Lots to ponder here. I tend to agree with the barb about 50 Shades. There is something about the curse associated with the fall that perverts our desires, which renders the case made above for Schizoanalysis off track. Psychoanalysis is more on track, but is confused about what constitutes “normal” because it doesn’t take into account the original creation and the perverting effects of the fall. In the end, there is a case to be made for our desires for fascism. We want to be controlled, but fail to choose the right Lord for our lives.
Yesterday, an article of mine posted over at Christ and Pop Culture:
Over time, my taste for metal hasn’t really mellowed. It’s continued to expand and grow more progressive. And while I haven’t been overly analytical of my musical tastes, I have reflected on them here and there, and in one particular instance, found myself interacting with a series of videos from Pastor Doug Wilson.
I don’t remember how I stumbled across the series’ first video, but it was Wilson responding to this question: “When young people in a church are death metal fans, what are the operating principles for discussion with them on this topic?” Without really defining the genre, Wilson argued that some musical genres are essentially rebellious by nature and that’s kind of the point. Additionally, he seemed to argue that if you actually sat down and explained what the lyrics were about, it would answer the question of whether or not a Christian kid should be listening to it.
This wasn’t particularly satisfying. On the one hand, some musical genres are rebelling against Western tonal musical standards, but I’m not sure that makes them rebellious in the sense that it’s sinful to listen to them. That seems to be treating the two rebellions as equal, which assumes that Western tonal music is the God-given standard for music (i.e., the correct way to compose and play music). Certainly I can compose music that rejects current social conventions, but metal in general, and death metal in particular, aren’t really doing that. The lyrics may reject conventions, but the music is still mainly in the Western tonal tradition.
You can read the rest here. I am curious to see when and if Wilson responds. He seems apt to do that kind of thing, so I hope I’m not thoroughly demolished by his wit and wisdom. I guess we’ll see.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve been continuing on through the book of Numbers as part of my devotional reading. I told you about snakes on the plain a few weeks back, and how they are some very instructive stories scattered through Numbers. The barrier to getting to these stories is usually working through the opening 10 chapters which are mostly geneological, hence Numbers.
Unless you’ve done some background reading, you might not be aware that there are problems with the numbers in Numbers. Mainly, the issue is that the numbers are very large (600,000+ people in Israel) and there is genuine lack of archaeological evidence that a people group that large was assimilated in to Egypt at some point and also wandered the Arabian peninsula for 40 years. While archaeological evidence does not determine the truthfulness of the biblical record, there is something to be said for considering how to take the numbers in Numbers. If nothing else, people were instructed to go outside the camp for certain, shall we say, business, and if there are over a million people present, that’s a long walk for a bathroom break.
Gordon Wenham outlines the four main problems with accepting the numbers at face value:
First, it is very difficult to imagine so many people surviving in the wilderness of Sinai for forty years. When women and children are included, the census figures suggest there were about two million people all told. Even allowing for heaven-sent quails and manna and occasional miraculous supplies of water, there would be great difficulties in providing for all the physical requirements of such a multitude, the more so when they are all supposed to have camped neatly round the tabernacle (Num. 2) and marched together, and so on. The bedouin population of modern Sinai amounts to only a few thousand; and until relatively recent Jewish immigration into Israel, the total population of Palestine, a much larger and more fertile area, was only just over a million.
The second difficulty about accepting these figures is that they appear internally inconsistent. The most obvious point concerns the ratio of adult males to first-born males, roughly 27 to 1. This means that out of every 27 men in Israel only 1 was the first-born son in his family. In other words an average family consisted of 27 sons, and presumably an equal number of daughters. The average mother must then have had more than 50 children! This figure would be reduced if multiple polygamy were common in Israel and only the father’s first child counted as the first-born in the family. But other evidence suggests bigamy was unusual in Old Testament times, and that multiple polygamy was restricted to the very rich.
