Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: Power Core Combiner Leadfoot with Pinpoint

It's not really my habit to feature Transformers toys that are still available on retail shelves.  Part of the reason for this is because there are so many other Transformers blogs and sites out there that do this already, and I would just as soon focus my attentions elsewhere, but some of it really is due to the fact that I've got such a backlog of older toys that have kept my interest over time, there's really very little need for me to go out looking for more just so that I can blog about them.  Even so, when I saw this toy at the store recently, it caught my eye immediately for a very personal reason.  Perhaps you can tell what that reason is already in the official art to the left.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Revelation 18-22

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that BibleGateway.com is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

It's the end of the year, and the last chapters of the Bible!  This week, I am working through Revelation, chapters 18-22.


Chapter 18
  • I have often heard it said that the message of Revelation can be summed up as "God wins!"  Perhaps this chapter can be summed up as "Babylon loses!"
Chapter 19

  • Verse 8 - I find it especially interesting that the author goes to the trouble to spell out that "fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God's people" when so much of the other imagery of this book remains unexplained.
  • Verse 10 - I'm reminded of Peter's reaction to Cornelius in Acts 10:25-26.
Chapter 20
  • Verses 1-10 - I'm trying to look at this passage in any way I can think of: with a "literal" 1000 years, with the 1000 being a number chosen for its connotations of completeness and therefore being an indeterminate "actual" length of time, with the periods of time representing reigns on earth vs. a more spiritual domain.  I just can't make sense of it.  I especially cannot comprehend why Satan and Satan's forces should be bound for a period of time only to be released, and to be released only to be eternally defeated so effortlessly (if the length of time devoted to it in this chapter is anything to go by) just afterward. 
Chapter 21
  • Verses 1-3 - I see a couple of potential call-backs to Genesis here.  The first is the lack of sea.  If memory serves, Genesis has waters as one of the pre-existent "chaos elements" from which God set order to the world.  The lack of such water here would be an indication of the perfection of the new earth.  The second element would be the idea of God dwelling among the people, as God was depicted as walking around the Garden of Eden.
Chapter 22
  • Verse 1 - The lack of sea water obviously doesn't mean a lack of water altogether.  Water is the stuff of life, after all.
  • Verses 6-7, 10, 12 - I wonder what John supposed the angel (and Jesus, at the end) meant by the word "soon."1
  • Verse 9 - Once again, John has to be reminded not to worship things that aren't God....
  • Verses 18-19: "If any one of you adds anything to them... if any one of you takes words away..." - There seems to be a school of thought that takes these words as a sign that the canon of Scripture itself should not be amended.  I confess that I've never understood how this understanding came to pass, as it seems self-evident that the words are only to be taken in reference to the prophecy of Revelation itself.  In any event, it must be recognized that the canon of Scripture (certainly the New Testament, but even the Old, if we're honest) was not solidified for several centuries yet after the text was written.

1Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1977, pp. 390-391, notes that the problem that an author sees eschatological events as somehow imminent is hardly unique to Revelation.  I've mentioned this kind of thing a few times over the course of this year-long project, myself.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: BotCon 2010 G2 Breakdown

The Generation Two franchise ran from 1993-1995 (depending on what you choose to include), and thus is old enough now that the children that are the intended target audience for Transformers figures all hadn't yet been born when the line gave way to the "Beast Wars" concept.  But for those of us old enough to remember, this was the line that brought Transformers back from the abyss (at least, here in America).  For that fact alone, many of us remember it fondly.  When the folks behind BotCon 2010 announced that the theme for the convention would be "G2: Redux," my interest was piqued, despite the fact that I knew that attending the convention would be impossible for me this year.  When one of the exclusive toys for that convention would be a new G2 Breakdown, I knew immediately that I would need to get the non-attendee set.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Revelation 13-17

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that BibleGateway.com is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Revelation, chapters 13-17.


Chapter 13
  • Verse 3 - I'm trying to imagine what a "fatal wound" that had been healed (by which I'm gathering the writer means something other than the obvious fact that the beast isn't dead) would look like.  And why only one head?  What does this symbolize?  Mounce suggests that it represents a Roman emperor contemporary to the period (there are a couple of options).1
  • Verse 5 - I'm not sure what the significance of the number 42 would be in this context.  I'm guessing that John wasn't familiar with The Hitchhiker's Guide the Galaxy.  Mounce says that 42 months is "the traditional period for religious persecution."2
  • Verse 18 - The significance of the number 666 has been much debated over the centuries.  I notice that the TNIV is translated in such a way as to make it seem more likely that the number refers to a specific person, rather than (as the footnotes suggest) humanity as a whole.  Certainly I've heard interpretations consistent with this "specific" rubric, ranging from Nero to Ronald Wilson Reagan (note that each name has six letters).  (Mounce also notes a strand of interpretation that insists that 666 is "a human number" as being opposed to a "nonhuman" number, but dismisses this interpretation.3)  Suffice it to say, this is a mystery that remains unsolved (although I expect that Nero is closer to the truth than Reagan!).
Chapter 14

  • Verse 1 - I've heard much of the "mark" given to those who follow the Beast (last chapter), but very little seems to be made of the fact that the followers of the Lamb are given a similar mark.
  • Verses 14-20 - Usually, when I hear the language of "harvest" used in Christian contexts, it's referring to the harvest of people to follow God, not a harvest of those who have failed to do so.  Yet the fact that "grapes" harvested are thrown "into the great winepress of God's wrath" leads me to believe that the latter is what is going on here. 
Chapter 15
  • Verse 1 - The indication that these are to be the "last" plagues comes as a relief.  But, admittedly, this is less because of any great feeling of relief that the pain of those who suffer will soon be at an end, and more because the sheer number of these plagues has caused them all to run together, and it's made my head spin trying to keep track of it all.  Let's move on to something else!  (Of course, these "last" plagues still haven't even started by the end of the chapter!)
Chapter 16
  • Verses 9, 11 - The writer notes that the people suffering (because they have followed the beast and not God) still refuse to repent.  Verse 9 even notes their refusal to glorify God.  The thing I find odd about this is the apparent expectation that they should glorify God after God has made them to suffer.  This seems contrary to all reason to me.  A person has just been made to suffer horribly for failing to follow the will of the one causing the suffering. Why, of all things, should that cause the person to glorify the one causing the suffering?  One doesn't decide "OK.  I'll now glorify you who have made me suffer so much.  Praise to you!" in such a circumstance.  Not unless something is horribly wrong with that person's mental state!  That's not "continued rebellion."  That's just not giving glory to an abuser!  If this is their final punishment, and they're getting what they've deserved for their failure after all this time, fine.  But to expect them to glorify God after this treatment just seems wrong.
Chapter 17
  • I'm afraid I have no wisdom to offer on this passage.  Indeed, it seems to me a rehash of much of what's already been done in this book.   I'm definitely glad that I'll be done with this book next week.

1Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1977, pp. 252-253. Mounce further notes a translation difficulty with verse 3. He is emphatic that the original text does not indicate the healing of head, but rather of the beast. The head would still be wounded in this interpretation.
2Mounce, p. 254.
3Mounce, p. 264.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Transformers Comic Recreation - Marvel #41 - The Battle on the Moon

I entered this image into a contest for the official Transformers Club.  We were asked to "Shoot the Ultimate Battle" using actual toys. As I thought through scenes I could do with the toys I had on hand, I remembered the classic battle in issue #41 of the Marvel Transformers comic: "Totaled!" In this issue, Grimlock (then-current leader of the Earthbound Autobots since the death of Optimus Prime) and Fortress Maximus (leader of a faction that came to Earth more recently) meet for the first time, and it doesn't go well. Grimlock challenges Maximus to a duel for leadership. Maximus knows that he is unlikely to win such a duel, having been injured in a previous issue, but Blaster (having his own reasons to want Grimlock defeated) steps up to accept the challenge in Maximus' place. While they fight, the Decepticons take the opportunity to launch a sneak attack on the rest of the Autobots, which brings us to the scene depicted here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Transformers Comic Recreation - Marvel #17 - Straxus Holds Court

Issue #17 of the original Marvel Transformers comic was something of a milestone. It marked the first story set on Cybertron since the beginning of the series more than a year-and-a-half previously. This gave writer Bob Budiansky the opportunity to feature quite a few new characters (as he was always being pressured to do by Hasbro, who had this annoying habit of continuing to make more toys that they wanted to see featured in the comic) and do so all at once.

Perhaps surprisingly, Budiansky also went ahead and created a couple of new characters for which no toy existed at the time. Notable among these were Autobot spy Scrounge and Decepticon stronghold governor Straxus. The reason for creating new non-toy characters was so that Budiansky could kill the characters off without fear of toy-buyers (and perhaps the toy-makers as well!) who might complain that they just wasted money on a toy for a character that had already been eliminated from the story. Scrounge was killed off in that very issue, and Straxus was knocked off in the next (That didn't stop UK writer Simon Furman from using Straxus — shown to have somehow survived...or his head did, anyway — in subsequent UK-only issues).

Modern Transformers fans were thus overjoyed to discover that Hasbro was finally making a Straxus figure (although it is being sold under the name "Darkmount" for trademark reasons) in 2010. This gave me an opportunity to try something a little creative. The comic image above mostly features characters that been given new or reissued toys all within the past few years.  I decided to try to recreate this group shot with actual toys. I had to fudge a bit on the couple of exceptions to this "new toy" rule. No Scrounge toy has ever been created, but I still have the figure I got from "Crazy Steve" a few years ago, and I used a single generic MiniMate to represent the generic Transformers about to be killed by Straxus. I'm pretty pleased with how it finally turned out. I hope you agree. As with most images on this blog, you can click the image to get a larger version.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Revelation 8-12

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that BibleGateway.com is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Revelation, chapters 8-12.


Chapter 8

  • Verse 1 - A half an hour of silence?  Why?  And, perhaps my importantly, is this length of time supposed to be significant beyond "a long time"?
  • Verses 6-13 - Now that all seven seals have been opened, we have seven trumpets to work through, and as before, each one does something different.  I notice that we're only through four trumpets by the end of the chapter, with the chapter ending with a warning about the upcoming three trumpets.  And I notice that each trumpet causes something to happen to "a third" of something.  Why a third?
Chapter 9

  • Verse 1 - There's a lot of this kind of thing in this book, so don't make much of my singling this instance out, but the personification of a star is intriguing. 
  • Verse 5 (again, just as one example) - It's definitely passages like this that lead people (mostly unbelievers) to say that God is cruel.  If we claim to follow a loving God, we simply must be able to deal honestly with passages like this.
Chapter 10
  • This chapter seems to serve as an interlude between the sixth trumpet and the final one (although chapter 11, verse 14 would suggest that the sixth trumpet repercussions just take a couple of full chapters to work through).  Another scroll (a "little" one, apparently not part of the seven mentioned earlier) is introduced. Seven thunders also show up, apparently out of nowhere, although the definite article seems to suggest that I should know about them already.
  • Verse 11 - "OK.  I've just forced you to eat this thing that made you sick.  Now, prophesy!"
Chapter 11
  • Verse 6 - It's hard to hear about "plagues" and "water into blood" and not think of the story of the Exodus.
Chapter 12
  • Verse 5 - An iron scepter?  Why iron? (the footnotes suggest this is a reference to Psalm 2:9, but I have my doubts as to how explicit this reference would be)1

1Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1977, p. 238, also references this Psalm, and seems to make a connection between the "rule" apparent in Revelation and the "break" of the Psalm by suggesting "shepherd" as an alternate interpretation for the Psalm, but I don't see how that would connect with the rest of Psalm 2:9.  The footnote to the Psalm gives us the "ruling" interpretation back again, but only by referencing the Septuagint--which would have almost certainly been known to New Testament authors--and the Syriac.  I am left to wonder if this verse shows us more about the history of Scriptural interpretation than it does about the actual original intentions behind either passage.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Transformers: The Movie - The Version You've Never Seen

About a month ago, Ron Friedman, one of the writers behind the original 1980's Transformers cartoon, put a bunch of items up for auction.  Animation sheets, scripts, notes, etc., were all available to fans, much of it for the first time ever.  Needless to say, Transformers fans with money to spare (that doesn't include me, I'm afraid) happily bid on these previously unknown relics.  The Allspark, following a pattern set earlier in the year, organized a donation drive, any excess from which would go to charity.  As a result of these efforts, many of these items were obtained for the express purpose of making them available online so that fans everywhere could have access to the new bits of historical data that could be obtained.

Perhaps one of the most exciting finds from this group of auctions was an early draft of the script to the 1986 Transformers: The Movie.  Jim Sorenson, author of some pretty cool books and blogger at Disciples of Boltax, was the recipient of the physical copy of this script and has now scanned it and placed the link on his blog.  Rather than steal his thunder, I'd rather send you to his blog so you can see what he's been up to.  This version of the movie really is significantly different than what we ended up seeing on screen, and is worth taking some time to look through (full disclaimer: I've only had a chance to skim parts of it all, myself, but hope to spend more time with it this weekend, when I'm not trying to juggle job concerns, as well).

