I Hope I Never Forget:

“Anything that one imagines of God apart from Christ is only useless thinking and vain idolatry.”- Martin Luther

Monday, August 20, 2007


I’m compromised as a follower of King Jesus.

I’m becoming more and more aware of that. It’s not news, really. Anyone who knows me could tell you as much, but I’ve become aware of an even greater disloyalty than the standard struggle to struggle with pride, anger, lust etc. The really frightening thing is that I’ve been taught this disloyalty by the very tradition that molded my allegiance to the King.
It’s deep and corrupting and ugly, and it seems to fester the deepest in those of us who (sincerely or not) protest our allegiance to Christ the loudest.

This is the sin I’ve discovered on the bottom of my shoe: I’ve sold out to Caesar. I bow before my heavenly king... after getting the wink from the Empire’s throne. When I look around, I see where I first stepped in the filth. It was in the liturgy and the politics of the religious right.

It seems clear to me that Christianity is merely the outer icing we spread on the Cake of Americanism. There are other flavors of frosting- secular, Jewish, agnostic, New Age, but slice us open and we’re all the same inside- solidly, uncritically and shamelessly “American First.”

America, not God’s people, has our first allegiance. Deep down we believe the American Government and the power of its military will change the world for the better; American democracy and its limitless economy is the message we need to get out. The gospel, well, it is mighty to save... souls, but the "good news" of consumerism is the earth altering left hand of God.

I’ve been reminded of this as I struggled with what my family ought to do for the recent Marymass celebration. I knew countless Christians world-wide were continuing the ancient veneration of the lady who bore God. I wondered, could it be that hymns of celebration and invocation were appropriate to this most hallowed of saints?

In the end my conscience dragged its heels. Years of example had worn the appropriate ruts of resistance. It just wouldn’t be right.

But…then I remembered services where we gathered as God’s people, Christ’s name was invoked and we went on to “Pledge our Allegiance” to the one nation cocky enough to declare itself indivisible before God. Ballsy, that.

I remember singing in a service dedicated to King Jesus a hymn to our earthly nation. “America, America” we praised “God shed his grace on thee.” Hmmmm. Why would these same people resist crying out to the mother of their Lord (in the words of scripture, no less) “Hail Mary, full of grace?”

“My Country tis of thee…of Thee I sing," and “Oh Beautiful for spacious skies…” Obviously, conservative evangelicals have no principled problem with praising and invoking powers other than God in their worship services. Just wait until Independence Day, Veterans Day or Memorial Day...even Scout Sunday, and you’ll see. Honoring those we believe to be on "our" side in the context of worship can't be the problem. Rather, it must be who do we reckon as belonging to that "Our." The problem must be a matter of whom we belonging to, whom we are allied with, who we believe (in our gut) to be really worthy of admiration and memory.

America, yes; our brothers and sister across the ages; No.

It’s a difficult thing to give up –if only potentially- the earthly ties that are so precious to us. But the claims of Christ require it. So does our love for those precious ones- whether family, friends, or nation. It is for their sakes that we must be the people that our baptisms declare us to be. The church exists for the sake of the world.

I’m sure that we, as conservative evangelicals, would protest that our identity transcends the boundaries of our national existence, but I’m looking for ways to make that obvious. I’m tired of having to argue that it is so- especially to myself. Surely our calendar, stories and songs would be a good place to look for what’s really under the religious frosting.

Both Labor Day and Michaelmas are fast approaching. Well…you see my point.


I found the essay below over at Too Wonderful For Me. I thought it was rather wise.

There's No Such Thing As Sex

I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way.

-the Holy Spirit, via Paul of Tarsus

Why do Christians talk about sex? There really is no such thing. The bible does not say “Adam and Eve had sex”. That would have implied that sex was just another one of the tasks they had to accomplish, along with naming the animals, etc. Gee whiz–I hope that’s not the case. “Okay, Eve. Ten o’clock, I taxonomize the cichlids. Eleven o’clock, we have sex. Got it?”

No, the bible says that Adam knew Eve. That is an order of magnitude different than “having sex”. The bible doesn’t have to say Adam and Eve “had sex” because it assumes they “had sex”–just as they had toenails, linguistics, and REM cycles. Adam and Eve were not human beings who happened to have sexual characteristics. They were just human beings. Even mentioning the word “sex” in relation to humanity is by definition redundant, and therefore, silly.

The Creator’s will for “sex” (ugh) is really a no-brainer. Husbands go into their wives, and know them. That’s the template which easily weeds out 90% of what the world calls “sex”. Do husbands go into whores, and know them? Not God’s will. Do husbands go into their neighbor’s wives, and know them? Not God’s will. Do husbands go into their own imaginations, and know them? Not God’s will. Do husbands go into husbands, and know them? Not God’s will. It’s not rocket science.

Okay, now that we’ve established the frustrating irrelevancy of the word “sex”, what is a better word? “Knowing” doesn’t work very well in our language. Too unspecific. “The marriage act” is a nice term, but a little clinical sounding. I tend to favor an expression I read in C.S. Lewis–”the nuptial embrace.” This really gets past a lot of the technical arcana, which really has nothing at all to do with “sex”, and gets down to the brass tacks of what God is up to in marriage.

