Saturday, March 30, 2013

2 On the Reading of Old Books

C. S. Lewis has a wonderful piece written as an introduction to a translation of Athanasius's "On the Incarnation" that is often referred to as "On the Reading of Old Books".  In it, he argues for the importance of listening to the voices of the past that have made their way to us via the medium of print if we are to have anything approaching a sound perspective on the present.  His point of view needs to be trumpeted again to today's young (and old) adults, for - as I noted in my last post - I think we are living in an era in which the voices of the past are almost drowned out beyond hope of hearing by the cacophany of the voices of the present (many of which have a particular distaste for the same voices of the past).

When we fail to seek a solid acquaintance with these voices of the past, Lewis argues, we stand the risk of being unable to understand ourselves well - and to see weaknesses in our thinking or in our society.  I think he's exactly right... and the trend I see today regarding the willingness to consider points of view that are separated from us by distances measured in time rather than space is not a positive one for our society.  If we live insulated from those voices, we are prone to greater and greater degrees of blindness about our ways of thinking about each other, about God and about the world.  We become more and more easily convinced that we have risen to the pinnacle of understanding, and that our worldview lacks any shortcomings or flaws.    We think so highly of ourselves as to regard anything coming down to us from prior generations as useless or irrelevant - because we have progressed so far, and because "life just looks different today".  We become completely unable to hear anything that doesn't fit our own preconceived notions of what is right, just and important.

Every year I have students in class who struggle with the idea of reading anything older than they are.  This is by no means the NORM among my students, but enough of them have a readily observable disdain for reading works that are very old at all, and argue that, because those books are old, the authors really can't have much to say to them and certainly have no good ideas that can practically be applied to their lives.    These same students often raise the concern in the other direction - that they "just can't relate to the author's point of view".   This latter concept is intimately connected to the former, but I find myself much more sympathetic to it - because I do believe it's probably quite true, given the diet of post-modernity that the students have likely consumed for most of their lives, and at least some of the responsibility for that lies in people other than the students themselves.

That said, it can be a struggle to open the eyes of those who are (in varying degrees) willingly keeping them shut.  But, as Lewis writes in his essay, this is the job of the teacher... if only most teachers today understood this to be their job, and weren't hampered by ridiculous 'outcome-based' educational standards that scuttle every effort to truly educate the student.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

0 On The Tyranny of Novelty

One of our society's biggest weaknesses today (though it is by no means unique to today) is the almost wholesale rejection of "old ideas" and "tradition" in favor of the novel and "current".    It is as though people of the past have nothing valuable to say to those living today... because of the separation in time, their ideas are, in today's view, irrelevant, and have little or no value in interpreting events or ideas of today.  This kind of short-sighted thinking has grave repercussions as we consider politics, religious practice, education and life in community with others...  and I fear some of these repercussions are rearing their heads today as I look around at each of these three areas of concern.

As I revive this blog, I'm going to be taking a look at these issues - I am struck by the rapidity with which some of these areas are devolving, and as I have started to delve into related issues, I am amazed at how each one seems to point to the fact that we, as a society (both in this country and around the world) are doing everything (it seems) that is possible to cut ourselves loose from the moorings of the past, and head off (rudderless, imho) into the future "free"... and my firm opinion is that such is hardly "freedom", but is instead bondage of the worst kind.

Monday, February 18, 2013

0 Celebrating Liberty on this President's Day

On this Presidents' Day (it's a pity that what once was two days recognizing two American Presidents for their unique contributions to our nation's history is now watered down - together as a mash-up with all the abysmal presidents we've had - into a single day) it is helpful, I think, to celebrate the ideas of liberty that our founders and this nation once held dear.   To wit, I've included a couple of quotes here from important thinkers in political economy... for your rumination and mine.

"Those that cling to the oligarchy's structure are in fact being duped — their sustenance is extracted from those that the oligarchy has bound. When that tribute stops, the dependents will either take responsibility for themselves or perish."

