Archive for January, 2008

Diagnosing the Church

One thing is clear to many people in Christendom today.  The Church is very, very sick.  Writers as diverse Ian Murray (Presbyterian), Doug Wilson (CREC), Darrel Hart (OPC), David Wells (Calvinistic Congregationalist), John MacArthur, Jr. (Baptist Fundamentalist), and Simon Chan (Assemblies of God) have all written about the spiritual illness which has taken American Christianity into its grip.  Some argue that the need is a return to Reformed confessionalism, others say the need is for expository preaching, others a recovery of liturgy, and others would say the basic need is more pastoral discernment.  Probably there is some truth in all of these suggestions.   (more…)


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Paenitentiam Agite

[This is an old post from my own website, but since I never got any comments on it there, I thought it might be a good introductory post for me here. Please, consider this an exercise in amateur theology; I am not a theologian by training, and will be perfectly happy to heed any corrections or qualifications given by those who are.]

Protestants have long been irked by a critical fact that Martin Luther noticed early in his reform work regarding the accuracy of the Vulgate. Luther, using the newly-produced critical Greek New Testament of Erasmus, noticed that at Matthew 3:1 and 4:17 the Vulgate translates the Greek term metanoia (to turn around) with the Latin term paenitentiam agite (”do penance”). This, said Luther, was a dire mistranslation, since the Greek text cannot be made to support the complicated penitential theology of the later Middle Ages. Ever since, the argument has become a major plank in Protestant polemics alleging Rome’s “dislike of plain biblical truths” and reliance instead upon “traditions of men.”Now I do not propose to defend the Catholic theology of penance in this post. However, I would like to bring out a possibility that occurred to me this past week in, ironically enough, the context of some Latin tutoring that I do. One of my students was translating a speech by Pope John XXIII at the funeral of Pope Pius XII (1958). In this speech John XXIII, expounding on the “double reason” why his papal name was “John”, said the following:

“Joannes Baptista precursor Domini: qui non erat certe ille lux, sed testimonium erat de lumine: et vere fuit testimonium invictum veritatis, justitiae, libertatis, in praedicatione, in baptismo paenitentiae, in profuso sanguine.”

That is:

“John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Lord: he was not truly that light, but was a testimony of that light: and truly he was an unconquerable testimony of truth, justice, and liberty in public proclamation, in the baptism of penance, in blood poured forth.”

Note the text I have bold-faced: in baptismo paenitentiae, or, “in the baptism of penance.” Now of course, non-Latin based translations of Matthew 3:1 and 4:17 read “baptism of repentance”, not “baptism of penance.” But, given that Catholic theology doesn’t as tightly distinguish “faith” and “works” as does Protestant theology, I can’t help but wonder if this is a reason why Jerome chose paenitentiam agite for the Greek term metanoia.


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In his work The Anxious Bench, John W. Nevin combats the revivalistic conception of conversion and religious growth which he saw as represented by the “Anxious Bench.” The Anxious Bench was basically an altar call on steroids which was made popular especially by itinerant evangelists like Charles Finney during a period in the nineteenth century commonly referred to in American Religious history as the Second Great Awakening.  Nevin viewed the Bench as the symbol (or even the sacrament, though he does not put it this way) of an entire revivalistic religious system which is prone to fragmentation.  Nevin set over against this “system of the Bench” what he refers to as the “system of the Catechism.” By this Nevin does not mean simply the catechism as a set of questions and answers to be memorized, but the entire theory of Christian conversion and religious growth that the catechism represents, that is, the churchly, sacramental, organic conception of Christian faith and life.  As Nevin articulates it, the system of the catechism is nothing other than the original Reformed and Lutheran understanding on how disciples of Christ are made and how Christian growth is brought about. (more…)

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Life has been pretty hectic lately, and I haven’t had time to participate in the discussions yet, but I want to publicly express my appreciation for the spirit and quality of the posting here at EC.

Now as to the subject of this, my first post, I’d like to pose a question to the contributors: What do you all think of shared eucharistic fellowship between churches of different traditions?

This question lays heavily on my heart as I observe the divided state of Christendom. It seems to me that gathered around the Lord’s Table is the best place for Christians who differ among themselves to find agreement.


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As I read blogs like this one and others, and as I grow in appreciation of other traditions, the one thing I keep having to stress, sometimes to my dismay, is that an interest in unity is not the same thing as a denial of particularity or genuine truth convictions. An interest in ecumenism is not the same thing as simply being nice.

I like to read things from other traditions because of what they can teach me. I like to see what they get right, and I like to see what they get wrong. I do not value Irenaeus simply because he is Irenaeus (though he is certainly worthy of my respect) but rather I value Irenaeus for what he sees in the Bible that I may not see. I value him for what he gets right. (more…)

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Fun With Multimedia #3

I finished a marathon three-day teaching round yesterday. I recorded the lectures and will post some of them unless they turn out to be unmitigated disasters. Anyway, this clip was designed to provoke all the controversial questions about baptism and get them front-loaded in the student’s mind so that their interaction with the material would be enriched.

Baptism: Its Meaning, Effects, and Popular Misconceptions

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? tells the story of a trio of escaped convicts. Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), known as Everett, Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro) and Delmar O’Donnel (Tim Blake Nelson) escape from a chain gang and set out to retrieve the $1.2 million in treasure that Everett stole and buried before his incarceration. The story is based loosely on that of Homer’s Odyssey.

As this scene opens, the trio has just had a narrow escape from, as Everett terms it, “a tight spot.” After escaping from their chain gang they had spend the night in a barn owned by Pete’s cousin Wash, but are woken by the police. It is revealed that Wash has turned them in for their bounty. The police set fire to the barn, but Wash’s son rescues them. The group sets out for the treasure again, only to have their car (stolen from Wash) break down. As they are making plans for alternative transportation they encounter the congregation descending to the river to be baptized. (more…)

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Eucharist: Ratatouille & Anamnesis

Ratatouille tells the story of Rémy, a rat who lives in the attic of a French country home with his brother and his father as part of a rat colony. Inspired by France’s recently deceased top chef, Auguste Gusteau, Rémy does his best to live the life of a gourmet. Not appreciating his talents, his clan puts him to work sniffing for rat poison in their food. (more…)

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