Marriage is like Christ and his church. What does Christ do for his church? Well, he gives. That’s it. The nuptial embrace is about giving, pure and simple. Only, it’s not that simple.

A lot of Christians like to talk about “biblical world views” these days. It’s a useful concept, but the more I’m around people who use the term, the more I find it leaves a lot to be desired. More often than not, I see it used to smuggle in rules and laws which are not necessarily that easy to support from the bible. Many good Protestants I know are positively Roman Catholic in their ability to go beyond what is written in scripture. It’s ironic, because these people are often the ones who know and revere scripture best.

For instance, there are a lot of Protestant “marriage manuals” on the book market these days. I’ve browsed a few of them, and most of them are in fact profitable and honorable for the most part, but I always wonder–why so many rules? We want to honor the heart of God in our married lives, and we don’t want to transgress, but it sometimes makes me wonder where Jesus is in all of this.

Jesus never talked about the nuptial embrace apart from the rest of ethics. He expected one thing from his disciples–a life of gratitude to God. That manifested itself in how people used their hands and eyes, to how they pitched coins into the collection box.

Another thing Jesus didn’t talk about was “design”. He did not see handicaps or inabilities as unclean. He did not tell people “do it this way because it’s teleologically obvious, DUH.” He talked instead about people acquiring thrones by washing feet, and about their teleological family ties being turned upside down and ripped apart for some new, amazing purpose.

Giving is the first delight of God. Everything he does flows from it. He gave matter. He gave order. He gave life. He gave law. He gave judgment. He gave salvation. All of them were gifts. The best gift he gave was knowledge of himself. That came from the Incarnation. He gave us knowledge of himself by just being himself with us. That is where the beauty of Adam knowing Eve comes from. Not from design. Not from order. Not from creation mandate. Just from the simple joy of knowing another human being.

If there’s one thing I’ve come to learn about knowing people, it’s that nothing is programmed. Surprise rules the day. Try to get to “know” someone in a programmed manner, and you won’t learn anything at all about them. Think too hard about their “proper place in the design” of things, and you’ll definitely not get to know them.

The nuptial embrace is a lot like that. The design of it is obvious, which is what makes it so cool. You don’t have to translate it from Russian to Inuit. Husbands and wives know how to do it intuitively across all boundaries. It’s simple. It doesn’t require skills. It has obvious, good, consequences. If warped or skewed, it has bad consequences.

Often, in “sex” (ugh) Christians talk about the design of it all, which is a good thing. Design is always the first thing tossed out the window by people who don’t want to glorify God. We need to talk about design all the time, in simple and obvious manner, just so when people eventually come around to remembering what it’s all about, they won’t be able to say “well gee, why didn’t anybody tell me?”

On the other hand, “design” by itself proves way too much. God obviously designed a woman’s breasts for one thing, didn’t he? Keeping very small people fed, warm, and content. That’s a brilliant design, eh? Um… but wait a second. Scripture talks about other uses for a woman’s breasts, and they don’t have anything at all to do with keeping very small people alive. And, by just looking at them, that design argument is completely nonexistent, from a rational point of view. It’s a picayune thing to say, but if for some reason the Holy Spirit had not superintended the Song of Songs into the bible, men all over the world still wouldn’t need it in order to tell them that a woman’s breasts are good for them in ways which completely defy design.

Another example is the “design” of fertility. Often, Christians read the tale of Onan as an example of the sins of infertility or self-abuse. However, that tale is not a warning against self-abuse at all, or even about the proper repository for seed. It is, rather, a harsh warning about uncharity. Onan was a mean-spirited bastard who had a duty to give–and, given the context, not that horrible a task, I would think!– but was too petty to do it. There is more than ample evidence in the bible for the sinfulness of self-abuse, but the Onan story is most definitely not one of those examples. If Onan had gone into his brother’s wife ten times, cheerfully planting his seed eight of them, and doing something else the other two, that story would never have made it into the bible. Plain, simple fun is always the last thing on the minds of mean-spirited bastards.
This is why “sex” (ugh) consternates us so much as Christians. It is an “area of our life” (ugh) in which want to obey God. So, being good idolaters, we busily construct lots of checklists for what constitutes holiness in sex, so we can make sure we meet them all. Don’t do it with the neighbor’s wife? Check! Man in authority on top, woman in submission on bottom? Check! Prophylactic in place for godly stewardship purposes? Check! Properly following the design at all points? Check! We don’t really have to dig too far into our common cultural memory as Christians in order to see all this in its wondrous splendor, do we?

I wonder if we as Christians really believe in Christian liberty “in this area”? (ugh). If nothing is unclean in itself, why do we persist in thinking so? Is it because we’re afraid of seeming too licentious? Perhaps. That’s not an irrelevant concern. Grace always appears licentious to those who are absorbed with rules. However, Paul promoted a kind of surreal humility in those matters, saying that it was better to abandon something harmless than to consternate rule-obsessed people unnecessarily. This is a mind-bending kind of ethics which does not fit our natural patterns of thought. In fact, it is the exact ethic which Christ followed. He gave up something objectively good–communion with his own Father–in order not to consternate a world of people obsessed with following rules. In so doing, he finally managed to rip their petty minds away from their depraved rule-reliance, and focus them all instead upon Him, himself.
“Design” says you should give ten percent. The widow’s mite represented much more than 10%. This is a kind of radical knowing which lays waste to our concepts of what God expects of us. But even then, we’re tempted to turn that radical example of discipleship into just another Rule. “You must give your whole self to God!” we say. “You must step out in faith!” we say.

