Thursday, November 19, 2009

C.S. Lewis on Progress

"If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man."

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Saturday, October 24, 2009

John Murray on Menial Labour & Vain Ambition, 1957

“That Adam’s labour consisted in dressing the garden and keeping it informs us that it was highly worthy of man’s dignity as created after the divine image to be employed in so mundane a task. This is eloquent warning against the impiety of despising and judging unworthy of our dignity the tasks which we call menial. And one cannot but suspect that the widespread tendency to take flight from agricultural and related pursuits springs from an underestimate of the dignity of manual toil and oftentimes reflects an unwholesome ambition which is the fruit of impiety. There is warrant for the judgment that economics, culture, morality, and piety have suffered grave havoc by failure to appreciate the nobility of manual labour. Multitudes of men and women, if they had thought in terms of this principle and had been taught in the home, in the church, and in the school to think in these terms, would have been saved from the catastrophe of economic, moral, and religious ruin because they would have been preserved from the vain ambition of pursing vocations for which they were not equipped and which, on sober and enlightened reflection, they would not have sought.”

John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics, 1957 -- Pages 35-36, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1978

Friday, October 2, 2009

Top 10 Most Depressing Books

So Abebooks released a list of the top ten most depressing books. Not surprisingly, some of my favorites are on here.

Top 10 most depressing books

1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
The first time I read this I sobbed for a solid hour after I finished it. I mean, not just “a single tear trickling down” kinda thing, I mean nearly hysterical boo-hooing. And I don’t cry at books. I’m an English major--we’re desensitized and can approach everything from a “critical distance,” blah blah blah. However, I don’t know that I would describe the book as depressing. I actually found the ending extremely hopeful. I think that was why I cried, actually. The final paragraph can be taken a number of different ways. How one interprets it, I think, can reveal much about that reader’s worldview.

2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)
I read this in college and really liked it. I think most young females can identify with Esther Greenwood in some way, even if they aren't suicidal.

3. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895)
Okay, this one was a little much. I won’t give it away, but what happens is pretty harsh. But, it’s perhaps a welcome departure from 19th century marriage-plot novels.

4. Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell (1949)
This is the book I beat my students over the head with for five semesters, off and on, as Bush was waging his War on Terror and Congress was shredding the Constitution with the Patriot Act. Everyone should read this book. I actually found Brave New World more depressing, since I felt much of it was more realistic.

5. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957)
I tried to read it but only got about halfway through (which was itself a hefty 600 pages). I just didn’t get the point. Human beings are portrayed as driven by competition and bereft of any sense of morality (which I guess is pretty accurate considering our fallen state). However, there seemed NO possibility of redemption on the horizon (I don’t know since I didn’t finish it. Has ANYONE actually finished this book???) There just wasn’t a lot there to keep me reading.

6. Night by Elie Wiesel (1955)
Haven’t read it but I guess I should, since Oprah said to.

7. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
Read it a long time ago, but I don’t know that I would describe it as depressing. Maybe bleak--but look at the setting.

8. On the Beach by Nevil Shute (1957)
Haven’t read it. Want to now.

9. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970)
Read this in college and it stunned me. Beautiful and horrific. This is another one everybody should read.

10. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
Read this when I was ten (my grandmother was horrified) and have loved it ever since.

I’m not sure what I would add to this list, as I don’t tend to think of books in terms of “depressing.” A lot of people think my favorite novel, Wise Blood, is depressing, but if you understand O’Connor’s theology, the ending is actually quite happy, at least for the protagonist. Some people think Faulkner is depressing; I think he’s prophetic. Slaughterhouse Five is pretty bleak, but it’s also funny. If more people had read it, Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun would probably be on here. I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t actually gotten around to reading it myself, but I saw the movie (haha), so you’ll have to ask my husband about it.

I’ve had students ask me why I assign such depressing books in my classes, especially since I don’t seem to be have that “dark” of a personality (at least in class I don’t, apparently). I usually respond that 1) “happy” things just aren’t as interesting, and 2), one of the ways we can identify a text as “literature” (that is, a text that invites study and rumination versus a text read for recreational purposes) is that it plunges us more deeply into the world rather than just taking us out of it momentarily. A book that does this can transform its audience. And because readers tend to be complacent and desensitized, to do that, sometimes you have to shake up your audience. As Flannery O’Connor once said, “For the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.” From a Christian perspective, I believe that a text that forces us to confront the reality of our fallen estate can draw us that much closer to God, even if that effect is unintentional--for example, if the author is an atheist.

Your thoughts? What would you add to this list? Or perhaps it should be re-named . . .

