Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dogmatics is...

My Friend posted what he considers to be the “best definition of theology I’ve ever read.” Here is the full quote:
“Dogmatics is the system of the knowledge of God as he has revealed himself in Christ; it is the system of the Christian religion. And the essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God. Dogmatics shows us how God, who is all-sufficient in himself, nevertheless glorifies himself in his creation, which, even when it is torn apart by sin, is gathered up again in Christ (Eph. 1:10). It describes for us God, always God, from beginning to end—God in his being, God in his creation, God against sin, God in Christ, God breaking down all resistance through the Holy Spirit and guiding the whole of creation back to the objective he decreed for it: the glory of his name. Dogmatics, therefore, is not a dull and arid science. It is a theodicy, a doxology to all God’s virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving, a ‘glory to God in the highest’ (Luke 2:14).”

[Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, I.112, in the best definition of theology I’ve ever read (no offense to my hero Dr Webster)]

Now, as you know, I am not nearly as sharp as the dullest tack in the box, so I had to look up a few words, scratch my head, scrunch up my eyes, and think real hard. For some reason, I can’t remember the definition of theodicy to save my life. I have to look it up every time. (Rabbit trail: I really like the Command-Control-D sequence in a true Cocoa app; the instant dictionary rocks.)

According to the Oxford American Dictionary, Theodicy means, “the vindication of divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil.” Now, I don't know if that is what Herman Bavinck thought it meant, but when I put Bavinck's last sentence together with that definition, it goes like this:

“[Dogmatics] is a vindication of divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil, a doxology to all God’s virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving, a ‘glory to God in the highest’ (Luke 2:14).”

I like that. I think that makes sense.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Capital “F” Friends

A friend of mine reposted a quote regarding friendship, Facebook, and technology. The gist is that technology should not attempt to represent friendships. The purpose in this present post is not to debate that subject. After all, I don’t have a Facebook account; who am I to criticize?

Rather, I am merely using this as a segue into a sappy post about friends. The following is not original, but I think it is accurate. I lament the lack of deep friendships in life. When I look around, I see people who have huge numbers of so-called friends, but very few deep friends. In other words, there are friends with a little “f” and friends with a capital “F.” The first is a large group with sloppy admission standards, the other an elite, time-tested crew.

What is the difference?

A little “f” friend identifies themselves when they call.
A capital “F” Friend doesn’t have to.

A little “f” friend opens a conversation with a full news bulletin on their life.
A capital “F” Friend says, “What’s new with you?”

A little “f” friend thinks the problems you whine about are recent.
A capital “F” Friend says, “You’ve been whining about the same thing for 14 years. Get off your duff and do something about it.”

A little “f” friend has never seen you cry.
A capital “F” Friend has shoulders soggy from your tears.

A little “f” friend knows almost nothing about your family.
A capital “F” Friend knows the medical history, dietary habits and marital troubles of everyone on your tree.

A little “f” friend calls you at 10 p.m. just to chat.
A capital “F” Friend knows you hate to be called after 9 p.m.

A little “f” friend wonders about your romantic history.
A capital “F” Friend could blackmail you with it.

A little “f” friend when visiting, they act like a guest.
A capital “F” Friend when visiting, they open your refrigerator, put they’re feet on the sofa, talk back to your spouse and reprimand your children.

A little “f” friend thinks the friendship is over when you argue.
A capital “F” Friend knows that a friendship’s not a friendship until you’ve had a fight.

Uncommon Loyalty

“Fine,” Henry said. “Once my family is free and Flax gets them out, the rest of you can fight where you will or go home.” He pointed at Fat Frank. “Make sure they find my family.”

“No lad,” Frank said, shaking his head. “That’s for Jacques and his chestnut mob. I stay with you. We find the witch and pluck her beard.”

“Frank,” Henry said. “I don’t even—”

“Hush yourself,” Frank said. “Listen to those lions roaring in your blood. Even I can hear them. I know this wager. I know the odds, and I know the stakes.” He pointed up. “By the time this bleeding sun has bubbled in the sea, the game will be played and the tale told. Where your feet stand when the sun has set, there will be mine. If your blood pools, it won’t be pooling alone, and if there’s nought left but a pile of ash, it will be ash of Henry Maccabee and Fat Frank Once-a-Faerie.” He thumped his green mace against Henry’s breastplate. “We’ve stood the storm before, son of Mordecai. Now draw that faerie sword and let’s to war. Your father labors.”

