the world began. Thus, the Natural Law participates in the eternal law. This connection helped Wesley hold the law and gospel together without separation or contradiction.

Second, Christ is present in the giving of the Decalogue, capturing God’s nature there again. For Wesley, when God is speaking, it is always Jesus. Thus, it was Jesus at Mount Sinai, through whom the Decalogue came. After sin entered the world and obscured the Law given in the light of Creation on the first day, the Decalogue was given again to Moses. The Decalogue allowed people to join into relationship with God. (This, in my mind, is therefore an act of grace, and even Good News.) It directed them into life with God.

And finally, Jesus as Christ is the incarnation of God. The Natural Law could only be seen through Jesus, who shows us what living by it is to look like. Just as he met Moses on Mount Sinai, so also he met his people on another mount. And just as the Decalogue served to guide sinners into a relationship with God, the Beatitudes fulfill and surpass the Law in accomplishing the same thing.

All of this was bound up in Wesley’s moral teleology (end, purpose) of holiness and happiness, or “blessedness.” The Law was really a “religion of the heart” motivated by love. Wesley argued against the exclusive humanism—popular by this time—that replaced love for God with love for man alone. Wesley believed such a humanism apart from God could not preserve genuine humanness. Such an exclusivity was impossible because duty to neighbor was linked and dependent on duty to God. Love, for Wesley, fulfilled the Law, which in turn fulfilled the purpose of the commandments.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Preaching for a change

Two very different bloggers weighed in today on their blogs about how we grow spiritually through preaching. Tim Challies titled his post “The First and Primary Object” of preaching. Dr Dave Fitch posed his as a question, “How do Christians Grow and Mature?” Their titles seem to fit the perspectives they themselves come from.

What interested me though was not the coincidence of both offering their opinions about the same topic on the same day. Rather, I was surprised to find from two seeming opposites that there was more similarity between them than there were differences. They came at it from different angles of course—Challies appealing to the authority of Jonathan Edwards, Dr Fitch relaying the ideas of a friend in ministry, again, fitting for each—but they arrived at similar conclusions by my estimation. Here’s part of what each one said.

From Challies:

Like every other Christian, I have often sat enraptured in church, having my mind filled and my affections stirred. But sometimes after arriving home I can barely remember a word that was said. The same is sometimes true of books, Bible studies and conferences. What was so meaningful at the time may be nearly forgotten only a short time later, leaving me to question if it was really so important in the first place. This is not to say that nothing sticks in my mind. Certainly I do remember a lot of what I hear and what I read. But when I consider a 500-page book or a series of eight addresses and compare what I read or what I heard to what I now remember, it can be awfully frustrating. It can be discouraging.

But, according to Edwards, if I were to worry in this way I would be placing too great an emphasis on intellect while downplaying the importance of affections.

From Reclaiming the Mission:

When people come to our church from other established (probably bigger) evangelical churches, they often come looking for a communal, real, authentic, missional life with Christ and a church body. They find our liturgical forms of worship refreshing at first. But sometimes, if they don't GET what's going on, they become disillusioned. Our sermons do not always exposit word for word what the Bible means and then package some applications to go home with and do and improve your Christian life. They proclaim Truth (the reality of Jesus as Lord) out of the Biblical text and ask us to obey, submit and live under the Lordship of Christ for this day, this week, this year. We do have group Bible study time at 9 a.m. (newly reinstituted teaching for an hour teaching the Scripture that we are preaching), but the service itself is a time of formation before and into the Word of God. It is not a time of learning information for the purpose of attaining a certain competence (don't get me wrong, there's an important place for studying and knowing The Bible). Different assumptions about "How People Grow in Christ" undergird how we gather as a people, and the discipleship processes that come forth from that.

Personally, I was even more interested because I too have been thinking about preaching as a means of formation more than a means of information. Preaching is often simply a dynamically presented lecture, an entertaining conveyance of information. And while Bible knowledge is important (I chose my alma mater for that reason), I think what you love is more important than what you believe. I think what your love will inspire your actions more than your beliefs ever will. It’s important, then, to love the right things.

When my thoughts run in this vein, I always think of Donald Miller's words in the opening of Blue Like Jazz, "Sometimes you have to see someone love something before you can love it yourself." This, in my mind, is the task of preaching, or any Bible "education" for that matter. Preaching is an opportunity to show someone what you see, or Who you see, from where you stand. It's an opportunity to look upon Jesus in all his magnificence, generosity, or whatever it may be, and to help others to see him like that too. To stand and look and grow excited with anticipation. It isn't so much about having people leave saying, "Wow, I really learned something," although that's good. Rather, for them to walk away thinking, "Isn't Jesus amazing?" is to capture more than some available space in their brains. It's the kind of thing that makes you want more, want to believe more, want to be more like him. It's the kind of thing that changes you. It's hardly what we typically call knowledge. It's something more like love. Paul said something himself about those two things.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

John Owen's Decalogue

Dr Carl Trueman, a youngish Brit from Westminster Seminary, presented the next paper on the English nonconformist John Owen. Among a number of interesting facts Trueman gave by way of background, he said that it is generally believed that Owen was a tutor to John Locke, the influential thinker and writer of the 17th century. In fact, Locke dedicates a poem of his to one “J.O.” whom many suppose to be John Owen.

Trueman argued that the social and political turmoil that served as Owen’s context was important background to understand in order to rightly interpret Owen’s writing and though.