Friday, September 25, 2009

Irresistible Grace

My friend Brenden Camp wrote this article and posted it to facebook. He makes some really good points and has supported the Reformed position with a good collection of Scriptures. He has allowed me to repost his article along with my response to this blog.

Irresistible Grace? by Brenden Camp

What does the doctrine of "Irresistible Grace" mean to you? Generally when one states the doctrine by this name, a common charge is brought against it which states that "people often DO resist God and His grace", in which case this doctrine is incorrect. On the contrary, it is understood that people do resist God, to the extent that ALL people in their lives have done so at one point, even if we were unaware of it, or maybe not so boldly outspoken. However, on the other hand we must realize that there WAS a defining cause as it were, that brought us to the salvation we have in Christ Jesus. In other words, there must be a reason why - if you are a born again believer - you can say from the depths of your heart that you believe, while another will deny Jesus straight to the grave. This is what I hope to show within the doctrine I will rather refer to as "Effectual Calling" [as "irresistible grace" may be too misleading for some].

In order for this to prosper, we must remember that the only way it can be true is if God's word reveals it as truth, where a mere human theory without Scripture should be done away with. With this in mind, we'll begin in everyone's favorite book of the Bible; Romans. Romans 8:30 tells us exactly this; that "whom He called, He also justified." Now right off the bat I want you to understand that Paul's words state the indefinite justification of those who are called. If you are called, you are justified. So is this call resistible? I have heard the view that this particular call Paul mentions is a call of service or duty. For example, God calling one to be a preacher, another to be a missionary, etc. There are a actually a few problems I hold with that view. It doesn't fit the entire context of Romans 8:29-30, which teaches the building up to our glorification from before the beginning of time. Also, Paul mentions this call several more times, even once in the exact same context, one chapter later. In Romans 9:23-24 Paul tells us "He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles." Compare this verse with Romans 8:30: "...and these whom He predestined, He also called..." My point? The entire context of Romans 9 is based on physical Israel [the Jews] being replaced as God's chosen people by the remnant, which is as Paul explains, made up of who God calls from among both Jews and Gentiles alike. This is a call from God that, rather than one of service, is one that must bring about the salvation of the called, which results in the remnant that is now God's chosen people [or Israel].

Possibly my favorite passage of all on God's effectual call [irresistible grace] comes from Jesus Himself in John 6:44-45. "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught of God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me." The word 'unless' generally shows us one thing in particular. That is, there are two options present. In this passage the options would be, either you are drawn by the Father and can come to Jesus, or you are not drawn and cannot come to Jesus. But if that's not enough, Jesus goes on to explain Himself further. He quotes a prophecy from Isaiah, in which the prophet claims of Zion, "all your sons will be taught of the Lord" [Is. 54:13 / entire chapter for context]. The fact that Jesus uses this statement signifies two things for us. It shows us that the Zion prophesied by Isaiah was God's kingdom. And it also shows us that all of the sons of God's kingdom would be taught of God. [The phrase 'taught of God' is equal to 'taught by God' as is apparent in several other translations including KJV & NKJV.] But again, we see that Jesus doesn't just stop there. He uses Isaiah's words to expand His own teaching of God's drawing; "Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me." I want you to catch that first Jesus said that "no one CAN" come to Him, unless the Father draws him; now Jesus states that all who the Father teaches DOES come to Him. Jesus never lied and never misspoke, so we can understand that Jesus didn't mean to say that those who the Father teaches CAN, but rather that they DO [indefinitely] come. Can we say then that those who do not come to Jesus, were never taught by God? I believe we safely can. And who decides to be taught by God, if God's teaching brings you to your very belief?

The last point I'll make is in accordance with Jesus' words in Matthew 22:14. "Many are called but few are chosen." This is not the same calling that Paul mentions in Romans or that Jesus mentions in John. Rather, this is the call of the gospel. Paul and Jesus [especially] understood that the gospel call would not save everyone it reached. This is in fact a sad reality for us, and if it's not, it should be. Our hearts should be conformed to the image of Christ and we're told that "Jesus wept." Does this mean that we can't come to an understanding that perhaps God the Father does choose to effectually call or teach whom He pleases? Of course not! God's ways are NOT our ways. [Is. 55] In 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 Paul says "We should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." Notice that in verse 14, Paul states two important truths. First, he makes a clear distinction between the gospel call and God's call. "He called you through our gospel..." Second, he explains what the purpose of this call is. "...that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." So you see that not only is this calling separate from the gospel call, it is a calling separate from one of service as well. The purpose of this particular calling of God is for salvation [justification] unto glorification. James also uses this same kind of language in James 1:18. "In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures." Again, the clear distinction is made between the call [or drawing] of God and the call of the gospel. First James tells us why God would call us, "In the exercise of His will"; that God DID in fact call [or draw] us, "He brought us forth"; God's way of presenting His call to us, "by the word of truth"; and what the purpose of this particular calling is, "that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures." I'll leave you with a few more thoughts from Paul on why you believe and others don't, and the difference between the gospel call and God's effectual call. 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul refers to his recipients as "saints by calling". Verse 9 "God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." Verse 18 "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." And then what the difference is between the perishing and those being saved, in verses 22-24; "For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." Notice that those who are "the called" are the ones Paul mentions are being saved, while the others are perishing.

