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December 2009 Blog Archives

Thursday, December 31

7:43 AM Some big changes are coming to Ethiopia.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, has introduced tough new traffic laws that became effective this past Monday. The use of seat belts is now enforced, mobile phones usage while driving is banned and giving alms at traffic lights is prohibited.

Also, you'll no longer be able to jaywalk; zebra crossings are to be used instead. I wonder if this law applies to the donkeys and goats one sees everywhere or only to humans. But still, these laws make sense and are probably for the best. Time will tell if they are enforceable or not.

7:18 AM Who's the big winner in the Obama vacation spree in Hawaii? Tourism. And it needs it too. Last year hotel occupancy hit a low of 61 percent. Unemployment has risen from 2.6 percent in 2007 to 7.0 percent in 2009. Mrs. Obama once said, "You can't really understand Barack until you understand Hawaii." All of this seems rather like fiddling while Rome burns, in view of all that's happening in the world. Then again, one more trip back to Paradise might not be such a bad idea after all. Maybe I'll start an "SBL in Waikiki" campaign.

Wednesday, December 30

8:30 PM Watched The Colditz Story this evening. Like the movie The Great Escape, it claims to be completely accurate, down to the smallest detail. Unfortunately, neither movie lives up to its billing.

In The Colditz Story, Pat Reid and company escape in German uniforms through the Kommandantur. The real escape was much different. Just read the book. I wonder if people view the Gospels in a similar fashion: books that claim to tell the truth, down to the least detail, but that are inaccurate and contradictory accounts engulfed with error. The whole matter would be ghoulishly funny it it wasn't so deadly serious.

8:12 PM Here's a book I'm looking forward to reading when it's released next year: The Naked Anabaptist. (Don't worry: It's rated G.)

6:26 PM Saw this somewhere recently:

Every time you say Yes to something you're saying No to something else. Every Yes is a No and every No is a Yes.

5:54 PM Kudos, again, to Dr. Jim!

4:55 PM NPR's All Things Considered does it again, this time with a touching story about the birth of a child that lived for only 10 minutes and the attempt to capture the baby's brief life on camera. For the story of Baruch Levi Blum, his birth -- and his death -- on Dec. 1, go here. (Note: You may have to wait for the audio to be posted. But it will be worth your wait, guaranteed.) 

4:36 PM Fred R. Shapiro, editor of The Yale Book of Quotations, looks back on all of the quotes, sound bytes, and catch phrases that made an impact in 2009. His "most notable quotations of 2009" may be found here. By far my favorite is #2, uttered by Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger in response to air traffic controllers when they asked him which runway he preferred to use.

"We're going to be in the Hudson."

Calm, cool, collected -- and heroic.

3:50 PM I remain convinced, in an obscurantist sort of way of course (being the ultimate obscurantist), of the necessity of having one loaf of bread and one cup during the Lord's Supper. If you will tolerate yet another reference to the sixteenth century Anabaptists, in 1541 Peter Riedemann wrote that the one loaf is formed by the grinding and mingling of many grains of wheat, and the wine exists only because many individual grapes have been crushed. "Thus, the meal ... is a sign of the community of the body, in that each and every member declares himself to be of the one mind, heart and spirit of Christ." The point is that, in the Lord's Supper, individualism is given up for unity. Forgive me, but -- isn't that powerful? (Incidentally, when we attended die Baptistengemeinde Basel, we always shared one loaf of bread and drank from one cup.) It would be unjust to sit in judgment on churches that do it otherwise, but surely the words of Paul must mean something (1 Cor. 10:16-17):

When we bless the cup [not "cups"] of blessing aren't we sharing in the blood of Christ? When we break the bread [not "breads"] aren't we sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf of bread, we are one body, although we are many individuals. All of us share one loaf.

12:12 PM This "Agrarian Minute" is brought to you by Rosewood Farm, purveyors of fine, grass-fed, hormone-free beef and grade AAA hay using only the highest quality all natural skubala.

1) "On Frozen Pond" is the apt title of our first photo. The temperatures are scarcely above freezing during the day time here and well below that at night. This is likely to be the coldest winter we've had since Dante write the Inferno, but thankfully it's not quite as bad as a mid-western winter.

2) I suppose only genuine bovine lovers will enjoy this next pic, but, hey, it's not every day you get to show off one of your calves (snuggled close to her mama).

3) It may be hard for you to see it, but here Sheba is "checking in" with her master as we walk along one of our many farm paths. She is the only one of our dogs that seems to be attuned with the wishes and desires of her master and does not simply run off to play and explore (without permission). Here she seems to be asking, "Daddy, it it okay to run ahead and play?" Sheba, a natural leader, keeps the other dogs in tow, and I dare say I would never take the puppies for a walk without her, as they would scatter to the four winds.

And now, back to your normal programming...

7:59 AM Andy Bowden's latest post discusses the role that serving others plays in our sanctification. He writes:

Sanctification happens, not in the classroom, but in the highs and lows and difficulties of life. For example, I grew more in college from serving an inner city street ministry in Atlanta than from any classroom. Why? Because our group encountered all kinds of challenges; questions such as “How can a loving God let me suffer with aids?” I lacked the answer to this and many others, but it forced me to admit so and then go home and find the answer myself. We faced some who claimed to be apostles, who renounced the divinity of Christ, and who threatened our lives. But it was there, serving on the front lines, that we grew and were stretched. It was in that context that I found my love deepen for others, that I found myself agonize in prayer for hours, and that sanctification continued.

Andy is right. It is in the doing that we are sanctified, not just in the talking about the doing.

I know what Andy means when he says that he learned more from serving in the streets of Atlanta than in any classroom. When I was at Biola, each student was required to have a "Christian service assignment." I chose to minister in Watts, playing basketball with the inner city kids and doing what I could to show them the love of Jesus.

Since I grew up without a lot of things, I could identify with their poverty. And since I was a pretty good basketball player, I fit right in with their ethos. In fact, as I look back now on those days, I believe it was then that the Lord began put on my heart a genuine burden for the lost. So thank you, Andy, for the reminder that sanctification is "best acquired in a fusion of knowledge and action." May all of us take that admonition to heart.

7:28 AM Cancer can strike at any age. Here's the blog of a 10-year old girl who has been diagnosed with Stage IIA breast cancer: Our Little Sweet Pea. For more on childhood cancer, go here.

7:23 AM Newsweek just keeps getting better and better. To wit: In search of the world's hardest language. The answer, by the way, is not Greek or Latin.

7:12 AM I am very busy with my new book, but I would like to take this opportunity to say that my love for the Anabaptists is not absolute. I tried to make this clear in the conclusion to chapter 3 of The Jesus Paradigm:

A question may legitimately be asked by those who have had the patience to complete the reading of the preceding pages: Why should a committed Baptist so vigorously promote Anabaptist ideals? The answer is that Anabaptist principles can be applied to many modern problems of church life – restoring church discipline to our nominal memberships, fostering the ministry of the "laity," promoting global missions – to name but a few.

I didn't write this chapter because I'm in favor of belittling the work of the Magisterial Reformers. For clarity's sake I must repeat that I am indicting the Reformers only because they were inconsistent with their own principles of reformation. Here, of course, I am not alone in my thinking. As far back as 1914, Henry Vedder, in his book The Reformation in Germany, had this to say about the Anabaptists:

They were the only party among those protesting against the errors of Rome who were logical and thoroughgoing. They alone accepted in absolute faith and followed to its necessary consequences the principle avowed by the leading reformers, that the Scriptures were the sole source of religious authority…The Anabaptists alone had penetrated beneath the surface of traditional Christianity and comprehended the real Gospels of Jesus…. In a word, the Anabaptists were the real reformers, and the only real reformers, of the Sixteenth century.

I hope no reader will suppose that Anabaptism is being put forward as an alternative to the Word of God, as if any man-made movement is preferable to the testimony of inspired Scripture. The record of Anabaptism is by no means a spotless one. Like every movement of the Holy Spirit it is the story of a weak, stammering church that moved over a field of ecclesiastical rubble. I'm not condoning everything in the movement or offering pious panaceas. If I have left an overly positive impression, it is because I believe that an appreciation of Anabaptism can prove fruitful in many areas of Christian life and witness. The important point is this: Anabaptism was a valid, if incomplete, representation of Christ's Body – nothing more, nothing less.

I must say that writing this book was one of the strangest and most terrifying things I've ever undertaken. But if you're sincerely interested in knowing what I think about the Anabaptists, it's a must read. 

Tuesday, December 29

5:06 PM Tony Siew has some excellent thoughts about Power-Point Preaching. An excerpt:

Power-point preaching often hides the lack of preparation on the part of the preacher as preacher. The slides draw attention away from him and to the screen.

In my experience, PowerPoint users are generally infinitely boring.

4:24 PM Over at BROADCAST DEPTH, Matt Evans is asking for suggestions for his next interview (Who Should I Interview?). I mentioned Rod Decker, Seyoon Kim, and my colleague Maurice Robinson. I know Matt would enjoy getting your two cents also.

P.S. In case you're interested in things text-critical, I had an opportunity to interview Maurice (below right) several years ago: Interview with Maurice Robinson.

2:42 PM J-term Greek students, our class will begin next Monday at exactly 9:00 am. I apologize for not having the syllabus posted yet, but I will bring a hard copy to class with me. The only book you will need to have for the first day of class is my beginning grammar, Learn to Read New Testament Greek, which now sells for only twenty bucks at Amazon. If you have any questions before Monday, feel free to email me. My cyber door is always open.

1:22 PM Back from taking a long walk and feeding the animals. Feel much better. It's a great life, this writing business is -- my happiness is intense and my misery equally piercing. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother to publish anything, I feel so inadequate for the task. I notice that one commentator over at Joel's blog actually suggested that I stick with Greek and stay out of church history. Actually, brother, it's worse than that. I think I'll just go back to what I did best growing up:

12:07 PM All I can say, Dr. Jim (Oh, Dave, Are You Trying To Test Me?), is:

No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it.


12:02 PM If you believe that Mark 16:9-20 is original (as I do), you will find this essay on snake handling both enjoyable and informative (as I did). Snakes are very charming creatures, I'm sure (just ask my colleague Alvin-the-Snake-Man Reid), but I've never had a desire to actually handle one. Perhaps I've been wrong all these years!

11:50 AM Just finished roughing out chapter 1 of Godworld. Only 6 chapters to go. Honestly, my motivation level is low today. I think a long walk with the puppies will help me out of the curiously unpleasant slough of uncertainty I seem to be wallowing in so helplessly today. One thing is for sure: I am learning tons by writing this book. As good old Albert once said, "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school."

11:33 AM If you do French blog posts, mosey on over to Celucien Joseph's Christianity in France: La France reste catholique, mais moins pratiquante.

The last line made the whole thing worthwhile to me (said with a Baptist smile):

Parmi eux, la progression des nouvelles formes de protestantisme (évangéliques, baptistes) commence à devenir perceptible dans les sondages.

11:24 AM Steve Scott redefines The 20/80 Rule of Ministry. If you don't know what I'm talking about, all the more reason to read Steve's post.

11:15 AM This afternoon B will have her sixth (of 30) radiation treatments. We're getting into a routine of sorts. Right now the main challenge is handling the side effects. It's "one day at a time" for us. Your continued prayers are greatly appreciated.

10:30 AM Today I am beta-testing a list of institutions in North America that offer the doctorate in New Testament. If you can spare the time, will you read it and send me any errata or corrigenda you find?

9:36 AM Quote of the day #3:

We were listeners to Zwingli's sermons and readers of his writings, but one day we took the Bible itself in hand and were taught better.

-- Conrad Grebel, when he was asked where he found his new view of the Christian church. I love Zwingli and have studied his life. I have profited from his writings. But the Anabaptists were right: The clear teaching of the New Testament was more important than the teachings of their earthly teacher.

Oh, may God wean students from us teachers and lead them to the only pure source of all truth!

8:36 AM Thanks, Brian, for chiming in on the short-term missions controversy. For what it's worth, I've commented in an essay called The Value of Short Term Missions.

8:30 AM You must read this post by Arthur Sido. It is bound to be controversial. But it will get you thinking about your priorities. It's called Talk is cheap part 1. A sampler:

In some way Together for the Gospel feeds into an undercurrent of intellectualism in the church that sometimes smacks of elitism. This is especially true among the Reformed wing of the church and that is the target audience for T4G. Many of the talks at T4G 2008 were very academic and Al Mohler's was so complex I wasn't sure what he was talking about. Christianity is a life to be lived, not a subject to be studied. It is a faith of action more than one of contemplation. There is a place for study and academics, but it is not the first priority in the Christian life. Together for the Gospel is also billed as a “pastors conference” and is part of the “trickle down theology” system in the church where ministers go to seminary and conferences to learn and then come back and disseminate that information to the congregation. I think the more Biblical and healthier method is to have the church gather together and study the Scriptures together instead of sending one or a couple of guys to a conference.

8:18 AM Quote of the day #2:

The book that read[s], "Thou shalt not steal" is also one of the most-stolen books in the world.

Read Bible is most-stolen book during holidays

8:12 AM Read Questions on Why Suspect Wasn't Stopped. As with 9/11, heads should roll, but they won't. If this were Japan, Napolitano would be forced to resign, but she won't. Bottom line: Security is an illusion.

7:58 AM In writing my new book Godworld, I am happy to have at my side William Estep's classic The Anabaptist Story, though I'm finding faulty translations throughout the book. An example: On p. 38 Estep writes "Grebel 'put him under the waters of the river and covered him over.'" In parentheses there follows: "(in dem Rhin von dem Grebel under gedruckt und bedeckt werden"). Another sample: On p. 15 Estep gives "if you can believe a suspected person as I" for "si tamen suspecto magis quam mendaci credas." At best these might be considered loose paraphrases. I suffer agonies whenever I see two languages passing like ships in the night.

I recall sitting in a Ph.D. defense once and needing to point out to the student and his major professor numerous mistranslations of Greek, Latin, and German. I thought to myself, "Do students think we'll just pass over their foreign language quotes as if they don't exist?" I read every page with a fine toothed comb, and pay special attention to foreign language citations. It's a bad sign when a student fakes it. It's a worse sign when mistranslations go unnoticed by professors. What about the Loeb series? Words fail me. I'm afraid our students are being royally spoiled by having so many "translational helps" today. The only antidote to such poison is to translate the text for yourself.

7:39 AM Quote of the day:

In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum.

These words were spoken in a loud voice by Felix Manz as his arms and legs were being bound. A few minutes later he would be dead. Standing on the banks of the Limmat River was his mother, whose voice could be heard entreating him to remain true to Christ.

And the charge? Manz was sentenced to death

...because contrary to Christian custom and order he had become involved in Anabaptism,...because he confessed having said that he wanted to gather those who also wanted to accept Christ and follow Him, and unite with them through baptism, that he and his followers separated themselves from the Christian Church and were about to raise up and prepare a sect of their own....

Manz's crime was to seek to recover the church of the New Testament. He refused to join himself to the secular rule, as Zwingli had done. He had the audacity to view the church as a body of the saved surrounded by an unregenerate mass. He had rebelled against Theodosianism, and would pay dearly for it. He refused to erase the distinction between Volk and Volk Gottes, a distinction we Americans enjoy today because of our First Amendment.

Thanks be to God for those who considered freedom of conscience a prized possession.

Monday, December 28

2:20 PM My thanks to both Joel and Jim for linking to my post about Felix Manz today. Since my blog posts are not linker-friendly, this is all the more surprising. So thank you, gentlemen!

11:34 AM I see I'm not alone in liking the Anabaptists

10:28 AM It's a glorious day outside. Nate reports that a calf was just born. I haven't seen it yet, but he tells me that both mother and baby are doing fine. We loaded hay this morning for a delivery down to Oxford, and we'll spread manure this afternoon. Then Bec and I leave at 3:15 for her next radiation treatment at UNC.

10:22 AM January 5, 1527, is a date that will always live in infamy for me. On that day Felix Manz perished at the hands of his persecutors.


The Reformation had become splintered and fractured, and the Reformers realized they now had two opponents: Rome and the Radicals. Zwingli, in a letter to Vadian in 1525, noted that the struggle with the Catholic Church was "child's play" when compared with the struggle erupting with the Radicals. As many of you know, I devoted an entire chapter in The Jesus Paradigm to the Anabaptists' views on soteriology and ecclesiology. It is my conviction that a rehabilitation of the positions of the Radical Reformers is long overdue. Whenever we downgrade good works, wherever we make sanctification some kind of appendage to justification, whenever we emphasize more what God does for us than what He does in us, we have become proponents of an unbalanced Christianity. The doctrine of justification by faith is taught in the Scripture, and I rejoice in it! But an emphasis on the forensic and juridical nature of our salvation can easily lead to a light emphasis on the "good works that God has foreordained that we should walk in them." In this regard, Luther's theology was decisively one-sided, and it was his disparagement of good works that caused him to collide with the letter of James.

The Anabaptists assailed this imbalance, as did they did all forms of state coercion. If they were opposed to "christening," it was only because they were opposed to the "Christendom" this practice represented. For this insistence upon a "Believers' Church," separate from the state, Manz was bound and sent to the bottom of the Limmat. Oh yes, there were cries of "Freedom of religion" -- as long as you supported the right religion. And thus the Christian sacralism of Constantine became the Christian sacralism of Luther and later of Calvin.

What amazes me the most is how willingly and joyfully the Anabaptists went to their deaths. Conrad Grebel, a colleague of Manz, wrote, "He that is baptized has been planted into the death of Christ.... True Christians are sheep among wolves, ready for the slaughter." Zwingli, defender of the sword, died on the battlefield, caught between two "Christian" magistrates doing their duty. To me, Manz -- call him a Rottengeist, call him a Winckler, call him what you will -- died a far nobler death.

P.S. The battle against sacralism and Christian statism fought by Grebel and Manz did not end in the sixteenth century. Here are but a few Anabaptistic emphases that I think are still applicable today (taken from chapter 3 of TJP). The Anabaptists believed in:

  • serving instead of ruling
  • suffering instead of inflicting suffering
  • breaking down walls instead of isolationism
  • biblical authority instead of ecclesiastical tradition
  • brotherhood instead of hierarchy
  • the towel instead of the sword
  • the headship of Christ instead of that of any pastor
  • the way of peace instead of "just war"
  • the church as a living organism instead of as a human institution
  • the reign of God instead of a political kingdom
  • the catholicity of the true church instead of sectarianism
  • the power of suffering instead of the cult of power
  • the Bible as a book of the church instead of as a book of scholars
  • loyalty to their heavenly citizenship instead of to the principalities and powers
  • Spirit-orientation instead of forced structures of church life
  • being a "light to the nations" instead of a Christian enclave
  • knowing Christ instead of merely knowing about Him
  • faith that works (in both senses) instead of dead orthodoxy
  • effectual grace as a living reality instead of as a theological dogma
  • every-member ministry instead of clergyism
  • baptism into Christ instead of baptism into a denomination
  • a unity that is lived instead of a unity that is merely extolled
  • welcoming the despised and marginalized instead of ignoring them
  • a hermeneutic of obedience instead of a hermeneutic of knowledge
  • individual conscience instead of theological conformity
  • volunteerism instead of professionalism
  • allegiance to Christ instead of allegiance to the state

7:58 AM If the 6 SBC seminaries were ranked according to their Alexa ratings...

(Remember: The lower the number, the better.)

  •  325,362

  •  421,361

  •  635,416

  •  639,924

  •  3,153,687

  •  3,269,902

Want to see how your school compares? Go here.  

7:46 AM Music lovers, ever heard these songs or lines from songs?

  • Send a Gravy Bible to My Soul

  • Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear

  • Chipmunks roasting on an open fire; jet frogs ripping at your clothes

It's all due to the disease called chronic lyricosis. Don't laugh. It's a real malody.

Sunday, December 27

8:58 PM A huge shout out and thank you to the Bethel Hill choir for the great musical they blessed us with tonight. All praise to King Jesus!

3:40 PM In just 9 days Anabaptists worldwide will be commemorating the death of Felix Manz in the murky waters of the Limmat. Tomorrow I'll offer a brief Andacht in his memory. I'm writing it right now. What faith! What courage! What Jüngerschaft!

3:15 PM Becky's nutritionist says we should eat meals with lots of different colors in them. I think today's dinner qualifies, don't you? That salad is one of my favorites: Tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers with French dressing.

1:53 PM The latest Gallup poll shows that 29 percent of Americans think that religion is out of date. Amen to that! Jesus detested religion. The problem is, if you're looking for religion in Christianity, unfortunately you'll find lots of it. But being a Christian means a relationship with the living Lord. Indeed, it means more than that: it demands discipleship in the world. Only when we show a Christlike, caring love to others, can we claim to be "Christians."

1:36 PM Todo el mundo was thrilled to see Becky back in church again. So was I. Lord willing we'll be back tonight for the cantata and Lord's Supper.

9:15 AM Good news! B and I are headed off to church this morning! Both of us. Together. Glory to God in the Highest!

8:46 AM It just occurred to me that I have two major Bible translations in my family: The NAB (New American Bible = Nathan Alan Black), and the NEB (New English Bible = Nolan Elijah Black).

8:32 AM This portrait of Becky and me, executed about 3,000 years ago, is yet another reason why you should consider studying abroad for your doctorate.

You will be very busy getting to know the history, culture, art, music, architecture, and language of the country in which you are sojourning. Basel is usually a stopover for most people who are intent to see the "real" (i.e., mountainous) Switzerland. They make a very big mistake, however, if they do not pause to take in the many Sehenswürdigkeiten the city has to offer: the Minster, the churches, the art museum, the Roman ruins at Kaiseraugst, the ancient market place, the place on the Rhine where three countries meet, etc. An added plus, especially for sedentary Americans, is that you can walk almost anywhere. B and I would stroll for miles and barely even notice it. And what can I say about the friendships you'll make? And then there's the honor of sitting under some of the world's greatest professors. It was a great experience for us, and I think it would be for you too.

