January 2008 Blog Archives
Thursday, January 31
5:00 PM As usual, plugging away. I wouldn't say today was the most efficient day of work we've had on the farm, but it comes in a close second. The fencing in the valley is now completed, including the strand of barbed wire atop the woven wire to make our goatlets think twice before jumping off to greener grass. It was a tiresome but extremely pleasant business, and we end up with about 30 acres of fertile grazing land for our animals. The whole project is eminently suited to a photo digest, but I am too weary even to trek the short distance to Hidden Valley to document our accomplishment for prosperity.
Meanwhile I have been perusing a couple of the latest English Bible versions -- one of them extremely popular momentarily on campus, especially among the Reform-minded students. They are both too literary for my taste, full of that exquisitely good writing that is, one feels instinctively, only another kind of bad writing. Otherwise, I have been sticking to my big fat Greek New Testament, which really does take the lid off and show you the works. Very entertaining too (dare I say it?), that is, when one encounters the wonderful rhetorical devices in the text. It contains a bit of everything, and one never finds it dull, boring, or pedantic.
12:28 PM Just back from town to get a new starter for Nate's van. While there I treated him to Mexican food for lunch. It's the very least I can do for him, after all he's given me: backaches, blisters, sore thumbs....
8:09 AM Great day in the morning! Just got an epistle from the world traveler replete with Gute Nachrichten. The best news of all is that Aberesh's blood pressure, though borderline, is still under control, thanks to the goodness of her Lord Jesus and the careful diet and rest her helper is insisting upon. In Becky's words:
Becky and Aberesh are in a new compound where they cook for themselves and, just as importantly, can entertain our Ethiopian children and other guests. It is a peaceful and quiet place, Becky reports, other than when the jumbo jets are landing at Bole Airport and pass within 500 feet of the house! In any case, let's keep everyone in our prayers, including Baby Boy. I think we have the right helper in place, though.
7:48 AM Have read enough about the abysmal "debate" last night. Not a single argument of any sense at all (other than Dr. No's thumbful of seconds). Just the old utterly meaningless slogans strutted out again. I dread the spectacle of so much more devastation in the Middle East. It's all the fruit of our national megalomania: acting the part of the Noblest Roman of Them All, destroying everything that isn't imperial. What a weary imbecility it all is!
7:41 AM Intellectual brilliance is worthless without healthy personal relationships. If I cannot make my faith and principles incarnate among men, I am no better than the secular religionist who treats the Bible as a mere textbook or an analyzable datum of scientific investigation. Oh Father, what do people see in my life? May they see a man who walks with Thee and who bears witness that he is nothing but the Lord's servant.
7:35 AM A Plug for Patristics.
7:12 AM One day, while I was a fledging student in Basel, I was frozen with astonishment to find my Doktorvater asking me if I would stay after our patristics seminar to take an oral exam in Greek and Latin -- a requirement to proceed to the dissertation phase of my studies. I am happy to say that I cannot recall a single syllable I translated that day, though the name of Augustine comes faintly to mind (portrait below). The examination took me completely by surprise but not without a faint thrill of irony, for the episode indicated that Professor Reicke felt me sufficiently fluent in these tongues to allow me to launch into my study of weakness language in Paul. I believe I left Basel with a greater appreciation and enjoyment of the church fathers than when I had entered the university, and I have subsequently become a cheerleader for their writings. On Tuesday next I shall be having an important meeting to begin plans to hold a major patristics conference on campus, and I must admit a certain gleeful anticipation of opening a can of worms at least as large as the one we cracked opened last April during our Last Twelve Verses of Mark symposium. I am not in the least ashamed of myself for having taken into account the fathers' writings in my little book on Gospel origins, and I am especially pleased of those parts in it that are most commonly called nonsense by scholars, for I know well the bias against the fathers in certain segments of the scholarly guild. In any case, I fancy that a patristics conference, focusing on hermeneutics, might well revive interest in an almost entirely unknown corpus among evangelical students. My thinking is to hold the conference in April of 2009, when the Forest of Wake is at the height of its natural beauty.
Wednesday, January 30
9:21 PM The first week of the new semester went off well enough, though I feel like I talked too fast and tried to cover too much acreage for an old Massie-Ferguson 135. The wretched clock kept chiming out the hours, and it seemed that the law of diminishing returns kicked in earlier than normal. Tonight I am busy answering emails and reviewing my Spanish while recovering my physical strength. Earlier today I was attacked by an infernal sinus headache, but now I begin to feel less of a corpse, thank God. It is enormously reviving to see the pine trees and hear the dogs barking in hopeful tones. The weather on Friday promises to be very nasty, which means that tomorrow it is back to fencing. Meanwhile I am busy with my Anabaptist book, though inefficiently as usual. I often feel like I am a third-rate sophomore writing a college term paper, combining technical ineptitude with a total lack of common sense. In book writing, alas, I have to be more than usually solemn and pedagogic.
As for my African-American bride, I have not heard from her in a couple of days, no doubt because of the difficulties she has in accessing an internet connection for email. I pray constantly for her as she tends to Aberesh. As well do I pray for her studies of the Amharic language, which seems somewhat rather hieroglyphic to me. I am sometimes called a linguist by others and thus live haloed with a reputation entirely fictitious. I lust for knowledge, but only of the most practical kind -- and thus my love of languages of all stripes. I should not be surprised if, while Becky is gone, I begin reviewing my Dutch and Italian. How I thank God that Becky has escaped the clutches of the monolingualism that dogs the American mind. I shall be very interested to see how fluently she speaks the language when she returns to Virginia.
7:39 PM Quote du jour:
Tuesday, January 29
5:57 AM I must break the news to you that I have decided to review my Spanish, starting today. Nathan already complains that I am boring him to death with my French, German, Latin, etc. I cannot help it. I enjoy speaking in tongues too much to stop. Language study is a great work upon which to engage one's mind, and is a solace for my senility.
5:53 AM Here at Rosewood Farm we always think "safety first" whenever we have to get up on our ladders.
We draw our inspiration from this intelligent fellow:
If you think that's wacko, go here.
5:45 AM I have been pondering the question: What will heaven be like? Not the same as what we think it will be like, I'm sure. As always, the real thing is utterly different from what one imagines. I can recall gazing upon pictures of Mount Rushmore, or the Great Sphinx, or the Acropolis, or the Swiss Alps, or Notre Dame in Paris. The reality was so distinct from the pictures when I actually stood at the site. The impression I got when I visited Masada, for example, was one of great shock. The shape of the ruins I knew already, but what was startling to me was the actual size and vastness of the fortress. As for heaven, how dimly I see things now, as through a glass darkly. It strengthens my faith tremendously to know that one day I shall see clearly, face to face.
5:38 AM This morning I return to my work -- that is, to my other job, being a humble farm hand the rest of the week. During my week-long absence from the seminary a gallon or two of work will no doubt have accumulated. My classes today meet from 12:30-3:30 and 6:30-9:30, I have convocation at 10:00, lunch with the president at 11:30, a meeting with prospective students from 4:15-5:15, and on it goes. Put me down for a cell with a bath in the nuthouse. Wednesdays are a bit less cramped, but not much. In any case, I plunge into my work with gusto -- whether it be on the homestead or in the pastor factory. I suppose, if one does one's work to the glory of God in excelsis, there is little difference in the end between shoveling horse manure and showing students the genius of the Greek participle. It can take a toll, however, on mind and body. With two full-time jobs, I feel pretty much like this when Sunday comes around:
Monday, January 28
5:15 PM Guess what? I learned a new word today: orthoepy. It refers to the study of pronunciation in English. As we all know, this is an extremely important science because English pronunciation is an utter absurdity (cf. heard/beard, five/give, low/how, paid/said). I'm told, by the way, that the word orthoepy can be pronounced in two ways. How anyone can learn English as a second language and pronounce it correctly escapes me entirely.
4:47 PM Splendid weather, splendid work, splendid aches and pains. Our main project for the day was clearing a section of the farm for a new hay field. Part of it we had already cleared last year. Here we are fertilizing that section, using our special brand of farm-fresh horse manure, kept in stock for us at an area stable.
We are clearing this area because the trees are useless to us and a better investment is to use the land for our main crop.
When I say useless I mean, of course, in the eyes of the logging companies. But you can be sure that every bit of wood will go to feed one of the 5 wood-burning fireplaces at Bradford Hall, from ash to cedar to cherry and elm.
One more thing: Whoever invented the chain saw deserves the Noble Peace Prize, the Croix de Guerre, a Pulitzer, and every other award ever invented by man.
7:58 AM Ron Paul: recapturing the spirit of America.
7:45 AM It is a first-rate winter day in Southside Virginny, cold and clear and colorfully drab. Right now I am pouring over the page proofs to my essay on the Greek language for the ESV Study Bible, and thus far I think the editors have done a masterful job of it. About the rest of the day -- we'll be up and at a myriad of farm projects that we have been managing to put off long enough. This is what I call structured procrastination, which is an amazing strategy to postpone doing all kinds of things you may find less interesting or appreciable in life. It all catches up with you one day, however.
7:23 AM The latest quote of the week from Theological German cites several German words that have obvious English cognates. Cognates there may be, but I have always been a bit taken aback by how few actual German lexemes have made it into the English Word Treasury, kindergarten and hinterland being perhaps the most notable exceptions. Otherwise, we do not say Mutter for mother or Vater for father. Very surprising indeed, especially when one considers the fact that English is basically a Germanic language and that many of America's original settlers were native German speakers.
Ph.D. students, take note: You will find the everyday words in German easy to learn when you are preparing for your doctoral exams (father, mother, daughter, book, auto, butter). The problem will be mastering its technical vocabulary. A good example is the expression "Word Treasury" used above, which, of course, is the literal translation of the German term for vocabulary. In French the opposite is the case: the everyday words can pose a bit of a challenge (père, mère, etc.), but the technical jargon is much easier to master (e.g., vocabulaire).
7:10 AM Becky left for Africa three weeks ago today. I have never been prouder of her. Yes, I miss her, but I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. I appreciate the tremendous responsibility she has assumed for Aberesh's care. She has a unique chance to help one who needs her uniquely. Becky is one of those deep down Christians who enjoys doing for others. Please do not think me immodest, but more and more as the years go by I honestly sense that we plan nothing major in our married life, but that the steps we take are planned by Him in some mysterious way. Releasing Becky to Ethiopia is but one example. Becky and I are always so desperately anxious to have others find in Jesus what we have found: forgiveness, wholeness, security, peace, and love.
I am grateful, Heavenly Father, that You have made of one blood all the nations of the earth, and I am even more grateful that You have put one great Holy Spirit within the reach of all men in all nations. I thank You for the special one whom I have the undeserved honor of calling my wife. Hold fast to her hand, dear God, as she seeks to walk with You this very day in a very faraway place.