The third difficulty arises from other texts which apparently acknowledge that initially there were too few Israelites to occupy the promised land all at once (Exod. 23:29f.; Deut. 7:6f., 21f.). But two million Israelites would have more than filled the land. Indeed, in the judges period the fighting men of the tribe of Dan numbered only 600 (Judg. 18:16; cf. Num. 1:38–39).
The fourth point is a mathematical oddity, and does not prove anything, though it may suggest these figures are not quite what they appear. Not only are most of the figures rounded off to the nearest hundred, the hundreds tend to be bunched: 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700 occur but never 000, 100, 800 or 900. This concentration of hundreds between 200 and 700 suggests the totals are not random as might have been expected in a census. (Wenham 69-70)
He then suggests four solutions:
- The numbers are accurate
- The numbers are accurate, but reflect a later time, probably David’s
- The numbers have suffered textual corruption
- The numbers are symbolic
He leans toward the latter, but still has nagging questions. While we might not be able to completely solve the problem, Timothy Ashley’s conclusion seems appropriate:
No one system answers all the questions or solves all the problems. Rather than assuming this complex (mis-)use of ’lp, one might be better served to assume that a zero needs to be dropped from all the figures involved. This would give a fighting strength of 60,355 and a total population of between 200,000 and 250,000 (still quite high by ancient standards). The flaw in this suggestion is that the mistake in zeros would easily occur only where numbers were represented by figures rather than by words. We have little or no evidence that figures were used in the biblical texts during the biblical period.
A weak point in all the solutions that understand ’lp as “tribal subgroup” is that the text of Numbers understands it as “thousand.” The editor simply totals the figures to get 603,550. Using the ’lp = “group” solution, the total is (according to Flinders Petrie and Mendenhall) 598 groups of 5,550 men. To understand ’lp in any other way than “thousand” assumes a misunderstanding and mistransmission of the text in all the census lists of Exodus and Numbers (not to mention other texts). Since both the LXX and the Sam. Pent. basically agree with the MT, the misunderstanding must have taken place as early as the 5th or 4th cent. B.C.
In short, we lack the materials in the text to solve this problem. When all is said and done one must admit that the answer is elusive. Perhaps it is best to take these numbers as R. K. Harrison has done—as based on a system familiar to the ancients but unknown to moderns. According to Harrison the figures are to be taken as “symbols of relative power, triumph, importance, and the like and are not meant to be understood either strictly literally or as extant in a corrupt textual form.” (Ashley, The Book of Numbers, 65–66)
Ashley’s discussion is worth reading in full if you can get your hands on his NICOT volume. Wenham’s is more accessible (price-wise), and I’d highly recommend picking it up if you want to look into this further. At the end of the day, there is much to learn in reading the Old Testament and often that means leaving certain things in tension and awaiting further resolution.
Given the earlier celebration of May the 4th this week, I thought we’d get back to film Friday with these videos from Earthling Cinema. In case you’re curious, the premise of these videos is that human culture no longer exists and an alien is explaining it to other aliens using the cultural artifacts of our movies.
One of my earliest reviews was Joe Thorn’s Note to Self. I thought it was an excellent little devotional work.It is not so much something you read and move on from, but continue to come back to read time and time again. In a very similar vein, Joe Thorn’s most recent book, Experiencing The Trinity: The Grace of God For the People of God, offers readers devotional readings to be savored and re-read. The 50 short chapters are divided into three parts, one for each person of the Trinity. Each chapter focuses on either the person or work (or both) of the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. I gave it an initial read-through so I could comment here, but I plan to go back and read them with my wife this summer.
