October 31, 2004

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him

Happy Reformation Day!

On this date in 1517, a young Augustinian monk and priest by the name of Martin Luther, incensed by the exploitation of the poor by the Roman church in selling indulgences to build St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, nailed 95 theses for debate on the door of the church in Wittenberg, and in so doing touched off a religious wildfire that broke the religious monopoly of the Romanists. Earlier this week, I was surprised and pleased to see that the movie Luther had finally made it to local screens, and in honour of the occasion, this is my review.

Luther begins with the young Luther (Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare in Love), trapped in a storm and scared nearly to death by a near lightning strike, crying out to St. Anne to save him, and he will become a monk. In the Augustinian monastery, he becomes so concerned with his own unworthiness before God that his confessor, Father Staupitz, admonishes him to throw himself upon the mercies of Christ, and sends him to the university in Wittenberg to pursue a degree in theology. While there, he becomes angry when a poor woman in his church shows him an indulgence she has purchased from the Dominican monk, Johann Tetzel (Alfred Molina, Spider-Man 2), for the sake of her crippled daughter. And the rest is history.

This movie is pretty much a straight biopic of Luther, being generally faithful to the events of his life, with perhaps a few dramatic liberties taken here or there. It treats Martin Luther respectfully, which is more than you can say for some dramatic treatments of his life (John Osborne's psychoanalytic play of the same name, for example, attribute's Luther's actions to his chronic constipation). But it is reverent without being fawning: Luther is portrayed as a very human man, suffering from depression, haunted by demons, and caught in a moral dilemma, supporting both sides (for different reasons) in the Peasants' War.

The acting in this film is superb: being a German production, the minor players are of German or East European origin, although the three principals - Fiennes, Molina, and Sir Peter Ustinov in one of his final rôles before his death this March - are all British. Fiennes' Shakespearean training suits him well for the rôle of Luther, particularly where oration is called for. Alfred Molina is suitably sleazy as the indulgence-peddling Tetzel. But far and away the best performance is Ustinov's portrayal of Frederick the Wise. He gets the best scene, in which he and his secretary (and Luther's friend) George Spalatin walk amongst his vast collection of religious relics, realizing that for all their cash value, they are utterly worthless. Ustinov's last scene, in which Frederick meets Luther at last and receives a copy of the German Bible from him, is also very touching.

Tim at Challies.com found Luther theologically weak. I disagree. Sure, it's theologically light: not being a comprehensive treatment of Luther's theology, there were many aspects of his life that the filmmakers could have touched on but didn't. But hey, it's a movie, constrained by time and dramatic concerns. Besides, I noticed that at least four of the five Solas got a mention at some point, often standing in contrast to the Roman system of works-righteousness as characterized by the selling of indulgences. But I'll go out on a limb and say that this is easily the most Christian film of the last several years. It's not just a movie about Jesus and his torture and execution on the cross; it actually explains why that was necessary and what the benefits are for the rest of us.

If you are reading this in Ottawa, Luther is still playing at the AMC theatre in Kanata, daily at 4:10pm. Go give them some business.

Holy Bible, Book divine

If, like me, you are interested in the history of the English Bible, the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image at the University of Pennsylvania has placed scans of the entire first edition of the Authorized Version of the Bible, published in 1611, on the Web. Each page can be viewed individually, and you can also zoom in on details.

Also of interest, to me at least, is an extensive collection of Shakespeare publications, including First Folio and quarto editions.

This is one of those sites that really makes the whole Web worthwhile.

October 29, 2004

Get 'em up against the wall!

I really need to follow the news more faithfully.

Last week, Mohamed Elmasry, a professor of engineering at my alma mater, the University of Waterloo, and the president of the Canadian Islamic Congress - and therefore a major "official" spokesman for the Religion of PeaceTM - remarked on television that any Israeli above the age of 18 is a legitimate target for Palestinian terrorism.

On the October 19th program of the Michael Coren Show, Elmasry made the following remarks:

Michael Coren: Anyone over the age of 18 in Israel is a valid target.

Mohamed Elmasry: Anybody above 18 is a part of the Israeli army . . .

Coren: So everyone in Israel and anyone and everyone in Israel, irrespective of gender, over the age of 18 is a valid target?

Elmasry: Yes, I would say.

[Full story]

The CIC, in response, issued a press release calling his remarks "regrettable." Their attempt at damage control contains the following weasel section:

Within the context of discussion on the show, Dr. Elmasry was presenting not his own views -- but those of a significant segment of Palestinians under occupation."I sincerely regret that my comments were misunderstood and, as a result, caused offense," he said today.

[Full Statement]

Of course there's nothing in context that suggests that he was presenting anyone's views but his own. Nor is the true problem misunderstanding on the part of the audience: both Coren and another guest, a Muslim lawyer, gave Elmasry ample opportunity to clarify his statements, and he simply reiterated what he had said before: any Israeli over 18, male or female, enlisted or not, is fair game for Palestinian attacks.

Elmasry's own apology, issued two days ago and accepted by the CIC (though they did not accept his offered resignation), contains its own weaselling:

"I sincerely apologize for the way I expressed myself last week on The Michael Coren Show and I offer my resignation," Dr. Elmasry said in his statement to the CIC Board. "I also offer my apology for the distress I caused to my family, to the University of Waterloo, to the CIC Board, members and friends. I apologize for any public remarks I made which offended Canada's Muslim, Jewish, Palestinian, and Arab communities and Canadians at large."

"It has always been a core belief of mine that killing civilians -- any civilians, for any cause -- is an immoral act of the worst kind and I will never change in this conviction. Failing to articulate my beliefs clearly, completely, and forcefully on that occasion, was the biggest mistake in my 30 years of public life."

[Full Statement]

Weasel #1: "I sincerely apologize for the way I expressed myself." Why don't you apologize for the hate speech you expressed, Dr. Elmasry?

Weasel #2: "I apologize for any public remarks I made which offended Canada's Muslim, Jewish, Palestinian, and Arab communities and Canadians at large." Should you not also apologize to Israelis, whom you have just declared valid targets, Dr. Elmasry?

Weasel #3: "It has always been a core belief of mine that killing civilians -- any civilians, for any cause -- is an immoral act of the worst kind and I will never change in this conviction." But isn't the whole point of this controversy that you declared all Israelis above 18 to be military targets, therefore not civilians, Dr. Elmasry?

Weasel #4: "Failing to articulate my beliefs" is not your problem, Dr. Elmasry. No one has wondered what it was you were saying.

Maybe I'm being uncharitable in my interpretation, but I doubt it. Since official apologies of this kind are generally what is termed "carefully worded," I find it unlikely that at least four rhetorical blunders would be left in by accident.

Had the situation been reversed, and a Jew (or a Christian) uttered hate speech declaring Palestinian adults legitimate targets, the CIC would be all over them like white on rice, and rightly so. But the situation wasn't reversed, and so Elmasry gets a pass because of his "exemplary" "track record for the past 30 years."

Elmasry's tirade stands opposed to the values of Canada and all civilized society. If the Canadian Islamic Congress is truly the voice of moderation it claims to be (and not just running in CYA mode), then it needs to prove it by showing its former president the door by way of a boot up the rear. Silence is assent.

Update: According to UW's student newspaper, the Imprint, Elmasry is now under investigation by the University, as well as the Halton Regional Police, to determine whether his remarks constitute criminal hate propaganda.

Other campus news:

Also pay attention to the Iron Warrior, the newspaper of the UW Engineering Society (EngSoc). At the time of writing the Web page still displays the Oct. 15 issue, too early to report on the controversy.

October 28, 2004

Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me . . . you guys

It's years old, but I've never heard it before, and I just about laughed myself into severe anoxia while listening to Eric Cartman sing "Come Sail Away," [RealAudio] quite possibly the most demented novelty song in the history of recorded sound, and certainly the funniest thing I've heard in the history of today.

Runnin' with the devil

No comment required. Except to say (once again) that John Effin' Kerry's handlers really, really, really need to keep him away from all cameras.

October 27, 2004

I'm searching through these carousels and the carnival arcades

Now that it appears Blogger has gotten over its bout with cyber-'flu or whatever was going on, I have discovered that Christian Carnival XLI is up at From the Anchor Hold.

My submission was my defense of sola Scriptura from this weekend. I see that I've already received some comments prompting further discussion, so I know I've got at least one good theology post coming in the next few days.

With over 30 submissions again this week, it took a while to slug through them all, but here are the highlights.

