Last night, I started reading John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, a book I read for the first time back in 1990. I enjoyed it then, but I think over the last couple of years in particular I’ve learned some things (and, I hope, gained some theological maturity) which will help me appreciate it even more. This book really ought to be a standard textbook for first year theology classes! Here’s a sample quotation from the Introduction:
We tend to forget how often in Scripture God performs His mighty acts so that men will “know” that He is Lord (cf. Exod. 6:7; 7:5, 17; 8:10, 22; 9:14, 29f.; 10:2; 14:4, 18; 16:12; Isa. 49:23, 26; 60:16; etc.). We tend to forget how often Scripture emphasizes that although in one sense all people know God (cf Rom. 1:21), in another sense such knowledge is the exclusive privilege of God’s redeemed people and indeed the ultimate goal of the believer’s life. What could be more “central” than that? But in our modern theologizing â€” orthodox and liberal, academic and popular â€” this language does not come readily to our lips. We speak much more easily about being saved, born again, justified, adopted, sanctified, baptized by the Spirit; about entering the kingdom, dying and rising with Christ; and about believing and repenting than we do about knowing the Lord (p. 2).
I also love his reference to God’s “mysterious historical slowness, which is never too late” (p. 2). Between this book by Frame and The Urth of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, I’m in for some good reading in the days to come!
It’s hard to believe, but … it’s snowing. It started with a thunderstorm last night. By midnight or so, the temperature had dropped enough that the rain was turning into small pellets of soft hail mixed with snow. I had a hard time sleeping because the wind was lashing the stuff against my bedroom window, so I’ve been groggy all day today. When I got up this morning, we had a couple of inches of heavy, wet snow, and there’s more coming down. In fact, it’s snowing so steadily that I can hardly see the houses a block away. It certainly doesn’t look like a typical mid-May in Lethbridge. Last year, it was bone dry for most of the spring and summer. Now if only I could get motivated (and get my head clear enough) to write a sermon. This is a day for curling up with a cup of tea and a good book.
I just came home from seeing In the Bedroom â€” thanks in large measure to Critique. If it hadn’t been for Drew Trotter’s review in the latest issue, I probably would never have seen the film. It would have been my loss. The filming is beautiful, the acting superb, the story heartbreaking. It’s a story of grief and loss, exacerbated by miscommunication and injustice â€” and all without the gospel and therefore without hope. Painful to watch, but well worth seeing.
Every now and then, you come across a story which is almost perfect: the tone, the characters, the atmosphere, the little details, the plot â€” everything seems to come together to make the story just right. That’s the case with Neil Gaiman’s “Chivalry,” one of the stories in Smoke and Mirrors. The story opens with this line: “Mrs. Whitaker found the Holy Grail; it was under a fur coat.” It’s not long after she brings it home from the thrift shop that Galaad comes looking for it, and Mrs. Whitaker invites him in for tea…. Gaiman says that the story is “very friendly,” and it is. It was a delight to read. (Alas, some of the other stories in that volume look horrid.)
I read “Chivalry” while sitting in Chapters up in Calgary this weekend. I had a pulpit exchange with Theo Hoekstra, the pastor of Emmanuel Reformed Church in Neerlandia, a small town about seven hours northwest of here. On the way, I stayed overnight with my parents in Red Deer and did some book shopping in Edmonton at a store that buys and sells seconded books at greatly reduced prices. Heavily laden with books, I arrived in Neerlandia, preached twice on Sunday, led the Young People’s study at their request, and visited several old friends. I arrived back in Lethbridge this evening. Now it’s time to read a bit and head to bed. Good night!
I don’t remember why I stopped reading John Frame. When I was first becoming Reformed, I was a big Frame fan. In fact, it was when I was reading a section in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God that the light came on and I understood the biblical basis for infant baptism.
But for some reason, I stopped reading Frame around the time I went to seminary. Perhaps it was because I didn’t like something he’d written. Perhaps it was just that I was so busy keeping up with the reading in seminary that I didn’t have time to read Frame on the side. Perhaps it was something else.
Recently, however, I’ve started to read Frame again. I read his Perspectives on the Word of God back in January, as reported here. And yesterday morning, I finished Evangelical Reunion: Denominations and the One Body of Christ, about which I will now procede to rave. First, the obligatory caution: I don’t necessarily agree with everything Frame says in this book. But I certainly agree with a lot of the points he makes.