Initially what really caught my attention was Thorn’s introduction, which you can actually watch an interview about here or read the excerpt offered below. The short version is that in 2011, Thorn went through a “dark night of the soul.” In the process of reaching out to David Murray, making some lifestyle changes, leaning more into God and the gospel, he began finding a way out of the darkness. It resonated with me because much of what he described feeling was what my summer was like last year and I’ve only recently started feeling semi-normal again. I don’t think my experience was as intense as Thorn’s, but there seemed to be similarities. Knowing that, I now know that this will be a book that I come back to when the anxiety seems overwhelming, and that seems to be what Thorn has in mind for readers. As he says by way of conclusion,
What follows are fifty daily readings that reflect on God and the gospel and how they overcome our fear, failure, pain, and unbelief. Much of this I preached to myself over the last couple of years, and all of it is directed toward my own heart. So, for instance, when I write “there is a kind of deficiency in your christology,” I’m referring primarily to my own weakness. But if you find yourself with a heart like mine, weak and in need of grace, I pray these readings will be an encouragement to you. For God offers his grace to people like us. (18)
What I hope you will discover—what I continue to learn over and over again—is that all of us are far weaker than we know. Our sin, which is much darker and goes much deeper than we realize, is the real source of our most significant weakness. Neither you nor I can measure up to God’s standards. We are trapped in our condition of guilt, and the only hope is the offer of grace by our triune God. (19)
Joe Thorn, Experiencing The Trinity: The Grace of God For the People of God. Wheaton: Crossway, february 2015. 144 pp. Paperback, $10.99.
Read an excerpt
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!
Although I didn’t request it, I recently found myself with a copy of Brant Hansen’s Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better. A simplistic explanation of the book is that it’s like the main song from Frozen. Or, at least it’s a plea to reader to not get so worked up about things that would otherwise make us angry. In that sense, the book is an explanation of the author’s own journey to being less able to be offended.
On the one hand, I appreciate Hansen’s argument since I’m already tired of the current outrage culture and cannot really relate to it. To some extent, I’m already unoffendable, and I worry that might not be a good thing. I’ve wondered if maybe I should be more outraged than I am about certain things. In that sense, I’m kind of predisposed to read Hansen’s book as a justification for what I already feel.
On the other hand, I think there is probably room for a general ability to be offend and outraged when the time calls for it. Hansen’s argument is that we’re not necessarily entitled to our anger (hence the need to “let it go”), and that righteous anger is generally a myth. I’m not sure I completely bought the argument for the latter, but I do think placing things in the righteous anger category doesn’t necessarily mean that being worked up about the issue is psychologically or spiritually healthy for everyone involved.
That being said, I enjoyed reading the book, will probably reflect on it a bit more, and would recommend others read it as well. I’d particularly be interested what some other reviewers think since this book is a little outside of the normal types of books I see reviewed (based mostly on whose reviews I read). I think at the very least, we as evangelical Christians could probably stand to be less offendable than we currently appear to be, but whether or not we should be completely unoffendable is something we could still explore.
Brant Hansen, Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, April 2015. 224 pp. Paperback, $15.99.
Buy it: Amazon
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!
When I was looking through the available books on BookLook Bloggers, I came across Jeff Goins’ most recent effort, The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant To Do. To cut to the chase, the path Goins suggests looks like this (196):
- Awareness: Before you can tell your life what you want to do with it, you must listen to what it wants to do with you
- Apprenticeship: Every story of success is s story of community. Although mentors are hard to come by, accidental apprenticeships are everywhere. Your life is preparing you for what’s to come.
- Practice: Real practice hurts. It takes not only time but intentional effort. But some things do come naturally. Be open to learning new skills, and wathc for sparks of inspiration to guide you.
- Discovery: Don’t take the leap; build a bridge. You never “just know” what you’re supposed to do with your life. Discovery happens in stages.
- Profession: Failure is your best friend. Don’t push through obstacles; pivot around them. Let every mistake and rejection teach you something. Before a season of success, there often comes a season of failure.
- Mastery: A calling is not just one thing. It’s a few things, a portfolio that isn’t just your job but the life you live.
- Legacy: Your calling is not just what you do; it’s the person you become – and the legacy you leave.