For Owen, the Decalogue and the Torah are rooted in God’s nature, and are revelations of that divine nature. As such, they are nonnegotiable absolutes to be followed. This Law defines the structure of the relationship between Creator and creature, but the Law does not serve as the mechanism by which men come to God. Like others, Owen believed that the Natural Law is intuitively grasped by human nature, but was obscured to one degree or another by sin. Owen extended this reasoning to argue that all people are obligated to abide by the precepts of the Decalogue by virtue of their being creatures within the law of creation, or law of nature. The law is relevant to all by virtue of its structure with Creation, so the moral laws explicated in the Decalogue are binding for all people.

Owen’s “covenant of works” on the other hand was the Law given at Sinai, and it established a covenant community, which abided by this Law. This expressly given law was a result of grace, where a broken creation vaguely grasps the universal law. Breaking the “covenant of works” did not break the law of creation; it was still binding for all, including God’s covenant people. I’m not sure, but the Decalogue seems to be a sort of crux connecting the Natural Law, or law of creation/nature written on the human heart, and the Sinai Covenant. Thus, the “covenant of works” is still rooted in the law of nature, but is a outgrowth of it in a specific context.

The Decalogue thus served both to inform and to remind. It informed sin-broken hearts of the law that was programmed into them at their creation. It reminded God’s covenant people that the law of nature remained in tact even in the “covenant of works” was broken, and thus still binding.

In regards to uses of the Law, Owen seems to disagree with Luther and agree with Calvin that the Law does serve as moral guide. For the believer, the Decalogue has a primarily positive significance, outlining the moral response to God in matters of sanctification; this also seems to align with Calvin’s thought. It also served to “terrify sinners” and point them to Christ, not the Law, and reveal to them their need for a mediator between them and God.

Life in the Blue Room

This week I started substitute teaching again. It's like being a secret agent. You wake up in the morning to a phone call not knowing what school, subject, or grade level you will teach. (It's not that glamorous)

Through some nice connections at my other job I got to know some teachers and students at a local high school. So this week (and for the rest of the year) I was asked to sub consistently in the behavioral challenged classrooms.

My job was this week was to work in the "blue room." When kids get worked up in class they get send there to process their choices and talk with me about how to make their day better. It sounds a little corny but I think it works. They storm through the door frustrated sit down and after some cussing and threatening they begin to talk. And like most problems in our life I find out it has nothing to do with the teacher or their classmate. There is an issue at home. A lack of confidence. A desire to be respected. A feeling of ineptitude and discouragement.

So we talk about it. They fill out a sheet and go back to class. Some don't fill out a sheet but sit there the whole time cussing, threatening, and throwing books. But overall the blue room is a place of clam.

I think it would nice if we all could have a blue room.

The Greatest Commandment and the Greatest Sacrifice

In conjunction with the Decalogue Conference (previously, I mistakenly called it the Wheaton Theology Conference, which happens in the spring), Dr Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., president of Calvin Theological Seminary spoke Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at Wheaton College’s chapel, in the Staley Lecture series. In keeping with the Decalogue, Dr Plantinga spoke about the Greatest Commandment, and the second which is like it.

Because the lecture series started before the Decalogue Conference commenced, occurred in the Edman Chapel instead of Barrow Auditorium like the rest of the Conference, and included the whole student body of Wheaton College, Dr Plantinga’s remarks were less academic than those restricted to the Conference. Understandably, the majority of his audience was not made up of scholars and conference attendees, so he tailored his presentation to fit. In all, it seemed out of place next to the rest of the Conference papers, but it was still valuable in its own right.

I watched Dr Plantinga’s messages from Barrows Auditorium, where a live feed was broadcast. It’s amazing how easily one disconnects from the presentation when the message becomes a televised event. At the end of Dr Plantinga’s first message, he invited the audience to stand for his prayer of benediction. Instead of participating, I found myself, initially, watching. If you’ve ever watched a preacher on television pray, you know the experience. Have you ever prayed with them? After some hesitation, and looking around at a few others already standing, I too stood, bowed my head and engaged as a participant instead of as an observer.

Dr Plantinga offered one brief but valuable metaphor toward the end of his second address to Wheaton College that I really appreciated. He was speaking, on a brief tangent, about giving one’s life in the cause of the Good News. It may have been in reference to Matthew 5:11 and the persecution mentioned there. He said, “We do not know if we will have to make the ultimate sacrifice because we are followers of Jesus. Before we learn calculus, we must learn arithmetic. We must first learn to show hospitality and love our neighbor in simple, daily practice.”

At Wheaton, the mind inevitably jumps to Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian and the sacrifices they made. All believers, I think, at one time or another ask themselves whether they would sacrifice their lives if put to it. But how much do we neglect to ask ourselves about the lesser things! Am I willing to love my neighbor or honor my parents? Am I willing to do less than give my all, and do that every day?

It is something like this idea that it seems Calvin may have been thinking when he argued that the Decalogue prohibits not just these terrible sins like murder and theft, but also “lesser” sins like anger and selfishness. And perhaps too, we are spurred toward this thinking too when Paul reasons that to break any part of the Law is to break the whole thing. And why Jesus says, you who are angry with your brother have already committed murder in your heart, you who have lusted after a woman have already committed adultery in your heart.

Perhaps the next time we ask ourselves whether we would be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, we would do better to ask whether we are willing to give up something less? I fear I already know my answer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lancelot Andrewes' Decalogue

Unfortunately I missed the Thursday night lecture on the Jewish theologian Maimonides. If you are especially interested in the Decalogue Conference, you can hear all the lectures at

The first lecture Friday morning was on Lancelot Andrewes. Never heard of him? Neither had I, but he is not a minor leaguer. Dr Jeffrey Greenman of Wheaton College used his survey of Andrewes’ views on the Decalogue to make an argument that Andrewes was in fact the first Anglican moral theologian, about 50 years ahead of later, more famous theologians cut from the same cloth.

