Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Random Cogitations

Some random cogitations, not particularly related....

1) Moving is brutal. It just drains the life out of you and that lifeblood, having been drained, doesn't fully return for a while, until you get acclimated to the new environment, etc. That period of recovery may be 1 month, 1 year, or longer if it ever happens. It feels like a death and resurrection of sorts and seems to only get more painful as you get older.

2) Blogging is beautiful, least, much of the time. For me, it has provided a salutary occasion for a little reflective critical distance each day. I interject my daily journey often with statements like, "I should blog about this!". This is good and sharpening. When I stop and focus on some aspect of my life and thought, with an eye to later recapturing it via this quasi e-journal, the contours of Christ's work in me become clearer I think. I walk a little more wisely when I do this.

3) Seminary can be a time of unruly intellectual ambition. This is not necessarily the fault of the seminary. It is the nature of the beast. The academy is a place of high level cognition among other things. So, people possessed of an intellectual/cognitive disposition are susceptible to the native idolatries endemic to academic seminary life. It is in this connection that the gracious testimony and classroom example of professors like Dr. Richard Gaffin, provided a valuable constraint on my unwieldy mental aims. He exemplified 'humble orthodoxy' before I ever heard that phrase. And even when his more precisionistic proclivities (commendably & ardently applied in the pursuit to not 'go beyond what is written' I might add) rubbed up against my own creative right-brained orientation, his manner invited me in. I saw Jesus in that man. I've been reminded of this as I've perused reviews & comments of his latest book.

4) Tim Keller is special. Hearing him preach the gospel from Mark 12 this past Sunday evening, I was struck again with his God given ability to expose the legal scrupulosity of the human heart and prescribe just how the work of Jesus, when applied, contravenes the legal frame at every turn. I got a fresh taste, yea....a drenching of the grace that is in the gospel. The everlasting surprise of hearing the good news is seldom more real than when I hear Dr. Keller.

5) Tiger Woods is a freak of the gene pool. period. Anyone who goes 14-0 (?) when he has a share of the lead (at least) entering into the final day of a PGA tournament is breathing something other than the oxygen down here. How can a human have that level of consistency and focus?

6) Moving is brutal!

Friday, August 25, 2006


My good friend, brother, and fellow blogger, Xavier from RBA has tagged me. This is actually an interesting tag. What we read reveals the motions of our interiority. So, here is a little of my guts being spilled!

One book that changed your life:
Oddly enough, Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson. I read it as an undergrad in college and it forced me to face squarely the implications of Sola Scriptura. Was I going to continue to follow fundamentalist TRADITION(you know...don't drink....don't chew...don't go with girls that do kinda stuff) or Biblical TRUTH (which I knew would lead me out of fundamentalist ecclesiastical circles)?

One book you've read more than once: The Scarlet Letter. I read it twice in high school and once afterward. Hawthorne's unusal insight into the psychology of guilt blew me away. His descriptions of Rev. Dimmesdale's heart motions, as he labors under the complex tyrrany of a guilty conscience, are unparraleled in the literature I've read.

One book you'd want on a desert island, besides the Bible: The Complete works of Shakespeare. For brilliance of story, depth of insight into the human condition, worldly wisdom, mastery of language, mix of tragedy and comedy, poetry and prose, and general world literacy, no set of works compares. Others have said this. I really know what they mean.

One book that made you laugh: A Thousand Resurrections: An Urban Spiritual Journey by Maria Garriott. It is a serious and incisive book. But at parts, it is just hilarious to see the evolution of a suburban white girl into an urban pastor's wife. Instances where her soft suburban sensibilities were grated on by the rough and tumble of inner city life cracked me up often.