While this more or less lays bare the conceptual structure of the book, it doesn’t give you the full picture. Goins is a masterful storyteller and so part of the effect of reading is the way his stories might spark your imagination. Personally though, I was more interested in the conceptual structure and particularly the follow up exercises that Goins suggests doing to pursue this particular path. As I’m still in a place of clarifying and consolidating my calling and work, I found Goins these the most helpful and still need to put some of the suggestions into action.
If you’re in a place where you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, or like me are in a season where graduation looms large and helps you re-think life, this book might be worth checking out. At the very least, it might make an excellent graduation present to either some embarking on college or a career. I learned a lot in my 20’s, but one thing I learned the harder way was that figuring out your work is not an easy task. But as Goins helps explain, it’s not supposed to be, but that doesn’t mean you should shy away. Rather, Goins will hopefully help readers work their way down the path that will clarify exactly what they were meant to do.
Jeff Goins, The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant To Do. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, March 2015. 240 pp. Paperback, $16.99.
Buy it: Amazon
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!
For a while, I wondered whether or not to request a review copy of Michael Wittmer’s Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life? I had heard both good and critical things about it, and it seemed to be getting enough publicity without my 2 cents. But then, a copy showed up unexpectedly with a note from Wittmer himself. I’m not sure whether I was specifically selected by the way it was worded or whether my name came from a list of people that ought to get a review copy. So, if you’re reading this Dr. Wittmer, thanks for the copy, personal invitation or not!
To the book itself, I thought it was a bit mis-titled after reading it. The question posed by the subtitle arises from the background of fundamentalist evangelical culture that seems to treat pleasures of the world as antithetical to true Christian living. I went to a Bible Institute the first two years of college that gave that impression and it seems like Wittmer had a similar college experience. Wittmer’s answer in this book is really to offer a balance between a Kuyperian and Two-Kingdoms approach to appreciating culture. In that sense, it’s not really a plea to be “worldly” in either negative connotation (as in Scripture) or in a sense of being overly focused on the good pleasures of creation in the here and now.
As you read the book, Wittmer works through four major parts: Creation, The Meaning of Life, Fall, and Redemption. Curiously, “Consummation” isn’t a separate part but is instead the last chapter under Redemption. In it, the Beatific Vision is more or less absent, and God’s presence as part of the Consummation of all things is a seemingly minor feature. In trying to address the problem of conservative Christians undervaluing creation and recognizing its original goodness, Wittmer has perhaps unintentionally downplayed a major feature and expectation of life on the new earth. At the same time, maybe I need to read Wittmer’s other book, Heaven Is A Place on Earth to get the full picture of his thought on the matter.
For the rest of the book, I thought Wittmer did a helpful job of explaining the original goodness of creation and our life in it (parts 1 and 2). His section on the Fall is likewise helpful in moving readers to see that the problem is not creation or culture, but sin and its effects on both. In addition, I think Wittmer offers an interesting alternative between Kuyperian views of culture and a Two-Kingdoms approach. In that case, the fourth part of the book is where Wittmer I think invites the most critical interaction and engagement and attempts to further the conversation on topics that relate to eschatology and culture. If that’s something that’s right up your alley, you might want to check this volume out!
Michael Wittmer, Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life?. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, January 2015. 208 pp. Paperback, $15.99.
Read an excerpt
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!
If you read widely in biblical studies, you may have already one or more of the volumes in this stack. At the very least, you’ve probably seen frequent footnotes to a few key volumes, particularly Out of Egypt and Renewing Biblical Interpretation. What you might not be aware of is that Zondervan recently re-released these volumes. Now, you can buy them as a complete paperback set (contrary to what the Amazon descriptions says).