Jerry McClellan at Truth Be Told fisks a sermon by infamous Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson, whose views on good and evil are a bit addlepated:

Apparently Mr. Robinson believes that no one can know what is evil and if one does profess to know good or evil then he is being arrogant. His sermon is taken from Matthew 13: 24 - 30, 36 - 43, the parable of the wheat and tares, although, he doesn't really stay on point and pours into this passage a meaning that, obviously, it was not intended to have.

[Read I Know Good and Evil, am I Arrogant?]

Warren at View from the Pew argues that there is no such thing as the separation of church and life:

I do not see how faith and action can ever be separated, if you are following your faith in a consistant manner. Faith requires you to believe a certain way about things, and those beliefs require you to act in certain ways. This is hard for people without faith to understand. They cannot see what it is about faith that makes it so vital to people who have it. Part of the problem is us.

[Read Faith in Public]

You know, given that Martin Luther was one of the most down-to-earth characters in human history, there's just something æsthetically right about the idea that Luther discovering the great truths of the Reformation while taking a dump, as Intolerant Elle writes:

Luther is quoted as saying he was “in cloaca”, or in the sewer, when he was inspired to argue that salvation is granted because of faith, not deeds.

[Read Good Works Down the Toilet]

As always: Enjoy.

Help! I need somebody

Blogspot seems to be in a spot of trouble at the moment; although I appear to be able to view my own blog fine, I can't say the same for anyone else at the moment.

I could remain the Pastor of Urinals for a while longer if this keeps up.

Update: Looks like the problem, whatever it was, has been resolved.

October 26, 2004

A bulwark never failing

Checking movie listings, I just discovered quite by surprise that the biopic Luther has finally made it to Canadian theatres.

And only a month before it comes out on DVD, too.

I guess I've just booked my social schedule for the evening.

Psa. 19:7-10: The transforming power of Scripture

This entry was originally the second part of a two-part Sunday school lesson on sola Scriptura that I delivered on August 15, 1999 to the college and career class at my church. For part 1, see The Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture.

When I was first preparing this lesson, I ran through the headings in my Bible just to do a quick survey of what all the Psalms were about. I was surprised to learn how few of them actually seem to be about the Word of God. Understandably, most of the Psalms focus on God himself. Psalm 1 touches on it in passing, and of course Psalm 119, the longest chapter of the entire Bible, is a series of meditations on the Scriptures.

Psalm 19 is about the complete revelation of God. It starts with what we call general revelation: that is, the evidence of God from creation. Historically, Christians have held a view of "two books" of revelation - one was the book of Creation, and the other was the book of Scripture. This is the concept of Revelation held by such men as Galileo Galilei and Francis Bacon, who once wrote:

[L]et no man . . . think or maintain, that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God's word, or the book of God's works, divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress, or proficience in both."

More recently, in the 19th century, the theologian Charles Hodge could say: "Nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible; and we only interpret the Word of God by the Word of God when we interpret the Bible by science."

But for now I want to focus on verses 7-10. This passage is about special revelation - that is, the Scriptures. It says:

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul:
the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart:
the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever:
the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
yea, than much fine gold:
sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. (Psa. 19:7-10)

Note the parallelism in this passage: six declarations containing six descriptive titles and six characteristics of the Word of God, and six transforming effects that it has on the soul.

First, the law, or doctrine, of the Lord is perfect. Perfection is an attribute of the Word of God, as much as it is an attribute of God himself. This is self-evident, since the Word is theopneustos: God-breathed. A few years ago I took a course in the philosophy of God; one of the subjects we touched on was the divine attribute of perfection. In Greek thought, perfection carries the idea of completeness; figuratively speaking, it was like a cake that was cooked all the way through. In Hebrew, the word for "perfect" also carries the idea of completeness. The psalmist, David, is saying that the law of the Lord is complete, that nothing need be added to it to make it better. And David was only speaking about the Law, the first few books of the Scriptures. If David could call only a fragment of the Scriptures, "perfect," how much more can we say the same about the whole counsel of God?

Because the law of God is perfect, it converts the soul. The Scriptures are designed to produce faith, to turn sinning souls back to God, as Paul says in Romans 10:17: "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." In his commentary on the letters to Timothy, William Barclay tells a story of a colporteur in Sicily who was held up by a robber at gunpoint. (I had to look it up too: a colporteur is not a songwriter, but a peddler of religious books.) The robber demanded that he light a fire and burn his books. The salesman agreed, on the condition that he was allowed to read a bit from each one before consigning them to the flames. From the first one, he read the 23rd Psalm; from another, the Sermon on the Mount; from yet another, the Love Chapter from 1 Corinthians. Each time he read a passage, the robber would say "That's a good book; we won't burn that one." In the end, none of the books were destroyed. Years later, the two men met again, only this time the former robber was a minister of the Gospel. His first encounter with the colporteur had transformed his character. The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.

The testimony of the Lord, the Psalm then says, is sure. Compare what Jesus said: "whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock" (Matt. 7:25). Last time I mentioned Luther at the Diet of Worms: how, when ordered to repudiate the books he'd written, he replied, "Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God." Luther recognized that only Scripture was a sure foundation for doctrine; the shifting and unstable pronouncements of Popes and Church councils were like a foundation of sand.

Scripture makes the simple wise. It isn't enough merely to be converted. Did Jesus tell his disciples to "go and convert all the nations"? No, to "[g]o ye therefore, and teach [i.e. make disciples of] all nations" (Matt. 28:19). How many times do the Scriptures admonish us to grow up in our faith? Yet without continual study of the Bible and its application in our lives, we will never grow as Christians; our faith is grounded in the doctrines of this Book. In his farewell speech, Moses told the Hebrews that knowing and obeying God's law would make the other nations envious:

Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. (Deut. 4:5-6)

The statutes of the Lord are right: that is, they are grounded in righteousness. Again, righteousness is an attribute of Scripture that is inherited from God. A righteous doctor provides right treatment; a righteous lawyer provides a proper defense; a righteous God decrees righteous laws.

These statutes rejoice the heart. Have you noticed the way the thought of the Psalm progresses? The Word of God first converts the soul, then it makes it wise; now, it makes it joyful. Charles Spurgeon once wrote that "that truth which makes the heart right then gives joy to the right heart."

Next, David writes that the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. Similarly, another one of my favourite Psalms says that "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times" (Psa. 12:6). They are absolutely pure, with no dross whatsoever. To borrow the metaphor used in this passage, the word of God is like pure, uncontaminated medicine for the eyes. Having converted the soul, produced wisdom and then joy, this divine medicine, applied to the eyes, clears the vision. Knowing God better makes our picture of the world clearer, as George Croly's hymn "Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart" says, in its second stanza:

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.

Interestingly, I have yet to find this verse in any hymnbook I've inspected. Nowadays, we're more likely to sing:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

This hymn, written by Helen Lemmel in 1922, shows the influence of the Holiness and Fundamentalist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many people consider a proper faith to be a sort of pious tunnel vision, focusing on Christ and ignoring everything else; but I dare say that given the choice between the two, it is Croly's attitude that is the Biblical one.

The fear of the Lord is clean, the Psalm continues. The Scriptures clean the love of sin out of our souls.

The Scriptures endure forever. Jesus said that "[h]eaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matt. 24:35). History has testified to this truth. Before the invention of the printing press, the Scriptures were subject to over a thousand years of copying by hand; yet, when we compare the newest copies with the oldest, the differences that can be ascribed to mere human error - missing words, misspellings, and the like - are minimal and do not affect a single teaching in the slightest. I understand that the Jewish copyists were even more meticulous, and that the variations in the Hebrew Old Testament amount to all of eight words that affect the meaning of the text. Skeptics have claimed that the Bible isn't reliable because it's been copied, rewritten, edited, and corrupted over thousands of years. Don't believe it for a minute! Whatever copy of the Bible you might look at, there's no doubt that it's the same book as it's always been.

Finally, David sums up his thought:

[T]he judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
yea, than much fine gold:
sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. (Psa. 19:9-10)

In two other places, the Bible symbolizes someone receiving the Word of God with a scroll that tastes like honey when it is eaten (Ezek. 3:1-3; Rev. 10:9-10). We all know what a "gold rush" or "gold fever" are; there seems to be a natural craving in man to acquire this most valuable of metals. Similarly, if you've seen your friends drooling over a dessert menu, you know that we seem to have an innate craving for sweet foods, especially chocolate. David says that the Scriptures are more valuable than either one.

