Friday, May 25, 2012

This is not progress

“What follows when a belief in objectivity and truth dies away in higher education? In time an educated person comes to doubt that purpose and meaning are discoverable​—​he doubts, finally, that they even exist. It’s no mystery why fewer and fewer students in higher education today bother with the liberal arts, preferring professional training in their place. Deprived of their traditional purpose in the pursuit of what’s true and good, the humanities could only founder. The study of literature, for example, was consumed in the trivialities of the deconstructionists and their successors. Philosophy curdled into positivism and word play. History became an inventory of political grievances.

Into the vacuum left by the humanities comes science, which by its own admission is unconcerned with the large questions of meaning and purpose. Even so, on campus and elsewhere, science is now taken as the final authority on any important human question​—​and not always the rigorous physical sciences, either, but the rickety, less empirical, more easily manipulated guesswork of behavioral psychology, cultural anthropology, sociology, developmental studies, and so on. Nowadays, if we seek insight into the mysteries of the human heart (not high on the academic agenda in any case) we are far more likely to consult a neurobiologist or a social psychologist than Tolstoy or Aristotle. This is not progress.”

—Andrew Ferguson, “The Book That Drove Them Crazy”, The Weekly Standard

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Thoughts on Romans 5:1–5

1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom 5:1-5 ESV)

V1a — This verse begins with a “therefore” which shows that it is tied to the previous four chapters. The previous four chapters articulate justification by faith. Chapter 1 says that we are sinners, sinners who have exchanged the glory of God for a lie. Chapter 2 shows that even the Jews were guilty, even though they are the chosen of God. Chapter 3 unites all people, both Jew and Gentile, into the same sinful boat. We are all guilty and deserve wrath. Yet, towards the end of Chapter 3, Jesus Christ shows himself to be our propitiation with God and we are saved by him through faith. Chapter 4 argues that this salvation comes by faith. Justification is by faith alone, and the example of Abraham proves it. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith…

V1b — The inference to this reality of being justified by faith is two-fold. First, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. This peace is an amazing reality. The truth is that before we were justified by faith, we were at war with God. He was set against us. We deserved hell. But, since we have been justified by faith, we are at peace with God. Second, we can have peace in our own hearts. There is both an objective outward reality to the peace we have and a subjective inward reality to the peace we have.

V2a — Paul can’t seem to stop himself and further elaborates something that we have through Jesus Christ. We have peace through Jesus Christ, and by the way, we also have obtained access into the grace in which we are standing. We are no longer standing in a place where grace doesn’t occur, but we are physically in a new realm. The entire world is in a realm of common grace; it rains and the sun shines and doctors heal our bodies. But for the Christian, there is another realm, a realm of grace. A realm where particular grace happens. This other realm can only be entered one way, by faith in Jesus Christ. So, our faith not only justified us in a past tense sense, but also in a very present sense, our faith is the means to our present standing in grace, our present sanctification.

V2b — That was really an aside, though, because Paul comes back to the second major inference from the reality that we have been justified by faith. That second inference is that we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. This is the future reality. The word rejoice comes from the Greek word that is literally boast. We boast or we glory in the hope of the glory of God. We revel in it. There will come a day when we will fully and finally see and partake in the glory of the living God. What a wonderful day to look forward to. Yet, this hope, this boasting in hope, is only a reality because we have been justified by faith.

But wait, there’s more!

V3a — I have not been able to wrap my head around this fully, but I will try. Paul says, literally, “Not only this, but also…” He really says, wait there is more. Amazingly, though, the more doesn’t seem as helpful as we would like. The “more” is that we rejoice—which is the same word used in v2—we boast, we glory in our sufferings. Tribulations and trials happen. Suffering happens. Friends lose babies. Many have questioned their faith or have doubted the goodness of God. A dear friend of mine gives one definition of suffering as anything that shakes ones faith or causes one to wonder at the goodness of God. But, Paul, here says “since we have been justified by faith, we glory in our sufferings.” That is stunning. It is not an easy saying.