8:21 AM Good day to you, Mr. Nolan. How is my grandbaby this fine morning? Would you like to see some pictures of your daddy when he was about your age? I think you might find some striking similarities between him and you. Let me know if you'd like to see some more. I've got plenty where these came from. I love you. Papa B 

7:42 AM So the president played golf at the Klipper Golf Course on the Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station yesterday. I know the place well. I worked on the base for two summers during high school. No word on Mr. Obama's golf score.  

7:30 AM I am besieged by countless emails wanting to know what we'll be doing in Intermediate Greek Grammar this spring. The answer is that I do not know yet. I fear it is inevitable that we will have to plow through A. T. Robertson's "Big Grammar," but beyond that I haven't decided. I think drilling in grammar and syntax might be salutary. We'll also do a great deal of English to Greek composition, the supposition being that one does not really know a language unless one is able to think in that language -- to a degree. I suppose the course will be rather laborious. Maybe even tedious. Apologies for having nothing more to report, but the complete syllabus will be posted to the seminary website in mid-January.

Saturday, December 26

7:35 PM What a great movie. Steven Spielberg directed. A true David versus Goliath. It took a fearful amount of time to reach the inevitable and predictable climax, but it was worth the wait. I am sure you'd enjoy the flick if you've never seen it. It is an astonishing old monster. And Billy Goldenberg's unorthodox score is unforgettable.

P.S. Is it a mere coincidence that the Ford Dennis Weaver is driving is a "Valiant"?

5:34 PM Sad news: We just had a stillborn calf. God knows why. That's farm life.

5:22 PM I snatch a moment to say I just took Becky out for Chinese food tonight. The past two days have been sheer joy -- and lots of work, too, demanding huge chunks of energy. Tonight we're planning on watching one of our favorite movies together. Dennis Weaver shines in Duel. Not to mention the 70s style clothing.

3:15 PM Have you noticed how eager the press is to emphasize that President Obama is on top of the latest "terrorist" attack even though he is in faraway Hawaii? Witness this report by the Los Angeles Times. I suspect the Obama administration learned a lesson from George W. Bush's non-response to the 9/11 attacks. When millions of Americans were aware that America was being attacked, the then-president went about a political photo op as if nothing had happened. I will never forget seeing this photo for the first time:

This, to me, was the defining moment of the Bush presidency. "A second plane hit the second tower," said Andy Card. "America is under attack." At that moment, a bewildered expression passes over the president's face. He seemed unable or unwilling to understand the enormity of the events transpiring all around him. Instead of demanding to speak to the Secretary of Defense or the Director of the CIA, he simply returned to his photo op. "Hoo!" he said. "These are great readers. Very impressive." And the minutes ticked by while the Commander-in-Chief sat in his small, second-grade chair.

All this is well documented in a definitive work on the Iraq war by James Bamford called A Pretext for War. The book is one to be savored -- if one can savor such terrible drama. It is a tiresome and unpleasant topic to bring it up, but eternal vigilance and immediate action is far better than groping inactivity.

2:45 PM If this story can be believed, a girl in Ethiopia has been saved from her kidnappers by a pride of lions. The barbaric practice of kidnapping one's wife is a stain on this great nation's history.

2:38 PM You Greek students might want to check out a new website that Michael Halcomb has created. It's aptly named Getting Greek. How nice to have so many bells and whistles available.

10:06 AM Read The World As 100 People.

9:55 AM Introducing the "Rosewood Can-Can." Don't you just love them stockings?

9:46 AM I was struck, while reading God's Word this morning in my devotionals, by a footnote that I regard as a public curiosity. In Acts 20:28 the word translated "bishops" has this note: "English equivalent difficult." The same note reoccurs in 1 Tim. 3:1 ("bishops") and 1 Tim. 3:8 ("deacons"). The translators seem to have stumbled over what are traditionally called church "offices." The real defect of such a footnote seems to me that it is fundamentally malignant -- what else can it do but raise a specter of uncertainty and doubt in the mind of the reader? Really, all translation is an impossible task. But perhaps one must get back to the basics of recognizing that every English equivalent is "difficult."  

9:10 AM CNN asks Was Jesus Wealthy? The essay is jolly enough. I'm of the opinion that the pre-ministry Jesus probably came from a middle class family. I think Richard Batey's Jesus and the Forgotten City proves this. Add to this the fact that Jesus was a "builder" (not merely a carpenter) and you have a man who left what I would consider a fairly profitable construction business to follow John the Baptist into the Jordan River valley. Heaven knows His siblings thought He was crazy. As for His wealth during His 3-plus years of public ministry, He did have His needs met, and even had a "home" in Capernaum (Peter's house, probably). But that He was wealthy in the sense that the prosperity preachers want to make Him out to be -- well, that's just nonsense.

8:33 AM Ethiopian Airlines has ordered several of these:

Of course, airline companies have the option of modifying the interiors of the new Boeing 787 "Dreamliner," and I doubt that we'll ever see such luxurious interiors in real life. Still, anything would be better than the cramped quarters of the 767.

7:59 AM Baptist Bible College and Seminary in Clarks Summit, PA, announces an opening in Counseling.

7:50 AM Thanks to Wayne Leman for quoting from one of our most neglected English Bible translations: God's Word. It's one translation that gets rid of biblio-jargon and exploits the virtues of colloquial English. Many English translations are really hopeless, as they read so atrociously badly. I wonder how God's Word is selling. I hope well. But it is nice to this imprimatur by Mr. Leman. On the other hand, I do question its accuracy in places.

Here's the Amazon link.

7:33 AM Quote of the day #2:

"Among all religions, Christianity is seen as the most threatening to the regime."

Read How Christmas Is (Not) Celebrated in North Korea.

How Christmas Is (Not) Celebrated in North Korea

Read more:,8599,1949984,00.html#ixzz0anUqSv83

7:22 AM Today I plan to work with Nate on his house, then Becky and I fervently hope and pray that we can return to Bethel Hill tomorrow to be with our church family. Our "local church" family, I guess I should say, as we feel very much unified with the Body of Christ worldwide.

7:20 AM Am re-reading Escape from Colditz. What an astonishing book! And what an excellent commentary on so-called government "security" measures.

More Allied airmen got back to England from Colditz Castle than from any other "escape-proof" POW camp in Nazi Germany. Reminds me of the billions we are spending annually on "Homeland Security" (what a dreadfully Orwellian expression -- shades of 1984) -- oops, explosive powder strapped to one's leg seems to be undetectable! I think people are getting a bit tired of the nonsense. Anyway, the Colditz book is a great consolation and tonic. My life seems so dull in comparison!

Incidentally, Pat Reid, author of Escape from Colditz, had earlier escaped from a prison in Laufen, Germany. Laufen is situated across the Salzach river from the Austrian town of Oberndorf, where the carol "Silent Night" was first performed at St. Nicola church by the school master Franz Gruber in 1818.

7:13 AM Quote of the day:

The genie is not likely to be put back in the bottle. The M.Div. will probably not have the same authority in the future as it's had in the past. It will be similar to the M.B.A.—a valuable degree if it has formed people well and is obtained from a strong program, but not a necessary credential.

Read Pastors by degrees. I tend to agree with the author of this fine piece. A formal education may or not indicate preparation for serving Jesus. Of far greater importance is one's character and an intimate knowledge of God and His Word.

7:10 AM If you live in Kailua, you can forget surfing or fishing in the area marked here. I can attest that Kapoho Point has some fantastic surf.

7:03 AM Over at Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, Nick Norelli offers an excellent review of T. F. Torrance's Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ. I was struck by this comment:

It’s everywhere evident that Torrance had a great familiarity with patristic, medieval, and reformed theology yet this is communicated to the reader in an effortless way that doesn’t leave us feeling confused or slighted but is challenging enough to leave us asking questions and seeking answers.  Torrance also made regular use of Greek and Latin terms but they’re not obtrusive.  They’re thrown in to give a sense of the technical purpose they serve and not just to show that the author knew a few languages. 

This sounds to me very much like a model writing style. I do hope that all of my Ph.D. students will be as well versed in the classical theologians and in Greek and Latin as Torrance was.

Friday, December 25

6:53 PM In case you were wondering...the men served peanut butter noodles, Korean cabbage, and Chinese stir fry over rice for supper.

6:45 PM This afternoon was devoted to table games. Here Nate and Jess go at in chess.

And here Matt and I spar over Scrabble.

I lost. Make that, I was crushed. Final score: 295 (Matt) to 157 (Dave). Hey, what did you expect? The guy's a SEBTS grad!

6:21 PM Right now it's 50 degrees and raining in Southside Virginia. In Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii it's 80 degrees and sunny. Hope you're enjoying your vacation in the world's most beautiful spot, Mr. President. I wish you and yours a...

Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hau'oli Makahiki Hou!

2:39 PM I hope all is going well with you on this Christmas Day 2009. I have an awful suspicion that you are getting tired of all these photos, but some day Nolan and the others will get a kick out of seeing them. (Yes, old man Dave is thinking about his posterity.) Anyhow, Nate, I expect, will be working me hard tomorrow, so it's now or never.

Here the boys are helping the ladies crack eggs for our brunch. Such willing helpers, they are!

Our meal consisted of sausage, hash browns with cheese, cinnamon rolls, and scrambled eggs. The ladies outdid themselves, I do believe.

Then it was time to open stockings. Here Nolie opens his first Christmas stocking, much to the delight of his mom and Micah.

A humorous moment (I can't remember why!).

Here Micah shows off a gift from his cousin Nolan.

Speaking of Nolan, I see he is becoming quite the artist. He gave his Mama B this beautiful painting, done "by hand."

Singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" to Becky's mom and dad in Texas.

Nate rough-housing with the boys -- on my bed.

I'm glad the Lord held off the rain long enough for the boys to help Nate feeds the cows. Here they are climbing in the hay barn.

And here they are getting ready to feed the hay.

Isaac cuts open a bale...

...while Caleb tosses a leaf over the fence.

Then it was back home for the "Great Gingerbread House Competition."  

The teams were as follows: Micah and his dad.

Caleb and his Uncle Nathan.

And Isaac and his Mama B.

And who were the judges? Yours truly, assisted by Mr. Nolan. (How do you like our official judges' hats?) 

And the winners are:

First place for MOST BEAUTIFUL Gingerbread house -- Micah and Matthew!

First place for MOST CREATIVE Gingerbread House -- Isaac and Mama B!

And -- may I have a drum roll please -- First Place for MOST UNIQUE Gingerbread House -- Caleb and Nathan!

My thanks to my very special assistant judge, Mr. Nolan Elijah Black.

Time to start preparing supper.

11:11 AM A story and a poem for Christmas Day.

Once upon a time a family was taking a cross-country train trip. Since it was an overnight trip, they decided to sleep in one of those large sleeping cars that trains have. When night time came, daddy found his bed, and mommy found her bed, and they found a bed for their little son. And it got real dark and real quiet in that sleeping car -- if you've ever been in one of those cars you know just how many people are in there.

A few minutes later a voice came out of the darkness: "Daddy, are you there?" "Yes, son, daddy's here. Now let's go to sleep." The train went clickity-clack on down the track. Five minutes later the voice came out of the darkness again: "Mommy, are you there?" "Yes, son, mommy's here. Everything's okay. Now let's go to sleepy-by." A few minutes later the voice said, "Daddy, are you there?" This went on for another 15 minutes or so.

In the same sleeping car there was a businessman, and he had been working hard, and he had just landed the deal of a lifetime, and he was exhausted. So he called out in the darkness, "Yes, daddy's here, yes mommy's here, yes, I'm here, yes, everybody is here! Now SHUT UP AND GO TO SLEEP!" And it got real quiet in that sleeping car. Then about 5 minutes later a voice came out of the darkness: "Daddy, was that God?"

What’s God Like?

By Papa B

What’s God like?

We cannot know.

He lives so far away.

Is He happy?

Is He sad?

We really cannot say.

What’s God like?

We cannot know.

He lives so far away.

Is He tender?

Is He tough?

Does He like to play?

What’s God like?

We cannot know.

He lives so far away.

If only He

Would come to me,

Then I could really say.

What’s God like?

Oh, now I know!

He came to earth one day

In Jesus Christ,

His Only Son,

And now I know the Way!

What’s God like?

I’m glad I know!

He’s good and loving too.

I know Him as

My Lord and King,

I hope you know Him too.

8:53 AM I promised pix from last night. The service at Mount Tirzah was fantastic. Matt taught from my favorite Christmas passage, John 1:1-18. When Matt and Liz arrived they set to work making pancakes and sausages for supper.

Here's the official pancake mixer.

And the official pancake flippers.

At this point Nate, Jess, and Nolan arrived from their farm house. (Where there's food there's Nathan.)

Micah loves his cousin Nolan.

Et voila! The second best pancake in the world. (The world's best buttermilk pancake is found at King's Bakery in Honolulu.)

Aunt Liz and Nolie Polie.

Here Isaac has just ruined a perfectly good pancake by smothering it with strawberries, nuts, blueberries, and whipped cream. The only acceptable way to eat a pancake is with butter and maple syrup.

Then it was off to the library to get ready for beddie.

I told the boys a Jenny, Henny, and Penny story and then it was lights out. And what an exciting story it was! The three hens were driving through Winslow, Arizona, on Route 66 when they ran across a robbery in progress. They tracked down the escape car and got its license number....

Today it's family devotions at 9:30, then brunch, then games, then supper at 5:00.

Frohe Weihnachten!

Thursday, December 24

8:52 PM Right now the house is filled with laugher and joy. Time to put the boys to bed with a story. Pix later.

8:45 PM Becky's dad just sent us this email:

Can you believe it? The first white Christmas in Dallas in 80 years!!

Go Dallas!

2:46 PM This post is for Becky Lynn. I type it as she is in bed sleeping, tired and weary from her treatments.

Honey, on this night before Christmas, I just wanted you to know how much I love you. You are the same precious and wonderful and godly and strong woman you were to me when this photo was taken over 3 decades ago.

Did you have any idea I'd make such a crazy husband? Or that we would become such a zany couple? In Dallas they still talk about our wedding. First, it was a daytime affair (which your church had never seen before). Second, this guy from Hawaii wore a casual white shirt and a wreath of green leaves. How strange is that! They still can't figure us out in Texas, can they, honey?

Do you remember leaving the church that September day in 1976? We were to drive to Los Angeles and then fly to Hawaii for our honeymoon. You had no idea what our marriage would turn out to be. Neither did I. Yet by God's amazing grace we stuck it out -- 33 years and still going strong.

I'll never forget opening the car door for my wife for the very first time. I'm still honored to open it for you today, darling. Thank you for granting my that privilege. It's one small way I seek to honor and respect you. Believe me, you are worthy of more honor and respect than I could ever pay you.

When our car left the church parking lot that day, did you have any idea that I would take you to Europe, or that you would take me to Ethiopia? Or that we would end up on a farm in Virginia? Or that we would become fulltime missionaries? What a roller coaster ride it's been with you! Ups and downs, mountaintops and valleys.

But there is one thing that will never change.

And that is that I will always love you. Just as you are. No strings attached. On bright and cloudy days. For better or for worse. In sickness and in health. Till death do us part.

I sure don't deserve you, Becky Lynn Black, but I sure do appreciate you. Merry Christmas, sweetheart, and the happiest of new years.

1:52 PM House cleaning is done! We now await our distinguished overnight guests. The big question: Will Papa B tell a "Henny, Jenny, and Penny" story tonight? Stay tuned....

11:40 AM This email just arrived. What a blessing!

Welcome Home! It's time now for a little R&R ~ Relax and Rejoice! Merry, Safe, Blessed Christmas to you all.... I hope every day is filled with energy, love, warmth, and joy.  And I hope the men treat you ladies proper during the Christmas day festivities, with all their cooking AND cleaning. What a treat!

The men folk will do our very best to comply :)

11:28 AM If you're a brass musician and committed to the Great Commission, I hope you'll consider Eurobrass.

They still have openings for their 2010 summer team in Germany. The trip will be very challenging -- and therefore healthy, stimulating, and beneficial.

Below: Playing trumpet on the 1978 team. For 3 months we held evangelistic concerts throughout (West) Germany. I had taught myself enough German by this time to be able to give my testimony and hold a basic conversation.

That summer Becky and I visited 10 European countries. It was then that the Lord began to speak to me about doing my doctoral work on the continent of Europe. That trip literally changed our lives!

(Sorry for the poor picture quality. These pix have been scanned from photo albums, and wrinkles are visible throughout. Mea culpa!)

10:59 AM Millions are asking: What are you preparing for supper tomorrow night? Since I am sworn to secrecy I cannot tell you. But it will contain my "secret ingredient."

10:45 AM Becky had her 4th treatment this morning. Only 26 more to go. She is doing well. Oh, the presence of the Lord! It is wonderful to grasp what that means to us as Christians. The knowledge that we are in His will makes it easier for Becky and me to be apart from our Ethiopian family during this season of the year. Tonight we will enjoy a Christmas Eve Service at Mount Tirzah, then the Rondeaus will spend the night with us here at Bradford Hall. Rumor has it that the 3 boys will be "camping out" in the library with a blazing fire, with Becky and Liz keeping watch over their flock by night. Tomorrow it's family time: the ladies are preparing brunch, the men folk are doing supper. I will have a devotional in the morning, and the boys will help Mama B do a flannel graph lesson in the evening.

I hope you enjoy your leisure time today and tomorrow. Plan it sensibly, and then go for it with gusto!

Wednesday, December 23

2:20 PM The plan for today was to dig fence post holes and do some cross fencing but the ground was still too wet. So we went to plan B, starting with a little storm cleanup. Nate did the limbing...

...while yours truly did the grunt work.

Then it was back to Nate and Jessie's to dig the dirt out from under their kitchen floor. Once again, Nate did the skilled labor...

...while I, the over-educated and under-talented gofer, dumped the dirt in various low places on the farm.

This evening B's got her radiation at 5:00, then we'll spend the night in Durham. Tomorrow morning the schedule has been moved up to allow the oncology staff more time with their families, so Becky's radiation will be at 7:30 am. Then we'll drive home and get ready for Friday's excitement.

Time now to take a half hour nap before driving to Chapel Hill.

8:59 AM In Hebrews 13 we are told to "remember those who are in prison." I will never forget the shock that came over me when I visited a prison in northern Ethiopia. The conditions were appalling. An even greater shock was being told I could address the prisoners in a public assembly (this is a very rare occurrence).

For 15 minutes I shared with them the love of a man named Jesus, a man who understands the futility of our lives, a man who had come to grips with the disease that is destroying human life and making this world such an unpleasant place to live in, a man who is the final answer to all our searching for meaning and forgiveness, a man for whom all things exist and toward whom everything is moving. All things will grow old like a garment, but not the one who made them and who keeps them, this Jesus of Christmas, this Messiah of Israel, this man who came to set the prisoners free.

Fellow bloggers, I cannot tell you how much I love this man. For me, His Word is greater than that of the prophets because it includes and surpasses theirs. The reason I can stand before a group of prisoners and talk to them about God's love  -- in fact the reason why I can stand and not be hurled off into space though the earth whirl at a furious rate -- is this man who made purification for our sins and who is now seated at the right hand of God. 

During this holiday season you and I will encounter friends and family members who do not know much about this Jesus. For them, there is no difference between Jesus and an angel or a good person. The only Jesus they will see is you and me. Christians are to have eyes and ears and hearts and hands open to those around them who are in need, and the greatest need we all have is for a Savior. This does not mean that we have to be pushy about our faith. But Christmas is a good time to tell others about the only man who can take a broken life and put it back together again. What Good News for this present life!

8:28 AM Quote of the day (Jim Gordon): 

In other words, the gift of Christ was never meant to make sense in any way we can get our own heads round. A time for the foolishness of generosity, an opportunity to say things too easily left unsaid, and to do it in ways that lack ambiguity. The generous act is a relational statement - which amongst other things is why when we think of God's coming amongst us in the gift of the Word made flesh, we are confronted with self giving love, making itself real, and known, as gift.

8:14 AM Speaking about good writing...

8:10 AM I just read a rather lengthy tome on theology that I thought could have been shortened (with some good editing) by at least one fourth, if not a third. The book was pleonastic, redundant, and superfluous. (It even used too many words, hee, hee.) Just my opinion, but perhaps we're overlooking a lesson I've begun to learn through 34 years of teaching and writing: sometimes less is more. Verbosity is probably okay if you're a Barth or a Brunner, but this here Black need not crowd all of his thoughts into every nook and cranny. As the old limerick puts it:

There was a young poet in Japan/Whose poetry no one could scan. When told it was so,/He replied, "Yes, I know,/But I try to get as many words in the last line as I can."

7:56 AM (Weird) quote of the day:

''God gave me a gift of playing cards -- that interest, that hobby -- and I could put it to use to help build our church. That just was really exciting for me.''

Read SC Priest Wins $100, 000 for Church in Poker Game. The alternative to Christian gambling, of course, is Christian shoplifting  --  a very striking commentary on Rom. 12:2 if you ask me.

7:50 AM Two new books to look for:

1) The Meaning of the Pentateuch.

2) Religion and Poverty: Pan-African Perspectives.

The former book is written by my erstwhile colleague at SEBTS, John Sailhamer, whose work on the Pentateuch is incomparable.

7:45 AM Thinking of serving the Lord in Europe? Check out MSNBC's Islam in Europe Interactive Map.

7:41 AM Did you know that 97 percent of Denver residents are unchurched? A good reason, if you ask me, for a church plant in Metro Denver, especially a church plant that will work intentionally with other churches in the 'hood. The Denver 2011 site is up and I read it with pleasure and interest. You will too.

Tuesday, December 22

8:59 PM Thousands of inquiring minds want to know: What are you having for Christmas dinner? You see, the men folk are vitally concerned that the ladies (Becky, Jessie, and Liz) enjoy a respite from their normal arduous labors and have volunteered to prepare Friday's meal, serve it, and then clean up afterwards. It all gives abundant promise of great jocularity. Cooking is a secret passion of mine in which I occasionally engage. Candidness forces me to confess that I am good at only a couple of dishes, and my cooking always makes a frightful mess. I find the kitchen both exasperating and bewitching. There being nothing more to say on the subject, I proceed no further.

7:55 PM Ph.D. students, I just agreed to teach a course on Greek linguistics in the fall semester. Should be great fun. We'll cover all the bases: phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, historical-comparative linguistics, discourse analysis, etc. I hope you'll pray about joining us.

