Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Story of Mankind and William Jennings Bryan

The first book ever to win the Newbery Award was Hendrik van Loon's The Story of Mankind (published in 1921; won award in 1922; online version here). It is an almost-600-page history book for children.

Yeah. I know. I bet kids today still eat it up.

At first I picked it up out of curiosity, but it's also amusing to see it next to a recent winner, such as the 96-page 2008 winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! (to which I gave five stars on Goodreads).

One particular detail makes American history spring to life. In a chapter titled "The Age of Science," Loon defends Darwin as a courageous and persecuted geologist. Loon writes, "Darwin, who dared to question the story of creation of man, as revealed in the Bible, was denounced from every pulpit as an enemy of the human race. Even to-day, the persecution of those who venture into the unknown realm of science has not entirely come to an end. And while I am writing this Mr. Bryan is addressing a vast multitude on the 'Menace of Darwinism,' warning his hearers against the errors of the great English naturalist" (429).

The Scopes Trial occurred four years later. Five days after the trial ended, Bryan died, and five years after that, Bryan College opened.

Loon tips his hand even further several pages later: "I was born and educated in an atmosphere of the old-fashioned liberalism which had followed the discoveries of Darwin and the other pioneers of the nineteenth century. As a child, I happened to spend most of my waking hours with an uncle who was a great collector of the books written by Montaigne, the great French essayist of the sixteenth century" (450).

His reference to Montaigne is fitting, because he continues to explain why he (Loon) is the way he is because of his upbringing. His being born in Rotterdam and his exposure to Erasmus contributed to his tolerance; if he had been born in a "pleasant middle western city," he might have appreciated Bach's music more; if he had been born in Italy, he might have appreciated art more. Montaigne is one of the first major writers to write about cultural relativity (see his essay "Of Cannibals").

Loon admits his bias: "I state these few facts deliberately that you may know the personal bias of the man who wrote this history and may understand his point-of-view. The bibliography at the end of this book, which represents all sorts of opinions and views, will allow you to compare my ideas with those of other people. And in this way, you will be able to reach your own final conclusions with a greater degree of fairness than would otherwise be possible" (451).

Of course, bibliographies are biased too. But the gesture is nice.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Length of college statements of faith

Marvin Olasky wonders about the usefulness (or uselessness) of college statements of faith, but here I'm more interested in a seemingly minor detail: the length of these statements. Here are the 12 colleges that Olasky mentions, with links to their doctrinal statements:
What I found so interesting is that of all of these colleges, BJU is probably thought of as one of the most restrictive, and the assumption might be that its statement of faith would be pages upon pages. But it's not. It's simply the university creed, sleek and trim like other creeds such as the Apostles' or the Nicene. Weighing in at fewer than 100 words, it's ironic that in a way it could be considered the most latitudinarian of all of the 12 represented in Olasky's list. Granted, the BJU site has a bulleted list of other positions on specific issues, but the main statement of faith is the shortest of any other institution on the list by far.

Other recent posts about BJU:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Glory of God

From the Reformation Study Bible note to Ezekiel 1:28:
God's goal is His glory, but this needs careful explanation, for it is easily misunderstood. It points to a purpose, not of divine egoism, but of divine love. Certainly, God asks to be praised for His praiseworthiness and exalted for His greatness and goodness; He asks to be appreciated for what He is. But the glory that is His goal is a two-sided, two-stage relationship: on the one side He reveals His glory in acts of free generosity, and on the other, His people respond with adoration, giving Him glory with thanksgiving for what they have seen and received. Human beings were made for this reciprocal fellowship of love, and Christ's redemption makes it possible for those who had fallen. Human nature is fulfilled through seeing God's glory and returning praise to Him, just as God has pleasure in revealing His goodness to those who receive it (Zeph. 3:14-17).
"Glory" in the Old Testament is associated with value, riches, splendor, and dignity. When Moses asked to see God's glory, God proclaimed to Moses His name; that is, He revealed to Moses something of His nature, character, and power (Ex. 33:18-34:7; theological note "'This Is My Name': God's Self-disclosure" at Ex. 3:15). Accompanying the proclamation was an awe-inspiring physical manifestation, a bright cloud like a burning fire (Ex. 24:17). This glory of God's presence is often called the "Shekinah" or the "Shekinah glory." It appeared at significant moments as a sign of God's active presence (Ex. 33:22; 34:5; cf. 16:10; 24:17; 40:34; Lev. 9:23-24; 1 Kin. 8:10-11; Ezek. 1:28; 8:4; 9:3; 10:4; 11:22-23; Matt. 17:5; Luke 2:9; cf. Acts 1:9; 1 Thess. 4:17; Rev. 1:7). New Testament writers proclaim that the glory of God is now revealed in Jesus Christ (John 1:14-18; 2 Cor. 4:3-6; Heb. 1:1-3).
God is glorified in the acts of salvation, because they exhibit His incomparable condescension, His inexhaustible love, and His limitless power. "Salvation is of the LORD" (Jon. 2:9), and those He saves have contributed nothing to their salvation except their need (Is. 42:8; 48:11). The praise for salvation belongs to no one except God. This is why Reformation theology was so insistent on the principle, "Glory to God alone" (soli Deo gloria), and why we need to maintain that principle with equal zeal today.