Sunday, January 27
7:51 PM We're back from the Bush memorial service, and I'm writing in retrospect now, trying to put down what has happened in the past few hours. During the service I found myself in deep, deep thought as the music played and the speakers spoke. What an honor it is to teach in an institution that is so blessed. I don't think I could ever work in a place where the Lord Jesus wasn't exalted. As my former dean was being memorialized I kept thinking of his passion for the truth, for the Gospel, and for people. He did a good job of it, and I admired his ability. What a joy and blessing he was to know. Every time I had the pleasure of being in his company I left with a spiritual boost. It was tremendously inspirational to hear that this great and good man was as strong a Christian in his hospital bed as he had been in the days of his good health. Thank you, Father, for allowing me to know Russ Bush. Thank you for taking him in your arms of love. Thank you for welcoming him home. Help those he left behind to remember that Thou wilt keep in perfect whose minds are stayed on Thee.
All things turn home at eventide. Oh God, let me turn gracefully!
12:45 PM The key to effective preaching is being simple without being simplistic. Such is what we heard and experienced this morning in our local assembly, and it was an exceedingly profitable and enjoyable time. The Bible is the greatest work of art with the greatest amount of substance ever put into words. Why should we get in its way when we preach from it? Thank God for preachers who are down-to-earth, deep, and who refuse to substitute the intellectual for the esthetic and vice versa. Right now I am heating up some homemade potato soup that a student donated to "the cause." (The student will know about whom I am speaking.) A recrudescence of neuralgic pleasure makes me want to keep writing, but we've got to eat and run.
9:19 AM Alvin Reid remembers Russ Bush in this moving testimonial.
7:30 AM This weekend I have been reading, purely for pleasure and inspiration, a little book called Englisch für Fortgeschrittene. It is written for Germans who want to perfect their English, and thus it is a really wonderful way of reviewing one's knowledge of German. I can't find a trace of the pedantic it, and the dialogues, thank goodness, are lively and humorous. The stars are "Walter " and "Connie," employees of the "Warchester Times" who go through quite a rigmarole on their way up the corporate ladder. How ridiculous they are made to look, but how true to life!
As for English books, I've been reading the great authors and have concluded that it's really a waste of time to read anything else. Shakespeare's sonnets, for example -- what a marvel! I'd no idea they were so incredibly good -- and such a lot to learn from them about life. Then there is Orwell's Animal Farm, which is really staggering and, like everything by a sufficiently famous author, completely actual and to the point. Have also been keeping up with the latest commentaries on the New Testament, including Jewett's on Romans, which is excellent, I think -- very clear and informative and well-presented. Makes one feel completely irresponsible for writing anything alongside these treasure troves.
6:59 AM In a couple of hours we're off to attend Russ Bush's memorial service and then, depending on our time and interest level, we'll drive over to Duke Chapel for an organ concert. I've enjoyed a few days en famille. Had a quiet, pleasant Saturday and didn't lift hammer or nail. It was a glorious rest and I return to my semester routine much refreshed in body and mind -- and with a good healthy backache. The routine of life will do nothing, however, to assuage my appetite to see Becky again and to sip coffee with her on the front porch. I miss her settling presence and sage advice. I am most anxious to hear one day soon that Aberesh's baby boy has arrived and that she is now experiencing all the joys of motherhood. What a great adventure of faith this whole thing is! Those golden years when Becky and I used to sit at home are gone forever. We can no longer escape the fact that the mission field is our true home -- and not only 5,000 miles away but also a stone's throw away from Bradford Hall.
Meanwhile, sweetheart, je pense à toi.
Saturday, January 26
9:51 PM This might well be the cheapest way to fly from Addis Ababa to Dulles.
5:50 PM Timothy Miekley discusses the syntax of the Great Commission.
2:05 PM Matt, Liz, and the boys visited today, along with their new puppy Buster. I post a few pix for Mama B to enjoy in Ethiopia.
We all got to speak with Becky by phone today. She sounds great. As for Aberesh, not only has the baby turned and is no longer in a breech position, the placenta does not seem to be quite as low anymore. Her blood pressure? Holding steady. Gott sei Dank!
8:40 AM Must one's devotions always be so extraordinarily interesting? I just noticed that our good friend Louis Segond has hit the nail on the head again with his rendering of Eph. 2:8-9:
How wonderful! Paul writes, “nous sommes son ouvrage,” not “nous sommes son oeuvre.” Compare "Ce livre est l'oeuvre de X." Here the emphasis is on the work (the writing process). But in "Ce livre est un ouvrage de X," the emphasis is on the magnificent result (the book itself). Note well, however: As God's ouvrage we are to perform bonnes oeuvres! M-m-marvelous. (Don't imagine I've taken to stammering; it's only amazement that compels me to triplicate the m.)
8:29 AM The Second Annual Karl Barth Blog Conference will be held in June. For the details, click here.
8:14 AM I must say, I am moved by your expressions of concern and by your prayers for Becky and Aberesh. There is obviously no hope of thinking or acting rationally about any of the major issues of life until we learn to love. Without it, men are doomed to perpetual self-frustration and self-destruction. Nor is politics the solution to what ails us. Religious people who think they can go into politics and transform the world always end up being transformed by the world. The most remarkable things I have seen in my lifetime have always been simple expressions of love. Please, then, accept my sincere and humble appreciation for every act of love and kindness on your part, be it an email, a card, or even a meal. It's astonishing to think that Becky has been gone nearly 3 weeks now, and there are still 6 to go. It's all very exciting -- awesome, unpredictable, adventuresome. Boy do I miss her. I'm afraid I'm a bivalve and don't function at par when I am forced to be unicellular. The words of Bonhoeffer strike me as apropos:
7:59 AM Yesterday I received, via FedEx, the sheet music to Dupré's magnificent Cortège et Litanie.
It is the work of a mind of extraordinary power and depth, and at the same time of extraordinary subtlety and sensitivity. I think it's by far the best thing of its kind ever produced, going far beyond Buxtehude and Bach. If you have never heard it, you simply must. I don't think I've ever listened to anything that made me so profoundly admire and respect the composer.
Friday, January 25
8:57 PM Well, we put up fencing today until we ran out of woven wire. Almost finished the job, too. So near yet so far. Came home and pigged out on Chinese stir fry (I ate with less dignity than a professor of Greek might be expected to), then listened to organ music. Couldn't get through to Becky today -- the phone was always busy in her guest house. Will try again tomorrow. All in all, a very good day. I go to bed tired and happy.
3:04 PM Just back from a funeral. She died at 79 years of age. Alzheimer's. The deceased had 9 siblings. How times have changed. Meanwhile, back to our fencing. The current temperature is 34!
12:22 PM Here's something for all you "spreachers" out there.
10:36 AM If you are thinking about voting for McCain, Huckabee, or Romney, do not read this.
10:15 AM Update: The woven wire has been successfully transferred to the valley. It it too cold, however, to start the fencing work as it requires that we work without gloves. Meanwhile Nathan has taken a load of firewood (photo) we gathered up this morning to Oxford -- one of our other mini-businesses, if you will. He is also retrieving our male Sheltie Sheppie, whose services were required this past week in North Carolina.
Et moi? I just sent off to my publisher an official proposal for my book of collected essays, tentatively titled My Big Fat Greek New Testament (And Other Dispatches from Dave Black Online). If and when it is published I should very much hope that it would stimulate people to think about the fundamentals. Now I understand more and more each day, almost each hour and minute, but it is almost impossible to write it down well and it can be done only with much time. A sabbatical, deo volente, is in the offing for the fall, during which time I hope to join the hermits out in the wilderness for a month or two of intensive and extensive literary labor -- when I am not in Ethiopia or Central Asia or who knows where. I feel very strongly that promiscuous reading is a really pernicious addiction, and I hope to God I am not only feeding the addicts through all my writing.
8:21 AM It was nice of the Lord to send us such a sunny day today. Meteorological reports predict a high of 42 degrees this afternoon. Meanwhile the ground is still frozen, which will help us drive the tractor down to the valley, along with our fence wire, which is almost too heavy for two of us to carry. And the cheeriest news of all: I hope to speak with Becky by phone today!
8:06 AM What a strange language English is. Last night I was listening to Nathan describing a house that had been "raised," and I had to ask him whether he meant that it had been built up or torn down. The same absurdities of expression, I suppose, apply to words like "sanction" (permission to do something or a law forbidding it to be done?) and "cleave" (cut in half or stick together?). I think this means that my own language can be just as incomprehensible as any foreign tongue I might seek to master. It's an interesting subject and one, moreover, that lends itself to effective illustration.
7:53 AM I just got finished reading incoming emails. The report from our friends up in Gondar (northern Ethiopia) drove me to my knees. I want to shout joy from the housetops, but as well as I have been choked with tears, at the same time, of gratitude. The enemies of Christianity are working three shifts a day ad majorem Diaboli gloriam, but our Lord Jesus is greater. If you are on our email update list you will receive the details, but I hope we can all whisper a prayer on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Horn of Africa.
7:15 AM The surge is succeeding.
Thursday, January 24
7:42 PM I am truly enjoying reading my World War II escape book, Free As a Running Fox. When I say " enjoy," I mean the true enjoyment one gets from reading really good prose, quite apart from the information beautifully organized and conveyed. Mr. Calnan uses the utterly right words to describe his little escapades, many of them humorous in the extreme. Few books have given me so much pleasure. Incredible -- there is no other word for it. Currently the good major is about to escape from the Vorlager of Stalag Luft III (photo) disguised as a Russian POW. I wonder, will he succeed? I'm rooting for him to wrangle it somehow.
5:35 PM The Said at Southeastern site, I note with interest, is now able to perform an RSS-like function whenever I update my blog. I am quite delighted to see this, as I suppose it might be helpful to those who do not otherwise visit our site on a regular basis. I know, I know, one of these days I will emerge from the dark ages of Front Page.
5:05 PM How important work is! I wish I could do without sleep, that the days were twice as long, and that I had the strength of a Samson so that I could do all I want to do. But the weakness of both flesh and spirit makes that impossible. Today I am so weary after our farm work that I could barely crawl into the shower. Somehow I managed to start supper cooking, after which I will clean the dishes and crash and burn, probably around a good piece of English prose. We spent much of the day loading and unloading trailer loads of lumber from a local saw mill, wood to be used when Nathan remodels his house. Of great interest to me was the "spalting" we acquired -- wood that has begun to mold and therefore has a most unique design in it. Here is a photo of one of the spalted maple boards we hauled off:
Woodworkers, I'm told, will pay a hefty price to use spalting to make cabinets, jewelry boxes, etc. Let me hasten to add that when I saw these boards I assumed Nathan would consider them rotten and would leave them behind. He knows a good deal more about wood than I do, however, and now the boards are being advertised on Craig's List. Personally, I think they are very beautiful indeed, and whatever product is made out of them will be wonderful, I'm sure.
4:47 PM Larry Crabb once said, "In even the happiest Christian life there are deep pockets of incurable pain." That's true of you, and it's true of me. This morning I received word that a fellow missionary to Ethiopia lost his wife in a tragic automobile accident yesterday. He was in Addis, she was in the States. He was on his way back to America when the accident occurred. He was told about his loss upon his arrival at the airport. His two children, I'm told, survived the wreck. I am immensely relieved at times like this that there is a High Priest who feels, truly feels, our sorrow and shares it with us. Let us remember this great truth, whatever the via dolorosa we are called upon to travel in life.
