Blogroll: Emmanuel Evangelical Church
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It's quite often said that Hebrew poetry doesn't rhyme - or, at least, that it's not characterised by rhyme in the same way as some modern western styles of poetry. Instead, we're told, Hebrew poetry relies on parallelism and rhythm and so on. Of course, people have seen spotted assonance and other sonic features here and there. But just last week I came across an extended set of rhyming lines in Habakkuk 2, which O. Palmer Robertson notes in his comentary. You've got successive lines ending with sounds like this (vv. 7-8):
keyka ... eyka
rabbim ... ammim
qirya ... ba
Yesterday's sermon was on Habakkuk chapter 2, which touches (among other things) on the growth of the Kingdom of God throughout history. This growth arises in part from the impact that following Christ has on the way that all of us go about our daily vocations. So what difference should it make for us to be followers of Jesus? This extract from Peter Leithart’s superb book The Kingdom and the Power gives a few ideas. If your vocation isn't mentioned explicity, I'm sure you can figure out how to extrapolate from those that are:
“Suppose a businessman is converted. In an obvious sense, his working skills as a businessman have not automatically improved. He still has the same training and skills in management, forecasting, and marketing as he had before his conversion. Nonetheless his faithfulness to God will make him a better businessman. He realises the God expects his “yes” to be “yes” and his “no” to be “no,” and he begins to acquire a reputation as a fair dealer. He treats his employees respectfully and sympathetically, and their personal affection to him makes them work harder. After sitting through a series of sermons on the prophecy of Malachi, moreover, he becomes convinced that, like Abraham, he should tithe if he is to accept bread and wine from the Greater Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17-20). He learns that the businessman who does not tithe is foolish. On the other hand, God has promised to bless tithing (Malachi 3:8-10). Other things being equal, a tithing businessman is a better businessman than a non-tithing businessman. A non-tithing businessman has not taken account of the most important economic factor in the business climate: God.
“Suppose an English professor is converted. Does his conversion make him a better scholar? In one sense, no. He still has the same reservoir of knowledge, the same linguistic skills, the same trained sensitivity to the nuances of meaning in a literary text. But in another sense the faithful Christian English professor will be superior as a scholar. Because he seeks to govern his mind by the word of God, he will resist nihilistic and fundamentally stupid literary fads and will not waste his time pursuing what he knows to be barren theories. Because he is a Christian, he will know instinctively that radical deconstructionism is a dead end and Derrida a pretentious phony. The Spirit will give him boldness to say so, and he will seem prophetic to his colleagues. As he absorbs the Bible, he will begin to understand the patterns and archetypes that God has built into the creation, patterns and archetypes that are reflected in the literary texts that he studies as a scholar. He will begin to have a better understanding of those works as he begins to share the thought-world of the authors.
“Suppose a physician is converted. Again, she will have no more technical skill after her conversion than she had before. If trained as an orthopaedist, she will not suddenly be able to practice obstetrics. On the other hand, being a Christian will make her a superior physician in a number of ways. As she studies her Bible, she will learn that it God is the One who heals, and she will begin to recognize the limited power of medical technology. As she draws nearer to the Lord, she will learn more and more that her patients are not machines, and that they are more than bodies. She will begin to see that physical illnesses sometimes have moral and spiritual causes. She will treat her patients as distorted images of God. Because that is the truth about her patients, she will be more effective as a physician. She may become convinced that socialized medicine is another pretension of the messianic state, and she will oppose the system on both professional and moral grounds.
“Suppose an assembly line worker becomes a Christian. As with the others, there is an obvious sense in which he will not be a better worker after his conversion. Yet, because he goes to a church that practices weekly communion and is serious about church discipline, he is motivated to make every effort to get along with people. When he has an argument with a co-worker, he takes him aside to work things out. Realizing that he has been stealing his employer’s time, he stops taking the extra ten minutes on his lunch break and even offers to make restitution by working several hours of free overtime. Instead of concentrating on protecting himself, he tries to help his fellow workers do a better job – giving encouragement or nudging them when they slack off. His boss begins to see him as a potential shift supervisor.