Friday, July 11, 2014

"This Is My Name": God's Self-disclosure

From the Reformation Study Bible note to Exodus 3:15:
In the modern world, a person's name can be merely an identifying label; it does not reveal anything about the person. Biblical names, however, have their background in the widespread tradition that the personal name gives significant information about the one who bears it. The Old Testament constantly celebrates God's making His name known to Israel, and the psalms again and again direct praise to God's name (Ps. 8:1; 113:1-3; 145:1, 2; 148:5, 13). "Name" here means God Himself as He has revealed Himself by word and deed. At the heart of this self-revelation is the name by which He authorized Israel to invoke him—commonly rendered "the LORD" (for the Hebrew Yahweh, as modern scholars pronounce it; or "Jehovah," as it is sometimes written).
God declared this name to Moses when He spoke to him out of the bush that burned steadily without being burned up. God first identified Himself as the God who had committed Himself in covenant to the patriarchs (Gen. 17:1-14); then, when Moses asked Him what he could tell the people who asked what God's name was (the ancients assumed that prayer would only be heard if its addressee was named correctly), God answered first "I AM WHO I AM," then shortened it to "I AM." The name "Yahweh" ("the LORD") sounds like "I am" in Hebrew, and God finally called Himself "the LORD God of your fathers" (Ex. 3:15, 16). The name in all its forms proclaims His eternal, self-sustaining, self-determing, sovereign reality—the supernatural mode of existence that the sign of the burning bush had signified (Ex. 3:2). The bush that was not consumed was God's illustration of His own inexhaustible life. In designating "Yahweh" as "My name forever" (Ex. 3:15), God indicated that His people should always think of Him as the living, reigning, powerful King that the burning bush showed Him to be.
Later Moses asked to see God's "glory." In reply, God proclaimed "the name": "The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty" (Ex. 34:6, 7). At the burning bush, God had addressed the question of the manner of His existence. Here, He answered the question, How can we describe His actions? This foundational announcement of His moral character is often echoed in later passages of Scripture (Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; Joel 2:13; Jon. 4:2). These revelations are all part of His "name," His disclosure of His nature, for which He is to be revered and glorified forever.
In the New Testament, the words and acts of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, are a full revelation of the mind, character, and purposes of God the Father (John 14:9-11; cf. 1:18). "Hallowed by Your name" in the Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:9) expresses the desire that God will be revered and praised as the splendor of His entire self-disclosure deserves.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

BJU Town Hall

About two months ago I posted information about the top issues in the search for the new BJU president. So I feel a little bit like a troll: partly because here I am again, posting something related . . . and partly because I've been living under the bridge on campus, as trolls are wont to do.

On July 7, 2014, President Pettit invited alumni to a town hall. Because watching the whole thing takes an hour, and because some of you are too lazy to watch it all—or because you might have some lame excuse, like, having a job or something—I've made list of the topics, with approximate times that these topics begin in the meeting, if you want to skip around. I left a few questions off because either the question or the answer didn't seem significant.

1. G.R.A.C.E. (5:06): President Pettit basically said to listen to whatever Dirt Seeking Graduates of BJU say. Yeah, and then he and Marshall Franklin clinked beer bottles and showed the crowd their new tattoos. Seriously, though, the latest date for the report to come from G.R.A.C.E. is August 31.