Your thoughts?

My response to Brenden Camp’s Irresistible Grace?

Brenden, You certainly begin from the correct approach, Sola Scriptura: “the only way it can be true is if God’s word reveals it as true.” You have a good collection of Scriptural evidence to support the doctrine of effectual calling. You distinguish between the three Scriptural usages of the word “calling” – vocation or service, gospel summons or external calling, and effectual calling. That’s very important. The church of today usually ignores or confuses those distinctions. I think you would like Thomas Watson’s A Divine Cordial. It’s an entire book on Romans 8:28. He writes of effectual calling: “It is an irresistible call. When God calls a man by His grace, he cannot but come. You may resist the minister’s call, but you cannot the Spirit’s call.” Charles Hodge in his Commentary on Romans wrote: “The word calling . . . is never, in the epistles of the New Testament, applied to those who are recipients of the mere external invitation of the gospel. It always means effectually called.” In another place Hodge wrote a similar statement but added that the effectually called are “those who are so called as to be made obedient to the call. . . . [it] is applied to Christians, since they are drawn by grace, and do not come of themselves.” That’s most certainly language of irresistibility.

On this subject I found helpful the guidance of Arthur W. Pink. In The Sovereignty of God, Pink looks at Acts 13:48, “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Pink makes four observations: (1) “believing is a consequence and not the cause of God’s decree.” (2) “a limited number only are ordained to eternal life.” (3) “this ordination of God is not to mere external privileges but to eternal life, not to service but to salvation itself.” (4) “all . . . not one less . . . will most certainly believe.” This is consistent with our confession: “These angels and men, thus predestined, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished” (WCF 3.4) And in chapter 10: “All those whom God hath predestined unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time effectually to call . . .”

If effectual calling could be resisted then that foreordained number of men would fluctuate based on the will and faithfulness (and more often unfaithfulness) of men. Therefore, by necessity, “predestination” would be contingent not upon God’s foreordination, but upon God “foreseeing” those who would believe and choosing to save them. That idea strikes at the very heart of free grace and the nature of God’s sovereignty. Also, Christians would have absolutely no assurance that they are, in fact, saved. And that, of course, leads us into the subject of perseverance, and, I think more importantly into an examination of the nature of the atonement.

It’s important for Christians to understand that the doctrine of irresistible grace does no damage to the will of man, which is actually in bondage, but instead frees it. We are not reluctantly coerced into believing, but as the Canons of Dort explain, the Holy Spirit “revives, heals, reforms, and -- in a manner at once pleasing and powerful – bends it back . . . It is in this that the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consists.” Nor does this doctrine nullify the use of means, i.e. the external gospel call. It is a sincere and universal promise. Cornelis P. Venema in But for the Grace of God wrote that there is nothing in the “description of irresistible grace that would lessen in any degree the gospel summons to faith and repentance, together with the promise of salvation and blessedness to all who heed this summons.” However, as you note in your last point, not everyone who hears the gospel will be saved – to some it will be stumbling blocks and to others foolishness. Thomas Watson wrote: “This external call is insufficient to salvation, yet sufficient to leave men without excuse.” So then the gospel call always accomplishes the purpose God intends. Likewise, effectual calling always accomplishes its design – it saves all who are ordained to eternal life. Inseparable from the unchangeable decree, effectual calling is irresistible in the sense that all who are predestined will in time be justified and will afterwards be glorified.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Amazing Millie

So this is the gigantic egg laid by one of our hens, Millie. The top picture shows it in comparison to one of her normal (but still large) eggs. Jeremy was hoping it would turn out to be a rare double egg (not just a double-yolker but an actual egg inside another egg--it actually happens) and that we would make it to the front page of the local paper. (That is why I am posing like a crazy person in the second picture.) Well, we boiled it and cracked it open and no such luck--it's just a big egg. Jeremy ate it with gusto anyhow. Just had to share, especially seeing as how it was probably rather painful for Millie, and she deserves recognition for her accomplishment.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Grace is a flower