7:43 PM Just back from Chapel Hill. Need to help Nate out tomorrow with some farm projects.

The Lord sure can make life an adventure, can't He? The deep dealing of God with His children varies in its details but is alike in its general pattern: utter surrender on our part, complete provision on His. At the age of 57, I feel like I am just beginning to open my heart to my heavenly Father. With more responsibility has come a greater need for special grace. And I have found His grace to be sufficient. At times it startles and overwhelms me.

Such as yesterday and today. B's radiation treatments have gone without a hitch. I am so filled with praise and rejoicing that I hardly know what to say. True companionship is one of life's greatest blessings, is it not? And it is a joy to watch Becky as she faces her illness, one day at a time, one step at a time -- and so joyfully! The ultimate source of her life is far beyond, out of sight and reach, because it is in God. The image of a stormy sea comes to mind. Below it is a huge, calm depth. Such is the exchanged life -- the abundant, fruitful life that Jesus promises to all those who love Him, irrespective or who or what they are. Traveling this road with Bec is a reminder to me that the one absorbing passion of my life must be utter abandonment to the Lord Jesus and His will. I cry out with blind old Fanny Crosby (photo), "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!"

Monday, December 21

11:23 AM Lookie who just came a-visitin'.

Time to get outdoors and work!

11:15 AM I'm sitting here reading John 1, and guess what jumps out at me? Apud. "In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum. Hoc erat in principio apud Deum." I would have expected the Latin preposition cum. The Greek is also a bit unusual here: pros, instead of sun, para, or meta. Luther preferred bei to mit. What do all these terms have in common? They imply an intimacy: "Sitting by one's side, enjoying one's company." If I said to you, "Ich bin bei Familie Schmidt," that would mean far more than "I'm with the Smith family." It would imply that I'm in their home, enjoying their company, perhaps even staying overnight with them. We would be fools to think that Christ was only "with" the Father in an objective manner. Jesus and the Father enjoyed an intimacy that to us must be incomprehensible. Hence the poignancy of the words in 1:14: "Et Verbum caro factum est et habitarit in nobis." In the words of Wesley:

He left His Father's throne above,--
     so free, so infinite His grace--
   emptied Himself of all but love,
     and bled for Adam's helpless race:
   'Tis mercy all, immense and free;
   for, O my God, it found out me!

See what this does to our human pride? It cuts the ground right under us. No longer can we use intellectual excuses to evade our responsibility as Christians to penetrate a lost world for Christ, leaving behind all that is familiar and comfortable to us. If there's a Christmas lesson for me this year, perhaps that's it.

10:02 AM Becky's latest essay in her series is called Peace and Priorities. She has also updated the Bethel Hill blog with a poem for the entire family. Check these out when you can.

9:10 AM Iris Godfrey chimes in on the Christmas debate. Good thoughts, too. (Ah, but does she love Zwingli? Zat ist ze qvestion.)

9:03 AM I want to thank Lionel Woods for reviewing Christian Archy.

P.S. As co-editor of the Areopagus series, I am always looking for manuscripts that move outside the box and challenge conventional thinking. If you have an idea for the series, please feel free to contact me or my fellow editor, Allan Bevere. My email is

8:39 AM That's the spirit, Eric

8:14 AM Check out Allan Bevere's list of ironic news headlines. Sure to make you chuckle. A sampler:

"President Obama leaves global warming summit early to beat blizzard in Washington DC."

8:07 AM Quote of the day #2 (Ted Galen Carpenter):

The United States had assumed an identity as leader and defender of the free world during the Cold War. After the fall of European communism, the whole world was “free”—or should have been, in the eyes of our foreign-policy elites. There was no systematic challenger to U.S. power, and the only thing standing in the way of universal prosperity and democracy was the occasional Third World strong man. The Cold War itself had never been about democracy or human rights—not really—but it became an incubator for this new ideology. After the Berlin Wall fell, the war against the Noriegas of the world could begin—and it provided a convenient pretext for maintaining U.S. military power at Cold War levels. There was a new world to order, after all.

Operation Just Cause was a catalyst for Washington’s new role not only as worldwide policeman, but as global armed social worker. There was a time two decades ago when empire could have been forsaken. But instead of coming home, we went to Panama City.

8:02 AM Quote of the day (Arthur Sido):

I would have assumed there were lots of Christians in Australia. To find that the first one was discovered this year and is a woman who has been dead for 100 years was a shock. Anyways, congrats to Australia for its first Christian!

7:45 AM Oh my. Your local retailers are being rated for their "Christmas friendliness." I kid you not. You can forget Toys-R-Us. It's "Christmas negligent." Go Pro Bass Shop! You've earned a 98 percent approval rating. The historic struggle between "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Hanukah" has begun.

7:23 AM Becky and I don't "do" Christmas. We've even written an essay or two about that. Some cite these essays as if they were inspired and inerrant. They aren't. They are our personal convictions. We're with the book of Hebrews on this one: The religion of this world, with its emphasis on externals, has been rejected by God. Receiving what Christ has done for us requires no candles or observances or ceremonies, but simple faith. That is the simplicity of Christianity. Having said that, however, please let's not make a religion out of our religionless Christmas!

And so, I want to take this opportunity to wish all of you "Happy Holidays," "Seasons Greetings," and (if you prefer) "Merry Christmas." I hope you enjoy spending time with your families.

7:12 AM I love these bikers as they cruise for Christ.

"We never miss an opportunity to minister the gospel," said Larry Lash, of New Oxford, the chapter vice president.


6:59 AM Matthew Montonini says we should read an interview with Joel Marcus. I did, and so should you.

6:46 AM Our reservations are made! We'll be back in Ethiopia, Lord willing, the end of March. This will be just after B has finished her radiation and the first (of 3) additional rounds of chemo. You say, "But what will her condition be like then?" We really have no idea. But the flights were booking up, so we took the plunge -- by faith, if you will.

What is faith? It is not a hunch that things will happen in a certain way. Nor is it positive thinking. And it is most certainly not a feeling of optimism. Faith is none of these things. Faith, according to Hebrews, is an awareness of "things not seen." It is a consciousness that there are realities that we cannot see, feel, hear, touch, measure, or analyze yet which are as real and vital as anything we can see. It is an understanding that a spiritual kingdom exists, a great family home in which God the Father loves and cares for His children. It is an awareness that behind everything there is a loving Hand that guides and directs and provides. Faith does not ignore the scientific facts. It grounds them in the Ultimate Reality. Faith is the ability to do the impossible against all the slick arguments of the world and to keep pressing on day after day, whether we know where we are going or not.

Isn't that great -- that B and I can make our plans, trusting in the Plan of an Almighty, Loving God? Praise His Name!

Sunday, December 20

4:30 PM No news here. Nate and I unloaded manure and fed the cattle. The dogs enjoyed the snow. Bec's cooking supper. Tomorrow radiation begins. Life goes on.

1:45 PM Just finished reading Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands. It did me good to read it. How well does Daws write!

I found Hawaii a pleasant place to live. It was not perfect of course. The idea of a "melting pot" was and is an illusion; the issue of race did not die out with statehood in 1959. As for politics and the economy, Asians have long viewed the state as nothing more than a staging area for the U.S. armed forces. Even today, military spending continues to outweigh even tourism. The Waikiki of my childhood (when there were only 2 or 3 hotels) has given way to concrete and asphalt, though away to the east the bay of Kailua remains as pristine as ever. The Hawaiian independence movement is alive and well, and interest in the Hawaiian language (not Pidgin, but authentic Hawaiian) is experiencing a revival. Both pineapple and sugar cane are things of the past (thanks to Caribbean growers), but banking and education are booming.

If there is one thing I appreciate about my Hawaiian upbringing it was the ethnic diversity of the islands -- a rather self-conscious blend of East and West. For kamaaina haoles like myself (the term refers to whites who were born and raised in Hawaii) it produced a spirit of relaxed acceptance of cultural diversity. This was undoubtedly providential and probably accounts for the ease with which I am able to travel from Basel to Burji, Bucharest to Bombay.

As a child, the appeal of the islands was simple: sun, sand, and surf. Being a third generation Hawaiian, I felt mystically rooted to the land. Most importantly, it was where I became a child of the King as an 8-year old. I can still remember my baptism at Kailua Beach, my growing love for the Word during my teen years, my simple attempts to serve the Lord and help the local church in Kailua to which I belonged. By the 1970s I was living in California and all of this was in the past. But the foundation laid in Hawaii is still with me today. When the sunset in rural Virginia is just right, the islands come into view again as they did for me so long ago, a more pacific coastline than ever James Cook knew.

Below: Becky has been scanning our old photo albums onto the computer. These photos were literally scanned this morning, and I thought I would share them with you. The first shows my mother and me when we were living in Waikiki.

Chubby little guy, eh?

This is Becky's favorite picture of me when I was little. By this time we had moved to Kailua in windward Oahu.

I was the youngest of four. The most spoiled too (I have to confess.)

This picture was taken in the front yard of our home in Kailua. My father, an alcoholic, had long before left the family. I have no memories of him.

Being baptized in Kailua Bay. I will never forget being saved a week before. God had become my Father, and I was His son!

With my buddies at our home in Kailua. My cousin Pila (second from left) was killed in a surfing accident at Waikiki when I was 10.

The ultimate beachcomber.

My sixth grade class picture. I had just broken my tooth diving into a swimming pool.

For intermediate school we moved into town to be closer to the school. This was how we dressed for class.

A student at Biola. I left the islands in 1971. As our plane rounded Diamond Head, I looked down at Kailua and knew it would never again be home for me. And, though I often returned to Hawaii for vacations, it never was.

9:44 AM Becky pointed this video out to me: a submarine volcano erupting. I imagine that's how the entire Hawaiian archipelago started out.

9:38 AM "We take only Epaphrodituses with us." This was my response to someone who had asked me if he could come to Ethiopia with Becky and me. You see, we do not take individuals per se with us on mission trips. Our goal is to connect churches with churches. That was why the Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to Paul. He was their personal representative (apostolos), sent to help Paul in his needs (leitourgos). What a fitting description of a missionary!

Perhaps our churches need to reconsider why we do mission trips. Yes, as individuals we must be responsive to the needs around us. But the primary locus of God's activity in the world today is the local church, not the denomination or the association or the seminary or the missionary organization. Here is a point I would like to make crystal clear: We must not see ourselves as individuals. Jesus came to build His church. As His Body we are to "have the same attitude and the same love, live in harmony, and keep one purpose in mind" (Phil. 2:2). We are to "live as good citizens of heaven who reflect the value of the Good News about Christ" (1:27). We are to "work hard together to spread the Good News," just as Paul and Timothy had done (2:22). That's why I said, "We take only Epaphrodituses."

In 2 Cor. 8:23 Paul emphasized that his co-workers were "representatives of the churches" (apostoloi ekklesion, apostoli ecclesiarum). Paul longed to see churches connected with churches. What a brilliant plan!

Below: Our 2009 Alaba team says goodbye to the brethren. One trip to Ethiopia and you will never be the same person.

7:13 AM Several students of mine are currently considering doctoral programs in New Testament. No doubt each fish is giving considerable thought to the size of the pond he or she is about to swim in. The decision to begin doctoral studies is an exceptionally difficult one. Graduates of seminaries, in particular, wonder if staying at a seminary is a good idea when a university doctorate beckons. In the past 3 weeks I've had several conversations with prospective doctoral students, and I am always happy to offer my two cents worth of advice. I am glad when my former students become professors themselves. And the needs are great  -- especially abroad. I note with some interest that Michael Halcolm will be teaching a course this summer at the Evangelical Theological College in Addis Ababa. It is a feather in your cap, my friend. You will find your students eager to learn and (for the most part) fluent in English (with an American accent, by the way). My beginning Greek DVD series was, in fact, filmed there, and I shall never forget that class of eager linguists.

Each student who survived the course was given a free UBS Greek New Testament (compliments of the prof). I hope and pray that at least a few of them are using it in their daily lives and ministries. Such opportunities to teach are literally worldwide, and international students have a vast appetite for all things scholarly. The challenge is to keep them focused on people rather than professional attainments and to use their knowledge in humble service to the Body.

Occasionally I will approach students on campus and ask them whether they have ever considered doctoral studies. Some of them are so obviously gifted, and such diligent workers, that I feel a gentle prod would not do much damage. If you are praying over this matter may God bless you. Do not, under any circumstances, think that you are limited to a seminary doctorate. There is no need to limit the hand of God in any way, shape, or form. Put all of the cards on the table and let Him whittle them down.

Below: The young Americans in Basel in 1980. Here we're with Herr and Frau Jost (pronounced Yosht) whom we met while attending die Baptistengemeinde Basel. The Josts spoke only German. One of the main reasons we went to Switzerland for our studies was for the cross-cultural experience. We avoided the American ghetto like the plague.

Saturday, December 19

7:06 PM Would I ever bore you with perfunctory snow-day photos? You know I would! Twas a loverly day today, even though we've got some fence mendin' to do. Enjoy!

1:59 PM It's nice not to be inundated by school work. I hope to do a good deal of writing during my break -- rosily anticipating, of course, returning to campus on January 4 to begin a 3-week Greek course. I find the pleasure of teaching so intoxicating and distracting that it is a good thing to take a break from it occasionally. I'm horribly afraid I've become inured to the pleasures of scholarship, however. The recently-published New Testament introductions that I have seen barely go beyond what has been done before. It's most disappointing to hear the same old tired arguments against the Pauline authorship of Hebrews or against Matthean priority. Why we can't fairly give the other side of an issue, I'll never know. Then there are volumes that one hardly even takes into consideration these days -- Ellul is overlooked as though he had H1N1.

Today, though, I've been taking it easy and reading my Hawaiian history book, where (p. 98) I saw this statement about the Hawaiians: "Their ability to memorize long passages of Scripture was amazing." I'm reminded of Shoko (photo), a young blind man in Burji who has been memorizing the Bible. I don't know how many books of Scripture he has already learned, but a couple of years ago he had already memorized the Gospels and the book of Romans in Amharic.

Our attempts to memorize, say, Philippians, seem so paltry by comparison.

Today I am researching the life of one Titus Coan, who led the "Great Awakening" in Hilo, Hawaii, during the mid-nineteenth century. He had been converted to Christianity by Charles Finney and employed the latter's methods of evangelism in the islands with great success, much to the consternation of the Congregational Calvinists who lived on Oahu. Oh, and to see how the Protestants treated the French Catholics. Shameful!

7:55 AM Growing up in the Paradise of the Pacific, I was taught that Captain James Cook discovered the islands in 1778. What I think they meant to say was that he "rediscovered" the island chain. The first explorers to "discover" Hawaii were, of course, the Polynesians.

We're co-laborers with God. God's plan is for every believer to become a redemptive person by exercising his or her unique gifts and by living sacrificially for others. This is a truth that each one of us must "rediscover" for ourselves. It is not enough that others discovered it long before we did. We fit into God's purpose by loving Him, obeying Him, and loving others until they ask us why. This seems so obvious, doesn't it? Yet I lived without this goal for many years, even as a professor of New Testament and Greek. The "health-and-wealth" boys would have been greatly offended by our Lord's instruction to the 70 to "leave it all behind and keep it out of sight." The Gospel is the Good News of Christ's victory over sin and death. It isn't prime rib, diamonds, or silk suits.

Don't be fooled by imitations and imitators of the Gospel. Many people who think have harnessed the Holy Spirit have really only harnessed pop psychology. They have yet to "rediscover" what every true believer must inevitably come to know: That the purpose of the Christian is not to advance our own little kingdom on earth but the upside-down kingdom of God.

Friday, December 18

7:25 PM What to read tonight for pleasure? Philosophy is all played out; it is so boring and untrue. All the old books about theology that I love don't seem to interest me tonight. So I've returned to an old standard: Shoal of Time, a fine history of the Hawaiian Islands written by Gavan Daws.

Daws was my history professor at the University of Hawaii. He is a writer of fabulous cleverness, declamatory and logical. I particularly enjoy his depiction of territorial Hawaii, a time when many mainlanders moved to Hawaii (my grandparents began a business on Oahu in 1910). It was he who taught me how to write an essay exam: Choose 8 important topics from a semester's worth of lectures, let the students prepare for all of them, and then select 4 for the actual exam. I aced his classes simply because he was such an excellent lecturer -- and because I could write a good essay exam. Back then we used things called Blue Books. Nobody today knows what those are.

P.S. If you're in the snow belt, I hope you weather the tempest safely and even enjoyably.

6:30 PM Becky cooked chicken enchiladas for supper tonight. It was delicious. 

6:22 PM Just as I drove into the farm today I noticed Nate out spreading manure. Perfect timing. I joined in the fun. (Yes, skubaling is fun!) Then he drove down to Oxford to swap out another trailer, so as soon as he returned it was back to work, this time in the snow. (That was fun too.) Here's yours truly finishing off the trailer while Nate feeds the cattle.

I thought I'd walk down to the road to check the mail, and while there snapped this pic of our farm sign.

And here's the view as I approached our humble abode, in which I found...

... none other than Jessie and Nolan, the latter having just sprouted two more toofies. I think he loves his Papa B. What do yall think?

We're expecting several more inches of the white stuff tomorrow. And get this -- Nate's got two more manure trailers to unload. More fun!

2:36 PM The snow just started falling.

2:10 PM Rosewood Farm welcomes 2 new calves born in the past 3 days. Both mamas and babies are doing fine, thank you. 

2:02 PM Wanna hear one great sermon on Heb. 12:1-3? Then go to the SEBTS site, click on "Chapel Schedule," and listen to Danny Akin's commencement address today. Phenomenal.

By the way, applications for spring 2010 are up over 50 percent from this time last year. When I asked an admissions counselor how he accounted for the increase, he said, "Two words. Great Commission." I am so glad he didn't say "faculty" or "location" or "tuition." SEBTS is truly a place where "Every classroom is a Great Commission classroom."

Thursday, December 17

8:51 PM A very good cyber-friend has just posted this prayer request. Would you please take a look at it and then offer up a prayer for his wife? Thank you.

8:36 PM Just a thought or two about Nick's post I Don't Know Why But...

I began my website (Dave Black Online) back when the Ark landed on Ararat. At that time I mostly linked to other people's posts, much like the Lew Rockwell site does today. A few years ago, however, I began writing so many essays myself that today I rarely link to anyone else's posts on my home page (except for Becky's, of course). Then one day the thought occurred to me, "Why not start blogging?" And so I did. My very first blog post begins:

Introducing the DBO blog: news, commentary, musings, and miscellaneous blatherings from your web host.

And it concludes with these words:

Do stop by often, as these ruminations will be coming to you at any time of day or night.

When I typed those words on Nov. 13, 2003, I had no idea I would still be blogging over 6 years later!

How did my website and blog get started? With the help of two of my graduate assistants at that time. Both were into IT, and both were glad to help me set up a website using Front Page. They had the patience to teach me (Dave Black being the ultimate cyber-ignoramus) how to upload posts, and then left me to blather on my own. At that time we hadn't even thought about enabling comments. In fact, I don't think that option was ever presented to me. I've toyed with the idea of going to Word Press, for example, and starting a "real" blog. The main features to be added would be RSS feeds and comments. I haven't done this (as of yet) for several reasons. Let me list them here:

1) I am very happy with the layout of my website. I like (a) being able to post essays to my home page (these essays all have linkable URLs, as you know), and I also like (b) being able to "blather" away in my so-called blog. My family loves my blog layout, and frankly so do I. I think it's somewhat unique in blogdom and (to me at least) easy and pleasant to read. (Yes, I know this is a very subjective matter. Personally I like lots of pictures in blogs; others detest them. Some enjoy reading personal trivia; others think that self-revelatory posts demean the genre. Some hate the font size and bold type; I enjoy them. Etc., etc.)

2) In addition to blogging and writing website essays, I maintain a rigorous writing schedule of books and contributions to books. (I've not done much in the way of journal articles or book reviews for some time now. In a sense I think I've made my contribution to those media and feel it's time to let the younger scholars have at it.) In addition, I own and operate a working cattle and hay farm, am active as a missionary to Ethiopia and other countries, and am a fulltime professor of ancient Greek at SEBTS with a normal teaching load. I also mentor a large number of Ph.D./Th.M. and other students. Currently, my wife and I are also walking through the challenge of her illness.

3) When I do take time away from all of these other activities to blog, I have "blogging  priorities," as does everyone. Yours are probably different from mine. I have 3 such priorities. Here they are, in order of importance:

(a) Write my own blog entries. Here I'm pretty unpredictable: one day I might write about the farm, another day about teaching, and still another day about missions. Or I might respond to something someone else has said on his/her blog.

(b) Link to important essays/posts at other people's sites.

(c) Offer brief comments at other bloggers' sites. (I'm trying to do this more often nowadays when I have the time. I especially want to encourage younger blogger-scholars along.)

I imagine that if I had the time (and the help of a computer expert), I might consider pushing my site into the twenty-first century. Even then, however, I doubt whether I would have much of an opportunity to respond to comments. And if I did in fact open a comment stream, I think I would feel an obligation to keep the conversation going. An excellent role model here was my friend Scot McKnight -- before he went to BeliefNet. Scot's site The Jesus Creed always seemed to have a great comment stream going, and Scot himself would jump into the conversation often. How he ever found the time to do so, I'll never know. (Today I never visit BeliefNet because of its insufferable ads.) I've thought of changing the name of my blog to "diary." Maybe the nomenclature shift would help people "cope" with the absence of feeds and comments. For indeed, my so-called blog is really nothing more than "news, commentary, musings, and miscellaneous blatherings from your web host." Always was, and probably always will be.

In short, my dear blogging friends (and I do consider all of you my dear friends), please consider my blog to be nothing more than a personal online diary/quasi-blog. I do hope you will drop in from to time, but I don't expect you to. I dare say, however, that when you click on the DBO "blog" icon you're likely to find something new almost every day of the year -- except when I'm traveling out of state or out of country.