God is not impressed with us. He sees right through us. He says to us, “I’m not interested in how radical you are toward me. I just wonder whether you delight in me, or not.” The widow delighted.

Do we delight in each other’s bodies as husband and wife? Sure, we may give 10%, as required. That’s good, and honorable. “Be fruitful and multiply”. “Have a quiverfull”. Great. Man on top, woman on bottom. Tab A in slot B. Every act according to design. Everything done by law, in obedience to God. Great. But do we delight? Our bodies are one of the few things which God re-gifts. They’re his, but he brokers them out so that someone else can use them for a romp. Are they playgrounds? Are the appurtenances well-grooved with exuberant use, like the worn marks on the treads of the merry-go-round? The more familiar metaphor is “garden”, but playground makes a lot of sense, too. Our bodies ought to be the romper room of our beloveds.
That’s the thing about God, and giving, and knowing. There is nothing rational or “designed” about it. There is no apparent purpose. It is a completely new business altogether; a business of delight which shocks with its impertinence and apparent irrelevance. It is the grace of Surprise. The Creation mandate has its design, and that is good, and there is purposeful enjoyment in it. If it is despised, all the joy goes out of it. If it is honored, all the joy floods in. Yet, playgrounds don’t really do anything. They’re just fun.

A Christian husband and wife ought to be able to enjoy the apparent playful purposelessness of the nuptial embrace. After all, infertility doesn’t render the delights null and void. It does aggravate the Creation impulse, which is a good thing, and in so doing, it drives the pursuit of other avenues for fruitfulness. That’s the genius of adoption. It’s much like Christ healing the blind man and, when his followers asked about the apparent design of that handicap, he told them, in effect, “Huh. Whatever”, as the guy danced around with joy.

It takes faith to embrace God’s purpose, and it requires fear and mistrust to abandon it. That’s where the power of sexual novelty comes into play. All of the lurid perversions we see are just attempts to convince society that the nuptial embrace is too mundane to be very enjoyable; that it needs to be spiced up somehow. And, of course, the so-called “novelty” they advertise ironically turns into mundaneness itself, because it attempts to become everything. As with all sin, the thing itself is not intrinsically evil; its power comes by its promise to replace what is good. A husband and wife should feel no shame in enjoying novelty in the nuptial embrace. If they, in fact, begin to think that the novelty is everything, they have by definition ceased to enjoy the novelty, because it is no longer a novelty.

Some things are just apparent. You can run up the slide in the playground, and have a lot of fun doing it, but it’s a laugh to suggest that it’s nearly as fun as sliding down it. It would also get really tiring, which just makes everybody want to leave the playground and go home. And, of course, it’s idiocy to suggest dumping mud all over the slide. You can’t slide down it or run up it, then.

And, the most important thing about playgrounds: if you try to force your three-year old little sister to run up the big slide, you deserve a very hard spanking. Likewise, if you somehow get the impression that your three-year old sister would enjoy having her hand slammed under the see-saw, it’s time to call the police. Playgrounds are all about fun, and fun is all about which rides we feel comfortable on. Forget that prime rule–yes, finally, a Rule worth following!–and you’ve just forfeited the whole city park. Time for the city council to take it away and give it to somebody who knows how to enjoy it.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Everything below this paragraph comes from over at Too Wonderful For Me. HT to Tim at Taliesan. He's being added to my Blog List.

Ever since the early saints came up with the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds, various parties in the church have attempted to summarize biblical truth for various reasons. The longer history went on, the longer the creeds got. Here’s one of my own, done with no forethought whatsoever. It’s very long, because I’m so late in history.

Mairnéalach’s Creed

God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are friends. They’re also one, which breaks several rules, but they do that sort of thing a lot.

One of their favorite things to do is make stuff. God thought up the universe and everything in it, including people. He let Jesus do all the building because Jesus enjoys building. This makes sense, because my little boy loves building and Jesus is God’s little boy. I get a kick out of watching my little boy build, so I imagine God gets a kick out of watching Jesus build.

It’s dumb to talk about God too much without mentioning Jesus, because it’s like waxing eloquent about your wife’s brain without mentioning the other bits you like about her. Besides, since they’re one, you can get to know God by getting to know Jesus, which is a handy arrangement. There’s no such thing as “pure God” without Jesus, but if there was, he’d be too boring to want to know anyway.

Jesus loves the universe and the people he made. A few of the cool things he made are octopuses, cattle, pill bugs, grapes, cypress trees, and red giants. Some of the cool people he made are grandmas, five year olds, wives, and that crocodile guy who sadly died.

Jesus enjoys making stuff so much that he built that into us, too. Some of the stuff we like making are calamari, steaks, chardonnay, two by fours, and atom smashers. The coolest things to make are the things we make in cahoots with other people, like babies with your wife, cartoons, and laughs which come from tickling five year olds.

Jesus also made some people that we don’t understand very well. They’re called angels. Just like us, he made them to be his friends, but some of them mistrusted Jesus, and they became demons. They fight Jesus. The worst one is named Satan.