One book that made you cry:
The Confessions of Augustine. It wasn't so much the speculative metaphysical stuff but the scenes where he laments the loss of family and friends that made me cry. Also, his salutary humble deportment throughout the book repeatedly melted me. Objects of His Affection by Scotty Smith. I repeatedly had a difficult time finishing the second chapter of this book because of the deep places it touched in me. The beauty of Christ's pursuit of us was brought home to me in a way that it never had before. (I know that this was 2 books. Sorry)

One book you wish had been written: Being a Hard Idealist in a Pragmatist World: A Survival Guide. I'm such an egghead-in-the-clouds kind of guy that the cold, concrete practicalities of life just about do me in at every turn.

One book you wish had never been written: The Bell Curve - In my lifetime, this book did more to reinforce and perpetuate painful race ideology than any other to my knowledge.

One book that you are currently reading: The Second Adam and the New Birth by M.F. Sadler. I'm trying to think more deeply and biblically about the meaning of baptism.

One book that you've been meaning to read: The Autobiography of Miles Davis To know Miles is to know the shape and history of jazz in the 2oth century (& it was a graduation gift :-).

You're it!: Rod Denise Anthony

Thursday, August 24, 2006

'Mystery' of the Gospel = Multiethnic community?

Eph. 3:3,6,9 seems to teach this. I'm wondering if the 'body' in view is the cosmic ecclesiastical community only or if particular local bodies are envisioned as well.

"Let me offer some discursive ramblings in favor of considering the racial composition of a church, of thinking about ‘races’ and not just ‘persons’ if I may. This statement stings me: '90 percent of congregations are at least 90 percent one race'. To my mind, this fact suggests that the Christian church, whatever else it is, is not less than racially/ethnically tribal. Empirically speaking, it says that race & ethnicity constitute as much a ground for inclusion in particular local churches as any other factor. We can look at that and say 'fine' I guess. But in light of increasing diversity in schools, neighborhoods, marriages, gov't, military etc., in the face of persistent monoethnicity in churches (still the most segregated hour of the week), many are provoked to ask, 'What's wrong with the church? If the 'mystery' of the gospel, (a la Eph 3:3, 9) is the bringing together into one body, Gentile and Jew (by extension gentile and gentile in our day) and the effect of the gospel mystery is to move us toward deep, self-donating one-anothering (regardless of race/class/gender), shall we be content to allow this mystery to play out at every level but the actual local church level? I’m inclined to answer in the negative. So, why talk about bringing other ‘races’ in to the church and not just ‘persons’? The working out of our new humanity within a new community demands a counter-cultural racial inclusion in the body. This inclusiveness, I would suggest, is more demonstrative within local assemblies than just between them. I am painfully aware of cultural clashing and can only say that patience, forbearance, and love have led to increasing oneness and unity with the racially ‘other’ in my life. I have a long way to go though. One can not be too prescriptive concerning exactly how this should look in every believer’s life of course. Callings are particular and varied. But at the global, north american ecclesiastical level - 90% of churches having 90% one race - is definitely not it wouldn’t you say? I don’t want to have an overly eschatological ecclesiology that insists on seeing the ‘not yet’ completely in the ‘already’. There are obviously limits and qualifications.

I suspect that the monolithic landscape is less a result of intentional exclusion (‘blacks are not welcome here!’) than the unintentional persistence of deeply formed patterns of social relating which we seldomly, self-consciously disrupt in the interest of inviting in the racially ‘other’. In fact, I rather suspect that most churches would welcome greater diversity, say they even want it, but do relatively little in the way of self-denying, discomforting social re-arrangement (again, in the interest of making room for the ‘other’) which might pave the way for inclusion. Would it look noticeably different within most churches if they were intentionally exclusive? 90% is A- grade de facto segregation (B+ at WTS ;-). So many things to say/discuss.........Please feel free to challenge this vigorously" (comments from a previous post)

"To sum up, we may say that 'the mystery of Christ' is the complete union of Jews and Gentiles with each other through the union of both with Christ[cf 3:6]. It is this double union, with Christ and with each other, which was the substance of the 'mystery'."
-Stott, BST, p. 117.