Behind the Anglican’s Book of Common Prayer, Lancelot Andrewes’ spiritual classic Private Prayers is the most used book in Anglicanism. The influence of the Decalogue on these written prayers is apparent to an attentive reader. As a theologian, Andrewes was not an innovator, but more of an aggregator. He collected and compiled the ideas of his many predecessors and recapitulated them in his sermons and writings, and creating a comprehensive theology in doing so.

As for his work on the Decalogue, during his career at Pembroke Hall, University of Cambridge, Andrewes presented 110 academic lectures on the topic around 1585, while he served as catechist. This easily surpasses Calvin’s 200 weekday lectures, who “only” spent about 2 months in Deuteronomy.

Like Calvin, Andrewes not only understood the Decalogue to be calling for restraint but also inverted the commands and understood them as virtues to be espoused. That is, don’t just “not steal,” but also “give to others.” In Prayers, Andrewes referred to the prohibitions as “deprecation” and the directives as “comprecation.” Deprecation in prayer served as confession, while comprecation in prayer served to “interiorize” the Decalogue into the spiritual life. The Decalogue thus oriented spiritual life and conduct.

In keeping with normal interpretation, Andrewes had two tables, 1-4, 5-10. In his thinking the first table regards love of God (holiness) and the second regards love of neighbor (righteousness). The fourth command, while in the first table, was subordinate to the first three. Meanwhile in the second table, in moving from 5 to 10, Andrewes discerned a movement from common (general) to private (particular). For Andrewes, the Decalogue served as the true Christian Ethic, surpassing all others. The Decalogue was the foundation of Christian moral ethics.

Andrewes did weigh in on the argument surrounding the Sabbath. Is it universal or particular? Is it moral or ceremonial? Andrewes rooted the Sabbath commandment in the creation story, before the Fall, and so argued that the command was not ceremonial in nature but universal. The ceremonial law came only after the Fall.

Andrewes expanded the fifth commandment to apply to all relationships of superiors to inferiors, establishing a manner for living in the social hierarchy of his day. But this was not a matter of power for the leaders, but of responsibility to those whom they lead.

Andrewes was, in all, a very practical theologian, with a pastor’s heart. He was not concerned with treading new ground but with applying orthodoxy to daily living. His thinking echoed Calvin’s and was steeped in the church fathers and other medieval theologians. Like Calvin, and like later successors in moral theology and Puritanism, Lancelot Andrewes was comprehensive in his theology. Comprehensive more like a heavy blanket than a driving rain.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Luther and Calvin go head to head

All of the Q&A sessions were good, but the Luther/Calvin Q&A was the most interesting. A question was posed seeking to distinguish Luther’s views from Calvin’s on the uses of the Law. As I mentioned, Luther had two explicit uses of the Law, while Calvin added a third. The questioner suggested that Luther had a third use for the Law: to serve as a moral guide for the believer moving toward God.

To this Dr Wengert responded that Luther certainly did not have a third use of the Law, even while an early follower, Melanchthon, added a third.

“I don’t care if Luther acknowledged having one or not…” the questioner responded.

“Well, many do care,” Dr Wengert defended.

The questioner’s argument seemed to be that Luther implied a third use of the Law even if it was not expressly stated.

Finally, as good disagreements tend to do, the pivotal question finally arose: “Did Luther believe the Ten Commandments provided guidance for the Christian life?”

To this, Dr Wengert responded that for Luther, spontaneity arises from the Law to good works in daily life. This is what he meant when he said that the Christian life in the common life.

Another distinction that came up was the differing emphasis on purity. Luther broke with the earlier emphasis on purity, believing it was the result of God’s grace alone. Calvin saw purity as the means, not the end, that is, the believer must become holy before coming to God.

Was I predestined to post this?: Calvin's Decalogue

Despite Dr Susan Schreiner’s claim that there is “nothing more boring that John Calvin on the Ten Commandments,” she managed a lively presentation. While Luther called the Decalogue “God’s Hammer,” she said, John Calvin captured the feel of that hammering, “like a driving rain.”

From March 1555 to July 1556, Calvin preached every weekday, including Saturdays, through the whole Bible. (I think this is what it means to have a mind “steeped” in Scripture.) Much of June and July 1555 were devoted to expositing Deuteronomy, from which much of Calvin’s interpretation of the Decalogue was drawn.

For Calvin, the Decalogue was a form of the Natural Law, which is written on the hearts of men, even if it is obscured in a fallen conscience. Whereas Luther divided the Decalogue into 3 tables (or tablets), Calvin had 2. Whereas Luther had 2 uses of the Law, Calvin had 3: to reveal sin and drive sinners to Christ as sole mediator; to restrain unbelievers and so maintain civil order in society; and to make believers more holy by restraining their sinful impulses. This third use illustrates Calvin’s philosophy about dual nature of the believer’s heart: It is both righteous and sinful, justified and in need of sanctification.

Calvin departed from Luther in a number of other ways as well. Calvin emphasized purity and holiness more than Luther did, preceding the Puritans in this. He praised Moses, referred to the Decalogue as a law of grace, and believed that God rewarded those who obeyed the Law.

For Calvin the first table of the Decalogue consisted of the first 4 Commandments. In his thinking, this first table served to restrain men from idolatry and preserve pure and proper worship. True worship, he believed, means recognizing God’s right to have authority over us.