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Marriage, Education, and the Economy

Marriage certificateAfter hearing a recent news report on NPR early this week, I started writing what would ultimately become this article.  This morning, I found a different, but topically-related, post on Scot McKnight's blog, which helped me to refocus my thoughts into something I was finally able to post.

The NPR report discussed the reality that more couples are choosing to have children without getting married.  This in itself didn't surprise me too much, although I was struck by the fact that this issue was discussed from an economic angle rather than the usual religious angle that I often hear when this topic comes up.  Specifically, it suggested a link between education and deciding not to marry despite having children.  The report seems to infer that economic realities (can a parent get a job that pays enough to afford marriage and/or divorce should things go wrong?) are the real issue.  Unfortunately, the NPR report makes this inference based more on anecdotal evidence than on anything actually supplied by the data, which was mostly about the education, not the economics.

McKnight's entry also discusses the decline of marriage in connection with educational factors.  He summarizes the report he links to as suggesting the following:
  1. Marriage is an emerging dividing line between America’s moderately educated middle and those with college degrees.
  2. Marital quality is declining for the moderately educated middle but not for their highly educated peers.
  3. Divorce rates are up for moderately educated Americans, relative to those who are highly educated.
  4. The moderately educated middle is dramatically more likely than highly educated Americans to have children outside of marriage.
  5. The children of highly educated parents are now more likely than in the recent past to be living with their mother and father, while children with moderately educated parents are far less likely to be living with their mother and father.
Unlike the NPR report, McKnight makes no attempt to argue from education to economics, but he seems to be working from the same root data, which comes from "The National Marriage Project" via the University of Virginian.  Basically, the line seems to be between those who obtain a four-year college degree and those who only get a high school diploma.

I am actually glad to see these kinds of discussions of marriage that argue on the basis of secular data rather than any attempt at religious argument or moralizing.  It's not that I don't think that marriage is a sacred institution.  I do very much.  But if we as Christians are going to decry the erosion of marriage in our society, yet we only discuss marriage's importance for religious reasons, we have no reason to expect that non-religious people should listen to our arguments.  Or, to perhaps turn that around just a bit, if we only criticize people who choose to have children without getting married on religious grounds ("they're disobeying God," etc), why should they care that we disapprove?

Although I would rather see a new study more explicitly linked to economics before making this case too strongly, I do think the argument about economic status could be important.  As one person in the NPR report said: "Time was, a man could go from high school to a well-paying, secure factory job. No more."  While one of the mothers depicted in the article does comment on the old "marriage as a piece of paper" chestnut, but it was surprisingly NOT to just to argue that marriage is meaningless, but that it's something of comparatively low (but not non-existent, as I'll get to in a moment) meaning that costs a lot of money!   Unfortunately, that cost (as cited by the person interviewed) was particularly seen on the divorce end.  It's "a piece of paper that costs a lot of money to change."  Even with a child already present, the view does indeed seem to be one that asks "what if I want out?" rather than one expecting marriage to be permanent.

And the NPR article suggests that this attitude seems to ensure that relationships between couples with children, yet who remain unmarried, are not permanent.  These couples are twice as likely as married couples to split up before the children are five years old.

The data cited by McKnight brings up some interesting questions.  As he says "What... should/could be done?" If the decision to enter into marriage is linked to the amount of education one receives, and if there is any desire to see more couples with children actually make the commitment to marriage, then it stands to reason that we want to encourage people to get more education.  But encouraging people to get education, itself, has economic implications.  College is expensive!  I'm not necessarily trying to argue that college should be free, or where any more money to make education less expensive should come from, but this is clearly something that Christians who care about making sure that children grow up in homes with both parents should be looking into.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the NPR report, however, were the ways in which it was demonstrated that marriage (or, at least, having a wedding) continues to be held in high esteem even among these obviously secular couples.  For example, one person suggested that she did want to get married (and, in this instance, was actually engaged when she got pregnant), but apparently didn't consider getting the marriage license at the courthouse as an option.  Although it is not stated explicitly, it is implied that she wanted the trappings of a full ceremony, and just getting the license wasn't enough.

If even non-religious people see marriage as having importance, I think we do have hope of being able to work out some kind of solution.  The question becomes, what will actually work?

Monday, December 06, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Revelation 3-7

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that BibleGateway.com is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Revelation, chapters 3-7.


Chapter 3
  • Verses 15-16 - I can't tell you how many times I've heard this passage as interpreted to mean that God would rather have people be actually against God than be merely "indifferent" (neither "hot" nor "cold").1  I have since come to believe that this is not what this passage is getting to at all. I understand this passage to say "do something helpful!"  (Hot water has therapeutic uses, while cold water is good for drinking and refreshing, and lukewarm water being useless for either.)2  Indifference may well be no virtue, but it just doesn't make sense to me that open hostility would actually be better!
Chapter 4

  • Verse 4 - I'm not at all sure what the number twenty-four is meant to signify, here.3
  • Verse 8 - Somehow, these guys never seem to make the list (it's quite short) of "talking animals in the Bible" (I know of only two, in fact: The serpent in Eden and Balaam's donkey.)
Chapter 5
  • Verse 4 - I wonder why John's so upset at not being able to look inside a scroll he'd never even known about just minutes earlier....
Chapter 6
  • Verses 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 12 - It is intriguing to me that "things happen" when the Lamb opens each seal, wholly separate from anything actually written/read upon the scroll itself.  Generally, a seal is unimportant (outside of signifying a letter/scroll's source, which is determined without breaking/opening it), it is what the seal is attached to that has the meaning.
  • Verse 6 - Not knowing how much wheat and barley should cost, I needed to look this one up.  Apparently these are highly inflated prices, possibly signifying a time of famine.4
Chapter 7
  • Verses 4-8 - More numbers.  Mounce: "The number (144,000) is obviously symbolic: Twelve (the number of tribes) is both squared and multiplied by a thousand--a twofold way of emphasizing completeness."  Mounce also notes that the actual tribes mentioned have all disappeared by the time this book would have been written, which would also imply a symbolic understanding rather than a literal one.5

1David E. Aune, Revelation 1-5 (Word Biblical Commentary), Word Books, 1997, p. 257, follows this interpretation.
2Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1977, pp. 125-126, is much closer to this understanding.
3And, apparently, there isn't a scholarly consensus, either, although I am most intrigued by the possibility, mentioned in Aune, p. 289, that suggests that twenty-four would be the number of the tribes (Aune says "sons") of Israel plus the Twelve Apostles.
4See Mounce, p. 155.
5Mounce, p. 168.

