Creation: The Theater of God’s Glory

Can the Christian faith offer a richer, deeper account of the natural world than its pagan or atheist rivals? The importance of the question is obvious. Both the credibility and utility of the Christian faith can legitimately be called into question if it fails to offer a better account of reality than its rivals.

Christian theology offers a distinct angle of gaze, a way of seeing things which both discloses the true identity of nature and mandates certain ways of behaving toward it and within it. Theology enables us to see the fullness of reality, the world as it really is or could be. For contrary to what most thinkers of the Enlightenment believed, nature is not an autonomous, self-defined entity; rather, it is something that is always interpreted, whether consciously or unconsciously, from a theoretical standpoint.

…Christians see the natural world through a theological prism. In the eighteenth century many Christians chose to interpret nature through a lens that was deist, rather than trinitarian. God was seen as the creator of nature, whose involvement with the natural realm ceased thereafter. This encouraged the emergence of a functional atheism, in that God was, to all intents and purposes, thought of as being absent from the world. Yet during the twentieth century, through the influence of theologians such as Karl Barth and Karl Rahner, there has been a rediscovery of the coherence and explanatory power of a specifically trinitarian vision of God.

…If God created the natural world, does it not bear the divine imprint? Is not one of the implications of a trinitarian doctrine of creation that the natural world displays in some sense the marks of its Creator? {Which leads the author to point to Psalm 19:1.}

Israel already knew about its God, and did not need to look at the natural world for proof of God’s existence. Yet it saw God’s glory reflected in the creation. To use John Calvin’s phrase, the natural world is to be recognized as the ‘theater of the glory of God.’ God’s glory is stamped on the world by the act of creation; this is supplemented by the mighty acts by which God chose to redeem the world, which take place within this same theater of nature.

PassionateIntellectbookTaken from Chapter 5, “The Theater of the Glory of God”, in Alister McGrath’s book The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind (IVP, 2010), a book I picked for review a few years ago and have picked up again to continue reading.

While not agreeing with all that McGrath posits, I like his “apologetics” approach to the subjects treated in this book. He makes you think, and he makes you think about defending the Christian faith intellectually and rationally (of course, also by faith in God’s revelation of truth in the Bible alone), in the face of unbelief’s ridicule of our faith.

The title is still available for review if someone would like to do so.

Wielding the Sword for Our Fellow Soldiers

Tonight our monthly discussion groups from Faith PRC met, and our group gathered at our home to discuss Chapter 10 of the book Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical and Balanced Perspective by Rob Ventura and Brian Borgman (Reformation Heritage, 2014). This chapter treats Eph.6:17, where we Christian soldiers are charged, “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” It is that “Sword of the Spirit” which is the subject of the chapter that we discussed.

In the course of explaining this defensive and offensive weapon, the authors lay down six (6) principles for “wielding the sword” properly. Among those principles is this important one, one we admitted that we often neglect:​

“3. Wield the sword of the Spirit to strengthen our fellow soldiers.

We do not fight this battle in some kind of individual, Rambo-style combat. As we mentioned in chapter 4, we are in this war alongside our fellow believers. We need to strengthen and encourage each other (1 Thess. 5:11). The powers of darkness are not only assaulting me, they are assaulting my brothers and sisters. Satan is working hard to tear down God’s people, drawing them away from the faith, weakening them through his lies. How we need to speak truth to each other in love (Eph. 4:15)! We not only wield the sword of Spirit against the enemy, but we also wield it as we help each other, especially in the context of the community of believers in the local church. Paul reminds the Roman Christians, “Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Rom. 15:14). A timely word from the Word may be exactly what our brothers or sisters need to help them stand firm in their evil day.”

So, what can you and I do this week to “strengthen and encourage” one another in our spiritual battles? What Word of God do you have for your fellow saint?

Friday Fun(ny)

einstein-library

A classmate and I were walking past a poster in our school hallway. It featured a photo of Einstein with the words ‘Even Einstein Read Books.”

My friend was amazed: ‘I didn’t know Einstein’s first name was Evan.’

Found and read in a recent issue of Reader’s Digest while waiting at my dad’s physical therapy session this week. I simply couldn’t resist sharing it with you. 🙂

Published in: on January 12, 2018 at 10:10 PM  Leave a Comment  

What Do You Know About Athanasius? M. Haykin/Crossway

At the beginning of this week (January 7, 2018) Crossway publishers had a post by author Michael Haykin on the great church father Athanasius (c.296-298 to 373).

Athanasius-statueBy Giovanni Dall’Orto – Own work, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4639224

Haykin has written a book published by Crossway titled Rediscovering the Church Fathers and his online article “10 Things You Should Know About Athanasius” is based on his chapter on this important church father.

