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.