The first man Jesus made like himself was Adam. Since Adam is so much like Jesus, he needed a friend, just like Jesus needs God and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Jesus made Eve for him. Woo-hoo! Jesus made a safe haven for them, away from the war.

Adam and Eve mistrusted Jesus one day. When they did that, they died. Well, their spirits died immediately, but their bodies lingered for quite a while. Even though Satan was largely responsible for this, the punishment was fair. Every man since Adam has shared in this sadness. Everybody knows they deserve it.

Mistrusting Jesus started a chain reaction in man’s history which resulted in a huge amount of misery. We’re basically right in the middle of the war now. This shows up in such things as dictators, bombs, AIDS, and divorce.

Even though Adam’s betrayal brought sadness, Jesus let him keep an incredible amount of happiness. Things like jobs, friends, dancing, whisky, sailboats, stories, and symphonies are a few examples of this. It wasn’t exactly fair of Jesus to do this for Adam, but Jesus really isn’t very fair.

Since the whole point of man was for him to trust God, many men started saying that God had failed at his task. This is a classic example of what psychologists call “projection”. It’s also what writers call “grim irony”. Much of history is a record of these fools being hoist on their own petard. Jesus even said that he hated such men, and that if they didn’t change, he would let them rot forever. Those people say it’s not very fair of Jesus to say such things (or that he never really said them, which is just another variation of saying they’re not fair), but Jesus really isn’t very fair.

Jesus started making new people who trusted him. He started with a man named Abraham. Abraham was grandpa to millions of people who trusted Jesus. This process required several events which were, quite frankly, impossible. Yet, they happened anyway. Jesus, who likes to teach using comedy, eventually named this mob of people “Israel”, which means “people who fight with me”.

Jesus’s favorite people were always the ones who trusted him the most. Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, and Joseph are some great examples. Moses and Joshua are others. David was a particularly great one. Jesus really, really loved David. David was an amazing man, and a jerk, and he wrote incredible poems.

All throughout this process, Jesus kept smuggling in people from outside of Israel, and making them honorary Israelites. This wasn’t really a fair thing for Jesus to do, but Jesus isn’t really fair.

Jesus kept telling his people that he would save them. One of Jesus’s usual methods for saving them was by letting them go through terrible trials, usually to teach them not to be jerks.

As things were coming to the biggest crisis yet for the Israelites, Jesus did something very, very good. He came and lived with them in person. This involved him being a baby. That must have really tickled him to no end. He made a lot of best friends and forgave sins. He also got to make two by fours and wine by hand instead of trees and grapes by speaking, which also must have tickled him to no end.

He was also holy. So holy, in fact, that he made the holiest people in Israel look like complete jerks, which is what they were. They hated that, so they killed him. His best friends weren’t much help when this happened. The jerks enjoyed the show, but the friends were just paralyzed and in complete despair. Perhaps they were thinking about what big jerks they were themselves.

While he was dead, Jesus went to hell and did something nobody understands. It was a secret commando mission. The net result was something like planting a time bomb there.
Jesus came alive again. By doing so, he showed his friends that his own father, God, had personally approved his execution. This was not very fair for God to do, but God isn’t really fair.

The jerks immediately did everything they could to get people to ignore this.

Jesus left from our earth, but before he left, he sent the Holy Spirit to keep us company and empower us to be brave and laugh. Nobody really understands the Holy Spirit much, except for the fact that he allows people to be brave and laugh, and he seems to be heavily involved in war, quantum mechanics, and baby making, among other things.

He told us he’d be back, and gave us a list of things to do. He told us that if someone really wants to leave jerkdom behind, and if they really trust he saved them by dying on the cross, then they’re his people. Period. He gave us two gifts to help display what he was doing, one of which is his baptism, and the other of which is his thanksgiving supper.

Since that day, his people have been fighting among themselves about who “has” better baptisms and thanksgiving suppers. We completely forgot that those things belong to him, not to us. Since we love fighting with him so much, it only makes sense we would love fighting with each other so much. His people, Israel, are pretty much the best empirical proof that the cross is necessary. It’s not very fair for Jesus to endure this kind of thing, but Jesus isn’t very fair.


One of the intriguing things about Jesus is that he has testicles. Some people don’t like this, but it’s a fact. He was a man, not a woman. However, he didn’t mistreat women, like jerks do. He made best friends with them, treated them grandly, and even died for them. So, anyone else who has testicles must do the same, if they want to be a real man like Jesus.

Jesus was a jerk himself sometimes. However, he was a jerk because he loved people and wanted to break their hearts. Most men are just jerks, period.

Did I mention that Jesus invented making babies?

The most awesome thing about creeds is that they help people praise Jesus. Other than that, if you have one printed on paper they’re good for kindling, or wiping your butt.

Man’s biggest problem is that he thinks he invented fair. But he didn’t, God did. For example, God hates judges who condemn innocent people. Yet, God condemned Jesus. That isn’t fair, but we have no evidence to suggest that God hates himself; quite the contrary, actually. Therefore, sometimes the best way man can honor God is just to shut up and let God decide how things are.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Today is the Feast day of the Theotokos, the young virgin who bore God. No other person played such a significant role in the salvation that our Lord brings to us. The blood shed and the body broken came from her willing response to God’s summons.