That is the transforming power of Scripture: it converts us, makes us wise, causes us to rejoice, and gives us a clearer vision. So how do we experience this transformation?

First, and most obviously, by reading the Scriptures. We should be doing this diligently - ideally, on a daily basis. We can all find time in the day to watch some TV, read good book, chat on the phone, or many other trivial tasks - is there any reason why we shouldn't apply the same diligence to our devotional duties? We should also read wisely: that is, not only using our time wisely, but reading the Bible wisely - reading systematically, rather than haphazardly; not limiting ourselves to a few favourite passages, but reading as much as we can of the whole counsel of God; and to aim to be well versed in the basic tenets of Christianity first, rather than be bogged down in the details.

After reading the Scriptures comes meditation - that is, serious thought and study of what the Scripture means and how it applies to us. The first Psalm says that the righteous man meditates on the Law of God "day and night" (Psa. 1:2). Meditation is like digestion. The food we eat has no value to us unless it is digested; similarly, our spiritual nourishment is only useful after it has been meditated upon. If we're the most diligent readers of Scripture in the world, yet we forget what we read only five minutes later because we haven't meditated upon it and internalized it, then we've accomplished nothing at all.

Above all of this are prayer and faith. Prayer, because we pray and give thanks before every meal; isn't our spiritual meal that much more worthy of the same honour? And faith, of course, because without faith it's not even possible to receive the Word of God or believe it.

Finally, of course, we ought to practice what we read. James admonishes us to be "doers of the word, and not hearers only" (Jas. 1:22). Again, we can read all we want, but if it doesn't change us, what have we accomplished?

The same points could be made about the second way we experience the transforming power of Scripture: hearing the Word. Protestant worship centres around the preaching of the Word; any church that is slack in its preaching is not fulfilling its mandate. On the other hand, a former pastor of mine once remarked that it took him twenty hours to prepare a sermon; it was discouraging for him to see many empty pews when he delivered it on Sunday. Our pastors have been called by God to be ministers to our souls. It's good for us to show up on time for Sunday services, to pay attention to what is preached, to pray over it, and to discuss it with other believers. And again, if we don't put what we hear into practice, our pastors might as well not waste their time.

The Word of God is the final authority in our lives, because it comes from God himself. In all matters of faith and behaviour, it is sufficient; we need nothing else to tell us what we need to believe and what we need to do. Scripture transforms us: it converts our souls, cleanses them, teaches us how to be wise, causes us to rejoice, and clears our spiritual vision. And when the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes, we can say the same thing to God that the Psalmist wrote so many years ago: "I [can] behold wondrous things out of thy law" (Psa. 119:18).

October 25, 2004

Grace finds goodness in everything

A briefcase containing lyrics for songs meant to be used in U2's 1981 album "October" has been returned to the group's lead singer Bono, 23 years after it was stolen at a Portland concert.

Cindy Harris of Washington state found the briefcase in the attic of a rental home in Tacoma, Washington, in 1981, but said she did not learn that it had been stolen until years later. She contacted the band recently. . . .

The return was an "act of grace", the singer said.

[Full Story]

Could October - The Songwriters' Cut be on the horizon?

Dare to be stupid

I've remarked before that while other people are "babe magnets," unfortunately I tend to be a "wacko magnet." My most recent acquisition is a well-known net.abuser named Wally Duncaster.

For those of you who don't tend to frequent an awful lot of Internet discussion forums, Duncaster is a rather notorious spammer and troll of many Christian forums. He arrives and immediately begins posting massive cut-and-paste messages, usually of a highly critical nature, about such subjects as how evil Billy Graham is, how Baptists are about as wrong as anyone can get, how the writings of the apostle Paul are errant because he was such a chauvinist, and so on and so forth. He never lets up, he gets belligerent if you question him (and downright nasty if you invite him to go away), and he never leaves until someone with a little authority pulls the plug on his posting privileges. Even then, soon he will be back under a different name, though of course it's obvious that it's him from the posting style (but nothing makes him madder than getting caught). Because of his morphing ability I have taken to calling him the "Wally Duncaster Entity."

I have personally banned the Entity at least three times from the Bible Versions Discussion Board. He has spammed my personal inbox with unwanted anti-Baptist macros until I notified his ISP. Most recently he has taken to fouling the Fundamentalist Forums (where the longsuffering Webmaster has already asked him to leave at least twice).

Unfortunately, since I don't suffer fools gladly, he has taken a special liking to me and started calling me the "Pastor of Urinals." This comes from a combination of two things: one, I made an offhand remark about urinals earlier, and two, the Wally Duncaster Entity is completely clueless and hasn't figured out yet that I pastor nothing and no one, not even lavatory fixtures.

In honour (and blatant unashamed mockery) of this new-found "friend," my blog shall be known as "Pastor of Urinals" for the next 48 hours.

P.S.: Apparently, now I'm gay. (Again.) Or something.

P.P.S.: I was kind of hoping to confine the joke to this blog, but it's gotten a little out of control. I had no idea how many automatic thingamajiggeries picked up the blog name from Blogger rather than me. For example. Arrgh.

Ad hoc, ad loc, and quid pro quo! So little time, so much to know!

I like to acknowledge those who acknowledge me; however, as I've said before, ever since I joined the League of Reformed Bloggers, it's gotten more difficult to separate links by other members of the League (a little JavaScript makes it automatic) from links by bloggers who apparently stumbled upon me all by themselves. Nonetheless, I did spot two non-League blogrollers whose URLs showed up in my referrer logs this week:

Mr. Standfast posts mainly brief, reflective articles of a Christian nature. And it looks like our reading lists have a few common elements, in particular Tolkien and Lewis.

Quadrivium posts roughly half Christian, half political subjects.

Go give 'em some attention.

Oh, and I'm still looking for help with my Finnish.

October 24, 2004

1 Tim. 3:16-17: The authority and sufficiency of Scripture

This entry was originally the first part of a two-part Sunday school lesson on sola Scriptura that I delivered on August 8, 1999 to the college and career class at my church. For part 2, see The Transforming Power of Scripture.

I have a love affair with Holy Scripture that started very early. I think I must have been around nine or ten years old the first time I sat through a whole church service, rather than being dismissed to Sunday school, and heard a sermon preached. It was a fascinating experience, one that I later wanted to repeat as much as I could. I found out later that particular message had been geared toward children, but nonetheless the seeds were sown, and I tried afterwards to find any excuse I could to get out of Sunday school, sit in the sanctuary, and listen to the preaching. The seeds of my later Christian maturity were sown that morning though it was a long time before they really sprouted.

500 years ago, another young man fell in love with the Scriptures. His love affair with the word of God lit a wildfire under Christendom that has never been extinguished. Martin Luther's life climaxed when he stood before the Emperor at the Diet of Worms. Presented with a collection of his books and told to repudiate their contents, Luther answered:

Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason . . . my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.

In that brief and triumphant speech, Luther had expressed the doctrine of sola Scriptura - Scripture alone. In a sentence, sola Scriptura teaches that the Bible is the sole and sufficient authority for Christians in all matters of faith and morals. The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, with which I am in basic agreement, says this:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture, to which nothing is to be added at any time, either by new revelation of the Spirit, or by the traditions of men. (I.6)

My favourite verse in the entire Bible says the same thing. Paul, writing to his protegé Timothy to stand firm against loose morals and false teachers, writes in 2 Tim. 3:16-17:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

The author of Scripture

The passage starts by stating that God is the author of Scripture. Earlier in his life, Paul had commended the believers in Thessalonika for receiving the teaching of the apostles as though it came directly from God. "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God" (1 Thess. 2:13). 2 Pet. 1:20-21 says that "no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation" - that is, its origin is not in human initiative - "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."

But Paul says something special about the Scriptures. He says it is given by inspiration of God. The NIV translates that word inspiration better: it reads, "[a]ll Scripture is God-breathed." This is a better translation for two reasons: first, it's a more dramatic image than "inspired"; second, it's a literal translation of the Greek word Paul uses, theopneustos, which means, literally, "God-breathed." In Genesis, God said "Let there be light," and there was light; here, Paul says, God breathed, and there was Scripture.

Only the Scriptures are said to be "God-breathed." In Greek, the Scriptures are graphe - a word which has been adopted in English for contexts related to writing: graph, paragraph, biography, graphite, and so forth. This word connotes written language; it is the written Word of God, and only the written word of God, that is said to be theopneustos.

