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Friday, September 22, 2006

Top Five Mystery/Suspense Authors

Ok...time to lighten up a bit. Admittedly this is not an area I've been doing much reading in lately, but there are times you need "an airport book" or "a waiting room book" and I have enjoyed these authors. Besides, isn't it nice to be able to finish a book quickly once in a while? There's nothing like reading a mystery to make you feel like a speed-reader!

1. Laurie R. King: "Mary Russell" series. King combines history and literature by creating a young female character who accompanies Sherlock Holmes on adventures. My favorite is "O Jerusalem", which takes place in Jerusalem in 1918. (Yes, Allenby is there.) The first book in the series is "The Beekeeper's Apprentice".

2. Lindsey Davis: "Marcus Didius Falco" series. As you might suspect by his name, Marcus is a Roman living at the time of the Emperors Vespasian and Titus. [Remember the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD? Yeah...THAT father/son team.] Davis really gives you a taste of 1st Century Rome and Falco is a fun character. "Silver Pigs" is probably my favorite.

3. Edward Marston: "The Domesday Book" series. This series takes place in Medieval Britain during the reign of William the Conqueror. The two main characters solve mysteries as they travel around Britain as royal judges during the compilation of the famous "Domesday Book". [I think I'm noticing a pattern here... there seems to be a lot of history mixed in with my mystery! ;)]

4. Susanna Kearsley: I think she has only four [The Shadowy Horses; Season of Storms; Named of the Dragon and Mariana]. Each is tied into an historical past event (here we go again...) that somehow impacts the present day. While I get the previous books from the library, I think I had to order the Kearsley books from Amazon.

5. A Toss Up - Dorothy Gilman: "Mrs. Polifax" series and Lilian Jackson Braun: "The Cat Who..." series. Mrs. Polifax is a hoot! She is a sweet, elderly woman who travels around the world secretly working for the CIA. Very funny. And I'm sure all of you have read at least ONE "Cat"'ve just got to love Jim Qwilleran's two intuitive Siamese cats. I don't think all of the books are consistent in execution, so pay attention to Amazon ratings.

Classics: I should mention Agatha Christie, but I don't enjoy her as much as I used to [Her 2 best: "And Then There Were None" (a/k/a "Ten Little Indians") and "Murder on the Orient Express". Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes - "The Hound of the Baskerville". Josephine Tey - "The Daughter of Time". P.D. James. Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody [Egypt] series). Any of those great English period authors who crop up on PBS's "Mystery". Btw, I've been watching a BBC series, "Campion", which takes place in 1930's Britain, starring Peter Davison [who played Tristan in "All Creatures Great & Small"& one of my favorite Doctors in the old "Doctor Who" series.] Nobody does period pieces like the BBC... all those great old houses, costumes and cars.

As you can see, I like more humor than darkness. A little bit of scary, but not too much. No graphic murders or language. And if they're good at historical research and character development...

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Two POVs: Puritan vs Emerging Church

Even though I have lots of homework and lesson preps to do, this post has been twirling around in my mind and just HAS to get out. I recently read both "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church", by D.A. Carson and "Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were", by Leland Ryken. I was struck by their completely opposite Points of View concerning how we should approach and handle God's Word, the Bible.

The Emerging Church, by their own admission, is purposeful in having "fuzzy" definitions. [WARNING: 2Cor. 4:2] Their approach is "built on the assumption that postmodernism has effected such a gigantic and irreversible shift in people's thought patterns that the church is faced with a fundamental choice: adapt so as to respond better to postmodernism, or be relegated to irrelevance." Postmodernism believes there is no overriding Truth, that unless one is completely omniscient (which none of us are) one cannot know ANY Truth, only "individualized truths" particular to each person. There are "hard" Postmodernists and "soft" Postmodernists, depending how far one wishes to go in this line of thinking (which has strong undertones of Eastern philosophy, btw).

Now, to me, the proper response to Postmodernism is the Truth of God's revelation in His Word, NOT adopting a worldly Postmodern approach! If everyone is "in error" (from God's POV, as revealed in His Word), you do NOT also become "in error" in order to approach the lost more effectively! This has a decidedly Arminian world view. The Bible teaches that God chooses, God effects - it doesn't matter WHAT you thought before, when God regenerates a man, he receives spiritual life and responds to God in faith. [This reminds me of 1Cor.1-3, where the regenerated Corinthians tried to base their thinking and actions on the inferior knowledge of Greek sophia/wisdom, instead of the superior sophia/wisdom of God they already possessed as believers!] It's true that none of us, as humans, has omniscient knowledge, but God does...and He has given His revelation to us.

