Wednesday, May 30, 2007

An Entertaining Week

Last week was a great week in my entertainment life, with a significant event bracketing the week.

Monday night was the season finale of 24, definitely my favorite show on television. All in all, this season was on the slower side (discounting killing one of my favorite characters and blowing up a nuke in LA all within five minutes of each other) compared to other seasons; but a weak season of 24 is stronger than most other TV shows at their best. The season as a whole lacked much of the central-plot cohesiveness that other seasons had. At times, the subplot became more interesting that the main plot, particularly the events surrounding the President Palmer and Vice-President Daniels. Having more insight into Jack’s family and background was a brilliant move. Bringing Audry back was one of the lower points of the season, but it set up the season cliff-hanger well. The character development throughout the season was excellent this year. My initially reaction to Lennox, Doyle, and to a lesser extent Daniels radically altered at the end of the season. Doyle in particular, shows a lot of promise as a character, but no replacement for Curtis. The portrayal of Jack this season was excellent. The writers greatly expanded the depth of his character not only with his experience in China, but also by gaining an insight into his background and family. Jack’s brokenness at the beginning and the ending of the day was effective. It was interesting to see how much of the season, the final third in particular, was not as centered on Jack.

So, here is my prediction for Day 7. Phillip Bauer is not dead. Shortly after day 6 (people need the chance to get a little sleep, use the bathroom, and recover a little more from their injuries), Phillip Bauer, in conjunction with the Chinese, mount a rescue of Chang and attempt to spirit the component to China. In order to effect this without the government’s notice, another distracting threat is leveled against the country, but somewhere other than LA (how much abuse can a single city undergo). Jack’s whereabouts are kept hidden for the first several hours (did he jump or not), but when it is made public that his father is involved, he will come to save the day.

Friday Chevelle played in Buffalo, and I had the privilege of seeing them for the second time. Opening was the angsty emo band Strata, who was decent. Their recent single Cocaine was definitely their best moment. Finger 11, while a lot harder, lacked energy. Their lead singer, pretty much stayed in the same place, with his wireless mic on the stand the entire set. The second guitarist was drunk, and his guitar didn’t work for about 2 ½ songs, but his absence was not a major loss. That being said, the openers for this show weren’t that bad, better than their openers last time, and a lot better than the other concerts I’ve been to recently.

The last time I saw Chevelle play was one of the last shows they did with their brother Joe on bass. After seeing them this time, getting rid of Joe and adding Dean was one of the best moves they made. The whole band played with more intensity and energy than before, plus Dean actually engaged the crowd (which is nice when you are right in front of him). The improvement in Sam’s drumming was as striking live as it was on Vena Sera, even their older songs were played with a lot more aggression. Despite playing for nearly and hour and 15 minutes, their 15 song set seemed short. Excepting Point #1, they played a good mix of songs from all their albums. Every song they played was awesome, the only disappointment was that they didn’t play an even longer set! All of their new songs played well live, especially Straight Jacket Fashion. Playing Get Some was great- seeing the latest American Idol had been crowned two days before (the song mocks American Idol, for those who don’t know). Their final song, Another Know It All, was a great send off with a lot of energy, and a chance for the band to jam a bit. Plus, at the end of the show, Dean gave me his pick (another reason I like him so much)! All in all, I cannot wait to see Chevelle again.

Friday, May 18, 2007

An Interesting Anecdote from Josephus

Josephus in his Life relates the following account of one Varus, an administrator under Agrippa. Phillip, a son of one of King Agrippa’s lieutenants, was fighting around Jerusalem where he was nearly killed. Having escaped to Gamala, he sent Agrippa a letter through Varus, where I will pick up the account:

