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Three Things I Liked This Week

  1. I liked Al Mohler’s Wednesday edition of The Briefing, especially part II: ” The View of World History through the Eyes of Vladimir Putin: The Legacy of the Autocrat, the Drive for a Greater Russia, and the Reclamation of Russian Glory.”

 

2. I liked George Herbert’s (1593–1633) poem “Sunday.” In part, it reads:

The Sunday’s of man’s life,
Threaded together on time’s string,
Make bracelets to adorn the wife
Of the eternal glorious King.

 

On Sunday’s heaven’s gate stands ope;
Blessings are plentiful and rife,
More plentiful than hope.

 

This day my Savior rose,
And did enclose this light for his:
That, as each beast his manger knows,
Man might not of his fodder miss.
Christ hath took in this piece of ground,
And made a garden there for those
Who want herbs for their wound. . . .

 

Thou art a day of mirth:
And where the weekdays trail on ground,
Thy flight is higher, as thy birth.
O let me take thee at the bound,
Leaping with thee from seven to seven,
Till that we both, being tossed from earth,
Fly hand in hand to heaven!

3. I liked Julie Hartman’s Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Harvard Students Are Covid Sheep.” (Hartman is a senior at the prestigious university.) FYI, by “liked,” I mean found interesting. Her words below intrigue (and sadden) me:

The administration has managed to implement all these measures without serious objection because of this hard truth: For most Harvard undergrads, our lives during Covid aren’t that different from the way they have always been. . . . To get into this university, we chose to detach ourselves from normal human experiences, neglecting our interests, hobbies, robust social lives—anything that couldn’t appear on a college application or be touted in an interview. Almost everything in life was subordinate to whatever was necessary to get into college. Once we arrived on campus, we certainly had more fun than we did in high school, but our tendency to conform hasn’t gone away, especially as we pursue our next goal, whether at Goldman Sachs or in graduate school. There is little difference between mask compliance and the grueling sports practices and marathon study sessions we did in high school. Covid restrictions are simply requirements we tolerate to attain the next credential. . . . Our life’s mission has been to please those who can grant or withhold approval: parents, teachers, coaches, admissions officers and job interviewers. As a result, many of us don’t know what we believe or what matters to us. . . . My peers and I are often told that we are the future leaders of America. We may be the future decision makers, but most of us aren’t leaders. Our principal concern is becoming members of the American elite, with whatever compromises, concessions and conformity that requires. The inability of Harvard students to question or oppose these irrational bureaucratic excesses bodes ill for our ability to meet future challenges.

Meditation on Psalm 46

Introduction
Plant this truth firmly in your mind and spend the rest of your life massaging it into your soul: “God comes to us in biblical words on which we are meant to stake our lives.”[1] That’s what we must do with the words of Psalm 46. Its uniting refrain, found in verses 7 and 11, declare the truth God aims to chisel deep into our hearts:

The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Reflection
Lay your eyes on verse 1. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Note: God doesn’t lead us to a place of refuge; God is our refuge. He himself is our support, and he is abundantly available and instantly present.

This is especially true when everything that once seemed solid in life begins to melt. That’s the point of the chaos depicted in verses 2 and 3. In contrast to the idyllic environment of Eden, the Psalmist sees mountains falling and trembling, the earth giving way and waters roaring and foaming—poetic allusions to natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and volcanic eruptions. It’s a picture of the undoing of God’s good creation.

With everything so out of control, we wonder: Is anyone in charge or are we at the mercy of the elements?

To human reason unhealed by divine grace, the world seems turbulent and threatening. But those living under the tutelage of Scripture see things differently. The weather is not sovereign. Politicians are not in control. Cultural and economic changes do not have the final say. Instead, God providentially rules over all things: “The doctrine of providence is not a philosophical system but a confession of faith, the confession that, notwithstanding appearances, neither Satan nor a human being nor any other creature, but God and he alone—his almighty and everywhere present power—preserves and governs all things.” [2]

Which is why by verse 10 the battle is over. God speaks: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” God’s effortless and tranquil reign is the soothing balm that quiets our fretful hearts.