The Emerging Church stresses "forms" of worship [Menu-style, "pick and choose": robes, liturgy, candles, "personal narrative" journaling, Eastern-style meditation, icons, etc. Pretty much everything the Reformation fought to cleanse the church of!] and steers away from metanarrative - doctrinal Truths. [Brian MacLaren, a prominent writer for the movement, wrote that the Doctrine of the Atonement was "cosmic child abuse".] The focus of the movement appears to be the "worship experience" of the Individual, with a Postmodern capital "I", rather than on the Object of our worship. I am reminded of God's attitude towards those who worship Him in the manner THEY choose, rather than in the manner HE chooses. There can be NO real "worship" without Truth. [John 4:23-24; Rom 1:18; Rom 2:8]

Now lets look at the Puritan POV. John Owen wrote, "Pin not your faith upon men's opinions, the Bible is the touchstone." Ryken writes, "The Puritans' line of reasoning on biblical authority is impeccable: if God is the author of Scripture, it cannot lie, and if it does not deceive, it must be inerrant and infallible." (in reference to the original autographs)

They also believed in the Perspicuity of Scripture: John Milton wrote, "The very essence of Truth is plainness, and brightness...The Scriptures [protest] their own plainness and perspicuity, calling to them to be instructed, not only the wise and learned, but the simple, the poor, the babes." John Lightfoot wrote, "The foundation of the true church of God is Scripture." The preface to the Geneva Bible reads: The Bible "is the light to our paths, the key of the kingdom of heaven, our comfort in affliction, our shield and sword against Satan, the school of all wisdom, the glass wherein we behold God's face, the testimony of his favor, and the only food and nourishment of our souls."

"The Protestant Reformation, whether Continental or Puritan, stood for a word-based piety. Beginning with a conviction that the Bible was where a person encountered God most directly...The Puritans expected the verbal imagination to do the work that Catholic/Anglican worship had placed on the visual and aural imagination." The Puritans had a passion for doctrinal Truth. They expected worship to include an appeal to the understanding. They were especially preoccupied with religious Truth because they lived in an age of religious upheaval and doctrinal controversy. Is it any different today?

The Emerging Church promotes a preaching style of "story-telling" and "personal narratives". The Puritans were jailed and died over the right to preach God's Word! When Puritan preaching became popular in England, the Anglican establishment made numerous attempts to limit the role of preaching in the worship service. And now, the "newest", the "latest" type of worship being promoted by the Emerging Church is, in fact, actually going backwards to that erroneous form of "worship"!

Forgive the length of this post, but I think this is an important issue that most believers, at least on the East Coast, are unfamiliar with. We need to be thinking about these things, instead of being so anxious to "meet people's needs" (read: emotional; as opposed to their REAL need: spiritual), "increase our numbers", offering forms of worship that aid people in having a "personally valid experience". So be paying attention as the Christian book industry promotes these books and "everyone" at church is talking about them and thinking they're full of "good ideas".

I leave you with the words of the Puritan, Richard Greenham, "The more ceremonies, the less truth."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

"Reading Greek all day" Pays Off

Well, it happened to me again. Because I had become so used to hearing a particular passage OUT of context, I completely misunderstood its meaning, which became evident when read IN the context. I've been going SLOWLY over 1 Corinthians, Chapters 1-2 and following Paul's flow of argument [which FORCES me to keep in context].

The Corinthian believers had become enamored with trying to apply Greek sophia (wisdom) to Paul's message. The result was they wanted to abandon Paul, and ultimately his teaching [the gospel: "Christ crucified"], which they apparently considered "milk". ["You started us off, Paul, but now we've gone on to higher things."] They thought they had matured into a "higher", Greek sophia-type of knowledge, with the result that they no longer needed Paul, nor his message. [Remember that they had previously been corresponding with Paul (1Cor.5:9), so Paul is responding to a previous letter they wrote to him, and he is likely using their own terms, but giving them more accurate definitions.]

Now here is where all that Greek reading comes in handy. Greek sophia is a "higher" spirituality that is divorced from ethical consequences (as the Corinthians certainly demonstrated!). Paul is telling them that the purpose of the HS's coming was NOT to transport the believer ABOVE the present age, but to empower him to live in a holy manner within it. Greek sophia was an intellectual or theoretical, rational knowledge as the Stoics would have understood it. [Btw, the Stoics believed death brought the merging of the soul with deity, with a resultant loss of personality. The Epicureans, as you know, denied there was any existence beyond physical death.] Paul tells the Corinthians that God's sophia has nothing to do with Greek sophia's insight into a god's secrets, disclosed in ecstasy or in a mystical way, as Philo had (erroneously) explained Abraham's and Moses' knowledge of God. True sophia of God is rather the profound content of God's revelation - Christ crucified [Paul's "kerygma" (message preached)]. The Corinthian church's error was to conceive of God as "ultimate Reason", meaning what THEY deemed "reasonable" (and they didn't find wisdom based on "Christ crucified" to be reasonable). But faith trusts God, recognizing His superior wisdom to that of the human mind.