“All this does not, of course, necessarily imply that the Christian businessman, doctor, or physician will be more “successful” by contemporary standards. The tithing businessman’s cash flow may actually decline; the English professor may be denied tenure; the physician may lose patients who expect a quick fix for their pain; and the assembly line worker’s fellows may resent his chances for advancement. But their conversion will, in an important sense, make them more effective in their vocations that they would have been otherwise. Eating with the King [at the Lord’s Supper] every weekend changes people.”
Next Sunday, we're having another Sunday Afternoon Bible Study at Emmanuel. We’re going to be looking at the so-called “Minor Prophets” – that collection of twelve shortish (hence “Minor”) books at the end of the Old Testament (from Hosea to Malachi) which tend to get left out of the list of most people’s Top Ten Most Read books of the Bible.
I mean, let’s be honest: when did you last read the book of Nahum?
We’re going to begin the afternoon with a quiz. Complete with prizes. (We’ll do it in teams, so don’t worry if you don’t know all the answers.) To make things easier,
I’ve even posted the questions online here, so that you can take a look at them in advance.
Now, do you fancy a challenge? If so, here’s your opportunity. If you want to make the most of next week’s Sunday Afternoon Bible Study, here’s what I suggest you do. First, take a look at the questions.
Then, get yourself a Bible, a large cup of coffee, and one hour of undistracted time. Sit down and skim-read through the Minor Prophets from Hosea to Malachi at the rate of one chapter every 50 seconds. Seriously. Use a stopwatch if it helps you to know when to move on. Don’t try to read every word; you won’t be able to read fast enough. Just try to get a rough feel for what they’re about. Even just reading the bold-text headings in the Bible and glancing at a couple of the verses will give you a great sense of the flow and the flavour of each book.
Then come along next Sunday afternoon and hang on tight as we dash through all twelve books in two hours.
On Sunday 5 November, we're having a special Sunday Afternoon Bible Study at Emmanuel, looking at the Minor Prophets. That's right, all of them.
To kick off the afternoon, we're going to have a little quiz. Complete with prizes.
Here's how it works: Below you'll find a list of 50 phrases, all of which are quotations from the Minor Prophets. You just need to identify which prophet each quotation comes from. To make it even easier, there’s a list of all the books at the end showing how many quotations come from each one, so you can tick them off as you go through.
Bonus points if you can identify the chapter as well...
1. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up
2. Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you
3. Behold, a basket of summer fruit.
4. Behold, a flying scroll
5. Behold, a lampstand all of gold
6. Behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand
7. Behold, four chariots
8. Behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans
9. Behold, I send my messenger
10. Behold, the man whose name is the Branch
11. Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news
12. Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey
13. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah
14. For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment
15. Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom
16. God appointed a worm
17. Hear, you peoples, all of you; pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it
18. How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?
19. I am a Hebrew
20. I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh
21. I will punish everyone who leaps over the threshold
22. I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen
23. I will send you Elijah the prophet
24. I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land
25. I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth
26. Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your panelled houses, while this house lies in ruins?
27. Nineveh is alike a pool whose waters run away
28. Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit
29. O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?
30. On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius
31. Out of Egypt I called my son
32. Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning
33. Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him
34. Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land
35. The destroying locust
36. The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea
37. The LORD appointed a great fish
38. The LORD is good
39. The LORD utters his voice before his army
40. The mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains
41. The righteous shall live by his faith
42. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals
43. Those who bow down and swear to the LORD and yet swear by Milcom
44. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil?
45. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger
46. Woe to the bloody city
47. You are not my people, and I am not your God
48. You are robbing me, the whole nation of you
49. You have sown much, and harvested little
50. You say, “How have you loved us?”
Hosea Hosea Hosea Hosea Hosea Joel Joel Joel Joel Amos Amos Amos Amos Obadiah Jonah Jonah Jonah Jonah Micah Micah Micah Nahum Nahum Nahum Nahum Habakkuk Habakkuk Habakkuk Habakkuk Zephaniah Zephaniah Zephaniah Zephaniah Haggai Haggai Haggai Haggai Zechariah Zechariah Zechariah Zechariah Zechariah Zechariah Zechariah Zechariah Malachi Malachi Malachi Malachi Malachi
Module T1.2 The Doctrine of God
Seminar 1: Images of God
We’re continuing our study of the doctrine of God in this seminar by looking at chapter 3 of Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, volume 2. Bavinck lived from 1854 to 1921, and is a rare example of a comparatively recent figure who stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the very greatest theologians of the Reformed tradition. Indeed, his Reformed Dogmatics was described by John Frame as “by far the most profound and comprehensive Reformed systematic theology of the twentieth century.”
Most people tend to find that Bavinck is somewhat more demanding to read than Calvin. So don’t be surprised (and don’t worry!) if you occasionally find some of the details a bit baffling, especially in the philosophical and historical discussions.
For what it’s worth, I think that reading Bavinck is a profoundly helpful spiritual and intellectual exercise. This is because it is simply impossible to gain anything from reading Bavinck without taking a long time to sit quietly, shut out distractions, and think hard about what he’s saying. And sitting quietly, avoiding distractions, and thinking hard are habits that are in danger of being lost in the modern world. (If you don’t believe me, ask yourself this question: when was the last time that you just sat still in one place for more than about 30 seconds and did nothing except think about something? This is a very valuable activity – I encourage you to try it if you’ve not done so; I suspect you’ll find that you’re capable of coming up with all kinds of creative and insightful ideas.) At any rate, I pray that Bavinck will help you to grow in the tremendously valuable discipline of thinking really hard.
To help you to navigate the material, I’ve included an outline of the chapter below. This outline is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to the chapter; rather, it reflects the fact that some portions of the chapter are more immediately relevant for our purposes than others, and are therefore described in more detail.
You may also find it helpful to read the italic summary at the beginning of the chapter, for although this was written by the editor, not by Bavinck himself, it nonetheless gives a helpful summary of the chapter.
I’ve also included plenty of notes interspersed with the study questions to help you to focus your time on the most important sections, namely pp. 97-106 and pp. 118-121. As ever, let the questions guide your reading. And if you’re pressed for time, omit the questions marked with a *.
Questions to think about
Before you begin looking at Bavinck, think about these questions:
a. What is a rock? What is a tree? What is a pencil?
b. What is God?
c. Is question (b) harder to answer than question (a)? If so, can you explain why?
d. What would your instinctive response be if you heard someone say, “Nature is God”?
In the following outline, partial paragraphs at the start of a page are counted as “para. 1”, and the first full paragraph is therefore “para. 2”.
p. 97, para. 1. God’s name reveals his nature.
p. 97, para. 2. So it is with other names throughout Scripture.
p. 98, para. 2. This is particularly so with God’s names.
p. 98, para. 3. The NT reveals a deeper and richer aspect to God’s name: the Son has revealed God as Father.
p. 99, para 2. God’s name describes him not as he is in himself, but as he is in relation to the creation.
p. 99, para 3. God’s names, like all of Scripture, are “anthropomorphic through and through,” otherwise they would not be comprehensible to us.
p. 100, para 2 ff. Some anthropomorphisms that are applied to God in Scripture.
p. 101, para 3 ff. God is described to us in so many ways because he is everything to us (Augustine).
p. 102, para 3. God is described to us in so many ways because he is (and is not) everything that exists (Pseudo-Dionysius).
p. 102, para 4 f. God is described to us in so many ways that we might glorify and understand him aright – that is, by the names he has given himself (Bonaventure).
p. 103, para 2. God’s glory is discernible in every atom of creation; indeed, “Nature is God” (Calvin).
p. 103, para 3. Supremely, humanity expresses God’s being.
p. 104, para 1 ff. Though God is incomprehensible, we can still name him, since he has revealed himself in anthropomorphisms. To deny this would entail a fundamental Creator/creature dualism.
p. 105, para 3 ff. Anthropomorphic revelation of God is not complete, but is nonetheless true.
p. 107, para 2 ff. Knowledge of God is archetypal, not ectypal. Absolute knowledge of God is impossible, but we do still have some knowledge of God.
p. 110, para 4. God’s being is indistinguishable from his attributes.
pp. 112-118. Some mistaken attempts to articulate a “key” attribute of God, or independent description of God’s being.