The authority of Scripture

Paul moves on from the author of Scripture to its authority. Scripture is profitable for four things.

First, it is profitable for doctrine, or for teaching. It is through the Scriptures that we get our knowledge of who God is, or what Christ has done for us, or how we can be saved. Traditionally, Protestant churches center their worship around the preaching of the Word; any church that does not do this is not fulfilling its mandate. Furthermore, Scripture teaches these things clearly. The Baptist Confession says:

[T]hose things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and revealed in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the educated but the uneducated may attain a sufficient understanding of them by the due use of ordinary means. (I.8)

But Scripture is also profitable for correction. What we believe must be tested against what Scripture says. If there's a contradiction, it is us that must modify our beliefs or theories. The Word of God is not up for debate.

Paul also says that Scripture is profitable for instruction in righteousness; that is, in addition to teaching us what to believe, the Scriptures teach us what to do. The five books of Moses contain an elaborate Law that expressed God's standard of righteousness to the Hebrews. Although we as Christians are now bound to the spirit of that Law, rather than the letter, it doesn't change the fact that God expects us to behave in accordance with his will.

Finally, Scripture is profitable for reproof - or, you could say, conviction. In addition to teaching us the right way to act, the Bible shows us the error of our ways when we act wrongly. Again, the Word of God is not debatable. Wrong morals are sin.

The sufficiency of Scripture

Now, Paul goes on to say a third thing about the Scriptures. Not only are they God-breathed and authoritative, they are sufficient. 2 Tim. 3:17 says that, armed with a knowledge of the Scriptures, "the man of God may be perfect [complete], throughly furnished unto all good works."

Let's suppose that I need to buy a new computer, which I intend to use primarily as a means to get on the Net; however, as an amateur musician, I also want it to be powerful enough to use as a digital audio workstation. So I head down to Joe's Computer Warehouse, a store with a reputation for being able to provide hardware and software for virtually every application. There I buy a computer, monitor, keyboard, some kind of Internet starter kit, a high-end sound card, a few miles of MIDI cable, and some sequencing software. An hour after getting this new system home, I'm downloading my email; after a few more hours of fiddling with it, I'm able to lay down some tracks.

If Joe has sold me everything I need to experience the wonderful world of the Internet and digital audio, then I can say that Joe has "throughly furnished" me for those purposes. On the other hand, if Joe hasn't anticipated my need for the specialized hardware and software required for my little home studio, and I have to go to Fred's Guitars to get that, then I haven't been "throughly furnished" by Joe or Fred.

Similarly, the Scriptures are sufficient: they contain "those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation." However, if there were any such thing that were not found in the Scriptures but only outside them, then the Scriptures would not be sufficient. They would not "throughly furnish" the man of God.

In fact, the sufficiency of Scripture has been challenged many times by a wide variety of movements. Here are but a few examples. Many of these groups have recently been trying to gain greater respectability amongst evangelicals.

Some Charismatics split the "Word of God" into what they call the logos, or written word, and rhema, or the so-called "word of knowledge" or prophecy. This is in keeping with that Charismatic theology that says churches ought to be led by a prophet. Many such groups would put their "word of knowledge" on a par with the written Scriptures.

Similarly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints treats a number of its own books as though they are equal to the Bible. The Book of Mormon, for example, instructs its readers to ask God whether it is true; if so, it says, the reader will feel a burning in the chest. Rather than grounding the truth in the objective, written word, the Mormons appeal to subjective, mystical feelings.

The Roman Catholic Church claims that it has been entrusted with a "Sacred Tradition" that is equally authoritative with the Scriptures, and that only its teaching magisterium can infallibly interpret Scripture or define what that Tradition is. According to Catholic dogma, the Scripture is infallible provided it is interpreted infallibly by the Church; and only the Church can define Tradition. Thus the final authority is not sola Scriptura, but sola Roma - Rome only.

Finally, within evangelicalism itself, there is a movement of certain Fundamentalists, ironically mostly Baptist, that claims that only the King James Version of the Bible is truly the Word of God in English. (Some go farther and claim that the KJV is the only Word of God at all.)

Scripture itself says that Scripture can make the man of God complete, "throughly furnished unto all good works." In one way or another, all of these groups imply that this is untrue. Mormonism is the farthest of the four from Christian orthodoxy and adds its own authority to that of the Bible, but at least is consistent in that it claims the Bible has been corrupted and is not entirely reliable. While the Charismatics and the Catholics claim they have a high view of Scriptural inspiration, their position is inconsistent with Scripture's own claim of sufficiency, saying there is another authority required to supplement Scripture. And the KJV-onlyists raise their preference for the KJV to the level of dogma by appealing to a complex of arguments and traditions not found in the Bible, ironically doing so in the name of defending the KJV as the "final authority."

(Rebecca at Rebecca Writes has recently posted a good essay about why KJV-onlyism denies sola Scriptura.)

Why sola Scriptura matters

Here are three reasons why I believe holding to sola Scriptura is of fundamental importance to the Church.

Scripture itself promises blessings upon those who read and obey it:

Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day: And a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known. (Deut. 11:26-28)

Jesus said, in John 14:21, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him." Those who keep Christ's words show they love him, and Christ promises that love will be reciprocated. Finally, the book of Revelation says in 1:3, speaking of itself, ""Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand."

Second, as Paul said, Scripture is our standard for faith and morals. We have laws against dishonest weights and measures; in fact there are government agents who go around with standard measures, making sure gas stations and other businesses aren't cheating their customers. Similarly, the Scriptures are a standard by which we must judge what we believe or how we behave. We use the word canon to refer to the collection of divine writings. This is a fitting word; it comes from a Greek word meaning "rule." Scripture is the "yardstick" against which we compare everything. Unfortunately, I've heard of some surveys that indicate that even amongst evangelical Christians, only 20% will actually open their Bibles on a weekly basis. When we're not steeped in knowledge of the Word, is it any wonder that sexual conduct or divorce rates in the evangelical world don't look all that different than the world any more? We don't measure our behaviour against the yardstick. Scripture left unopened is like gold left unmined: it has no value until it's brought out into the open.

Last, Scriptural authority is important because the Scriptures are true, and truth is the basis of real unity. These days, what we call "unity" seems really to be a sort of ecumenical smoothing-over of our differences, merely for the sake of presenting a unified front to the unbelieving world. It's a sort of postmodern ideal, whereby we prefer to emphasize what we agree about, or understand about each other, instead of what divides us. Division isn't nice. It isn't "tolerant." But this isn't true unity; it's a façade.

Someone might object: Didn't Jesus pray that his disciples would be one? If the visible Church is visibly divided, won't that hurt its credibility in they eyes of the world? Well, it's true that Christ did pray exactly that: that "[t]hat they all may be one . . . that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:21). However, only a few moments before, he had asked the Father to "[s]anctify [the disciples] through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17). When Paul heard that dissension had arisen in the church at Corinth, he pleaded with them in 1 Cor. 1:10 to "all speak the same thing." Unity is grounded in a common knowledge of the truth. No truth, no unity.

It took me a long time to realize it, but I love the Word of God. I gladly affirm what Isaac Watts once wrote:

Lord, I have made Thy word my choice,
My lasting heritage;
There shall my noblest powers rejoice,
My warmest thoughts engage.

I'll read the histories of Thy love,
And keep Thy laws in sight,
While through Thy promises I rove
With ever fresh delight.

'Tis a broad land of wealth unknown,
Where springs of life arise,
Seeds of immortal bliss are sown,
And hidden glory lies.

[Nov. 10 update: Some objections considered.]

October 20, 2004

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends

Christian Carnival XL is now up at Proverbial Wife (paradoxically beating out Christian Carnival XXXIX - apparently personal stuff has gotten the better of Adrian and CC39, hopefully nothing serious). My contribution this week was my review of C. S. Lewis' novel Out of the Silent Planet.

This week there was a whopping 34 entries, a lot of them very good. Here's my picks for the most notable.