Apart from her there is no Incarnation.

There is much that could be said in her honor, and of course limitless gratitude that ought to be expressed, but I want to comment on the zealousness of the protests against many of the traditions that have attached themselves to this dear lady. Nothing seems to draw the ire of Evangelicals like a sincere belief in The Holy Virgin’s Immaculate Conception, her sinless life, or her physical Assumption. That puzzles me.

If you were to conduct an informal poll, I think you’d find that Americans are divided on whether George Washington really destroyed his father’s cherry tree and then came clean about it because he refused to tell a lie. Maybe he did; maybe he didn’t. I know I have my opinion, but the point I’d like to make is that the historical question doesn’t generate a lot of heat. In contrast if opposing positions were maintained about whether or not Americans (especially American Presidents) were even capable of admitting to wrong doing, then you might have a fight on your hands. The historicity and the implied issues of possibility are two different kinds of questions, or so it seems to me.

I can understand people not believing in any of the extraordinary events reported of the Virgin Mary, but I don’t understand why any orthodox Christian would argue that they couldn’t have possibly taken place. The stories of her life are not treated as interesting (and significantly encouraging) points of historical enquiry; rather their affirmation is viewed as an attack on the intergrity of the gospel. This appears wrong headed to me. It's also discouraging because it reveals a very inadequate understanding of what Christ has in store for every one of his children.

By all accounts- including her own testimony- The Virgin Mary, as an heir of our first parents, was in need of a savior. Because of her Son’s work on her behalf, she lived a sinless life- or so the story goes. Is this really as scandalous as some would make it? Do they not know that one day each of us, because of Christ’s work on our behalf, will freely and continually spend an eternity of days without sin?

Christ raised her physically to be with him. Whether this occurred before or after her death is a matter of debate, but many believe she was taken bodily into her son’s presence. Is there anything here that can be ruled out as a possibility? Do we not know that each of us looks for the resurrection of the dead?

I've recently read a favorite blogger of mine mockingly quoting her ancient veneration, "More honorable than the cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim." Where, he asks, does scripture teach that? Does he not know that both he and I- indeed every one of Christ's people- have been lifted above the angels. We reign and rule with our big brother. We will fully share in his exaltation.

It seems to me that those who want to fight over the possibility of these things only reveal an impoverished understanding of the salvation that plain bland vanilla Christianity affirms.

Relegate it to the realm of legend, but please smile when the notched fruit tree is mentioned. There’s nothing in the tale of young Washington that ought to offend a good American, and it’s entirely in keeping with what we believe about our first President. No harm; no foul. In a similar way, even if we decide to chalk it up to simple naiveté (and I don't believe we should), the idea of the Virgin being lifted to meet Christ in the clouds ought to please us at some level. It shows that the work of her Son has been understood; it’s the denial of the possibility of a fully redeemed human being that ought to make us sad.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


I was talking to a brother at church this morning, and we were describing to each other the paths we'd taken to arrive in the Anglican church. We talked especially about things we'd read. It got me thinking about the influences that have fashioned, for good or bad, how I look at the world today. I sat down with a pad and pencil and made a list of only those books whose exclusion would have meant a very different Phil.

This isn’t my “You’ve got to read 'em list.” It’s not even my “Favorites” list. It’s the “It is what it is” List- although there are many favorite and precious friends there.

They're listed in chronological order. Some of the titles grew into the next step of my thinking; some made possible the next step, but like scaffolding were discarded when that level was reached.

And yes, I do realize that some will think I’ve been climbing down into a hole.

Underneath it all is the faith Mom and Dad taught and modeled for me.

1. Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey, Two Babylons by Hislop and Chick Tracks- I put these together because they reflect much of what I’ve grown out of. I was hugely fascinated by Dispensational Prophecy type issues and can remember driving home from church on Sunday evenings, seeing a large orange harvest moon out the rear window and being terrified that the moon was turning to blood. Pelaginism was the great enemy of the gospel (although I would have called it works righteousness then). Clearly, Rome had that all wrapped up. In addition I believed that they were Satanic in the most explicit sense. Yeah…I know. I read Loraine Boettner’s horrifically inaccurate Roman Catholicism when I was in Junior High. I gave out many copies through my early thirties. Christ have mercy.

2. War of the Worlds, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and The Old Man and the Sea. The smell that an old paper back book gives off when you quickly flip its pages takes me back to a small den I had fashioned in the center of a storage room full of boxes. Cave like, you had to crawl on your belly to reach the hidden opening in the center. I spent many hours hidden in that room, re-reading Jules Verne. Reading! I would wait until I met my wife before I'd discover anything better.

3. Lord of the Rings had a double significance. I had never seen such a beautiful presentation of Christlikeness. Who wouldn't want a friend like Gandalf. Who wouldn't desire to be seen as Aragorn's true brother. Who couldn't see that sacrafical virtue was more important than personal survival. Beauty, not fear, is the great evangelistic tool. I was introduced to this trilogy by an older Cousin. I thought the world of Robby. He was viewed by many in my extended fundamentalist family as a radical. He read too much. Had strange ideas. He shared these three volumes with me- secretly, and like Gandalf told me to keep them secret and keep them safe. He wanted them back for his own children.