Rediscovering the Church Fathers

So, what do you know about Athanasius? Do you remember the oft-used expression “Athanasius contra mundum” for his stand against the Arians and for the full deity of Jesus Christ? If you need a reminder of how important this early father is, then Haykin’s post will help.

Here are the last 5 things Haykin gives about him (find the other five at the link above):

6. He was exiled five times.
This was the first of five exiles, four of which were for his defense of the deity of Christ against Arianism. The two longest, from 339–346 and 356–361, were in Rome and the Egyptian desert respectively. It was because of these exiles that the saying “Athanasius contra mundum” (Athanasius against the world) was coined

7. He chose his words carefully.
It is noteworthy that Athanasius did not frequently use the term “of one being” (homoousios)—found in the Nicene Creed to set forth the deity of Christ, specifically in him being of “one being with the Father”—until the 350s. Up until then, Athanasius had used other statements and images drawn from Scripture in his defense of the divinity of Jesus.

8. He wrote the first treatise defending the full deity of the Holy Spirit in 358–359.
His close friend Serapion of Thmuis, a town in the Nile Delta, told him about the Binitarianism of certain individuals in his church who confessed Christ as fully God but argued that the Holy Spirit was to be included among the angelic beings. Athanasius’s three letters to Serapion were the first of a number of important defenses of the Spirit’s deity written over the next thirty-five years or so.

9. He wrote a best-selling biography.
Athanasius’s biography of the Egyptian monk Antony, written not long after the monk’s death in 356, was a “bestseller” in Christian antiquity and played a key role in the conversion of Augustine of Hippo in 386. Among the things that Athanasius related about Antony was his phenomenal memorization of the entire Bible. It is most likely the case that Athanasius had also memorized most of the Scriptures.

10. One of his letters contains the earliest complete list of New Testament books we’ve ever found.
Athanasius’s Easter Letter of 367 contains the first known list of the books of the New Testament that corresponds exactly to the modern listing of the New Testament canon. Along with the Old Testament, Athanasius declared such books to be the “fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness.”

Grammar Quiz Review – Resolved to Learn More in 2018

hero-blue-bookFor our Wednesday post this week we will return to grammar, compliments of GrammarBook.com, only this time to take a quiz – a jumbo pop quiz! – to use the words of the website.

They call it a “year-end” quiz, since the 25 questions review various grammar lessons posted last year. But let’s call it our year-beginning quiz, part of our New Year’s resolution to use better grammar in speaking and in writing.

This is how GrammarBook introduces the quiz:

In 2017 we explored an array of ways to enhance your grammar and writing. We hope what you learned follows you well into 2018 as you continue your aim to communicate with even greater precision and eloquence.

The quiz includes twenty-five sentences addressing a range of subjects. Choose your answers and then check them against our answer key that follows the quiz. For your convenience and reference, each answer in the key also includes the title and date of the article that focused on the topic.

OK, now, go ahead and get started! Have fun, do well, and keep learning! You’ll be glad you did. 🙂 You will find that answer key at the link provided above.

Jumbo Pop Quiz: 2017 in Twenty-five Questions

1. Jennifer is still choosing [between / among] three job offers: bank supervisor, financial analyst, or portfolio manager.

2. The principal has [appraised / apprised] us of the changes to school policy.

3. The coach [substituted / replaced] the bigger, slower player [with / for] a smaller, quicker one.

4. My uncle owns a [40-foot / 40-ft.] house boat.

5. The salesperson gave us three [choices / options] of current LED TV models to pick from.

6. My favorite book is [“To Kill a Mockingbird” / To Kill a Mockingbird] by Harper Lee.

7. Robert is an [honest, hard-working / honest hard-working] man.

8. The due date for the invoice is [September 1 / September 1st].

9. When hiring website developers for our company, we always look for [experts / trained experts] in JavaScript and SQL.

10. I [made the decision / decided] to attend grad school after earning my bachelor’s degree.

11. Jason is averse [to / of] doing the military press in the weight room because it’s adverse [against / to] his right shoulder.

12. By holding an auction for rare memorabilia, the VFW raised more than $60,000 [on behalf of / in behalf of] families of deceased or wounded veterans.

13. Between you and [I / me], I think the restaurant is way overpriced.

14. Please return the supplies you don’t use to Mark or [me / myself].

15. [Young people / Youth] today have to contend with more distractions.

16. The review panel found the film to be an [exploitive / exploitative] treatment of postmodern feminism.

17. Crystal composed her essay much (differently from how / differently than) Christian wrote his.

18. The house across the street belongs to the Sanchez family. The SUV in the driveway is the [Sanchez’s / Sanchezes’] car.

19. The lack of voter participation [affected / effected] the outcome of the election.

20. The band eventually left their rented practice space because of the [continual / continuous] drip from the ceiling. It never stopped while they tried to play.