"Only a large-scale popular movement toward decentralization and self-help can arrest the present tendency toward statism... A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and schoolteachers."

"The immense power centralized into the oligarchy's hands has never been greater — entire nations can be laid waste in an instant, and it can only be assumed that we the people are merely living but at their pleasure and profit. The real question is why do we put up with it? Why do not the slaves who are the majority revolt?"

"I freed thousands of slaves. I could have freed thousands more if they had known they were slaves."

"For the true lover of Liberty, it must seem insurmountable these days to actually live free while the ever-expanding police state continues its perpetual push into every corner of our lives. Can any other conclusion be reached than the state and its ever-increasing legions of bureaucrats (who are now paid more than those working in the private sector) have every intent to place themselves between every human transaction of every kind? Can it be denied that every sale, every transfer of property, every shipment, every receipt, every message is to be tracked, logged, and taxed by government agencies? And isn't it considered criminal to avoid such interference?"

"After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd."

Alexis de Tocqueville

"It [the State] has taken on a vast mass of new duties and responsibilities; it has spread out its powers until they penetrate to every act of the citizen, however secret; it has begun to throw around its operations the high dignity and impeccability of a State religion; its agents become a separate and superior caste, with authority to bind and loose, and their thumbs in every pot. But it still remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men."

0 Yes, now I mean it... we're back online

After another hiatus... well, I'm on sabbatical from my teaching, so one would have thought this an excellent year to revive the blog.

One would, but until now I haven't thought of it...  we're back online (and I mean it this time) :)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

0 Solomon's Wisdom Applied to Recent Events

Prov.26:17 He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears.  
Prov.24:21-22 My son, fear the LORD and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise, for disaster will arise suddenly from them, and who knows the ruin that will come from them both?

There's a reason Solomon is regarded as the wisest man that lived... these verses were quoted by a friend of mine in response to the question "What are we to make of the situations in Cairo and Benghazi?"  The lesson (that I fear nobody, left or right of the Congressional aisle, save perhaps a very tiny minority who side - as I do - with Ron Paul and George Washington on Foreign Policy) is that trouble follows when stupid decisions are made like meddling in other people's conflicts.  One only need to have examined

1) The US debacle in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia
2) The Soviet debacle in Afghanistan
3) The US debacle in Iraq and now, continuing, in Afghanistan

to have predicted recent events in Libya, Egypt, and the to predict another debacle to come in Syria and, God help us, Iran.  

I don't often go into the political arena on my blog, but these recent events are too big to avoid talking about to some degree - especially as people everywhere seem so mystified about what has happened.  We have taken to messing with foreign governments and the internal affairs of sovereign nations far too much of late - and we are paying for it with the lives of individuals like Ambassador Stevens and his fellow fallen foreign service workers... not to mention countless American military personnel who are dying to support our meddling ways.  

We have managed in the Middle East to do little more than replace one set of hostile leaders with another... and our doing so has clearly raised the ire of some (naturally!) and what comes as a natural consequence is trouble for everyone.  I cannot believe, really, that anyone is actually surprised by what has come about in the past weeks, given what is going on in each of Egypt, Libya and Syria.  

Solomon lays out the message plainly... don't insinuate yourself into other people's strife.  This principle is wise for individuals and nations alike - but we are too busy trying to work our will in the world to take notice of what ought to be common sense.  We are reaping the harvest of too much poking of our nose into others' business, and, sadly, many Americans have lost and will continue to lose life and limb because of our arrogant delusions of grandeur.  But - as Solomon also said - there is nothing new under the sun.  All this has happened before, and will continue to happen, til the Lord should return.  I pray, though, that somewhere along the line we learn our lesson as a nation and stop trying to have our way in nation-building elsewhere.  