12:55 PM Delivering hay has more than just pecuniary benefits. Driving through Granville County we stumbled upon a house we'd never seen before. Whoever built it did so with utmost grace and delicacy. In her day she must have been a beauty. But, my word, how poor and run down she looks today. Rich vulgarity is worse than poor vulgarity, I think. It is not snobbishness but fastidiousness to feel shock at such neglect. Why fix up an old house when you can live in a doublewide trailer? Ich zerbreche mir den Kopf!
11:35 AM Read an excerpt from Sarah Posner’s new book, God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters.
11:31 AM Rethinking Church Life.
7:02 AM Theological German has taken a turn for the romantic, which is all to the good. Surely everyone can benefit from a little language study. Especially if you are a Bible scholar. A journal like Biblica accepts articles in English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish (I published mine in English). Likewise for Filologia Neotestamentaria. Even in Switzerland, where I once lived, and which is one of the most polyglot nations in the world, only an estimated 10 percent of the people can write a simple letter in English. Once, while I was staying in the home of my Doktorvater in Basel, Bo Reicke, I heard him use English, French, German, and even Italian while he was talking on the phone, not all at once of course! The U.S. alone has 40 million people who do not speak English, which is the same number of people in England who do speak English.
For myself, I have been listening to sermons and speeches in the French language and profiting immensely from the effort. I am still mystified myself why I should sense such a need to perfect my French, except that perhaps one day I may find myself in francophone Africa and called upon to share the Gospel. This marvelous site has an amazing video of DeGaulle in Quebec. See if you can translate the text of his speech (below). Then listen to him speaking and hear the power of human speech, even though his little talk is full of well-worn clichés.
6:38 AM I am drenched with gratitude for the excellent Greek students God gave me during J-term. One could tell from their prayers at the opening of class just how passionate they were to put their knowledge to good use in serving Jesus. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is a thing to be eschewed. The Greeks might have called it kene makaria, "empty happiness." What a scolding my students would give me if they knew how I have indulged in this vice in my lifetime. What a waste of the powers of the human mind. I declare that I would rather see one soul saved than be granted great prizes for scholarship.
6:10 AM I gave my lecture on Lee's last years (quelle homme!) on Tuesday night as scheduled. It took place in the old Oxford Motor Inn, a cozy dining establishment in the great metropolis. I arrived at about 7:00 pm and hung about while people drifted in. It was a fine evening. My talk went well enough, and the audience even laughed at my jokes. I went out on a limb and preached that our society is devoid of one of Lee's greatest virtues: a sense of duty. My favorite part of the evening were the hushpuppies we ate. I'm sure we'll be enjoying them in heaven.
6:05 AM How cold and lovely it is here this morning. I've said my prayers for Becky et al. Tried doing some writing but it was all senile chatter so I stopped. Sometimes my mind is like a sponge filled with husks. The news here, I'm afraid, is quite dull. The dry weather today will make it a good time to deliver a load of hay and to continue our work on the fence line. I desire, unreservedly, unashamedly, to bring this project to a triumphant conclusion. For one week I shall live the life of a dormouse and hibernate at the farm until my classes begin next Tuesday. Pour le reste je trouve que tout marche très bien.
Wednesday, January 23
9:10 PM Photo du jour:
9:03 PM A farmer likes Ron Paul.
5:02 PM Jesus had a megachurch.
4:12 PM What interesting news from Ethiopia! Here’s the latest from Becky Lynn:
The ticklish situation still requires much prayer, of course. We do what is humanly possible, but God determines the outcome.
3:32 PM My colleague and friend Russ Bush has been facing death for several months. Now it has happened. The end came last night. To us poor mortals it must look as though an almost indispensable servant of God is dispensed with all too soon. I had known and had loved Russ since I came to Southeastern ten years ago. This last tragic chapter of his life makes me feel very sad as I think of it. His natural sensibility and intelligence were matched only by his humility and gentleness. Between ivory-towerism and knowledge for knowledge’s sake on the one hand and practical action on the other lies the alternative of true spirituality. Russ was one of the truly spiritual men I knew. His posthumous legacy will not soon be forgotten. It is all merely a development of that great scriptural theme, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Another, to me, very important point. Not an unkind word ever came from his mouth. Never. The rather indecent displays of personalities that has become so unpleasantly common in academic circles is something that was always absent in Russ’s case. He was really, I think, one of the most extraordinary and impressive human beings I have ever known.
The men of the Middle Ages used to speak of ars moriendi – the art of dying. Russ’s death was the most perfect display of dignity I have ever witnessed. He passed away surrounded by human love, and this love was merely the manifestation of a greater Love, by which he was enveloped and sustained. Russ knew what love was, had been capable of love as few human beings are capable, and is now at last capable of loving as God loves – perfectly and infinitely.
As for the arrangements – a memorial service will be held on campus this Sunday at 3:00 pm.
3:15 PM I find myself over and over again thanking God for these wonderful students of mine. And now they have finished their first semester of Greek. A Dieu et à Lui seul soit toute la gloire. It must be terribly hard to juggle family, work, and school, and then, just when you think you have it all figured out, a new semester begins and you are up to your eyeballs again in work. And yet – and here is the wonderful part of it, the miracle of the Christian life, if you will – in the very midst of it all is a peace, a joy, a strength, a contentment. Jesus said that His yoke is easy, and that His burden is light. Whose burden are we carrying that we should complain so often? The Award for our Greek class goes, then, to the One who gave us – all of us – the strength and understanding to make it through. And now, let us apply our knowledge to the fulfillment of His command to “preach the Gospel to every creature.”
Monday, January 21
5:48 AM I can hardly say that I understand politics as deeply as many others do, not when I am engaged so heavily in so many other pursuits. But I do know that modern politics is run by money, and that the fool with cash in hand is often superior to the poorer yet wiser man. Thankfully this time around we have a really extraordinary thing: A true conservative has ample support from liberty-loving constitutionalists everywhere. But enormous work remains to be done, for which his campaign will continue to need an influx of dollars and cents. Hence this link, in hopes that many will help the good Congressman traverse the noble hills and valleys still ahead, however Bacchanalian the environment.
5:41 AM I am profoundly grateful to God that He allowed us to complete the gambrel hay barn. The heart cannot be commanded -- but the will can, and it took dogged determination to finish this project. It was a most enjoyable job, and the most challenging one we've faced here, I think, except for the building of Bradford Hall or the fencing in of the farm. I took this photo when we first began, hoping that one day I would be able to complement the "before" photo with its "after" companion. Not a post had been set, only the holes dug with the help of our tractor and auger.
And now the holes are invisible, and in their place stands a barn. I am still uncertain about our next building project on the farm, but it always feels good to experience a cycle of completion, and I believe the result is something delightful and valuable. Again, all praise to the Lord.
5:34 AM The fact that Priscilla's name is usually mentioned in the New Testament before her husband Acquila's is, I sense, instructive. At the very least it suggests that Priscilla descended from an illustrious Roman family (gens Prisca). It also appears that, together, this wife-husband team made their home available as a meeting place for believers (cf. 1 Cor. 16:19) and that they had even risked their necks for the sake of the Gospel. When Becky and I were in our early years of marriage we were privileged to have a Priscilla and Aquila in our lives, whose Christian maturity, faith, and kindness I sometimes remember afresh today, and whose example still remains powerful. One can well believe that such married examples of godliness and love would be warmly appreciated today. In spite of the appalling possibilities of unhappiness and the appalling frequency with which the possibilities are realized, I think on the whole marriage is most decidedly worthwhile. If you need a Priscilla and Aquila in your life, I think you need do more than ask God for one, as it is His delight to give us the desires of our heart.
5:26 AM I must be Rip van Winkle. It seems I’m the only one in my classes who remembers Francis Schaeffer, after whose L’Abri we have modeled our retreat ministry at Bradford Hall. Somehow it does a world of good to get away to a place of solitude and serenity. I cannot explain it myself except to say that it works. I feel myself genuinely blessed to have both indoor and outdoor occupations. If I can’t write I can build fences or pick up hay out of the fields. But we also derive pleasure from hosting retreatants here. Why should we be surrounded by so many affections and interests and not share them with others? I do hope I am not abusing your patience with these discussions of the farm. I’m not trying to set myself up as an expert agriculturalist or homesteader. It is just that the quietness of the farm has become such a big part of my existence – a whole new world of joy and delight that I missed before. Jesus found it necessary to withdraw, and so should we if we have any sense at all. The world is so full of noise and confusion and, to add insult to injury, most of us have a “Martha complex” and prefer a rushing stream of chores and activities to that quiet hour with God. How it grieves me to see Christians become indifferent to the things of God because they refuse to come to Him and take His food. The really sad thing is that, despite the quietude of nature that surrounds me, I fall prey to that sin as often as anybody else.
5:13 AM This picture, which I unearthed from my interminable photo archive, will give you a glimpse of what the Ancient Manuscript Museum in Yerevan, Armenia is like. I took the photo (and several others like it) on a visit there last year.
The Armenian version of the New Testament dates back to the fifth century and is an invaluable witness to the text of the New Testament. I was able to give the museum's director a copy of my New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide as a present from his new American friend (below). If you are a student of the Greek language, I should like to recommend that you consider carefully taking an elective in textual criticism being offered this semester by my colleague Maurice Robinson, who is a world-class textual scholar. The discipline is a really good, old-fashioned, solid field of study.
5:07 AM The intentional marginalizing of Ron Paul by the major news media is being documented at the LRC blog. My belief is that such imbecility always fails. It is idiotic from start to finish. These mountebanks will get nowhere. As soon as the hoi polloi turn elsewhere for news they'll be left standing on a burning deck.
5:00 AM On Wednesday of this week we shall complete an entire semester of Greek in only 3 weeks of J-term. The results will be commensurate with the time and energy expended by teacher and student alike. I do think a linguistic approach has helped. It simply renders more efficient the system of grammar and the method of learning. As long as I live I shall try to persuade educators to pay more attention to the part played by linguistics in the teaching of Greek grammar. The reason why so few teachers employ a linguistic methodology escapes me. Infusing a little linguistic analysis into a world committed to the misuse of words might well be a worthwhile thing. The only thing I can do, in addition to employing linguistic insights myself, is to try to induce others to think about the problem and to consider the scientific advantages of teaching basic morphology -- not to mention the intellectual pleasure one experiences in truly understanding how a language works. Greek is a wonderful pastime with its own private joys. A nice distraction, too, especially at moments like the present when the whole world seems to be one vast lunatic asylum.
Sunday, January 20
10:25 AM The “th” sound (as in the Greek letter theta) can be a bit difficult for some people to pronounce. Here’s proof. (Prepare to laugh.)
10:15 AM I see that Rudy has been forced off his perch again, this time in Nevada. Meanwhile Ron Paul is a steady rock: very mature, very wise, very convinced that in the end it is principle that decides events, not ingenuity. Not one word of bitterness. Not a single complaint. Defending the old Constitution. Makes one proud to be an American.
9:06 AM The organ music of Marcel Dupré is sublime. His Cortège et Litanie is extraordinarily haunting. I can't think of what it's due to. Its strange quality of depth and religious passion mystifies me. I often listen to it because it is splendid beyond words. Agonized, poignant quality. Words fail me.
8:44 AM I quite agree with Sheba: It is a dog day today.
The light snow has forced church services to be cancelled. A good day, then, to get some more writing done and add to the cacophony of moderately high-brow books and essays.