Conclusion
Living on this side of the cross, we can join our voices with the saints of old and affirm the truth of Psalm 46. God is indeed with us. But there’s more: Our Immanuel came to dwell with us (Matt. 1:23; Jn. 1:14) and promised that the Holy Spirit would indwell us (John 14:16)—the down payment of our future inheritance (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14).

Just think:

“The time is coming when [God’s people] shall assuredly see Him; they shall see Him who is infinitely greater than all the kings of the earth; they shall see Him face to face, shall see as much of His glory and beauty as the eyes of our souls are capable of beholding. They shall not only see Him for a few moments or an hour, but they shall dwell in His presence, and shall sit down forever to drink in the rays of His glory. They shall see Him invested in all His majesty, with smiles of love in His countenance. They shall see Him and converse with Him as their nearest and best Friend.” [3]

May the aroma of Psalm 46 rub its scent into our bones and fill us with confidence as we walk by faith and look forward to the heavenly city that awaits us.

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and necessities, stretch forth your right hand to help and defend us; through Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer [1552])

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[1] Hans Boersma, Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2021), 64.

[2] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2, God and Creation, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 619.

[3] Jonathan Edwards, “The Pure in Heart Blessed,” in Altogether Lovely: Jonathan Edwards on the Glory and Excellency of Jesus Christ, ed. Don Kistler (Orlando, FL: Soli Deo Gloria, 1997), 177.

Three Things I Liked This Week

  1. I liked Charles Spurgeon’s evening devotional for February 16th.

2. I liked reading Hans Boersma‘s book Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew.

In his second chapter, provocatively titled, “No Plato, No Scripture,” he argues that readers cannot interpret the Bible without prior metaphysical commitments. Here’s his summary:

[W]hen we try to read Scripture apart from any metaphysical presuppositions whatsoever, our very attempt to exalt the Bible collapses in on itself. Faith isn’t meant to function without reason, and we shouldn’t attempt to do theology without philosophy. The isolation of Scripture vis-á-vis metaphysics is practically impossible: invariably it means the unwitting adoption of one metaphyic or another—most of the time one that assumes nominalist presuppositions since they make up the metaphysical air we breathe and make our own metaphysic without us even being aware of it. When we try to isolate Scripture from metaphysical presuppositions, we make it the unsuspecting victim of whatever philosophy happens to be prevalent. It seems more prudent to acknowledge the potential benefit of metaphysics and to ask which metaphysical account coheres with what we find in Scripture (136, emphasis mine).

For a good online resource, see Craig Carter‘s article, “Philosophy for Understanding Theology: The Metaphysics behind the Reformed Confessions,” and for a book length treatment, see Carter’s Contemplating God with the Great Tradition: Recovering Trinitarian Classical Theism. Perhaps the most invaluable resource, which might be difficult to track down, is Richard Muller‘s essay, “Incarnation, Immutability, and the Case for Classical Theism,” Westminster Theological Journal 45 (1983): 22–40. (If interested, email me and I’d be happy to scan it to you.)

Muller shows that John 1:14—specifically the words “And the Word became flesh”— requires a certain metaphysic. Does the word became indicate a change in God? Does the word became mean God is mutable? Muller demonstrates that exegesis won’t resolve the dilemma here. (As an aside, if you take the word became in verse 14 to mean that Christ added a human nature to his already divine nature, it shows that you’ve been catechized into and embraced the orthodox Christian faith as codified in the Council of Chalcedon in 451. See St. Cyril of Alexandria’s book On the Unity of Christ. Check out my summary below.*) Those who affirm divine immutability uphold the metaphysics of the Council of Nicaea (what Boersma and Carter call “Christian Platonism”), while those who deny divine immutability operate out of “post-Kantian metaphysics, specifically from Hegelian ontology” (Muller, 34). Neither Muller, nor Boersma, nor Carter assert that the church fathers swallowed Greek philosophical thought hook, line, and sinker. The fathers did no such thing. Supposing that they, and the classical Christian tradition more generally, borrowed from Greek philosophical thought uncritically betrays a lack of familiarity with both classical Christian theism and Greek philosophical thought.