V3b–4b — Paul does not leave us without a reason though. I think he anticipates the what and why questions that we ask. So, he says, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” My reaction when I first read that is so what? What do I care about endurance or character? I would rather not suffer. Obviously, that is a very crass thing to say. Jesus says that you must endure to the end to be saved. We want to have a deep, Godly character so that we honor Christ. Notice that the third piece of the chain is hope. Peter writes, “be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” So, then, this chain—endurance, character, hope–is extremely important and valuable. It is Christ-centered and God-glorifying. But is it really “not only this, but also”?

V5a — The ESV simply says “and” at the beginning of v5. I think it should be “Furthermore, hope does not put us to shame.” In other words, there is a lot more to this hope. Suffering does not just make you a better person who can endure and who has a good character. I believe that suffering can do the first two things for a non-Christian. Non-Christians can gain endurance and character from suffering. The thing that makes suffering as a Christian different is hope. Hope does not disappoint. Hope does not put you to shame. Hope is something different entirely. Hope is not an “O boy, I really hope it happens…”, but hope is something sure, a settled belief that what God says is true. Hope is sure that the last Adam, Jesus Christ “has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:20–22). We hope in that.

V5b — Paul does not leave us with no argument for why hope does not put us to shame. He gives us a reason, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” The love of God in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. This brings us full circle back to our justification by faith. This love is both God’s love for us and our love for God. Our ability to look on Jesus in faith, to hope in him, indeed, to love him, is his work in us. We will not be put to shame, fully or finally, because it is his love in us that he put there by the Holy Spirit. Hope is no small thing. Hope is a certainty of the future resurrection, of the future glorification, that we know to be true, because God’s love is in us via the Holy Spirit. We have the stamp of final salvation upon us. We will endure to the end. Our character will be proven in suffering.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Last Weekend’s Grilling

Friday: Mesquite Smoked Cheeseburgers (Sorry the pic is a bit blurry. Can’t take another picture, though, the burgers are all gone.) The salsa included mesquite smoked Roma tomatoes (yes, on the grill) along with fresh onions, garlic, cilantro, chipotle chili peppers in adobo sauce, and lime juice. The burgers were grilled in mesquite smoke and topped with smoked Gouda. Absolutely fantastic.

Saturday: Hickory Smoked Baby Back Ribs. These babies were seasoned with kosher salt, chipotle pepper powder, cumin, garlic powder and black pepper (plus some others I can’t remember right now), then sat for a little over an hour. I prepared a three-zone fire for indirect heat and tried to keep the internal temperature between 300 and 350 degrees. They were on the grill about 3 hours, basking in hickory smoke for the first two. They were very good, maybe the best I’ve grilled so far, but I think I still have a long way to go to make perfect ribs.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Middle-aged Git Goes to Switchfoot

I may be a middle-aged git, but I also love rock-n-roll (especially the classic rock genre; I’m in good company, so does Carl Trueman). Therefore, I jumped at the chance to take my awesome kids to see Switchfoot on Thursday night.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

On Doubts and Questions

From Douglas Wilson:

“The point is that questions, even tough questions, can be answered. And when they are answered, the questioner grows in his knowledge and understanding. Don’t worry whether the Bible can stand up to your questions. It is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.”

Read the whole post.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Moon

Taken with my iPhone through the eye piece of a $30 telescope.


Warfield on the Essence of Christianity

Quoted from Carl Trueman’s post of the same name:
It belongs to the very essence of the type of Christianity propagated by the Reformation that the believer should feel himself continuously unworthy of the grace by which he lives. At the center of this type of Christianity lies the contrast of sin and grace; and about this center everything else revolves. This is in large part the meaning of the emphasis put in this type of Christianity on justification by faith. It is its conviction that there is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only “when we believe.” It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in Christian behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest. There is never anything that we are or have or do that can take His place, or that can take a place along with Him. We are always unworthy, and all that we have or do of good is always of pure grace. Though blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, we are still in ourselves just “miserable sinners”: “miserable sinners” saved by grace to be sure, but “miserable sinners” still, deserving in ourselves nothing but everlasting wrath. That is the attitude which the Reformers took, and that is the attitude which the Protestant world has learned from the Reformers to take, toward the relation of believers to Christ.
(HT: Reformation 21 Blog)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Waking Up

Why is waking up so hard to do,
When the day is work and not play,
And the bed is warm and
The room is cold?
Why is the alarm hard to hear
And the sleep so deep?
But on Saturday, O for shame!
My eyes open and thoughts begin
It’s too early, why can’t I sleep in?