Littera scripta manet, volat irrevocabile verbum, wouldn't you agree? I have, as mentioned before, begun a compilation of essays from our website for publication, aimed largely at helping people who are computer illiterate or who simply cannot (or will not) read books online. I do hope I can bring this off with some measure of success. The challenge will be to pass from obscure knowledge to conceptualized, utilitarian knowledge, to grasp the eternal in time. I know that many of my readers are also writers (i.e., bloggers), and I hope that your own literary efforts this year will be fruitful. Speaking personally, writing has become for me what surfing and horseback riding once were. Each is a task almost too large to accomplish. The challenge in surfing a big wave is achieving harmony with something much more powerful than you are. In cross-country riding the goal is much the same: you allow the horse to provide the motor power while you provide the brain power. When harmony is achieved, the results are out of this world. When it is not, there usually ensues a disastrous wipe-out. Lately I have been reading, other than the Bible, books on missions – all good, but there is too much to read, and it so easily becomes a mere indulgence, a vice of the mind quite as deplorable as any other bad habit I possess. I never feel I am really learning anything unless I am reading the Scriptures. Today I am meditating upon these verses:
But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.
1 Thessalonians 1:5
For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true. And you know of our concern for you from the way we lived when we were with you.
1 Thessalonians 1:8
And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it.
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.
1 Corinthians 1:17
For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power.
1 Corinthians 9:12
If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? But we have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ.
1 Corinthians 9:16
Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News!
Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit. In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum. My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else.
This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.
Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.
2 Timothy 2:8-9
Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach. And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained.
These verses clearly illustrate the modern fallacy of supposing that Paul was a theologian. God knows, we don't need any more of them. Paul was a missionary who wrote theology, not a theologian who practiced missions. I attempted to say as much in my book Paul, Apostle of Weakness. As he puts it: "My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God." Paul practiced what he preached, too. According to 2 Cor. 11:24 he received a scourging from the Jews 5 times -- 40 lashes minus one. I fear my life is a trifle boring in comparison. Really, Paul is the ideal missionary, and it is deplorable that we have people today who claim to teach "Pauline theology" yet who care nothing about missions. At least reading armchair theologians is good for a laugh. The Great Commission shaped and shapes me. It is the furthest thing away from the pedantic preciosities of so-called scholars. Biblical scholarship sans missions is a very bad business indeed.
Saturday, January 19
3:50 PM Today my mind is like an octopus, sticking out its arms in every which direction, all at once. Most of my tentacles are in Ethiopia, however, and with the work there. I shall never forget my first visit to Alaba. What crowds along the way! My heart nearly stopped when we paused to visit a rural church amidst the vast Muslim population of that region. I was immediately surrounded by a surging, curious mob. I took out my drawing pad, and the whole atmosphere changed from one of suspicion to delight.
I thought, as I drew portrait after portrait, of Christ's words: "I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly." I can't think of anything better that could happen to these precious people than to live life under the plus-sign of the cross. What a joy to watch the ripple of Christ's love spread wider and wider in Alaba. Oh, if I could only make my American friends understand how harmful their talk of Islamofascism is! This business of condemning Muslims to the gates of hell by otherwise fine Christians pierces my heart like a knife. Why must we do that? God give me understanding and compassion for those who are suffering and who are in need, spiritually. And forgive me for ever judging anyone more harshly than I judge myself.
1:45 PM I note with dismay that in 2007 I inflicted no less than 90 talks on people who never did me any harm. This year, I'm afraid, will be no different. I will not say that I find it boring to give lectures or speeches, au contraire. But nothing can ever replace the joy of the classroom, with all its energy and unpredictability. During my little talk next week on General Lee I shall try to make the point that patriotism and imperialism are not only not the same thing, they are nearly opposite things. Of this I have already spoken in other places, but I feel it right and propitious to emphasize, ad nauseum if need be, that resorting to horse and sword in defense of hearth and home is indeed a patriotic thing to do, but that Imperialismus is a shame to any nation.
12:41 PM Life on the farm goes forward apace. Last week Nathan drove to northwest Virginia to pick up Tarzan, our new buck. Napoleon is now somewhat out of the picture, for we have found, it seems, a real treasure, massive, full of activity and resourcefulness. Nathan also picked up five young females who, together with the rest of their sistren, have about 30 acres to clean up as soon as we finish fencing it in.
7:43 AM I never cease to marvel at Nathan’s handiwork in the structural details of Bradford Hall. “Once smitten, for life smitten.” Here are two examples from our formal dining room alone: decorative artwork on the ceiling...
...matched by dental molding along the crown molding and mantle.
Not only is Nathan a master builder, he is a wonderfully able and compelling teacher. How ironic that a talentless and clumsy man, in his later years, would end up being apprenticed to his son. As a result of Nathan’s tutelage I now find disedifying in the extreme the workmanship of the modern house builder. Being a student of the New Testament I find many parallels between Nathan’s approach to his craft and the biblical writers’ use of building metaphors. Paul once called Timothy a “worker” who did not need to be ashamed as he cut the word of truth (like a stone mason) to the required dimensions. Paul even referred to himself as a builder, indeed, an expert craftsman, and claimed that he “labored more than them all” (1 Cor. 15:10). Delightfully, Paul described the Christian as God’s poiema – God’s creative masterpiece – not just something He made but a work of art (see the ISV of Eph. 2:10). Like my son, Paul possessed a towering work ethic, a good old-fashioned workshop mentality that eschewed shoddiness and laziness. There is obviously no hope of hiding the pride I feel toward this artisan of mine. I think of that scene in the Iliad where Hector holds his infant son in his arms and says, “Someday people will say, ‘This man is much better than his father.’” Indeed, in 30 years from now I shall not be quite forgotten in Nelson, Virginia. I shall be known as Nathan’s father.
7:24 AM Am I a sacrificial servant? I wonder. I doubt very much if there is anything as a real servant existing nowadays. We help, we work with others, we “oblige,” we wait on people, we volunteer our time off, we are amiable assistants. But a servant in the Phil. 2:5-11 sense? There will only be one of those. I am perhaps as guilty as any in supplying platitudes to excuse my natural self-centeredness. Even in my writings I all too often suffer from being a hopeless dogmatist or obtuse theoretician. I believe, for example, that America is gradually but unmistakably succumbing to the arrogance of power. But what I have done to prevent it? What have I sacrificed? No group is more called upon from biblical and moral grounds to stop the killing of thousands of innocent civilians than conservative Christians, who instead are daily escalating the war. I ask myself: Do I agitate enough for peace, for conformity to the Scriptures? I think not. Indeed, I have scarcely begun to probe the complexities of nonviolence, in theory and in action. Arrogance has destroyed great nations in the past, and who is to say that history will not repeat itself in our day? On a recent trip to Eastern Europe and Central Asia I was asked repeatedly why Americans are so anti-democratic, so uncritical in their attitude toward American militarism. They ask, How is it that the United States, “Christian America,” could perpetrate the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of Dresden and Fallujah? I am not making claims about being immune from self-deceit. Jesus taught that there was no sin like that of thinking one is not a sinner as other men are, no crime like arrogating moral superiority over other men to yourself. Yet isn’t that exactly what our nation has done? We elect a Woodrow Wilson because “he kept us out of war,” and then follow him into the "war to end war." (Substitute “Roosevelt,” “Kennedy,” or “Bush” for “Wilson” and you will see that, a century later, we are still engaged in issues thought settled in 1916.) The problem is not one simply for the secular conscience. Salutes and pledges to the flag are now ubiquitous, and even places of Christian worship put the national flag near altar or pulpit. Evangelicals who oppose the war are not only labeled “pro-Iraq” but “un-American.” The pejorative “pacifist” is sometimes tacked on for good measure – a term of profound opprobrium which, of course, misrepresents their position. A pacifist is not an ostrich that ignores evil. He examines the evil and inquires as to the best way to deal with it. Following Jesus and the apostle Paul, he answers that the worst possible way of dealing with one evil is to do another evil. When we as a nation threaten other nations we do not make them less aggressive; we merely stimulate them to add to their own armaments. One nation gets a nuclear warhead, not to do anyone harm, of course, but as a precaution against attack. The nation at which the warhead happens to be pointed, however, feels defenseless and thus acquires its own atomic missile, and so it goes. My opposition to our current policy in the Middle East is not unlike that of those in Nazi Germany who, though not pacifists in the strict sense, were unquestionably sincere in their opposition to Hitler and war, perhaps even more consistently so than the authentic pacifists. I do not mean to suggest that the situation in the Middle East is simple, nor do I approve of or condone every act of protest against the war. I am simply arguing that if we are truly fighting for self-determination for the Iraqis, then we have to realize that a Western form of democracy cannot be imposed on them. The Iraqi people must be able to determine their own future, whatever it may be, without inference from foreign troops. Above all, I pray for an end to a cruel and futile war that is morally and politically disastrous. The president refuses to admit any kind of defeat, and if forced into a corner will act like Samson and pull the while building down on his head. What an appalling commentary on our day: less and less security for a higher and higher price – and all for the sake of “democracy.” Tout ceci est assez dangereux! A saner policy, in my view, would be to devote our resources to tracking down the terrorists and sealing our porous borders against terrorist infiltration. And I certainly question the wisdom and propriety of such bellicose utterances as those made by the leading Republican presidential candidates in recent days. It is just another reminder that the kingdom of God is the all important thing, which in spite of every “already” is still “not yet.” A posse ad esse non valet consequentia, and more can and must be said in my book on statism. But perhaps one can now better understand why I find myself at odds so often with the social and cultural values of American evangelicals, not to mention the religious right. (I’m not the only one.) It is not for me to say whether my contribution to this great debate has any value or not. I believe our generation has made a mess of things, and it is for the younger generation to put the bits back together again. If they shirk this task they are not doing their duty.
7:13 AM It’s true: Gibson should have used Greek instead of Latin in The Passion of the Christ.
7:05 AM One reading of the book of Acts and the letters of Paul and one can never revert to a cozy ecclesiastical domesticity. I think this point is nicely expressed in Alan Knox’s post called Won’t Get Fooled Again. Well done, Alan.
Friday, January 18
8:26 PM Tonight, by popular demand, I cooked Chinese food: beef, carrots, and onions over jasmine rice. In addition to my secret ingredient I added a touch of General Tsao's Sauce, compliments of a dear friend. Danke bestens!
Afterwards we listened to E. Power Biggs play the works of J. S. Bach, with the CD turned up as high as we could crank it. The music has a beautifully pure though delicate quality to it -- powerful but very fine. And there is the curious quality of pungency in the contrapuntal pieces, which are rather strange and very pleasing. The constant, regular tempo of Bach delights my Teutonic blood and settles me after a long day of work. I have always appreciated Bach and we performed his pieces quite often on our brass team that toured Germany years ago. Bach war nicht nur ein grosser Kompanist, sondern auch ein überzeugter Christ. Dafür bin ich ja sehr dankbar.
3:23 PM I snapped this photo not 5 minutes ago, a clear reminder of the storm front that is quickly moving in from the west. The cloud pattern here is extraordinarily beautiful, I think. Our fencing project will, I believe, be on hold for a few days, as the forecast is calling for snow and freezing rain for tomorrow.