"Grace is a flower of eternity. . . . Death does not destroy grace but transplants it and makes it grow in better soil." -- Thomas Watson, Heaven Taken by Storm, 1669

Friday, August 28, 2009

He Performs What Is Appointed For Me: Some Thoughts on Predestination

Jeremy Andress, 2009

Upon crossing paths with the ninth chapter of Romans, a Bible study group decided to just skip ahead to the less controversial more “practical” chapters -- leaving behind “He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.” I have a few thoughts on this matter I wish to convey to my fellow Christians. It is not my intention that this article be an exhaustive defense of the doctrine of predestination; for throughout the two millennia of Christian church history there are ample books by competent churchmen that have successfully defended the doctrine. Nor am I writing a new and enlightened explanation of the doctrine. This will be apparent as you continue. It is my prayer that Christians are encouraged to examine the doctrine, and instead of bypassing this difficult and important subject they come to an understanding of predestination grounded firmly in Scripture. This will only result from the intimate study of the Word of God. Essential doctrines, wrote B. B. Warfield, “stand at the root of the Christian life . . . [it is] the duty as well as the right of the Christian man to study them, to seek to understand them in themselves and in their relations, to attempt to state them with accuracy and to adjust their statement with the whole body of known truth” (Warfield 24). Pray with the psalmist:

Make me know Your ways, O LORD;
Teach me Your paths.
Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation.
-- Psalm 25:4, 5

We are not only directed to study the Scriptures, but also to defend the faith. Whether you’re dealing with the infallibility of Scripture, the Trinity, original sin, the virgin birth, the divinity of Christ, the nature or extent of the atonement, the resurrection, the sacraments, etc, know that all Christian doctrines are controversial. If we stand firm on the fundamental doctrines of our faith we will be in the midst of controversy. Should we stand firm? J. Gresham Machen wrote: “The type of religion which . . . shrinks from ‘controversial’ matters, will never stand amid the shocks of life. In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight” (Machen 1-2). Upon the text of 1 Thess.5:21, J. C. Ryle wrote that each Christian “must do their part in contending for the truth. Each should work, and each should pray, and each should labour as if the preservation of the pure Gospel depended upon himself or herself and upon no one else at all. . . . If we would hold fast that which is good, we must not tolerate or countenance any doctrine that is not the pure doctrine of Christ’s Gospel. . . . . There is an intolerance which is downright praiseworthy: that is the intolerance of false teaching in the pulpit” (Ryle). True love for God, wrote Thomas Watson, “infuses a spirit of gallantry and fortitude into a Christian. He that loves God will stand up in His cause, and be an advocate for Him” (Watson 57). I encourage you not to avoid those doctrinal subjects that are difficult to understand or controversial. Instead, stand firm upon the Rock of our Salvation. Stand vigilantly and hold fast “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone, is an underpinning and primary doctrine of the Protestant Reformation. It is a fundamental of our faith. William Ames wrote in 1623: “All things necessary to salvation are contained in the Scriptures and also those things necessary for the instruction and edification of the church . . . Therefore, Scripture is not a partial but a perfect rule of faith and morals. And no observance can be continually and everywhere necessary in the church of God, on the basis of any tradition or other authority, unless it is contained in the Scriptures” (Ames 187). In addition to Scripture being the only guide to our Christian life, each and every Scripture is inspired by God and has been given to us for our instruction in doctrine and practice: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

It is our responsibility and privilege to understand what has been revealed in Scripture. However, there are secrets or mysteries which God has not unveiled to us: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us” (Deut. 29:29). Undoubtedly, there are aspects of predestination that are reserved within the mind of God alone. But does Scripture reveal something of predestination? Certainly, numerous Scriptures speak of God, for His own glorious purpose, choosing (or electing) specific people to everlasting life before the world was even created: “You did not choose me but I chose you” (John 15:16); “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44); “God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9); “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation” (2 Thess. 2:13); God “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim. 1:9); “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48); “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him in love: He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the kind intention of His will . . . we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:4-12); “And we know that God causes all things to work for good for those that love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. . . these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and those whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30). And of course there’s Romans 9:11-24:

“[T]hough the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to his choice would stand, not because of works but of Him who calls . . . Just as it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. . . . . I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. . . . So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will? On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this’, will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?”