Sometimes the points of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants can get confusing. In a theologically heavy post, Jeremy Pierce tries to draw a distinction between the abomination of eating shellfish and the abomination of homosexual relations:

Jesus' declaration of an abomination (shellfish) to be clean must mean that whatever an abomination is it's the sort of thing that can in principle be declared clean. Something's being an abomination doesn't mean it's inherently unclean. There may be some abominations that are inherently unclean but not in virtue of being abominations, or shellfish couldn't be declared clean. That doesn't mean that all abominations not declared clean by Jesus or elsewhere in the NT are permanently unclean. The only way we should conclude that is if we think of the NT as superceding the OT, as if it somehow vetoes or cancels it. Some have artificially tried to fit the Torah into their little organizational box, saying that some parts of the Torah, i.e. the civil and ceremonial parts, are canceled, while the moral law stays. Theonomists modify this by keeping the civl as well. Both view use categories not in scripture and oversimplify the OT-NT relation for the sake of a coherent and comprehensive system. All Jesus says is that he came to fulfill the law, not one iota of which will pass away. Nothing is canceled. All is fulfilled. It's just that some aspects are fulfilled in different ways. It would take forever to say more than that, but I don't want to assume that any part of the Torah is canceled.

[Read Abominations]

On the same subject, Rocky at Chapter and Verse argues why he, as an ex-gay, cannot support gay marriage:

No, we cannot endorse or support the joining of two people of the same sex in a lifelong covenant and at the same time, pray for their freedom from sin and bondage. Our duty to God, as part of His family, as citizens of His kingdom, is that His ways become our ways. Man may try to argue that marriage is a civil right for gays, but the saints of God cannot agree.

[Read Why Christians cannot support gay marriage]

Bonnie of Off the Top posts some reflections on why Christopher Reeve's untimely death was such a tragedy:

I’m the first to admit I can’t imagine myself going through what Reeve did, nor having his courage should the same fate (quadriplegia) befall me. Yet his story stands as a contrast to the testimony of Joni Eareckson Tada, who dealt with her quadriplegia in quite a different way.

[Read Notes on Christopher Reeve]

Although I do blog politics occasionally when the fancy strikes me, I find myself in agreement with Brad at 21st Century Reformation when he explains why his refusal to do so is a matter of priority:

I find that in blogdom, very few bloggers address directly the real problems facing our communities, our homes, our churches and our lives. I respect all these people with valid, well informed, and well articulated opinions on politics, theology, church culture, music, and all the things people blog about. But what is most vital and indeed most urgent? What is the real need that the church and the pastor is called to provide solutions for?

Is not the church called to bring people into a purer life of worship and moral action? This process of teaching and learning is called discipleship. The church is called to bring to people of every culture and every language and every season in life the answers to the human desire to live a more morally beautiful and spiritually abundant life."

[Read Why I Personally Do Not Blog Politics]

I've blogged a few times about C. S. Lewis and found him to be a real crowd-pleaser with God-bloggers. But my personal favourite is Francis Schaeffer, whom Jollyblogger cites in this excellent piece on relational apologetics:

Another good historical anecdote on the primacy of the relational apologetic comes from the ministry of Francis Schaeffer himself, with L'Abri. No one was better at the practical use of presuppositional and evidential apologetics than Schaeffer. But what intrigues me is that L'Abri wasn't merely a preaching station or a lecture house or academic hall. Students of L'Abri were invited into a community where they worked and shared life together. I've never been to L'Abri, but my guess is that the community life was as instrumental in it's success in evangelism as was the intellectual arguments of Schaeffer."

[Read Relational Apologetics]

Speaking of relational apologetics, Tom Reindl of Effortless Grace posts about being salt and light in his own small corner where the language isn't the politest. To him, I say, "Eff yeah!"

It appears that all adjectives and adverbs have been replaced in the English language, at least the language found at a construction site. We used to use the word big to describe something that was large. When we wanted to measure something, we would describe it as long, or short, high, or low. In the cases of color, we had striking colors, plain colors, hot colors, and cold colors. . . .

Do we need any of these adjectives or adverbs anymore? I like to think we do. However, I am at a jobsite where all of them have been replaced with one word. Can you guess what that word is? Do I have to type it? Alright, we’ll use a replacement. Let’s call the word "effing". So, from here on out in this post, when you see the word "effing", you will know what I am referring to. If you do not know what word I am really referring to, email me, and I’ll tell you.


There's a special thrill I get from handling the Word of God in a language other than my own, especially when that language is receiving the Scriptures for the first time. That's the main reason I appreciated Charlie's post:

The dream that burst from the ground as a tender shoot in 1978 matured, flowered and bore fruit. On August 7, 2004, in a public fiesta that attracted as many as 600 Tepehua men and women (and uncounted children), the New Testament was formally presented to the Tlachichilco Tepehuas. One by one, men and women came to the dais and took turns reading Scripture verses aloud or quoting from memory to the enthusiastic crowd. One by one they nodded, smiled, and pronounced the words good. For many Tepehuas, whose understanding of Spanish is extremely limited, it was the first time they had understood that God's Word is meant for them, too."

[Read Beautiful Feet]

Come inside, the show's about to start!

Take this job and shove it!

I've tried to be nice. I've tried to stay non-partisan, especially non-American-partisan. But a certain aristocratic Presidential candidate and his snobbish rich-widow wife just make it terribly, terribly difficult:

In an interview published Wednesday in USA Today, the newspaper asked the wife of Democratic candidate John Kerry if she would be different from Laura Bush as a first lady.

"Well, you know, I don't know Laura Bush. But she seems to be calm, and she has a sparkle in her eye, which is good," Heinz Kerry said. "But I don't know that she's ever had a real job — I mean, since she's been grown up. So her experience and her validation comes from important things, but different things."

[Full Story]

No comment yet from Thurston Howell as to whether he agrees with Lovey that schoolteachers and librarians are doing real work.

Damage control update: Heinz Kerry has released a quick statement in which she said she had "forgotten" about Mrs. Bush's career as teacher and librarian. The moral of the story: Think first, speak later.

Car crash, ending your day at the side of the road

As if to underscore the point . . .

October 19, 2004

Finland, Finland, Finland, the country where I want to be

Normally I wait until Mondays to acknowledge those who link to the Crusty Curmudgeon, but this time I couldn't wait, because I haven't a clue what's being said.

Anyone out there know Finnish? Is this person being nice or mean to me? What's it say?

October 18, 2004

Might as well be on Mars

The third H. G. Wells novel that I read, after The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, was The First Men in the Moon. Originally published in 1901, my personal copy comes from the 1940s. My high school girlfriend, who liked collecting old books, once noticed that it lacked a proper publisher's imprint or copyright notice. Apparently, it is an unauthorized edition. (I lifted it from the bookshelf of my grandparents' summer cottage. Blame them.)

In this story, our faithful narrator meets up with a scientist named Cavor, who has invented an anti-gravity substance that he has modestly named "Cavorite." The two men, sealed inside a Cavorite-coated, spherical spaceship, travel to the Moon. There they are captured by the ant-like Selenites and brought into their underground domain. It's a grand yarn, one of Wells' best.

No doubt that when C. S. Lewis wrote the following on the dedication page of his first fantasy novel, Out of the Silent Planet, he had this novel of Wells' in mind:

Certain slighting references to earlier stories of this type which will be found in the following pages have been put there for purely dramatic purposes. The author would be sorry if the reader supposed he was too stupid to have enjoyed Mr. H. G. Wells's fantasies or too ungrateful to acknowledge his debt to them.

The similarities are obvious: Elwin Ransom, a professor of philology on a walking tour, has a chance encounter with an old schoolmate named Devine, who introduces him to his scientist colleague Weston. Unfortunately, Devine and Weston are up to no good, and since none of Ransom's friends or family know where he actually is, he finds himself drugged and abducted on a spherical spaceship heading for Mars. After overhearing his captors discuss how they intend to offer him to the Martians as a human sacrifice in exchange for gold, Ransom escapes from Weston and Devine after landing. He spends some time living with the Martians and discovers that not only do they wish him no harm, but in spite of their technological primitiveness, they are humanity's philosophical and moral superiors.

Mars - or as it is called locally, Malacandra - has three indigenous, intelligent species: the tall, aloof, but wise sorn; the seal-like hrossa, hunter-gatherers whose major contribution to Malacandrian society is their poetry; and the diminutive pfifltriggi, who build things. Mars is ruled by Oyarsa, the chief of the spiritual beings called eldila. We learn that every planet has an Oyarsa, but the Oyarsa of Earth (called Thulcandra by the Martians) has not been heard from for a very long time. Hence Earth is the "silent planet." Indeed, the Oyarsa of Earth appears not only to be silent, but even malevolent (as we learn in the first few pages of the sequel Perelandra, he is mounting some sort of offensive against Venus).