2. Accreditation (9:03): BJU has national accreditation through TRACS. This status was reaffirmed in 2011, and that will last for ten years. BJU's lack of regional accreditation was a minor issue in my application to graduate school at Baylor University in 2012, but I did get in. Pettit gave lots of great statistics about the success of graduates, including the fact that 100% of BJU students applying for medical school were accepted this past year. My wife had no problem getting into MUSC in 2007.

3. Enrollment (13:04): Pettit knows that he is the university's primary recruiter. He said that 30% of BJU's students come from South Carolina, and 17% come from 10 churches (not necessarily in South Carolina).

4. Student mindset (18:26): Sometimes there seems to be a disconnect between students, their churches, and expectations on campus. For faculty, staff, and administrators at BJU to really "get" students, they need to be both credible and caring. Pettit expects fewer than 2,900 students (both undergraduate and graduate) this fall.

5. Jones family (24:05): The Jones family will remain active in the life of the school.

6. Music (25:56): Pettit is in agreement with the university's policy, although he admitted to being more of a "centrist" among Fundamentalists. To prove his point, he mentioned the title of a Johnny Cash song.

7. Campus safety (28:53): Pettit fielded a question springing from concerns over shootings on other university campuses.

8. Position on the KJV (31:38): Pettit expecteth not the university's policy on the KJV to change, yea, for the foreseeable future. Forsooth.

9. Tax exemption status (33:56): This is a board decision.

10. Disaffected alumni (34:30): As powerful as anti-BJU alumni feel when they band together and post things on the Interwebs, the fact remains that roughly 40% of all BJU alumni pay association dues, whereas the average for most universities is about 16%.

11. Northland's changes (37:52): Pettit was very hesitant to say anything negative about a place that he loves, but he was "uncomfortable with the changes" that occurred at NIU. It was interesting to hear him describe the two schools, which have previously been described by some as sister schools regarding convictions and student base, as being "completely different places"—"two different worlds."

12. Church restrictions for faculty/staff (40:40): The desire is for like-mindedness on campus, and 80-85% of students come from Independent Fundamental Baptist churches. The Pettit family plans to join a church in town eventually. Pettit has been wining and dining pastors in town, making some people very uncomfortable. #BecauseWine

13. Ministerial class (44:49): Ministry is good.

14. Intercollegiate sports (46:02): I think "Sic 'em, bears" was the main thrust of this part. Maybe "Sic 'em, bruins." I can't really remember. Pettit played collegiate soccer for the Citadel for four years and was in charge of Citadel intramural sports as a senior.

15. Rules (48:27): Obey 'em.

16. Dress code (49:25): Besides now requiring the men to wear panty hose until after chapel, nothing new on this front.

17. Short- and long-term goals (51:14): Pettit's two primary responsibilities are to serve the board and to keep the school on mission. However, Pettit is not willing to take "because we've always done things that way" as an answer to his "Why?" questions.

18. Quality of chapel speakers (54:30): Pettit questioned the assumption behind the challenge that some chapel speakers are not great biblical exegetes. Part of the invitation for chapel speakers has to do with their years of service and ability to speak about Christian living. Pettit does say that "there is no virtue in bad preaching."

19. Discipleship program (55:53): There will be a new program for discipleship groups (formerly known as prayer groups). The theme for the fall is "Walking in the Spirit" from Galatians 5.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Reading the Bible typologically

Presbyterians have a habit of looking for Christ in the Old Testament. Among the more popular manifestations of this habit are Tim Keller's comments about the focus of the Bible (hint: It's not all about you) and Sally Lloyd-Jones's The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name (in which she acknowledges that Keller's "teaching informs every story and from whom [she has] liberally borrowed," p. 7).

This action of looking seems obvious to some, based on their upbringing (isn't that what you're supposed to do?), but to others it seems forced. The suspicion of those in the second group seems related to the suspicion of systematic theology (e.g., if you have a system, it's tempting to force everything into that system, even if it doesn't quite seem to fit).

Michael Horton in a Nov/Dec 2013 issue of Modern Reformation concedes that some preachers go too far in their typological discoveries: "[W]e should beware of trying to find Jesus under every rock" (54).

