Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
EDIT: Thought about it a bit more and decided you can't very well fall and then hasten, so I swapped the last verse about.
O come, loud anthems let us sing,
loud thanks to our Almighty King,
for we our voices high should raise
when our salvation's Rock we praise;
for God, the Lord, enthroned in state
is with unrivalled glory great:
a King, superior far to all
whom gods the heathen falsely call.The depths of earth are in his hand,
her secret wealth at his command;
the strength of hills that reach the skies
subjected to his empire lies;
the rolling ocean's vast abyss
by the same sovereign right is his;
'tis moved by his Almighty hand,
that formed and fixed the solid land.Into his presence let us haste,
to thank him for his favours past:
to him address, in joyful songs,
the praise that to his name belongs.
O let us to his courts repair,
and bow with adoration there;
down on our knees devoutly all
before the Lord our Maker fall.Tate & Brady
Friday, September 26, 2008
[The NSS] asserts that supernaturalism is based upon ignorance and assails it as the historic enemy of progress. (Source)(I might add that the NSS website has a page encouraging people to 'de-baptise' themselves.) Anyway, cue much back-pedalling, and maniacal laughter from where I was sitting as Sanderson tried to justify the ways of atheism to man.The next witness was Steve Chalke, who basically claimed to have absolutely no interest in seeing other people become Christians. I'd like to say I was disappointed, but to be honest, I half-expected him to say something dopey like that. Why the MM team invite Chalke is beyond me: the guy may be nice, and media-savvy, and all that kind of thing, but he's not exactly a deep thinker.And briefly to close: Melanie Phillips rather needs to be disabused of the notion that we are a 'Christian country', while retaining her historically accurate perception that the Christian influence on this country was responsible for our liberal British values; I think I'd have preferred to have heard someone who takes a more thought-through and classically Protestant view of the church and state relations; and I think I'd have preferred to have had Claire Fox, with whom I would probably have disagreed violently, on the panel rather than Kenan Malik, who I thought didn't add terribly much value.In all, probably 3 out of 5. Not brilliant, but some points of interest.
We know that the loadstone has a wonderful power of attracting iron. When I first saw it I was thunderstruck, for I saw an iron ring attracted and suspended by the stone; and then, as if it had communicated its own property to the iron it attracted, and had made it a substance like itself, this ring was put near another, and lifted it up; and as the first ring clung to the magnet, so did the second ring to the first. A third and a fourth were similarly added, so that there hung from the stone a kind of chain of rings, with their hoops connected, not interlinking, but attached together by their outer surface. Who would not be amazed at this virtue of the stone, subsisting as it does not only in itself, but transmitted through so many suspended rings, and binding them together by invisible links?Yet far more astonishing is what I heard about this stone from my brother in the episcopate, Severus bishop of Milevis. He told me that Bathanarius, once count of Africa, when the bishop was dining with him, produced a magnet, and held it under a silver plate on which he placed a bit of iron; then as he moved his hand with the magnet underneath the plate, the iron upon the plate moved about accordingly. The intervening silver was not affected at all, but precisely as the magnet was moved backwards and forwards below it, no matter how quickly, so was the iron attracted above. I have related what I myself have witnessed; I have related what I was told by one whom I trust as I trust my own eyes.Let me further say what I have read about this magnet. When a diamond is laid near it, it does not lift iron; or if it has already lifted it, as soon as the diamond approaches, it drops it [this seems unlikely — Ed.]. These stones come from India. But if we cease to admire them because they are now familiar, how much less must they admire them who procure them very easily and send them to us? (City of God, XXI.4)The rest of the chapter, and its successor, contain some more phenomena, some of which are clearly myth, but others are known even to secondary school students. If you enjoy a puzzle, and have a decent science education, it's an amusing exercise to classify and identify them.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
The establishment of the rainbow as a covenant sign of the promise that there should be no flood again, presupposes that it appeared then for the first time in the vault and clouds of heaven. From this it may be inferred, not that it did not rain before the flood, which could hardly be reconciled with Gen. 2:5, but that the atmosphere was differently constituted; a supposition in perfect harmony with the facts of natural history, which point to differences in the climate of the earth's surface before and after the flood.Clearly, there are some topics on which Delitzsch was a simple idiot. He was living in the nineteenth century, for Pete's sake, and he didn't understand how rainbows form. I've known the answer to this old chestnut since childhood; I think I might have run across a strict literalist who took this position, and realised immediately its weakness. On the other hand, to be fair to the chief proponents of literalism, AiG list this rainbow-myth as a factoid to be denied. They cite favourably exactly the same source I would cite, and I would add, lisez Chauvin, c'est notre maitre a tous.