Lewis denied that his Space Trilogy was "allegorical." Nonetheless he brings his explicit Christian worldview into his contrast of fallen Earth and Mars. Though it appears that some kind of Fall has occurred on Mars, the depravity of the Martians is not total. While aware of the existence of evil in humanity and amongst their own kind - compared to the unmitigated naïveté of the Green Lady in Perelandra - they have no word for it in their own language: the closest equivalent is "bent." The Martians have a strong awareness of the spiritual beings inhabiting their world and are in close communion with their attendant eldila. Ransom learns to see and hear the eldila with some effort, but at first Devine and Weston do not even believe they exist. Put on trial before the Oyarsa of Malacandra, Weston humourously presumes him to be the parlour trick of primitive religionists, and begins to address him in pidgin language through a sleeping hross whom he supposes to be the ventriloquist perpetrating the fraud.

Out of the Silent Planet is also markedly similar to The War of the Worlds. In the latter novel, Martians looking for a new supply of food invade and overwhelm Earth with superior technology. In the former, it is the technologically superior Earthlings that invade Mars in search of gold. The War of the Worlds is a veiled critique of European colonialism; Out of the Silent Planet critiques the pretensions of intellectuals such as Wells or J. B. S. Haldane, utopian idealists who believed that man could perfect himself through scientific progress. Standing before the Oyarsa, Weston delivers a bombastic speech about the moral superiority of technological advancement and the manifest destiny of humanity to expand to the stars. However, he has so little common ground with the innocent Martians that communicating his philsophy to them proves impossible. (Fans of the Narnia books will recognize this plot device: Uncle Andrew's encounter with the talking animals in The Magician's Nephew is a recycled Weston.) Ransom, translating Weston's rhetoric into plain language for the simpler-minded Martians, strips it naked and exposes it as high-minded nonsense:

"It is in her right," said Weston, "the right, or, if you will, the might of Life herself, that I am prepared without flinching to plant the flag of man on the soil of Malacandra: to march on, step by step, superseding, where necessary, the lower forms of life that we find, claiming planet after planet, system after system, till our posterity - whatever strange form and yet unguessed mentality they have assumed - dwell in the universe wherever the universe is habitable."

"He says," translated Ransom," that because of this it would not be a bent action - or else, he says, it would be a possible action - for him to kill you all and bring us here. He says he would feel no pity. He is saying again that perhaps they would be able to keep moving from one world to another and wherever they came they would kill everyone. I think he is now talking about worlds that go round other suns. He wants the creatures born from us to be in as many places as they can. He does not know what kind of creatures they will be."

"I may fall," said Weston. "But while I live I will not, with such a key in my hand, consent to close the gates of the future on my race. What lies in their future, beyond our present ken, passes imagination to conceive: it is enough for me that there is a Beyond."

"He is saying," Ransom translated, "that he will not stop trying to do all this unless you kill him. And he says that though he doesn't know what will happen to the creatures sprung from us, he wants it to happen very much."

Weston, who had now finished his statement, looked round instinctively for a chair to sink into. On Earth he usually sank into a chair as the applause began. Finding none - he was not the kind of man to sit on the ground like Devine - he folded his arms and stared with a certain dignity about him.1

One wonders whether Wells ever wrote a review of Lewis' books, and if so, what he thought about Lewis' deconstruction of his brand of utopian idealism.

The Space Trilogy is a fine representative of early science fiction/science fantasy, in spite of critiquing rather than promoting the idealistic philosophies typical of the genre. More fundamentally, it's just a darn good read, penned by a master of the literary art. Books like this make me lament the sorry state of Christian fiction in the last 50 years, mired in the formulaic quagmire of end-times thrillers and historical romances.

Since 1991, I have used the nickname "Ransom" online, inspired by my first reading of Lewis' trilogy. In honour of my third reading of Out of the Silent Planet and the posting of this review, hereafter I will use the name here on the blog as well.


1 C. S. Lewis, The Cosmic Trilogy (London: Pan, 1990) 122-23.

Too bad

Doug Bennett, the lead singer of the Canadian indie band Doug and the Slugs, died Saturday following an undisclosed lengthy illness. He was 52.

[Full Story]

My American friends may not be aware that Canada has laws regarding broadcast content on the airwaves, mandating that a certain percentage of songs played (for example) must be Canadian content ("CanCon"). This is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, deserving acts get exposure (e.g. Barenaked Ladies); on the other, it also produces a whole lot of "hothouse flowers" that get played on the radio because the law requires it, but are otherwise ignored. Doug and the Slugs was the latter kind of band. Still, songs like "Day By Day" were part of my teenage years.

October 17, 2004

These foolish things remind me of you

Important scientific discovery: Hot water in a closed container is like a pop bottle under pressure. I just learned this the hard way while brewing some iced tea: having poured boiling water over some loose green tea, I had a brief moment of stupidity in which I absent-mindedly gave the pitcher a quick shake to mix up the contents.


About half a liter of freshly boiled water with a hint of jasmine sprayed all over the kitchen counter, the side of the fridge, and the window blinds. And my hand.

Ouch ouch ouch.

At the time of writing, the first three fingers of my left hand are visibly redder than my right, and they feel like they're on fire. I have now experienced first-degree scalds for the first time in my life, and I wouldn't be surprised if I see blisters or wake up in the middle of the night screaming for death.

The moral: Don't shake closed containers of scalding hot tea.

I'm not stupid.


October 15, 2004

It doesn't matter if it's fresh or canned

Recently I've been cutting down on the amount of milk I drink. Not for any particular reason; I especially don't buy into the sky-is-falling hype about bovine milk being bad for people, any more than I believe similar alarmist tripe about aluminum cookware, microwave ovens (and other non-ionizing radiation), or canola oil. I just figure that as much as I like a tall, cold glass of milk, I get enough dairy in my diet as it is, so I'm cutting down.

The other day I decided to try something I've never had before: soy milk. Like I said, I don't have anything against boring old regular milk. I was just looking for a change of pace, not an alternative to milk. ("Vegetarians" who try to dress up their diet to make it look like meat just annoy me; veggie "hot dogs," for example, are just wretched. If you are going to be a vegetarian, flaunt it. Salads are wonderful things. The same holds true for milk and soy milk, as far as I am concerned.)

Expecting to be somewhat turned off, I was rather pleasantly surprised. Ordinary soy milk has a sweetness and creaminess you don't expect from puréed soybeans - although there is a peculiar chalky texture and odd vegetable aftertaste that reminds you that you are drinking exactly that. (Also, for a product labeled "organic," I thought there was an unusually high number of ingredients with names I couldn't pronounce without a degree in chemistry.)

I've been told that the flavoured varieties are superior to the ordinary; it wouldn't surprise me if vanilla-flavoured soy milk kicked in café au lait. Bottom line: Take it or leave it, but if you're offered a glass by a veggie friend, there's no reason to turn it down.

It's the end of the world as we know it . . .

Somewhere, quite early in my career as an avid reader of science fiction, I somehow stumbled across The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. Even at the age of 12 or 13, and with relatively little contemporary "hard" science fiction under my belt (I think at this stage I had probably read The Naked Sun and one or two more of Asimov's robot stories, and perhaps Clarke's 2001, but little more), I recognized its sheer implausibility, and by this I don't necessarily mean the "men from Mars" scenario. Nonetheless, for primitive SF written in 1898, it was a gripping little story and actually touched off my interest in the science fantasy of that era - Wells and Jules Verne in particular - as well as later fiction obviously inspired by them, such as C. S. Lewis and John Wyndham, of whom I shall have more to say shortly.

The War of the Worlds is set in the village of Woking, England, apparently in the early 20th century (making it a bona fide "futuristic" novel). One evening a meteor lands near the village. This spectacle turns out to be artificial: it is a large metal cylinder thirty yards in diameter. Presently the top screws off, and the giant-headed, tentacled Martians emerge, intent on destruction: they immediately begin incinerating the curious onlookers with a devastating "Heat-Ray." Soon other cylinders descend on England as well, carrying more Martians as well as their massive, three-legged War Machines, with which they quickly devastate the English landscape.