However, the main thrust of his short article is that typological readings of the Old Testament are not clever new tricks for preachers. The writers of the New Testament themselves do it, thereby providing a precedent to follow. The following are the main data points that Horton uses to prove his case. This is all quite systematic, obviously.

1 Cor. 10:4: Christ is the Rock in the wilderness (Ex. 17:6).
2 Cor. 4:6: Christ is the light that shines into the darkness (Gen. 1:3-4).
Rom. 5:14: Christ is the second Adam (Gen. 3). Paul is explicit that the original Adam was a type.
Matt. 24:37-38: Christ's coming in judgment was typified by the flood (Gen. 6-8).
John 6:32-33: Christ is manna from Heaven (Ex. 16:14-16).
Heb. 5:5-10; 6:29; 7:1-17: Christ is Melchizedek, the priest-king (Gen. 14:18-20 and elsewhere).
Matt. 2:15: Christ is Israel, called out of Egypt (Exodus; Hos. 11:1).
John 3:14: Christ is the bronze serpent lifted up in the wilderness (Num. 21:8).
Acts 3:22 (and elsewhere): Christ is a better Moses.
Matt. 12:38-42 (and elsewhere): Christ is a better Jonah.

Horton says, "[T]he entire sacrificial system—encompassing the sacrificial animals, the high priest, and the temple—is typology on a grand scale. Right down to the accessories worn by the priests, and the furniture in the sanctuary, it was all an earthly copy of the heavenly reality. The old covenant is therefore called a 'shadow' of the 'reality,' which is Christ (Col. 2:17; Heb. 8:5; 10:1), a 'copy' of the heavenly reality (Heb. 8:4; 9:23), a 'parable' (Heb. 9:9; 11:19), and an antitype or pattern (Heb. 9:24; 1 Pet. 3:21)."

One passage that Horton does not mention is perhaps the key passage, and it is the one that Keller focuses on in the link above. In Luke 24:27, Christ tells travelers on the road to Emmaus that Moses and the Prophets were writing about Him.

For more on this subject, a worthy book to consider is Michael P.V. Barrett's Beginning with Moses: A Guide to Finding Christ in the Old Testament.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

WORLD update (2014 books issue)

Here are the highlights from this year's book issue.

Empty frigates: "Children should experience and learn to love literature before they learn to dissect it."

The Screwtape Letters: Annotated Edition: "With the permission of Douglas Gresham, dramatist Paul McCusker took on the job of annotating Screwtape. He makes clear in the introduction that he wants to provide helpful context, clarification, and definitions rather than an interpretation of the famous correspondence between a senior devil and his novitiate. Each page of the large format book has two columns of text, with Screwtape in black in a large font and the annotations in red. Some notes refer to passages in Mere Christianity or other Lewis writings on the same topic, and others explain unfamiliar phrases or identify historical and literary figures and works."

A team effort: "David Jeremiah shares marketing secrets that help Christian authors like him find readers." One of his great lines from this interview: "I'm involved in a local church and don't think of myself as a star. I was in a bookstore, and the girl who was running the store said, 'I can't believe you're in my store, I'm so excited! Can you just wait here a minute?' She came back and said, 'Would you sign these books for me?' She gave me seven books by Josh McDowell. I signed Josh McDowell's name in them and gave them back to her." WORLD: "Here are some questions and answers we didn't have room for in the print magazine." "He also spoke about the growth of ethnic congregations within his larger group."

Deadly business: "The most dangerous things of all are the ideas found in books." Here's an excerpt in which the author gives a nod to Hebrews 11:
And what more shall I say? For time (and space) would fail me to tell of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Salman Rushdie, Naguib Mahfouz, or Liu Xiaobo, the 58-year-old 2010 Nobel laureate who languishes since 2008 in a Chinese prison. These men plus others faced the noose, escaped assassins, endured interrogations, witnessed beatings, wrote books in code then transcribed them all over again—so that you and I could read their works in a hammock by filtered summer light.
Illustration by Krieg Barrie
Words on paper: "Three reasons for pessimism, and three more for optimism, about the future of printed books."

Books of the year: "Excellence in popular theology, history, and analysis."

Seven more fat years: "160 reading recommendations, 2007–2014." In the final paragraph, Olasky mentions Christian novelists such as Randy Alcorn, Brian Godawa, and Bret Lott.