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Friday, December 03, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: Chromedome

Chromedome is one of those toys that I actually got a little bit at a time (and, as evidenced by the Kaboodle wish list request for the two laser cannons, I never did actually complete it!).  Oddly enough, I got the Nebulan, called Stylor, first, having found the tiny figure at a yard sale roughly twenty years ago.  I paid 10 cents for it, feeling like I'd gotten a rather good deal even at the time.  Seeing that Nebulans--the head components to the Headmaster figures--vary pretty wildly in price today (but 10 dollars seems to be a low-end price on eBay, and that's before shipping), I feel that my assessment back then has been vindicated several times over.

Some time later, I don't recall how long for certain, I picked up a "headless" body for about $5, and my Chromdome was more or less complete (if you don't count the fact that it's still weaponless).

In America, Chromedome was no more or less important than any of the other Headmasters, which means that he showed up a few times in the comic books, and in the "Rebirth" three-parter that closed out the original animated series, and otherwise wasn't seen all that much.  In Japan, Chromedome was the nominal Headmasters leader (under Fortress Maximus, true, but Maximus was HUGE, and therefore didn't really go out on missions much), and thus got a LOT more screen time.

Chromedome's transformation to vehicle mode is fairly standard for the time.  Flip the arms back, fold the robot in half (but take the head off first!), rotate the feet a bit, and you're pretty much done.  Like other 1987 Headmasters' Nebulan figures, Stylor can fit into a compartment in vehicle mode to "drive" the vehicle.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation 1-2

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that BibleGateway.com is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

Here it is!  The week where we fly through four books (while retaining the usual five chapters)!  This week, I am working through 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation, chapters 1-2.


2 John
  • Verse 1 - When we went through 1 Peter, I mentioned a theory that suggested that an unnamed woman referenced there was actually intended to be a reference to the congregation of the church.  I expect that the "lady" referenced here is even more likely to be a reference to the church, but I do wonder, if this is so, how one understands "the church's" children, given that the church is made up of the people of God in the first place.
  • Verse 7 - Here's that last "antichrist" reference.  Again, it seems apparently that any number of people might be given this label.  It's certainly not intended to reference a single epitome of all-time evil entity.
  • Verse 13 - Might "sister" be another congregation (presumably the one John is writing from)?
  • Just what do we get out of these 13 verses that 1) is distinctive from other letters, and 2) was so important that it was retained in the canon of the Christian Church?
3 John
  • Verse 3 - Wow, what did Gaius do
  • Verses 9-10 - Similarly, who is this Diotrephes that his attitude should get such special mention?  And, am I correct in surmising that he is doing these misdeeds while nominally being part of a Christian congregation?
  • Verse 13 - Another "pen and ink" reference (same as in 2 John, but not 1 John, for whatever that's worth).  Indeed, verses 13 and 14 are very similar to verse 12 of 2 John.
Jude
  • Verses 4-5 - We've seen a bit of this elsewhere, but this seems to be another call for discipline within the church.  Indeed, Jude is suggesting that certain people be cast out entirely.
  • Verse 7 - Much has been said in our modern culture about how certain Christians focus almost exclusively on sexual sins.  Whatever may be true about such Christians' potential blindness to other sins, it is nonetheless true that sexual sins do get singled out with reasonable frequency in Scripture itself.  Besides that, I remain struck by Jude's harsh rhetoric.  We're not just talking about correction.  He's in full "eternal punishment" mode.
  • Verse 9 - According to the footnotes, this is an apparent reference to the Testament of Moses.  I confess that this is not an apocyphal text with which I am familiar. 
  • Verses 14-15 - I am somewhat more familiar with 1 Enoch, referenced here.  What does it mean for our understanding of Jude that he references (as Scripture) texts that we do not recognize as Scripture?
  • Verse 10 (yes, I know I'm going out of order) - Ironically, it seems to me that those who advocate for greater religious discipline are usually the ones who I would accuse of "speak(ing) abusively against whatever they do not understand" (and, frankly, I don't see this text as sufficient to challenge this attitude).
  • Verse 22-23 - After so much harsh rhetoric, it's a bit of a relief to see this call to show mercy and rescue people... although that relief is diminshed again by the quick return to such language as "hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh."
Revelation
Chapter 1
  • Verse 4 - I'm going to have to decide in the coming weeks just how much depth I want to get into with this book.  The imagery is so dense I could comment forever (indeed, the commentary I'm consulting at the moment is 374 pages long, not counting introductory material, and that's just for the first five chapters!), and having tried to keep from making this st of blog entries an exhaustive commentary series for nearly 11 whole months, I really don't think I should shift gears now.  That said, it's worth noting that the number seven, a number "commonly understood to signify completeness" is used quite a lot in Revelation.1 We get it twice in this verse alone!
  • Verse 13 - I was prepared to suggest that the phrase "son of man" gets used a lot, too, but as it happens, it actually only appears twice.2  I guess it's just that so much has been made of those words.  It has already been noted that the term was used by Jesus himself in the gospel, and the footnote here references the book of Daniel.  I find myself thinking that the phrase is so strange that it has to be a conscious reference.  I mean, really, why should John take note of the fact that "someone" looks like a human being (the way I would interpret the phrase "son of man" absent any known symbolic reference point)?  It would be self-evident, wouldn't it?
Chapter 2
  • Verse 6 - From Aune, pp. 147-148: "The Nicolaitans appear to be a minority group of Christians trying to gain a hearing and a more extensive following in the Ephesian church and are also mentioned in connection with the church in Pergamon (2:15)"  The text does not make clear what the "hateful" practices of these people actually were,3 and it is noted that "apocalyptic literature rather consistently avoids the actual names of protagonists and antagonists," further muddying matters.
  • Verse 13 - I'm guessing that "Antipas" was not the better-known Herod Antipas, who could hardly be considered God's "faithful witness." 
  • Verse 20 - While I note the use of "tolerance" as a bad word (common with many conservatives today), I also note that the "Jezebel" referenced here, by being a self-proclaimed "prophet," is apparently trying to be an active part of the church.  This would be a rather important distinction from the kind of "tolerance" of secular values often decried by believers today.4

1David E. Aune, Revelation 1-5 (Word Biblical Commentary), Word Books, 1997, pp. xciii-xciv.  Aune counts fifty-four uses of the number seven.
2Aune, p. 93. The other time the "son of man" appears is in Revelation 14:14.
3Aune, p. 148, suggests that a reference in 2:14-15 to "the 'teaching of Balaam' is apparently identical with the 'teaching of the Nicolaitans' and consists of eating meat previously sacrificed to pagan deities and the practice of fornication."  As I read those verses, however, I'm not so sure that the two groups hold such "identical" teachings.
4Interestingly, Aune, p. 204, suggests that "the charge that 'Jezebel' teaches Christians to practice sexual immorality is probably groundless and reflects the stock slander (unaffected by the facts) typically leveled at opponents by ancient writers....  Nearly all the uses of the πορν- cognates in Revelation are figurative rather than literal.... The term 'fornication' is probably used here in the sense of 'apostasy,' a usage found frequently in the OT." 