Calvin approached each command from 3 angles. First, he examined them as explicit prohibitions, but that prohibition encompassed actions that broke the same laws to a lesser degree. One example of this, I would think, would be that of anger as defying the prohibition to murder. The second angle was to endorse the opposite of the command as a virtue to be practiced. So “do not steal” became “give to others.” Finally, Calvin believed that a pure conscience was necessary for fulfilling the commands. This was achieved by examining minutely both the law and our consciences for failure to abide by these commands.

For Calvin, an ought could equal a can for a believer empowered by the Holy Spirit. Remember that Luther did not believe an ought does equal a can, although he did not delineate between believer and unbeliever. Calvin used Romans 2:6 to draw his distinction between “reward” and “merit” for obedience to the Law. In his view, good works were not a qualification for but a confirmation of salvation.

The Decalogue, for Calvin, is the true and eternal tool of the righteous. The substance of the ceremonial and moral law is unchanging, which he rooted in God’s own immutability (unchanging nature). God did not abandon the Old Testament. Calvin maintained a unity and sameness of substance between the Old and New Testaments. This unity explains Calvin’s affirmations of holiness and perfection.

Schreiner concluded her presentation be speculating about why the Decalogue has seen a resurgence of interest recently. She supposed that in a world where everything is relative and always changing, there is something attractive about an unchanging, natural, universal, moral ethic. She mentioned a movie titled Decalogue by a Polish director named Kieslowski, and quoted from another book titled I Am the Lord Your God.

“…neither we nor our distant progeny will live to see a new Christian culture in the Western world…. Modern persons will never find rest for their restless hearts without Christ, for modern culture is nothing but the wasteland from which the gods have departed, and so this restlessness has become its own deity; and, deprived of the shelter of the sacred and the consoling myths of sacrifice, the modern person must wander or drift, vainly attempting one or another accommodation with death, never escaping anxiety or ennui, and driven as a result to a ceaseless labor of distraction, or acquisition, or willful idiocy. And, where it works its sublimest magic, our culture of empty spectacle can so stupefy the intellect as to blind it to its own disquiet, and induce a spiritual torpor more deplorable than mere despair. … In this time of waiting, in this age marked only by the absence of faith in Christ, it is well that the modern soul should lack repose, piety, peace, or nobility, and should find the world outside the church barren of spiritual rapture or mystery, and should discover no beautiful or terrible or merciful gods upon which to cast itself.”

Who’s the driving rain now?

Word Up

My vocabulary is quite limited. Yesterday, through conversation or reading I ran into some new words that humbled me. I'm going to try to use them everyday this week. I'll be giving myself bonus points if I can use them all in one sentence!

insipid- without distinctive, interesting, or stimulating qualities; vapid:

thaumaturge -a worker of wonders or miracles; magician.

pugilism-The skill, practice, and sport of fighting with the fists; boxing.

Anybody have some words I should add to my vernacular this week? (Doppleganger is definitely in there!)

Monday, November 10, 2008


At the Decalogue Conference, I had this random woman come up and ask me if I had any family in Wisconsin. I don't, I told her. She told me I looked exactly like the band director at some high school in LaCrosse. I think she was referring to this guy. What do you think?

I'm tempted to write more about ego and identity, but I will not give in. I always take things too deep. Let's be superficial on this one.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Luther's Decalogue

The next set of papers were presented on Martin Luther and John Calvin. Dr Timothy Wengert presented the first paper on Martin Luther. Luther’s figure is imposing in any element of historical theology, and the same is no less true in the interpretation of the Decalogue. Luther moved us from Patristic and medieval theology, past medieval piety into Reformation theology.

Luther famously, I gathered, drew a distinction between Law and Gospel in his theology. For later theologians, this seems to be an important point of agreement or disagreement by which to discuss the Decalogue. Luther said that the Law was to the Gospel as the righteousness of this creation was to the righteousness of Christ.

For Luther, the Decalogue had two uses: the reveal sin in the individual’s experience, not just cognitively; and to establish a basis for civil order. For Luther, in the Decalogue an “ought” did not imply a “can.” That is, simply because one was commanded that he should do something doesn’t mean that he could carry it out apart from God’s enabling.

The first commandment for Luther struck at the heart of sin: unbelief. It demanded faith to replace unbelief in the hearer. Luther’s “faith” inevitably gave rise to so many good works that “self-chosen spirituality” was unnecessary. Luther made this argument, it seemed, in part to undermine the validity of monastic orders, which apparently seemed to function as artificial mechanisms for generating good deeds (Col 2:23).

The Liber Graduum and Aquinas made distinctions the moral lives of common Christians and those of “saints.” As far as I could tell, Luther rejected this division. He embraced the entirety of life as holy unto God. The Christian life is the common life. This is another reason why Luther rejected monastic spirituality. He supported this argument by focusing on the idea of the law written on the heart. This seemed to extract the Law from its contexts in Exodus and Deuteronomy.

While the Law revealed sin, it did not create faith. It pointed to Christ, but it did not do the positive work of moving them toward him per se. Instead, belief arises out of God’s mercy.

The Decalogue is famously imagined as being on two tablets. For Luther, the Decalogue was tripartite: 1-3, 4, 5-10. That is, he saw each tablet having distinct and different applications based on their purposes. He also placed these in a 4-tier hierarchy, from top to bottom: 1, 2-3, 4, 5-10.

Luther also weighed in with his interpretation on the fourth commandment. He argued that all days were sacred, or that different days were made sacred by different people. He believed that individuals should set aside a day as sacred unto God or consider all days sacred. This seems fitting in light of his desire to embrace the entirety of life, the common life, as holy.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Aquinas' Decalogue

Dr Matthew Levering from Ave Maria University presented his paper "Aquinas on the Decalogue" as we moved forward into the second millennium after Christ. Like many of the earlier church fathers, Aquinas saw the Decalogue as the Natural Law revealed to man. He argued, interestingly, that God delayed in its revelation in order to show man the futility in his own reason and its inability to grasp universal law. Whereas Irenaeus believed one purpose of the Decalogue was to prepare man for friendship with God, Aquinas said that part of its purpose was to establish man's relationship to God. However, I'm not sure how significant this difference is.