The sources below have shaped my thinking significantly:

Janet Martin Soskice, “Naming God: A Study in Faith and Reason,” in Reason and the Reasons of Faith, eds. Paul J. Griffiths and Reinhard Hütter (New York: T&T Clark, 2005), Ch. 10.

 

Janet Martin Soskice, “Athens and Jerusalem, Alexandria and Edessa: Is There a Metaphysics of Scripture?” International Journal of Systematic Theology 8:2 (April 2006): 149–162.

 

Michael Allen, “Exodus 3 after the Hellenization Thesis,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 3:2 (2009): 179–196.

 

David Bentley Hart, “No Shadow of Turning: On Divine Impassibility,” Pro Ecclesia 11 (2002): 184–206.

 

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, Prolegomena, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 607–610.

 

For a helpful historical overview, see Robert Duncan Culver, Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical (Ross-shire: Mentor, 2013), 219–224.

3. I liked Al Mohler’s explanation and analysis of the Canadian truck driver protests. It’s a worth a listen. Also, if you’re in the mood for a laugh, read (or listen) to Doug Wilson’s blog, “Worser and Worser,” on the same topic. You may have heard that Juliette Kayyem, a professor at Harvard University, tweeted (and then deleted) her opinion on how to end the protests: “Slash the tires, empty gas tanks, arrest the drivers, and move the trucks.” I lol’d when I read Doug Wilson’s response: “when was the last time you saw so many leftist progressives so panicked over the workers of the world uniting? The memes almost write themselves.”

* St. Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of ChristThis book is Cyril’s (AD 378–444) response to Nestorius (AD 386–451), whose views were deemed heretical since they divided Christ into two persons—one human and another divine. In this brief reply, Cyril appeals both to Scripture as well as prior patristic writings in order to demonstrate how and why Nestorius’s views were not in line with historic Christianity. Nestorius’s blunder, in short, was the same as other heretics’: Trying to squeeze the triune God of Scripture into the confines of what his own logic could manage. As Cyril noted, however, the divinity and humanity of Christ come together in an “incomprehensible union without confusion or change” (77)—hence the phrase “Hypostatic Union.” In keeping with almost all theological disagreements, Cyril and Nestorius sparred over theological method as well as biblical interpretation (36–37). Whereas Nestorius appealed to logic and unaided human reason, Cyril countered by appealing to Scripture, arguing that human logic is no indicator of what a sovereign God can and will do (note how the Christian worldview has its own metaphysic). Further, while Nestorius appealed to Scripture to support his views of Christ (not unusual since every heretic cites Scripture), Cyril rebutted that he failed to properly locate the incarnation in the Trinity’s wider program of redemption. Briefly: While God cannot die, God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, who assumed a human nature could die. Still, even this requires careful reasoning, since it is the person of Christ who dies, not the divine nature. Christian orthodoxy holds that in the incarnation the eternal Son of God assumed into union with himself a human nature, not a human person (the latter is the heresy of adoptionism). Further clarifying matters, historic orthodoxy maintains that the Son and the assumed human nature are the same person, not two distinct people (as Nestorius’s views implied)This language employs the theological grammar established at Nicaea, where the distinction between natures and persons was hammered out on the anvil of controversy.

Three Things I Liked This Week

  1. I liked Ray Ortlund’s article, “‘One Anothers’ I Can’t Find in the New Testament.”

For example, sanctify one another, humble one another, scrutinize one another, pressure one another, embarrass one another, corner one another, interrupt one another, defeat one another, sacrifice one another, shame one another, marginalize one another, exclude one another, judge one another, run one another’s lives, confess one another’s sins . . . .