2:43 PM My little Sheba is one sweet and gentle Shetland sheepdog. She can be very wild and crafty, however, especially when she is outdoors. Just look at her eyes.
I think I might know why. The Orkneys, I am told, are fertile and well-farmed. The Shetlands (see photo) are wild and bare, with long, dark winters. Life there is difficult, and man and beast alike must work hard to survive. I wonder: Does Sheba know this instinctively when she lopes and hunts and chases wildlife here on the farm? She is such a joy and delight to watch, and I only wish I had half her spunk.
2:30 PM Yesterday I listened to a brief interview in Basel German with R. Schmalenbach in which Karl Barth gives a wonderful testimony about the work of God’s grace in his life (look for “Gespräch mit R. Schmalenbach”). I think it is really quite remarkable. Barth is always full of the most extraordinary surprises. This part about “Gnade” is mind-blowing:
How could anyone criticize such sound biblical theology? It would be like a deaf man criticizing the opera.
2:23 PM Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois announces an opening in Theology.
2:12 PM The mysteries of human relationships are impenetrably obscure, but I confess I miss Becky in the worst possible way, realizing just how dependent I am upon her presence in my life. I needn’t tell you that it is a great pleasure to hear so many of you ask about how she is doing. The answer is, thank God, very well indeed, and the same goes for Aberesh who, with every passing day, gets nearer to that moment when she will hold her precious baby in her arms. Thank you once again for your greatly appreciated prayers. In the meantime, Becky will be sending me short reports for the website, brief glimpses, if you will, into life in the big city of Addis Ababa. Her first essay has just been published. It's called Riding a Blue Donkey. Enjoy.
1:48 PM My students often ask me how many languages I speak. I never know how to answer them, except to quip that I have developed the remarkable ability of being silent in several tongues. I have always been handicapped by the abysmal public school system in Hawaii, and by a ridiculous inability to remember things easily. It was owing to a correspondence course in New Testament Greek from the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago that I first discovered an interest in foreign languages, and from that point on I’ve been hooked. My admiration for bi-lingual Americans – those who have actually learned a foreign language and can speak it – knows no bounds. I am able, I suppose, to get by in a handful of Indo-European languages, but I have only taught in English, German, and Spanish, though I should add that I did feel rather overwhelmed when I lectured in Spanish at the Complutensian University in Spain. It is not generally known in the States that Spanish Spanish is different from Latin-American Spanish, and my lecture had to be “translated” before it could be published under the title “Helenismo y Gnosis” (Origenes del Cristianismo [Cordoba: Ediciones El Amendro, 1991]). As you can see, my assigned topic had to do with Gnosticism in the Gospel of John. However, I was moved to tell my audience that there is no Gnosticism in the Gospel of John, only hints of proto-Gnosticism, and that the Gospel itself is probably much earlier than most of the New Testament scholars at the conference thought. The room was densely crowded. I think I never gave a lecture that was so well received. The students loved my speech; the faculty was unsure what to do with it. But I saw no reason for circumlocution. Currently I have on my desk two books I am rereading: Korean Conversation, and Baseldytsch: E Fible fir Nitbasler. I foresee that language learning is a never-ending process that requires great mental acuity, which I think I lack at times. Make that: I know I lack.
1:15 PM Here it is Friday afternoon already. It's been a long time since I've blogged, I'm afraid. Extreme business must serve as an excuse, along with the inclement weather that stranded me in Wake Forest all week. Now, thank goodness, I am back at the farm again, having taught for 5 straight days and having spilled a lot of black ink. To be perfectly honest, this past week has been tiring. What would I ever do without His strength? In everything I do now, in everything that happens to me or through me, I see myself as a very weak but yielded vessel, dependent totally upon His protection and guidance and nourishment. If anyone had told me 10 years ago that I would be writing so much, that I would be living on a working farm, that I would be traveling to Ethiopia twice a year, that I would be hosting retreatants in a new house, I would have said, “You’re out of your mind.” In the old days I was always getting and never giving, and seldom knowing joy. Now I am finding joy in life that I scarcely knew existed. I am looking forward with faith, hope, and patience to the end of J-term Greek next week, and when it comes I trust I shall be able to say that all of my students passed with flying colors. For some strange reason I have felt it all-important to stress to them the fact that none of us is perfect, and that all of us can learn from our mistakes, both grammatical and personal. We must try, however, by the grace of God, to do the best we can with the abilities we have, and we need to pray for one another and help each other make it through the deep waters, not only of the perfect tense, but of life itself. I need to add that these are tough times on campus. An amiable and dear colleague’s newly built house recently burned to the ground, and our former dean, Dr. Bush, is now at his home in hospice care, desperately ill. Both are still tunneling on through the hard rock of life. This is faith – the Christian faith – and it works. May God “fit the back to the burden,” and let us not forget to pray for one another.
Monday, January 14
5:38 AM Being wholly without knowledge or training in English literature, I still love reading Wordsworth. Here's a sampling:
heart leaps up when I behold
This seems to me to be a really beautiful poem -- a real contribution to English poetry. It moved and exhilarated me when I first read it. So pure, so private, so pristine, a good antidote to academic specialization and fragmentation.
5:25 AM This month I am scheduled to give a lecture on the life of Robert E. Lee. I have visited the most important sites in his life, but none more magnificent than his birthplace, Stratford Hall.
The house really is a manifestation of genius. Every detail is a work of art. It is touching to notice the place where young Lee hid when the family was about to move to Alexandria. We had a wonderful tour guide when we visited the Hall, and were shown the house in small doses at a time. In my talk I shall discuss the last years of the general, when he was president of Washington College in Lexington. Surely one of the greatest places in Lee's illustrious career is the Lee Chapel on that campus (now Washington and Lee University). Even the great Traveller is buried there. A good book in this regard is Flood's Lee: The Last Years, which is very interesting and in its own sort of way a classic. Lots of things in it make me rather shudder, but then again I wasn't expecting Lee to say that he much preferred his career as an educator over his career as a military officer. I think it is quite impossible to do justice to the man in a 30-minute speech, but it will be fun to try, and something good may come out of the attempt.
5:13 AM Greek students: The latest issue of Novum Testamentum contains an essay written by Keith Elliott of Leeds and entitled, "In the Beginning: Bibles before the Year 1000: The Freer Biblical Manuscripts: Fresh Studies on an American Treasure Trove: In a Monastery Library: Preserving Codex Sinaiticus and the Greek Written Heritage." Here is Keith during our April, 2007 conference on the ending of Mark at SEBTS. Anything Keith Elliott writes is worth reading, et j'ai lu tous les livres.
5:10 AM In recent weeks I have received what seems to me to be an inordinately large number of requests to review this or that book, website, project, etc. I would eagerly like to cooperate except that my writing schedule does not allow it. The time-table for finishing my books is self-determined, and is a moral obligation. The older I grow, there is no easing of the pressure. Still, I find the grindstone to which I hold my nose is more stimulating than abusive. I suppose I need my writing pad as a fish needs water. I also have a profound love for the outdoors and must needs spend a great deal of time in it as steward of Rosewood Farm. Because of these priorities I have long since given up writing book reviews for publication, and will probably write very little about the Greek language in future years. I believe I have already extracted from Greek what it has to offer me, and given to it what I have to contribute. The reader who sends me something to review must, then, forgive me if I feel I must decline. It is usually not because I am disinterested in what is sent!
5:03 AM Yesterday I led a communion service at our local nursing home, even though I am neither a pastor nor a deacon in our church.
I was assisted by members of our local church, including our deacons. Nathan played the piano while our little choir sang.
If I may say so, I think we have to extend the volunteer principle much farther than we have done in many of our churches. Our present pattern of clergy domination will have to be drastically modified for this to occur. I see no reason why our churches should not have a peripatetic ministry of "lay" people on whom we would rely for visitation and mercy ministries. I think this approach aligns well with the pattern of the New Testament church and is quite suited to our rural congregations. I am sure that a Spirit-filled congregation is the foundation of everything else. This is not to deny the place and function of leaders. But the sad truth is that the "laity" in our rural churches is not being equipped for its real missionary tasks -- including reaching out into our own needy communities. All of this, of course, is part of a much larger struggle to move from church to mission, from a clergy-laity division to genuine brotherhood. High-qualified leadership is essential, but so is the effort to help the membership move from dependence on salaried professionals to a realization that all followers of Jesus are to be His ministers both in the church and in the world. In my work in Ethiopia I agonize over the same problem, for it seems to me that the church there is just as clergy-dependent as our churches here are. I think at one time a visitor to Ethiopia could find the corpus Christianum unspoiled by the acids of modernity. All this has changed. Western influences and models of leadership are now ubiquitous. Just as in our missionary efforts Americans have sometimes adopted wrong methods, methods modeled after the approach of colonialism and not on the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit, so in our churches we need a radical reordering of our methods based on the pattern of the early church, in which even the humblest believer could assist and instruct and encourage and admonish the other. It is really a very pleasant thing to see our little church family so involved in local community ministry -- and nary a soul is paid to do it!
Sunday, January 13
9:28 AM We frequently receive reports from missionary organizations based in the States about the development projects (e.g., well-drilling, AIDS education, etc.) they are doing in this or that country. The Gospel is often conspicuously absent in their reports. How sad. While Becky and I are concerned to do what we can to help the Ethiopians through "development" activities, our fundamental task, from which nothing ought to deflect us, is the preaching of the Gospel and the building up of genuinely free and responsible local congregations under their own leadership and with their own firm rooting in the Gospel. Whatever Becky and I can do to strengthen the fragile infrastructure of a village is only significant as a sign of something else vastly more important. Yes, we plan to dig wells and, yes, we hope to open a health clinic this year, but these ministries of mercy are always a point at which an unbeliever comes into contact with the redemptive work of Christ. We cannot forget that Paul describes Christ as "the Son of God who loved me [yes, He cares about me, body, soul, and spirit, but don't stop there!] and gave Himself for me [because I needed a Savior from sin!]" (Gal. 2:20). Thus the clinic, for example, will have a full-time evangelist present, sharing the love of Jesus every minute the door of the health center is open. Good gracious, have these "missionary" organizations never read Matt. 16:26?
9:20 AM I have been praying constantly for Aberesh this morning. Otherwise my thoughts have been with Becky. I once read an analogy that said: To be a missionary you must be willing to be the salt that dissolves in the meat and dies in it. How true. A genuine missionary can never be a temporary visitor. He is one who gives himself so completely to the church that like salt he is lost in it. Today I think of Becky as that small grain of salt, dissolving in the meat, dying in it, so that new life might occur. And I think to myself: You are truly blessed among men.
6:44 AM The latest addition to our home page is called Oh, the Beauty of Scripture!
6:41 AM I am preparing a brief political talk to give later this month. I am at a loss as to what to say. The whole world is simmering and seething. If we are really afraid of terrorism, we have done everything in our power to create it. There are troubles everywhere -- Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, China, and Pakistan, where we continue to stroke the nose of the alligator. The new American president, whoever he (or she) may be, will have terrible tasks. To my mind no existing group of politicians has the courage to apply to the situation the drastic remedies it requires. The only thing we can do is to elect the government and pray. Of course, in a thousand years all of this will be meaningless. Meanwhile, I long to return to Ethiopia and teach and preach and serve and be with my extended family. There is no doubt about it -- Ethiopia is the loveliest country in the world. I am drunk with its beauty and must swallow great draughts to be satisfied. One says "amazing" or "spectacular" but the words are meaningless. The people are incomparably wonderful.