Dr Levering prepared 4 parts in his paper. The first, already mentioned, looked at the Decalogue as revealed natural law. Then, the second looked at the Sabbath commandment, a seemingly out-of-place command better suited to the ceremonial law. Next, he considered Aquinas' view on whether obedience to the law was meritorious, justifying the sinner before God. Finally, he intended to examine the question of whether God had violated his own Decalogue with a case like the sacrifice of Isaac. This fourth part was the primary "cargo" that was thrown overboard due to time constraints. Dr Levering promised to his dismay that this was indeed the most compelling part of the paper.

With the first part, Aquinas argued that the Decalogue was made up of such principles as would be ready for the mind of man to apprehend immediately. This is because, for Aquinas, not even sin can remove from man the natural law in its first principles. (This seems to me to arise from the idea in places like Jeremiah and Ezekiel where God says he will write his law on men's hearts.) On the other hand, Aquinas believed that sin could remove from man the ability to apply via reason those first principles in specific situations. Dr Levering was sure to point out that the Natural Law for Aquinas was not autonomous morality.

With the second part, on the Sabbath command, Aquinas reasoned that not every Word of the Decalogue belonged to Natural Law "in the same way." As far as I could discern, this meant that certain precepts are not accessible to natural human reason. I assume this takes us back to the first few statements made here: Man's thinking is futile and unable to grasp universal law on his own; but when revealed to him, man sees these precepts as though they were quite reasonable and sensible. In the case of the Sabbath, Dr Levering explained that worship is a reasonable activity since all men worship something, someway, somehow. The Sabbath command sanctifies this reasonable impulse by calling us to it. This line of thinking though doesn't explain another piece of the revealed Decalogue: the name of Yahweh. Dr Levering did not sort out this conundrum, nor was the issue raised.

Going further on the topic of the Sabbath, Dr Levering said that Aquinas follows Augustine and Origen in his understanding of the Sabbath's presence in the Decalogue. It is not primarily a ceremonial precept or an application of the Decalogue. Instead it captures a universal of creation, but at the same time functions within the covenant in particular. It is both universal and particular. It also serves to point backward to Creation in the 7th day, and forward to the elevation of Creation in Christ himself. So in the Sabbath command we see a function, for Aquinas, of the Decalogue--to elevate the Natural Law through the revealed law and bring out of Creation a covenant community.

The third and, unfortunately, final part of Dr Levering's paper dealt with the Decalogue and justification. Here he cited Matt 19:17 as an important text. For Aquinas, justification happened through the Decalogue only for those already in covenantal union with God. Hebrews 11:6 points more specifically to argue that full obedience to the Decalogue requires charity (love). Finally, the Law functions to draw man to God, while grace assists man in movement toward Him. Similar to Tertullian and the Liber Graduum, Aquinas conceived of individuals as finding two ways in the Christian life: "possessing" justice (character) or doing works of justice (action).

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Decalogue for the Early Church

The sessions at the Wheaton Theological Conference are broken into dual lectures. The second pairing combined the church fathers and the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas. Dr Alison Salveson from the Oriental Institute at University of Oxford spoke on Origen and the Church Fathers. Then Dr Matthew Levering of Ave Maria University presented Aquinas’ perspective on the Decalogue. Due to technical problems, both lectures were a bit rushed. In the case of Dr Levering, the joke became that of “throwing cargo overboard.” As a result, what is an already heady topic for me became harder to follow, but I will do my best to outline their presentations.

In Dr Salveson’s examination, the treatment of the Decalogue was considered in various Greek, Latin, and Syriac works, with their authors where available. The first four from Greek were the Didache, the Letter of Barnabas, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus. I’m sorry to have failed to grasp the central points on the first two.

In Justin Martyr though we see Decalogue equated with the Natural Law as a universal. However it is also conceived as being embodied somehow by Jesus. This sort of equation is something we will see throughout the church fathers. In a variety of ways they will connect Jesus to the Decalogue.

In his analysis of the Decalogue, Irenaeus didn’t make such a strong correlation with the Natural Law. Instead he said that the Decalogue is a reminder of the Natural Law. He argued that God “prepares man for His friendship through the Decalogue.” As for the rest of the Jewish Law, Irenaeus saw it as bondage.

Moving on to some Latin writers, Dr Salveson looked at the Decalogue in Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. For Tertullian the Decalogue is the written form of a preMosaic, unwritten, natural, and universal law that was applicable from Adam to the present. He rejected it as a “yoke of works”—or action—but maintained that it was a “yoke of moral discipline”—or restraint. The seems to portend later ideas about works and temperance, in my very humble analysis.

Clement argued that the Mosaic Decalogue “defines sins in a way conducive to salvation” and “must be observed.” He also offers his equation connecting the Decalogue with Jesus: Decalogue = iota (jot) = Name of Jesus. This, he says, is the “jot that will not pass away.” However, Clement refused that the higher meaning (Jesus as the embodiment) eliminated the literal meaning (Decalogue as law) but instead affirmed both to be true.

Next, Origen posited that Moses himself embodied the Law of God. He believed that the Decalogue was necessary for human discipline in a way much like the 10 Plagues of Exodus. They both served to chastise the disobedient.