—N. D. Wilson, The Chestnut King, pp. 437–438

The Chestnut King

I just finished N. D. Wilson’s latest book, The Chestnut King. Wow. It was fantastic. The Chestnut King was the third and final installment in the 100 Cupboards series of children’s books; however, they are not your mother’s children’s books. There is magic, suspense, swords, good, evil, love, and baseball—all of which you would expect. But the evil is really evil, and the blood is spilt blood, and the hero—a twelve year old boy—does some of the spilling. Don’t let that stop you from reading. Instead, remember what C. S. Lewis said about that.

One of the things—in my world anyway—which signals that a story, whether book or movie, was good is how long it sticks with me after it is over. If I am still thinking about it two days after it is over, then it was good. I think this is going to be that kind of book. I had an emotional bond with Henry York Maccabee and his family. I feel a loss having finished the book. I want to know more. I don’t want it to be over.

Now, there are only a handful of people who read this blog, mostly because I put it in your RSS feed. So, you know what I mean when I say that you are all working too much and should take a little time out to read a good book, or three. If reading a children’s book sounds beneath you, then you also need to remember what C.S. Lewis said about that. Go out and read this series. Now.

Friday, February 19, 2010

To Experience That Meaning More Fully

“A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experience meaning, the purpose of making statements about the meaning of a story is only to help you to experience that meaning more fully.”

(Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners, p. 96)

HT: Nick Nowalk

Saturday, February 13, 2010

An Alternative to the Flickering God

ND Wilson has become my kids’ favorite author. His latest book, The Chestnut King, moved into the top three books ever for Kenz and the top one for Kayleigh.

I began working my way through the first two in the trilogy—again—before I started this one in order to get my head on straight regarding Henry York and his fantastical story. Kenz begged me today to skip it and just read the third one. “You'll remember, Dad, just read it. I can't wait to talk about it.”

Twelve pages in and I am lost again in a fabulous world. My palms are damp and my hands are cold, which is what happens when I am gripped by this kind of story. Immediate familiarity. Immediate danger, suspense, and a constant desire to read the next line. Good and evil. And most importantly, heroes. I absolutely love stories like this.

ND Wilson posted on Credenda/Agenda about writing for kids, truth, and adultish readers, of whom I am definitely one. (You might remember what C.S. Lewis wrote here and here.) Here are some quotes from Wilson's article. It is worth reading if you enjoy stories like I do.

This first paragraph explains why Nathan writes kids’ books:
I write kids’ books because I can tell the Truth, and the Truth is that The Real is throbbingly fantastic. Ask the nearest grasshopper or rodent or turtle. Ask the nearest star (but show some respect and don’t look directly at her—she’s powerful enough to peal your nose and blind your eyes). I want to paint a picture of this world that is accurate (if impressionistic), and I don’t want a single young reader to grow up and look back on me as the peddler of sweet youthful falsehoods. I want them to get a world vision that can grow and mature and age with them until, like all exoskeletons, it must be cast aside—not as false, but as a shallow introduction to things even deeper and stranger and more wonderful (and involving more dragonflies).
This second paragraph is (partly) why I read them:
A final point, disjointed but related. Many readers of children’s books are, in fact, adults. The line at any bookstore signing can tell me this. I don’t think it’s difficult to understand. Sure, some of the adult readers focus on children’s books for the same reasons that others focus on romance—they’ve developed a particular itch and they scratch it. But others are wandering the store (pickily) looking for flavors they remember from when they were kids, looking for their young eyes again, hoping to once more see the world how they used to. They’re looking for Mom’s apple pie and Grandma’s quilt. They’re looking for a kind of truth that's hard to find up at the adult table, but a truth nonetheless. Often they’re looking for something to fill that role for their own children. And sadly, they frequently bring along a bipedal lump of flesh or two—numbed by the flickering god—hoping I might have some mental-imaginative defibrillator tucked away in my book bag. Sometimes I do (and those are good times). Sometimes I don’t.
(Final caveat: my kids are, by God's grace, not numbed by the “flickering god”; they can be found reading books on the couches any given day.)