So thanks, Nick, for the question. I sincerely appreciate your willingness to overlook my many weaknesses. And thanks to all of you who read my diary/quasi-blog and enjoy it. I wish I could meet and exceed your expectations. But no blog can or ever will do that. Nevertheless, I sure do enjoy the blogosphere, even with all of its warts and shortcomings. Don't you?

7:07 PM Heartfelt thanks to the authors of the Diglotting and the Scripture Zealot blogs for taking the time to review my beginning grammar.

6:44 PM Great news again! Becky's blood work looks superb. Especially her white count. So all systems are "Go" for us to begin radiation next week. We'll move in to our new home-away-from-home on Monday. Here's a pic of the beautiful house in Durham that a dear Christian widow has opened up to us. And it even has a piano. We'll have a bedroom and use of the kitchen. Isn't that wonderful?

God has been fabulously good to us. And His timing is always perfect. I've only got one day left on campus. Tomorrow I'll attend commencement and then turn in all of my final grades. Today I was crazy deep in grading exams over at UNC. When someone asked me what subject I taught, he looked at me as if I were off my rocker when I told him. Maybe I am!

8:52 AM Andy Bowden is wondering what to read over the holidays. Well, Andy, another Andy has the answer: John Howard Yoder.

8:36 AM Once again, Arthur Sido has written an essay that has got my head nodding up and down: Don't fear persecution. He verbalizes what a good many of us think about evangelical attempts to "retake America" or to promote "Christian values." Here's my favorite quote from the essay:

If I may be even more cynical, these sorts of religiously charged issues strike me as far more about pushing buttons for political gain than about any semblance of “Judeo-Christian values”. The values espoused by Christ are not triumphalism or even patriotism. They are sacrifice, humility, perseverance and even embracing persecution, being counter-cultural instead trying to conquer the culture. I am as politically conservative as anyone but I also see that for many politicians religion is a tool to gain and retain power.

But the whole essay is worth your time.

8:10 AM If you're a student of 1 Thessalonians or Philippians, here are two new articles to look out for.  

7:46 AM Even as some U.S. religious leaders are calling for economic sanctions on Iran, others are reminding us that (a) sanctions are a form of state-sponsored terrorism:

If terrorism is defined as harming civilians to get them to pressure their government to make changes in policy, then such harsh and broad sanctions are a lesser form of terrorism. Although the means may be economic – instead of blowing up buildings or markets – intentionally harming the people of a poor nation commercially can also cause many deaths. Obama’s policy on Iran sanctions mirrors then-secretary of state Madeleine Albright's defense of the grinding, comprehensive embargo against Iraq to keep Saddam Hussein in his box during the 1990s, when asked if it was worth it after a United Nations report estimated that a half million Iraqi children had died because of the sanctions. Bombs may kill civilians more spectacularly, but cutting off the necessities of life makes them just as dead.

And (b) sanctions are acts of war:

Mr. Speaker, I am concerned that many of my colleagues opposing war on Iran will vote in favor of this legislation, seeing it as a step short of war to bring Iran into line with U.S. demands. I would remind them that sanctions and the blockades that are required to enforce them are themselves acts of war according to international law. I urge my colleagues to reject this saber-rattling but ultimately counterproductive legislation.

Bottom line: Iran hasn't done anything illegal, so sanctions would be illegal. The good news is that every silver lining has a cloud. The current debate over U.S. foreign policy is a good opportunity for us Christians to remain true to our cause as the church of Jesus Christ:

It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.

The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.

7:38 AM No, no, no, Nick! Here are the world's greatest standup comedians: Red Skeleton, Steve Allen, Jack Benny, Abbott and Costello, Johnny Carson, Jackie Gleason, Don Rickles, Bill Cosby, Rodney Dangerfield, the Smothers Brothers, and Robin Williams.

7:32 AM T. C. over at New Leaven has a great list of recommend books on New Testament studies. Check it out here. I see he's got good taste when it comes to Greek grammars.

7:25 AM Quote of the day:

A recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that younger people (18-29) are the least likely group of American adults to pray on a daily basis (48 percent) while the older folks (65+) are the most likely to pray daily (68 percent). And though this probably has a lot to do with the facts of aging, maturity and an increasingly secular society, it likely also reflects that the younger generations are increasingly too distracted to make prayer a daily habit.

This comes from a recently published essay by Brett McCracken called Prayer for Generation Tweet.

I remember spending many hours in the Rose of Sharon Prayer Chapel (which is mentioned in the article) when I was a student at Biola in the early 1970s. I often prayed out of desperation – I was confused about the Lord's direction in my life both in terms of who I should marry and what kind of work I should do. I was forced to my knees, literally. Brett concludes his essay by saying:

And in a world that is spinning faster and tighter around our own personalized, technology-enabled orbits, it’s nice to know that God is in control and wants to guide us through.

Our Blackberrys and Bluetooths can do quite a bit. But God can do more. And he never drops calls.

And all God's people said?

7:19 AM Here's an excellent and timely essay: How December 25 Became Christmas by Andrew McGowan. In case you were wondering….

7:15 AM If you live in Milwaukee you are most blessed among people. Look at what's coming your way. Question: How did yall in Wisconsin rate?

7:12 AM Want to do a Ph.D. in theology – in Norway? If so, go here. It's a "full ride," as they say.

7:07 AM Quote of the day (Justin Raimondo):

"The conditions that allowed us to be struck on 9/11" existed not in Afghanistan, but right here in the US. Those conditions had nothing to do with Afghanistan's lack of a central government, and everything to do with the laxness of our security measures here at home. The Taliban may have been in the drivers' seat in Kabul, but what really enabled al-Qaeda wasn't Mullah Omar but rather the ease [.pdf] with which our immigration laws allowed al-Qaeda to enter the country – and the complete cluelessness of and lack of coordination between the various intelligence-gathering and law enforcement agencies upon whom billions had been lavished to prevent just such a catastrophe.

Truer words were never spoken.

P.S. If you didn't watch NOVA on Tuesday night, you missed a great program called The Spy Factory. Our own NSA knew that several of the hijackers were in the country and told nobody in the FBI about it. Still, we are told, "no one is to blame."

7:01 AM Eric, I agree wholeheartedly that Christian education can and should be returned to the local church as much as possible. As you know, I taught a beginning Greek class at my local church in Podunk, NC, for about a year. The first night of class we had 55 in attendance. For our final exam a couple of weeks ago, 6 showed up. Let me tell you, it was worth the investment. Michael, your comment is right on: the best way to learn a language is to teach it to others, and your commitment to holding a Tuesday morning Greek class in your local coffee ship is exemplary. May your tribe increase!

Wednesday, December 16

8:56 PM Eric Carpenter notes the importance of the Joshua Project website as a primary source of information about people groups worldwide. Eric is right. I just checked their page on Ethiopia, and it blows my mind to see how many souls are still lost in this vast country. If you haven't bookmarked this page do so now and refer to it often, if for no other reason than to be reminded to beg the Lord of the Harvest to send forth reapers. And use it to compare country with country. I just did, and discovered that Germany has the same population as Ethiopia and just as many people groups. Not that's an astounding fact!

8:50 PM Extra! Extra! Obama nominated for yet another major award!

8:46 PM Another reason why I love Barth.

8:43 PM How did the Septuagint (LXX) come into being? A partial answer is found in an interesting ancient document called The Letter of Aristeas, which is discussed in this post over at Theophyle's English Blog. If you're in the least interested in taking my Septuagint class this fall, I encourage you to read it.

Tuesday, December 15

7:18 AM Last night I took time to unlax. I spent the evening in concentrated loafing. Today the work starts again, and I will be wasting no time. I feel I have gotten plenty of exercise (and blisters) in the past few days. Thanks be to God for good health and a strong body. I am still finding it hard to believe that the semester ends on Friday with commencement. It was a great semester in every way. There ought to be firecrackers or something to celebrate with. Many of our students will be going on mission trips during semester break. Praise God for that. Becky and I will stay home this year -- contrary to our normal schedule -- though our hearts will stray often to Ethiopia. Ennui is inevitable when you feel yourself making a conscious effort to be alert when your mind is 6,000 miles away. We feel so blessed for having defined as our first life-priority to advance the cause of the Lord Jesus Himself and to encourage others to do the same. He is to be obeyed because He is Head -- not merely a subject to be studied or talked about. If our churches or our homes or our families are centered on anything or anyone else -- any doctrine, any program, any cause -- they will be off-center and off-balance.

But enough of this silly meandering. As I said, I've got of lots of work to do, and it won't get done sitting here at the keyboard.

Best to all,


7:12 AM Shout out and felicitations to my colleague Alvin-the-Snake-Man-Reid for being an Editor's Pick for 2009:

A better compendium on the history, sociology, methodology and theology of evangelism cannot be found. This book will solve many modern dilemmas surrounding issues such as the modern invitation; God’s sovereignty and human free will; and ministry contextualization. The research of this book—particularly data surrounding the changing North American scene—will be a great help to church planters and churches who desire to make an impact in the largest metropolitan areas of the United States.

You da man, Alvin!  Handsome too. (Note hairline.)

7:03 AM I like this quote (Justin Raimondo):

In short, we should be having public hearings on the methods used to lie us into war, but we won’t – for all of the reasons given above. And one more: our rulers don’t believe we are entitled to the truth, because, you see, only they can handle it. While we thrill to the latest revelation of Tiger Woods’ sexual prowess, they bravely face up to the cold hard facts we could never even bear to contemplate – because they’re better, wiser, richer, and undeniably more enlightened then the inhabitants of the distant hinterlands. We don’t deserve the truth, in their estimation, and wouldn’t care even if we did know it. Better to draw a curtain over it, and leave us to the latest edition of TMZ.

One more from the same essay:

In the American colonies, of course, the Iraq war is already forgotten, consigned to a large storage locker labeled "Bush’s sins," one that no one in the US Congress – aside from Ron Paul and a few antiwar Democrats with no power – is inclined to open.

And three cheers for the Brits for at least trying to find out who got them into the Iraq war fiasco -- and why. Hip hip...

Monday, December 14

5:43 PM Sound the trumpet in Zion! Becky is making Chinese food for supper tonight. I'm slobbering all over the keyboard.

5:34 PM My oh my, but I must say that Alan Knox does indeed have good taste when it comes to books

5:20 PM What a funny day it's been. Lots of fun too. It all began over at Nathan's kitchen. We began tearing up the flooring today, first the linoleum, then the particle board, then the floor boards. Here's a before:

And an after. The floor beams are just round pine logs flattened on top for the flooring to lay on. Who says using raw pines for building is nonsense? These logs have been here for over 200 years!

Now this here is a really GREAT picture that Nate took. Let me explain. What you see here in the corner are not two boards side by side but solid pine that has been troughed and then squared to form this corner piece. The experts call it a "hog trough" design, and the design is very, very old, which confirms that the oldest part of Nate and Jessie's house dates back to at least 1790 if not earlier (Nate says possibly even as early as 1750). Nathan is like a little boy opening a Christmas present every time we make a discovery like we did today.

Afterwards we continued our clean-up outside.

Want to hear something funny? I was taking a piece of board with a light fixture attached to it to throw in the trash trailer when I thought to myself, "That's odd. Nathan wants to throw this away. Usually he'd want to salvage the light fixture." But I didn't say a word. Just as I was about to toss it into the trailer Nate says to me, "Dad, let's set that piece aside. I might could salvage the light fixture." Too funny, eh? (By the way, "might could" is a southern Virginia thing.)

And Nolan? He is so cute. His eyes follow you wherever you go. As you make eye contact with him, his little eyes shine up and he smiles from chin to chin.

Hope your day went as well as mine did!

9:35 AM Poor clergy -- their ratings have dropped, again. But there's good news: bankers and used car salesmen still rate lower.

8:52 AM Before my students can turn in their term papers they must complete a check list of 10 items. Each item must be checked or they cannot submit their paper. These items include "Carefully proofread for spelling and grammar," "Paper an original work," and "Turned in on time." Then my students must answer two additional questions. I just began asking these questions a few years ago. I wish now I had always asked them. They are often very revealing. Here they are:

  • On a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest), indicate the level of effort you put into this paper.

  • Please indicate the grade you think you deserve for this paper.

It's always interesting for me to compare student responses to these questions with the actual grade they receive. Does anyone else out there do anything similar?

8:46 AM "A just war" or "Just a war"? Decide for yourself. Well done indeed, Thomas.

8:37 AM Ethiopia team members! Here's a must read essay that just appeared over at SF Gate: A leap of faith to Ethiopia's ancient holy sites. It discusses many of the places we've already talked about in our orientation meetings: Axum, Lalibela, Gondar. You cannot understand Ethiopia unless you understand the role the Orthodox Church plays in Ethiopian society.

Here Becky and I stand in front of one of the amazing hand-hewn churches in Lalibela. This pic was taken on our very first trip to Ethiopia back in 2004. We thought we were there for a one-time visit. Little did we know that we'd be going back to Ethiopia twice a year.

Here I'm in a meeting with Abune Paulos, the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, in Addis Ababa. He is a most interesting person. He spent several years in exile in the United States, where he earned a Ph.D. from Princeton. He speaks perfect English and we got on quite well. I was able to present to him several of my books as gifts for his theological college in Addis (Holy Trinity).

For more on the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and its views (for example) on the nature of Christ (non-Chalcedonian), go here.

8:12 AM Hooray! I see I've been right all along. Ipse dixit. Eric himself has said it.

8:03 AM I expect it to be a fairly busy week. I'll be working at Nate's house today and then return to campus on Tuesday and Wednesday for my final classes of the semester. On Thursday, Becky and I return to UNC Hospital for some last-minute checkups before she begins her radiation on Monday. Friday is commencement. I will have all of my semester grades turned in that day.

The work on Nate's remodeling project is going forward slowly. We still have to take up the floorboards before we begin the framing in. My soul is enriched by working with Nathan, even if my body tends to "talk to me" afterwards. God has given Nate the precious gift of high expectations, and it's a joy to watch a master craftsman at work. I just hope I'm not too big of a drain on his talent. But I do my best to help. One thing I love most about him is his love for the local church. He serves faithfully, week in and week out, as a non-paid shepherd of a little flock that meets in an old clapboard building with no facilities (not even an outhouse). There he and Jessie lead in the music and Nathan teaches the Word and together they just love on the people. No one would ever call Nathan a "pastor," but that's exactly what he does -- in complete obscurity but with total fidelity. His is a home where "seek ye first" means something.

My back, thank God, has healed up completely. It was rough while it lasted. I have spent the last month adjusting my mind and emotions to Becky's radiation treatments. There's a lot more to this one-flesh business that meets the eye when one is first married. I once said ruefully that if I ever saw Becky agonizing again I'd go out of my mind. Of course, it was the old me playing God again. The cross recurs in most of my theological writing these days, and I seem to be drawn more and more to Paul's famous "encouraging message" in Acts 14:22 that "it is through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God." In the book of Matthew, Christ told us regarding our spiritual affections, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." The more we learn to treasure our loved ones, the softer and more understanding our hearts will be toward them. The ability to love others is totally dependent on our ability to love the One who was willing to forgive those who drove the nails through His hands and feet and whose spittle ran down His cheeks. May the Lord Jesus soften my heart for people. May I come to know Him better and better every day as both Mighty Lord and Gentle Shepherd. And may my love for Becky be nothing more than an expression of what Jesus has given to me.

7:34 AM Thanks, Joel, for calling our attention to the teaching that youth ministry is "unbiblical." As you know, I've written a book about this called The Myth of Adolescence. However, I am not an apologist for age-integrated ministry per se (though I believe in it). Or for home-schooling for that matter (though my wife and I homeschooled through high school). Or for the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper as a full meal (which is what I believe the New Testament teaches). Or for an agrarian lifestyle (though that is what we enjoy). This is where so many of our churches go wrong, in my view. Our convictions supplant the Gospel. We are so busy raising modern knights that we forget why the church exists -- to give itself in witness to the world.

That said, I would like to see families staying together in church -- and serving together in ministry and missions. After all, there is no teenage Holy Spirit and adult Holy Spirit. There's only the Holy Spirit. If your 13 year-old is a believer, he or she has a spiritual gift and ought to be encouraged to exercise that gift for the blessing of others. Shame on the Body of Christ for telling our youth to go out and play. They are an army for Christ, or can be (1 Tim. 4:12).

I mentioned in a previous post that we are taking a family with us to Ethiopia next July. This will be a first for us. The Ethiopians are so excited about it. The son is 8 years old but is as eager about going as his parents are. Miss Katy came with us to Ethiopia with her dad last year. She is 15 years old. Here she is telling Bible stories in Alaba. She was a wonderful addition to our team, and she and her dad became closer than ever as a result of serving together.

Moms and dads, why not serve the Lord together this Christmas? It might mean serving in a food line, or singing at the local nursing home. It is truly more blessed to give than to receive, and giving together is just an added blessing!

7:23 AM Celucien Joseph defines for us "philosopher." Not bad at all. Reminds me of the old saw, "I tried to become a philosopher, but happiness kept breaking in." I admire philosophers, especially philosophers of religion. Origen was probably the best the church has ever known. But I'm glad I'm not one.

Sunday, December 13

6:51 PM Three young men -- Walter Gowans, Thomas Kent, and Rowland Bingham -- departed from Liverpool on Nov. 4, 1893, for Lagos, West Africa. A year later both Gowans and Kent were dead. In 1900 Bingham was smitten with malaria and returned to England. These three men had founded the Sudan Interior Mission, by whom my wife's parents were sent to Ethiopia in 1954. The work of SIM has been blessed by God through the years. But it all began with three young men who were willing to risk their lives to plant churches in the interior of Africa.

I've been reading the current issue of The Record (The Bulletin of the SIM Archives).

On p. 3 I saw this wonderful words:

The third party of missionaries sailed to Lagos in 1901 and established SIM's first mission station in Patagi. It was while the men were at Patagi that Nda Lemung, one of their builders, became the first convert due to the work of the mission.

There he was -- the first fruit of the Gospel effort. How the angels in heaven must have rejoiced that day! How I long for the conversion of all of Africa. I long especially for the Gospel to penetrate the warlike Guji tribe of southern Ethiopia. There are few believers among the Gujis. Here I am in Nov. 2008 with a few of them.

Please pray with me that the Lord would allow me to revisit the Gujis when Becky and I return to Ethiopia in July. I would gladly give my all to see them come to Christ. Please ask God to bless the preaching of the Gospel that took place during my visit. In this village the people listened attentively to the Word even though there was no visible response that day.

May God help the seed that was sown among the Gujis to take root and grow. May God help the believers there to remain steadfast in the midst of opposition. May they live in such a way that their neighbors are attracted to the Gospel. Above all, may the Prince of Peace come to rule and reign in the hearts of the Burjis and Gujis alike as a testimony to His power to change lives and even cultures. The time is short. I encourage all of us to do all that we can while there is still time. Gowans and Kent had only a year to serve Jesus in Africa. The length of time matters not. One year. Twenty years. That is up to the Lord. But we must be willing to give it our all, every day the Lord gives us life and breath.

5:14 PM A 16 year-old young man sent this along for our work in Ethiopia. He earned it himself by working on a farm this summer. God bless you, Sir, for your kindness and generosity! Every penny of it will go to the needs in Africa.

5:04 PM I dedicate this picture to the inestimable Dr. Jim West in honor of his lifelong quest for truth, justice, the American way, and the correct rendering of Luke 2:14:

It's from S Nöi Teschtamänt Züritüütsch ("The New Testament in Zürich German"), which was a gift from the good Dr. himself. Thank you, Herr Professor, for your thoughtfulness!

3:11 PM Andy Bowden giveth the parable of the fiddle. In light of what has been said about Lionel's post, I have a question: Does Andy's point resonate with you? Should it? Should we really rethink the way we emphasize the "star player" to the almost complete exclusion of mutual participation when we meet?

One correction, Andy. This is a fiddle:

And this is a violin:

2:55 PM Just finished grading papers. They were, for the most part, very well done. Thank you, students, for bringing your professor so much joy!

2:22 PM Here's the most perfect beach in the world.

Little wonder the president is thinking of spending Christmas there (again) with his family. I'm sure he'll do all the things I used to do while growing up there, including bodysurf. From one kamaaina to another, catch one for me, Mr. President! 

1:41 PM This just in:

So thankful to hear the good news about Becky. That will make a Baptist

Don't you just love them Baptists? Why, I is one!

1:27 PM Quote of the day (Arthur Sido: More Thoughts on TBN, MacArthur, and Money):

The prosperity Gospel makes so much sense in America because it is what we see week to week. Not just in $130 million religious campuses or in megachurches. I am talking about the local church that spends tons of money to replace carpet that might be ugly but works, adding video effects to make the "worship" more meaningful, spending tons of money on staff and denominational bureaucracy.

Well said, Arthur. Here's where I struggle, man. Hebrews says, "Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have" (Heb. 13:5). I think the weakness in many of our churches is that we have failed to be content with what we have. We are as busy trying to keep up with the Joneses as any wordling out there. I am not saying that the New Testament teaches that all Christians should take a vow of poverty. The Bible allows for certain levels of prosperity differing from each other. It is always difficult to know where to draw the line between having enough and genuinely needing more. That's why earlier in the same chapter the author emphasizes the need for us to use what we have in a costly fashion for the sake of others. First of all, we are to open our homes to others: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers." We are to reach out of own own very limited circle to people who are not like us. Then he says that we must have an open heart to the oppressed: "Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated." As Christians we can no longer shut our eyes to the suffering all around us. We are intended to use whatever practical means we have at our disposal to reach out to the oppressed and mistreated. Certainly this touches the delicate matter of how we are to use our money, our time, our vacations, and even our homes as places of hospitality.

Speaking personally, Arthur, I am asking God to help me do a better job of being a good steward of what He has so graciously given me. For Becky and me, this means spending our vacations in ministering in Ethiopia on our own dime. It means opening Bradford Hall to strangers. It means using my income intentionally for the Gospel and less and less on meeting our own needs. Even during this time of perpetual hospital visits it means reaching out to Becky's fellow cancer-sufferers and being intentional about sharing with them the love of Jesus and the hope that we have in Christ. For other people it will mean other things. But all of us need to be rethinking our priorities constantly.