Finally, Dr Salveson reviewed some Syriac documents (please forgive my gloss over of the geographic nuances of these texts). Specifically, she discusses the Didiscalia Apostolorum, Aphrahat, Ephrem, and Liber Graduum. Here I recognized what appeared to my perception as some interesting previews for later beliefs.

The Didascalia Apostolorum interpreted the Law of Moses as coming from Jesus, having spoken through Moses, followed later by Jesus himself speaking directly to us. Thus, this grants Jesus’ the authority to state, “You have heard it said…, but I say….” The D.A. offered a “simple law”: “Do not do to others what you don’t want done to you.” This was primary, followed then by the “second law” of ceremonial observances. And again, another equation: Yod = Ten = Decalogue = Jesus. While this logic may seem irrational to our sensibilities, I thought of similarly confusing--but apparently esteemed--logic in the Gospels (Matt 22:31-32).

Aphrahat picks up the ideas of Tertullian in dividing the Decalogue from the other laws of Moses, considering the 10 Words to be the life-giving light yoke while the other laws function as punishments. The 2 Greatest Commandments (to love God and love others) stand above the law according to the Aphrahat. This leans toward answering Dr Block's question about the prioritization of the Decalogue beside the Law. And similar to commonly held ideas today, the Aphrahat argued that observance of the Decalogue functioned as proof of faith.

Next, Ephrem weighs in on the relationship between the Decalogue and Natural Law saying they are identical. The remainder of the Mosaic Law, he says is instead meant to address the Decalogue in contingent circumstances, that is, in application. This seems to be similar to our own practices, allowing us to set aside the various portions of the Law as culturally bound. Again, this is one way the problem is answered that Dr Block raised on the prioritizing of the Decalogue in relation to the Law. Ephrem begins to set the stage for more modern interpretations like Luther and Calvin (to come) by distinguishing a Covenant of Justice and Covenant of Grace in the functions of the Decalogue and Law.

Finally, the Liber Graduum brings about an early, rather blunt, formulation of ideas that seem to crop up later. It presents a two-tiered concept of the Christian life: those who are Christians and those who are serious Christians. In the terms of the Liber Graduum, these two tiers are the Just and the Perfect. The Just follow the Golden Rule, the Decalogue, and the “minor” Law of Justice. Meanwhile, the Perfect are more serious and follow the “major” Law of the Perfect, the 2 Greatest Commands, and imitate Christ by taking up their crosses and forsaking all. The Just do the minimum amount necessary to be acceptable to God. The Perfect go above and beyond in their commitments to Christ and the Decalogue. Even in this later theological development, the equation inclincation hangs on: Yod = 10 = Decalogue (and Jesus represents the higher Perfection of the Decalogue). This equation corresponds in some way to the two-tiered system of the Liber Graduum.

The 10 Words in the New Testament

In our examination of the Decalogue through the centuries, Dr Evans moves us from the Old Testament into the New Testament and gives us a review and analysis of the use of the 10 Words in the world and writings of the New Testament. He outlined where in the NT the 10 Words appear, being alluded too, presupposed, or directly quoted. A few major texts include Jesus' conversations in places like Matthew 5, Mark 10, Luke 16, and John 9; Paul's rhetoric in Romans 7 and 13, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians 4 and 6, Colossians 3, and 2 Timothy; and James’ discussion in James 2 and 4.

He then reviewed how the Decalogue appeared implicitly and explicitly in the teachings of various people: John the Baptist, Jesus and his half-brother James, and Paul. In summary, the first 3 of the 10 Words are never subject to a controversy in the conversations of the New Testament. Rather Yahweh's existence, monotheism, and an anti-idolatry sentiment were accepted and assumed in Jewish culture and writing of the day. It was commands 4-7 that became subjects of major controversies among the Jewish religious leaders and with Jesus, especially Sabbath observance, adultery, and honoring parents.

The divorce controversy appears in Matt 10:2-9, where Jesus’ interpretation of Deut 24:1-4 differs strongly from the Pharisees’. He ties his interpretation to Gen 1:27 and 2:24. The Sabbath controversy (healing and plucking heads of grain) is one in which Jesus argues that the Sabbath is meant “to benefit, not burden, humanity.”

Evans makes an interesting connection from James 4:3, 8 to Matthew 7. He argues that James seems to root his statement that “you do not have because you do not ask” in Jesus’ teaching to “ask and you will receive.” This, it seems, is Jesus’ answer to the sin of coveting. Thus Jesus is saying, “Instead of coveting, ask in prayer for what you desire.” This certainly hit home for me.

This covetousness, Evans goes on, is in some views the root of all sins: the desire, or lust, for the illicit. Philo and The Life of Adam and Eve have this sort of outlook.

Evans then posed for us a seeming contradiction between Jesus and Paul. In Mark 10:17-22, Jesus seems to say obey the Law and you will live. But Paul says in Romans 7, the Law brings death and that men can agree with the law but cannot comply by their own strength. But, Evans points out, the rich young ruler goes away sad after his conversation with Jesus, and his real sin is only implied but never addressed: covetousness. Thus, this story actually affirms Paul’s argument: The rich young ruler could not follow the Law under his own power, and was still guilty of coveting.

In the Q&A time, a few more interesting bits came out. There was a discussion of the references to the Decalogue in Mark, where “defrauding” is placed beside “adultery, false witness, theft” and the like, even though it does not appear with them in the Decalogue. Dr Block noted that “defrauding” is a major theme in Deuteronomy so that Mark seems to be interpreting Deuteronomy by adding “defrauding” to his own list. This was an area for further study.