The political situation, of course, is poor. The Ethiopian army is bogged down in Somalia, and Eritrea threatens to the north. I recall my very first trip to Addis Ababa several years ago. The day I was scheduled to give a lecture at Addis Ababa University a street protest broke out, having to do with the recent elections, and dozens of civilians were shot to death. I could hear the gun fire just outside my compound. Somehow I was able to continue my lectureship at the evangelical college. Nowadays in my seminary classes I lecture to the young men and women under my charge to keep the Gospel first, and I intend to set an example. The passage of time and the mutability of fortunes require it. I am not prepared to give up the good fight politically. But what I fear the most is the decline in spiritual commitment and a lack of love for the lost. God please help me to get, and keep, my priorities right.
Saturday, January 12
7:27 PM Nathan has just left for his house, along with his puppy, and I am about to hit the hay myself. It's been a long but good day. In addition to installing fencing, I managed to wash three loads of clothes, deep clean the kitchen, and cook a meal. I pulled a muscle in my lower back somehow and it is giving me a bit of trouble, but I'm thankful for Doans and Aspercream. I had it in mind to do some serious writing this evening but instead I shall listen to Carlo Curly play the organ and read my French. Bon nuit à tous, and see you tomorrow, on Resurrection Sunday.
5:26 PM We had a very pleasant day working on the fencing in the valley. Here's a stretch we were able to complete today.
This part still remains to be done. The gate (which we will build ourselves) will go between these two large cedars posts.
Meanwhile, the sky is full of enormous dramas of cloud and sunshine. A very extraordinary day -- we worked in 55 degree temperatures in the middle of January.
Alas, it's time to go and cook supper, which, at this hour, means we are very hungry indeed.
2:48 PM A few items of news:
1) As you can well imagine, my thoughts are constantly with Becky. How I love her! I cannot get Aberesh and her baby boy out of my mind, even while working on the fencing today. Thank God He hears our prayers! I am almost desperate for news from Addis.
2) Have been reading a most interesting book lately -- the Bible. For me it's the most important book of our times. It makes other books look pretty thin and insubstantial. I just re-read Romans. What a masterpiece!
3) About our eating situation, I have never been anything so refined as a gourmet, though I am capable of being a glutton, especially when it comes to Becky's home cooking. Her Mexican Burritos or Italian Lasagna or Thai Rice delight the palate to an extreme. My ignorance of cooking has not, however, kept us from feeding our faces here at Bradford Hall, and this weekend we will enjoy not only Chinese cuisine but also spaghetti and any other other surprise I can think of. I've even signed up to cook a meal for a shut-in and his spouse on Monday in Wake Forest, if you can believe that. Hope they survive.
4) I offer a brief comment on the Republican Debate that took place in South Carolina on Thursday. On so many issues I seem to belong to a minority of a minority, whether we are talking about the authorship of Hebrews or the synoptic problem or the value of the Byzantine text type or the place of scholarship in the church (I eschew knowledge for knowledge' sake and find utterly boorish a man who is educated beyond his intelligence and who wears his degrees on his shirtsleeves). As for politics, unlike many of my friends, I am emphatically against the policy of preemptive warfare and nation building, and I am emphatically not a pacifist. I am willing to accept a foreign war if it is the only way of protecting my country, at which point it becomes the lesser evil, though still an evil. I hope, then, that no one will accuse me of anti-patriotism if I hold that the bellicose rhetoric of the kind I heard during the debate is hardly appropriate for a Christian, let alone one who ostensibly professes to adhere to a document that says:
And what did we get? The "war spirit." If you play tough with the U.S. you had better be prepared to see the "gates of hell." (Lots of applause. Americans love tough talk.) "We need to make it crystal clear you can't kick sand in our face." (Cheers. Americans are like little children playing in a sand box.) I can't even bring myself to quote here the utterly ridiculous and gratuitous statement of Thompson about virgins. For someone like myself who is seeking tirelessly to lead Muslims in Africa and Asia to Christ and a future home in heaven, I can tell you that such language is not helpful. Muslims worldwide will find it ever more easy to conclude that the followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, are quite prepared to send them all to hell.
What a world we live in. Sometimes the human race fills me with dismay.
1:22 PM Our ducks just paid us a visit at the Hall. We used to have Tom, Dick, and Mary. Now we only have "Duck" and Mary. They will eat right out of your hand if you let them. Here's hoping for some duckies in the near future.
Friday, January 11
4:58 PM I've just received additional news about the tragic accident that took place in Burji last weekend, killing two individuals. Originally I had thought that the deceased were Christians, but it turns out they were Muslim passengers. I am heart-broken over the news, and would request your fervent prayers to be with the dear families of those who lost their lives. God loves the Muslims of the world, and so do I.
3:14 PM I have been sketching out a series of Bible studies on the book of Philippians, which I hope to present in Asia next month. Its doctrine of Christian suffering has fascinated me for months. It is also a very joyful book. Artistically, it too has a certain attraction, not least because of its magnificent puns and word plays (e.g., katatome versus peritome in 3:2-3). The theme of joy, I note, is subordinated to the letter’s one overriding emphasis upon unity in the cause of the Gospel, a unity that is utterly impossible without “humility of mind,” a deliciously descriptive term though one of great opprobrium in the ancient world. Joy and suffering – inextricably linked! I loath the thought of putting all this down on paper, because I have that found that whenever one seeks to elucidate a particular truth, it often leads to experiencing that truth in the harsh realties of one's own life. I am not particularly eager to endure more suffering, but Phil. 1:29 cannot be avoided if we are truly to follow Him.
2:45 PM You can listen to Basel German spoken here. Below is a sampling of this beautiful language, which I attempted to learn while living in the city on the Rhine.
Below: The magnificent Basel Cathedral, where Erasmus is entombed (among many notables).
2:22 PM My interests in recent years have turned to farm and land management, since we are now settled on 123 acres of Virginia Piedmont. I very much hope that I learn to manage it properly, because all this is God’s creation, and humans have biblical and moral authority to subdue it. I am not saying that nature has the same rights as do humans, though I respect the good will of land conservancies. It is significant that Christianity has never thought of nature as in some way intrinsically divine. But perhaps the pendulum has swung too far to the right, for it seems to me that we need to have a benevolent policy toward nature and preserve what is physical. We can enjoy nature without worshiping it. We are to be stewards, not cruel bosses, and therein I think we have failed to a certain degree. The Greeks had a completely different approach to the matter. They believed that hubris toward nature was as much a sin as hubris toward their fellow man. You may recall that Xerxes was punished, not only for attacking the Greeks, but for having outraged nature in the affair of crossing the Hellespont. Thus I feel it is important to pay close attention to the basic purpose and use of our land, which, like all of the created order, longs for the ultimate redemption (note how Paul personifies the whole of sub-personal creation in Romans 8). For some reason God has installed our family to be the managers of Rosewood, and I would like very much to do a good job of it.
1:52 PM Growing up in Hawaii, this is the precisely the kind of news we were always eager to get during the winter months. 25-footers were not uncommon and brought exquisite joy to anyone who surfed them.
1:48 PM That Ron Paul has been calumniated by countless lesser minds of various calibers causes no surprise. At the same time, some Paulistas have caused controversy with their tactics of yelling at and badgering Paul's opponents. Very unfortunate. Untempered zeal is always a bad mark for a cause.
1:45 PM I greatly admire the depth with which my students have penetrated into the Greek way of thinking as attested by their ability to translate from English into Greek. I vaguely remember being asked to do that once or twice when I was in school, but my pupils have that opportunity on every quiz and exam, always as extra credit of course. I have no doubt that many will end up with a semester average of well over 100. I would also award them an honorary doctorate if I could. I am very grateful to God that my students have had the opportunity to see firsthand that Greek is not an impossible language to master. We have completed one fourth of the race to the finish line, which means that we can now see the tunnel at the end of darkness. Onward and upward!
1:31 PM I have to thank all of you for praying for Becky Lynn during her absence. She has written me a lengthy report of her first 3 days in Addis, and clearly the Lord has been blessing on all levels. She and Aberesh are now firmly settled in their rooms in the capital. It must be a very anxious-making thing to be a woman who has lost several children due to toxemia, but Becky says Aberesh is doing well. Aberesh’s preliminary appointment with the doctor at the Korean Hospital went well. The ultrasound revealed that she is carrying a baby boy (Becky wrote “Yeah!!!!” with 4 exclamation points). Matters of concern: Aberesh’s blood pressure is borderline, and the baby is breach. Aberesh’s due date has been determined to be March 3, but Becky thinks there’s a strong likelihood that the baby will taken early by C-section. Meanwhile, I wish I was there to help. As you can imagine, Becky is indefatigable, but she does grow tired.
So there we are. I will pass on more news as soon as I hear anything.
Thursday, January 10
5:58 AM With my Anabaptist book I hope to be finished in a few weeks. Alas, the material accumulates almost faster than I can turn it into a manuscript. Still, it should be in the hands of the publisher long before summer. I hope it is still possible to give voice to the 16th century dissenters. Our churches today are greatly hobbled by tradition, and a few chapters of the Anabaptist credo may help to drive us back to the New Testament again. I begin to have an uneasy feeling, however, that very few will listen. Once done with that book I shall turn my mind to other projects, not all of a literary nature. I chafe to begin on the remodeling of Nathan's old farm house (photo), but its master is as yet undecided as to the final scheme of expansion and renovation.
It should be a challenging yet enjoyable job, as are all the tasks here on the farm. I once wrote a piece on the glories of agrarianism, of the Amish work ethic, of all things bright and beautiful, of how dreadful our cities have become, and unnatural too. Life in the big cities is always exigent and often unhealthy. Not so for farm life, though it might be a good idea to postpone the remodeling work until spring, assuming the weather will turn cold and wintry again in February, though in these latitudes one never knows what to expect. At any rate, this Saturday we are scheduled to put up the fence wire along the line of cedar posts we set last week. The constant work is good for the soul, and one goes to bed at night feeling tired but happy.
5:45 AM I am very pleased to report that I have been able to perfect my knowledge of French. In other words, I am now quite certain that I do not understand it in the least. I seem to have been born a complete francophonian moron. In any case, for better or worse, I have developed the ability to speak with the fluency of Peter Sellers.
5:37 AM Yesterday I scoured the online international newspapers -- French, German, Spanish, Greek -- to ascertain the world's opinion of the current presidential contenders. It is quite clear that most foreigners feel that America is out for more blood and thunder. What is so torturing is the realization that not even the Democrats are genuinely interested in pursuing a peaceful foreign policy. In the American mirror I see reflected a tottering old fool who treats his heritage as if it were dirt. The political and economic crises must inevitably mount to a climax. There is already imminent danger of a galloping inflation in the U.S., and the dollar can only be saved by obtaining large credits in China. The leading candidates feign disdain for partisan politics; they all firmly believe, and preach, that if government is active we can have prosperity, however battered our economic system. I foresee no exit from our financial worries. The unintellectual people feel that Hillary represents the soul of America. An awful thought strikes me that they may be right. I find the candidates' statements on Iraq absolutely terrible. Can we do nothing to stop this monstrosity? It is a pity that the bellicose display of personalities has become so unpleasantly commonplace, even among the Republicans. The constant pro-empire chatter is enough to make anyone swoon. I confess shamelessly that I hope the bedraggled Republican Party will go down to a resounding defeat to Clinton (or Obama) in November if it nominates McCain. Sadly, it seems that the spirit of Thomas Jefferson is dead in this country. For the moment, however, I will focus on Christ and His commission -- and the more so the darker the scene becomes.