I am haunted by your question: "How have we denied ourselves, really sacrificed?" That is precisely the question I think I need to be asking myself these days, rather than how can I point the finger at those who falsely claim that "the lack of money is the root of all evil." Dave, are you really living sacrificially, or are you just writing books and blog posts about it? God help me. God help us all.

Our Father, thank you for showing us what the life of faith looks like. God, grant us the simple faith of a child so that we can trust your Word and live by it. In the midst of a confused and bewildered society that places eternal value on temporal things and temporal value on eternal things, help us to show them a better way by giving of ourselves, giving our very lives if necessary, because of our love for you.

I ask this in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

12:30 PM The president's remarks in Oslo have the pundits wondering whether his just war theorizing was a reason or an excuse for him to carry on the war in Afghanistan.

One of them has put it this way:

In using neo-con, war-mongering rhetoric overseas, he slightly diminished America’s ‘new’ standing in the world, as well as his own image, while simultaneously giving the now-ridiculed neo-cons a HUGE moral victory; a big ‘told you so’. It felt like he somehow substantiated their despicable and dishonest methods by exhibiting lines from their very own playbook, word for word, to reach a similar ends. How appalling, after all the calamity they inflicted upon this country and this world.

I myself wonder if Mr. Obama has ever considered the just peace-making alternative (also called pacifism). Of course, I am speaking of real pacifism, not pseudo-hippie-style cowardice. True pacifism doesn't ignore the evil there is in the world. It examines it and then asks: What is the best way of dealing with evil? History has always shown that the worst way of dealing with evil is with another evil. The results of war are always the same: people are butchered, and the survivors lust for vengeance. Only acts of generous reparation can neutralize the effects of war -- witness the Marshall plan after World War II.

The president came within a few casuistical steps in his speech from parsing the meaning of "is" one two many times (which, as we saw in the case of Bill Clinton, is a poor escape mechanism where you're backed into a corner). His "surge" is a self-parody of Iraq: it panders to the base of the militarists and the neocon/religious right while backing shady puppets and awarding lucrative contracts to the Halliburtons and Bechtels of the world. Certainly the Congress who is backing the president's plan has got a lot to answer for. And just think of all those pols who could have benefited from the advice of one of their own (Republican Congressman Ron Paul).

Instead of rethinking bad assumptions, the president has decided to escalate. And Americans will take casualties for the credibility of the Obama administration. Not a very good reason to die, if you ask me.

12:11 PM A follow up to Lionel's post:

The story is told of a group of tourists in Rome whose guide showed them a number of penned-in hens. "These are very unusual and important chickens," she said. "They happen to be direct descendants of the rooster that crowed on the night on which Peter betrayed Jesus." The tourists were greatly impressed. "What a remarkable pedigree!" exclaimed a British tourist. "How much do they cost?" asked an American. But an Irish tourist turned to the guide and said, "Do they lay eggs?"

11:12 AM Lionel Woods seems to think that the Gospel trumps everything. And he means "everything." So says he in his latest post called Freedom... An Ecclesiological Discussion. Here is one of the great issues of the Christian faith. We keep mistaking the shadow for the substance. We confuse the pictures for the reality. Lionel is pointing out a revolutionary new principle of living by which God expects all of His followers to operate. And it's called love. This is the clear declaration of the New Testament from beginning to end. If people ask me why Becky and I attend a very traditional Baptist church (instead of an elder-led congregation that has a weekly observance of the Lord's Supper, etc. etc.) the answer is: Truly this is a church that loves God, loves one another, and loves the world. We are learning together what it means to obey God when every cell in our body wants to disobey Him. As Paul says in Heb. 6:9-12, he is convinced that his readers are saved, not because of their church polity, but because he has seen unmistakable evidence of love and concern for others, expressed in deeds of compassion -- not simply words but deeds. The unmistakable sign of a true Christian life is the existence of a love that desires to help and serve others, that seeks to minister to others at the cost of self. How we "do" church will never be more important than that.

I appreciate the honesty of Lionel's post. I know he has been struggling with his ecclesiology for many years now. There may be many of us who feel the same way but are not honest enough to openly admit it. My hope and prayer is that Lionel's post will be a launching pad for faith (which is always the answer to doubt). Lionel is not denying the importance of having our convictions of what church should look like. I have some very strong personal convictions in this area. I also believe that some patterns we find in the New Testament are healthier for the Body than others. That said, I will work with any evangelical body of believers that puts the Gospel first, that mobilizes it resources, clenches its fists, and sets its jaws with determination to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel (Phil. 1:27). 

Lionel is right. "Paul didn't risk his life for ecclesiology, but he did do it for the Gospel." And what a mighty Gospel it is!

11:02 AM Good rainy morning to all! B's white count is low today so we are staying home from church. We will certainly miss Bethel Hill, because believe me there's a lot of loving and stirring up to good works that goes on there! We need to gather together and encourage one another by sharing what the Lord Jesus has been doing in our lives. So we'll miss you terribly, Bethel Hillians! Please know that we love and appreciate you. Thank you for your love and prayers during this difficult time. 

Saturday, December 12

9:26 PM Just noticed that Why Four Gospels? received a quite positive review by a Perry Marshall over at the Amazon site. That's very kind of you, Perry. Thank you! 

9:05 PM Rich Rhodes offers a gentle "rebuke" (quotes intentional) for those who think they can translate the Greek New Testament well. Don't forget to read the comments, especially the third one.

8:45 PM Got a free minute? Then mosey on over to TIME magazine and check out this blast from the past first published in October of 1960: Religion: The Southern Baptists. Quite a roller-coaster ride.

7:55 PM Okay, Jeff and Bitsy, them is fightin' words. Keep talkin' like that and I'll up and move over to Belief Net and make you read all them ads.

7:30 PM Quote of the day #3 (Arthur Sido):

That brings us to the mantra of “submission to authority”. That seems to be the solution proposed in many circles to the problem of individualism in the church, i.e. submit to the men in charge of the local church.

...what are the marks of a man called to lead? More to the point, what do we view as the marks of a man called to lead? I am afraid that it may be based on many things that may make sense to us from a traditional and pragmatic standpoint more than from a Biblical standpoint. Being a good preacher, a good manager/organizer, having the proper experience and education, etc are all well and good but the picture we get in the Bible is a bit more complex and counter-intuitive.

Looking forward to the next post in your series on submission, Arthur.

7:05 PM May I share with you some of the encouraging messages we've received in the past 24 hours?

It is good to hear that your back is better and Becky’s scan came back showing no cancer.  We have been praying for you both.

I am soooo excited and thankful with your test results!!!!!

Praise the Lord!!!!!!!  We are rejoicing with you and continue to pray.


Becky:  So glad to hear your news and the details of your journey.  Thanks
be to God for answering prayer, and for giving you strength to go through
the difficulties.  And thanks for taking the time to write this down for our

Praise the Lord.....we love you and we are praying!

Wonderful news on the PET scan!

PRAISE THE LORD!!!  I didn't get a chance to check my e-mail all day yesterday, and read this this morning with great joy in my heart for you.  We love a clear PET scan!  We will continue to pray as you begin the radiation phase.


We are praising the Lord for your wonderful news about your PET scan!!  How magnificent is our Lord and all His works.  Thank you so much for sharing your good news.  We will continue to pray for the Radiation to have mild effects, and for complete healing.

Thank you, one and all, for taking the time to write. You are a constant reminder that God loves us!

6:52 PM Joel, in a comment over at Dr. Jim's site (Getting Luke 2:14 Right), writes:

Further the Douay Rheims was translated from the Latin Vulgate. I believe Calvin notes that the Vulgate, like the older Greek texts, has the phrase in the genitive.

Well, check it for yourself:

Gloria in altissimis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.

P.S. The real lesson of Jim's post? Always check the textual apparatus before posting anything about Greek. Variant readings sometimes make all the difference in the world!

P.P.S. Some Latin mss. have excelsis instead of altissimus. Our Christmas hymnody tends to prefer the former over the latter.

6:35 PM I read Acts 10-11 in my devotions today. Was blown away by 10:27: et ego ipse homo sum. Exactly what the Greek says. If you can think in Greek, you can read Latin!

By the way, I wonder what language Paul spoke when he got to Rome -- Greek or Latin? You know, "When in Rome..." and all that. Personally, I always try to speak the language of the country I happen to be in, including France -- although they don't appreciate it much, for good reason too. But hey, I like to go down burning having at least tried.

5:15 PM What a blessing to get a report from Oshe down in Burji today. I'm eager to tell you that the Burjis who were shot by the Gujis have now fully recovered. Isn't God good? The Lord used our clinic ambulance to take them to the hospital in Arba Minch. Also, construction of the staff house and guard hut continues apace. Lord willing, they will be finished next week. Finally, Oshe reports that everybody has been asking, with tears in their eyes, about how Becky is doing. (I type this with tears in my eyes.) They love her sooo much. Oh God, please allow Becky and me to return to Burji in the springtime.

P.S. It's so neat to see how the clinic has progressed in the year and a half it's been open. Solar energy. Running water. Ambulance. EKG machine. Fulltime Ethiopian staff. Health Center status (we opened as a Health Clinic). And all of this overseen by local church elders down in Burji, not some government office in Addis or even a denominational headquarters located hundreds of kilometers away. Christians were intended to put the local church first, and we'll only function well that way. In the atmosphere of sincerely committing ourselves to working together -- local churches in America with local churches in Ethiopia -- roadblocks come down and ministry goes forward in power. Thanks be to God!

Below: Ed (far left) worshipping with some of the Burji church leaders in the town of Soyama on their last day together before our team left for America. I tell you, I love these men and women so much it hurts.

5:12 PM I see it's "go after the prosperity preachers" week. I'm all for it -- if the purpose is to bring greater civility, clarity, and theological precision to the discussion. But there is a bit of a problem here. You see, we evangelicals have never found it easy to superimpose morality on others without coming across as a wee bit arrogant. There's nothing that ecstatifies us quite like burning witches and excoriating fools. Sure, the Reverend Ike types are building their empires off the hard-earned (and foolishly donated) money of the average, gullible evangelical. But they're not the only ones. Didn't anybody read that report about what the Christian CEOs of the largest NGOs are making?

I'm not saying that confrontation is wrong. I'm just saying that every honest Christian struggles with materialism -- the temptation to use our relationship with God to get more of this or that, whether it be physical healing or money in the bank. In fact, Jesus' apostles were remarkably materialistic. The age in which they lived was just as decadent as ours -- phallic worship, astrology, pleasure-seeking, and the grossest forms of materialism. The disciples followed Jesus for some good reasons and for some bad reasons -- like the hope of getting a business advantage (by sitting on His right hand!).

I could mention other things -- for instance, 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are clear that Christian leaders are to be free from the desire for sordid gain. But mostly I just want to say this: If we're going to point the finger at the money-grubbing health-and-wealth preachers out there and their so-called prosperity gospel -- and there are plenty of them to go around -- our own lives had better be free of materialism and the love of money.

5:04 PM Greek students! Do check out the new series over at Michael Halcomb's Pisteuomen. It's called "Notes on Koine Greek." I love his advice. Sample: "ALWAYS look at the morphemes in a Greek word first, not the word!" Now there's one smart Greek student.

Let me say it once more, strongly: It's not enough to study Greek and love the Word. It's not enough even to love the Lord and love other people. It's only enough to love the Word, love the Lord, love His people, and love His world too. If Greek helps you become a more radical Jesus-servant in this crazy world of ours, then go for it. Otherwise, forget it.

4:43 PM Quote of the day #2 (Henry Neufeld):

I don’t find tithing in the New Testament.  Now I’m not a purely “New Testament” believer.  I believe that principles God puts forth in the Old Testament can remain applicable, provided that they fit within the great change of the covenants.  It’s very easy, however, to misapply such commands when one doesn’t truly look through the Christological filter.

Tithing is such a command.  I believe that with the new covenant, God’s claim is upon all that we own, and that we are to be guided by the Holy Spirit in how much of what we retain for our use.  I prefer to express it that way over how much we give, though it is very scriptural to express it as God’s guidance to give (see 2 Corinthians 8 & 9). 

I love Henry. He can put a positive spin on anything. And he's right: it all belongs to Jesus. The only question is: how can I best spend it in ways that advance His kingdom? Absolute, personal loyalty to God must take precedence over everything else in our lives.

9:20 AM Becky's been writing again. Her latest essay is called You Make Me Feel Brand New. It describes her thoughts and feelings as she went through the PET scanner this week. She's also updated the Bethel Hill blog. It's a good read, especially if you're considering giving Christmas presents this year.

9:03 AM Well, we survived the cold. I know, you folks in Minnesota must be thinking, What a wimp. But remember: I was born and raised in Hawaii. This load is on its way to Rocky Mount, VA.

8:00 AM It's 23 degrees and I'm heading over to the barn to load up some hay. Life is good. 

7:50 AM Quote of the day (Joe Galloway): 

Just as Lyndon B. Johnson’s decision to escalate and Americanize the Vietnam War blighted and ultimately destroyed his presidency, so too will Afghanistan and that other war he inherited blight the presidency of Barack Obama.

Obama arrived with so many hopes for repair and reform riding on his shoulders. But it would have required a huge dose of moral courage to deliver on those hopes and all those promises, and that one thing — moral courage — seems strangely lacking in this president.

7:33 AM Michael Patton's essay How My Passion for Ministry Almost Ended My Marriage engendered a lot of good discussion. Jump on in. Personally speaking, I think the essay makes some very good points.

7:23 AM Shout out and congrats to Rob Haskell, who just published his first book. You'll have to read Spanish to enjoy it, however.

Here's Craig Blomberg's endorsement:

Rob Haskell ha producido un libro magnífico, lleno de las reglas más importantes para interpretar las Santas Escrituras. También, es una guía para evitar los errores más comunes en la interpretación de la Biblia. En ambos casos, ilustra sus puntos con numerosos e iluminantes ejemplos que son relevantes para el mundo cristiano latinoamericano. Habla como pastor, de su experiencia, no solo como erudito. Por eso, este libro servirá bien al pastor que no ha tenido la oportunidad de estudiar la Biblia formalmente en una escuela, colegio o seminario. Hay pocos libros tan preciosos como este para aprender la hermenéutica, en cualquiera de las lenguas del mundo.

Friday, December 11

9:58 PM It's been a wonderful day in the Word of God: Greek for breakfast, Latin for lunch, and German for supper. It's impossible for me to stick to one vintage all day long -- German is fine-flavored but too full-bodied, while Latin is intoxicating. Ah, but Greek -- there is nothing like it in the world. It is a masterpiece of exquisite beauty. Sorry, Jerome and Luther.

9:38 PM Thanks, Allan, for the link to the story about the Duke student who is living in his van to save money. You're right about truth being stranger than fiction. Ya gotta love Duke's official response too. Go Blue Devils!

9:12 PM Jenny Sanford wants a divorce from her philanderer husband. Can't say I blame her. The governor has taken full responsibility for his actions, but it looks like he's been serially unfaithful. That's one hard pattern to break. It's a tragedy no matter how you look at it.

I'm asking God to do a miracle in their lives and in their marriage.

6:30 PM Jeff asks:

Why are the new gifts always dorky and the Bible gifts useful for the church?

I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know that one of my spiritual gifts is eating, and that Bec is calling me to the table right now.

5:45 PM My, my, what an exciting evening it's already been. Liz brought the boys to visit us. Each of them had a bouquet of flowers for their Mama B. That was really special. Thank you Caleb, Isaac, and Micah.

Look, Papa B! Ice!

Here's Sheba getting the royal treatment.

And lookie here, folks. Our first cabbage of the season!

Right now B's making salmon for supper and I'm reading my Zurich German Bible (compliments of Dr. Jim). Awesome!

4:37 PM Ten Thousand. Way to go Matt!

4:25 PM T. C. Robinson is sure the Lord can still use the NRSV. I quite agree, T. C.

I am truly cavalier toward Bible translations, including the one I worked on (the ISV New Testament). The other day I was reading a major English version and thought to myself, "That seems like an odd rendering." Nowadays it's not unusual for me to feel the same way about every English version I'm reading. I wasted years in postponing my study of New Testament Greek, even though I knew there were countless reasons why I should be studying it. Learning Greek is not easy. Your little boat will sail bravely against the wind, and straight into the rocks if you're not careful. Learning how to read Greek taught me that no matter what I thought about the text it was probably wrong. Language is fundamentally deceptive. You gotta look at the text very closely or it will lead you astray. Greek is not the Open Sesame of Bible study, but it will at least help you to ask the right questions of the text.

P. S. For more on the NRSV, see Bruce M. Metzger, "The New Revised Standard Version," David Alan Black, ed., Scribes and Scripture. New Testament Essays in Honor of J. Harold Greenlee. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1992, 111-115.

4:03 PM It seemed a crazy leap of faith when we bought our farm, but everyone agrees now that it was a great decision. The ramifications of that decision live with us every day of our lives. God is using the farm for many good purposes in our lives, but for me personally one of the advantages to farm living is that it keeps one active. Today was a glorious day for working outdoors, though very cold. Our goal was to pick through the wood pile we had stacked when clearing out Nate and Jessie's kitchen. Some of the wood was in very good condition, some of it will have to be scrapped. But we got a whole trailer load of excellent, re-usable wood for Nate's addition. After that it was off to the big barn to load up hay for an afternoon delivery. Nate and Jess will take care of that job on their way down to Oxford to swap out manure trailers. Meanwhile the doggies, as seen below, have a great time chomping on each other -- a battle of gigantic wits to which I am gladly a bystander. Finally, it was off to the pond field to check up on the Angus cows, two of whom should be calving any day now. We dug that pond when we built Bradford Hall anticipating that we would eventually need it for watering. It's perfect for our herd.

Happy story told!

12:35 PM This cutie-pie came to visit me this morning. Right now I'm heading over to his mom and dad's house to give them a hand with a couple of projects. Nolan said, "Be sure to bundle up, Papa B. It's awful cold today." Will do, Nolie. Right now it's only 33 degrees!

12:30 PM I've been devouring the Vulgate. I enjoy reading it immensely. I did not quite expect the quiet strength and precision of detail I'm finding in Latin. It does so much with so few words. How far I've come in my appreciation of good writing since I published my dissertation back in 1984! That book now rises appallingly to haunt me, but it would have been worse had it not been for my major professor (Reicke) and my second reader (Baltensweiler -- bless them both!). The best thing about the Vulgate New Testament is the way it combines syntax with word order. I think anyone can see how closely the translators tried to follow the Greek text.

I don't require my doctoral students to learn Latin but I urge them to do so in the strongest possible terms. How can one be an educated person and not be able to read this language? May I invite you to consider learning it yourself?

12:23 PM I love the part in the the movie Gettysburg when producer Ted Turner hams it up in his cameo role as a Confederate officer during Longstreet's Assault.

If ever there was a self-made man, it is Ted Turner. Turner was once quoted as saying, "Christianity is a religion for losers. I don't need anybody to die for me." Tough talk that. It is precisely what keeps so many of us men from trusting Christ. It is our hard side that keeps us from seeing His soft side -- the way of escape, our Savior Jesus Christ. It helps me to remember that I was once like Mr. Turner, smug, strong, proud, and how my hard side was merely a façade -- an escape mechanism to avoid facing my inner chaos. The reality, folks, is that I am a loser, and therefore Christianity is for me. Gott sei Dank! 

12:12 PM Look at what I'm grading!

I'm entangled in a web of words. And these aren't half of them! My goal is to have all of these papers graded by next Tuesday, when I return to the Forest of Wake for finals week. Some of these papers have great wisdom, some good intentions, some flashes of insight. Only a few have a complete grasp of their subject (I have already perused them all). My present task is to be as fair-minded as I possibly can be and to serve God to the best of my ability as a paper grader. Incidentally, reading good term papers is one of the rewards for being a teacher. Teaching, in fact has brought me happiness such as I never dreamed possible. So no pity for me, please -- this is NOT a drudgery!

12:02 PM If you are still able to laugh in the midst of today's politics, I recommend an article by Justin Raimondo that appears in today's Antiwar. COM, in which the author describes what has happened in our military since the social scientists were given their way.

Of the many conceits of "modernity," this has got to be the most pretentiously laughable. The idea that we can amass enough knowledge of the various Afghan subcultures to be able to manipulate them into supporting the military occupation of their country by a foreign power would be funny if the results weren’t so tragic. But what else can we expect from our smug Washington elites, whose narcissistic fixations are devoid of either prudence or respect for historical experience? 

The question seems to me to be important both philosophically and sociologically -- the more so as "scientism" seems to be one of the expanding religions of the epoch. If you have time to read the entire essay I imagine you'll probably agree.

7:14 AM From Bravado is a killer:

By the time Americans reach the age of 85, women outnumber men 2.2 to 1. And among people in their nineties this disparity grows to 3 to 1. Men are at greater risk for coronary heart disease, suicide and homicide. Despite the fact that from birth males are more fragile than females, boys and men are conditioned to be tough. Hence, males are much more reluctant to seek medical help. "The cultural reasons for not going to the doctor are killing men," says Dr. Marianne J. Legato, author of Why Men Die First (Web MD).

7:11 AM Belmont University announces an opening in Biblical Studies and Preaching.

7:03 AM On our drive back to Virginia last night, Bec and I were listening to NPR. Toni Morrison, the compiler of The Black Book, was being interviewed by NPR's Michelle Norris on the 35th anniversary of the volume's publication.

Morrison quoted a statement I will NEVER forget. It is a classic. In fact, if this were ever said about one of my books I would immediately have a heart seizure. It's quite possibly the most complimentary thing one could ever say about a book.

Toni Morrison related how someone had ordered 3 copies of the book: "One to give away. One to throw against the wall over and over again. And one to hold close to my heart."

You rock, Ms. Morrison!

6:53 AM One of the blessings of the new cancer building at UNC is its library. One book on the shelf caught my eye. It was called My False Teeth Fit Fine, But I Sure Do Miss My Mind! It's a delightful spoof about ageing. I couldn't help but jot down a few of my favorite lines from the book. Perhaps you'll enjoy them as much as I did.

After 30, a body has a mind of its own.

Last Will and Testament: Being of sound mind, I spent all of my money.

There's many a good tune played by an old fiddle.