Therefore, based upon the Word of God, election is defined as “the eternal and unchangeable decree of God, by which he has graciously decreed to convert some to Christ, to preserve them in faith, and repentance, and through him to bestow upon them eternal life” (Ursinus 297).

While unswervingly declaring and thankfully accepting what has been revealed to us about predestination, we must nevertheless be cautious that we don’t inquire beyond what has been revealed in Scripture: “The preaching of election,” wrote Cornelis P. Venema, “must be carefully disciplined by the Word of God, declaring neither more nor less than God has been pleased to reveal to us . . . . we are not to pry ‘inquisitively’ into the subject of election beyond the limits of Scriptural revelation” (Venema 30-31). Upon this caution John Calvin explains further:

“The subject of predestination, which in itself is attended with considerable difficulty, is rendered very perplexed, and hence perilous by human curiosity . . . when they inquire into predestination, let them remember that they are penetrating into the recesses of the divine wisdom . . . For it is not right that man should with impunity pry into things which the Lord has been pleased to conceal within himself . . . Those secrets of his will, which he has seen meet to manifest, are revealed in his word -- revealed insofar as he knew to be conductive to our interest and welfare . . . Let it, therefore, be our first principle that to desire any other knowledge of predestination than that which is expounded by the word of God, is no less infatuated than to walk where there is no path, or to seek light in darkness. . . . There are others who, when they would cure this disease, recommend that the subject of predestination should scarcely if ever be mentioned . . . in order to keep the legitimate course in this matter, we must return to the word of God, in which we are furnished with the right rule of understanding. For Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which nothing useful and necessary to be known has been omitted, so nothing is taught but what it is of importance to know. Everything, therefore, delivered in Scripture on the subject of predestination, we must beware of keeping from the faithful . . . allow the Christian to unlock his mind and ears to all the words of God which are addressed to him, provided he do it with this moderation, i.e., that whenever the Lord shuts his sacred mouth, he also desists from inquiry. . . . This is clearly expressed by Moses in a few words, ‘The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us, and to our children for ever’ (Deut. 29:29) . . . I wish it to be received as a general rule, that the secret things of God are not to be scrutinized, and those which he has revealed are not to be overlooked, lest we may on the one hand, be chargeable to curiosity, and, on the other with ingratitude” (Calvin 607 – 609).

Nothing taught in Scripture is unnecessary to our growth in Christ. But what is the practical value of the doctrine of predestination? To answer this it must first be established that doctrine and practice are inextricable. “[D]octrine is the very base of the practical life,” wrote Arthur W. Pink, “There is an inseparable connection between belief and practice. . . The relation between Divine truth and Christian character is that of cause to effect” (Pink 261). Machen wrote that “the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life . . . but a way of life founded upon a message. . . . In other words it was based upon doctrine. . . . Christianity for Paul was not only a life, but also a doctrine, and logically the doctrine came first” (Machen 21, 23). “The assertion often heard in our day, that Christianity is not a doctrine but a life, may have a rather pious sound . . . but is after all a dangerous falsehood” wrote Louis Berkhof. He continues: “Participation in the life of Christianity is everywhere in the New Testament made conditional on faith in Christ as He has revealed Himself, and this naturally includes knowledge of the redemptive facts recorded in Scripture. Christians must have a proper understanding of the significance of these facts. . . .They who minimize the significance of the truth, and therefore ignore and neglect it, will finally come to the discovery that they have very little Christianity left” (Berkhof 28-29). What about predestination? What is its value as a doctrine? I return to the words of A. W. Pink:

“The doctrine of God’s sovereignty [which includes predestination] then is no mere metaphysical dogma which is devoid of practical value, but is one that is calculated to produce a powerful effect upon Christian character and the daily walk. . . . [It] is a Divine cordial to refresh our spirits. It is designed and adapted to mould the affections of the heart and to give a right direction to conduct. It produces gratitude in prosperity and patience in adversity. It affords comfort for the present and a sense of security respecting the unknown future. . . . it ascribes to God . . .the glory which is His due, and places the creature in his proper place before Him – in the dust” (Pink 263-264).

The doctrine of predestination, wrote R. L. Dabney “exalts God, his power, his sovereign, unbought love and mercy. . . [It] humbles man in the dust. . . while it lays man’s pride low, [it] gives him an anchor of hope, sure and steadfast, drawing him to heaven; for his hope is founded not in the weakness, folly, and fickleness of his human will, but in the eternal love, wisdom, and power of almighty God” (Dabney 79-80 ). Our salvation is secure. Charles Hodge wrote, “the plan of God cannot fail; those whom He has called into this state of reconciliation . . . He will certainly bring to the glory He has prepared for his people” (Hodge 257). Let us draw comfort and assurance from knowing that we have “been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” Let us boldly declare with Job the absolute sovereignty of God: “what His soul desires, that He does. For He performs what is appointed for me” (Job 23:13, 14).

