Friday, July 25

The Ji'hadi Holocaust and Gospel Scandalon

Nuun (نis the first letter of Arabic the word Nasara (نصارى or Nazarene). Since the beginning of the Islamic invasion of the Christian world in the 7th century this letter has been used by Muslims as a pejorative, a mark of shame, a scandalon  Today in Syria and Iraq, a new generation of invaders use it to stigmatize and persecute the few remaining Christians in the region. In the same way the Nazi's used the Star of David to identify Jews for persecution and eventually extermination, these Muslim terrorists use nun for their new Ji'hadi Holocaust.

Therefore, many Western Christians now display nuun as a mark of Gospel hope and a demonstration of solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters in the lands where the Church of Jesus Christ was born. We gladly bear the scandal of the cross.

And so, with this sign we joyously declare that together with the faithful all around the world, we belong to the Resurrected Nazarene, the Savior of the World, God Almighty, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords.  And one day, we know that "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord."

Thursday, July 3

Every Stanza of the Star Spangled Banner


During the night of September 13, 1814, Francis Scott Key, a Washington attorney was sent to the British command to secure the release of a prisoner when the fleet began to bombard the placements of American fortifications in Baltimore at Fort McHenry. Though the battle raged through the night, the defenses stood firm. The sight of the flag still flying over the fort the next morning inspired the young lawyer to pen the immortal words of The Star Spangled Banner. Set to a popular English song, Anacreon in Heaven, it was officially declared to be the American national anthem more than a hundred years later, just before the First World War. 

Though the first stanza is very familiar to us today, the rest of this great hymn is sadly neglected. This July 4, let's rectify that unwarranted slight:

O! say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming:
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming,
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there:

O! say, does the star-spangled banner still wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mist of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam—
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream

‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is the band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country would leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave!

And the star-spangled banner in triumph cloth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the foe’s desolation;
Bless’d with victory and peace, may our heaven‑rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just—
And this be our motto—“In God is our trust!”

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Tuesday, June 24

The 700th Anniversary of Bannockburn


In an effort to relieve the besieged Stirling Castle, England’s King Edward II, the effeminate son of the cruel Longshanks, sent troops northward into Scotland—a land that had been in constant rebellion against his sovereignty for more than a decade. First there was William Wallace and his ragged corps of Highland warriors. Now there was the loyal army of the presumptive king of an independent Scottish nation, Robert the Bruce.

Though the great castle overlooking the wide plain of Bannockburn had thus far been able to resist Bruce’s assault, Edward knew it would not be able to hold out much longer. The taking of this fortress was an achievement of which Edward was prouder than of anything else he had done in his invasion of Scotland—in the royal annals, he made it of far greater moment than even his victory over Wallace at Falkirk.

The time and the place of the inevitable battle were thus fixed by an obdurate necessity, on this day in 1314; The English were bound to relieve Stirling Castle; The Scots must prevent them. If the invaders were not met and fought at Bannockburn, they might outflank the Scots and reach the castle. And if the Scots did meet and fight them there, it was not likely there would be any other favorable field for a pitched battle anywhere in the whole of the land. The battle, therefore, would of necessity, be under the walls of the castle. Nevertheless, the odds were against the Scots—they were outnumbered by at least three to one. They would have to rely on strategy—and Bruce had a brilliant strategy.

At daybreak they met the fierce charge of the English armies. A detachment of English archers quickly wheeled around the Scottish flank and took up a position where they could rake the compact clumps of Scots spear men. But the lines held just long enough for a host of decoys—actually just a group of camp-followers—to appear along the horizon of a neighboring hill. The women and children were mistaken for a fresh army of the Scots—just exactly what Bruce had hoped. The confused English lines began to scatter. Scottish pikemen were then able to confine the English to a small land mass between the Bannock Burn—the Gaelic name for river—and the Firth of Forth. With little room to maneuver effectively, the massive English regiments were forced into flight by a final charge of fewer than 2,000 Scots swarming down from Gillies Hill—on crest of which the William Wallace Memorial Tower stands today.

The end was rout, confused and hopeless. The pitted field added to the disasters; for though they were able to avoid it in their careful advance, many of the English were pressed into it in the retreat, and floundered among the pitfalls. Through all the history of its great wars before and since, never did England suffer a humiliation deep enough to approach even comparison with this. Besides the vast inferiority of the victorious army, Bannockburn was exceptional among battles by the utter helplessness of the defeated. There seemed to have been no rallying-point anywhere. It was as if the Scripture had been fulfilled, “The wicked flee when no man pursueth.”