Old age is when you have the same haircut as your poodle.

You have to BE an antique to appreciate them.

You know you're getting old when you're sitting in a rocker and you can't get it started.

Old age is when everything starts to wear out, fall out, or spread out.

To me, old age is always 15 years older than I am.

There's one advantage to being 102 -- no peer pressure.

You know you're getting older when the candles cost more than the cake.

And my personal favorite:

When I was young, the Dead Sea was still alive.  

6:45 AM The BBC reports that a new grammar is about to unify Spanish worldwide. ¿Y por qué no?

Modern Spanish is full of differences in grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary in Spanish-speaking countries around the world.

But until now grammar rules in nations outside Spain had been never acknowledged, said Mexican linguist Rocio Mandujano.

Which, being interpreted, means that you no longer need to look down on "Latin American" Spanish as somehow being inferior to "Spanish" Spanish. Hooray!

I've told this story before, but it bears repeating. Several years ago I was invited to give a lecture on the Gospel of John at the Complutensian University's summer school in Spain. (Poor me: I had to spend a week on the Costa del Sol in order to give a 30-minute lecture.) Anyway, I gave my talk in Spanish -- or so I thought until the director of the conference approached me afterwards and said he would have to translate my essay before publishing it. The lecture was, of course, already in Spanish, but not in Castilian. Hmm.

I wonder what Manuel Rojas thinks about all this.

6:34 AM Who made this shocking statement?

A number of analysts and journalists have mentioned the war in Vietnam recently in connection with Afghanistan. Perhaps fearful of taking this analogy too far, most have backed away from it. They should not—the Vietnam War is less a metaphor for the conflict in Afghanistan than it is a template. For eight years, the United States has engaged in an almost exact political and military reenactment of the Vietnam War, and the lack of self-awareness of the repetition of events 50 years ago is deeply disturbing.

Some antiwar pacifist? Some idiotic left-winger? How about Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason in the latest issue of Military Review (.pdf), published by the U.S. Army's Combined Arms Center. In his West Point speech, Obama said this was a "false reading of history." Well, Mr. President, I'll go with these military experts on this one.

For what it's worth (and this is just my personal opinion), only the most unbridled proponents of the "just war" theory can support the bestowal of the Nobel Peace Prize upon a war president. I thought the whole thing an extreme overstatement. Make no mistake: Mr. Obama's war-making policies are not superficial. They are basic moves on the chessboard, and all very Bushian. God knows why; I suspect a touch of Pax Americana authoritarianism. As for its logic, it is unbelievable. It is the ultimate non sequitur. It is no good saying, "Well, one day he's going to earn it" (shades of the final scene in Saving Private Ryan, where a dying Captain Miller whispers the words "earn it" into the ears of Private Ryan). All the good political intentions in the world are meaningless unless backed up by the proper actions.

Sorry, but Afghanistan isn't the good war the president so desperately want us to think it is.

Thursday, December 10

8:10 PM GREAT NEWS! Becky's PET-CT showed no cancer! This means that we can proceed with her radiation treatments. Praise the Lord and Amen and Amen!

While you're at it, pass some more ammunition, will you? Our battle isn't over yet. Far from it. We've got a long, long ways to go still. I don't think I've ever lived through a longer day. When we left the house this morning we were both physically exhausted. But God's hands somehow kept our heads above water the entire day. I got a second wind about 4:00 pm. At about the same time my sinus headache just upped and left. The Lord is my Shepherd, by gum! And Becky? You should have seen her as she was led from room to room and test to test and nurse to nurse. She did the Lord real proud today. And I can't say enough about the staff at UNC Hospital. Her doctors and nurses are not only efficient and knowledgeable but friendly and available. The recently-opened cancer wing is like a strange new world for Becky and me. It's as cavernous and maze-like as the older buildings we're used to. But everywhere we turned there was someone to take us by the hand and lead us from where we were to where we had to be.

Oh, we now have an officially tattooed member of the family. (There may be others that I don't know about -- yet.) Yes, the radiation techs will have no doubt where to place their equipment when B. arrives for her treatments. The things are permanent, too. Imagine that -- my wife, the biker.

So there you have it. One chapter written, and we've begun writing the next one. Thanks be to God for His goodness to us. And thanks a whole bunch for yall's prayers. I don't think we could have made it this far without them.

I had some thoughts about the Nobel Peace Prize, but I'm about to collapse. Maybe tomorrow. Then again, maybe not.

Good night and God bless you,


6:59 AM I have been working on a new essay for my home page for quite some time now. Here it is as it stands today, stripped of everything except what I really like. I hope every married couple will read it. It's called Sister Wife.

Off to the hospital on a wing and a prayer.

6:51 AM Ever heard of the BRICs of faith? Neither had I. That is, until I read this article at The Christian Century. One takeaway:

China too could well see a similar version of religious politics. Tens of millions of ethnic Chinese live around the Pacific Rim, where many have become enthusiastically Christian. This ethnic-religious presence creates tensions with mainly Muslim societies in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, where popular violence has erupted. Might a future Chinese government cite the need to protect overseas Chinese Christians in order to justify a military expansion into Southeast Asia?

6:45 AM I've developed a real fondness for Amazon. I can't believe that students still buy books from brick-and-mortar stores. I have, thank goodness, a growing number of books listed at Amazon, two or three of them available on Kindle. Even older works of mine have chirped up most laudatorily and are selling well. The fact that there is a profound taboo against "shameless self-promotion" had not prevented me in the least from pointing my students to Amazon as an inexpensive alternative to costly bookstores.

6:36 AM It's official. Well, semi-official. Sort of. What on earth am I talking about? Robert Cole (Old Testament prof par excellence) and I will likely be team-teaching a new class this fall on the Septuagint. Passages will be exegeted both in Hebrew and Greek. I know that Bob and I will feel like perfectly happy little schoolboys again. Students, please send me a note if you are at all  interested in taking this class with us. The prerequisites are one year of each language. If there is sufficient interest, we might be able to put the course on the calendar -- officially. Remember: that's the fall of 2010.

6:28 AM I find the recent discussion in the biblioblogosphere about who a "real" biblical scholar is to be profoundly pedantic. I have a very close friend who has had no formal biblical education at all yet who knows, really knows and understands, the Scriptures. Contrast him with a "scholar" like Renan, whose Vie de Jésus is as odious a book as I think I've ever read.

All that's beastly in human life comes from education and book learning. At the same time, all that's really worthwhile in life is based in knowledge. Knowledge is like a knife. It's either a dangerous weapon or a useful tool. Let's hope to God that our students learn how to employ it wisely and effectively in service to God and to their fellow human beings.

6:15 AM Mark Twain, whatever he may have been as an author (Chaucer? Cervantes? Swift? Hawthorne?), was a fearless critic of his country.

"The War Prayer" is a posthumously published work that he purposely withheld in the belief that it would be too painful or shocking for the world of his day. It was first printed in Harper's Monthly in 1916, and I reproduce it here in its entirety. If "The War Prayer" will not speak to our imperial hubris, military overreach, and even transnational morality, I do not know what will.

It was a time of great exulting and excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and sputtering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest depths of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast doubt upon its righteousness straight way got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came – next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams – visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! – then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation:

"God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest, Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!"

Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory – An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there, waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside – which the startled minister did – and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

"I come from the Throne – bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import – that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of – except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two – one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this – keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer – the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it – that part which the pastor – and also you in your hearts – fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory – must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be Thou near them! With them – in spirit – we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with hurricanes of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen."

[After a pause.] "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits."

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

Wednesday, December 9

7:26 PM Here's a big, big, big "Thank You!" to Miss Julie's second grade and Miss Sarah's kindergarten classes at Cresset Christian Academy in Durham for sending us these items for the Galana clinic. Wonderful! We appreciate all you are doing for the Ethiopians. May God bless you for it!

7:20 PM Last night, in my dorm room on campus, I had the poor sense to watch a beastly program on National Geographic called "Secret Lives of Jesus."

Wow, now we know sooo much about Jesus, eh? Such as the fact the He was a "rebellious young teenager." Well whaddaya know! Are these the best ideas TV producers can come up with? But all this is beside the point, which is financial. Sensationalism sells -- like when the program shows Jesus' daddy goofing up by cutting a piece of lumber too short and -- TA-DA!-- Jesus comes to the rescue and lengthens the board. What puzzles me the most is that no one on either side of the issue seems to be asking what to me is the only relevant question: Why is it that we cannot value Jesus for who He is but only as a means that we can use to support our own ideas? The whole thing is ghastly, really.

6:56 PM Does loneliness raise your risk of cancer? So says this BBC report.

Lead investigator Gretchen Hermes, of Yale University, said: "There is growing interest in relationships between the environment, emotion and disease."

This should be obvious. We are created for relationships, all of us.

6:51 PM You knew I would link to this surfing video, didn't you? But what's up with the announcer? Sounds like a high school science professor to me. And the waves themselves? They are (a) not all that big and (b) extremely sloppy. But still, it's fun to watch idiots surfing big waves. I used to be one of them.

6:45 PM Tomorrow Becky and I embark on the next stage in our journey. I will let you know the results of her PET- and CT-scans as soon I find out. Though we may have it rough, it has not been as rough as it could have been. The future may yet call upon us for more strength and endurance. Things may become a lot more stormy and we may want to quit. But we cannot live our lives for ourselves. Others are looking to us, and we have a responsibility to them. The world is not impressed with people who stop doing what the world is doing. They are impressed with Christians who have started living the kind of life that worldlings cannot live. And that is the kind of life that Jesus is calling Becky and me to. With the resources available to us in Christ, there is no reason to fail. If God be for us, who can be against us? For if we live by faith, if we accept all that His Word says is true, then we shall one day arrive at the desired end of the journey. Until then, God grant that He may find us steadfast, unmovable, and always abounding in the work of Lord.

6:34 PM This email put a smile on my face:

Dear Dave, 

I just read your review of Scot McKnights take on the 'emerging church'. Thank you for honesty, candid review, and especially your call to a LIVED faith…. I look forward to reading your articles. God spoke to me through you! Thank you!

In case you're interested, my essay on Scot may be found here.

P.S. Aren't us bald guys really really handsome? (Don't answer that, Jim!)

Tuesday, December 8

5:18 AM For me, this is one of the eeriest photos of Dec. 7, 1941:

This Japanese midget submarine, whose gyroscope had malfunctioned, ran aground on the beach at Waimanalo, which is located just south of my home town of Kailua. The two small islands you see in the background are the Mokulua Islands ("Twin Islands") where I spent many afternoons catching the awesome waves that broke on the nearby reefs.

It's hard to imagine that World War II was actually fought on such a peaceful stretch of beach. Kazuo Sakamaki, the sub's captain, became Japanese POW number 1. Yesterday Der Spiegel ran a fascinating story of the midget submarines that were used by Germany, Japan, England, and Italy during the war -- and the gruesome account of their crews as they were sent on their mostly one-way missions. The story is titled Himmelfahrtskommando unter Wasser. It a ghastly tale of bravery and folly. One can only admire the courage of men who willingly entrapped themselves in these undersea tombs.

I am led to draw a spiritual application. Paul says that followers of Jesus are to be like good soldiers. He writes, "No soldier on active duty gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his one and only aim is to satisfy the demands of the one who has enlisted him" (2 Tim. 2:4). It is so easy for us -- especially at this season of the year -- to get our eyes off life's real purpose and on to secondary issues. In ultimate terms, my health, my desires, my scholarship, my goals are all secondary matters and are to be conducted under the rubric of the one great principle of Christian discipleship -- that we must please our Commanding Officer. Let me put it like this: Would I be willing to give everything I have, my life included, in His Majesty's Service? For the Christian, the law of living is to be law of selfless love, and great care is needed to ensure that this law is carried out to the letter. I encourage all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus to do our utmost for His highest this very day, with the twin aims of the glory of God and the blessing of humankind in view.

Off to school. Blessings on you all!


5:12 AM Quote of the day (from Theological German):

Die Anfangszeilen des GE [Gilgameš-Epos] können leider immer noch nicht vervollständigt werden, ohne daß man reichlichen Gebrauch von der Phantasie machte.

However, conjectural emendation in New Testament textual criticism is, in my humble opinion, never necessary.

I've written more here.

5:06 AM T. C. Robinson is absolutely correct: Christmas was never really about Christ.

Monday, December 7

7:56 PM Just took my beautiful wife out for Chinese food. Now it's time for Tora! Tora! Tora!

4:54 PM Twas a good day for cutting wood. Here's Nate working on some hardwoods for an order of fire wood. Lord willing we'll split the logs on Friday.

Our next project is to thin out these pines that were planted before we moved to the farm. A healthy growing pine tree should have at least the top third of its trunk heavy in green growth. Clearly a little bit of thinning won't hurt these pines one bit.

4:43 PM I really appreciate Jim West sending along these books today. Each is a classic. I think I'll make them required reading for my Swiss tour.

Thanks, Jimbo!

3:50 PM My, my, my, but this is mighty funny: Quote of the Day. The unknown author of this quote is absolutely, positootly correct. Just between you and me, Becky and I love Ethiopia for many reasons but one of the greatest is that we can leave "time" behind us (well, for the most part). Alarm clocks do, however, exist, even in the most rural of villages. The first time we stayed overnight in the hut of this Muslim leader in Alaba we were awakened at about 3:30 in the morning.

It was the "Alaba Alarm Clocks" going off -- the roosters that slept, along with the rest of us, inside the hut. One gets used to it fairly quickly, however!

3:31 PM Eric, for some reason blogspot won't let me post a comment at your site, so let me just say thank you (rather self-consciously) on my own blog. The honor is quite undeserved but appreciated nevertheless. As for my antiquated site, I am an infinitely bad blogger -- but if you can figure out a way of taking my blog as is and enabling me to provide an RSS feed I'd be much obliged. (Becky and Nathan would shoot me if I changed its appearance.) Anyhoo, the shoe should really be on the other foot: I think the world of your website. In fact, whenever I'm asked to give an example of really attractive blogs, I always mention yours and Arthur's!

Thanks again,


3:14 PM How wholeheartedly I agree with Sally Coleman's latest post that it's good to take time out from tinsel. No, we don't need to become taciturn or irritable. The great secret is behaving just like Jesus did -- allowing no romantic imaginative sympathy to alter our fundamental characteristics as servants. Beatius est magis dare, quam accipere. So, how can we give? What can we give? To whom shall we give? Whom shall we serve? These are the questions we must be asking ourselves at Christmas time. It is really appalling how self-centered the holiday has become.

2:56 PM I just looked at Alan Knox's latest humorous blog post. (But it must be admitted that there is a great deal of truth in it.) It's called Don't Study Greek. Perhaps you can add to the reasons that Alan gives for NOT studying Greek -- besides the obvious fact that Greek will make you a completely irresponsible, non-social, and nihilistic person. (Not!)

2:34 PM Becky asked me if I was going to publish anything today about Pearl Harbor. I don't have a lot to say. If America is going to insist upon having a national policy of justified preemption, what should we say about those airmen who went to work on a cloud-dappled Sunday morning 68 years ago implementing a national policy of justified preemption? That, in my opinion, is precisely the question that faces the United States on this "date which will live in infamy." History has yardsticks and milestones that are far more stringent than the ephemeral ones used by our politicos. We've become exhausted -- at least most of us have -- by the faux preemptive policies of the Bush era. Then why are we so busy putting a retroactive polish on our invasion of Iraq? The rabid anti-American hatred among the Iraqis is mirrored by the rabid anti-Japanese hatred among the Americans of World War II. Far from transforming the Middle East into democracies that love the U.S., the neocons have unleashed a backlash of racism and hate. Getting rid of Saddam was payback for 9/11. But it's been costly to us as a nation and as a people. Perhaps the lesson of Pearl Harbor is that aggression always breeds more aggression -- and that's true whether the year is 1941 or 2003. 

11:40 AM As Jim West notes, Switzerland is a revelation, especially the countryside: one longs to drive on and on across the unbroken mountains and valleys. But my word, how cold in the winter! And the prices! Still, a table d'hôte luncheon at the Café Spitz in Basel contains enough nourishment to supply an ordinary glutton for at least 48 hours. Then there are those strangely improbable sights like Kaiseraugst or Sankt Gallen or the Mittlere Rheinbrücke.

Because of my love for and devotion to die Schweiz, I have decided to lead a tour of Switzerland in which any and all are cordially invited to participate. (Jim can co-lead it if he likes.) Tour members must agree, however, to the following rules:

  • They must speak only Swiss German.

  • They must know who Oecolampadius was.

  • They must be willing to use public urinals.

  • They must not be afraid of German tourists.

  • They must be willing to climb Pilatus.

  • They must agree to swim in the frigid lakes.

  • They must contribute suitable ablutions of petrol before the more serious mountain climbing by car (in die Alpen).

  • They must avoid all bores and casual tourists.

  • They must be happy to stay in cheap hotels where one can watch the habits of the aborigines at leisure.

  • They must never talk in that loose pretentious meaningless American way.

  • They must tolerate the odious tumult of the marketplaces.

  • They must not badmouth the minarets.

Let me know when you're ready to go. Your humble tour guide stands...

9:37 AM These lines from the Shepherd of Hermas reminded me today of a widow who has volunteered to open her home in Durham to Becky and me during B's radiation therapy in Chapel Hill (the two cities are neighbors).

οἱ πιστεύσαντες τοιοῦτοί εἰσιν· ἐπίσκοποι καὶ φιλόξενοι, οἵτινες ἡδέως εἰς τοὺς οἴκους ἑαυτῶν πάντοτε ὑπεδέξαντο τοὺς δούλους τοῦ θεοῦ ἄτερ ὑπο κρίσεως· οἱ δὲ ἐπίσκοποι πάντοτε τοὺς ὑστερημένους καὶ τὰς χήρας τῇ διακονίᾳ ἑαυτῶν ἀδιαλείπτως ἐσκέπασαν καὶ ἁγνῶς ἀνεστράφησαν πάντοτε.

This dear lady lost her husband to cancer several years ago and decided she would turn her home into a ministry to cancer patients. How gracious this woman! How rich and lovely the Body of Christ!

9:13 AM This is the week in which I begin grading dozens of term papers. It's a joyful business -- though some students still think they can bamboozle their profs by pumping sunshine. On the whole, however, my students' papers are of high quality, and they had better be, as usually half of their semester grade hinges upon their term paper grade. The only thing I wish we had that we don't have is an M.Div. thesis option. I cannot see that a student would go very far wrong by opting to write a thesis-length paper, especially if they are considering graduate/post-graduate studies.

9:04 AM If you live in the Fayetteville area and enjoy Messiah sing-alongs, I've got good news for you. Becky and I might even make a day of it and boogey on down for the 4:00 pm performance.

8:48 AM Speaking of pronunciation, what's the difference in Latin between this word:


... and this word?


When pronounced Ma-RI-a, the word means "Mary." When pronounced, MA-ri-a, it means "oceans"!

8:27 AM Quote of the day #2 (1 Tim. 3:16):

... quod manifestum est in carne, iustificatum est in spiritu, apparuit angelis, praedicatum est gentibus, creditum est in mundo, assumptum est in gloria.

8:23 AM I couldn't agree with you more, Andy, about the need for correct pronunciation. Of course, "correct" can be variously interpreted and defined. Next semester, if all goes well, I will be tutoring more than one student in Latin and also in German and French. I doubt that I shall succeed in doing what I want to do. But the more I see of language, the more convinced I am that the ear gate is the most neglected learning tool we have these days. I am left entirely unconvinced by those who argue that pronunciation doesn't matter. And, if anyone calls you a geek for paying such close attention to matters of detail, just remember:

8:10 AM Highland Christian Fellowship in Boone, NC, is a relatively new church plant. My former doctoral student Matt McDill is en elder in this fabulous congregation. Their vision statement has just been posted online. Einstein is incomprehensible because he is too smart; mules are incomprehensible because they are too stupid. But these Carolinians get it just right, in my opinion.

Our vision is to make disciples of all nations by leading people to faith in Jesus Christ and teaching them to walk with him by living in loving obedience to his commandments.


8:05 AM Quote of the day (1 Cor. 14:26):

Quid ergo est, fratres? cum convenitis ... omnia ad aedificationem fiant.

7:57 AM Michael Westmoreland-White, by voting for Mr. Obama, feels he has blood on his hands.

So, I know now how those voters must have felt back in WWI: Voting for Wilson who campaigned on “He kept us out of war,” and then he betrayed them and led us straight into the war.  Obama has yet to close Gitmo which he said he would on day one. He has forbidden torture, but ruled out prosecuting torturers, so no one will be held accountable (and making it likely that a Pres. Palin could just reverse this “policy dispute” again). He has defended Bush policies of rendition, warrantless wiretapping, and indefinite detention–at least for some.  The indefinite detention at Bagram in Aghanistan is probably larger than that at Gitmo.  And now the war and bloodshed escalates. Welcome to the presidency of Bush III–another War President.

And the blood of the innocent is on my hands and head.

How insightful. Thus do years of deceit come full circle. Should imperial over-ambition become an epitaph for the United States in the twenty-first century, the current Democratic administration will share in the ignominy.

Sunday, December 6

7:13 PM Well, I have said enough for one day. There is a time, though how few realize the fact, for silence. Bien à vous.

7:03 PM I have been reading Arthur Sido's latest (Yeah but). It's so true: America is an extraordinary mixture of hopelessness and anticipation. Our happiness is intense and our misery equally piercing. It is a great life. As Arthur notes, it is all a matter of defining one's terms long before using them. "The heresy of pragmatism infects every corner of the church. It is not something that is relegated to just the 'seeker sensitive' movement but is also found among the reformed, the liturgical, the fundamentalists. What is easy trumps what it is hard, what is practical trumps what is scriptural, what is traditional trumps what is true," he writes. Arthur actually believes he knows the answer to our dilemma: the life of Jesus. And I believe he's right.

Jesus is not our hope. He's our only hope.

5:02 PM Won't Joel ever catch up with Jim? The answer is no. Jim's fabulous brain is a wishing-cap that gives him whatsoever he desires, his restless temperament carries within it the secret of perpetual motion, and his charm is the Alpha and Omega that wins all hearts. Add to this his penchant for the novel and you have him complete. Sorry, Joel, but them's the facts.