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Theological Competence Exam Question #3 - Art

We were given a choice to answer one of two different questions for the third and final part of the Theological Competence exam.  Although the question that asked us to respond theologically to issues that arise out of dealing with a loved one struggling with Alzheimers was important to me for personal reasons, I really didn't have to think too hard about deciding to respond to the question below.  There is a sense in which I feel like I've been answering this question for years.  It was this question, more than the other two, that left me with the conviction that this was the best chance of passing the exam I was ever likely to have.  I'm glad to see my feelings were rewarded!

SECTION III: APPLICATION TO MINISTRY
You are pastor of a church and post a sign-up sheet for a trip to a local art exhibit.  Members begin the following conversation with you.
Lois: Pastor, I am surprised that you would suggest this trip.  I thought that, given the Reformation, Presbyterians were against art.

Tim: My former church had an artist-in-residence who helped us understand God through the use of Scripture and painting.

Bruce: I think the arts are a bridge to help us understand our culture and bring the gospel to culture.

Abby: But some particular works of art today are just anti-Christian.
  1. Write an essay articulating a Reformed understanding of the place of the arts in Christian life.  Base your discussion on your knowledge of Reformed theology, using at least one (1) of these resources: the Scriptures, classical theology, contemporary theology.
  2. Building on your essay in Required Response 1, respond theologically to three (3) of the comments above.
This part of the exam was closed book.

1.        For the first several hundred years of the Church’s history, the vast majority people could not read.  Creating works of art such as statues, paintings, stained glass windows, and other items were often used as a tool with which to teach believers about the works of God when reading the Bible itself was simply not an option for most of them.
 

By the time of the Reformation, some Reformers, recognizing the commandment not to create idols, began to grow concerned about this practice.  The fear was that people would worship the works of art, rather than the God that the works of art were intended to point people to.  Indeed, as Moses was coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, his brother Aaron told people that the golden calf he had created was the God who had just freed them from Egypt.  The story was essentially right, but the object was all wrong.  It wasn’t the calf that saved God’s people!  And the calf was in no way being used to point people to the God that actually did the action.  If such a grievous abuse of art could happen so quickly after people had seen the real works of the authentic God, surely the works of art created to tell the story of God through Jesus Christ held that same dangerous potential!

For this reason, many of the Reformed denominations prohibited the use of art in their worship spaces, and indeed in Christians’ lives.  The concern that the art would become an idol, an object of worship in its own right, was simply too great a risk.
 

In more recent times, Reformed believers sought to recapture some of what was positive about the use of art as a tool to help convey the story of God, while remaining mindful of the dangers of idolatry.  Remembering that Paul could point to the statues dedicated to “an unknown God” at the Acropolis (works that were by no means “Christian”), using them as a point of evangelism from which to tell them the truth about the authentic God, Reformed believers began to advocate for the use of art as an expression of how God has blessed the world once again.  Moreover, Christians could argue for the myriad of ways in which God has gifted people with talents and abilities specifically for the edification of the church, and recognize that artistic talent is indeed one of those talents which could be used, if used in response and recognition of God, pointing people toward God as being behind it all, and not confusing the work of art with the object of worship itself.  Thus, Reformed believers of today have become more comfortable (at least in comparison with times past) with the use of art in Christian life.

2.        Lois is right to recognize that Presbyterians have indeed been against art in certain times and for certain reasons.  There has been a real, historic concern that art could become an object of worship, and that this would be a clear violation of the commandment against idolatry.  We must always keep in mind that art is not to be worshiped, and should always point to some greater truth beyond the art itself.  However, God is (among a great many other things) a God from which all good and beautiful things come, and thus it is appropriate to enjoy art and remember that all good and beautiful things come from God.  To the extent that art does remind us of God, Presbyterians need not be against art.


Tim’s artist-in-residence stands in a strong tradition of artists from the centuries of the church’s history who have used sculpture and painting to teach truths about God.  Indeed, some of the things we can learn about God through art may not be as readily communicated through other means, especially to some people who may respond to artistic expression in a way that they do not necessarily respond, say, to the spoken word.  No one way of teaching will reach all people, and thus God gives us a variety of means by which to help understand God better.


Abby expresses a legitimate concern on a couple of levels.  At one level, art has indeed been misused and abused.  As already noted, art has been used for idolatrous purposes in the past, and can indeed be used in this way in the present.  Also, whatever the purpose behind a work of art, if a work of art is used by the viewer in an idolatrous way, that is indeed a problem.  Another level of concern is the fact that art is sometimes used by an artist who may not only be “anti-Christian,” but who may actively be trying to articulate an “anti-Christian” message through his or her work.  We need not be afraid of such messages.  Our God is more powerful than any “anti-Christian” message a hostile artist may be trying to communicate to us.  We remain clear on who we worship.  However, God can work through even these works of art if we have eyes to see God’s truth.  Just as Paul used the pagan works of the Acropolis to convey a prophetic message to his audience, perhaps God is trying to tell us something about how the world sees the church that we need to hear.  For example, perhaps the world sees the church as “hateful” because we have failed to communicate God’s love adequately to some group of people.  If this is the case, God can use this “anti-Christian” work of art to correct our own failings, so that we learn to reach out with God’s love in ways that better convey the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who do not yet know it.  God remains supreme, and as long as we remember that, we may look at art without fear of whether it might be “anti-Christian” in its origins.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Brief History of Time... of Thanksgiving

Here in America, we all learn as children that the "first Thanksgiving" was celebrated by the pilgrims at Plymoth Rock, usually depicted as happily eating around a table with friendly Indians.  That this image is not entirely accurate to history is a topic for another time.  For now, it is enough to note that, even if first Thanksgiving did take place at this approximate time and with these approximate participants (and there's actually evidence that it may have even earlier origins!), no one really believes that Thanksgiving became an annual holiday immediately.  To get the kind of recognition it now enjoys took time.