On a whim, I asked if I might be able to get one to do a review series over the summer and as you can see, the answer was yes. Instead of a detailed critical review of each volume, I’ll instead give a brief overview of each and highlight what I think are a few key essays in each. Here’s a complete list of the volumes, which will function as a table of contents for the series:
- Renewing Biblical Interpretation
- After Pentecost: Language And Biblical Interpretation
- A Royal Priesthood?: The Use of the Bible Ethically And Politically
- “Behind” the Text: History and Biblical Interpretation
- Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation
- Reading Luke: Interpretation, Reflection, Formation
- Canon and Biblical Interpretation
- The Bible and the University
It’ll probably be June before I get started, but I wanted to whet your appetite a bit before jumping in. I’m not necessarily committed to doing each volume in order, so if there’s one you’d rather hear about sooner rather than later, let me know and I’ll try to start there!
I don’t quite remember when I first learned about psychological blind spots. Probably it was while working on a psychology major, but it might have been in some earlier college reading. The blind spots we may most be familiar with are the literal kind. You may be thinking of that area diagonally behind your car where idiots sometimes hang out while you’re driving. Or, maybe you are more sanctified than me.
You might not be as aware of the other literal blind spots you have in your everyday vision. To help illustrate that, I went ahead and rotated the cover of Collin Hansen’s new book, Blind Spots: Becoming A Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church so you can see the effect. If you’re about 12-15 inches away from the image, close your right eye and focus on the face. You should notice the cross disappear. Likewise, if you close your left eye and focus on the cross, the face will disappear.
The reasons for this involve scientific explanation, which if you’re super interested in, you can watch this video. The point here is that just as we have physical blind spots, we can also have spiritual blind spots when it comes to Christian ministry. The cover of the book makes the point that you can be so focused on yourself (or other people) that the cross and the gospel fade from vision. Likewise, you can be so focused on the cross, and with that, doctrine and theology, that you don’t actually care for people.
To help navigate this challenge, Hansen has written a book that offers a kind of lay of the land when it comes to dispositions in Christian ministry. Some people are courageous to stand up for sound doctrine. Some people are compassionate to help the marginalized, the hurting, and the poor. Still others are commissioned to try to reach as many outside the church as possible. If you can’t tell from these brief descriptions which describes you, take this marginally helpful quiz. I say “marginally helpful” because when I took it, I scored the following:
- A (with a little concern for C)
- None (see here)
- A and C
- A and B
I answered A the most, but only unanimously three times. I had 2 unanimous B’s, and 1 C, but they each showed up 3 times total. From reading the book, I related to the “Courageous” position (A), but don’t really have trouble seeing the concerns of Compassionate and Commissioned types. I would say I used to have the blind spots associated with the Courageous position, but I worked through it my third and fourth years in seminary and hopefully have left cage-stage Calvinism far behind. Certainly it is something I should be aware of, but I think I’m more aware than most.
As for Hansen’s book itself, it’s a quick read that is worth pondering if you’ve never considered the idea that your primary concern in Christian ministry can lead you to overlook other legitimate concerns. The answer is not, as some may imply, to give up your concern to advance others. Rather, there is a balancing that needs to take place so that we are all working together to fulfill the Great Commission. At the end of the day, each individual’s concerns are best advanced by working together and helping each other see the blind spots we miss. After all, the nature of a “blind spot” is something you can’t see but it probably clear to someone else. Hansen’s book is essentially a plea for us to listen, and I think he makes it without coming across as either pretentious or condescending.
However, Hansen’s book would have been strengthened by connecting it with other similar analyses. The first is John Frame’s triperspectivalism, as it has been applied to church ministry. Hansen’s three types could be mapped this way:
- Courageous = Prophets = Frame’s normative perspective
- Compassionate = Priests = Frame’s existential perspective
- Commissioned = Kings = Frame’s situational perspective
Those who are most concerned with doctrinal norms shouldn’t minimize reaching the lost (expanding the kingdom) or helping the hurting. Those most concerned with reaching the lost need to have something to teach them once they’re reached and care for them when things go wrong. Those most concerned with helping the hurting need to have something meaningful and true to minister and a framework in which they can do so.