The story is told from the first-person perspective of an anonymous moral philosopher living in Woking, with a brief excursus into the experiences of his brother with the Martians in another part of the country. Wells' talent for description is virtually unmatched; his description of the War Machines in particular is especially good, though he doesn't convey too clearly how a three-legged machine is supposed to walk. Of course, the very premise is completely implausible, but interestingly in Wells' day it would have passed for hard SF, since the best photographs of Mars at the time suggested long channels of open water - or, as some thought, artificial canals. In fact it was almost half a century before this idea was completely debunked. Only in the space age, thanks to rocket probes, did pictures of Mars reveal that its surface is dry, pockmarked with craters and volcanoes, and incapable of supporting life (at least as we know it - some hard SF authors such as Larry Niven still use Martians as a plot device, though they are a radically different form of life than we are).

My edition included an essay by Isaac Asimov in which he argues that The War of the Worlds was an allegory for British imperialism. Just as European troops with their artillery would appear invincible to the natives of India or Africa, so too do the Martians with their War Machines, Heat-Ray, and poison gas appear to nineteenth-century Brits. Though I tend to shy away from interpretations of literature that scream "Imperialism!" or "Phallocentrism!" or various other pet -isms of the postmodern set, given both the prophetic nature of much of Wells' writing and what little I know of his politics, the good doctor probably has a point.

A very good movie of The War of the Worlds was released in 1953, albeit one which was set in a contemporary period and in which the Martian War Machines hovered rather than strode on legs. Obviously, the hit 1984 miniseries V and 1996 blockbuster Independence Day obviously owe a great deal to Wells. Apparently Stephen Spielberg is working on a movie due to be released next year. Now that Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow has proven the viability of retro SF, here's hoping.

. . . and I feel fine

I followed up War of the Worlds with another doomsday scenario written 50 years later: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. This is a book I discovered for the first time in high school, sitting on the bookshelves in my grade 11 English class. While we in the advanced class were suffering through dreck like The Catcher in the Rye, the general class got something actually readable. (Grad students take note: Why the Modern Language Association worships drivel might make a decent thesis.)

Triffids are eight-foot-tall, flesh-eating, mobile plants. No one knows exactly where they came from; they can only speculate that they are the product of Soviet genetic engineering accidentally set loose. However, they are a good source of cattle fodder, oil, and other beneficial by-products - so what if they have a ten-foot whiplash that delivers a dose of venom that can instantly kill a man, or that they seem preternaturally clever?

The Day of the Triffids is told from the first-person perspective of Bill Masen, a biologist who cultivates industrial triffids. The story opens with him in hospital with his eyes bandaged, rendered temporarily blind thanks to a triffid sting. But Masen is one of the fortunate few. The previous night, an unusual meteor shower left everybody who watched it blind. Permanently. With most of humanity unable to see, society breaks down literally overnight into roving gangs of anarchists concerned only with their own survival. Meanwhile, the triffids have gotten loose from their paddocks and find humanity an easy target . . .

This is a great story that hasn't aged a bit. Wyndham's prose is straightforward, vivid, and literary. Like Wells, Wyndham is prophetic. The Day of the Triffids is a warning against unchecked technological progress and "playing God" - he hints that not only the triffids, but the blinding celestial display, were the unfortunate result of human meddling. With civilization in shambles, Masen wanders from one attempt to another to reconstruct it upon different lines: roaming gangs who use captured sighted people as seeing-eye dogs; academics who use want to repopulate through eugenics and "professional motherhood"; "Christian" communal living; extended families working the land; and military power imposing collectivism. All of them have their weaknesses which Masen finds unacceptable, though in the end he chooses the academic option as the best of a bad lot.

The Day of the Triffids has been filmed twice: as a feature film in 1962, and as a TV series by the BBC in 1981. I have seen neither in its entirety, only a few minutes of the latter on television. Fans of classic Doctor Who should appreciate its low-budget effects (and also that one of the principal characters was played by Maurice Colbourne, who played the mercenary Lytton in the stories "Resurrection of the Daleks" and "Revenge of the Cybermen"). Like The War of the Worlds, this story is worthy of a big-budget remake Real Soon Now.

British horror author Simon Clark wrote a sequel to Day of the Triffids in 2000, titled Night of the Triffids. Like its predecessor, it is a well-written, engaging story. Bill Masen's son David wakes up one morning in complete darkness. Only this time it isn't blindness, but a strange cloud that completely obscures the sun. However, Clark completely ditches Wyndham's prophetic insights for an escapist, Mad-Max-like adventure story. And as much as I was hoping that the book's garish cover art, a gigantic rampaging triffid clutching a man in its tentacles, had nothing to do with the story . . . well, you don't always get what you hope for.

Hello? Is there anybody in there?

If you're like me, you're kind of wondering where this week's Christian Carnival has got to. In the meantime, however, if you're looking for some good Christian blogging to tide you over, why not surf over to The Evangelical Outpost, where Joe Carter has been working on an ongoing series of profiles of prominent evangelical figures, titled Know Your Evangelicals? Number 21 in the series is on theologian Alister McGrath.

October 13, 2004

She hit me with technology

My friend Kristine is having computer woes with her 1996-97 era Pentium PC running Windows 95. Despite several hours of tinkering, I was no help.

We've posted the experience as we saw it. Any further suggestions? Or is this just a case of irreversible computer rot?

October 12, 2004

If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can't I paint you?

Yet another story about the sorry state of education from the Left Coast:

Before Miami artist Maria Alquilar completed a $40,000 ceramic mural recently installed outside a Livermore, Calif., library, she might have wanted to step inside to consult an encyclopedia.

Of the 175 brightly colored words in the mosaic -- a testament to literary and historic figures such as Einstein, Shakespeare and Van Gogh -- 11 were misspelled.

They said:

Indeed, the folks at the Livermore library can't quite overlook the mosaic "typos":

Einstein sans one "n"; Shakespeare minus one "a;" Van Gogh with a "u" in it; Michelangelo plus an extra "a."

"Our library director is very frustrated that she has this lovely new library and it has all these misspellings in front," Livermore City Councilwoman Lorraine Dietrich told The Associated Press.

The artiste said:

"Quite frankly, I'm really upset about this," Alquilar said. "Nobody at the library has said what a great work it is." . . .

''People that really love art, they wouldn't even have noticed it if they hadn't pointed it out,'' she said.

[Full Story]

So there. Don't you feel stupid, you ignorant Philistines?

This is the end, my only friend, the end

The world of literary criticism is a whole lot less weird:

French philosopher Jacques Derrida, the founder of the school of deconstructionism, has died of cancer at the age of 74, France Info radio said on Saturday.

[Full Story]

Of course, this is assuming "death" means anything in our Western, white, male-dominated culture. (Ha! Post-structuralist humour! I kill me.)

At least now Derrida joins the ranks of Dead White Guys and we can ignore him.

October 11, 2004

Sometimes I despair the world will never see another man like him

Christopher Reeve, who portrayed a hero in the "Superman" films and embodied one as an advocate for spinal cord research after being paralyzed in an accident, has died. He was 52.

Reeve went into cardiac arrest Saturday at his home in Westchester County, New York, after developing a serious systemic infection during treatment for a pressure wound. He slipped into a coma and died Sunday afternoon at a hospital near his home.

[Full Story]

Sad news. Reeve displayed optimism and perseverance in the face of overwhelmingly contrary circumstances. We did believe a man could walk again.

October 06, 2004

Life is a carnival, believe it or not

Christian Carnival XXXVIII (part 1 and part 2) is up at Belief Seeking Understanding. This is my 200th blog post, and while I suppose I could have hoped for something momentous than a roundup of other people's blogs, I'm not picky!

My contribution to this Carnival was yesterday's post on how our theology influences our evangelism, which I submitted just under the wire, two minutes prior to the deadline.

Out of the rest, here are my picks for the most notable posts:

Hungry 4 God takes on the notion that religion is for idiots and the Bible was written by primitives, and then takes on those who would retaliate against such attitudes:

It is your own sinful human nature that will cause you to want to be antagonistic to the person who just insulted your faith. It is your own selfish pride that has been hurt and you want to hurt the person in the same way. But Jesus commands us not to retaliate in the same way. If we were to do so, it'll do nothing but drive the other person away. It will only serve to reaffirm his preconcieved notion that all Christians are close-minded, arrogant, and bigoted. Jesus wants us to break this destructive pattern by resorting to a more peaceful and loving solution.

[Read I'm smarter than you]

David Mobley at A Physicist's Perspective presents a nice little bit of moral reasoning about the unbiblical idea of private morality:

[W]hat I really want to talk about is whether, from a Biblical point of view, the argument "it doesn't hurt anyone else" is valid. My contention is that it's not. I have to admit, though, I have found the argument attractive in the past, myself, so that's part of the reason I'm posting on it now.

