Today, I finished reading Bret Lott’s The Man Who Owned Vermont. Lott, I’m told, is a member of a PCA, and this was his first novel. He does a very good job of getting us into the lives of ordinary people, people who make the same kinds of blunders and commit the same kinds of ordinary (but no less harmful) sins most of us do.
Rick Wheeler is an RC Cola salesman whose wife has left him. He doesn’t know why, or so he tells himself (and us). Aching from what he sees as the failure of his marriage, he tries to cope by throwing himself into his work, making new friends, and even meeting someone new. But as the story progresses (and as Rick fills us in on what has happened in the past), we see that coping is no replacement for reconciliation.
It’s a heartbreaking story, and at times it frightened me. I look forward to being a husband someday, Lord willing, but I’m also aware — and books like this make me more aware — of my own inclination toward selfishness, and, as Lott shows, selfishness and a failure to give oneself to another destroy marriages.
In Acts, Larry Woiwode writes, referring to the novel which “was used to draw Kuyper over the threshold into conversion,”
The right book at the right time has that potential. It can teach us to live, or make it possible to live, or render incarnate through its characters the lived life of a Christian, or simply draw us out of bed and set us on our feet again. This can seem nearly miraculous when it happens, and this is the moment we seek, writers first of all, when we enter the first sentence of a novel: a way to live (p. 44).
Conversely, as with Lott’s novel, a story can also shed light on our lives and even move us to repentance as it shows us people living out our destructive tendencies.
More good news! Bill and Kim had a baby boy at 4:30 this morning. His name is Ian Nathanael DeJong, and he’s a big boy: 10 lbs 13 oz. Congratulations, Bill and Kim!
This past week, my sister Charlene took part in a 1204.3 kilometre bicycle race in the mountains of British Columbia and Alberta. The ride started in Kamloops, BC, headed north through Clearwater, east through Jasper, Alberta, south to Lake Louise, and then west to Kamloops again. You can see a map of the route here.
Charlene has ridden 200, 400, and 600 kilometer rides already this year, but this was her first 1200. They’re supposed to have posted her times here, but they haven’t yet. She is listed, however, on the final results page. Scroll down till you find Rider # 512, Charlene Burwood. She completed the ride in 88 hours and 33 minutes, counting the few hours in which she slept.
Congratulations, Char! I’m proud of you!
For those of you who have been following the story of the RPCUS heresy charges, here is the official response from Trinity Reformed Church, the congregation which I pastor:
Dear Sir,We received your letter containing your resolutions and your Call to Repentance, but we do not intend to act upon them. You have not substantiated your charges and your statements were not clear. Your Call to Repentance does not distinguish Rev. Barach from other speakers, nor do you indicate which errors he is accused of teaching.
Furthermore, you have not pursued your concerns in a brotherly and edifying way. While Matthew 18 may not apply to public matters, Joshua 22 provides a biblical example of brothers seeking clarification before acting. At no point have you sought to contact Rev. Barach to seek clarification.
On behalf of the elders of Trinity Reformed Church,
Gerrit Greidanus, Clerk
This letter was adopted by the consistory on Monday and has been mailed (and e-mailed) to the Covenant Presbytery of the RPCUS.
I’ve been fairly busy recently, and haven’t been able to read as much as I would have liked to. I’m still working my way through E. Brooks Holifield’s The Covenant Sealed. He points out that many of the early Puritans thought that “conceptual understanding was essential to sacramental worship” (pp. 35-36). In fact, it seems that some of the early Puritans saw the efficacy of the sacraments as a matter of reasoning. William Perkins wrote:
The signes and visible elements affect the senses outward and inward: the senses convey their object to the mind: the mind directed by the holy Ghost reasoneth on this manner, out of the promise annexed to the Sacrament: He that useth the elements aright, shall receive grace thereby: but I use the elements aright in faith and repentance, saith the mind of the believer: therefore shall I receive from God increase of grace. Thus, then, faith is confirmed not by the worke done, but by a kind of reasoning caused in the mind, the argument or proofe whereof is borrowed from the elements, being signes and pledges of God mercie (cited p. 53, emphasis Holifield’s).