Similarly, Hansen’s book could have been strengthened by connection to Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert’s What is the Mission of the Church? Their analysis of the nature of the church’s mission can also be charted triperspectivally:
- Social justice is the situational perspective on the church’s mission
- Shalom is the existential perspective on the church’s mission
- The Great Commission is the normative perspective on the church’s mission
Or even more detailed (from this post):
- Social Justice
- Normatively, social justice is a result of the coming of the new creation that was inaugurated by Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection
- Situationally, social justice is changing the injustices of this world to match the justice of the new creation
- Existentially, social justice is an activity of the people of God, carried out in an attempt to more fully love their neighbors
- The Great Commission
- Normatively, the Great Commission is declared by Jesus on the basis of his death, burial, and resurrection (i.e. it announces a new norm)
- Situationally, the Great Commission is repeated by the church as it spreads into all the world (i.e. into all situations)
- Existentially, the Great Commission is a command to be applied by the church as it makes disciples.
- Normatively, shalom between God and man was achieved by God reconciling the world to himself through Christ
- Situationally, shalom is communicated through the church as it expands into all the world
- Existentially, shalom is brought to individuals through faith in the saving work of Christ
Looking at this parsing, you should see how the concerns overlap further. Each of the categories of people in Hansen’s analysis are picking one perspective within this overarching mission to the unintended exclusion of others. For instance, the tension between Commissioned and Courageous Christians results from focusing on either the situational aspect of the commission (spreading it through the world) or the existential aspect (teaching it to people in the church). Likewise, a tension between Compassionate and Courageous Christians can result from focusing on the bringing that shalom to hurting people (existential) without fully explaining the root of where and how that shalom has come into the world (normative).
All of this is to say that Hansen’s book is useful, but I didn’t find it as useful taken on its own. It would have accumulated more explanatory power if it were presented in conjunction with other works. Perhaps this was intentional on his part and is part of the design to help it reach a wider audience. As it stands, being published by Crossway, I imagine most of the people who will initially read it are in the Courageous camp. This isn’t to say that people who are more Compassionate or Commissioned don’t read Crossway books, but it is to acknowledge that it seems like those who lean that way are more progressive and less young, restless, and Reformed. They’re 2/3 of the intended audience, so hopefully this is a book that they might take and read. While it would be easy to hope they do so, I’d rather hope that we all are willing to examine our concerns and continually ask one another if there’s blind spots in the way we are living out our faith.
Collin Hansen, Blind Spots: Becoming A Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church. Wheaton: Crossway, April 2015. 128 pp. Paperback, $12.99.
Read an excerpt
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!
If you don’t know, this is SpaceShip Earth. It’s actually a ride at EPCOT about human progress. It’s kind of evolutionary, but once you get out of the cave it’s pretty interesting. It’s also the symbol of the park, much like Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom.
After my last post, Ali reminded me that EPCOT is her favorite park, not Magic Kingdom. At this point, using our Annual Passes, we’ve been to Magic Kingdom the most, with EPCOT a close second. We’ve been to Hollywood Studios once, and still haven’t completely explored Animal Kingdom, though we’ve ridden the Expedition Everest a half dozen times. As you can see, we have our work cut out for us the rest of the year.
This past Saturday, we were once again at Disney, this time with Ali’s sister and brother-in-law as her birthday present. We started semi-early in Magic Kingdom and then Monorailed over to EPCOT around 3. We skipped almost all the rides in Future World and opted to spend the remainder of the day walking through the World Showcases. If you’re not familiar, the bulk of EPCOT is 11 pavilions around a lake. Each pavilion is a part of the world, though Morocco is the only one directly sponsored by that country’s government (the King of Morocco apparently sent his own architects over to make sure everything was designed authentically).
We started on the right by going to England for fish and chips (and Guinness) and then watching the Lumberjack show in Canada. From there it was off to France to once again be mesmerized by Impressions de France. From here, we more or less breezed through Morocco, Japan, America, and Italy before pausing again in Germany for more refreshments. We planned to watch the Chinese acrobats before realizing we were all more or less worn out, so it was a quick trip through Norway and Mexico before making the Monorail journey back to the car.