Sola Dei Gloria.
Ames, William. The Marrow of Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1997.
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996.
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008.
Dabney, Robert L. The Five Points of Calvinism. Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle, 1992.
Hodge, Charles. Romans. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993.
Machen, J. Gresham. Christianity and Liberalism. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990.
Pink, Arthur W. The Sovereignty of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975.
Ryle, J. C. “Hold Fast”. Sermon. .
Ursinus, Zacharias. The Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1954.
Venema, Cornelis P. But for the Grace of God: An Exposition of the Canons of Dort. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformed Fellowship, 1994.
Warfield, Benjamin B. The Right of Systematic Theology. Edinburg, Scotland: Clark, 1897.
Watson, Thomas. A Divine Cordial. Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace, 2001.
New American Standard Bible,

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dabney on John Knox and God-less Compulsory Public Education

“Were that iron man to return to the earth just now, and to hear these pretended successors to his creed quoting him as authority for the educational rights of a State which they have stripped of all Christian character and of every right of Christian inculcation, one can imagine the thundering disclaimer which would come from the roughest side of his rough tongue. He would declare that such a State, giving such an education, was a conception of the devil himself.”

Robert Lewis Dabney, The Practical Philosophy, Book IV, Chapter III.1 (1897)

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Good Life

I've been meaning to post about this for some time, but a little while back some friends lent us the complete series of the 70's BBC sitcom The Good Life (known as Good Neighbors in the U.S.). Have you ever seen it? The show concerns a couple, Tom and Barbara Good, who set out to make their home in suburban London completely self-sufficient. Tom quits his meaningless job as a designer of little plastic toys that come in cereal boxes and he and Barbara plow up their lawn to plant crops, raise livestock in the backyard, power the house with methane, and brew their own peapod wine. Much of the show concerns their interaction with the couple next door, the Ledbetters, who are thoroughly entrenched in the modern industrial society and whose incredulity at the Goods' preposterous lifestyle makes for some interesting conflicts--the wife, Margot, is a very proper English lady and a social climber and is particularly nonplussed at the Goods' choices. However, the Ledbetters grow sympathetic to the Goods' cause and while they maintain their own values, they often help Tom and Barbara out in their quirky and quixotic agrarian endeavors. I admit the show is unrealistic in some technical aspects and some may find it corny (especially the first episode), but it was truly a delight for us to watch. (By the way, we are very picky about TV; in fact we have declined to make the digital transition and have not had access to broadcast TV in a while). The interplay between the Goods and the Ledbetters is hilarious, and you can't help but get attached to these characters. While the Goods' attitude is extremely perky and optimistic, the show does not exactly sugarcoat their way of life--Tom and Barbara have their share of hardships and frequently need bailing out by the mainstream Ledbetters. I would argue that the show depicts marriage very positively and explores friendship in a way that is rare in light comedies. Some viewers may object to some slightly off-color references in the show, but they are comparatively mild by today's standards.

Here is a link to the first episode.

In case you think the premise of the show is completely ridiculous, you need to check out the Dervaes family of Pasadena, California, if you haven't already heard of them. On a tiny lot just feet from a freeway, they grow almost all of their own food. Here is their introductory video and a link to their website, Path to Freedom.

The Dervaes family

Friday, July 10, 2009

How to Tell if You Have a Homestead (or, Why My House Is a Mess)

In this post, Sharon Astyk makes me feel better about our constant state of disarray here. I have often dreamt of someday having at least an approximation of a home and garden that might grace the pages of a magazine (albeit, the home would be artfully furnished with treasured hand-me-downs and quirky thrift store finds and the yard densely planted with edible ornamentals). Amid my clutter of books, papers, toys, dishes, half-finished renovations and a sprawling summer garden full of weeds, I maintain (with a bit of self-righteousness, I’m afraid) that people who have clean, uncluttered, and beautiful houses and don’t actually live in them. They use their homes as one uses a motel on vacation--as a place to watch TV and sleep in between the main attractions that occupy the rest of their time. (Of course, there are those rare folks who manage both to use their homes and to keep them beautiful--but I neither pretend nor aspire to be superhuman.) Astyk makes my point in her recent post:

How can you tell if you have a homestead, rather than a showplace home?
Well, first of all, you are there a lot. Whether you own or rent, have a private
place or a collective one, a homestead is a place where you really live.

