The Chair and the Desk, 11/10/15

From the chair:

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, 
you preserve my life; 
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, 
and your right hand delivers me. 
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; 
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. 
Do not forsake the work of your hands. 

-Psalm 138:7-8

“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.” Even though I don’t know what that is (or whether I’ll like it), I find great peace in this prayer, because God is trustworthy. His steadfast love endures forever. What can we do–what would we want to do–but cry out, “Do not forsake the work of your hands”?


From the desk:

“Beyond the desert of criticism we wish to be called again.”

-Paul Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil, qtd. in David Jasper, Short Introduction to Hermeneutics, p.190

This might be my favorite non-Scriptural quote from the M.Div. at GCTS. I find myself quoting it (to others, sometimes to myself) week after week. Yes, as thinking people, we must walk through the desert of criticism. We must consider the challenges raised against God, our faith, the Bible, the Church. Yet, we deeply long to be called to other side, and I believe there is another side. There is something that’s not desert on the other side of criticism, and it’s a much better place to make a home.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 11/9/15

From the chair:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! 
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; 
you discern my thoughts from afar. 
You search out my path and my lying down 
and are acquainted with all my ways. 
Even before a word is on my tongue, 
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. 

-Psalm 139:1-4

God knows. I find peace in this truth that I find nowhere else. We do not yet know what will become of us, of our present circumstances, of our world. Yet, we know a good and powerful God who knows everything about us, not to mention everything about everything we know nothing about.


From the desk:

“To say that language limits our knowledge of reality because it is historically bounded and culturally particular is like saying water limits our ability to water ski because we cannot also water ski on land or in the air or anywhere we please. To bemoan the somewhat-constraining-precisely-because-it-is-powerfully-enabling nature of language is like deciding ever to own and drive a car because sometimes cars break down.”

-Christian Smith, What is a Person?, p.173

Most people would probably be surprised to find how many academics suggest that we can’t know anything. If we can’t know anything, why spend all day reading and writing? That is an excellent–and as far as I can tell, unanswerable–question. The argument often goes like this: Language is an arbitrary human invention, we can only speak in language, we can only think in language, therefore can’t really know anything (the fact that there are multiple languages and innumerable people using each language in innumerable ways is often made to suggest that we can’t really understand each other either). Smith opposes this idea, arguing for something called “critical realism,”* and I think he does this well.

* “Critical” suggests that it still listens to all the research and thinking out there, i.e., it’s not ignorant, and it recognizes that we can only know imperfectly. “Realism” contends that there is a real world out there, independent of our ability to know it, that we can really know about (if imperfectly).


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 10/5/15

From the chair:

I find myself once again in need of this warning story that Jesus told:

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ” 

-Luke 16:19-31


From the desk:

“In virtue of [the Church’s] proclamation of a general, timeless, neutral and blunted instead of concrete truth, it might still claim and even to some degree enjoy a certain validity in the eyes of men as one of the constructs and forces of world-occurrence. In this way it might make it easier for the world to recognize and tolerate if not to accept itself and its function. For what particular objection can the world have to a Church which understands and discharges its task in so innocuous a way? Its contradiction and opposition will usually be directed only against a community which brings out the concrete relevance of the Gospel. But if the Church does in fact make itself invisible, and the Gospel is being made or has already been made timeless and irrelevant on its lips, it has to realize that it has forfeited its own true right to exist, that it cannot expect any serious respect on the part of the world, that it cannot be sure of its own cause in face of it, and above all that its vitally necessary connexion with its Lord has been hopelessly broken. As salt which has lost its savor (Mt. 5:13), it is good for nothing be to be cast out and trodden under foot of men.”

-Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/3/2, T&T Clark study ed., p. 816

It’s scary to be specific, to say what we mean, to “speak truth to power,” but our Lord has called us, and he is our Lord, so we must speak with bold specificity to the world in which he has put us.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 10/4/15

From the chair:

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

-Titus 3:1-7

This summer, I thought a lot about my typical defensive mechanism for entering into new and unfamiliar theological and philosophical conversations. I have commitments I don’t want to lose sight of. However, afraid that I will, my natural response is to puff up my chest and say, “well at least I’m brave enough to believe ______; I’m glad I have to courage to say _______.” As this text from Titus reveals, that kind of ungodly arrogance is an inappropriate way to try to grasp after godly faith. Our hope is not in ourselves, but in “the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior.”


From the desk:

“The fundamental requirement of the Christian leader is not a knowledge of where the stream of popular opinion is flowing but a knowledge of where the stream of God’s truth lies.

-David Wells, No Place for Truth, 1993 ed., p.215

This afternoon, I went back through my notes from Wells’ book, because his reflection on theological institutions has been a crucial grounding influence for me over the past year. I love this reminder that one can never quite achieve “well-read” status, and that delaying the search for God himself, for truth, until one arrives there simply assures one never will.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 10/3/15

From the chair:

“11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

-Titus 2:11-14

God’s grace has appeared, is training us to be his people, and will appear in glory–that is not just my hope and joy for me but our hope and joy for us: God’s people.


From the desk theater:

“Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet. 
Mine and my father’s death come not upon thee, 
Nor thine on me!”

-Laertes, Hamlet, V,2,3985

The characters in Hamlet express some strange soteriology, focused on what one is doing when one dies, whether one is confessed, and suggesting “mortal” sins. Some of that may well be at work here in Laertes’ dying words. However, there’s also also a brief sun break of hope, even amongst the wreckage of death in Act V. “Exchange forgiveness with me.” We will forever be caught in cycles of blame and arrogance, violence and retaliation, war and atrocity, until we learn to say these words more deeply and more often than we have thus far.

Thankfully, in Christ, God himself has broken in and started a new cycle: “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13).

P.S. If there are any remaining broadcasts of Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet at a theater in your area, I recommend it! I’d never seen it before, but the case brought the 400-year-old lines to life for me, and it made me want to see more Shakespeare.  http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/ntlout10-hamlet 


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 11/2/15

From the chair:

12 He said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.'”

-Luke 14:12-14

A few weeks ago, we were up in Boston, visiting friends and our old congregation, and the pastor said something to the effect of: If you’re looking for friends, stop looking for friends; look for people you can love. At the time, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, thinking, We’re totally new and I’m not even sure how to love. This morning, this verse reminded me that I can’t stay there. Perhaps being new in this area gives me rare social freedom to try to be more faithful to this direction from Jesus than I have been in the past.


From the desk:

“If there exists a reality independent of us—so that its existence is prior to our recognition or acceptance of that reality—then we are obligated to respond to that reality, offering as best an account of it as we can. While fully conceding that theological formulations are incapable of capturing the fullness of the divine realities, such an approach to theology will insist that there are such divine realities, and that a scientific theology represents a principled attempt to describe and comprehend them under the limiting conditions that are imposed upon humanity by virtue of our created character and fallen nature.”

-Alister McGrath, A Scientific Theology, vol. 2: Reality, 2003 ed., pp.228-229

As theologians, I believe that the God who created us and our world presses an ethical responsibility on us: Not just to suppose for the sake of supposing, but to think earnestly after truth. McGrath’s chapter on critical realism made this point better than I could, and it refreshed my spirit as I head into the final stretch of my first semester! Soli Deo gloria


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.