I never thought of union with Christ as having a racial component to it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Majority-World Christianity Advances

This was very encouraging to read:

"Long overdue is advent of the Africa Bible Commentary (ABC), the most important tool for African pastors who need biblical, relevant support. The ABC is the first one-volume Bible commentary to be produced in Africa, for Africa, by African scholars."

I suspect that traditional oral-story cultures aren't as fascinated by commentaries as modern text-contractual ones. "If it's in writing, its important" doesn't carry the same authority to oral oriented folk. Language is more dynamic and active for them, it seems to me. The West is catching up on this score though(Isn't this why we are so captivated by speech-act theory - the recogntion that words can enact new states of affairs?).

Perhaps the advent of this commentary is reflective of a growing recognition in Africa, that the new state of affairs, often enacted by our verbiage, should be written down. Majority-World Christianity Advances!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ideology v. Geography

By inclination, latte-sipping, left-leaning, intellectual Christian types are the people I tend to hang out with.....the kind of folks, who upon reading Jesus's great commandment, hear 'love...with all your MIND' in stereophonic and see it in bright neon lights. They love verbal banter, assiduously participate in the great continuing conversation about ideas, and will travel far and wide to hear, study with, or sit under the latest sage on the stage. For them, ideology drives their geography. The things swirling around in their heads are the engine of reality and they will move wherever their thinking leads them.

Mark Noll insightfully challenged my notions about the relationship between ideology and geography by suggesting ways in which geography shapes ideology/belief. In this 12 minute interview, he explains how the expansive landscape of America (as opposed to Europe) contributed to the formation of a tolerant, pluralistic, religous consciousness and an attendant proliferation of denominations/religions unparalleled in the world to this day. Physical space encouraged and fostered a tolerant mood in which ecclesiastical diversity could flourish. Geography influenced (drove?) religious ideology. Fascinating.

Hear the interview here.

Read the complete post.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Word from The Bishop, not the white guy from Durham who lives in a castle but the dark-skinned brotha from Kampala, Uganda, Rt. Rev. Dr. David Zac Niringiye.

This interview is a prime example of the exegetical/hermeneutical payoff received by reading/listening to those inhabiting different social locations (particularly, the margins) and why we should sit at their feet a while.

"God very often is working most powerfully far from the center. Jesus is crucified outside Jerusalem—outside—with the very cynical sign over his head, "The King of the Jews." Surprise—he is the King of the Jews. "We had hoped … " say the disappointed disciples on the road to Emmaus, but he did not fulfill our criteria. In Acts, we read that the cross-cultural missionary thrust did not begin in Jerusalem. It began in Antioch, on the periphery, the margins. But Jerusalem is not ready for Antioch! In fact, even when they go to Antioch, it's just to check on what's happening.

I have come to the conclusion that the powerful, those at the center, must begin to realize that the future shape of things does not belong to them. The future shape of things is on the periphery. The future shape of things is not in Jerusalem, but outside. It is Nazareth. It is Antioch.

If you really want to understand the future of Christianity, go and see what is happening in Asia, Africa, Latin America. It's the periphery—but that's where the action is."

It is so refreshing to have highlighted for you, aspects of the biblical text to which we may be positively indisposed and prone to miss due to our different lenses/life questions et al.

(HT: Sibboleth)

Read the complete post.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The PCA: A Presbyterian Plantation?

I love the PCA. I really do. And having committed to it, I've committed to take on the problems inherent to it, whether theological (most notably) or sociological(less seen and/or acknowledged).

So I just gotta know if some non-Latino, non-black folks see it this way.

To show my hand (as if it wasn't clearly seen), the comments of this Latin PCA brother resonate with me but I want to check it against other perspectives. His conclusion is sober and pointed:

"Now if the PCA doesn't change this mindset the local PCA churches in global cities with high populations of blacks and Hispanics will fade away as is the case in Miami FL."