[Read Christianity and private morality]

Jeremy at Parableman takes a close look at a thorny hermeneutic problem in Mark's gospel:

Most translations say that Jesus is filled with compassion and heals him. Most scholars favor the alternate textual reading that Jesus was angry and healed him, and I think they're right. I also think this reveals something about Jesus's character that's worth reflecting on for a little bit, something that reminds me of another powerful display of emotion on Jesus' part in the gospel of John.

[Read Mark Tidbit 2: Jesus' Anger]

Reynaldo Reynoso at The Bible Archive writes a brief essay on the difficulty of trying to explain the Trinity with analogies:

The problem is when our own thinking kicks in to try to explain exactly what this means. We may try to come up with illustrations but which illustration works? Humans are picture-oriented so often we rely on illustrations and analogies to make our point. The analogy may not be true, but it is used to make the point less of an abstraction by basing it on realistic illustration. It may be helpful to look at some illustrations that some have used to describe the trinity.

[Read The Triune God]

Over at Nicene Theology, Darren summarizes Augustine's doctrine of justification, the main point of his contention with the Pelagians:

How can this sinful man be reconciled to God? Augustine's answer is Paul's answer: He is wholly reliant on the grace of God, reaching down to give him a gift he could never earn nor deserve. Grace, according to Augustine, liberates the will from sin so that we may choose the good. Thus he resolved the inherent tension between free will and grace (our choosing versus God's choosing), yet brilliantly retained the reality of them both."

[Read Augustine on Justification]

Speaking of grace, this is the kind of movie review I like: Misty H. at Tin Can draws parallels between divine grace and the plot of the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:

Here is why it’s a parable about grace. Neither one is going to reform their behavior–it’s part of them, for better or worse. They are going to hurt each other again and again. And yet they choose to forgive that and love each other anyway. Each one is acting as a Jesus figure for the other, knowing full well that the other person is going to keep on sinning/hurting the beloved. These hurts and sins are forgiven even before they happen (again), allowing them to come together in relationship. The love and forgiveness are freely given, with no demands that the other change.

[Read Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind]

CoffeeSwirls echoes many of my sentiments about contemporary evangelism with this critique of the gimmicky Gospel:

The resurrection of Jesus confirmed the validity of all that He said. This is the good news of the gospel. This is why we worship our risen Lord. This is why we invite friends to church. This is the foundation for the church. Any “life improvements” that others look for when they come to church have to be secondary to that foundation if they are to last.

[Read The Good News]

Finally, Dan Edelen chimes in too at Cerulean Sanctum on the subject:

The reasoning seems innocent at first. If we can add something to the seed so that it overcomes being eaten by birds, scorched by the sun, and choked by weeds, we will solve the problem of that awful 75% loss. And if that doesn't work, we can always subtract something else if we believe it will accomplish our ultimate purpose.

The problem is that we have tried modifying the truth of Jesus Christ in order to boost its perceived retention rate, succeeding only in creating a 'Frankengospel.'"

[read The Frankengospel]

Share and Enjoy.

October 05, 2004

Soldiers of Christ, in truth arrayed

About a week ago, as the League of Reformed Bloggers was just starting up, Brad at 21st Century Reformation blogged an insightful article about the practical implications of theology: "Reformed: Does it Matter?"

Brad asked these two basic questions:

So my challenge is "How does being Reformed positively and negatively effect sanctification?" This is what we as Reformed pastors and reformed Christians need to consider deeply.

Another question is: "How does our theology effect our good works, especially evangelism?"

It's the second question I want to focus on here. Does theology affect our actions? Specifically, does it have an effect on the way we "do" evangelism? No question.

Whenever I am asked how theology affects evangelism, I have two book quotations I like to pull out that contrast the practical consequences of Arminian and Calvinist theology. The first is from pastor and church-growth guru Rick Warren, whose book The Purpose Driven Church (hereafter PDC) epitomizes an Arminian, man-centred, pragmatic approach to establishing and filling the assembly. (Just as an aside, in a more recent interview following the success of The Purpose Driven Life, Warren told Modern Reformation he held to monergism and the five Solas of the Reformation. That may be, but it sure doesn't come out in PDC.)

Warren writes:

It is a waste of time to fish in a spot where the fish aren't biting. Wise fishermen move on. They understand that fish feed in different spots at different times of the day. Nor are they hungry all the time. . . .

Is it good stewardship to continue badgering someone who has rejected Christ a dozen times when there is a whole community of receptive people waiting to hear the Gospel for the first time? I believe the Holy Spirit wants to direct us to the people he's already prepared to respond. Jesus told us not to worry about the unresponsive. Shake the dust off your feet and move on.

The Apostle Paul's strategy was to go through open doors and not waste time banging on closed ones. Likewise, we should not focus our efforts on those who aren't ready to listen. There are far more people in the world who are ready to receive Christ than there are believers ready to witness to them. . . .1

It is my deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart. . . .2

The second citation comes from James R. White, an author, apologist, and evangelist whose ministry has proclaimed the Gospel to Mormons and others for twenty years. A committed Reformed Baptist and defender of historic Reformed theology, White writes:

[I]t is said that Calvinism undermines the motive for evangelism. Despite the popularity of this accusation, it is false. Those who evangelize out of concern for man's free will rather than out of obedience to Christ and His command, do so for the wrong reasons, and will soon be disillusioned as men reject their message and bring persecution against them.

This particular objection is most troubling to me personally. I have seen its falsehood first hand. For many years I have led volunteers in passing out Christian literature and witnessing to people who are attending the semi-annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. We are the only group who is in attendance at every single Conference. We have talked to Arminians who wonder why we bother, since "those are the hard cases anyway." Yes, they are the hard cases. And if I believed for a second that it was up to their "free will" and a grace that cannot change a heart, cannot renew a mind, I would never set foot outside that place again. But I do not believe in free will, nor do I believe in a grace that is a mere helping force and not the renewing power of God. That is why we keep going. That is why we see "hard cases" come out of Mormonism. When you believe that there is no power in heaven or on earth that can stop the Holy Spirit of God from drawing one of His elect to Himself (including the will of the creature!) you can preach the truth with boldness and trust God to save His people.3

To contrast these two opposing views, then:

To the Arminian, evangelism is based on man's effort. You can reel anyone in if only you can figure out what bait to use. Hence the "seeker-sensitive," innovating, marketing-oriented approach of PDC.

To the Calvinist, evangelism is based on God's power. God knows who his people are, and will draw them in his own good time. The evangelist's job is not to wrap the Gospel up in a slick package, but to proclaim it plainly and boldly and allow the Holy Spirit to do the hard work.

Because to the Arminian evangelism is based on his own persuasive skill, it must necessarily be defeatist. We see this in Warren's words, and in those of White's hypothetical critic. Why waste your time on the "hard cases"? Move on and find someone more likely to listen to you. (Picture, if you can, Paul remarking to Silas on the outskirts of Philippi, "Let's not stop here. I have a feeling we're just going to get thrown in jail. What's the next town on this road?") If salvation ultimately rests on the free choice of the sinner, then the success or failure of evangelism depends on the ability of the evangelist to persuade him to choose Christ. Hence the need for emotional music, drawn-out "altar calls" and other persuasive gimmicks. Even after all that, there are no guarantees.

But to the Calvinist, evangelism is necessarily victorious. It could be said that the evangelist cannot fail in his appointed task. Salvation is ultimately based on the free choice of a sovereign God who saves whom he wills, when he wills. The evangelist is the means by which God proclaims the gospel to the world. This does not mean that the evangelist has license to be complacent or slovenly in the presentation, since God is doing the "real work" anyway. But it does mean that he doesn't have to dress the gospel up in fancy presentations and crowd-drawing spectacles. Like Paul, we need only preach "Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:1) - "not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (2:4). (Speaking personally as a technical writer, I find the plain and straightforward approach immensely appealing.) Our job is not merely to persuade sinners, but to proclaim the saving Gospel. Since there can be no failure, since God's word "shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isa. 55:11), success is guaranteed.

It is often asked of Calvinists, "Why bother evangelizing if God is just going to save whom he wants anyway?" Looking at the two positions side by side, whose theology is really the killer of evangelism?


1 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 187-88.

2 Warren 219.

3 James R. White, The Potter's Freedom (Amityville: Calvary, 2000) 334-35.