4. Francis Schaeffer Trilogy- First to open my eyes about the universal extent of Christ’s reign. Not very happy with some of the simplifications regarding various thinkers, but paradigm changing when I first read it as a teenager. I didn’t know it then, but I was getting Van Til’s Presupositionalism while very young.

5. Decision Making and the Will of God by Friesin and The Christian and Alcholic Beverages by Kenneth Gentry. I read Decision Making while Sandi and I were dating, and Gentry’s book shortly before we were married. Both were significant in that they shattered certain “givens” about the Christian life. The world was a larger place than I imagined.

6. Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul shook me up badly and made possible my slide into TR style Reformed Theology. Wonderfully important, but needs to be balanced with a fuller understanding of the truthfulness of the revelation of God in Christ- in my opinion.

7. Five Points of Calvinism by Duane Spencer, Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul- three of the books that marked my first self conscious crusader stage. I had an axe to grind, and for the first time I knew what it looked like.

8. What Every Parent Should Know About Infant Baptism by James Sartell, Baptism: Its Mode and Method by Jay Adams and William the Baptist. I envisioned God’s people for the first time as being defined by Covenant. It was only a matter of time before the dispensationalism had to go

9. Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson introduced me to the truth that Covenants- not Dispensations- structure Scripture. Still very fond of this book.

10. The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk, Calhoun’s Disquisition on Government and Liberty or Equality by Kunhelt Ledhn. Original sin made fear and skepticism of those in power necessary- especially the ubiquitous democratic sort of power.

11. Systematic Theology by Robert Dabney. I took to Dabney immediately because of his anti Jacobian emphasis in matters political. I also turned to the younger Hodge’s Outlines of Theology whenever I had a question of how it all worked.

12. An Eschatology of Victory by Marcellus Kik. This along with other similar works (Last Day Madness, Days of Vengeance, etc) was my introduction to Partial Preterism. The world has never looked the same.

13. Theonomy by Greg Bahnsen. This stage was passionate and lasted a while. N.T. Wright has cured me, though.

14. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neal Postman and various essays by Wendell Berry forced me to reconsider what real progress looked like.

15. I’ll Take My Stand by Twelve Southerners and The Southern Tradition at Bay by Richard Weaver. Ditto.

16. Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis, The seven novels of Charles Williams and Orthodoxy by Chesterton. All the themes I’ve come to regard as most important in a rubber-meets-the-road sort of way are found in these books. Each acted as an intro to these men’s writing. I wouldn’t be the same person without their wisdom.

17. The Fire that Consumes by Edward Fudge. Although I’m not an annihilationist. This book began my current agnosticism in regards to how much we truly know about what God is finally up too. A more current read, The Evangelical Universalist would count in the same way.

18. Evangelical is Not Enough and Chance or the Dance? by Thomas Howard. I realized that I was Gnostic in my worship and a chronological snob in my convictions. The beginning of the end of my TR days and the conception of the world as two-storied.

19. Centrality of the Resurrection by Richard Gaffin. It’s been republished with another title. I began to understand Vos’s point that salvation is Eschatological and Christ’s resurrection was all about his receiving in this age what Israel believed would come to pass in the Age to Come. Later, Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas did a monumental job of showing why that mattered- although I think he’s unfair to Constantine.

20. Complete Poems of Gerald Manley Hopkins and For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann. These brothers understood that the world had but one Storey. I wanted to be able to see that world- the one that needed no stairs.

21. What St. Paul Really Said and The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright. The most startling thing I’ve ever read. Single greatest paradigm shift of my life. Began a journey of reading everything I could find by this man and a realization that I’d never clearly understood the gospel before.

22. Crendenda/ Agenda- a monthly magazine that presented a vision of Christianity that was attractively medieval. It introduced me to Peter Leithart and others who have been hugely influential in my formation. Leithart’s Against Christianity summarizes much of my current axe grinding.

23. Theology of the Body Explained by Christopher West. My introduction to the most exciting theological reflections of the last century. Thank God for John Paul the Great!

24. At the Corner of East and Now by Frederica Mathewes-Green and Every Earthly Blessing by Esther de Waal. Almost persuaded; time will tell...

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


Joel Garver has an important devotional on the significance of yesterday. Please take the time to read it.

Monday, August 6, 2007


A Targum* for my children based on Romans 4:1-25


But let me tell you what that doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that all who believe the gospel ought to be absorbed into the ethnic community created by the Torah. Christians don’t have to become ethnic Jews.

That’s obvious, because if Abraham was regarded as belonging to God because of ethnic badges, then he had something to boast about. But scripture says that Abraham believed God and was declared to be one of his people. The mark that distinguished him from others owed nothing to the sort of unique qualities, which people want to brag about. He simply trusted God.

If a person works for something, his pay isn’t considered a gift; it’s simply what is due. But how can being a friend of God ever be what a person is owed- especially when that person is a sinner?

To quote our favorite ancient King once more: “Blessed is the man whose sins God overlooks.” If sinfulness is a given for even a blessed man and the source of his blessing is the fact that God doesn’t hold him accountable for them, then… clearly, even the best have sin to deal with.

Now I know that requiring everyone to become part of God’s ancient ethnic people seems to be a simple way of solving the problem. It upholds the Torah and in a sense you end up with “one people.” But the very history of the Old Oath itself, shows that ethnic assimilation isn’t what God’s about.