Friday, March 09, 2012

Harry Potter and Magic—The Best I Have Read on This

By Alan Jacobs, of course, from the January, 2000, First Things. His last two paragraphs follow, but you really ought to read the whole thing.
In this sense the strong tendency of magic to become a dream of power—on the importance of this point Lynn Thorndike, Keith Thomas, and C. S. Lewis all agree—makes it a wonderful means by which to focus the theme of Bildung, of the choices that gradually but inexorably shape us into certain distinct kinds of persons. Christians are perhaps right to be wary of an overly positive portrayal of magic, but the Harry Potter books don’t do that: in them magic is often fun, often surprising and exciting, but also always potentially dangerous.
And so, it should be said, is the technology that has resulted from the victory of experimental science. Perhaps the most important question I could ask my Christian friends who mistrust the Harry Potter books is this: is your concern about the portrayal of this imaginary magical technology matched by a concern for the effects of the technology that in our world displaced magic? The technocrats of this world hold in their hands powers almost infinitely greater than those of Albus Dumbledore and Voldemort: how worried are we about them, and their influence over our children? Not worried enough, I would say. As Ellul suggests, the task for us is “the measuring of technique by other criteria than those of technique itself,” which measuring he also calls “the search for justice before God.” Joanne Rowling’s books are more helpful than most in prompting such measurement. They are also—and let’s not forget the importance of this point—a great deal of fun.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Trying to decide if I should read Cormac McCarthy

Two completely unrelated quotes:

“This gives his novels a relentlessness, barreling the reader through his gloomy worlds. If one theme is consistent to McCarthy’s work, it’s depravity and darkness. His stories usually follow characters who venture into desolate places, where humanity is descending into something devious and dark: the brothels of Cities of the Plain, the roving murderers of Blood Meridian, the cannibals who haunt the margins of The Road. Through this frightful landscape, McCarthy’s lead characters do their moral wrestling, wondering if anything good remains in the darkness. His books all answer that question differently, though (I would argue) rarely without some measure of hope.


John Piper once said on Twitter ‘Cormac McCarthy is to the American literary canon what Judges is to the the biblical canon.’ I couldn’t agree more.”

 — Mike Cosper, The Gospel CoalitionCormac McCarthy: Judges in the American Canon

“If what’s always distinguished bad writing— flat characters, a narrative world that’s clich├ęd and not recognizably human, etc.— is also a description of today’s world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then [Bret Easton] Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.”

 — David Foster Wallace, posted by Alan Jacobs, via kadrey

The first paragraph is written by a Christian for a Christian institution about an author who writes dark and violent novels that John Piper says are comparable to the biblical book of Judges. The second paragraph is written by an author and has nothing to do with Cormac McCarthy. But it does give a sort of argument for writing about light shining through darkness.

I have not read any Cormac McCarthy, who many of my friends say is great. Clearly his work is dark. Most of the literary society thinks his work could not be characterized as bad writing. The questions I have are whether 1) he finds a way “both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibiliites for being alive and human in it”? and whether 2) it is sufficiently good writing for me to read it?

A Kernel of Truth at the Heart of a Story

“My job as a writer is to whittle my story down to the bare truth at its heart and then build around it the best illusions I can muster, illusions that support and even illuminate without distracting. The failure to understand this is precisely why so many films fall flat—the storyteller is enraptured by his own illusion and forgets to paint the truth. If there’s not a kernel of truth at the heart of the story, then all the action sequences, precise prose, and emotionally manipulative music on earth can’t save it.”

—Pete Peterson, The Rabbit RoomTruth in the Guise of Illusion

Friday, February 10, 2012

Taking Things into My Own Hands

Grilling has been a significant delight now for several years. As my skills have increased (marginally, I know), I have desired to grill a wider variety of foods; foods that would require hours of “low and slow” goodness.