I could go on - but I won't.  I am sickened by what is being ignored by the media in all of this - the very governments we have supported, are giving foreign aid to, and continue to side with, are at best turning a blind eye to, and at worst (and closer to reality) participating in reprehensible persecutions of Christians and other unwanted groups in their nations.  The Coptic Christians in Egypt are the chief example, though those in Syria are equally under fire.  We sit idly by, though, pretending that the people we are supporting are 'peace-loving' and worthy of our support.  Our government issues official apologies for hurting people's feelings (well, WE didn't hurt people's feelings, but some dingbat movie maker did), while at the same time those people we are apologizing to are guilty of horrible crimes against whole communities because of religious differences.   

This makes sense how?

0 The Heidelblog is back!

Just wanted to report briefly a good piece of news (as contrasted with the bad news coming down everywhere in the news): R. Scott Clark has resurrected the Heidelblog... so you can be sure to find more good reading in the days to come at

Friday, September 07, 2012

0 Clowns in the pulpit

Found this sobering assessment of much of today's preaching, and I had to repost it... I doubt most of those who joke about in the pulpit really think very deeply about what their insertion of funny anecdotes and laugh-seeking one-liners communicates about what they view as their role, but the author of this article is right on... It communicates a light esteem with which God is regarded, and the frivolous irrelevance that the preaching task represents.  The preacher CANNOT involve himself is seeking the amusement of his hearers as a running thread in his preaching, or the hearers are in danger of adopting that which is communicated by such preaching. read this excellent piece by Jeremy Walker at Ref21.

Monday, June 25, 2012

1 Tweaking New Layout

In case it isn't obvious (it is) I'm moving over to a cleaner layout for In Principio...Deus.   I'm sure tweaks will continue over the next few days, so beware of sawdust and loose nails lying around under this period of construction....

Thursday, June 21, 2012

0 Don't overlook God's Blessings in "the ordinary things"

A quick glance outside the office window here at my sabbatical location (PNNL, in Richland, WA) gives me a view of Rattlesnake Mountain, a long, ridge-like mountain about 20 miles from the lab.  It's a pleasantly clear day, with a few wispy clouds above and the pale blue skies characteristic of this semi-arid desert in the south-central portion of Washington state.

I'm plunking away at my keyboard, working on some simulation code for a new analysis a student of mine and I are undertaking... and... well, it's just an ordinary day, for which I am thankful.   It's not a particularly GREAT day, nor is it particularly NOT great.. just a normal day.

Thing is, though, this is exactly the kind of day that God deserves our honor, praise, and gratitude for.  If you listen closely, though, to some of the undercurrents in modern evangelicalism today, you can get the impression that unless the extraordinary is occurring in your life, you're missing out somehow on some blessings that God would like to give you, but isn't because you're not looking for them.   (in fact, if you listen to a particularly appalling contemporary praise song, you're supposed to stand up before God and tell Him that you're not satisfied with the ordinary!)

Where did that idea come from?  It seems completely foreign to the Scriptures, and is a very dangerous idea that can bring great disappointment and disillusionment to a Christian who is simply trying to get by in a world that is increasingly challenging to contend with.   When one who has been taught that God would like to bless him with extraordinary and special blessings fails to see such extraordinary things come to pass, what can he do but start to wonder whether God is real at all?

We need in the church to recover a doctrine of the blessings of everyday life and the great love that God has for His people in simply giving them their daily breath and bread.

See the following link for a helpful piece (audio and transcript) on ordinariness (in everyday life, but more particularly in regard to who Christians are as "ordinary" people) from pastor and author David P. Murray:

Monday, June 11, 2012

1 Bless the Lord, O My Soul

Psalm 103 is in today's reading, for those who are following the M'Cheyne calendar - and it was among those referenced in several places in yesterday's sermon from Pastor Craig Davis at Grace United Reformed Church, where we worshipped, and where likely we will put down church-roots during our sabbatical year here in the Tri Cities.  Here are a few thoughts that came to mind this morning as I read this Psalm at daybreak.

