Thursday, February 25, 2016

Change for change's sake

What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And’. You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.

The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart—an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual year; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before.

C S Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters (for those who don't know the book, it's 'written' by an arch-devil to his apprentice, and so things are twisted to seem to be the reverse of the truth; the 'Enemy' is God himself.)

The irrepressible Dale Ralph Davis

A few extracts from Dale Ralph Davis' commentary on Joshua: No Falling Words. 

I do not want to get caught in soupy spiritualization here. However, it may be proper to point out that this remains one of God's patterns with his people. God's power still works among us (cf. Phil 2:13), not necessarily in quick flashes but over a long time, which calls for simple, durable fidelity over such time. Even though God is at work, many days still consist of washing your face, brushing your teeth, taking out garbage, and attending class. That is why 'you have need of endurance.' (Heb 10:36) Page 100. 

In verses 10-11 [of chapter 14] Caleb reveals the perspective of faith: 'And now, look how Yahweh has kept me alive, as he promises, these forty-five years...and now look how I am today eighty-five years old, yet I remain as strong today as the day when Moses sent me off; my strength is the same now as then for war and for going out and coming in.' This is the way of biblical faith - it remembers what Yahweh has done, and remembers in gratitude. So Caleb, as he builds to his punchline in verse
12, remembers Yahweh's goodness to date. Yahweh had kept him alive through the last forty-five years, (cf. Psalm 33:18-19). This was no small bounty, since it was through war and wilderness. And Yahweh was still blessing him with strength and stamina, old as he was. This is the way faith looks at things: faith is always looking into the past, seeing God's goodness there, dragging it into the present, pondering it, praising for it, and so going on from strength to strength. The perspective of faith takes in God's goodness, responds in gratitude, and finds grace for God's next call. Pages 118-9

The God of the Bible tends to be concrete, his gifts tangible and visible. The inheritance he bequeaths is not an idea but boundaries, not thoughts but towns; in a word, real estate. Yahweh has always been this way - and his enfleshment is the great witness to the fact (John 1: 1, 14). We western Christians probably need to get a hard grip on this; we need to rediscover the earthiness of God. We must realize that even enjoying the grand act of the kingdom of God will not mean floating as a beeping soul in some sort of spiritual ether but walking around with a resurrection body in new heavens and a new earth (cf. Isaiah 65-66, Rev 21-22).
So perhaps we can say that Israel's concrete and tangible inheritance in Canaan is a foreshadowing of our own. Our full possession is in new heavens and a new earth, not in some earthless, fleshless void. Our full expectation ought not to be in dying and going to heaven, as the usual cliche has it. The New Testament language is that believers, when they die, are 'with the Lord'. But the New Testament always lifts our eyes and fixes our minds upon the fullness of our hope, the redemption of our bodies on resurrection day at the return of our Lord. Pages 125-7

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Being blameless

From the commentary by James Burton Coffman, on Psalm 18:20-24:

We do not believe that David, in any sense whatever, was here claiming to be absolutely perfect and sinless in the sight of God, but that he had been forgiven of all sins he had committed and that, at the moment of his deliverance, he was "clean" in "God's eyesight" (Psalms 18:24). Of course, all forgiveness during the dispensation of the Mosaic Covenant was dependent, in the final analysis, upon the ultimate sacrifice of the Christ upon Calvary. However, in the practical sense, "God passed over the sins done aforetime" (Romans 3:25), and that was the practical equivalent of divine forgiveness.

The explanation we have offered here is the only way we are able to think of David as "clean," "perfect," "righteous," and the keeper of" all God's ordinances." Of course, if the words are understood as descriptive of the "Son of David," even the Christ, then there is no problem.
Addis, rejecting the Davidic authorship of this psalm, did so, partially, upon the grounds that David could not possibly have described himself as one "Who kept the ways of Jehovah," However, we believe that Addis misunderstood what that verse really means. Rawlinson has the following very enlightening comment on that passage: "I have kept the ways of the Lord." The parallel line here is, "And have not wickedly departed from my God." "Departed wickedly" implies willful and persistent wickedness, an entire alienation from God. Not even in the humblest of the penitential psalms, in which David bewails his offenses against God, does he use such terms as `departed wickedly' concerning himself.