Yet due to my impatient personality, I have focused most of my grilling on relatively quick and super-hot cooking techniques. (Yes, I just wrote super-hot, but I didn’t mean it like super-cute.) After all, it is pretty easy to build a hot fire and quickly sear meat. To my shame, I have not attempted to cook many meats that require hours or even all day in a smoky, low temperature fire. The longest meal I have ever cooked has been the turkey on Thanksgiving, which only required about 2 hours.

I knew that in order to barbecue cuts of meat that needed six or eight hours I would have to manage the heat of the coals better than I typically manage my Saturday mornings. Frankly, I have not been happy with my success in cooking ribs, so my desires have leaned toward having a thermometer built into the grill lid. I tried using an oven thermometer with little success as it always got in the way of the actual food on the grill, not to mention turning a dark shade of dirty orange from the smoke.

My eyes started to wander away from my faithful grill towards one of those pretty models in the store that had a built in thermometer. I love Weber and want to stay with the brand. At the same time I realize that the brand name is expensive and they designed their line of charcoal grills to pull as much money from my wallet as possible. Hence only the most expensive models include the relatively cheap thermometer.

As much as I wanted a grill with a thermometer, I could not justify spending $300 on a second grill with a thermometer. Don’t get me wrong, I can justify a second grill; just not a $300 one.

Well, I explained my dilemma to the helpful men at Frattalone’s Ace Hardware in Arden Hills and we landed on an inexpensive, if somewhat DIY solution. Weber does sell a replacement thermometer for their gas grills, which would do the job perfectly.

So, I took things into my owns hands, in the suburban American weekend warrior sort of way.

Mission accomplished.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Then We Prayed

I have written this before, and will probably write it again: Andrew Peterson is one of my favorite musicians and authors. We have most of his albums and all his novels. He is a gift to the church. He has been working on a new album (yay!) and wrote this about how they started...

I’m 37 years old. This isn’t my first rodeo. I shouldn’t feel that old fear, anxiety, or self-doubt, should I? Then again, maybe I should. As soon as you think you know what you’re doing, you’re in big trouble. So before we opened a single guitar case, we talked. I sat with Ben Shive, Andy Gullahorn, and Cason and told them I felt awfully unprepared. I doubted the songs. I was nervous about the musical direction the record seemed to want to take. I wondered if I was up to the task. I told them about the theme that had arisen in many of the songs: loss of innocence, the grief of growing up, the ache for the coming Kingdom, the sehnsucht I experience when I see my children on the cusp of the thousand joys and the thousand heartaches of young-adulthood. 
Then we prayed. We asked for help. Ever since I read Lanier Ivester’s beautiful post about Bach (if you haven’t read it, you must), I’ve written the words “Jesu juva” in my journal when I’m writing a lyric. It’s latin for “Jesus, help!”, and there’s no better prayer for the beginning of an adventure. Jesus, you’re the source of beauty: help us make something beautiful; Jesus, you’re the Word that was with God in the beginning, the Word that made all creation: give us words and be with us in this beginning of this creation; Jesus, you’re the light of the world: light our way into this mystery; Jesus, you love perfectly and with perfect humility: let this imperfect music bear your perfect love to every ear that hears it.
We said, “Amen.” 
Then I took a deep breath, opened the guitar case, and leapt.
It’s obvious why I like him, right? (Not to mention he likes Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason.)

Read the whole Rabbit Room post.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

An Aid to Reflection

“Fiction is, among other things, an aid to reflection: a means by which we can more vividly and rigorously encounter the world and try to make sense of it, to confront ‘the problems of being’ as freshly as we can. But we vary in our interpretative needs: the questions that absorb some of us never occur to others. Each of us has her own labyrinth. Every genre of fiction puts certain questions in brackets, or takes their answers as a given, in order to explore others. Not even the greatest writers can keep all the balls in the air at once: some have to sit still on the ground while the others whirl. People who come to a book by Murakami, or Neal Stephenson, or even Ursala K. LeGuin with the questions they would put to a Marilynne Robinson novel are bound to be disappointed and frustrated. But if we readers attend closely to the kinds of questions a book is asking, the question it invites from us, then our experience will be more valuable. And the more questions we can put to the books we read — in the most generous and charitable spirit we can manage — the richer becomes our encounter not just with the books themselves but with the world they point to.”