2. I liked Tim Keller’s explanation of 1 John 1:9—which reads, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”—“It doesn’t say that if we confess our sins, God forgives because he is merciful (though that is, of course, also true). It says he forgives when we confess because he is just. In other words, it would be unjust of God to deny us forgiveness because Jesus earned our acceptance. . . . He has taken the punishment and paid the debt for all our sins” (Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, 209).

3. I liked Al Mohler’s article, “Saving Evangelicalism?” which was a response to David Books’s New York Times essay, “The Dissenters Trying to Save Evangelicalism.” Even though Brooks is not an evangelical, his words are in line with evangelicalism’s self-appointed hall monitors—especially with those who identify as liberals or progressives. Whenever I read articles like this, I can’t help but think of Erick Erickson‘s words:

I firmly view a lot of it as tribal performance art for people, including a lot of Christians, who have defined their identities based on their online personas. I know a lot of people think they’re just holding each other to account, but I’ve never known someone to be effective at accountability by coming off with disdain for the person they want to hold accountable. . . . Maybe pray for each other more than you subtweet and write about each other.

Meditation on Psalm 27

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid? . . .

One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple (Psalm 27:1, 4).

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Introduction

What do you fear most? Saint Augustine (354–430) observed that most people fear pain, death, and the loss of loved ones.[1] We might easily add to that list. Which raises a question: Where can we turn during moments of panic?

In Psalm 27 God interposes himself between us and our deepest fears and provides us the path to inner tranquility. We learn that it’s not found by denying reality, but by lifting our gaze heavenward, prizing our communion with God, and relying on his promises.

Reflection

David is honest about what he’s facing. Evildoers, adversaries, and foes surround him (vv. 2, 6, 12). False witnesses “breath out violence” against him (v. 12). Undoubtedly, the threats and snide remarks of his enemies play on repeat in his mind. All the “what ifs” are paralyzing. He must feel like he’s hanging on by a spider-web-thin thread.

His response is instructive. Rather than trying to control his circumstances, he enjoys intimate fellowship with God (vv. 4–13). But he does more than plead for God’s intervention (vv. 7–12); he prizes communion with God (v. 4). The “one thing” he asked of the Lord was not protection from his enemies or a military victory, but to dwell in God’s presence and “gaze” upon the Lord’s beauty. To “gaze” means to admire and enjoy with sustained focus.[2]

David’s singular petition unveils the reason for his confidence. His enemies cannot touch his greatest treasure: God. David would heartily agree with Justin Martyr’s (100–165) response to his persecutors: “You can kill us, but cannot do us any real harm.”[3]

His confidence reaches a crescendo in verse 13: “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!” God will deliver his people—either from death or by death. Either way, he brings his children into “the land of the happy life.”[4]

Conclusion

Life in a sin-drenched world is far from safe. It’s blanketed by losses, betrayals, tripwires, and a stalking adversary (1 Pet. 5:8). But God . . . God has claimed us as his own. More than that, he controls all things and providentially orders everything to his intended end.

We can trust him because his grace and mercy are visibly embodied in the greater David—his Son, Jesus Christ. The One whose face David longed to see (Ps. 27:8) came in human form. He lived for us, died for us, rose again on our behalf, and intercedes for us now. Run to him. Trust him. Love him.

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[1] Augustine, Soliloquies, trans. Kim Paffenroth, ed. John E. Rotelle (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2000), 36.

[2] Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms (New York: Viking, 2015), 49.

[3] Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin, the Martyr,” in Early Christian Fathers, trans. and ed. Cyril C. Richardson (New York: Touchstone, Simon &Schuster, 1996), 243.

[4] Augustine, The Happy Life, in Trilogy on Faith and Happiness, trans. Roland J. Teske, Michael G. Campbell, and Ray Kearney, ed. Boniface Ramsey (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2010), 26.