Topical paradise: "The best books on subjects ranging from the Earth's beginning to internet innovation." Subjects include higher education, music, digital technology, modern art, architecture, theater, worldview and world religions, journalism, chemistry and biochemistry, philosophy, origins, literature, and fiction.

Unequally yoked?: "Can Christian publishers owned by secular companies maintain their Christian distinctives?."

Ad: Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith by W. Mark Lanier is recommended by Baylor President Ken Starr, who says, "Authored by one of the nation's leading trial lawyers, Christianity on Trial brilliantly employs the truth-finding methods of the legal process to produce an eminently readable, highly persuasive work of Christian apologetics. This is an extraordinary trial lawyer's version of Mere Christianity."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Omnipresence and Omnipotence

Theological note in The Reformation Study Bible at Jeremiah 23:24:
God is present in all places; however, we should not think of Him as filling space, for He has no physical dimensions. It is as spirit that He is everywhere. Although it surpasses the understanding of body-bound creatures like ourselves, God Himself is present everywhere in His majesty and power. Needy souls praying to Him anywhere in the world are in His sight and receive His personal attention. Belief in God's omnipresence is apparent in Ps. 139:7-10; Jer. 23:23, 24; Acts 17:24-28. When Paul speaks of the ascended Christ as filling all things (Eph. 4:8), Christ's availability everywhere in the fullness of His power is certainly part of the meaning. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are omnipresent, though the personal presence of the glorified Son is not physical (in the body).
"I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld" (Job 42:2). Job testifies that God is omnipotent. He is all-powerful, almighty. God has power to do everything that in His perfect wisdom and goodness He wills to do. Omnipotence does not mean that God can do literally everything: God cannot sin, lie, change His nature or deny the demands of His holy character (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; 2 Tim. 2:13; Heb. 6:18; James 1:13, 17). He cannot make a square circle, for the notion of a square circle is self-contradictory; He cannot cease to be God. But all that He wills and promises He can and will do.
Was it excessive for David to say, "I will love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shelf and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold" (Ps. 18:1, 2)? Was it excessive for another psalmist to declare, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Ps. 46:1)? It would have been a fault to say such things if God were less than omnipresent and omnipotent. But the knowledge of God's greatness, including His omnipresence and omnipotence produces great faith and high praise.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Art Needs No Justification, introduction

This is the introduction to H.R. Rookmaaker's Art Needs No Justification, pp. 5-6:
Artists in our society are in a very peculiar position. On the one hand they are regard very highly, almost like high priests of culture who know the inner secrets of reality. On the other hand they are completely superfluous people. Respected, yes. But others are still quite ready to allow them to starve. We want artists to be serious and create deep things that have almost eternal value, things that people of culture can talk about centuries later. But if artists want to be successful, they have to bow to present tastes, be commercial and play the clown rather than the sage.
Of course this is not a new problem. It has been like this since the eighteenth century when the old concept of the artist as craftsman began to be exchanged for a concept that saw him as both a gifted genius and a social and economic outcast.
Artists who are Christians also struggle with these tensions. But the problem of Christian artists are often greater because it is difficult for any Christian to live in a post-Christian world. Artists are expected to work from their convictions, but these may be seen by their atheistic contemporaries as ultraconservative if not totally passé. On top of this they often lack the support or their own community—their church and family. To them artists seem to be radicals or idle no-gooders. They are branded as being on the wrong track even from the start. Thus Christian artists are often working under great stress.
On the other hand we very much need art which is healthy and good, and which people can understand. If Christians can do such work they may not achieve great fame, but many will love their work. And many artists will be able to make a living from it. So there is no need for self-pity. There is a contribution to be made in an age that is often anti-Christian in the most outspoken way.
To the many Christian artists whom I have had the honor to know and whose work I think is important in many ways, this little study is dedicated. In fact, this book is the working-out of an address delivered at the 1975 Arts Festival in England attended by a few hundred, mostly young, artists who professed to be Christian or at least quite interested. . . .
It may be clear that I speak in the first place to the painter and sculptor, the creators of the visual arts. I do this because my knowledge lies primarily in that field. But I think that the situation and problems are more or less similar with many kinds of artists—musicians, composers, actors, writers, dancers, comedians and others.
The book is short and can be found online here.