5:22 AM The thing I took away from Ron Paul’s television appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno is that he is sui generis. Nobody will ever take Paul for someone else. He is already president, president of the American intellect. He is not afraid to tell the bitter truth about how a nation went searching for a keg of bootleg and ended up drunk with power, and how an entire citizenry barely noticed. Note how candid and direct he is. Watch how he responds to journalists, how undefensive, unassertive – traits of a man whose standards and beliefs are deeply internalized. When attacked, he answers deftly, with a quip and a smile. He can be very serious and very cheerful at the same time, despite the fact that everything has been done to ignore, defame, and silence the movement he has started. That is because he has long been the nation’s prime foe of everything unconstitutional. His message would do much good if the ears of the people were not stopped with so many “pleasant” messages that crowd out the substance of the matter. It is sad beyond description. If this happens when the tree is still green, what will happen when it dries up (Luke 23:31)? The doctrine of preemption, of unilateral warfare, of the nanny state, has spread to such an extent and is so overlaid with “Gospel” overtones that a man must have immense courage to speak or argue about it. As a medical doctor, Ron Paul knows that one does not treat smallpox by cutting out the individual pustules and sewing up the wounds. One sees in the theology and praxis of the current batch of politicians enormous ingenuity and subtlety in circumventing “sound medical ethics” (i.e., constitutional principles). America is in a mess, and Ron Paul has a firm grip on what ails us. His philosophy of limited government is not exclusively true but, my word, it goes a good way and covers a lot of ground. We have Dr. Paul to thank for leading the charge. The last word goes to Leno’s guest:
Well roared, lion!
Wednesday, January 9
4:48 PM Jesús Peláez, Editor of Filología Neotestamentaria in Córdoba, emails with nuevo that back issues of the journal are rapidly being updated on the internet at this site. I have the strong impression that this updating is no easy task, and so my thanks go out to Mr. Roger Bolly for his labor of love.
4:43 PM Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa Falls, GA, announces an opening in Systematic Theology.
4:40 PM Here’s a good discussion of athletic metaphors in Paul’s writings. I think our national obsession with sports is quite frightful, but maybe some good can come out of it by the analogies athletics provides with the Christian life.
4:34 PM Everyone should study linguistics. Naturally.
4:31 PM The debate over tithing continues. One realizes what a curiously arbitrary set of assumptions people sometimes make when they adopt certain practices in life.
4:25 PM I enjoyed perusing this list of the oldest universities in the world. My alma mater, the University of Basel, dates back to 1460.
2:53 PM For sheer joy of companionship I can think of no better friends in the animal world than Shetland Sheepdogs. They are always gentle, self-sacrificing, and too good, if anything, to their masters. They are like a sunny harbor to me after a long day's work. They are the most companionable of creatures and have given me viele freudige Stunden. Life would be very different without them.
2:12 PM Nice email from a pastor in Texas:
2:07 PM All goes well with us here. I am up to my eyes in work, but I am finding William Petersen’s book 25 Surprising Marriages (e.g., John and Polly Newton, Martin and Katie Luther, C.S. and Joy Lewis) to be a hugely interesting paperback that tackles a monster subject. Reading, one feels like Jonah in the belly of the great fish. A good marriage is usually built up of solidly realistic psychological elements, with a large quantity of grace thrown in. A huge intellect I do not possess, but I think I know enough to realize that an excellent marriage nowadays is something to be profoundly admired.
Meanwhile, life here goes on as we try to manage without Becky Lynn. I have been fêted twice to supper by students of mine while in Wake Forest, to whom I am greatly indebted. I do believe they have taken pity on me, worrying about my eating habits and all. If ever one needed proof that guardian angels existed, this is it. My thanks, then, to the Hollanders and the Carrs, whose splendid meals and fellowship I enjoyed on Monday and Tuesday. What kindness!
I will keep you posted with regard to Becky’s doings in Addis. She has written to say that she is fine but tired after 32 hours of travel, that she is meeting today with Aberesh’s doctor, and that our sons gave her a mammoth greeting at the airport. It will be interesting seeing the outcome of all of this. For my part, one requires steady occupation to preserve one’s mental and physical harmony. Being often on my knees helps.
Monday, January 7
5:20 AM By the time you read this I will likely be heavily engaged in my teaching responsibilities and you will be sitting down at your office or home computer beginning another day of work. Meanwhile the African-American to whom I am married (and she is just that) will be seated acramped a Northwest Airlines flight to Motor City and thence to Schiphol airport, whence she will undertake a long flight to her home away from home. While she is gone I will share her efforts, joys, and sorrows. I believe many of you will do the same through prayer, for which I am very grateful. Before leaving, Becky found the time to write an essay about the precious woman of God whom she will attempt to serve with her medical knowledge and skills. Many have been understandably moved and challenged by Becky's dedication and efforts, but I know she would desire that the praise be passed on to Him whom alone she owes each and every thing. Becky and I are completely overwhelmed when we see the amount of sheer unmerited grace that has ruled in our life and work. We only ask that each of you try to do what the Lord Jesus asks you to do, in your own field of labor, better than we have done, and all to the glory of God. The essay, by the way, is called Aberesh of Alaba, My Sister. Bole Airport in Addis Ababa will be a happy place tomorrow night as several of our Ethiopian sons will greet their Mama B, including David and Nigussie from Alaba (below).
Have a wonderful trip, darling. I shall miss you greatly. I love you.
5:04 AM My dominant ambition as a youth was to be a musician. Between the fifth and twelfth grades I played the trumpet in the school band each year. When as a senior I decided to audition for All-State Orchestra I somehow was anointed first-trumpet, first-chair. To this day I love brass music, especially the canzoni of Gabriele. In 1978 I played the trumpet on a brass octet that toured West Germany for three months. I still cherish memories of that trip. But I play not a lick today. I have been diverted, I suppose, by other interests, and so I no longer puff and perform. It turns out, however, that my musical training has paid off in a quite unexpected way, for I think that my musical ability has lent itself to the acquisition of foreign tongues, or at least it has supplemented my efforts at language learning. Perhaps it has been the same way with you. That the engineers and musicians in my Greek classes do so well comes at no surprise to me, for Greek has architectural precision, and its cadence and intonations are simply breathtaking. If you are blessed with a musical ear or a scientific mind, or both, perhaps you too will discover the usefulness of these God-given talents for reversing Babel in your own experience.
Sunday, January 6
8:16 AM One never knows what the weather will be like when one travels, but tomorrow the forecast calls for sunny weather and temperatures in the mid-70s at the Raleigh-Durham airport and rain and temps in the mid-50s in Detroit, where Becky picks up her flight to Amsterdam and thence into Addis. I am greatly relieved to see that the likelihood of snowstorms in Detroit is nil.
7:34 AM Viewers of Pride and Prejudice will recognize there is something of Mr. Collins about me, in that I am often taken for being an absent-minded obscurantist. Heaven knows that I am no admirer of anti-intellectualism, but I think there may be some truth to the accusation. I am emphatically an unhandy man, but there are a few tasks I can do well around the farm, and in addition I have learned to love seeing things built well, especially houses. Craftsmanship is almost a neglected thing nowadays, and I have become profoundly skeptical of modern architecture. The dullness of domestic house construction leaves a very sour taste in my mouth. Whatever happened to the ambiance of the fabulous hipped roof or the colonial porch, and interiors of incredible shapes and colors? Our generation has reacted against such craftsmanship, and the modern subdivision house is now a vulgar bribe to the child in us that says, "I must own a home!" The result is something quite distinct from the rare and unique houses of the past.
I will not quarrel with those who say the changing times call for changing styles in architecture. My own age (55) is no doubt a contributing factor in my tastes. But I would be grateful if someone would point out to me what it is about contemporary construction that appeals to the aesthete in us, if that is possible. Truth be told, I utterly deplore the degeneration of an ancient and noble craft. The modern house builder appears more and more to me to be nothing less than a hired hand. In comes the cash, up goes the house. Pitiable.
Nathan has been helping a good friend of his restore a beautiful old Victorian lady (photo below) in South Boston, about a half hour from the farm. If you are at all interested in reading about this fabulous project, you can click here. But be forewarned: it is likely to make you an old house lover as well.
7:22 AM Moms and dads, you've simply got to read this remarkable interpretation of the Bible by children. My favorite excerpt:
7:15 AM The life of any man who dissents from the prevailing wisdom is bound to be more or less lonely, but I can imagine how far in outer space Ron Paul must have felt when he made this statement in the New Hampshire debate last night (from the CNN transcript):
Ron Paul is right that the "just war" theory is highly problematic and needs the sharpest demythologizing. For me this has always been the key question:
I say, then, congratulations to Mr. Paul for having the courage to point this out to the American public. The thing, indeed, is obvious. My own notion is that the Middle East problem is essentially unsolvable, like most other great human problems. No wonder the great pox of Mesopotamia seizes us.
Update: Ron Paul is leading in the debate poll.
7:05 AM It goes without saying that Becky and I are delighted to be seeing our good friends at Bethel Hill Baptist Church today. It will be pleasant to share with them our vision for the Burji clinic. The church has already helped the saints in Burji enormously, and their dedication is another fine example of Body Life in action. What workers they are in the Lord's vineyard!
Saturday, January 5
5:18 PM As everyone knows, I have retired from riding but still venerate really competent practitioners of the art. The ultimate challenge in horsemanship is, of course, dressage. My Greek students must feel like I did when I first started dressage lessons -- like a complete novice. Frankly there is no quick or easy way to learn a sport, or a language. It explains why I, for one, have always had to work hard at my languages. Of course, a good rider makes the sport look simple, but only a juvenile would be deceived into thinking that it really is. I believe this is so important to realize at the outset, but I fancy most of my students know this already. The main thing is not to be deceived into thinking that language learning is a Garden of Eden. I have found that whenever the notion of a "Paradise" arises, a "Fall" usually ensues.
2:37 PM I am wholly at one with Chuck Baldwin's basic aversion to the Huckabitis that has spread everywhere in the evangelical world, though there are signs that the flood waters are beginning to assuage. On the other hand, I have found that the best way of countering one's opponents is often to let them be and go on quietly with one's own work. Ron Paul is being challenged by a few of his "counselors" to do the opposite: to "go on the offensive," be "tough," and become more vocal about his opponents' views. I think this is a mistake of enormous gravity for the simple reason that I do not believe it is a very Christian thing to do (there are exceptions, of course). Speak the truth, then let the truth do the work. After all, the Ron Paul Revolution is largely about educating the masses, and educators cannot afford to be impatient.
This we do know: The Republican Party is a constitutional mess, and the noise of cracking timbers is everywhere.