I relay all of this not because you’re super interested in how I spent my Saturday (note: no sports were watched). But it helps set the context for a couple of thoughts I had while there. In many ways, EPCOT is a surrogate way to travel the world. For those of us who can afford Disney passes but not international flights, it is nice to take a Saturday afternoon and visit at least a facsimile of several European countries. The countries don’t completely obscure the fact that they are artificial, although Morocco comes semi-close. Still, taking a stroll around the world at your leisure is hard to beat, even if you know it is all just smoke and mirrors.
Also, unlike Magic Kingdom, it is easier to enjoy EPCOT in the moment. For Magic Kingdom, much of the enjoyment is anticipation about going and past satisfaction in the fun that was had. In the actual moment, we’re usually more focused on maximizing time to do as many rides as possible. We pause on the rides, but because a lot of it is go-go-go, it is hard to relax. It is fun, but we realize it is fun mostly in retrospect (I think). EPCOT on the other hand is more relaxing and casual, and at least when it comes to the World Showcase, it is based on really pausing to enjoy good food and drinks in, at least this past Saturday, semi-perfect weather. And this is even more so at the moment during the Flower and Garden Festival (which will be eclipsed this fall by the Food and Wine Festival).
Given EPCOT’s themes of “technological innovation” and “international culture,” it makes sense that it is trying to capture utopia, or at least a higher plane of human existence. I would say it is “new creation now” but the twist is that there is no Creator in EPCOT’s vision. From a Christian point of view, I can see it as capturing some of the created realities that we will enjoy in full on the new earth. But in the context everything is presented, it is stripped of its actual creational underpinnings. In some ways, it is heaven without the Beatific Vision of God in Christ made manifest. God is conspicuously absent and everything is instead the result of human progress. It is a new better earth without new heaven because God’s presence is missing. For non-believers, this makes EPCOT a fairy tale for grown ups just like Magic Kingdom is fairly tale for kids. And since the symbol of EPCOT is SpaceShip earth, it is only fitting the grandest fairy tale of all is presented on the ride it houses.
None of this is to say you can’t enjoy EPCOT because you’re supporting evolution or denying the creator. As a Christian, I can enjoy everything EPCOT has to offer in a proper perspective, realizing it is neither true utopia, nor the result of human achievement. Instead, it is a less than perfect picture of the consummated reality that will be part of the new heavens and earth, but not the full vision. Instead it is merely the earthly part and even that is still seen through a glass darkly. The full vision includes a better version and Beatific Vision that outshines anything this earth or the new earth on its own would have to offer. Disney may aim to be where dreams do come true, but it can’t compete with the Christian hope that outdoes what even our best dreams can come up with.
Carl Trueman and I go way back. He doesn’t probably know it (or care), but his writing style and point of view tend wake me from my dogmatic slumbers. The first things I read from him were Wages of Spin and Minority Report, both checked out from the DTS Library. Around this time, Republocrat came out. Later, I’d come across Histories and Fallacies, and it was one of the first book reviews I did on this blog. Then another collection of essays emerged, Fools Rush in Where Monkeys Fear to Tread, which like the first two Trueman books I read, was really a collection of blog posts and short essays.
All of that is to say, I’ve been reading and enjoying Carl Trueman’s thoughts for a while now. Even though I don’t always agree with him (nor would he want me to I think), he stimulates conversation better than most. So, it was with significant anticipation that I pre-ordered and then read shortly after arrival Luther on The Christian Life. At this point, I have read all but one book in this series, though I own them all. The series itself I would highly recommend, and while this book ranks high, several others, on the whole, are more commendable. But this one affected me in a different way than the rest.
Historically, I haven’t been a fan of Luther. I realize he is important and all, but I just wasn’t interested in reading much of his writings based on what I knew from a distance. While I recognized his role in starting the Reformation, he was a bit reactionary for my taste. Granted, at the time, that’s what the church may have needed, but I tended to view it as a potential pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction.