Professor Anthony Bradley of Covenant Seminary, discussing some of the reasons for this type of thinking, offers some provocative post comments:

"many 'white Christians' are asking questions like 'what can we do to get more Asians' in our church, instead of asking 'what can we do to get more involved in the lives of Asians and join their churches, and submit to Asian leadership.' It's the whole 'come to us' attitude 'cause it's better for you (Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, etc.) to be with us instead of the other way around."

Even if race issues make your eyes glaze over with apathy/disinterest, or if you're saying, 'here Mark goes again with race stuff', help a brotha out. I don't want to apply a hermeneutic of suspicion where a hermeneutic of trust should be applied.

(HT:Anthony Bradley)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Gratia Ex Auditu

Hope this ministers at least a little grace to some hearer(s).

"The Faith of Doubters"

"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in we preach".

- What St. Paul really said for preacher-wanna-bes

De-historicized history

Reading and thinking through John's gospel, I'm struck afresh with some of the seemingly anachronistic statements on the lips of Jesus. In 3:13, Jesus seems to be speaking of His ascension as though it were already past, "No one has ascended into heaven except him who descended from heaven, the Son of Man". Is this a Jewish aphoristic, proverb-like way of speaking which would have been easily undeerstood by Nicodemus? Is this a post-resurrection creedal affirmation in which the apostle is calling his readers to subscribe to the JCF (Johannine confession of faith)? It is as if he is saying, "Hey early church, the incarnation-death-resurrection-exaltation are true, so believe them". There may be other explanations.

In any case, assuming Jesus' ascension is in view, the statement seems to de-historicize history, if but for a moment. It transcends the particular moment in time of its utterance and speaks to all future horizons of readers. It has a patently 'confessional', atemporal feel to it, when seen in the context of the conversation with Nicodemus.

Of course, de-historicized, confessional statements are common to John. Notably in 7:37-38, Jesus speaks 'dogmatically' of Belief/Spirit-work, "Whoever believes in me.....out of his heart will flow rivers of living water", a creedal assertion made intelligible only in light of later redemptive-historical events (resurrection and ascension), "Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified".

Does this mean that these creedal affirmations - the JCF - though genetically related to, are a function and subset of, Redemptive History in John? His confessionalism seems situated within a larger historical framework. Still more, is there here, an implicit affirmation that future historical periods always hold the promise of greater doctrinal clarity - a 'progressive confessionalism' as it were? Ughh.....that may be stretching it a bit.

Let me stop before I try to squeeze any more doctrinal juice out of this textual orange.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Justification and Social Justice

Does my reformed conceptual toolbox contain the theoretical/theological tools to relate these two? Or, do I have to go rummaging through the toolkits of other traditions to supplement my own? My gut says yes and yes.

I’m not minimizing the discussions going on in my circles these days. At some level, they are needed and necessary but this isn’t a speculative theological question for me, one that I leave at the presbytery floor. The issues surrounding this problem are what cause me, in private moments of despair, to want to throw in the towel. Thankfully, I haven’t and won’t though I’ve cried myself to sleep over this and related stuff as I've realized that I operate with a different social paradigm and a sometimes alien theological language game!

Maybe, this problem is a subset of the heaven-earth chasm – things on earth are just not like heaven, so, our indicatives and imperatives are painfully out of sync at times.

The following have been helpful by way of suggesting some potential angles for fresh exploration. They are good primers on probing the relationship between the two:

Nicholas Wolterstorff's "Justice and Justification” in Reformed Theology for the Third Christian Millennium: The 2001 Sprunt Lectures, 83-96.

Kathryn Tanner’s “Justification and Justice in a Theology of Grace” in Theology Today 55(1999), 510-23.

“Justification and Justice: The Promising Problematique of Protestant Ethics in the Work of Paul L. Lehmann” in Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates, 118-33.

I have a hunch that John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God would provide a robust reformed framework for addressing the question. I may be wrong though. If anyone knows of a work that speaks directly to this, please advise.

"This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one."