Dr Block argued that the Decalogue is separate from the Natural Law specifically because of its “vertical elements.” That is, the first three commands are revealed to men, not apprehended through reason, to enable men to relate vertically to God. This, he argued, is the distinguishing mark of the Decalogue from other ancient Near East suzerain-vassal treaties, which have stipulations similar to the Decalogue’s latter 7 commandments.

Both Dr Block and Dr Evans agreed that the Gospels seem to rely primarily on the Decalogue in Deuteronomy instead of the one in Exodus, given the distinctives between them and how they are reflected in the Gospels.

Finally, in considering the function of the Law according to the New Testament, James 2:10 was considered, and the question was asked, “What does it mean to ‘obey the Law’?” The answer: The Law reveals man’s imperfection and inability to follow the Law. Dr Block stated then, “The Law is made for the righteous man.” That is, “it is not a way out of Egypt. It is a way after Egypt.”

Big Questions about the 10 Commandments

I'm on the rainy campus of Wheaton College today and tomorrow for the Wheaton Theology Conference. This year's conference is "Reading the Decalogue through the Centuries." It is primarily about the interpretation of the 10 Commandments in the Christian Tradition since Jesus.

This morning we had lectures by Dr Daniel Block and Dr Craig Evans, followed by a Chapel talk from Dr Cornelius Plantinga. Dr Block's paper was titled, "Reading the Decalogue Right to Left: The Ten Principles of Covenant Relationship in the Old Testament." In Hebrew, text is read from right to left in contrast to English. This title was somewhat reactionary to a deconstructionist interpretation by David Clines in a paper titled "Reading the Decalogue Left to Right."

Both Dr Block and Dr Evans required much of their listeners, as, I think, is expected in a scholarly conference of this sort. Their focus is on content, not presentation, and I immediately recognized that this conference would exceed my basic exposure to and knowledge of the 10 Commandments.

Dr Block's paper meant to give us an understanding of the 10 Commandments in the context of the Old Testament. Here are some highlights. First, "commandments" is not the best designation for the Decalogue. They are first and foremost the "Words of Yahweh." Secondly, they would be better designated as the "10 Words" or the "10 Principles" than as the "10 Commandments." His point here was that the Decalogue is primarily communicative before it is legislative. In other words, God is in conversation with us his people before he is a law giver handing down obligations to be obeyed. The 10 Words are not so much "enforceable law" as they are "covenant policies," a "framework within which we live."

Dr Block investigated a few questions in his paper: "Is the Decalogue a summary of the Torah?" He also asked, "Who is the Decalogue for?" He argued that the 10 Words are for the "heads of household." Thus, the Decalogue outlines the responsibilities that he (head of household) had to care for and lead his household. The Decalogue wasn't intended to empower the man to govern (patriarchy) but to limit the power with which he lead (patricentrism). The 10 Words were meant to prevent the head of household from abusing his power, thus protecting the covenant community and, more immediately, the head's family and neighbors.

This is a profound interpretation. Patriarchal rule is a charge that antagonists level against much of the Christian activity in society. But in actuality, the 10 Words were meant to prevent such abuses of power and control. This view has implications for concepts like adultery, divorce, and property, all of which we see later in Jesus' conversations in the Gospels. On this subject, Dr Block summarized it with a powerful statement: "Leadership exists for the sake of the led, not the interests of the leader."

A final question Dr Block addressed is, "Does the Decalogue have greater authority than the rest of the Torah (the Law)?" Along with a corresponding question: "Is the Decalogue permanent and unalterable in contrast to the rest of the Torah?" In essence, his answer, as I understood it, was "no."

The follow-up question we're faced with is whether we treat the 10 Words in the same way we have treated the rest of the Law (as temporary [cultural] and alterable), or whether we extend to the Law the same permanent and unalterable status we give to the 10 Words? There is not an easy answer.

That is why, then, we have a "Reading of the Decalogue through the Centuries." Men and women have answered this question in different ways throughout the centuries. Dr Block set up the problem well. I'm looking forward to hearing the answers that have been offered throughout history.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The President-Reflect

I've been saying for 9 months that Obama would be our next president. One reason I believed this was that his story fulfills our desire for a movie-script presidency. He rises from humble obscurity to national glory. Movies influence American culture and ideals in deep, powerful ways. We want our president to embody all that. Obama did. We voted for his movie.

Last night, after Obama's victory speech, my roommate and I sat watching, and listening to the music. "I feel like I'm watching a movie," he said.

I agreed. In unison, we both pointed to the television and directed, "And...roll credits."

It seems we weren't the only ones experiencing movie-quality history. The Suburban Christian points to the MTV Movies Blog, regarding the soundtracks that captured the moments of McCain's concession and Obama's ascendancy:

Movie lovers might have noticed that each man chose music from a Washington movie to play while walking offstage after their respective speeches. And, not for nothing, but we think they both made the perfect choice.

Consider: McCain left the Arizona stage to part of Hans Zimmer’s score from “Crimson Tide.” (This part, actually.) The 1995 Tony Scott film focused on a career Navy man (Gene Hackman), labeled a maverick by some, who is stripped of his authority and ultimately beaten by a young black guy, somewhat new to the scene (Washington).

Then there was Obama, who left the stage to the strings of Trevor Rabin’s score from “Remember the Titans.” The 2000 Disney/Bruckheimer joint? It followed an African-American coach who brought together whites and blacks to win a championship.

The music was appropriate for these national moments because those movies do embody something of this national story.

At the outset I said that movies influence American culture and ideals. Perhaps its not the movies that influence our ideals but that our ideals that are embodied by our movies. Perhaps it is not a vision given to us but a mirror held up to show us what we hope for. Perhaps both our movies and our president are reflections of who we are as a people.