At a minimum, this means that you invest your time and energy into the
place, to adapting it to you and you to it. In aesthetic terms, that means
there’s almost always a project getting done, and the accoutrements of that
work-in-progress about. Your hoes and shovels don’t come out once in a while,
there are tools and sawdust about, furniture being moved about, and most of your
home tours include the sentences “eventually that will be…” or “that’s a work in
The other reality is that you probably use your home more than
most people. Maybe you work full time, but you spend your evenings gardening and
cooking and building things. Or maybe you have a cottage business, or work from
home. Maybe you homeschool, or your kids spend more time at home and playing in
the neighborhood than they spend at camp and more structured programs, because
they are learning home-based skills.

That also, frankly, means that your home does not look like a magazine
spread - remember, in those pictures, people are always lounging around or
having a barbecue - I’m sure you do some of that too, but the reality is that
you are going to have your office full of work, or your barn full of boards,
homework spread all over the dining room table, tomatoes on the counter - not a
bowlful, decoratively laid out, but buckets of them, waiting to be canned.

The major feature by which a homestead differs from a home is that more
and more of one’s needs are met at home, rather than elsewhere. That does not
mean we live in caves and never come out into the light - but it does mean we’re
more likely to eat with our friends at our own table than at restaurants, or
replace trips to the store with trips to the garden, the fabric stash or the
accumulation of “potentially useful salvage.” . .

All of which means there is exactly no chance that that your house will
look like a magazine - some people’s do, of course, but except for those with
that instinctive gift for beauty, most of the ones that do look like they do
because no one is home - adults work, kids go to school and to activities if
they are middle or upper class, or to jobs if they are older and not. (read

Her homestead example is pretty much us, despite the smallness of our homestead. We both have jobs, but our lives are centered in the home. We are here a lot. At any given moment, there are multiple projects in progress indoors and out. There is a garden in the front yard and a small assortment of animals in the backyard, along with a compost pile. I cook most of our meals at home and try to use many homegrown ingredients and few convenience foods. I recently used my kitchen to put up 600 ears of corn, and last night my husband mixed up our first batch of mead in it (we’ll let you know how it turns out). We don’t have a dishwasher, so dishes are usually visible, either waiting to be washed or waiting to be put away. I dry our laundry on a line and use cloth diapers--speaking of diapers, did I mention the toddler (who doesn’t attend day care)? Her toys and books are scattered everywhere, and my careful color scheme now includes the playful primaries utilized by Little Tikes and Fisher-Price. We plan to home school her later, so of course the associated paraphernalia will only increase the clutter of books, papers, and general chaos that surrounds us.

So I guess we have a homestead, and that’s my excuse for having a work-in-progress home that is far from picture-perfect (although my lack of organization and time-management skills and my tendency to be easily distracted probably has something to do with it as well). But at least it’s a home--we truly live here. It is a home-based (along with a God-centered, I might add) existence that industrial culture has made great progress in abolishing. As Wendell Berry points out,

According to the industrial formula, the ideal human residence (from the Latin
residere, "to sit back" or "remain sitting") is one on which the residers do not
work. The house is built, equipped, decorated, and provisioned by other people,
by strangers. In it, the married couple practice as few as possible of the
disciplines of household or homestead. Their domestic labor consists
principally, of buying things, putting things away, and throwing things away,
but it is understood that it is, "best" to have even those jobs done by an
"inferior" person, and the ultimate industrial ideal is a "home" in which
everything, would be done by pushing buttons. In such a "home," a married couple
are mates, sexually, legally, and socially, but they are not helpmates; they do
nothing useful either together or for each other. According to the ideal, work
should be done away from home. When such spouses say to each other, "I will love
you forever," the meaning of their words is seriously impaired by their
circumstances; they are speaking in the presence of so little that they have
done and made. Their history together is essentially placeless; it has no
visible or tangible incarnation. They have only themselves in view. (from “Men
and Women in Search of Common Ground,” 1987

Industrial society has done a lot to ensure that the family is not rooted to the “common ground” of the home. Men, and more recently women, are expected to work long hours outside the home to provide enough disposable income so that in their “free” time, all family members can escape the home to spend it (even if it’s imaginary) on the overabundance of shoddy consumer goods and low entertainment that sustains our (now failing) economy. Because everyone spends so much time working, child care is outsourced to professionals, education to the State, and domestic skills once taken for granted are lost in favor of fast food, labor-saving gadgets, and hired help. Divorced from the context of the home in its pursuit of affluence, the family disintegrates. As Astyk points out, even this vision is ultimately illusory since this type of wealth is fundamentally “unsustainable” as the recent economic malaise highlights.