21. The crowd [is / are] so large that the city may need to request extra security from the neighboring town.

22. For the following sentence, identify whether the verb used is a transitive or intransitive verb and whether the pronoun is a direct or indirect object:
Mrs. Johanssen likes to bring [transitive / intransitive] us [indirect / direct] freshly baked cookies every Sunday after church.

23. Peter is always ready to help [whoever / whomever] might be struggling with the assignment.

24. Which salutation punctuation would be appropriate for informal correspondence between good friends?
a) Dear Susan,
b) Dear Susan:

25. [Most importantly / Most important], her credit cards weren’t in her wallet when she lost it.”

Published in: on January 10, 2018 at 10:29 PM  Comments (1)  

Living orderly and peacefully in “the great sea of Christian communion” – M.Horton

Increasingly, we prefer to lynch fellow shepherds via social media than to submit to each other and address concerns face to face in private or in church courts – doing everything ‘decently and in good order’ (1 Cor 14:40). Our soul is too noble, our insight too keen, and our vision too soaring to be confined within the boundaries of a communion. Some will not bend their opinions to the common consent of the church; others will not limit what they think everyone should believe to that common confession. Some abandon the church altogether, while others make their own little corner in it for a private club.

When we leave the great sea of Christian communion to colonize our own rivers and shorelines, the party we lead becomes captive to our own narrow interpretations, view, and plans. Timothy was accountable to a council of elders to help keep him on track. Yet accountability is something that people, especially in my generation and younger, find difficult to accept in concrete terms.

Jesus did not establish a movement, tribe, or a school, but a church. Whether our divisive ambition is determined by extraordinary ministers, scholars, or movements, it is completely out of step with ‘the pattern of the sound words’ that is help humbly and guarded as a ‘good deposit’ (see 2 Tim 1:13-14) that we all embrace because it is taught explicitly by the prophets and apostles as the ambassadors of Jesus Christ.

ordinary-MHorton-2014Taken from the next chapter I recently read in Michael Horton’s Or-di-nary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014). This was chapter 6 – “Practicing what we preach: no more super-apostles” and the quotation is found on p.113.

Though addressed primarily to pastors and church leaders, the principle driven home here is for all of us in the office of believer too. We are truly safe and at peace when we submit ourselves to Christ’s proper rule and order in the church. All of us as believers live best when we abide in the “great sea of Christian communion” and refuse to “colonize our own rivers and shorelines.”

Theological Humility – K. Kapic on St. Augustine

Humility reminds us that there is One far greater than us. We love and acknowledge this Lord who surpasses us in every way. Humility also bears in mind our finitude and fallenness. Our finitude constantly reminds us of our dependence on others and of the incompleteness of our theological constructions. Theological error develops not simply out of our sin but also because there are limits to our attempts at cognitive harmony. We cannot fathom how all things work together; every time we believe our accounts are exhaustive, we inevitably discover just how much we do not know or all that we have misunderstood. No divine reality can be flatly reduced to words, concepts, images or narratives. God is never less than these, but he is more than them. The reality of God always exceeds our expressions and our understanding of them. [pp.73-74]

And as a concrete example of this humility, the author points us to the great church father Augustine:

While Augustine is commonly considered the father of Western orthodox Christianity, he never saw his own conclusions as indisputable. In response to a letter that questioned ideas from one of his books, Augustine distinguished his own thoughts from those of Scripture’s binding authority. He described his theology as a work in progress, and he believed that since the goal was truthful reflection on God, he should constantly be open to revision. …It is the subtlety of ‘self-love’ that hardens us, keeping us wanting others to be wrong and preventing our spiritual development.

Near the end of his life Augustine put together a book titled “Retractions,” in which he looked at his own voluminous writings and revised countless claims he made earlier in his life. This was a sign of strength rather than weakness in Augustine’s approach. Anyone who stands at the end of his days and claims never to have changed his mind should not be praised for unwillingness to compromise but rather pitied for naïve pride [pp.72-73].

little-book-theologians-kapicTaken from chapter 7, “Humility and Repentance” in Kelly Kapic’s A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (IVP Academic, 2012), pp.64-70.

Trying to Understand the World without Reference to God and His Glory: “a pathetically parochial point of view” – J. Piper

…We live in such a pervasively secular culture that the air we breathe is godless. God is not part of the social consciousness. Christians, sad to say, absorb this. It combines with our own self-exalting bent, and we find ourselves slow to see the obvious – that God is a million times more important than man, and his glory is the ultimate meaning of all things.

The world thinks that because we can put a man on the moon and cure diseases and build skyscrapers and establish universities, therefore we can understand things without reference to God. But this is a pathetically parochial point of view. It is parochial because it assumes that the material universe is large and God is small. It is parochial because it thinks that being able to do things with matter, while being blind to God, is brilliant. But in fact, a moment’s reflection, in the bracing air of biblical God-centeredness, reminds us that when God is taken into account, the material universe is ‘an infinitely small part of universal existence.’