Ultimately, it works both ways. Our movies and presidents mirror us, but those mirrors also change us. We look into the mirror to know ourselves better, and what we see and learn there changes how we live and what we choose.

Today, now that we see ourselves a bit more clearly, we need not gaze like Narcissus forever at our own reflection. Rather, we should go and live and choose as we ought in light of those reflections. The mirror can only show us who we are, but we must choose who we will become. We must choose and act, not just watch and wait.

Otherwise, to remain gazing at our own reflection will change us. And it is not the kind of change we can believe in. Whether we stand and admire or stand and despise, we will not simply see a reflection anymore. We will have become the reflection in the mirror. Then there will be nothing left of the people standing in front of the mirror. We will be false fronts and green-screen images of ourselves. And when the mirror shatters, as they all do in the end, we will find that we have broken with it.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

I'm Voting. I'm Voting For...

I'm going to vote this election. Even if I think the system has it faults it still is a way to be political. It might not be the most ethical method of engagement but within these confines there is an opportunity to engage the world. For some that is a non-vote, for me it is a vote.

So who am I voting for? I debated whether or not to post this. I thought about my future work in the ministry and how this post could haunt me for years, etc, etc. But that is the problem. Who we vote for has become so individual. So I am going to open it up because I want to be challenged, positively criticized and engaged on these issues. I am very limited and these are just my views. I'm open to others. So let me hear it.

The past 3 days I've done meticulous research. I stupidly put this off until the last minute so my homework has taken a back seat! I am voting third party because the two party system is defunct. Obama and McCain are both good candidates but I don't like this form of "democracy."

So I have been debating between Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, and Bob Barr. I love Nader and McKinney's (Green Party) focus on social issues. But the trump for me is Barr's focus on a smaller government (Libertarian Party) that provides an opportunity for people, not the government to intervene.

I think social issues are incredibly important but believe the people (more Libertarian/Barr), not the government (more Green/McKinney and Independent/Nader), should lead the way. (Specifically, the people should be the church).

Here is what I feel on the issues. Maybe this can help you if you are up in the air or ignorant (like I admittedly am).

What I like (for the most part)
Health Care- I like the idea of universal health care (Nader/McKinney) but I don't know if single payer health care is the best method. We all pay money to the government who then in turn regulates how that is distributed. I think Bob Barr's proposal to largely remove the government out of the health care industry makes better universal health care more possible. Especially because they encourage charitable organizations to step in and fill the void.

Social Security- Again I like the idea that elderly people are provided for, which has become the function of social security (Nader/McKinney support). Barr supports privatizing social security which worries me about those who can't personal provide. But what I like is that it encourages personal stewardship and (like Barr says) it encourages charities and people to help one another out.

Education- Barr wants to let local agencies and state governments have control of education. This would reform No Child Left Behind and place the power in the hands of the parents. I don't know if child vouchers would necessarily solve the problem of the inequality of education but I don't think that letting a centralized government distribute the resources is going to solve the crisis. Smaller scale is more effective and I think states should work with existing public schools/teachers unions to make education more effective.

Environment- Barr says that global warming is a myth. I don't know if it is a myth or not but I do know that we need to clean up the environment. He is right in saying that global warming has been abused as a platform for both Democrats and Republicans. Barr doesn't want the government to invest money into alternative forms of energy. Instead he wants people to invest into alternative forms of energy and to use the resources we have here. That's cool.

Oil- He believes that we should use the oil that is here in the United States. I suppose this is an option but what I like better is that the government, according to Barr, shouldn't be as controlling about our oil use/production. He instead wants to let the states impose regulations.

Iraq- He wants the U.S. out of Iraq. I agree. He wants us to cooperate with the U.N. in being invovled in the Middle East. I agree.

Foreign Policy- He believes that humanitarian aid is our best foreign policy. Not military intervention. I agree.

Abortion- From what i have read he is personally against it. But he recognizes that it is difficult to legislate morality so the answer isn't as simple as pro-life or pro-choice.

Social Justice Issues- They want to eliminate welfare, government subsidized housing, food stamps, etc. Instead they want to rely on " supportive family, church, community, or private charity to bridge the gap." I like that .

My Concerns

Guns-He doesn't want gun owners to register their weapons and is fairly lax about any regulations around weapons. For me, I think the less guns the better.

Crime-Barr is pushing for more jails and capital punishment. We have a lot of people in jail right now and instead of putting money for more bars I think we need to put more money into making bars uncessary. They want to eliminate over crowding of the prisons by lessening the laws on drug trafficking/use. I'm up in the air but I like that they are focused on eliminating the root causes of crime. As for capital punishment I'm not a big fan.

Flip-Floper- He was once a Republican but now a Libertarian. He has flipped on a lot of issues and I question why he is even registered as a Libertarian. But the diversity of the party is nice. It includes a lot of independents, ex-Republicans/Democrats and they work hand in hand with the Green Party.

I'm Probably Republican/Democrat/Libertarian/Green/Indpendent
The Libertarian Party is notorious for having people of opposite extremes in the party. I like that. I'm not the biggest fan of Bob Barr but I support the movement of the party's position. I really feel like I could vote for McKinney, Nader, even Obama and McCain and be comfrotable with a lot of their policies.

I don't think this party is anti-community. Yes, it wants to put the power back in the hands of the people. But I don't see "people" as being individuals, but as a whole. People worry that without the government intervening to distribute wealth, provide for social needs, and regulate our spending than we become more individualistic. For me, I see less government as opening up the doors for us to use our resources to bless people. That means it's up to me, not the government, to legislate how my money, resources, and time provide for the well-being of everyone.

All the Canditates on all the Issues. Un-Biased Websites... (great website)

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