2:31 PM Sometimes the ways of Bible translators are strange. This is very clear to me whenever I read the Greek text of the "Great Commission" in Matt. 28:19-20. When Jesus promised His disciples that He would be with them "all the days" (not "always"!), I suppose He meant what He said. Today in my devotions I was very pleased to see how this was rendered in Louis Segond: "Et voici, je suis avec vous tous les jours." That is very delightful indeed, and makes it troubling to me that simple alternatives in English are simply ignored, i.e., "I am with you each and every day" (cf. the ISV). All the more reason, I suppose, to study and master the Greek of the New Testament.
9:46 AM Becky has just completed writing her latest article on evangelism. It's called Understanding the Great Commission. It makes, I think, a fine complement to our previous essay, How We Do Missions.
8:54 AM It's been a delight to get reconnected with my fellow teachers this past week. Our task as educators, it seems to me, is a fairly simple one: to prepare and hand out the food our students need. Or better, to teach them how to be chefs themselves. And this is exactly what New Testament Greek can do. I see my job as being one of motivating rather than disseminating. And that is the challenge: being a good teacher without being schoolmasterish. What a delightful challenge!
8:50 AM The readings from Bonhoeffer at Theological German continue to bless me. In reading Bonhoeffer I always lose my breath. I simply cannot keep up with him. He causes me the deepest cogitation and reveals how intellectually one-sided I have been during most of my academic career. Bonhoeffer always faces me with a question. How could it be otherwise? That is the mark of a profound writer.
8:42 AM I am blessed beyond my deserts to be associated with the poor and suffering church in Ethiopia, which to me is such a sterling example of the free and unmerited grace of God. We are all very fragile creatures and all our works are finite, but I think God must find special pleasure in the love He receives from the world's most neglected and abandoned. Recently a tragedy occurred in the far south of Ethiopia in an area where Becky and I have long worked and among people we know and love dearly. A church-owned truck had a serious accident, killing two believers and seriously injuring several others. No small concern has arisen in my heart because of it, but I know that here, too, God will provide. The main thing is that we pray for those who are recovering in hospital and for the families of those whose loved ones perished.
Even though Becky and I minister among the saints there, the truth is that we can never forget how much they have unselfishly done for us across the years. Nothing of the love they have shown to us will be forgotten, and we deeply sympathize with their loss. May they know somehow that we are with them in their suffering. We commend them to the special protection and help of God.
(The photo below shows the vehicle involved in the accident. Here the Bethel Hill men were visiting a rural village in Burji last summer when the truck got bogged down in the mud. Per crucem ad lucem!)
8:22 AM The risk from malaria heightens in Africa.
Friday, January 4
3:38 PM There is very little I would like to add to the buzz about the caucuses in Iowa, except to say that I'm afraid the media has called for the coroner's inquest before the patient has died. Ron Paul is up, walking around the room, and singing like a bird in fact. He goes into live-free-or-die New Hampshire with a solid and growing base, while Huckabee has already peaked, even if you think it garrulous of me to say so. As with buying a stock, one looks at the bottom line, not where the stock is selling that day. Meanwhile, here’s the best one-liner I’ve seen about Iowa:
Personally, when I think of Ron Paul my mind goes to Seneca (Medea, 176):
"Fortune is able to take one’s wealth away, but not one’s character." Hang in there, Dr. No.
3:24 PM The big item of blog-worthy news here is that I have just spent two days at the seminary, where I took up my work again with great pleasure after a brief hiatus. I have enjoyed my otium cum dignitate in the backwoods of Virginia quite long enough. Here's hoping for a great Greek class, and it will indeed be that if we climb the Pyramids together, teacher and student alike. I am delighted with the quiz scores today and look forward to even higher ones on Monday. Yes, I am the most incurably optimistic teacher you will ever find, but I think I have grounds for my optimism. Meanwhile let me seize the moment to remind everybody that the vocabulary from our textbook can be accessed in a quick and easy format at StudySEBTS. Enjoy!
Thursday, January 3
5:23 AM A reminder to my Greek students to check this blog occasionally as you never know what inelastic admonitions you'll find here. I hope very much that all of you will find our class very cheering, since Greek really is a very easy language to learn, in spite of us teachers. The big point is, of course, that Greek adds solidity to your understanding of Jesus' words, though it will do nothing for your OQ (obedience quotient) unless you are personally determined to bridge the infamous 18 inches. I shall be in my office most every afternoon doing a bit of writing, and a visit from any of you at any time is always welcome. If I remember rightly, one's first contact with a monster can be somewhat intimidating (the "monster" being the language, not the professor!), but I can assure you that Greek is hardly the Leviathan people claim it is. Not, of course, that we can do without a bit of honest humility when undertaking any new task, but there is absolutory no need to entertain wildly inaccurate views of Greek.
Will the class live up to the demands placed on it or to students' expectation? That is the question.
5:17 AM How delightful it was to lead our Bible study and prayer meeting last night in our pastor's absence. And to think that this time last year I was traipsing about the world. Meanwhile, news from Ethiopia is partly disconcerting, though I cannot mention the details here. The believers there, however, are as tough as nails, so earnest and humble, and whenever I am tempted to think that I undertake tiresome labor for the Lord I remember how easy I have it in comparison. I am glad to report that my wife is feeling a great deal better. Needless to say, when the correct cures are applied, positive results are to be expected. This illustrates in the most striking way the relation between prayer and treatment, between ends envisaged and means employed, but either way God gets the credit. Nevertheless, your prayers for Becky were much appreciated by her husband. I can honestly think of nothing I'd rather have her doing than translating Gal. 6:2 into concrete action. And just think: Deo volente we will be able to travel together to Africa this summer and again in the fall -- what preparations are necessary in the meantime! Before our fall trip I am headed to the state of Tennessee to teach a one-week course in New Testament at a newly-minted Bible institute in Knoxville, and before that I hope to be in both Asia and Europe ministering. This is not, by the way, the same Tennessee institution that once invited me to teach for them and then required me to make a formal application to their faculty, send transcripts and references, and fill out masses of paperwork -- which I believed to be wholly unnecessary and superfluous. As you can imagine, the class never materialized. Time percolates through the coffee-maker of life so rapidly that one has to enjoy the espressos while one can.
Wednesday, January 2
3:16 PM It is only the second day of the New Year and already we have broken a farm record I do believe by digging and setting 40 cedar posts in the frigid soil of the Piedmont of Virginia. When we started this morning the temperature was 30 degrees and snow flurries were falling, but the sun is now shining happily in the winter sky. I am exhausted after what turned out to be an extremely strenuous morning's work, but the library fire has been stoked and all is well. This morning the cold was so piercing one had to keep moving or one literally froze -- a very small price to pay, however, for what was accomplished. "Keine Rosen ohne Dornen." How the inhabitants of Old Dominion managed to support life with only the barest of heating apparati is more than I can imagine.
Tomorrow I return to my happy home away from home and am thankful that I shall not have to drive through snow to get there. I am almost fiendishly excited to be back in the classroom, where I never have to worry about freezing to death.
7:32 AM The latest addition to our home page is Becky Lynn's essay, The Role of Humanitarian Aid in Building the Kingdom: A Study of John 6.
7:26 AM Another slow news day. All my most valuable time is taken up at present in writing and working on the farm, though tomorrow I return to the classroom and, for the umpteenth time, introduce fledging students to the Greek alphabet. I've thrown my left shoe again, and I fear I've damaged my pastern and fetlock, which means I have to be more devoted than I am to following my podiatrist's instructions and work harder at my exercises. I've been thinking of the great contrast between mucking horse manure for hours on end and teaching the second declension, though both activities I find intensely enjoyable. One good thing about J-term is the time it affords for serious writing in the afternoons as well as for working on my francophone studies. I hope the day will come when I shall be French enough to teach in, say, Benin, but I am still far from thinking je sais tout. However, a little French philology has been good for me over the break, and I probably stutter less because of it. I should very much like to crystallize my present level of fluency but I am afraid a lapse into my old ways is inevitable now that school is revving up its engine. I feel equally keen about improving my Dutch, Spanish, and Italian (languages I used in my doctoral dissertation), but I'm not optimistic at my prospects in the near future. The other language I enjoy reading is my Hebrew, though mostly in the New Testament, and despite the fact that I find the grammar, like the writing, backwards. When I was in seminary I found this loathsome language a great nuisance, but one cannot do the work I do without at least a passing knowledge of it and, indeed, I would someday love to co-teach a course in the Septuagint with one of my more Semitic-minded colleagues. We'll see.
Meanwhile, reading the news this morning makes one convinced that liberty has become utterly démodé. Just listen to the presidential candidates tripping over each other to promise that government will do this or government will do that. I intensely sympathize with Ron Paul, whose opposition is completely second-rate. His revolt against intrusive government is an excellent thing, though I fear it may be too little too late, as our nation is still a child in so many ways, which keeps us from fully realizing the whole tragedy. O well. Es fällt keine Eiche von einem Streiche!
Tuesday, January 1
4:29 PM Please be informed that we are having difficulty with our (seminary) email account. Sent emails have been delayed, and I imagine some incoming emails have not been received. The offices will reopen tomorrow and I hope things will be operating smoothly again then.
10:25 AM More and more academics are joining the Revolution. (NB: Read especially Brian Weber's comments. He hits it out of the ballpark.)
9:58 AM After three days of cloud and rain, the weather has turned deliciously fine: baking sun and windy. Nathan and I have a full day of farm labor planned, so there is never a question of how one should spend the tedious hours when inspiration (or opportunity) to write flags. I see Ron Paul has made national headlines again, this time for something he said about Lincoln. Paul is gaining quite a reputation as a prodigious debunker, but at the same time he is (unlike most debunkers) a realist who knows his facts. I also see that some of his friends are trying to "coach" him in how he should answer questions from the media -- the worst thing, in my opinion, you can do with a man like Ron Paul, who is plain and homespun. One feels that homo sapiens might have something better to do. Leave him alone, I say. There is no denying Paul's obvious Americanism, his good spirits, his good will, his common sense, his selflessness, and his naturalness.
In contrast, the whole nation at present seems given over to idolatry: state-worship, nation-worship, man-worship, pleasure-worship. It's all the fruit of political and personal megalomania. No wonder the apostle John ended his first epistle with a warning to stay away from idols. As I meditated upon Acts 1:8 this morning I realized again: Je me dois à tout les hommes. I should like to be able to do anything in my power to help them, especially the most needy. I'm very glad the younger generation of evangelicals is waking up to the priority of love and good deeds over degrees and reputations. Acts 1:8 is an excellent summary and analysis of Jesus' teaching. (1) Missions is for all of us. (2) Missions is utterly impossible without the Holy Spirit's power. (3) Missions is everywhere: locally, regionally, globally, even cross-culturally. Thus Becky is not going on a mission trip next Monday; she is a missionary 24/7. (And never a more dedicated missionary will you meet. Well did Shakespeare write in 1609: "And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare, As any she belied with false compared.") She and I will be inordinately busy this year, but no priority will be greater or demand and receive more of our time and effort than trying to be, however inadequately, the hands and feet of Jesus in this suffering world, the superficial undulations of life notwithstanding.
Meanwhile, I wish all of you a very Happy "Newness" Year (Rom. 6:4)!