4:55 PM Answers:

We can't all do everything!

The end crowns the work.

Equals very easily congregate with each other.

4:14 PM Today in history, exactly 125 years ago, the Washington Monument was completed in our nation's capital -- 33 years after George Washington's death. As a tribute to the Father of Our Nation, I cite this essay by Ron Paul: Our Original Foreign Policy. Writes Congressman Paul:

I believe our founding fathers had it right when they argued for peace and commerce between nations, and against entangling political and military alliances. In other words, noninterventionism.

Noninterventionism is not isolationism. Nonintervention simply means America does not interfere militarily, financially, or covertly in the internal affairs of other nations. It does not mean that we isolate ourselves; on the contrary, our founders advocated open trade, travel, communication, and diplomacy with other nations.

Thomas Jefferson summed up the noninterventionist foreign policy position perfectly in his 1801 inaugural address: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations – entangling alliances with none.” Washington similarly urged that we must, “Act for ourselves and not for others,” by forming an “American character wholly free of foreign attachments.”

4:04 PM It's hard to believe that Becky and I will actually be home for Christmas. It's been years since we spent Dec. 25th on American soil. To be honest with you, we'd much rather be where we belong this time of the year -- in Ethiopia. God willing, we'll be back in Utopia in the spring, however!

3:57 PM For an excellent overview of some of the strange gods worshipped in the ancient Roman world, see Mitch Lewis's recent essay, Roman Gods on the German Frontier. Basel, my home in the early 1980s, was itself once a Roman outpost along the Rhine. Its famous ruins are still visible today. The site is known as Kaiseraugst, which we might literally translate as "Caesar Augustus." If you are ever in the Basel region you simply must see these spectacular Roman-era ruins.

3:24 PM Latin students, here's an absolutely fantastic resource that I have used for many many years: Merk's Novum Testamentum Graece et Latine (editio nona), published by the PBI in Roma. I read a little bit from it every day, and if there is something I don't recognize immediately in the Latin all I have to do is let my eyes slide over to the Greek side of the text for the answer.

While we're on the subject, here are three Latin sayings. Each is wonderfully true. See if you can translate them (I'll provide the answers for you later this evening):

Non omnia possumus omnes (Virgil).

Finis coronat opus (Ovid).

Pares cum paribus facillime congregantur (Cicero).

In the meantime, if you'd like to practice your Latin pronunciation, here's a sample for you to work on:

Een preen-chée-pee-o kray-áh-veet Day-ooss chay-loom et tair-rahm. Tair-rah ow-tem air-aht een-áh-neess et váh-koo-ah, et táy-nay-bray air-ahnt soo-pair fáh-chee-em ah-bées-see: et Spée-ree-tooss Day-ee fair-ay-báh-toor soo-pair ah-kwahss. Deek-séet-kway Day-ooss: Fee-aht looks: Et fahk-tah est looks. Et vee-deet Day-ooss loo-chem kwod ess-set bonn-nah.

The text you are practicing, of course, is a very familiar one to you already:

In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram. Terra autem erat inanis et vacua, et tenebrae erant super faciem abyssi: et Spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas. Dixitque Deus: Fiat lux. Et facta est lux. Et vidit Deus lucem quod esset bona.

Note that every Latin word of 2 or more syllables has a "tonic" accent that is given prominence by a slight raising of the tone. This tonic accent affects either the last syllable but one of a word or the last but two, but never any other. In some liturgical books the tonic accent is marked in all words of 3 syllables or more. In words of 2 syllables, since the accent can only affect the first, there is no need to mark it.

Practice reading aloud the Latin passage written above until your pronunciation is perfect!

2:27 PM Great news! We're taking our first family with us to Ethiopia next July. Mom, dad, and their 8-year old son. It's great to see parents getting their families involved in local and global missions!

2:01 PM Guess what I just did? Fed the cows. My back is that much better.  I am telling myself that I'm almost 100 percent. Meanwhile Nate and Jess delivered this load of chemical-free hay to Mebane, NC -- all 100 bales. A new customer too. That's always nice.

I tell you: Feels good to be on the mend and to be useful again.

12:36 PM Becky's been thinking about sewing -- and salvation -- lately. You can read her thoughts here. A taste:

The Jesus Salvation Plan is a one-size fits all.  It's the same plan for all peoples, from all generations, all cultures, all economic strata.  The reason His one plan perfectly fits all these different kinds of people is that His Plan is not something we put on, but something we wear inside.  It changes us from the inside out.  In fact, it changes us into the perfect image of Jesus Himself!

12:28 PM I've been scouring the internet to find a musical concert Becky and I might like to attend during the holiday season, and I ran across this wonderful announcement. You gotta love it!

Wednesday December 9

Really Terrible Orchestra Of the Triangle (RTOOT), W. Sands Hobgood, conductor.

Program: Really Terrible Holiday - repertoire encompasses Herbert's March of the [Broken] Toys and selections from Oklahoma, including “Oh What a Terrible Morning” & “Pore Jud is Daid," music by Strauss, Handel, Gershwin and Tchaikovsky, & a sing-along. Reynolds Theater, Bryan Center, West Campus, Duke University, Durham. 7:30 p.m. $7 (less than a movie and a lot more fun!) 919/684-4444.

"The primary goal of The Really Terrible Orchestra Of the Triangle (RTOOT) is to involve competent musicians in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area who are not quite competent enough to play with the Durham Symphony, the Raleigh Symphony, or the Chapel Hill Philharmonia. RTOOT looks forward to a further lowering of standards in order to underline its commitment to accessibility and relevance. Accessibility: because it provides a unique opportunity for musicians of any age, gender, persuasion, political affiliation, race, or whatever who want to play with a group, regardless of their level of competence. Relevance: since its zany performances tend to attract the entire community (including particularly those on the fringe) who enjoy a good show and may never otherwise be lured inside a symphonic concert hall."

11:38 AM This is one of the best point-counterpoint essays that the BBC has published in a long time: The arguments made by climate change skeptics. I have dithered through it and found it helpful. The substance is interesting, the manner of presentation eminently lucid. The mysteries (and miseries, I'm afraid) of creation are impenetrably obscure.

11:23 AM Virginia Theological Seminary offers us a really nice series. It's titled Books of the Bible Series Collection and features short tract-size introductions and commentaries on many of the books of the Bible (though not all of them are covered yet). The booklets are downloadable for free.

10:44 AM There's a wonderful little sermon over at the Petros Baptist Church website. It's called Shimei and David. I'm grateful for its call to truthfulness and forgiveness in the midst of horrible religions, asinine moralities, sordid money-grubbing, Don Juanism, etc. My favorite quotes:

"You'll face opposition. Let God take care of it."

"The way you overcome evil is not by being evil. The way you overcome evil is by being good."

"Don't become like the people that dislike you."

For what it's worth, the way I try to handle opposition and the occasional ugliness of others is simply this: I try to fight my battles on my knees in my prayer closet, and then let God handle the rest in public. Ah, if I were only consistent in doing this!

But I'll let the final words be the preacher's:

"Don't be like David and forgive only in word, but in truth."

"Don't be like David. Be like Jesus."

10:28 AM Eric Carpenter gives us what might well be THE definition of good blogging. Blogger, how do you describe your blog to a newcomer? God loves people. And He is concerned that you love them too, that your heart stays tender and warm toward others. What an encouraging and challenging word this morning, Eric.

10:06 AM Speaking of must-read books, Linda includes in her list Bonhoeffer's Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible.

Here's what Linda says about it:

Bonhoeffer writes that it's a dangerous idea for Christians not to think they need to "learn to pray." Otherwise, "we confuse wishes, hopes, sighs, laments, rejoicings--all of which the heart can do by itself--with prayer."  Okay, I understand.  BUT--what a beautiful definition of prayer:  "the hopes, sighs, laments, rejoicings of the heart."  That's the common man/woman's way of it.

And here is Psalm 20 in the Luther Bible. Enjoy!

Der HERR erhöre dich in der Not; der Name des Gottes Jakobs schütze dich!

Er sende dir Hilfe vom Heiligtum und stärke dich aus Zion.

Er gedenke all deines Speisopfers, und dein Brandopfer müsse vor ihm fett sein. (Sela.)

Er gebe dir was dein Herz begehrt, und erfülle alle deine Anschläge.

Wir rühmen, daß du uns hilfst, und im Namen unsres Gottes werfen wir Panier auf. Der HERR gewähre dir alle deine Bitten!

Nun merke ich, daß der HERR seinem Gesalbten hilft und erhöht ihn in seinen heiligen Himmel; seine rechte Hand hilft mit Macht.

Jene verlassen sich auf Wagen und Rosse; wir aber denken an den Namen des HERRN, unsers Gottes.

Sie sind niedergestürzt und gefallen; wir aber stehen aufgerichtet.

Hilf, HERR, dem König und erhöre uns wenn wir rufen!

9:50 AM Our move to Basel in 1980 went smoothly enough, except for one problem. I knew High German fluently but spoke not a word of the local dialect. I made some notes on this word or that idiom, and eventually bought myself a Basel German grammar. Finally, I felt like I was beginning to fit in a bit. All this came into focus when I tried to preach in dialect. (It was not a success.) But I reminded myself that one of the reasons I chose to do my doctoral studies in Switzerland was the challenge of the culture and the language. Goethe was most certainly correct when he said, "Language is the mirror of culture."

If you've ever struggled with similar language learning pains, you must read this delightful piece over at the Basel Expats site called My First Swiss German. And, yes, there is a huge difference between:

"Haben Sie eine Mars, bitte?"



9:45 AM The "Top 10" lists of 2009 are beginning to make their appearances. I read nary a one of the top 10 books listed here, though I did peruse The Shack. In my opinion, many modern novelists are men and women of fabulous cleverness, but not serious. They are mondains who exploit themselves for social success and do it very well. I much prefer non-fiction as a result.

Saturday, December 5

7:59 PM Well, it's been a while since I gave you an update on Becky. She seems to have beaten off a head cold that had been threatening her the past few days. We're praising the Lord for that. This coming Thursday (Dec. 10) begins a significant new phase in her treatment program. On that day we are scheduled to have a PET-scan at UNC Hospital to see whether there is any noticeable cancer in her body after completing her chemotherapy. On the same day she will also have a CT-scan to map out the area of her body that will be treated with radiation. If the PET-scan shows traces of residual cancer, Becky will have to continue her chemotherapy treatments. If it doesn't, she will begin radiation therapy on Thursday, Dec. 17, one day before SEBTS Commencement. Her daily treatments will continue for 6 to 8 weeks, Monday through Friday. This means that we will be staying overnight in a home that has been made available to us in Durham, North Carolina, during this period and return to the farm on the weekends. I will plan to stay with Becky and take her to her treatments. On Jan. 4, I will begin teaching 3 weeks of beginning Greek in Wake Forest. My schedule is 9:00-12:00 noon daily, Monday through Friday. I am hoping that we can schedule Becky's treatments for the afternoons during those days, but if not, people have already graciously stepped forward to volunteer to drive Becky to the hospital and back to Durham on those days. The treatment itself takes relatively little time.

This is also a good opportunity for me to express my thanks to those of you who are faithful readers of this blog and who pray for Becky on a regular basis. It will impossible for me to do much blogging during these weeks of treatment as I can update my website only from my home computer. (Yes, I realize that Front Page is hopelessly out of date. So am I.) If you would like to be added to our private email list to receive updates on Becky's condition during this time, please feel free to send me your email address. Will I miss blogging? Yes and no. My own life is enriched by keeping this silly little online journal (it is obvious to most that my "blog" is much more a personal diary than a typical interactive blog), and it is an excellent means of keeping in touch with our friends worldwide who share our love for missions. Beyond that, I don't take anything I write here (too) seriously, and I hope you don't either. In a real sense, it's in the nitty-gritty give and take of small groups, such as my classes at the seminary or in my missionary work in Africa and other countries or when I meet with students in my office that we learn that we are truly members of one another. And even though I've played the Top 50 Game with the fine academic bibliobloggers out there, I most certainly do not consider my blog important for academic research. So I will not miss updating my little corner of the internet; blogging is a small part of my life and work. But I have the joy, the absolute personal joy, of loving a woman and being loved by her in return. Our goal is to exalt Jesus together and to do what little we can, in the midst of our finiteness and infirmities, to advance His kingdom among the nations. This website could close down tomorrow and nothing of major importance in our lives would change one iota. In the 6 years I've been updating this blog (yes, we began this adventure back in November of 2003), I have learned through prayer and through tears that my first priority must always be the things that matter most to the Savior who loved me and gave Himself for me. Only when we are rich in Him and in His Word will we be able to feed and nourish one another.

So, thank you. Thank you for loving me and Becky. Thank you for praying for us. Thank you for your letters and emails. And please remember: even though I do not have a "comments" section on my blog, I do my very best to answer every email that I receive in a timely fashion. More and more I am realizing my great need to be obedient to the simple teachings of Jesus, and many of your own blogs have been a nudging prod that has strengthened and encouraged and comforted and edified me. If in some small way DBO has done the same for you, Jesus gets all the praise because I am nothing without Him.

Love from Becky and me to all of you.

Au revoir,


5:57 PM If you are ever to study Latin with me, you will be asked to learn the ecclesiastical dialect of the language and to master, therefore, the ecclesiastical pronunciation. I will tutor you personally on enunciation, but there are also some good online resources, not the least of which is this one in which you can listen to Pope Pius XII recite the Lord's Prayer. The more one goes into the Latin language, the more one is astonished by its richness. I cannot help feeling that our students are wasting their obvious linguistic talents on the recapture of passing classical Latin when the Scriptures and the fathers eagerly await their acquaintance.

For practice:

Multifariam, multisque modis olim Deus loquens patribus in prophetis: novissime, diebus istis locutus est nobis in Filio, quem constituit hæredem universorum, per quem fecit et sæcula: qui cum sit splendor gloriæ, et figura substantiæ ejus, portansque omnia verbo virtutis suæ, purgationem peccatorum faciens, sedet ad dexteram majestatis in excelsis: tanto melior angelis effectus, quanto differentius præ illis nomen hæreditavit.

5:44 PM Tonight Becky Lynn, master cheffess, is making one of our scrumptiousest meals, one we learned to enjoy so much in der Schweiz, namely, raclettes. She has Americanized it a bit but the basics all remain the same: onions, potatoes, bacon, and sausage -- the ultimate farmer's meal. It was probably stumbled upon by a dyspeptic goatherd who could never refrain from over-eating whenever his wife sent him off to tend the animals. At any rate it is certainly a tasty meal and whenever Becky makes it the results are most admirable.

4:13 PM Roman Mayo says we ought to love the Anabaptists. Mais je me demande si le ne pourrait être traité -- toujours très sérieusement -- d'une façon qui appellerait plus fortement l'attention de la critique et du public.

3:56 PM To answer the Herr Professor Doktor's provocative question: It's because I'm so susceptible to new ideas, so much interested in things, so disliking the old -- it is wonderful. I am an enchanting old thing. Like an expert chess player with a certain quality and quantity of skills, I play the game more or less according to my intelligence, my gambits. New ones are learned with infinite difficulty, and beyond a certain age (50 to be exact) not at all. What, with the host of little occupations, life slips from one before one is aware of it, and even with all one's good intentions life remains unfulfilled in practice. However, today I actually, for a miracle, had time to blog a little bit when I was not reading my Greek New Testament or translating Latin prose or writing another chapter in my latest book or overseeing the animals, sodden and quivering. Actually, I know nil about Facebook, and I am inclined to think I shall never know anything about it. I must say I have barely gotten over the jollifications of blogging.

But all this is but a moot point, since I still have residual medications in my ailing body, and therefore all expostulations on my part are vain. What's more, as you can see, I have not even had a chance to comb my hair today.

1:32 PM Back to my reading of Latin. Today it's an extract from a homily by St. Gregory on the Gospel for Quinqaugesima Sunday. 

1:28 PM Oxford and Cambridge both need a more diverse student body, according to this report by the CSMonitor. It sounds like a very good idea (and ideal) to me. It is nice to know that American universities aren't the only institutions that struggle with this issue.

1:02 PM Over at the Christian Century, Nadia Bolz-Weber reviews Garrison Keillor's Life Among the Lutherans. The book seems a bit eclectically odd-and-endy. But I guess we all have our hobby horses. Lutheranism is apparently one of Mr. Keillor's.

P.S. Do read Nadia's peroration. After the bulk of the review it comes as rather a merciful relief.

12:34 PM Quote of the day (Andy Metzger):

You can have the textual structure down. You can have the sermon structure down. You can have your three points alliterated. You can have a central truth and a handful of attention-grabbing illustrations. You can have a catchy intro and a touching conclusion. You can have smooth transitions, purposeful movement, intentional eye communication, vocal variation, and helpful hand gestures. You can even have the word studies, the proper exegesis, and a gospel-centeredness.

But if you aren’t teaching your fellow brothers and sisters how to apply the Word to their lives in real, life-altering ways, then you’ve stopped short of proclaiming the Word–because the Word demands a response. If the Sunday sermon does not demand, scream, and plead for you and your people to think and live differently on Monday morning, we’ve missed the point.

12:28 PM Interested at all in the so-called "new perspective on Paul"? Check out what Bert Watts has to say here. Bert, by the way, is yet another SEBTS student blogger. Heaven knows we need more like him.

12:10 PM I have been a villain not to have written much recently about the great Anabaptists of the sixteenth century. I am glad that so many people seemed to have enjoyed the third chapter of my book The Jesus Paradigm, which is devoted to the theology and practice of the Anabaptists and the horrors to which they were subjected due to their different Weltanschauung in applying the fundamentals of the New Testament to everyday Christian living. Here I am standing in front of the church in Zurich where Conrad Grebel, the "father of the Swiss Anabaptists," studied the Bible with Zwingli.

Grebel began his theological studies in the city's great university (under the humanist scholar Loriti). Then in 1521 he joined Zwingli's Bible study group. They read the Greek classics, the Latin Bible, and the Greek New Testament -- men after my own heart! Have you ever read Harold Bender's Conrad Grebel: The Founder of the Swiss Brethren?

A bit visceral, but it gets back to the smugness of the day and the solitary life of those who were willing to read the Scriptures consistently. The book is about the way something can almost suddenly become nothing -- like a mummy that is perfectly intact until the archaeologists unbury it and it crumbles to dust. I am busy compiling a sort of anthology interlarded with comments from the Anabaptists. It's a pleasant thing to do and, I should think, will be a pleasant thing to read. What makes me so excited is to see that the Anabaptists did not just cry ad fontes -- they actually had the gall to read and follow the simple teachings of Jesus without doubt or hesitation. It cost many of them their lives of course. But discipleship is always costly.

Tiger Woods has recently reminded us that stupidity, coupled with cupidity, only plunges one deeper and deeper into the mire. It certainly isn't popular to say so, but I've learned from the Anabaptists that the New Testament is a very good guide to the way out of the lunatic asylum we all live in. To my students, then, I say: Ad fontes! Don't let people push you into their molds. Remember Grebel -- how well he lived and died, what a heroic figure of a man! This century doesn't seem to breed them as well as the sixteenth century did. I hope you will prove me wrong.

9:38 AM Man, how about a finding a long-lost letter of Thomas Jefferson's? That's just what Amanda Daddona did in the library at the University of Delaware. Here's a photo:

"To hold it in your hands is really quite thrilling," she said. I can only imagine. I felt the same way when I held in my hands the original Erasmus 1516 Novi Instrumenti in the archives of the Uni-Basel.

Incidentally, the above photo is found in this must-read essay by Rick Brannan. And to think that in just 5 years all of Spain will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the printing of the first Greek New Testament in the year 1514 (Complutensian Polyglot).

8:21 AM Bryan Riley wonders what he's doing in Kona, Hawaii. The answer is Finding Shelter. A wonderful testimony.

8:17 AM What? Barack Obama a neocon? That's what Eli Clifton argues in his latest essay: Neocons Get Warm and Fuzzy Over 'War President'. Mr. Clifton's subtext is clear: If it weren't for all those dastardly war hawks like Kristol, the president might have taken a difference course in the Stans. It's like the local fat boy complaining that the MacDonald's Big Mac he had for lunch jumped over the counter and stuffed its way down his innocent throat. It's time for Mr. Obama to start accepting full responsibility for his decisions, and for others to give him that option. Yes, the tough-guys in DC are squealing like schoolgirls at being in the driver's seat again. But 3 years from now Mr. Obama will not be able to look at the American public and say "not my fault."

8:12 AM Thank you, Nijay, for the heads-up on the latest issue of NTS. The first essay leaves me a bit stumped, as there seems to be only one parable in Luke 15 (see 15:3, "this parable," singular). Luke 15:11-32 is the third story in the singular parable and should not be singled out as a "Gleichniss." The "parable" of Luke 15 is an illustration of God's love for the lost. Its 3 parts are (1) the story of the faithful shepherd, (2) the story of the diligent housewife, and (3) the story of the loving father.

8:07 AM Jesus is Lord!

7:56 AM Douglas Mangum thinks you ought to read these blogs. I second the motion!

7:45 AM Good morning, bloggers! Here's the latest from Theological German. And what a fantastic quote it is. See if you can understand it without translating it! That is, try to think in German we you read it.

Ich selbst verstehe mich insofern als konservativ, als dass ich die orthodoxe Lehre der Kirche interessant finde und ihr anhänge. Allein mit ihr können wir auch missionarisch tätig sein.

Aber ich bin alles andere als strukturkonservativ. Oder, um ein anderes Wortpaar zu nehmen: Ich bin altkonservativ, nicht neokonservativ.

Friday, December 4

9:40 PM Earlier today I received a gentle rebuke via email. One rarely grows without rebuke. I would have been silly to have ignored it. No Christian can grow where truth is absent. We need to be pushed and prodded to be and do our best for Jesus. May I add that it was a special friend who issued the rebuke, not merely an acquaintance. Open rebuke is better than hidden love, says the author of Proverbs, but love indeed needs to be the motive behind every spoken rebuke. So I close the day by thanking God that He loved me enough to have given my special friend the courage to say what had to be said. I only hope and pray that I do not make the same stupid mistake again. 