Those are the staggering words of Jonathan Edwards. To be impressed with the material universe and not be impressed with God is like being amazed at Buck Hill in Minnesota and bored at the Rockies of Colorado. If God wore a coat with pockets, he would carry the universe in one of them like a peanut. To ponder the meaning of that peanut, without reference to God’s majesty, is the work of a fool.

So, yes, the portrait of God in the Bible demands that we always read the Bible with the aim of seeing the glory of God. When Paul that ‘from him and through him and to him are all things’ (Rom.11:36), he did not mean ‘all things except the things in the Bible.’ He meant all things. And then he added, ‘To him be glory forever.’ Which means: it is God’s glory to be the beginning, middle, and end of all things. It is his glory to be the alpha and omega of all things – and every letter in between. And therefore his glory belongs to the meaning of all things. And would we not blaspheme to say that this glorious God is anything less than the ultimate meaning of all things?

Reading-Bible-Supernaturally-Piper-2017Quotation by John Piper, taken from Chapter 5, “Reading [the Bible] to See Supreme Worth and Beauty” in Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Crossway, 2017), pp.89-90.

Memories of a Steam Train Pullman

GR-train-shed

Nothing on earth today is quite as snug and secure as a Pullman berth used to be once you were fairly in it, and it seemed to me at the time that to lie there feeling the swaying and jiggling of the car’s motion, listening to the faraway sound of the whistle, getting up on elbow now and then to peer out the window when we reached a station, and at last drifting off to sleep, was to know unadulterated happiness. It was best of all if one happened to wake up when the train reached Grand Rapids, which it did along in the small hours. Here there was a cavernous train shed, with cars on other tracks, a switch engine puttering about, people coming and going – none of your small-town depots, where the station agent doused the lights, locked the door and went home after the last train went through: this place was in action all night long. From the car window you could see the station dining room, with its gleaming silver coffee urns, doughnuts stacked under glass domes on the counter, belated travelers here and there having a final snack before going off about their business, and it looked so inviting I used to want to be there myself – except that it was so cozy in the berth, and it would be even cozier when the train began to move again, and it was sheer heresy to wish to be anywhere else.

Taken from chapter 4, “Whatever Is, Is Temporary,” in Bruce Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train (Wayne State University Press, 1987).

The chapter is a wonderful description of steam train and steamboat travel in Catton’s childhood dates in northern Michigan, including trips through Grand Rapids. I’ve been on Amtrak trains, but never in a Pullman car. Catton’s description makes me want to experience one.

The added postcard picture of the Grand Rapids train shed comes compliments of Bob Drnek. Being a train man (collector), after he read the post, he sent me this replica of the shed. Thanks, Bob! A nice, extra touch to the reference.

Published in: on January 4, 2018 at 10:49 PM  Leave a Comment  

Word Wednesday: “Annus, year”

Anno Domini

I have already told you about my late 2017 word-book find – Dictionary of Latin and Greek Origins: A Comprehensive Guide to the Classical Origins of English Words (Barnes & Noble, 2000 –  co-authored by Bob Moore and Maxine Moore).

For our first “Word Wednesday” feature of 2018, we return to this dictionary, where we find this appropriate Latin root for the word “year” – annus, along with its common base forms – anni, annu, enni.

This is how the Dictionary lays it out:

An ANNUal event happens once a year, a semiANNUal report is published twice a year; a biENNIal plant such as parsley lives for two years, and a biennial meeting is scheduled to be held every second year. Anything that is perENNIal is supposed to be everlasting, continuous, ongoing, and enduring.

A biANNUal event occurs twice a year (or semiANNUally) or every two years is biENNially), depending on who makes up the schedule.

An ANNIversary is the annual return of the date of an event. A cent is a 100th part of a dollar; hence a centENNIal is a 100th anniversary.

Although a semicentENNIal is a 50th anniversary, a bicentENNIal occurs every two hundred years. The combining form sesqui means one and a half; therefore, a sesquicentENNIal is a 150th anniversary. The Columbus quincentENNIal was celebrated in 1992: 500 years had passed.

As a mill is a 1,000th part of a dollar, so a millENNIum is a period of one thousand years, although the word is often used to mean any lengthy period of time. “Your long absence has seemed like a millennium to me.”

An ANNUity is an annual payment, often made following one’s retirement. Annals are yearly records kept by an annalist or historian. A.D. stands for [you’d better know this one!] ANNO DOMINI, meaning ‘in the year of our Lord,’ and referring to all the years since the birth of Jesus Christ.

And so we have entered A.D. 2018. May our thought and talk, desires and decisions, plans and purposes, actions and anticipations show that we live consciously “in the year of our Lord.”

Published in: on January 3, 2018 at 10:06 PM  Leave a Comment