This means that in all the protestations of David here to the effect that he is clean in the sight of God, there is not a claim of never having done anything sinful, but a claim, which was true, that he had never "wickedly departed from his God," nor renounced his allegiance to the Lord. This is a very important distinction.

In the lives of two of Jesus' apostles, we find the distinction exemplified. (1) Judas "wickedly departed" from Christ, being terminally alienated from Him. (2) Peter, who shamefully and profanely denied the Lord, nevertheless, did not forsake Him, did not "wickedly depart" from Him; and, consequently was permitted to continue, after his repentance, as a faithful apostle.

The great consolation for Christians in these observations is that "Not even gross sins can prevent their ultimate and final salvation," provided only that they do not "wickedly depart" from the Lord, but repent of their lapses and forsake him not.

"I was also perfect with him" (Psalms 18:23). Leupold called attention to the fact that this should have been translated, "And so I was blameless (or perfect), etc."Also, in the very next verse, the text should read, "And so the Lord requited me." This has the effect of indicating that, therefore, David was blameless; therefore, the Lord recompensed him as perfectly clean and righteous. In other words, it was because David had never in any sense whatever "wickedly departed from God," but had clung to him even in the face of shameful sins and mistakes, God requited him on the basis of his fundamental love of God, and not upon the basis of human sins and mistakes of which he was most certainly guilty.

"I kept myself from mine iniquity." "It appears here that David had an inclination to some particular form of sin, against which he was continually on guard. We have no way of determining just what that sin was."

A fact not often stressed is that any Christian still in fellowship with the Lord may say anything that the psalmist here has said of himself. How so? "That I may present every man PERFECT in Christ" (Colossians 1:28). How wonderful, how glorious, how absolutely precious above everything else is the privilege of being "perfect" in Christ Jesus, as David claimed in these passages! Perhaps we should be a little more eager in our stress of this magnificent truth. But, don't Christians make mistakes, and sin? Indeed yes; but, "If we walk in the Light as he is in the Light, then we have fellowship one with another; and the blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). The present participle "cleanseth" is an indication that the cleansing is constant, continual, and never-failing, thus keeping the child of God in a state of holy perfection.

The way in which all of this is deployed upon the sacred page is a providential arrangement designed to constitute also a prophetic indication of the absolute and genuine perfection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.


From Dale Ralph Davis' book on 2 Samuel, Out of Every Adversity, page 238-240., focusing on the parallel verses in chapter 22:

David makes some readers nervous as he continues:
Yahweh requites me as I act justly,as my hands are pure so he repays me (v 21, Jerusalem Bible)
Is David in verses 21-25 dragging in a Santa Claus theology of works-righteousness? Does he claim too much for himself? Has he become blind to his sinfulness? Or do these words reflect a self-righteous attitude and a weakening of the sense of sin? These verses baffle thoughtful believers: how can David who had Uriah's blood on his hands and Uriah's wife in his bed even dream of saying anything like verses 21-25?

...In verse 22 David maintains, 'I have kept the ways of Yahweh, and I have not acted wickedly in departing from my God.' That can hardly be pressed as a claim to perfection. What he does claim, especially in the second half of the verse, is a general, overall fidelity to Yahweh. He has not, after all, committed apostasy, not turned his back on Yahweh. ('Though he had sometimes weakly departed from his duty, he had never wickedly departed from his God.' Matthew Henry...)

Verse 23 is another general statement: Yahweh's ordinances are 'before' David and he does not turn away from Yahweh's decrees. Then, it seems to me, in verse 24 David interprets all this. 'So I proved wholehearted towards him.' The Hebrew [word] does not claim perfection in life's particulars but wholeheartedness in life's commitment, Then note verse 24b: 'And I kept myself from iniquity.' He knows his nature, his tendencies. He has, however, guarded himself from giving way and giving in to the pull of his iniquity.

