The Chair and the Desk, 4/14/16

From the chair:

“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.” 

-1 Corinthians 3:18

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I probably should not have checked my email first thing. I was frustrated by a couple things that are in the works, and they weighed on my mind through reading the Psalms, through making coffee, through eating Honey Bunches of Oats. It wasn’t until this sentence, in the last paragraph of my last passage for the morning that something broke through to me and said, “Snap out of it.”

Now, I’ve done nothing to address the situation, so in a sense I’m still frustrated, but the heat of my frustration came from my assurance that I am the wise one here. I’m the one who understands. I’m the one who cares. I’m the one who knows what to do. I’m the wise one here. This passage reminded me that even if I’m “right,” with that attitude, I’m wrong. I might have a good plan, but I’m not the only one who understands, cares, and knows what to do. If I think I’m the greatest thing on two legs, I am, invariably, mistaken. Until I get over myself, I’m going to keep bumbling around all wrong, upset and inflated.

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”


From the desk:

“Here, I think, we are touching on one of the forms—perhaps we should call them habits—one of the most harmful habits in contemporary thought, in modern thought even; at any rate, in post-Hegelian thought: the analysis of the present as being precisely, in history, a present of rupture, or of high point, or of completion or of a returning dawn, etc. The solemnity with which everyone who engages in philosophical discourse reflects on his own time strikes me as a flaw. I can say so all the more firmly since it is something I have done myself; and since, in someone like Nietzsche, we find the incessantly—or, at least, insistently enough. I think we should have the modesty to say to ourselves that, on the one hand, the time we live in is not the unique or fundamental or irruptive point in history where everything is completed and begun again. We must also have the modesty to say, on the other hand, that—even without this solemnity—the time we live in is very interesting; it needs to be analyzed and broken down, and that we would do well to ask ourselves, ‘What is the nature of our present?’ I wonder if one of the great roles of philosophical thought since the Kantian ‘Was ist Aufklärung?’ might not be characterized by saying that the task of philosophy is to describe the nature of the present, and of ‘ourselves in the present.’ With the proviso that we do not allow ourselves the facile, rather theatrical declaration that this moment in which we exist is one of total perdition, in the abyss of darkness, or a triumphant daybreak, etc. It is a time like any other, or rather, a time which is never quite like any other.”

-Michel Foucalt, “Critical Theory/Intellectual History” in Critique and Power (ed. Michael Kelly, MIT, 1995), p.126


“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, 4/12/16

From the chair:

 “But, as it is written, 
        ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, 
        nor the heart of man imagined, 
        what God has prepared for those who love him’— 
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

-1 Corinthians 2:9-13

Every time I read this passage, I’m challenged as a scholar. It seems to say that certain essential truths at the world are beyond the limits of human reason, as if human reason were a good car with a full tank of gas that could go far but what we need to know is on the other side of the moon. We need to know a hope beyond ourselves, and we cannot get beyond ourselves. We are ourselves.

That’s why the hope has come to us. That car will never get itself to the other side of the moon, but depending on what it is on the other side of the moon we need to know, perhaps it would come to us. In fact, he has come to us, in Jesus Christ.

“‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?”‘ (that is, to bring Christ down) ‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?”‘ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:6-10)


From the desk:

Barth’s thoughts on the above passage (maybe my paper will focus on this instead):

“To the image of God in man which was lost in Adam but restored in Christ there also belongs the fact that man can hear God’s Word. Only as the Word of God is really spoken in spite of his sin and to his sin, only in the grace with which God replies to sin, can this possibility revive. But in grace it does revive: not, then, as a natural capacity in man—it is grace after all that comes to sinners, to incapable men—but as a capacity of the incapable, as a miracle that cannot be interpreted anthropologically, nevertheless as a real capacity which is already actualized in faith, regarding whose existence there is no further room for discussion, whose existence can only be stated, since in becoming an event it already showed itself to be a possibility even before any question about it could arise.”

-Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/1, p.231 (T&T Clark, 1975 ed.)