And at last, Scotland was free.

Friday, June 13

In Season and Out


When I was in seminary, the “Church Growth Movement” was just getting its sea legs. So, of course, it was all the rage in the hallowed halls of academia—if not amongst the profs, most assuredly amongst their charges. Filled with uninformed enthusiasm my peers tended to gobble up every fad and fancy that came down the pike: “Preach to felt needs;” “Aim at attracting seekers;” “Recast sermons into positive messages people can actually use.”

It was almost as if we'd caught the spirit of the age like a virus. It seemed that a plague of terminal trendiness would sweep paelo-church-planting-fogeies like me into the dustbin of irrelevance.

The result is that almost a generation later the difficult vocation of what Eugene Peterson has vividly dubbed "a long obedience in the same direction" is almost entirely missing from our lives, our preaching, and our churches. Biblical illiteracy is pandemic. The ordinary means of grace have been left by the wayside in favor of the new-and-improved.

Even in Evangelical and Reformed congregations, the Gospel has been squeezed into the mold of this world with amazing alacrity. According to David Wells in his must-read manifesto, No Place for Truth, "Even the mildest assertion of Christian truth today sounds like a thunderclap because the well-polished civility of our religious talk has kept us from hearing much of this kind of thing."

Indeed, the well-polished civility of our religious talk has all but eliminated true religion from our talk--to say nothing of our lives. Thus, recovery seems to have replaced repentance; dysfunction seems to have replaced sin; drama seems to have replaced dogma; positive thinking seems to have replaced passionate preaching; subjective experience seems to have replaced propositional truth; a practical regimen seems to have replaced a providential redemption; psychotherapy seems to have replaced discipleship; encounter groups seem to have replaced evangelistic teams; the don't-worry-be-happy jingle seems to have replaced the prepare-to-meet-thy-God refrain; the Twelve Steps seem to have replaced the One Way.

Today it seems that it is far better to be witty than to be weighty. We want soft-sell. We want relevance. We want acceptance. We want an up-beat, low-key, clever, motivational, friendly, informal, hipster, and abbreviated faith. No doctrine, no dogma, no Bible-thumping; no heavy commitments; no strings attached. No muss; no fuss. We want the same salvation as in the Old Time Religion--but with half the hassle and a third less guilt.

In our haste to present the Gospel in this kind of fresh, innovative, and user-friendly fashion, we have come dangerously close to denying its essentials altogether. We have made it so accessible that it is no longer Biblical. When Karl Barth published his liberal manifesto Romerbrief in 1918, it was said that he had "exploded a bomb on the playground of theologians." But the havoc wrecked by the current spate of evangelical compromise may well prove to be far more devastating. As Ben Patterson has observed:, "Of late, evangelicals have out-liberaled the liberals, with self-help books, positive-thinking preaching, and success gospels." 

So, what are we to do in the face of all this? Well, very simply, we must “Preach the word in season and out.” We must “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” And in order to do that, we will have to “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong and let all that we do be done in love.” After all, as Thomas Chalmers said so long ago, “Gospel preaching always requires great courage, both to execute and to tolerate, for it must ever needs be a running toward a lion’s roar.” Thomas Chalmers

The Love of God

It is one of Augustine's most oft quoted, misquoted, and misunderstood maxims:

“Love God and do as you please.”

“Love God and do as you wish.”

“Love God and do what you will.”

“Love God and do what thou wilt.”

The full context of this seemingly paradoxical observation is found in the tract, In epistulam Ioannis ad Parthos (Tractatus VII, 8):

“Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love God, and do what thou wilt: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.”

The text in Latin reads, "dilige et quod vis fac." But it is sometimes mistakenly quoted as, "ama et fac quod vis."

Far from advocating a kind of que sera sera ethical antinomianism, Augustine was actually saying that if we love the Lord God Almighty, then what He wants will become what we want. He was saying that if our love of the one true God is real and profound, then that is all that matters simply because right actions will necessarily and irresistibly flow from that love.

Friday, May 30

James Hyslop's "A Cameronian Dream"

When the righteous had fallen, and the combat had ended,
A chariot of fire through the dark cloud descended;
Its drivers were angels, on horses of whiteness,
And its burning wheels turned upon axles of brightness;

A seraph unfolded its doors bright and shining,
All dazzling like gold of the seventh refining,
And the souls that came forth out of great tribulation,
Have mounted the chariots and steeds of salvation.