What words of comfort are given by the Lord through David's pen in this Psalm - words of Gospel.  David, a man of trials and temptations, struggles with fear and frequently-encroaching enemies, opens the Psalm with the words in this post title - "Bless the Lord, O My Soul".  Words of self-encouragement to recall to mind the works of God and his promises, amidst the challenges of life... to himself David writes the exhortation - "Bless the Lord" (Ps. 103:1).  We, the church, sing these words of life too - and in our day even though Saul isn't at our gates in his person, trying to rid the world of his challenger, we need the reminder sometimes to set aside the concerns and worries, and recall to mind the Lord's works, and sing his praise.

"Forget  not all his benefits" (Ps. 103:2) - why is this said?  At least part of the reason seems quite evident to we walk our daily walk, it's not difficult to forget the Lord's blessings.  It's not hard to lose sight of the glories of the Lord when the day-to-day challenges of life encroach upon us and threaten our well-being.

"The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed." (Ps. 103:6)  Easy to forget this in the face of derision and charges of bigotry by those who abhor the Christian faith... and with what little of that that I experience daily, it is nothing to compare to our brothers and sisters in Asia and Africa who die for their faith.  Yet even with that.... we are reminded that the Lord in fact DOES do righteousness and vindicate his name and that of his people.

"For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us." (Ps. 103:11-12)  These words are familiar.... but their familiarity can sometimes breed a forgetfulness as to their glorious reality.  The sins we commit and the sin we have at the core of our being - and we must have both of these in view to understand the magnitude and extent of God's mercy toward his people - these are separated... cast away.... and fully dealt with at the Cross, such that they are out of God's sight and justly punished in the person of his Son.

"He knoweth our frame" (Ps. 103:14) - His mercy toward us is completely consistent with who we are - frail and unable to come to him upon our own merits or by our own abilities.  God's means of marrying mercy and judgment together is perfect.  We are perfect in Christ, sinless in righteousness that is imputed - it is the only way that both respects judgment against sin and mercy toward us, for, as the Psalmist here says next, "we are dust." (Ps. 103:14)

"But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children; to such as keep his covenant and to those who remember his commandments to do them."  (Ps. 103:17-18)  Again, reminders of God's mercy to those whom he has called, and whose hearts he has transformed so as to seek him and call upon his name in holy fear.  Lest we hear these words (and they can certainly be said in an inappropriate way) as disqualifying us all because of our lack of perfect obedience.... we cannot rip these verses out of context and separate them from verse 10 - wherein David reminds us that "He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." (Ps. 103:10)

After these words of praise, the Psalm comes to a close, with the same refrain... and a universal call to bless the Lord in all places:  "Bless the Lord, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the Lord, O my soul."  (Ps. 103:22)  The Lord is king - He is sovereign over all and is rightly worshiped by his whole creation... and our worship of the Lord is magnified in scope, as we not only offer him worship that is his rightful due as sovereign ruler over the universe, but we offer him worship as the one who both forgives our sins, and provided the perfect remedy for our sins such that his righteousness and justice are fully satisfied.  Praise God for who he is and for what he has done... and our praises will never end.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

1 Time to Resume...

When the pace of life changes, sometimes it's good to restart things that have fallen by the wayside...

For the next year, my family and I will be in Richland, WA, where I am doing a year-long sabbatical leave as a research fellow at Pacific Northwest National Laboratories.  For many reasons this is a real Godsend for our family - we're in my wife Heather's home town, 3/4 of a mile from her parents' house, and 6 hours from my parents' home.   

At any rate, with the change of pace, In Principio Deus will finally be, DV, resumed as a regular blog... over the course of the last two years when many other things took precedence, it's essentially been dormant (as any of you readers who may still have hung on for this period, and not abandoned ship, know).  

Until later,


Saturday, October 22, 2011

2 The Powerful Word of God: Hebrews

Just a quick post... I'm teaching on Hebrews 10 tomorrow in our adult Sunday school class, and was reminded of a powerful reading of the text by Ryan Ferguson that I once recommended years ago:

Last week, I also found another video of the full book of Hebrews, also recited from memory:

Hebrews Recited from Covenant Fellowship Church on Vimeo.

Enjoy them - meditate upon the glorious truth of the Gospel as these men recite the Word of God for the blessing of the church.

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