When was Abraham declared to be one of God’s people? Was it before or after he was marked as a Jew. It was before he was a Jew! The sign of his “Jewishness” was a seal of the standing he had while still a gentile. From the very beginning God worked it out so that Abraham is the father of all gentiles who believe and of all Jews who are not only Jews ethnically, but who live in the trusting faithfulness that Abraham exhibited while still a gentile.


God’s promise to Abraham that he would inherit the world came before the giving of the Torah. If it is only for those who have the Torah, then there is no such thing as being God’s friend by simply accepting his friendship (for Abraham or anyone else). This would mean the promise is doomed. There are no heirs of the promise. That’s because those on the outside are…well, on the outside and those on the inside are condemned, because the Torah has brought wrath.

That’s why “trust” must be the distinguishing mark of those who are truly God’s friend. This makes it possible for the promise to be claimed by those who are guilty (as it must, if it is to have any impact in the real world of fallen men and women) and produce the one family that God’s own Oneness requires- a family consisting not only of Jews, but Gentiles as well. This new Israel is made up of all those who have the faith of Abraham. He is truly the father of both- the father of many nations.

This trust identifies God’s friends because it is the proper response to his offer of friendship. Contrast Abraham’s actions with those of the idolaters at the beginning of our discussion. He believed and glorified God, was promised new life, received power and the ability to conceive.

This doesn’t apply to Abraham alone. It is true for all of us who believe in him who raised King Joshua from the dead: Our Lord was delivered to death for our transgressions and raised that we might share in him the life of The-Age-To-Come.

Other completed passages of the Targum: Romans 1:1-7 , 1:8-17, 1:18-28, 2:1-29, 3:1-20, 3:21-31

*A Targum was an expanded paraphrase of the Hebrew Scriptures composed by Rabbis during the diaspora to aid the understanding of their “Hebrew challenged” congregations. I thought something similar might be of help to my kids. So I’ve started with Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.


A Targum* for my children based on Romans 3:21-31

But now, and here’s the point- God’s faithfulness has been revealed apart from the sphere of the covenant he established with Israel. It had to be this way in order to fulfill the promise made in the Writings of the Old Oath regarding what God would do for the whole world. While Israel failed in its calling, God was faithful through the faithfulness of Israel’s representative King. What Israel failed to do for the world, King Joshua did for the world…by what he did for his people Israel. This was done for the benefit of all who believe.

Again, there is no distinction of any consequence between those who are by birth Jew or Gentile. Both have sinned and fail to reflect the glory of their creator, and both are declared to be in right standing with God purely by grace- as his gift.

A new Exodus has occurred, and a new people have been created. This exodus from the slavery of sin was effected by the sacrifice of Israel’s’ Martyr King, Joshua. It is allegiance to this king, not the ethnic markers of the Torah, that identify this new Israel.

Every parent knows that if we love our children, we will despise the actions, diseases, or circumstances that work to destroy them. Our Father God had been merciful in the past by overlooking our sins, but he judged them for what they are in the death of the King. Joshua’s crucifixion was God’s terrifying roar against everything that would keep us from the life that he had always intended for his creation. He can now assure his helpless and guilty people that things are truly alright between him and them, and he can do so without making their sins a matter of indifference.

There is no room for ethnic boasting. If you’ll think about it you’ll see that things had to happen in this way. In order for God’s promises to be fulfilled, the divisions that the Torah created between Jew and Gentile had to be done away with.

The Old Oath had a statement that summarized all that Israel believed. It was called The Shema, and it began like this: God is one!

Doesn’t it follow then, that there can be only one people of God. God isn’t the God of Jews only. He is the God of all the peoples of the Earth. His one people- whether Jew or Gentile by nature- are marked out by their allegiance to King Joshua and not by any ethnic, racial or cultural distinctive- including the Torah.

Now, be careful. This doesn't mean that we condemn the Torah because it created these cultural and ethnic distinctions between Jew and Greek. No way. The Torah had a very significant role to play in this whole story, and so we must uphold its importance.

Other completed passages of the Targum: Romans 1:1-7 , 1:8-17, 1:18-28, 2:1-29, 3:1-20

*A Targum was an expanded paraphrase of the Hebrew Scriptures composed by Rabbis during the diaspora to aid the understanding of their “Hebrew challenged” congregations. I thought something similar might be of help to my kids. So I’ve started with Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.

Saturday, August 4, 2007


A Targum* for my children based on Romans 3:1-20


There's a very important question that arises here, and I'm not sure you will feel its strength. Maybe an illustration will help: We all live on land that was taken from Native Americans. You probably never think of that. It seems so long ago, but it’s true. I bet the Native Americans haven’t forgotten, though. Now, what we’ve said about Israel probably doesn’t shake ya’ll up like it would have a Jew living in the time of King Joshua, either. It’s been too long, and things have just, well… developed as they have. But the question is “Should they have?” That’s what we need to spend some time talking about: “Did God do Israel wrong? Was her failure his failure? Is this whole Christian thing based on God’s unfaithfulness?”

For example, if God can consider anyone- even a gentile- as one of his people (as we’ve said), then what’s the point of Israel in the first place? Was it all a game, or was his covenant an empty gift?