What may in fact be sustainable are relationships based in shared experiences that are built together in a common place. To me, that is what marriage is about. Our home is far from ideal. Better Homes and Gardens is probably not going to call us to do a photo shoot. Moreover, we’d like way more acreage and a house that is not necessarily bigger, but more energy efficient and better suited to our activities. And, it would be nice to have more good neighbors who were neither drug dealers nor child abusers.

However, this is our home because we truly live here, and the work that takes place here --even if most of it is haphazard and unfinished--defines our relationship as a family, roots us in the common ground of place. And that is why my house is such a mess.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Independence Day Goats

Naomi’s first close encounter with goats went well. She smiled, laughed and called them “gits.” She loved feeding them too, until one grabbed a hold of her fingers and tried to pull her through the fence. I guess I was supposed to console her while she shed a few tears, but I couldn’t stop laughing. Afterwards she smiled, laughed and called them “gits.”

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Helpful Reformed Systematics

In the Reformed Theology links column to the right of the screen I’ve added links to the systematic theologies that have most influenced my thoughts on religious matters: The Systematics of R. L. Dabney, C. Hodge , and L. Berkhof . These are books in my library that I often reference concerning theological questions. In addition to these volumes I appreciate Calvin’s Institutes and Bullinger’s Decades as well as The Marrow of Theology of William Ames. The Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism by Ursinius has also been very helpful. Also, the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms, primarily those of Westminster, have guided my understanding of God’s Holy Word. If you object to the usefulness of Systematic Theologies please read The Right of Systematic Theology by B. B. Warfield, 1897.

Clyde N. Wilson on History and Historians

“History is not an expression of abstract laws, or the record of progress. It is a description of the actions of men, of life, which in turn is an expression of the (partly unknowable) mind of God. A historian who does an honest and competent job of narrative or description has created something permanently useful to everyone, whether they agree with him or not. The historian who claims to have found the final explanation is a fraud.”

Clyde N. Wilson, “Crackers and Roundheads” a book review published in
Defending Dixie: Essays in Southern History and Culture, 2006.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

C. S. Lewis on Bureaucrats

“I like bats much better than bureaucrats. I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of ‘Admin.’ The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern.” -- C. S. Lewis, Preface to 1959 edition of The Screwtape Letters

Friday, June 5, 2009

New chicks on the block

We got chicks yesterday, ten black sex links. We have not yet retired the old girls, since it will be quite some time before these are laying--but the breed is supposed to be excellent layers. Mimi thought they were ducks at first, but now she is saying "Chick! Chick!" We will try to get some cute pictures with her to post.

Tonight's Supper #3

I actually made this Monday night, but oh well.

-Ratatouille--eggplant, zucchini, garlic, onions, tomatoes, banana peppers and herbs--all homegrown.

-Sweet corn--grown on a friend's plot

-Green beans and new potatoes--grown at The Farm

-Garnished with nasturtium flowers and leaves from the front yard

The only things not homegrown were a couple slices of bacon for flavor and the butter we put on the corn. And salt :)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Thursday, May 7, 2009

May Garden

Still producing: Romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, green onions, radishes
On its way: zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, blackberries, blueberries
I'm helping!

Romaine and chard

Shallots and zucchini


Thursday, April 2, 2009

After the flood

We’ve had storm after storm for a few weeks now. The forecast has rain heading this way next week as well. Currently the Blackwater River and its tributaries are flooded. Many homes are being flooded. Last week my garden at the farm where I work was under a foot of water. I was worried about the beans. They had only been up about four days. The corn was about eight inches tall. The potatoes were well established so I wasn’t as concerned about them. When the water receded I could see that I didn’t lose much at all. Some of my bush beans and lima beans were washed away or covered with mud, but the majority still stood. I lost some squash and cucumbers and peas. The potatoes and corn are fine. Below are some pictures of the garden after the water receded.
Click the photos to enlarge.
Bush Beans and Lima Beans

Red Pontiac Potatoes

Water was up a little more than a foot over the garden

A survivor

Silver Queen Sweet Corn

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Poem for Naomi's Birthday

The Risk of Birth

by Madeleine L'Engle

This is no time for a child to be born,

With the earth betrayed by war and hate

And a nova lighting the sky to warn

That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,

In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;

Honour and truth were trampled by scorn—

Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?

The inn is full on the planet earth,

And by greed and pride the sky is torn

Love still takes the risk of birth.

Happy Birthday, Mimi

1 year

9 months

5 months

3 months

1 month

1 day