Elsewhere, Perkins wrote,
[When] the elements of bread and wine are present to the hand and to the mouth of the receiver; at the verie same time the body and bloud of Christ are presented to the minde: thus and no otherwise is Christ truly present with the signes (cited p. 58).
William Bradshaw wrote in a similar vein:
Hence also it appears, that we specially eate the flesh of Christ, and drink his bloud, when with a beleeving heart and mind, we effectually remember and in our remembrance, we seriously meditate of, and in our meditations are religiously affected, and in our affections thoroughly inflamed with the love of Christ, grounded upon that which Christ hath done for us, and which is represented and sealed unto us in this Sacrament (cited p. 59).
From quotations such as these, it seems that at least some of the Puritans thought that the way the sacraments (and the Lord’s Supper in particular) work is by making us think. Moved, it appears, by a fear of any kind of ex opere operato view (“not by the worke done,” says Perkins), they adopted instead a view grounded on the primacy of the intellect — as if God’s way of working was primarily (or even, perhaps, only) through the mind and depended on intellectual understanding: no intellectual understanding, no efficacy of the sacraments and no grace enjoyed by those who use the sacraments.
For the past two weeks, it has been very hot here in Lethbridge. I don’t have air conditioning, and my study is the highest (and hence, the hottest) room in the house. The two big windows facing south are wonderful in the winter, but in the summer they let in a lot of heat. (The three walls covered with bookshelves, floor to ceiling, on the other hand, are wonderful year round.) Today was a little cooler, and we even had some rain early in the morning. The sun is out now, though, and it’s starting to heat up.
Which leads me to this question: Do you categorize books as “winter reads” and “summer reads”? I can’t say that I have every book categorized that way, but there are certain books that just seem as if they would be better read when the weather is cold and there’s snow on the ground. Take The Lord of the Rings, for example: I could certainly read it during the summer, but there’s something about it that calls (to my mind, at least) for cold weather. The same is true of The Book of the New Sun: I deliberately chose to read it in the winter. Mind you, the sequel, The Urth of the New Sun, made a great spring read for some reason.
I just finished reading John Updike’s The Centaur, probably the Updike book I’ve enjoyed the most so far (more than Rabbit Run). The book is somewhat odd. The main character, George Caldwell is a teacher at the high school in Olinger, a setting to which Updike has frequently returned. That part of the story seems pretty straightforward, but in a couple of chapters, the story is told as if Caldwell is Chiron, a centaur, and the whole story is linked in some way to Greek mythology. In fact, Updike, at the request of his wife, even included an index at the end, showing all the references to various mythological figures. But when you look up those references, you don’t see, for instance, the name “Venus” on the page to which he refers you; rather, you might see a reference to Vera Hummel.
Sometime, it might be worthwhile for me to re-read the book and look at those connections more carefully. For now, I just enjoyed the story and the beauty of Updike’s poetic prose. I suppose I could have read it comfortably in the winter — the description of the falling snow toward the end of the book is beautiful — but it made a pretty good summer read, too.
Mysteries I could read in any season. Just recently, I read and enjoyed Dorothy Sayers’ The Documents in the Case, written, interestingly enough, as a collection of letters and other documents.
Well, my company has just arrived home. Alex and Calvin Barendregt and Tim Gallant, all from Grande Prairie, are down for the weekend. Gotta go!
Have you ever found a typo or a grammatical glitch in a Bible? Generally it seems as if Bible publishers are pretty careful to make sure that there are no such errors, but once in a while one slips through. In the 1600s, one version of the Bible left out the word “not” in the Seventh Commandment: “Thou shalt commit adultery.”
The mistake I found in my edition of the NKJV isn’t that funny, but here it is. In Ezekiel 14:21, I have
For thus says the Lord GOD: “How much more it shall be when I send my four severe judgments on Jerusalem — the sword and famine and wild beasts and pestilence — to cut off man and beast from it?”