In fact, even in the region of the pilgrims, Thanksgiving was merely a "regular," but not an "annual," observance for about 50 years.  In 1680, it finally became an annual observance in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Other regions also celebrated Thanksgiving celebrations (some annually, some not), but these were scattered all over the calendar according to region (and many of those regions celebrated not by eating, but by fasting!).  This decentralized attitude toward Thanksgiving continued for nearly two centuries.

Thanksgiving did not become an annual observance across the whole of America until 1863, when President Lincoln made a proclaimation (actually written by Secretary of State William H. Steward):
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
It's worth noting, however, that even at this point, at which point Thanksgiving became a de facto annual American observance, the current pattern was not yet set.  Nothing in Lincoln's proclamation dictated that Americans should (let alone would) continue to nationally celebrate the Thanksgiving event every year.  Even so, future Presidents did in fact declare an annual Thanksgiving observance from then on.

However, I'd like to point out that Lincoln declared the last Thursday of that 1863 November, rather than the fourth, would be the one recognized as a day of Thanksgiving.  Of course, in most years, November only has four Thursdays, making this is a purely academic distinction.  Presidents continued to follow this "last Thursday" pattern for decades, until Franklin Roosevelt broke with the then-current tradition in 1939 (a year when November had five Thursdays), and declared that Thanksgiving would be on the fourth Thursday of November that year.

Why make the change?  Apparently for economic reasons.  The country was still dealing with the Great Depression, and Roosevelt wanted to make sure that merchants had as much time to sell Christmas gifts as possible.  Although it's hard to understand these days, when we see and hear Christmas-related marketing even before Halloween, it was considered improper to advertise for Christmas before Thanksgiving had yet taken place.  The solution?  Have Thanksgiving earlier!  In fact, Roosevelt's original intention seems to have been to make Thanksgiving the next-to-last Thursday every November, and this was indeed set in his Thanksgiving proclamations for the next couple of years.

As is true when pretty much any long-standing tradition is changed, there were some people upset with Roosevelt's changes, and several regions flouted the presidential proclamations of 1939-1941 and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on the final Thursday.  Congress even got involved, and passed a resolution in 1941 that would have fixed the old last-Thursday date.  However, a compromise was reached, resulting in an amendment that December which set the now-familiar fourth-Thursday Thanksgiving.  This was signed into law by President Roosevelt, and the date of Thanksgiving was set as a formal matter of federal law for the first time.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: 1 John 1-5

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that BibleGateway.com is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through 1 John, chapters 1-5.


Chapter 1

  • Verse 1 - The letter doesn't make any self-claim to authorship, but the similarity to the first part of the gospel of John is hard to miss.
Chapter 2
  • Verse 1 - The language of "advocate" also is peculiar to John's gospel, found only there in the New Testament (besides the use of the word here), although in the gospel, it is used by Jesus to refer to the Holy Spirit, whereas here it seems to refer to Jesus Christ himself. 
  • Verses 7-8 - First he says he's not writing a new command, then he says he is.  Make up your mind, already!
  • Verse 9 - What if you hate a non-believer?
  • Verses 18, 22 - These (along with a mention in chapter four, and one more time in 2 John) are the only times the word "antichrist" show up in the entire Bible.  The concept of "antichrist" definitely seems to be something John's readers are already familiar with, but the way John uses the term bares little resemblance the the "antichrist" concept as popularized in modern end times works (notably the "Left Behind" series).  Indeed, the plural John occasionally uses for the concept would seem to rule the common conception out entirely.
Chapter 3
  • Verse 4: "Everyone who sins breaks the law" - I find it notable that this verse is not constructed the other way around.  It is not "Everyone who breaks the law sins."
  • Verse 15: "and you know that no murderers have eternal life in them" - (To paraphrase Paul, permit me a moment's madness)  Especially not Moses nor King David.  And Paul?  Certainly not!
  • Verse 17 - This, again, seems to be a reference to fellow Christians, as opposed to a call to give aid to people generally.  But what about giving aid to non-Christians?
Chapter 4
  • Verse 20 - This idea that Christians should not "hate" fellow believers well keeps coming up in this short letter.  I wonder what was going on in the church that John felt the need to push on this point so much.
Chapter 5
  • Verse 3: "his commands are not burdensome" - Yet it seems to me that Christians (and I find this is true on both liberal and conservative sides of the spectrum) have so much to say about the difficulty of following Christ fully that I confess I don't really see how it can be anything other than "burdensome."  We're not talking about something that can be done without effort.
  • Verses 6-8 - I can guess at some of this, but I have to confess that the "water and blood" language is a bit alien to me.  I'm not confident that my guesses match up with John's intentions.  And he doesn't really explain the imagery all that much.  I can only assume that this language was clearer to the original audience.
  • Verses 16-17 - What does John mean in regard to "sin that does not lead to death"?  Or, conversely, what sin does lead to death, that we shouldn't worry about praying for it?  Is he just saying that we shouldn't bother praying for people who have already died?



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Friday, November 19, 2010

Theological Competence Exam Question #2 - Sabbath

Although I did earn the "Satisfactory" grade on this response (the same as both of the other two questions I answered), one of the comments left for me on this response did have a bit of constructive criticism that I think is worth sharing.  That comment suggested that a stronger response would also have drawn from the life and actions of Jesus in regard to the Sabbath to demonstrate how (as the gospel says) "the Sabbath is made for people, not people for the Sabbath."

SECTION II: CONSTRUCTIVE STATEMENT OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE
As pastor, you are leading the worship committee of the session in a discussion of the concept of Sabbath.  You share the following section from the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q. 103. What does God require in the fourth commandment? A. First, that the ministry of the gospel and Christian education be maintained, and that I diligently attend church, especially on the Lord's day, to hear the Word of God, to participate in the holy Sacraments, to call publicly upon the Lord, and to give Christian service to those in need.  Second, that I cease from my evil works all the days of my life, allow the Lord to work in me through his Spirit, and thus being in this life the eternal Sabbath. (4.103)
Write an essay reflecting on the theological meaning of Sabbath for life today from a Reformed perspective.  Base your essay on your knowledge of Reformed theology, using at least one (1) of these resources: the Scriptures, classical theology, contemporary theology.
This part of the exam was closed book.