— Alan Jacobs, Reverting to Type: A Reader's Story, (location 523 of 550 when viewed on an iPad in Kindle).

Friday, January 13, 2012

I Always Preferred Studying Alone

“At every institution studied, from research universities to small colleges, some students performed at high levels, and some programs fostered more learning than others. In general, though, two points come through with striking clarity. First, traditional subjects and methods seem to retain their educational value. Nowadays the liberal arts attract a far smaller proportion of students than they did two generations ago. Still, those majoring in liberal arts fields—humanities and social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics—outperformed those studying business, communications, and other new, practical majors on the CLA. And at a time when libraries and classrooms across the country are being reconfigured to promote trendy forms of collaborative learning, students who spent the most time studying on their own outperformed those who worked mostly with others.”

HT: AyJay

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Trueman on Public Prayer

As are most things I read from Carl Trueman, this is worth your time to read the whole thing. Here is an excerpt.
To listen to a lot of public prayer in churches is too often like listening in to a private quiet time -- and that is not meant as a compliment.  The erosion of the boundary between public and private and the relentless march of the aesthetics of casualness have taken their toll here.  It seems that unless somebody prays in public precisely as we think they might do in private, we all fear that there is a affectation that prevents the prayer from being `authentic' -- whatever that might mean.  Yet oftentimes there are people in the congregation on Sunday who have come from a week of pain, worry and confusion; they may be spiritually shattered; they might barely be able to string two words of a prayer together; and at this moment a good pastor can through a well-thought out and carefully expressed prayer draw their eyes heavenwards, lead them to the throne of grace and give them the words of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and intercession which they cannot find for themselves.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Another Reason Not to Blog

“What might be delicate or unseemly in normal life, however, is daily meat for the butt-wiggling exhibitionists on the Internet; otherwise there would be no blogs.”

— Andrew Ferguson, Crazy U, p. 159.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Committee of Morons

“The Town hall, which looked as if it had been designed by a committee of morons in an excess of alcohol and civic pride, stood in isolated spendour bounded by two bombed sites where rebuilding had only just begun.”

— P. D. James, Cover Her Face, p. 158.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Books Completed in 2011

Here is the list for 2011. My goal is a minimum of 12 books completed per year, or an average of one per month. If I start a book in one year, and finish it in the next, it counts in the year it was completed. My sights are set low, but the goal is attainable. (Obviously, I am not shooting for stars and hoping for the moon: I am settling for clouds.)

I try to read some books that my kids are reading, because I love to read young adult fiction, and I love to read what my kids are reading, as it makes for great conversations. I prefer novels, as I have been reading fiction since my earliest memories of reading. I also enjoy reading essays and theology. The problem with the latter is that I am very slow. Oh well. Novels help me attain my yearly goal.

I also previously posted on books read in 2010 and 2008/2009.

Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant, by Alan Jacobs
The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One, by Rick Riordan
The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, by Jennifer Trafton
The Sea of Monsters: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book Two, by Rick Riordan
The Titan's Curse: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book Three, by Rick Riordan
The Battle of the Labyrinth: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book Four, by Rick Riordan
The Last Olympian: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book Five, by Rick Riordan
The Lost Hero: Heroes of Olympus, Book One, by Rick Riordan
The Fiddler’s Gun, by A. S. Peterson
The Fiddler’s Green, by A. S. Peterson
The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. & E. B. White
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Dragon's Tooth, by Nathan D. Wilson
Holes, by Louis Sachar
The Monster in the Hollows: The Wingfeather Saga, Book Three, by Andrew Peterson
The Son of Neptune: Heroes of Olympus, Book Two, by Rick Riordan
Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid into College, by Andrew Ferguson
Living in God's Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture, by David VanDrunen