- Maltbie Babcock

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Terrorism, Total Depravity, and Resurrection

Can you believe this?

This is so scary. It's hard to believe that apparently, we were within days of another 9/11 or worse!

Anyone who doubts that Adamic blood coarses through our veins richly should be disabused of that notion immediately. Man, are we weak and wounded by the Fall!

......Deeply desiring our full new humanity within a completely new creation....longing for the 'not yet' of resurrection hope.....but realizing we have a job to do and the grace to do it in the 'already'.

"Easter is about the beginning of God's new world. John's Gospel stresses that Easter Day is the first day of the new week: not so much the end of the old story as the launch of the new one. The gospel resurrection stories end, not with “well, that's all right then,” nor with “Jesus is risen, therefore we will rise too,” but with “God's new world has begun, therefore we've got a job to do, and God's Spirit to help us do it.” That job is to plant the flags of resurrection—new life, new communities, new churches, new faith, new hope, new practical love—in amongst the tired slogans of idolatrous modernity and destructive postmodernity.It can happen. By God's grace it will happen. The fact that today we may not see it happening is neither here nor there. Sometimes it only takes three days."

- N.T. Wright

Fifth Day Morning Prayer

"Make us willing to be saved in thy own way, perceiving nothing in ourselves but all in Jesus."

- The Valley of Vision

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Justification & the World

If (since) "The doctrine of justification by faith is in fact the great ecumenical doctrine" and a declaration that we are indeed forgiven. If it is also a statement that all people, thus justified, are part of the family of Abraham and therefore have a place at the ecclesial table, then doesn’t it stand to reason that everyone at the table should have a voice, especially if the topic is justification by faith (the great ecumenical doctrine)? Certainly, we don’t expect some to just sit there while others are permitted to speak? What is really going on here? O.....I think I get it…Some of us are now are allowed to get on the ecclesiastical bus but are expected to shut up and sit in the back (to change the metaphor)!

The whole doctrinal debate/discussion over Justification by faith smacks of Eurocentric hegemony. Maybe I’m missing something but I don’t hear the voice of the world, but white brothers only (as brilliant and needed as they are). Are there not just 'new perspectives' but other perspectives to be heard as well, ones that could inform and enrich current understandings?

It reminds me of the numerous incidents where little precocious and perceptive black kids have gone home and said, “Mommy, why does the teacher only pick the white kids for all the answers?” I feel their pain.

Maybe, we can listen and learn something about J by F from the following:

A Latin American voice
Tamez, Elsa. Amnesty of Grace: Justification by Faith From a Latin American Perspective. Nashville: Parthenon, 1993.

An Asian voice
Kim, Chang-Nack. "Justification by Faith--A Minjung Perspective." Chicago Theological Seminary Register 85 (1995): 14-23

An African voice
Maimela, Simon S. "Justification by Faith and Its Continuing Relevance for South Africa." In Theology and the Black Experience: The Lutheran Heritage Interpreted by African and African-American Theologians, ed. Albert Pero and Ambrose Moyo, 35-41. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988.

Hear a prophet of your own:
“The [Two-]Third[s] world church will find its greatest struggle in learning to be a teacher of the West. The Western Church will find its agony in being taught to be a learner.” - Harvie Conn (italics mine)

Disclaimer: My tone is intended to be pointed not acrimonious. Those that know me, know that I’m really just a big, black teddy bear type. That being said, I really do mean what I say here.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Reformed Readers: Metaphysical and/or Physical?

There are at least two types of readers of texts in the world. Let’s call them physical and metaphysical readers.

Physical readers are attentive to the very text themselves, particularly in its literary dimensions. It is the words, the grammatical constructions, syntax, etc. which are the principal conveyers of meaning. These types of readers evince very little concern for conceptual figurations which may lie beyond and above the text. But where their reading schemes inevitably lead them in that direction, they are less interested in adducing mathematical-like propositions than organic imaginative metaphorical relations. Quite simply, it is the contours and character of texts that capture their imaginations more than any deep structural content embedded in them. For them, the medium of the script is its message. They strike me as people whose cognitive orientation would lead them to study toward a B.A. in English, not a B.S. in engineering.