“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, 4/11/16

From the chair:

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

-1 Corinthians 1:18

If you have the luxury of time to think, you may often encounter doubt about Christian faith. I know I do. It’s not that I consider the Gospel unreasonable–I find it reasonable, and, in fact, supported by strong evidence–it’s that plenty of smart, impressive people have found Christian faith unconvincing over the last two millennia. Sometimes that intimidates me.

I find it reassuring when smart (and, honestly, “impressive”) Christians show their awareness of–and address–these causes for doubt. G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Tim Keller’s The Reason for God, these have all encouraged me over the years.

However, my deepest encouragement comes from Scripture itself. I am always heartened to hear that 1 Corinthians knows full well that smart, impressive people will call the Gospel foolish. Sure, it’s “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” In the face of such plurality, the real test is not whether everyone will find anything convincing, because there is nothing that everyone believes. We don’t have a perfect test. Instead, we have a voice, crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” There is no reason to preclude the possibility that God really is the one who has sent this messenger, and if God really is the one who has sent this messenger, then we have every reason to hope in his glorious future.


From the desk:

“We may have thought that ‘to be a Christian’ along with other existential possibilities that Kierkegaard has poetically presented, demands inward action on our part. But in the end, the faith demanded to be a Christian is not what it appears to be, it is not something of our own doing. Only those ‘kept alive in a state of death’ are ‘ripe for Eternity,’ only they—and this is the dos incomprehensible of all human paradoxes—are prepared to be saved by God’s grace.”

-Richard Bernstein, Praxis and Action, p.122

This quote fascinates me because Bernstein is not writing as a Christian theologian. In fact, it would surprise me if he knows just how “biblical” his language sounds; perhaps it comes to him through Kierkegaard. I suspect that this project from Kierkegaard has something to do with the 1 Corinthians passage, above. I suspect that 1 Corinthians 1 and 15 (“if Christ has not been raised, we are of all people most to be pitied”) and other passages have something to do with this Kierkegaardian project. I’m not sure, but I just checked out a bunch of books, I have one paper left to write, and I aim to find out.


“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, 4/8/16

From the chair:

“When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.”

-1 Samuel 5:1-5

I’ve always loved this story, because it declares that God can take care of himself. Now, does God live in the box, have the Philistines really captured him? Of course not. But the Philistines think so, and God chooses to make sure the Philistines know that he is the true God.

The Israelites, on the other hand, have some figuring out to do. They shouldn’t have carried the ark into battle, and they shouldn’t let it go. As far as we can tell, they seem to have given up on the ark, and that was a bad call too. God does not need them to rescue him, but they need him to rescue them from the disobedience they’re tumbling into.

In a world hostile to God, it’s good for us to remember that God can take care of himself. He doesn’t need us to defend or rescue him. Yet, that doesn’t mean that should leave God to himself, because we need him. We’re the ones who need defending and saving, so we have every reason to stay close to God, in both obedience and love, that the power of God might deliver us.


From the desk:

I had some busy work to do this afternoon, so I popped in a Tim Keller sermon. I have to say, these essential truths of the gospel are the best thing I encountered all day:

http://www.gospelinlife.com/sermons/the-centrality-of-the-gospel-9152


“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, 4/7/16

From the chair:

“I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.” 

-Romans 15:30-33

I must confess, I sometimes get annoyed with prayer requests. The side of it I’m at peace with is the side of my that gets annoyed with “prayer requests” that aren’t really related to prayer (certainly not “striving together in prayer”) but rather are just excuses to say things. I don’t mind listening to people; I just don’t like calling it a prayer request when we’re focused on ourselves and not God’s purposes, God’s power, God.

Yet, the other side of it, the more problematic side of my own annoyance, is that I’m often the one focused merely on myself and not on God. I get annoyed with the people who genuinely are striving in prayer and asking me to join them before God. I think it’s because my faith in myself is too big–I spend a lot more time figuring out how I’m going to accomplish my own plans than asking God to work out his own will. I think it’s also because my faith in God is too small, and each day I forget the power and joy and necessity of prayer.