Well, it certainly was the plan and promise of God that he would deal with the curse of sin- its guilt and misery- through Israel. It was no empty gift. But Israel was unfaithful. That’s why we find her under a Roman boot when King Joshua arrives on the scene. It looks like God’s plans to deliver the world had been frustrated. Surely Israel’s failure was God’s failure.

We know better than that! King David of ancient times once cried in sorrow for his sin with Bathsheba: “God’s words are true- even if all human words are false.” We know this is true; so we just need to wait and see how he works it all out.

By the way, I can think of other objections that ask how God can be a fair judge when he is one of the plaintiffs or if he pulls this thing off in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness, then why in the world would he complain about her unfaithfulness? I’m not going to spend any time with these questions. They’re just the sort of thing a fallen yahoo would ask.


So, we know that Israel is no better off than the Gentile nations. I don’t know why anyone should be surprised by this. Her own prophets have told us just how deeply wicked she was. Not that the others aren’t, but that’s the point! The prophets also declared that in precisely such a situation God would act to judge the whole world, rescue the helpless and be faithful to his covenant.

The Torah that summarizes Israel’s covenanted relationship establishes that she has nothing to say in her defense; the whole world, both Jew and Gentile, stand condemned before God. The Torah shows very clearly that all are sinners- even those who have been given the greatest of religious advantages. It would be impossible, then, to be declared righteous simply on the basis that one had the "markers" that identified him as “Jewish.” These markers only draw attention to the fact that Israel is just like everyone else- guilty before God.

Other completed passages of the Targum: Romans 1:1-7 , 1:8-17, 1:18-28, 2:1-29

*A Targum was an expanded paraphrase of the Hebrew Scriptures composed by Rabbis during the diaspora to aid the understanding of their “Hebrew challenged” congregations. I thought something similar might be of help to my kids. So I’ve started with Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.


A Targum* for my children based on Romans 2:1-29

Romans 2: 1:16

Now, I can hear some of your unbelieving friends saying, “That’s right! Give ‘em hell. You religious types claim to be all holy, but I’d never want to be like you. You’re a bunch of hateful, hurtful, judgmental, hypocritical, self-serving jerks.”

Well, they’d be right more often than not, but let me ask them: do you think that publicly judging other’s de-humanizing behavior is enough to rescue you from it? I mean, look around. Those who've never claimed to know God are guilty of doing the same things. Complaining about others isn't going to cut it. Don’t you know that God’s judgment will fall on all those who slavishly perpetrate sin? Do you think your societies’ increase in violence, loneliness and despair is a coincidence? It’s God’s judgment.

God will give the life of the Age-To-Come to all of those who desire to reflect truthfully his eternal life of love, but to those whose lives mimic the creatures that they idolize, he will give the full culmination of their de-humanization. It has already begun. Want to know what hell is like? You can see a small foretaste in the violence and despair of the inner city and the loneliness of the old lady forgotten and left to die in a nursing home bed. This is a fact for everyone…both those who claim to know God’s name and those who do not. God is not partial. It is the reality of both Jew and Gentile.

While God will judge those whom he’s recruited as partners in the fixing of the world by the clear stipulations of the relationship they freely entered into- the Torah, He will not judge the Gentile by a standard they do not possess. They will be judged apart from that special document that was given to Israel alone.

But just as “the critics” will not escape by mere criticism, God’s ancient people will not escape by the mere possession of the Torah. A man can be married and yet fail miserably to keep his vows. In that case the marriage covenant will only condemn him further. In the end, it will be those people who are faithful to the requirements of the Torah that will be fully vindicated and declared to be “His people, indeed.”

This is true of gentiles, as well. When they fulfill the Spirit of the marriage covenant, which God has entered into with Israel- even thought they haven’t the particulars of that relationship, they will show that God has written it on their hearts. At the end, neither the possession of secular morals not Jewish Torah will be of any consequence to those who have lived as idolaters.


Now, if ya’ll were Jewish or had any Jewish friends living right after Joshua’s resurrection, they might say something like, “Amen, the Gentiles are screwed up, and… what you say may be true of some Jews, but we as a people have been given the Torah. We are the answer to the sin and misery of mankind. God promised our Father Abraham thousands of years ago that that the world would be blessed through us. We know his will. We know how men and women ought to behave. You forget that we are a guide to the blind nations- their teacher and healer.” Well, what can I say, friend. This is what Israel was called to do and be, but…in your zeal to teach others, do you not teach yourself? You as a people are no different from those you claim to teach. Because of your sin and boasting the Gentiles mock God.

Again, being a Jew is of consequence if Israel keeps her covenant, but if she doesn’t then she's no different from the gentiles. So it’s only fair that if a Gentile is somehow enabled to keep the heart of the covenant of Torah, she should be regarded as one of God’s people. If there are such people in the world, then their lives condemn those who are in covenant with God and yet break it. Belonging to God isn’t a matter of race or other historical privilege. It is a matter of the heart.

Other completed passages of the Targum: Romans 1:1-7 , 1:8-17, 1:18-28
*A Targum was an expanded paraphrase of the Hebrew Scriptures composed by Rabbis during the diaspora to aid the understanding of their “Hebrew challenged” congregations. I thought something similar might be of help to my kids. So I’ve started with Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.