On the arch of the rainbow the chariot is gliding,
Through the paths of the thunder the horsemen are riding.
Glide swiftly, bright spirits, the prize is before ye
A crown never-fading: a kingdom of glory!

Friday, May 2

They're Coming


A Modern Reflection on ObamaCare
And the Defense of Freedom

If tonight were
Paul Revere's ride
Instead of that fated night
In seventy-five;

The alarm to arise
o'er the horse hooves drumming
Most assuredly would be:
"The lab coats,"
Hear ye,
"The lab coats are coming."

Friday, April 18

Christianity: A Dangerous Idea


This past November, as part of Australian TV’s “Festival of Dangerous Ideas,” an episode was broadcast from the Sydney Opera House. Peter Hitchens, the lone conservative and Christian amongst a panel and audience of “progressives,” was laughed at, mocked, and pilloried for an hour.

At the end of the broadcast, the panelists were asked: “Which of the so-called dangerous ideas do you think would have the greatest potential to change the world for the better if it were actually implemented?”

The esteemed experts all responded with various takes on economic and human potential propositions, all trés chic in their über-correctness.

Last of all, Peter Hitchens responded, “The most dangerous idea in human history and philosophy remains the belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and rose from the dead. That is the most dangerous idea you will ever encounter.”

The rest of the panel and audience laughed and cheered—until they realized that something must be wrong if they were agreeing with Hitchens! At that point, confusion seemed to settle on the venue like a fog—at which point, he was asked to explain.

“The truth of the crucifixion and resurrection is the most dangerous idea because it alters the whole of human behavior and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and, therefore, we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. Christianity alters us all. Even if we reject it, it alters us. It is incredibly dangerous. It’s why so many people turn against it."

Indeed, even the Modernist take on Secularist Atheism is philosophically impossible apart from Christianity. 

The Seven Last Words


1. Forgiveness: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:26-35 


2. Redemption: “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:35-43 


3. Covenant: “Behold, your son; behold, your mother.” John 19:23-27 


4. Substitution: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.” Matthew 27:45-54

5. Suffering: “I thirst.” John 19:28

6. Triumph: “It is finished.”  John 19:30


7. Resolution: “Into Your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:44-49 

Wednesday, April 9

Tolkien's "Beowulf"


J.R.R. Tolkien’s never-before-published 1926 translation of the 11th century epic poem Beowulf will at long last be released this next month by HarperCollins.  The work was edited by his son Christopher, who has also added textual commentary and historical background.  According to Christopher, the elder Tolkien “seems never to have considered its publication.” He left it among his papers and notebooks along with numerous other unpublished manuscripts at the time of his death in 1973. 


This new volume will also include a story called Sellic Spell and excerpts from a series of lectures on Beowulf Tolkien delivered at Oxford during the two decades between the First and Second World Wars. Of course, avid readers will remember that Tolkien did publish one of those lectures, “The Monsters and the Critics,” in 1936. Indeed, that short monograph was described as “epoch-making” by no less an authority than Seamus Heaney in the introduction to his own hugely popular 1999 verse translation of Beowulf.

Tolkien treats the Beowulf poet as “an imaginative writer,” not a historical reconstruction. According to Heaney this “brilliant literary treatment changed the way the poem has been valued and therefore initiated a new era—and new terms—of appreciation.” 

Beowulf has been perhaps the most revered poem in the English language, at least since the 18th century, when the sole manuscript was rescued from fire and and translated and disseminated widely. This is more than a little ironic given the fact that Beowulf was not actually written in English—or at least, not in an English we would recognize—but rather in Old Anglo-Saxon. More akin to German than to English, the language was rendered entirely in runes.  Moreover, the story is not even set in England, but instead in the Norse homelands of Scandinavia

Tolkien’s almost universally beloved body of mythopoeic fiction was deeply influenced by Beowulf. So this translation will be a cherished gem for all serious readers of his work.

Just to whet your appetite, here is a brief comparison between Heaney's translation and that of Tolkien:

Heaney’s versification:

Time went by, the boat was
on water,
in close under the cliffs.
Men climbed eagerly up the
gangplank,
sand churned in surf, warriors
loaded
a cargo of weapons, shining
war-gear
in the vessel’s hold, then
heaved out,
away with a will in their
wood-wreathed ship.


Tolkien’s versification:

On went the hours:
on ocean afloat
under cliff was their craft.
Now climb blithely
brave man aboard;
breakers pounding
ground the shingle.
Gleaming harness
they hove to the bosom of the
bark, armour
with cunning forged then cast
her forth
to voyage triumphant,
valiant-timbered
fleet foam twisted.