This seemed to be confirmed by the way the semi-recent debates on sanctification and Christian growth went on between Tullian Tchividjian and Kevin DeYoung, Tchividjian’s point of view is more less also articulated by Gerhard Forde in Christian Spirituality: Five Views. That view is the Lutheran view, in contrast to the Reformed view, and from my point of view, was more or less antinomian. I say “more or less” because Tchividjian might not outright deny the third use of the law (a rule of law for believers that reminds them of their duties), but his rhetoric makes it seem at times that obedience and the law are in antithesis to the gospel and grace. I’m not alone in that assessment, as another author has pointed out that Tchividjian’s views are more at home in post-Reformation antinoniamism than the casual reader would guess (see also).
The problem with Tchividjian’s formulations, I think, is trying to drive too sharp of a wedge between law and gospel. Treating them as radical disjunctives is a theological presupposition that won’t bear the weight of the available exegetical evidence. I tend to avoid anyone who is real big on this type of thinking, and from what I knew, Luther was the one primarily responsible for it.
But then I read Trueman’s book.
As Trueman notes early on, “An understanding of Luther’s approach to the Christian life is fundamental to understanding the varieties of practical Western Christianity over the last five hundred years” (21). Also important to note is that Luther’s thought developed over time. Trueman explains:
One of the interesting things about the reception of Luther in contemporary evangelical Protestant circles is that it is entirely the early Reformation Luther – the Luther of the Heidelberg Disputation, of The Freedom of the Christian Man, and of The Bondage of the Will – who generally provides the quotations, the sound bites, and the cliches. Thus, it is the Luther of 1525 and earlier who receives all the attention (24).
But, as Trueman goes on to explain, it is the post-1525 Luther that is vital for actually understanding Luther on the Christian life:
In 1522, Luther could lightheartedly explain the success of the Reformation by commenting that he just sat around in the pub drinking beer with Amsdorf and Melanchthon while God’s Word was out doing all the work; the years after 1525 taught Luther that it was a whole lot more difficult than that. The Peasant’s War of 1525 and the dispute with Zwingli throughout the latter half of the 1520’s demonstrated how illusory was the Protestant consensus and how socially dangerous were the times. The rising antinomianism in the parishes showed how the preaching of the Word needed to be set within a more disciplined pastoral and ecclesiastical framework. The failure of the emperor to subscribe to the Augsburg Confession, of the pope to acknowledge the correctness of Luther’s stand, and of the Jews to convert to Christianity all indicated that the Reformation was going to be a long haul (24-25).
In a later chapter, Trueman expands on this. After the Reformation had moved into consolidation phase (by 1526ish), Luther received word back from Melanchthon’s Visitation Articles what parish life was actually like. Trueman notes,
What is clear from the Visitation Articles is that there were serious weaknesses in the effects of Reformation preaching stemming from imbalances in the way Luther’s teachings were being received and transmitted by parish priests. The tendency noted in the articles to preach gospel without law and to try to cultivate faith without repentance had led to behavior that could in no way be considered Christian. Jesus plus nothing was proving to be problematic, and Luther and his colleagues understood that and wished to address it. The law needed to be given its place as that which drives one to repentance. In a subtle way it also needed to be given a role in shaping exactly what the Christian response of love to God and neighbor should look like (169-170).
Trueman goes on to explain Luther’s response to this and how he actually battled antinomianism in his later writings. What this helped me to see is that Luther himself was not the cause of what might be considered antinomian thought. Rather, a misapplication of his thought and an over-emphasis on his earlier writings can, but doesn’t have to, lead in that direction. As a result of reading Trueman’s book, I have a much higher respect for Luther and an interest in actually reading more of his writings myself over the summer. While I don’t have find the law-gospel dialectic helpful, Luther can’t be reduced to that. He may not be the most careful exegete or gifted preacher, he was a great theological mind that I can learn from if I’m willing to take the time. Thanks to Carl Trueman, I’m now ready to do just that.