They are intrigued by the rough edges and odd shapes of texts and don’t feel too existentially driven to smooth out the ‘ill-formedness’. Again, they see meaning in the messy material of texts and delight to inhabit its rhetorical spaces.

Metaphysical readers are attuned to the conceptual content of texts. For them, words and syntax are merely the grammatical husks that must be shed in order to get to the real stuff underneath. These types of readers often have little literary sensibility and/or nuance and often are bad grammarians/spellers. Consequently, their papers/books need more editing than most. This is OK with them because the texts are just there to be mined for their truth value content in any case. And the truth data, having been thus mined, is then placed in its rightful propositional place. Reading is fundamentally an act of essence distillation in which essences are distilled from the coarse materiality of the written words on the page.

But for all of their love of the science of conceptual extraction, they quite often show an aversion to categorizing their findings under narrative, story, or drama. I’m not quite sure why but I suspect that these categories clash with their cognitive sensibilities concerning structure and order and don’t conform easily to certain processes of conventional logical rigor.

We reformed types are truth-value kind of readers on the whole I think. Yeah, we appreciate the literary sense types who root themselves in the actual phenomena of scripture. Our instincts tell us that this is a good and necessary first step. Deep down, we harbor a superiority complex though. We say, “If they were really good readers/thinkers, they’d get to the epiphenomenal stuff like us.” It’s good to be a textual technician but it is better to be a theologian.

Now of course, these are grossly exaggerated generalizations but I needed a little midsummer night’s humor of a reformed parody sort. That being said, something about this rings true at some level to me.

Blogging, The Fabric of Redemption, Little reflections scribbled down

So I went and got co-opted by the cyberspace establishment (or joined the e-revolution. perspective and position in life is everything here). I always had the nagging feeling that I would dive in at some point and create one even though I harbored suspicions that the whole thing was one exceedingly narcissistic enterprise for those unable to get published in the real time world. After all, who has enough time (and hubris) to just write their discursive ramblings and expect a hearing (or reading)? A lot of people! Maybe I thought blogging functioned as a therapy of sorts, a new techno, post-modern way of just being. Come to think of it, it may just be the universal desire for personal story, to be let in on what people think and how they feel as they journey through the ebb and flow of life.Truth be told, right now I think that I'm just inspired at the end of a long summer work session and am just feeling a short-lived (hopefully not) burst of inspiration to just write some random piecemeal thoughts.

In any case, My view of blogs/blogging has definitely changed. As scary as it may sound, it appears that blogs have become a part of the fabric of redemptive work in my life. So often, they are a point where the large story of what God is doing in the world, the blogger’s story, and my story converge in just a few short paragraphs. I find grace for the journey in reading many blogs. As I read the honest intellectual grapplings and messy moral meanderings with which we deal in life and how they intersect with the transforming power of the gospel, I feel encouraged and invited to participate in the same type of gospel self-donation, in opening up my life in the interest of letting others in to see what Jesus can do with a person like me. I don’t know how many times my heart has been melted into tears with sorrow or driven to profound joy as I’ve read a post.

To be sure, I’ve performed my fair share of salacious searches for the latest on a brewing (or full blown) controversy. Lamentably, I’ve looked for the latest dirt on someone, usually just to confirm my already suspicious view of him/her. This just proves that Jesus’ work of redemptive renewal is not complete yet in me. ‘O Lord, come and make your blessings known far as the curse is found, especially in me’. But mostly, blogs are some channel of blessing to me. When so many of my brothers and sisters take time and interrupt the rushed rhythms of life with little reflections scribbled drown electronically, more times than not, redemptive work is served in my life and Jesus is honored. For all of your redemptive ramblings long and short, Thank you.