Frame argues that God intended his church to be one, not to be shattered into thousands of separate denominations. He traces the history of denominationalism and examines both the dangerous effects of denominations and the reasons why we love ‘em (“My home, my family, my team”). Denominations tend to foster an “us against them” attitude: we bolster our confidence in our own denomination by running down others. We’re inclined to pretend that our “team” has a corner on the truth and thereby justify not reading or interacting widely with the rest of the Christian community. But, as Frame says, “We should get used to rooting more for ‘the church’ and less for a particular denomination” (p. 61).
Frame then goes on to talk about working toward reunion. Part of the path there involves getting to know people from outside our circles.
It is easy enough to be denominational chauvinists if we never encounter anyone from any other tradition. It is not so easy when we meet real flesh-and-blood fellow Christians from other branches of the church. This is especially the case when God calls us to stand together with them against unbelief (p. 72).
He talks about how to deal with differences of doctrine, practice, history, government, and priorities and then addresses our attitudes and our assumptions with regard to Christians from other churches. He points out that at least some degree of doctrinal tolerance is necessary and inescapable. We are continuing to learn, both as individuals and as churches and groups of churches: God doesn’t teach everyone everything all at once or even at the same rate. Therefore, we must be tolerant toward those who disagree with us. We ought to labour as much as possible to preserve the unity of the church.
Frame’s book isn’t perfect. In places it may raise more questions than it answers. I don’t think Frame would mind that. His goal is to get people thinking and discussing these issues as we work toward greater unity. Unfortunately, the book received only a few reviews before sinking into virtual oblivion with barely a ripple. It’s good to see that the book is available, complete with a new appendix, at Third Millennium. Christian Book Distributors also has some copies of the out-of-print first edition for $0.99, if you prefer an actual book. It’s well worth buying, reading, thinking about, and discussing, even if you end up disagreeing with him at points.
And while I’m raving about stuff, let me add that Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue is a great album and Chaim Potok’s In the Beginning is a great book, and I’m going to go and combine them now for a few minutes before bed.
The Christ Church Ministerial Conference coming up in October this year looks fantastic. The title is “Liquid Gospel, Edible Words: The Sacramental Theology of Historic Protestantism.” Here’s the lineup:
The Early Reformers and the Lord’s Supper
True Blessings, Real Curses
The Puritan Approach to MetaphorDoug Jones
A Theology of Taste and Touch
Sensing Bread, Sensing Wine
The Poetics of Water
Music of the Supper
In Defense of Ritual
Neither Jew Nor Greek
One Loaf, One Body
I can hardly wait!
This evening, I attended a lecture at the Canadian Reformed Church in Coaldale. The lecturer was Cornelis Van Dam and the topic was “The Year of Jubilee.” Dr. Van Dam gave a fairly good explanation of Leviticus 25 before moving on to show how Christ fulfilled the Year of Jubilee and how the Jubilee applies to us in Christ.
He emphasized that because of Christ’s coming we are living permanantly in a Jubilee situation and must then live lives characterized by mercy toward others. We have been redeemed, liberated from burdens and bondage, and our lives ought to reflect that freedom. Part of living in liberation includes our attitude toward our work. Work is not to be our master. We ought to take time off, to make time for enjoyment, and to spend time with our families. I was interested to discover, during the question and answer period afterwards, that Dr. Van Dam thought the Jubilee Project, involving the forgiveness of third world debt, was a good idea, grounded on some principles of the Year of Jubilee, though not a direct application of the Jubilee law.
Afterwards, I joined Dr. Van Dam and John van Popta, the pastor of the Canadian Reformed Church in Coaldale, for a glass of sherry at Rev. Van Popta’s place. Dr. Van Dam is the chairman of the Theological Education Committee of the Canadian Reformed Churches, and I’m the chairman of the corresponding committee in the United Reformed Churches, so it was nice to be able to meet, especially since the goal of our committees is to work out an agreement about theological education between our federations as we move toward unity. Not that we talked much about our committees this evening. For that matter, I haven’t even called the first meeting of my committee. Guess I should get started on that soon!
And now I’m back home, typing this up before sitting down to finish Colin Dexter’s The Jewel That Was Ours. I’m a sucker for an Inspector Morse mystery! In other news, the wind is blowing, the temperature is dropping, my power is flickering a bit, and it looks as if we might be in for some snow.
Joel has just translated and published Calvin’s “Instruction in Christian Doctrine for Young Children,” which he wrote while in Strasbourg in1538-1539. I especially like the way it begins:
Teacher: My child, are you a Christian in fact as well as in name?
Child: Yes, my father.
Teacher: How is this known to you?
Child: Because I am baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks for making this catechism available, Joel!