With all that in mind, it’s probably best to beat back all the annoyance. I don’t know who is really talking about prayer and who isn’t. I don’t know who prays and who doesn’t. I don’t know people’s motives. I do know that when people ask for prayer, they are revealing some need or desire or something off in their lives, and I do know that God is the one who can address those things.

The apostle Paul was one of those people who was not afraid to ask for prayer; he was also one of those people who prayed. God did great things through him, in fact, through his prayers. It’s probably too late for me to learn Mandarin or how to be a surgeon or complex math…but it’s not too late for me to learn to strive in prayer and to strive together with sisters and brothers in Christ.


From the desk:

“For my part, it has struck me that I might have seemed a bit like a whale that leaps to the surface of the water disturbing it momentarily with a  tiny jet of spray, and lets it be believed, or pretends to believe, or want to believe, or himself does in fact indeed believe, that down in the depths where no one sees him any more, where he is no longer witnessed nor controlled by anyone, he follows a more profound, coherent and reasoned trajectory.” 

-Michael Foucault, “Two Lectures” in Michael Kelly, Critique and Power, p.18

I appreciate Foucault’s honesty here, especially as I turn to writing for the next few weeks and share his concern. The fact that he can express this concern so much more elegantly should perhaps concern me, but I persist in hope.


“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, 4/6/16

From the chair:

“I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” 

-Romans 15:14-16

It’s often nerve-wracking to have to “speak boldly” as a Christian leader. As I read this section in Romans this morning, I was struck by several things that Paul is clear about when he has to do so:

  • “I myself am satisfied about you…that you yourselves are full of goodness”–he is ready to believe good things about them, even amid these concerns
  • “filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another”–he doesn’t think he’s the only one who has important insight, even though he has something important to say
  • “my brothers”–he considers them brothers and sisters, a relationship of equality and affection
  • “by way of reminder”–he takes into account what they already know, and in this sense gives them the benefit of the doubt
  • “because of the grace given me by God”–he does not speak from entitlement; he recognizes that this insight and authority are only gifts to be stewarded
  • “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God”–he makes sure his responsibility before God is what motivates him to say it
  • “so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable”–his focus is not on getting it off his chest but on helping the hearers actually become godly
  • “sanctified by the Holy Spirit”–he recognizes that only God the Spirit can make any of us godly, and does all this in His power

From the desk:

“…there are signs that philosophers are discovering what Dewey articulated so well. Philosophy isolated from the rest of life can become sterile. When philosophers deal exclusively with the problems of philosophers they can lose contact with the problems of men.” 

-Richard Bernstein, Praxis and Action, p.202

This is certainly true in philosophy, and I need to keep thinking about a paper for this practical reason class that is both philosophically rigorous and relevant to the “problems of men.” Yet, it’s also true of homiletics. Our field, in particular, should not just read to write and write to publish and publish to have a comfortable life. We need to keep in mind real sermons from real preachers, to serve the Church, to serve God.


“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, 4/5/16

From the chair:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

-Romans 15:13

I find this to be a beautiful and comprehensive prayer, that really fits anyone in any time and place. It was my prayer for you all, readers (some by name, those and I know, and those of whom I do not know, too), and a prayer I would always ask anyone to pray for me. May be filled with faith in the God who gives joy, peace, and hope.


From the desk:

“The fallibility of all knowledge is not a sign of its deficiency but rather an essential characteristic of knowledge, for every knowledge claim is part of a system of signs that is open to further interpretation and has consequences that are to be publicly tested and confirmed.” 

-Richard Bernstein describing Charles Peirce’s thought in Praxis and Action, p.176

On the one hand, Peirce admits that knowledge is fallible: It’s open to being publicly tested and confirmed. That’s true. I appreciate that. On the other, he argues that this is a “not a sign of its deficiency but rather an essential characteristic of knowledge.” This is important. I appreciate this more.