9:18 PM Ellis Potter, who pastors in Basel, has posted an excellent essay on how one is to think about art from a Christian point of view. Potter's most important point may well be the following:

Non-Christian creativity is from a kind of frantic energy in their search for meaning and purpose. The Christian should be more creative because we have a God and personal savior to thank, to glorify and to obey.

As an artist myself I do believe in the power of Christian art to give form to the formless and thus to become a means of glorifying our unseen Creator. And frankly, language is one form of art that I revel in and seek ever to employ for kingdom purposes. That I fail so often in this endeavor is no reflection on my high regard for the language arts. I am simply overwhelmed by the work of Christ on the cross, and I am prepared to affirm that the power that raised Him from the dead is mightier than the power of all the forces arrayed against those who seek to honor Him in word and deed. Among the things that disappoint me the most are those times in my life when I have failed, in the deepest level of my heart, to seek to "thank, glorify, and obey" Him. May I learn to use the creative gifts that He has given me more and more effectively, each and every day that He grants me breath, for His glory and joy. 

9:09 PM Kudos and heartiest congratulations to Stan Porter, Jeff Reed, and Matthew O'Donnell on the publication of their new introductory Greek grammar, Fundamentals of New Testament Greek.

Though I have never agreed with Stan's views on verbal aspect, and part company with him in other areas as well, he has been a pioneer in the advancement of a linguistic approach to the study of New Testament Greek. He has embarked upon a stellar career of publishing that makes us lesser mortals look like we're still in need of training wheels, and I'm sure his latest collaboration will be a huge success. I want to stress that I do not now regard, not ever have regarded, my own elementary grammar to be the definitive work on the subject. Naturally, it presents my own views, but it is by no means the last word. There has been an ongoing faithful subterranean current of interest in the field of linguistics among New Testament scholars, but no less invisible than faithful. Stan, Jeff, and now Matthew are to be thanked for engaging in this sort of research and making their findings accessible to a wider public. Warmest felicitations, then, and may your book, gentlemen, have a long and useful life.

6:45 PM Warner Pacific College announces an opening in theology, while Cal Baptist is looking for a missiologist to join its faculty.

6:20 PM Since nobody volunteered (and I can't blame them), I've asked my personal assistant to assemble a list of New Testament departments/professors in North America, similar to the excellent one posted here. If you'd like your department or professor to be included in the list, just let me know. Be sure to include links where applicable (especially if said professor has a blog or a personal website). I'm hoping to publish the list at the end of the semester (in three weeks). Here's one New Testament scholar I'll be listing. Can you guess his name and institution? (Hint: Ph.D. from Princeton.)

6:00 PM And the answer is:

Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians.

Matt Evans of Broadcast Depth fame was the first to make the correct identification, so off to Brooke's husband goes the niftiest little booklet I've ever written. By the way, Matt beat out Alan Knox by a mere 15 minutes!

5:12 PM She liked it! And I even have leftovers for lunch next week on campus.

5:10 PM Contest Time! A free copy of Christian Archy to the first blogger who can correctly identify this wonderful epistle, which I read today in its entirety. I need the name of the author and the name of the epistle. (Note: You must be a blogger to enter.)

5:02 PM It's snowing where? I don't believe it.

4:41 PM My wife loves me. She's letting me cook for supper one of my most favorite and one of her least favorite meals: browned hamburger mixed with corn kernels and cream of chicken soup and served over rice.

1:10 PM Eric Pape does not mince words in his latest column titled Switzerland's Gift to Osama. The Swiss are just following the maxim of famous New York builder Robert Moses, who never let people get in the way of his bulldozing: "If the ends don't justify the means, what does?" The proud and noble Swiss deserve a better legacy than this.

12:55 PM Ugh! Boy do I ache. I'm not talking about my back. That still hurts, but it's healing up nicely and I'm even about to walk upright again. But what hurts the most is having to watch Nathan do the farm work by himself. I feel like a squealing guinea pig. Worse even. Boy do I ache!

11:59 AM Oh, here's the front cover of our new calendar. It's a winner. And look at the book Micah is so proudly holding: Papa B's Greek grammar. Makes me feel super special. Then again, all Papa Bs are easily spoiled.

11:41 AM Praying right now for all of my students who are writing their term papers. Remember: Content is king, and typos are not acceptable (either in English or Greek).

11:28 AM One of the benefits of blogging is the ability to engage in shameless self-promotion, as Eric Carpenter just did (though to be fair, in the interests of his daughter). Her 2010 Floral Calendar is really quite beautiful.

Here's a sneak preview of our family's 2010 Calendar:

11:07 AM Hmm. What to give as Christmas presents this year? The author of Scroogenomics has the answer. Try (a) gift cards or (b) charity gift cards. May I make a third suggestion? Allow the recipient of your gift to choose from a list of missionaries or mission causes they would like to support. The gift would then be given in their name and make them feel real good.

Let's face it: We Americans have everything we need. Truth be told, Santa Claus doesn't have to coddle us. And -- you heard it here first -- he has no patience for the plaints of health-conscious yuppies either.

10:51 AM In the spirit of Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, all that is sacred and holy, multiculturalism, etc., etc., I hereby announce an end -- a final moratorium -- to the ridiculous "my-ph.d.-is-better-than-your-ph.d" nonsense that is circulating in the biblioblogosphere. How can we trust any "evidence" when we learn that our evidence-gathering snoozy spooks are even more awful than we thought?

You are smothering the hopes of hundreds of doctoral students who actually believe that their institution is the best institution for them to do their doctoral studies. Once again, budding Ph.D. students seem to be sowing seeds of discontent and skepticism when we should cheering one another on. Yes, I like DTS. I also like UCLA (Bob Cole, one of my colleagues, has a Ph.D. from there). I love the Uni-Basel (for obvious reasons), but I also love Duke and Aberdeen and Notre Dame and Cambridge and Fuller and SBTS and even SEBTS! Ah, but MY school is the best!!!-- it's all sooo sophisticated. Time to get beyond the turkey shoot, folks.   

P.S. I really don't care where you get your doctorate from. I care about what you DO with your doctorate once you've earned it. But proving that your doctorate is better than someone else's? That's like grabbing smoke. Forget it.

8:22 AM Just a friendly reminder that the seventh of December will shortly be upon us, which means that watching this movie is required. And yes, both Short and Kimmel were scapegoated, a shameless act on the part of a government they served so loyally for all of their adult lives.

Then, when you've watched the movie, go and read the amazing story of the man who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mitsuo Fuchida, who was converted to Christ after the war and became an evangelist proclaiming the Gospel of the Prince of Peace.

Clearly, a Higher Power was at work even in the midst of those calamitous times. As Mr. Fuchida puts it in his personal testimony:

Though my country has the highest literacy rate in the world, education has not brought salvation. Peace and freedom--both national and personal--come only through an encounter with Jesus Christ.

Amen and amen.

7:49 AM Arthur Sido puts in a good word for those wonderful, biblical, and despised Anabaptists. In a word, the main reason I love the Anabaptists? They refused to play the Jesus Card.

7:45 AM Eric Carpenter's Top Ten Countdown continues. Today he posts his number 3 site, which incidentally, I hardly ever read.

7:41 AM Call me Doubting Thomas if you like, but I won't believe it till I see it.

7:34 AM Not content to let Adam have all the fun, Andy (another one of my SEBTS students and a blogger to boot) chimes in with this post on Revelation.

One thought: Do you think it might be the silly and outrageous kick-in-the-door way of interpreting Revelation, straight out of Star Wars, that makes the average Christian want to act like a blood-starved vampire when reading the last book of the Bible? Sort of reminds me of when 43 told Bob Woodward, when pressed on why he did not consult with his father (41) before he went to war with Iraq, "He is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength; there is a Higher Father that I appealed to." Any other questions, Mr. Woodward?

7:27 AM Jim Hightower's books have always amused me. They're written for entertainment as much as for information.

So is his latest column, though it's a wow of a read: Obama's War. Yep, us Americans ain't gonna be able to whine that the meanie ol' president and his Democratic Congress are to blame for war-without-end-Amen. Everything Mr. Obama does is the public's business. The president, when running for office, rejected 41's Realpolitik and railed against 43's preemption strategy. Now he seems to be stubbornly clinging to both barrel-chested theories.

So thank you, Mr. Hightower, for standing up and standing tall and talkin' like a 'Merican:

This is no time to be deferential to executive authority. Stand up. Speak out. It's our country, not theirs. We are America — ultimately, we have the power and the responsibility.

Thursday, December 3

9:10 PM I always enjoy reading Associated Baptist Press. I think its essays are, for the most part, admirable. ABP has just published an essay that must be read by every Baptist. It's called WWI changed Truett’s views on war, peace and government. Truett, in case you didn't know, was the legendary pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas. Let's hope the same kind of salutary thinking may do us all some good and that it's not too late for the church to live up to its commitment to be the critic of culture.

8:32 PM The Advent season seems to draw the best -- and the worst -- out of bloggers. But here's one of the best Christmas posts I've ever read: Celebration! Thank you for posting it, John.

8:25 PM Now here is one great accomplishment. Can't wait to see which church father commented on which New Testament passages, and to see exactly what was said. I assume ALL of the citations are in the original Latin and Greek???

Many thanks, Amy, for making a real contribution to text-critical research. And kudos to Notre Dame's outstanding doctoral program as well!

7:54 PM Adam Darnell is one of my SEBTS students. His latest post focuses on a quote from a lecture he heard from our guest speaker in class yesterday. The post is called The Message of Revelation. Short but very sweet.

But that's not why I've linked to it. It's because I want to hold up Adam as a model for the rest of us. Here is a busy student with plenty on his plate who yet finds time to minister to the larger world through his blog. My principle criticism of students who do not blog is that they are too lazy. The technical achievement of the blog as a modern literary genre is remarkable and even revolutionary. It may be mere folie de grandeur and pompier prejudice on my part, but I feel that more students could be taking advantage of this medium to increase their writing skills and improve their word power. I strongly encourage all of my students to at least prayerfully consider starting a blog. This is especially true of my doctoral students, several of whom are already accomplished bloggers. Blogging is like Ethiopia -- a curious country. The more one visits it, the more one is astonished by its richness.

Not that "great thoughts" have to be present in every blog post. Look at what Alan Knox just posted about studying Greek (It's all Greek to me). What a great set of questions, and what an encouragement for people to think about the importance of becoming familiar with the biblical languages. But there's nothing of the profound in that post. In fact, as far as "great thoughts" are concerned, I dare say that the people who deliberately set out to put great thoughts into their blog posts have generally been the worst bloggers on record. Just be thyself. Perhaps you could enter biblioblogdom and focus on, say, theological German. Blog a little bit every day, or at least thrice a week. I dare say that I know only too well that blogging tends to get postponed in a most horrible way ad infinitum and to be jostled aside by the innumerable thronging affairs of life. One of the reasons I blog, quite frankly, is because I feel I need to express my thoughts in writing, even if no one should ever read them. What would be your reason for blogging?

I will say this in closing: I read several blogs faithfully. I don't think I ever read things that make me so profoundly admire and respect their writers.

7:15 PM We have waited with baited breath for who knows how long. Well, wait no longer. The Spanish Surfers Bible has arrived at last! And not a moment too soon either.

Here, by the way, is a Christian wave.

Note its perfect symmetry, its harmonious balance, its polychromic grandeur. It has the words "Reserved for Born-Again Surfers" stamped all over it. As a Christian surfer growing up in Hawaii, these were the only kinds of waves I would condescend to surf. The ungodly "Left-Behinders" got the sloppy, windblown chop. Too bad we Christian surfer dudes didn't have a Surfers Bible way back then. The Old Scofield Reference Bible, King James Version (of course), replete with notes on Dispensationalism, had to suffice. We read lots of Daniel, I can assure you.

6:22 PM I type to the sounds of Becky cooking Chinese food. And the smells. Soon the taste shall complete the tritium!

6:18 PM Just began reading Confessions 10.6, a section called "What do I love?" Augustine's first line is a question, perhaps the question of the ages:

Quid autem amo, cum te amo?

I made friends with Augustine when I was still in my teens -- in English of course. I found his Confessions just what my aching heart needed. I do not see how a man could write such a large volume of religious poetry. Augustine is a really marvelous character among the communio sanctorum. When I have more time I must study him more closely. The complete opposite of Machiavelli, whose sacro egoismo makes one gasp.

5:56 PM Can you believe that over 60 million people are make-believe farmers? "Farmville" allows you to enjoy virtual farming in the privacy of your own condo or beach front cottage. We Americans sure do like to live our lives vicariously. And it all began with the one-eyed idol, the ubiquitous TV.

There you have it -- your perfect little farm, with a delightful house, nice sloping gardens, and traces of impeccably plowed fields. A delightful spot to raise your perfect family without having to get your lily white hands dirty. A whole series of books would have to be written, out of an existing void, in order to document the growth in the "virtual" industry. We have become the kings of illusion. Social game developers must be laughing -- all the way to the bank.

Why, before you know it, we'll begin practicing Acts 2:42 through live video-streaming. What? It's already happening?

5:43 PM I hear Becky had a great afternoon of sewing and cooking. I wouldn't know -- I was taking a long nap, much needed too. What amusements I had in my dreams! I'm threatening myself to start feeling 100 percent by Sunday. Wouldn't that be nice?

11:58 AM If case you have nothing better to do, here are a few pictures of this morning's activities at Rosewood for you to peruse on this, Jessica's BD.

We enjoyed a veritable Garden of Eden at breakfast this morning, prepared lovingly by Becky for Miss Jessie's special day. What a lovely table it was, and the meal set upon it was itself absolutely spectacular.

Then it was outdoors to feed the cows and clown around with the dogs.

Just now Nate and Jess are off to take care of farm business, but we sure enjoyed our time with them.

I am much too occupied (legitimately so) with my status as a grandfather to ask you to forgive me for posting so many photos of the world's sweetest infant. How awful to think that I was in a pre-grandfatherly state just a few months ago. I feel somewhat like Prometheus at the renewed activity of the vulture -- alive! Here, then, are the photos of Mr. Charmer and his doting mom and dad. I do believe that the last picture below may well be one of the finest I have taken of this beautiful family. Do you concur?

Praise be to God for His bountiful mercies!  

9:35 AM I've started going over the great deal of goings-over of essays, blog posts, reviews, etc. of Campbell's Deliverance of God -- some of which are interesting.

For my part, I cannot seem to flourish amid all the excitement for (please forgive me!) I actually find Paul's teaching about salvation an ever-insistent combination of personal forensic justification and a full-bodied corporate-centered sanctification. The life of action and the life of thought find no contradiction in Paul at all, a fact we see even in his earliest writing ("work of faith," 1 Thess. 1:5 -- which surely means that one's faith, if it is genuine, always produced works that are pleasing to God; these works, in fact, were planned for us ahead of time that we should "walk" in them, Eph. 2:10). Why one should stick with one rich vintage from the Pauline vineyard and pass up on the other quite escapes me. When I have time I will delve into Campbell for myself, but first I feel I must reread Romans in its entirety in Greek. Abstract scholarship is a very dangerous thing; I discourage it among my own students because it seems to me that exegesis of specific texts must always be our emphasis. I am completing a discourse analysis of the book of Romans (the 16 chapter version), which should be quite revoltingly delicious when it's finished. I hope to try and persuade my students to center their thought life on reading the original text, which involves a great deal of fixed intellectual occupation, before reading anything that anyone has written about the text. I also find that occasional doses of the Fathers are a very good spiritual tonic.

I had a rather interesting time going through the links provided by Andy Rowell (who deserves a great deal of thanks for his labor of love), and I especially enjoyed listening to the MP3s of the SBL session in which Cambell's book was discussed, which, I imagine, is the closest thing to come to a successful vaudeville in our day and age.

8:22 AM Today I will try to carry out the first commandment of the ancient Greeks, GNOTHI SEAUTON, and rest my back until I return to being that physically superb farmer that I am. Why, it's been weeks since I even touched skubala. In the meantime I've been very suave, but beneath the well-tailored suits is found the same good Virginia red earth unchanged. I do admire Nathan for carrying on undaunted in spite of his dad's (i.e., field hand's) absence, who seems to be getting more and more obsolete as the years go by. I feel like I am getting old. However, I may be wrong. I generally am. It is a habit of mine.

Meanwhile I'm taking the weekend of domesticity to read and review and study and revel in that great Latin language and, in fact, have already begun reading the Confessions of Augustine (lots of talk about amo, etc.). It is a very strange mixture of pure beauty and irony (il n'y a pas d'autre mot!). The Latin Fathers beggar description; you will have to read them for yourselves to realize the full power of their prose.

Other news? Becky's blood work shows her counts are diminishing once again, so she is back under house arrest (at least for today) and watching her diet very carefully (food supplements, etc.). Today is Miss Jessie's birthday and I think we've got a couple of surprises for her up our well-worn sleeves. Have you ever seen a more beautiful day? The rains have all decided to move offshore, leaving the landscape wonderfully sun-drenched. I'll try to get some writing done today, but the usual anemia of will power with which I am habitually affected will make that project difficult. Sometimes I think I have written enough, said enough, spoken enough, talked enough, preached enough, and taught enough, and that it is time to make a great effort simply to DO all the things I am so loquacious about. I never feel I am performing a wholly kingdom-centered action except when I am doing. Then and only then one is not wasting time.

One great relief: I have no speaking assignment this weekend.

7:51 AM Virginia has got to be one of the most over-regulated states in the nation, and it just keeps getting worse. Now the state wants to license yoga instructors and require them to pay $2,500 up front and $500 every year. And the meek and mild yogis' response? To sue, of course.

7:45 AM Quote of the day:

Efforts to reach Christ for comment were unsuccessful.

7:37 AM My thanks to the Brian Ross Blotter for pointing out a dirty little secret.

With 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at an estimated yearly cost of $30 billion, it means that for every one al Qaeda fighter, the U.S. will commit 1,000 troops and $300 million a year.

It's only been two days since The Speech, but already a kind of moldy misery clings putrefyingly round a core of exhausted apathy.

7:33 AM In a moment of complete and humble transparency, Jim West echoes the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer and asks, "Wer bin ich?" His answer is obvious.

Wednesday, December 2

7:02 PM The Germans have a great word -- Preludchen -- and that's what we were treated to today in our New Testament Theology class as my Ph.D. student Alex Stewart showed us that the promised blessing of Rev. 1:3 is for doers (and not hearers only) of the commandments of God, which means, in other words, that you can stuff all of your end times charts in your steamer trunks and stop erecting your hideous exhibitions of the rapture, since true disciples are those who suffer and who gladly part with even the precious gift of life to share in the tribulation of the Lord Jesus.

"We conquer by being conquered," as Alex so aptly remarked. A more penetrating introduction to the Apocalypse, I could hardly imagine. By the way, our guest speakers this semester have been, I think, a smashing success and a cause of inestimable praise. Students, I hope you took very good notes while our lecturers were waxing eloquent, as you may see their lectures on the final essay exam in two weeks.

Speaking of school, I'm having a rather awful time deciding which of these books to donate to a new Bible college in Honduras, but since a good 50 percent of the student body can read English I'm thinking of sending at least 100 tomes their way. What an unimaginable waste of resources to allow books to sit on one's shelf collecting dust when others much less fortunate than us can and will put to them to very good use.

6:56 PM Liver and onions for supper tonight. I am a happy man again.

6:06 PM Mr. Obama's Afpakistan's "sort-of-surge," "get-in-and-then-get-right-out," "escalation is withdrawal" speech was predictable.

After months of indecision the president decided to be irresolute. He is aware (a) of what he believes to be a better solution than that of his predecessor and (b) of his own steadily declining powers to achieve this better good because (c) good causes always tend to lose their glamour after a few months and then a new one or a new version of the old one has to supplied. As with every presidential speech I have ever witnessed, and as history consistently demonstrates, the president's heady optimism is a temporary intoxication. I think people are getting tired of the nonsense going on in Karzai's corrupt Afghanistan, and certainly there's more criticism of the government expressed, and more ironical skepticism displayed, by the public than we have seen in a very long time.

I respect president Obama for rushing in where angels fear to tread (then again, he has no choice), but the uncertainties of human relationships are impenetratingly obscure. I suspect the best that can be hoped for now is something that H. G. Wells might have prognosticated years ago – the masses responding to the most effective propaganda with incorrigible statism.

What troubles me the most is the incessant burbling of unnecessary words ("now we must summon all of our noble might …"). The sooner we Americans can be induced to stop talking about liberty and actually practicing it, the better, it seems to me, it will be for our future. One thing seems certain however: The name of George W. Bush need never again be mentioned in relation to Afghanistan.

The war is now Mr. Obama's – hook, line, and sinker. He must now face the hideous consequences of his decision to rely on the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, which simply means more and more tyranny on the part of the war planners, however well their intentions. I see no hope except in a complete reversal of existing policy and a deliberate return to a non-interventionist approach to doing business with other nations. It will begin with admitting that we Americans hugely overreacted after 9/11 and as a result made enormous mistakes. 

7:45 PM Today I read the shocking news of the hideous demise of the Biblioblogs Top 50 and am sitting here at my prolifically productive writing desk in a state of dismay and grief.

The news brought a terrible sadness with it, but I suppose one ought to be grateful and thankful for all the months spent in association with some of the noblest and best of men (and women) – but, oh, it's bitter to sit here alone and to think of all the happy times when the world of bibliobloggers could check their pulses against the Pulse of Pulses and then realize the full horrible reality of how far we had all fallen from attaining Nirvana. It's a selfish grief, perhaps, but why should I go on writing anymore? It goes to prove that the policy of excessivism is the only right one; that the whole world is habitually in a state of morbidity.

Well, things will flourish again, some how, some way, some day, trod out by the feet of the weeping boys and girls from the winepress of biblioblogdom even as the mockers gnash their false teeth in comfort at the end of what to them must have always been a sham competition and an immense joke. Phooey on them. Enormous numbers of avid admirers wish you well, Dr. Jim, for your much-deserved success. It sure was fun while it lasted.

Back to my sulking....

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