The receipt of Phillip’s communication, acquainting him of his escape, caused Varus great vexation, as he supposed that, now that Phillip had arrived, their majesties would have no further use for his own services. He accordingly brought the bearer of the letter before the people and accused him of forging it; he added that he had mendaciously reported that Phillip was fighting against the Romans with the Jews in Jerusalem, and then put the man to death. Phillip, at a loss to explain the failure of his freedman to return, dispatched a second with further letters and to bring him word what had happened to cause the delay of his first courier. He, too, on his arrival was slain by Varus on some groundless accusation. For Varus had been led to entertain great expectations by the Syrians of Caesarea, who asserted that Agrippa, on the indictment of the Jews, would be put to death by the Romans, and that he, as of royal lineage, would succeed to the throne…Inflated with these lofty ambitions Varus withheld the letters and contrived to prevent their perusal by the king; guards being posted at all the exits from the town, so that none should escape and report his proceedings to him (Life, 50-53; Translated by H. St. J. Thackeray)

Reading this brought to mind the Parable of the Wicked Tenants in Matthew 21:22-46:

There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenants seized the servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son,” he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him (TNIV).

The similarities of the two passages is striking, especially the thought in both that such machinations would eventually lead to power. While some parables are so true-to-life as to seem more like a true account than a story, other parables tend in the opposite direction, of being absurd enough to defy reality. I always classified the parable of the Wicked Tenants as the latter. The idea that any rational person would put such a plot into action with the thought of gaining ownership of a vineyard seems absurd. However, after reading the above account from Josephus, I rethought my classification of the parable.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Reading for April 2007

  • “Nothing But the Blood: The Cruciform Matrix of Justification”- J. R. Daniel Kirk

A short article reexamining the traditional doctrine of justification. Rather than seeing justification including both the active and passive obedience of Christ, the author argues that the New Testament’s doctrine of justification is focused on the cross. Dr. Kirk briefly examines the major passages and argues that they all focus on Christ’s death as the basis for justification, without consideration of the active obedience. Some passages even appear to disallow a righteousness found in obedience to the law. In conclusion, citations from older and contemporary worship with focus on the cross as the basis for salvation are noted.

A significant volume in contemporary Pauline studies which offers a clear outline of Paul’s thought as it can be discerned in his writings. The discussion roughly follows the outline of Romans, and the exposition is along the lines of a systematic theology, with the final sections dealing with ethical issues in Paul. While all the exposition is brief, the analysis shows careful thought and attention to the underlying texts. Data from Hellenistic culture and Second Temple Judaism is brought in where helpful in understanding the background of Paul’s thought. What is especially helpful is the emphasis placed on the sociological concerns which underlie Paul’s writings to the early churches, and how those discussions are important for our understanding his message to the churches. Most important is his carefully nuanced statements on the law and its function(s) for current “New Perspective” controversies. In discussing Paul’s conception of Christ Dunn emphasizes Paul’s care to maintain his traditional monotheism, yet at the same time allowing for the central and unique place afforded Jesus in all of Paul’s theology. In discussing eschatology, Dunn writes that for Paul the focus is on the past events, and not a futuristic focus. The exposition of Romans 9-11 was helpful, especially in showing its careful integration to the whole of Romans. Disappointing was the section on the church, since, without clearly offering the reason for the disqualification, the Pastorals and the rich church theology of Ephesians were excluded from discussion.

  • “Communicating the Gospel without Theological Jargon”- Andrew Steinmann

The article examines the results of a survey testing knowledge of prominent Biblical/theological terms by those within the church. The results of the survey suggest that the church at large does not properly understand these terms. Grace, justify, righteousness, redeem and covenant were used in the survey. The article contends that other terms should be used to translate these terms which more accurately reflect the underlying Greek and Hebrew and to reduce misunderstanding.

  • The Historical Figure of Jesus- E. P. Sanders, 1993.