Even among Christians, we often struggle between the desire to go to Church on Sunday and the desire to do… well, pretty much anything else. This is nothing new. Even King James (the same King James who is known for the Bible translation which bears his name) produced a book on “sport” that made it clear he didn’t see any problem with non-religious activities on the Lord’s Day. While this may seem like nothing unusual to those in our congregations who anxiously await the end of the benediction so they can get home to watch the afternoon football game, this was actually pretty scandalous to church leaders of the time. Then, as now, we need to articulate a clear idea of what it is about the Sabbath (whether we celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday in recognition of the day on which Jesus Christ was raised from the dead or, as some would have it, on Saturday) that is special and worthy of being kept as sacred.

Obviously, God is worthy of worship at all times, not just on one day of the week. Speaking of the Sabbath as a particular day of worship and/or reverence may seem to dilute that, but it doesn’t need to. The commandment to keep one day holy, given in Exodus 20, was certainly not given to suggest that God’s people didn’t need to worship God on other days! It was given so that people would remember God in a special way. By remembering the Creation story of Genesis, whereby God rested on the seventh day, God’s people establish in their own weekly rhythms of life a constant reminder of who God is and what God has done. Even though God has power and resources that far exceed anything we humans possess or can even imagine, God rested. If God rested, so also we, beings that actually need rest once in a while, should also rest.

To make the Sabbath “holy” also means that it should be “set apart” in other ways. It is a day to gather together as God’s people. We can (and should!) worship God when on our own as individuals, but we are not called “the body of Christ” so that we can remain as individuals. We are called to gather together. In this way, we truly become a “body” of believers in which the individual members can strengthen and unify the whole in the love and worship of God. Being with other believers can help us to understand God more fully than we can understand God on our own. We learn from those who God has gifted with more knowledge than we have. We can get help and assistance from those who God has gifted with more resources than we have. And, if we have need of correction, we can get Christian discipline in those times in which we need it. John Calvin considered the health of the church to be at its strongest where the word was rightly preached, the sacraments rightly distributed, and where disciple was rightly exercised.


The Sabbath is also to be observed by setting time aside for prayer and for reading God’s Word. This can (and should!) be done in church worship gatherings, but can and should also be done in one’s personal life. Again, this is something that can be done on other days of the week, as well. The Reformed tradition recognizes this, and even hints at an “eternal Sabbath” in the Heidelberg Catechism. But by encouraging these actions “especially” on the Sabbath, one establishes a liturgical pattern in one’s life that helps serve as a constant reminder of God’s faithfulness to us, and especially of the ultimate act of God’s faithfulness, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This thereby encourages behaviors that draw one’s self closer to God.


Up to now, I have focused on those actions that should be especially encouraged on the Sabbath, but what about behaviors that should be discouraged? Is it permissible to watch football after church? Perhaps. But it is nonetheless the case that we are to “cease” those actions which are evil or which keep us from God, and keeping the Sabbath can remind us of those behaviors which are simply not helpful. It is probably obvious that a person who steals on the Sabbath is failing to fully observe the Sabbath in his or her life, but there are actions which are less obvious, as well, and remembering Sabbath observance can be a way in which God opens our eyes to these behaviors and gives us strength to discontinue them. If watching football keeps us from this recognition of God, then it is probably a problem.


However, football need not necessarily be a problem. God works in all aspects of life, and our enjoyment of whatever good things God has created may serve as reminder of what God has done. Perhaps engagement in sports helps us to remain healthy and take care of the physical bodies God has given us. Perhaps that person holding the “John 3:16” banner reminds a viewer of the fact that Jesus died for them. Perhaps the testimony of a particular player (and there are a great many Christian sport players) helps someone understand God a little better. Whether or not a particular activity is in keeping with a Sabbath observance is ultimately left up to a matter of personal conscience. But that doesn’t mean it is to be determined entirely on one’s own. Again, this is one reason why God gives us the church. We are not to give up on meeting together, but by coming together, especially on a regular pattern of Sabbath observance, we are reminded again and of what God has done for us, and taught more and more of how God wants us to live.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: 1 Peter 4-5 and 2 Peter 1-3

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that BibleGateway.com is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through 1 Peter, chapters 4-5 and 2 Peter, chapters 1-3.


Chapter 4

  • Verses 3-4 - I can't speak for others, but this bit about how (at least some) non-Christians treat Christians (especially those who were known before conversion) actually rings true to me.
  • Verse 6: "For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead" - I wonder how many decades after Christ's resurrection this letter was written, that Peter would make a point of mentioning those who have already died. McKnight suggests that the book was written sometime between AD 62 and 65 (Peter having been martyred in AD 65).1
  • Verse 7 - Either Peter had an expansive view of "near" (encompassing nearly 2000 years!) or he was simply mistaken.  What does that mean if we assume the latter? 
  • Verses 15-16 - I like that Peter isn't just saying that suffering, per se, is to be commended.  Indeed, he is quick to suggest that suffering for reasons of misconduct is not a good thing.  I would take as a corollary that Christians (either then or today) shouldn't be too quick to assume that, if they suffer, they are suffering because they are Christians. 
Chapter 5
  • Verses 1-5- In the first few mentions of the word "elder," the term is clearly used in the sense of a church officer, yet in verse 5, it is used in the more conventional sense (explicitly contrasted with "younger").  It does seem that the same Greek word (πρεσβυτέροις) is used in both instances.
  • Verse 13 - Because Mark is well-known as one of Peter's followers, it immediately my inclination not to take the word "son" as meaning Peter's biological son (despite the fact that, knowing Peter had a mother-in-law, it is a foregone conclusion that Peter was married, and thus a biological son would not be improbable).  Yet, it was a quick thought for me to jump from "son" to wondering if the unnamed woman mentioned here could be Peter's wife.  I could find no consideration of this possibility in McKnight, where the focus is on the probability that Babylon ("a notorious place of sin") is used here to reference a place of exile, probably Rome, from which Peter was believed to be writing.2 Michaels considers the possibility of a reference to Peter's wife, but ultimately dismisses this as Peter's intention for grammatical reasons.  He suggests that the "she" Peter refers to is, in fact, a congregation, possibly in Rome, but not necessarily there.3
2 Peter
Chapter 1
  • Verses 5-7 - For some reason, this list reminds me of the one Paul writes in Romans 5:3-4.
Chapter 2
  • Verses 1-10 - Woah!  Don't hold back!
  • Verses 15-16 - This story (the only one featuring a talking animal other than the serpent of Eden) comes from Numbers 22.
Chapter 3
  • Verse 1: "my second letter to you" - A surprisingly exact designation...  Even when Paul refers to other letters he'd written to the Corinthians, it is evident that, as often as not, he's referring to letters we no longer possess, rather than the ones we have....
  • Verse 9 - Honestly, given some of the other parts of this letter, it's almost a surprise to see an acknowledgement that God doesn't want people to perish....