“Yeah, but how do you know?” is a poor critique of a claim. It might be part of a critique of a claim, but it’s more productive to say, “I disagree. I think it is actually this way because of such and such.” To only ask “but how do you know?” is mere skepticism. It’s ancient. It led nowhere, except perhaps to nihilism. “Yes, but how do you know?” is not a useless question, but it is a meager question in isolation. My answer will not soar above fallibility. It will have its own weaknesses, but what are you posing as an alternative? What we have are not merely true and false ideas. We have ideas in competition with one another.

My claim is that everything is grounded in the promise, incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, pentecost, and immanent return of Jesus Christ.


“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, 4/4/16

From the chair:

“Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, because I have a Levite as a priest.'”

-Judges 17:13

This is one of the stranger stories in the Bible. I don’t understand what Micah is thinking, and I don’t think Micah does either. Confusion dominates the episode, with Micah asking the Levite to be “as a Father” but the Levite living with him as “one of his sons.” The Danites come by and think this homemade “carved image” is a good deal, as is the household priest, so they steal both. The priest doesn’t complain: “‘Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?’ And the priest’s heart was glad. He took the ephod and the household gods and the carved image and went along with the people” (18:19-20).

This story doesn’t make sense because all of the characters make the wrong call. Micah and his mother don’t know what they’re doing, the Danites just compound the problem, the Levite goes along with a entirely foolish plan. God didn’t command any of this. In fact, God commanded something different, and everyone seems to be trying to make God’s way easier, better or both.

The problem is, God’s not a wizard. If you steal a wizard’s invisibility cloak, you might get to turn invisible. If you use it to steal a jedi’s lightsaber, you now have an invisibility cloak and a stylish deadly weapon. You can take magic things from the magician. But God is God. Levites aren’t magic, the sacrifices aren’t magic; they’re only means of relating with and obeying and honoring and pleasing God who is God. This is why it’s foolish to wear a crystal and a cross necklace, hoping to hedge one’s bets or double up on spiritual bonuses.

There’s just God, saying, “Do you want to know me? Because I want to know you. I’ve come to you in Jesus Christ, come to me in faith. My Spirit will abide in you if you will abide in me.” It’s a wonderful, merciful, all-or-nothing offer, like a marriage–but one in which the God of all that is says, “I will be yours, if you will be mine; if I will be yours, you will be mine.”


From the desk:

Writing season–nothing quotable from the desk today, but it’s getting there.


 

“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, 4/1/16

From the chair:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

-Romans 12:14-21

The presidential election makes for a contentious season, and as I read Romans 12 this morning I was reminded that God’s people are called to interact with their enemies in a markedly different way. I’m not saying, “It’s just politics, people.” No, political decisions are often ethical decisions, important ones. Romans 12 is honest about the fact that the disagreements in view are serious stuff–if not sharp interpersonal conflicts, at least people who the readers would consider worthy of divine judgment.

This divine judgment is not something we should just read over in the text. In fact, it appears to theologically anchor the ethical exhortations: We can bless those who curse, repay evil with good, forego vengeance, and feed our enemies, not because we no longer believe in good and evil, but because we leave it up to God. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” That’s a chilling thought, one that should give us pause, take the edge off of our temper, take the urgency out of our self-justification.

Christians can live at peace with all as far as its up to us, not because we don’t have feelings or convictions or grievances, but because we trust the wisdom and love and wrath of God to set all things right, all things just as they should be, in the end.

From the desk:

“Most people who insist on God’s ‘nonviolence’ cannot resist using violence themselves (or tacitly sanctioning its use by others). They deem the talk of God’s judgment irreverent, but think nothing of entrusting judgment into human hands, persuaded presumably that this is less dangerous and more humane than to believe in a God who judges! That we should bring ‘down the powerful from their thrones’ (Luke 1:51-52) seems responsible; that God should do the same, as the song of that revolutionary Virgin explicitly states, seems crude. And so violence thrives, secretly nourished by belief in a God who refuses to wield the sword.”

-Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, p.303


“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.