Sanders examines the historical accounts of the gospel’s portrayal of Jesus to outline the historical figure of Jesus. The book opens with an introduction to the social, political and religious situation in Jesus day before examining the biblical narratives. Sanders is careful to place Jesus in the Jewish context of his day, and to clarify places where that context has been misunderstood, or a later context is read into the Gospel accounts. Discussing Jesus life, Sanders focuses on Jesus’ birth, Galilean ministry and message, and his final week in Jerusalem. The book contains much helpful information regarding the social and political situation in Palestine, and the differences between Galilee and Judea. Also helpful were the discussions regarding fixing the date for Jesus birth and death, and the length of his ministry. While Sanders is clear that he believes in the general historical reliability of the Biblical narratives, he is not committed to a conservative inerrantist position- allowing for the creation of narrative accounts and free editing of materials to fit a (later) viewpoint. Much is made of the differences in the synoptic traditions, but Sanders too easily allows differences to become contradictions. Other historical and cultural data, such as the issues with the dating of the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, require careful consideration; and demonstrate that many issues remain in studying the gospel narratives.

  • That Hideous Strength- C. S. Lewis, 1946.
Final book in the Space Trilogy, the book differs from previous book in being set on Earth. The story centers around Jane and Mark Studdock and those with whom they associate. Mark begins to associate with the N.I.C.E., an evil association, while Jane finds herself affiliated with a group whose goal is to thwart the goal of N.I.C.E. Both sides search for Merlin, who holds the key for victory. It is revealed that Merlin was on the good side, and allies himself with those fighting under the leadership of Dr. Ransom. Victory is won by Ransom and his band, and the N.I.C.E. and its leadership is destroyed. In the end, Jane and Mark are reunited, and Dr. Ransom returns to Perelandra.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Ethics of Strict Subscription

One of the projects I have been working on is creating a harmony of the Westminster Standards (yes, I know that there are books which have already done this). One of the strengths of the Westminster Catechisms is its inclusion of a significant treatment of the Ten Commandments. The Larger Catechism in particular has extensive reflections on what is required and forbidden in each commandment. Consider the following selections from the Larger Catechism on the ninth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness:”

What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting the truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth…speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging tale bearers, flatterers and slanderers…

What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?

The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own, especially in public judicature…raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense…

It was with great distress that I read Mr. Fesko’s review of N. T. Wright’s Romans commentary and theology in the February edition of New Horizons. Aside from the expected challenges to Wright’s view of justification, Mr. Fesko shockingly accused Bishop Wright of Trinitarian heresy. This accusation was met with numerous demonstrations of Wright’s orthodox Trinitarianism, from Wright’s writings and speeches and also the testimony of other respected, Reformed leaders. One of the men cited in support of Dr. Wright’s orthodoxy was Dr. Richard Gaffin of Westminster Theological Seminary. In the May edition of New Horizons, however, Dr. Gaffin objected to citing his pervious endorsement of Wright’s integrity on the Trinity. Not only did Dr. Gaffin qualify his previous statement and refuse to affirm Wright’s orthodoxy on the Trinity, he went on to question his Christological orthodoxy.

At the core of the debate about the New Perspective in Reformed circles is the Westminster Standards’ perspective on justification, and that espoused by New Perspective authors, especially N. T. Wright. It is clear that significant differences exist between Wright and the Confessions’ stance regarding justification. But, where is the consistency in fighting for Confessional integrity regarding justification in a manner that is in violation of the Catechism’s teaching regarding the ninth commandment? Will those pushing strict subscription be as hawkish to hunt those whose refuse to “preserve and promote the good name of our neighbor” and who are all too willing to “admit of an evil report?” Will Presbyteries be instructed to examine the attitudes of candidates to see if “they sorrow and cover the infirmities of our neighbors, while acknowledging their gifts and graces” along with their views on creation and justification? Will the official publications of the OPC show as much diligence in refusing to “raise false rumors, receive and countenance evil reports and stop our ears against a just defense” as it is in printing articles and reviews critical of the doctrinal faults of others? Strict subscriptionism requires equal diligence in the doctrinal and ethical portions of the Confession. It is all or nothing.