When David speaks of his righteousness and purity he does not point to sinless perfection but life direction; he is not sporting a pharisaical pride over errorless obedience but expressing a faithful loyalty via consistent obedience. All this is important, for it is such faithful, wholehearted (though afflicted) servants that Yahweh delights to rescue and who can then revel in the power and safety that Yahweh has provided.

The teaching of verses 21-31 is not some strange new wrinkle on your Bible page. It's been there all along. It is mainstream doctrine. Those who faithfully follow Yahweh and esteem his word by obeying it are those who can expect his blessing; those who don't can't. One can catch the flip side of 2 Samuel 22:21-31 in Judges 10: 6-14, Psalm 50: 16-23, or Jeremiah 2: 26-29. Why should those who reject Yahweh's lordship and despise his law (and therefore despise him) expect his rescue? Such folks have no ongoing commitment to Yahweh, only a temporary need for him. They no covenant relation with Yahweh; they only crave his prostituting himself for their immediate crisis. They do not seek God but a bomb shelter.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Science, in spite of...

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfil many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. 

Richard Lewontin, in a review of Carl Sagan's The Demon-haunted World: Science as a candle in the dark, published in the New York Review of Books, Jan 9th, 1997.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

No Falling Words

Dale Ralph Davis in the Preface to his commentary on Joshua, No Falling Words.

My purpose has been to provide a model of what a pastor can do in biblical study if he will sweat over the Hebrew text and assume that the text as we have it was meant to be bread from God for his people. My conviction is that if one is willing to keep his Hebrew Bible before his eyes, a congregation of God’s people next to his heart, and the struggle of hermeneutics (i.e., what does this writer intend to proclaim to God’s people in his time, and how do I faithfully hold to that intention and helpfully apply that text to God’s contemporary flock?) in his mind, he will have manna to set before God’s hungering people.

Clearly, I think commentaries should be written from this conviction and after this pattern. I never felt I could expect my college or seminary students to warm to the Old Testament unless they sensed it nurturing them as they heard it taught. (Why should not the Spirit be at work in our classrooms?) But if once they felt the fire of the Old Testament text ˗ well, then, the Old Testament becomes a new book to them! Certainly, all the technical matters (linguistic, archaeological, critical) are in order; but we must bring the fragments together in an expository treatment that is not ashamed to stoop to the level of application.

 In recent years, evangelicals have made much of the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture. Rightly so. But three “i’s” is not enough. We must push the “instruct-ability” of Scripture. The apostle was surely completely sober when he wrote that the Old Testament is “profitable” (2 Tim.3:16). We must demonstrate that. If the church is to recover the Old Testament, our expositions of it must show that, without torturing or twisting, it speaks for the comfort and correction of the saints.

 I trust No Falling Words approximates such standards. The title comes from Joshua 21:43-45, the sheet anchor of the book (precisely, from v.45; see also 23:14). There were no falling words among the ancient Genesis promises; no falling words means no failing words. I trust readers will find the same ˗ that God’s promise contains no falling words, only standing ones, upon which we, too, can stand.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Betwixt and between

I often tell my children that one of the main reasons we go to church is so that we can learn and practice loving people that we don’t really like that much – people who irritate us, people who we find odd and who we’d never be seen dead with otherwise, people who frustrate us and hurt us and disappoint us. We belong to the church because that is how we hope to learn the truth that is required for our being truthful about ourselves and about one another. What is the Christian community if it is not a unique training ground for learning the lessons of being the kind of community that God intends for all humanity – for learning that to be truly human is to belong to and to relate to and to do life with those who are other than ourselves, those whom God has joined together?

And so we eat and drink – not only with friends, but also with strangers, with enemies and with betrayers … and with our own inner demons. For that is the context in which Christ makes himself available to us.

From Living betwixt and between muddle and ambiguity, blog post by Jason Goroncy, 3rd Feb, 2016.