What the Lord says here is clearly a question, not an indicative statement, and therefore it should be “shall it,” not “it shall.” Not a huge glitch, but it’s the only one I’ve found and I’m curious whether this same error shows up in all editions of the NKJV or just in the one I’m using. Did some editor finally spot it and fix it?
[Update in 2016: The typo still exists.]
Messiah’s Congregation in Brooklyn, where Steve Schlissel is a pastor, has posted its response to the RPCUS resolutions now. Check out their new offer on their homepage: “Find the Heresy and Win $1,000,000.00.” (Of course, you’ve got to notice the comment at the end: “Payable by the RPCUS — as long as we’re ‘charging’ each other.”)
Last night, I started reading E. Brooks Holifield’s The Covenant Sealed: The Development of Puritan Sacramental Theology in Old and New England, 1570-1720. I’ve often seen the book in footnotes and bibliographies and I finally tracked down a copy.
So far, I’ve read only the first part of the first chapter, the section dealing with Luther and Zwingli. I’m just starting the section on John Calvin. But already, I’ve begun to wonder about a theological strain which can be found in the early Reformers and which still infects the church today, namely, the idea that real worship is “spiritual” as opposed to physical — an idea which tends to downplay the sacraments.
If I recall correctly, Carlos Eire, in War Against the Idols, points out that the iconoclasm of many of the Reformers was grounded on Christ’s statement that God is Spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and truth, which they took to mean that our worship should be purged of all the “externals” and “physical stuff” which characterized medieval Roman Catholic worship. I’d agree that there were problems with medieval worship, but I question the “spiritual worship is non-physical, non-external worship” argument and the exegesis and the understanding of God’s “spirituality” that lie behind it. It seems like a remnant of gnosticism, not to mention a far cry from the robust and even sensual worship we find in Scripture.
Zwingli’s view of the sacraments, in particular, seems to have been shaped by this emphasis on “spiritual” worship. Holifield writes:
Zwingli believed that the Spirit acted directly on the souls of men without the mediation of material instruments. Implicit in that belief was a devaluation of external means, which, he said, could “never cleanse the soul.” In effect, Zwingli divided the world into material and spiritual spheres which could never intersect, and then he located Christian existence solely in the realm of spirit. Consequently, internal spiritual baptism, constituted by an immediate relation between the Spirit of God and the spirit of man, was not necessarily related to the external water baptism. Zwingli’s presuppositions left little room for baptismal efficacy. In 1525 he even denied that the sacrament could strengthen faith: “It does not justify the one who is baptized, nor does it confirm his faith, for it is not possible for an external thing to confirm faith” (p. 7)
By 1531, Zwingli did admit that the sacraments could strengthen faith, which is certainly an improvement on his earlier position.
It strikes me that this same sort of view lives on today. If Paul says something about baptism which sounds as if baptism is efficacious in some way, then people conclude that Paul mustn’t be talking about water baptism. He must mean Spirit baptism instead.
Looking for a topic for a doctoral dissertation in Reformation church history? Here’s one worth studying. Where did this “spiritual worship versus ‘physical, external’ worship” view come from? Some of the Reformers got it from Erasmus, but did it originate with him? Why the opposition to “externals”? What’s the exegesis behind that? Does it have something to do with the Reformer’s understanding of the move from Old Covenant to New Covenant? I expect so. What’s the rest of the history of this “not water baptism but Spirit baptism” interpretation? How did Reformed people end up claiming that God’s real work is immediate (i.e., unmediated)?
I imagine Holifield is going to give me some answers, though I want to be cautious as I read him. Reformation scholars, like other scholars, sometimes (mis)read their sources in terms of their own categories and questions. At any rate, the book looks like a very interesting read.
It’s the 493rd anniversary of John Calvin’s birth, and he’s celebrating on Valerie’s blog. Look! He’s about to smile….
The lectures from the 2002 Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church’s Pastors’ Conference are now available online here. I’ve provided links to my three lectures in the column on the side under “Articles and Lectures.”
In related news, Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, where Doug Wilson is the pastor, has posted their official response to the RPCUS resolutions.