1Scot McKnight, 1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary), Zondervan, 1996, p. 29.
2McKnight, p. 280.
3J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (Word Biblical Commentary), Word Books, 1988, pp. 310-311.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Theological Competence Exam Question #1 - Peace

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned having passed my Theological Competence Exams. I have now gotten my actual graded exams back with comments from the readers, and thus I feel that they are safe to post in public.

Here is the question I was asked to answer, with my response in smaller print below:

SECTION I: CONFESSIONAL HERITAGE
Several people in the congregation you serve as pastor have recently asked about the passing of the peace during the worship service.  In response, you and the session decide that peace will be the subject of the next adult education series.

In preparation, you turn first to John 14:27 (New Revised Standard Version), in which Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

As you consider the many different types of peace, you turn to The Book of Confessions.
Write an essay in which you identify and discuss different aspects of a Christian understanding of peace from a Reformed perspective.  Use and discuss four (4) citations (e.g., 0.000) from The Book of Confessions.  Citations must come from four (4) different documents in The Book of Confessions.
(We were allowed to use a "clean, unmarked, printed copy of The Book of Confessions" for this question.  This was the only such "open book" question of the three I answered)

Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)  Consequently, we talk about “peace” a lot within our churches.  But as with many terms that get a lot of use, it can actually be confusing what we mean when we use the term so much, and perhaps in different ways.  Here are some ways in the Reformed tradition has articulated the concept of “peace.”

One obvious way in which we talk about peace is the absence of armed conflict.  For example, when the Second Helvetic Confession discusses war, war is clearly seen as a last resort:
“And if it is necessary to preserve the safety of the people by war, let (the magistrate) wage war in the name of God; provided he has first sought peace by all means possible, and cannot save his people in any other way except by war.” (5.256)
While the Confession allows for the possibility of war under certain circumstances (specifically, “to preserve the safety of the people” in this instance), it emphasizes that peace (here being specifically opposed to the concept of war) should be sought “by all means possible.”  Too many people give lip service to this kind of teaching (almost no one comes right out and says they want war), yet fail to actively pursue all possible alternatives.  The Confession emphasizes how important it is to pursue peace so persistently by adding the next line, reminding the magistrate that war is permissible only when all other alternatives have been exhausted.

But peace is not simply the absence of armed conflict between nations.  Indeed, conflict need not even be between two people, let alone two nations.  An individual may struggle within him or herself, especially as there are unresolved matters of sin involved.  For this reason, the Westminster Larger Catechism links peace to prayer for forgiveness:
“In the fifth petition (which is, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”), acknowledging that we and all others are guilty both of original and actual sin… we pray for ourselves and others, that God of his free grace would, through the obedience and satisfaction of Christ apprehended and applied by faith… fill us with peace and joy.” (7.304)
But if God does grant us this peace, we are not intended to retain it only for ourselves.  We are called to work to spread that peace to others.  We cannot do this on our own, of course.  But God’s Spirit gives us this ability, as noted in this section of a Brief Statement of Faith:
“the Spirit gives us courage…
            to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.” (10.4)
This work may take many forms, of course.  It need not be in the suppression of conflict as done by a policeman or a soldier.  Indeed, peace is often sought through social action.  By building homes for those who need them, we create an environment in which people are safe.  By advocating for economic equity, we help them to meet their need for food or clothing.  By passing laws protecting the unprotected, we enable people to be free to be who God created them to be.  The Spirit is not only a part of all of this, but indeed makes it possible.

Ultimately, all peace comes from God through Jesus Christ, as the Confession of 1967 makes clear:
“God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ is the ground of the peace….  The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace.” (9.45)
But even if God’s act of reconciliation in Jesus Christ is the “ground” of peace, the Confession likewise makes clear that we are not to sit idly by.  God calls us to participate in that peace.  We must practice the peace that God’s Spirit enables in us.

May the peace of Christ be with you all.

I'll follow up with the other two questions in the coming weeks.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: James 4-5 and 1 Peter 1-3

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that BibleGateway.com is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through James, chapters 4-5 and 1 Peter, chapters 1-3.


Chapter 4

  • Verse 2 - I have to assume that James is employing hyperbole to at least some extent.  It's hard for me to believe that he's seriously accusing people in his audience of having committed murder as a result of whatever greed they might have.  That said, it certainly seems an apt description of human nature.
  • Verse 12 - Throughout most of this letter, James has some fairly harsh things to say to his audience.  Perhaps this makes him sound a bit hypocritical when he suggests that no one has the right to judge another person.  Perhaps it's important to note that James is (as was noted just above) speaking in generalities rather than to particular people?  Of course, Paul seemed not to worry about calling out individuals who he considered to have sinned.  How are we to follow the advice to take sin seriously while also obeying the injunction against judging others?
  • Verse 17 - How does this verse follow from the verses that come before it?  "So then" implies such a progression.
Chapter 5
  • Verse 3 - The "last days" seem to be hanging on yet....
  • Verse 4 - One doesn't perhaps expect non-Christian secular business owners to listen to James here, but it seems to me that a surprising number of "guilty parties" in this matter profess Christian faith.  Or, at least, if they don't, I wonder how the CEO-to-worker ratio can remain so off-balance (although it does seem to be improving).
  • Verse 12 - Granting that the word "swear" here seems to have less to do with cursing, and more to do with taking oaths, I still wonder why James considers this something to be avoided "above all."
1 Peter
Chapter 1
  • Verses 1-2 - Someday, I need to do some research into how Jews (and Christians) of the first century (who haven't been sitting with the writings of Paul and Peter on these matters for two centuries) understood the concepts of election of God's foreknowledge, and on what basis.
  • Verse 4 - The concept of "inheritance" is one that shows up in Scripture quite a lot, too.  I should focus more on this sometime....
  • Verses 10-11 - There's some interesting Christological discussion here.  Apparently the prophets (of the Old Testament era?) were led by the "Spirit of Christ."
Chapter 2
  • Verse 2 - Here (and in the previous chapter) Peter encourages believers to be like children.  Contrast this with Paul's concern that the Corinthians were immature and not ready for adult things, and the author of Hebrews' similar complaint of his audience.
  • Verses 18-20 - Clearly, Peter's instruction that believers should live godly lives of obedience extends to slaves--even slaves with cruel masters.  I wonder what Peter would say to abolitionists of more modern times (and, by this, I mean non-slaves who acted to end slavery, rather than slaves who sought freedom).
Chapter 3
  • Main point - Do what is right, even when others don't do what is right to you.


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