In 1Cor.3:1, "infants" is the opposite of "spiritual", indicating that the "mature/teleioi" of 1Cor.2:6 are those who have received the Spirit (1Cor.2:12). Those "in Christ" (1Cor.1:30) are "the mature", and thus the Corinthians are included. BUT their behavior indicates that they are THINKING like "infants" [i.e. unsaved human Greek sophia]. Paul's concern is to persuade them to adopt the godly thinking, that results in godly behavior, which goes along with being "mature ones"/believers in Christ, instead of thinking like "infants"/the unsaved. (cf. 1Cor.14:20)

So, basically, Paul is NOT comparing immature believers with mature believers (as I had previously thought), but unsaved ["infants"] with saved ["mature ones"]. He points out that the Corinthians' perception of themselves as "mature" because they had added Greek human sophia [which was, in truth - the wisdom of the lost] to what they considered to be a "foolish" gospel message (1Cor.1:23) was, in fact, error. In reality, what they had done was to add the philosophy of a "kosmos/world" that had already been judged, and was "passing away". As believers they had God's wisdom [1Cor.2:16 "the mind of Christ", i.e. "understanding" of God's activity in the world, anchored/foundationed upon "Christ crucified"] and they had no need of an inferior Greek-type sophia/wisdom.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Interpreting the Bible

While I am trying to get back into the swing of things because of my new "grandmother" experience, I thought I'd share a blog from Todd Bolen, an Instructor at IBEX in Israel (where Tim spent time when he was at The Master's College). This is a good reminder to all of us.

from Todd's blog, 9/7/06:
I was asked, isn’t the Bible God’s love letter to us? Uh, no. Not exactly.
It’s easier to speak in specifics rather than in general terms, so let’s take the book of Samuel as our example. The book of Samuel had an author (or authors) and it had an audience. That is, the person(s) who wrote Samuel wrote it for a reason and for a certain readership. And it wasn’t me (or you). This sounds basic, but it is increasingly important in a world (and church) that doesn’t seem to appreciate context and recognize boundaries. While the book of Samuel may be difficult to nail down exactly who wrote it, when they wrote, and exactly to whom they wrote, I think we can all agree that the audience was a group of Jewish people sometime between 1000-500 B.C. We don’t need to be more specific for our purposes now. So the point is that the original audience cannot be me (I’m not Jewish) and it can’t be you (unless you’re 2500 years old).

But, you ask, isn’t there a way in which Samuel is for us. Yes, indeed. But that way is not to pretend as if that book was written to and for us. Instead, it is to understand the meaning of Samuel as intended by its original author(s) to its original hearers/readers. That, and only that, meaning is what you must seek. You cannot start with “what is Samuel saying to me?”. Once you’ve determined what Samuel is saying to its audience, then you can determine what application it has for your life.

So here’s an example. You read the story of David and Goliath (chapter 17). First, determine what it meant when it was written. I’ll save you some time: the answer is that it was written to show David’s military superiority to Saul (not Goliath, Saul), which of course reflects God’s hand upon David. Once you understand the original meaning (and there’s no magic except for careful attention to the context and some knowledge of history, geography, and language), then you can determine how it applies to you today.

Valid “Principles” include:
1. God empowers those whom he chooses to do what he wills.
2. God expects his people to embrace the leader he has chosen for them.
3. God can defend his honor in unexpected ways
These of course lead to proper “Application”:
1. If you are doing the will of God, He will give you the strength you need to accomplish His purposes.
2. Honor those in authority over you.
3. Don’t try to outsmart God.

The problem with the “love letter to me” approach is that you end up making the Bible say things that it does not intend to say. For instance, you can say that God will always allow you to conquer the giants in your life. You can say that God’s servants need to be prepared with extra stones in their pouch. You can say that those who denounce God should have their heads cut off. The problem with all of these applications is that they are not what the writer intended to say (and by the way, I’m not making a significant distinction between the event itself and the recording of that event, but there is a difference and thus it’s easiest and best to speak about the written record). And I think they are all false. Let me say it more strongly: All applications which do not derive from the passage are dangerous! They must be forgotten or denounced, as the case may be. If the statement is true and you know so from another passage, then base it on the other passage and not this one.

If the question is “Can I profit from all of the Bible even though it was not written directly to me?”, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”. Paul knew that Samuel wasn’t written to him, yet he told Timothy that all Scripture was useful. The key here is in using it as it was originally intended and not as a horoscope.