1. “We do not name God; he names himself” (p. 98). What does Bavinck mean by this (see pp. 97-99)? Why is it important?
2. On p. 99, Bavinck states that God’s name “does not describe God as he exists within himself” but rather “in his revelation and multiple relations to his creatures.” What does he mean by this?
On p. 99, Bavinck introduces the important notions of accommodation and anthropomorphism. Accommodation refers to the fact that God speaks to us in words that we can understand – we might say that he “accommodates himself” to our limited understanding. Anthropomorphism refers to the fact that God speaks using words derived from human language and experience – we might say that he speaks in “anthropomorphic language.”
3. Why does God speak in anthropomorphic language (pp. 99-100)?
For reflection: What do you think of the descriptions of God found on pp. 100-101. Do any of them surprise you? Do any of them challenge how you think about God?
4. Bavinck quotes from several people on p. 102, including Augustine, Thomas (Aquinas) and Bonaventure. Can you explain how each of these quotations illuminates what Bavinck has said so far?
5. On p. 103, Bavinck quotes Calvin’s astonishing statement that “nature is God” (quoting Calvin, Institutes, I.v.5). How should “a reverent mind” understand this statement?
For reflection: Does Calvin’s statement, “Nature is God,” make sense to you? Are you surprised that Calvin said it? Would you be happy to say it?
In the next section, beginning on p. 104, Bavinck confronts a tricky problem (he calls it “a peculiar intellectual difficulty”) which has been raised by what he has said so far.
6. What is the “peculiar intellectual difficulty” (p. 104)? How, according to Bavinck, should it be resolved?
7. What consequences would follow if we were to insist that it is impossible to speak of God using human language (p. 104)?
From the bottom of p. 105 through to the middle of p. 110, Bavinck explores the issue of what kind of knowledge of God is available to us. The discussion is complex and rather philosophical, so don’t worry about it too much. Nonetheless, the basic point is quite simple. Bavinck rejects two errors: first, the idea that our knowledge of God is complete and exhaustive; and second, the idea that our knowledge of God is untrue and incorrect. He argues that whereas God has “archetypal” knowledge of himself (he knows himself completely and exhaustively), we have “ectypal” knowledge of him (we know him truly, yet not exhaustively).
The five-point summary on p. 110 is particularly helpful.
*8. Can you highlight some places on pp. 105-110 where Bavinck’s point about our true yet finite knowledge of God is particularly clear?
On pp. 110-118, Bavinck reflects on the attempts of theologians to describe the “essence” of God. Central to Bavinck’s approach is his claim that “Scripture ... never proceeds from an abstract concept of God, nor does it ever highlight one attribute of God at the expense of others” (p. 110). All God’s attributes describe his essence. Despite this, various theologians have attempted to identify a “predominant attribute” which identifies God and “differentiates him from all creatures” (p. 112). These different attempts are outlined on pp. 112-117.
*9. Given the previous discussion of God’s names, can you think why Bavinck would be so insistent that no single attribute of God should be emphasised above the others?
10. What is the doctrine of “divine simplicity” (p. 118)? How does this doctrine enable us “to honor equally all the attributes of God” (p. 118)?
11. What is meant by the Christian conception of God as “being” (pp. 120-121)? How does the Christian idea differ from the pagan philosophical notion of “being”?
*12. What kinds of distinction can be made between God’s attributes (pp. 124-128, especially pp. 126-127)? How do the illustrations of fire and grain (bottom of p. 127) help at this point?
On pp. 131-132 Bavinck discusses various classifications of God’s attributes, and on pp. 137-147 turns to some of the proper names applied to God in Scripture. These sections are well worth reading, but we won’t consider them in detail during the seminar.