From these words certain eminent theologians have been induced to deny that there was any rainbow before the deluge: which is frivolous. For the words of Moses do not signify, that a bow was then formed which did not previously exist; but that a mark was engraven upon it, which should give a sign of the divine favor towards men. …Hence it is not for us to contend with philosophers respecting the rainbow; for although its colors are the effect of natural causes, yet they act profanely who attempt to deprive God of the right and authority which he has over his creatures.Sometimes, it's quite sweet to read pre-17th century sources for their scientific innocence—there's a delightful passage of Augustine in which he describes, without a shade of understanding, magnetism—and then there are times when it's really quite refreshing to see how much they actually knew.
Some went down to the sea in ships,I have a faint memory of being pointed towards this before—the bit about reeling and staggering like drunken men is ringing bells—so perhaps this has been pointed out to me in a sermon before, and I've just forgotten. But I'm unlikely to forget it now!
doing business on the great waters;
they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits' end.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The Archbishop of York has called share traders who cashed in on falling prices "bank robbers and asset strippers". (article)If you're a minister of the church, you might prefer to leave economic illiteracy to ministers of state who are, after all, the experts.Short-selling is not a problem "because it drives share prices down". Ordinary selling does that, too. All short-selling does is allow market participants to benefit from a drop in the share price, thereby revealing disparities between the market price and the 'real' price (whatever that means) more quickly. Moreover, short selling increases liquidity in the markets, keeps the wheels of ordinary trading rolling and allows people to take moderately complicated trading positions. The classic example is the pairs trade, where a trader shorts one company and goes long on the other, hoping that the long company will out-perform the short one.Now, there is a danger with short-selling, as anyone paying attention to the news earlier this year will appreciate: fear, uncertainty and doubt are an unholy trinity which can easily send share prices reeling for no apparent reason. Therefore, short-sellers, who have a material interest in seeing a particular share's price plummet, have an incentive to spread malicious rumours in an attempt to cause that very event to occur. However, this isn't a fault of the mis-understood and much-maligned short-selling process, any more than the occasions when people pump up a share price with mis-information are a fault of the long-buying process.So let's have a little sympathy for the shorters, shall we? They could lose potentially unlimited amounts of money, they're badly mis-understood, and they're being picked on by people who should know better. And also the Archbishop of York.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
My basic view of human nature is that people are born with goodness in them. Of course, people can be selfish, cruel or violent, but I believe no-one starts that way. Most people, most of the time, will do the right thing: not just for themselves, but for their family, their neighbours, their community. They need to be trusted to make those choices. (Source, with edits.)This will be a major shock to regular readers, so I'll break it to you carefully: I don't agree, at least not entirely. We aren't born with goodness in us, and we start with much more than the mere capacity for selfishness, cruelty and violence inside us. Chesterton is credited with observing that original sin is perhaps the only Christian doctrine which can be proved empirically, and we do well to heed the warning.So why am I a liberal, if people are nasty, brutish and short(-tempered)? It's actually quite simple, and having cited Chesterton, it seems only just to cite Lewis, who said that he rejected slavery because while it may not be the case that no men are fit to be slaves, it is certainly the case that no men are fit to be masters.Now, thus far I can go with Clegg: people generally don't behave in a completely misanthropic manner at the level of family and community; however, I would say this is because it's not in their own best interest to do so. Furthermore, we all know that even at this level, things can so easily go wrong. So I'm not a liberal because I think that everyone will just rub along and do the right thing if allowed to. It's demonstrably not true, and anyway, even if it were, I'd be a totalitarian: life would be so much easier if we had exactly one person who was "allowed to", a benevolent dictator telling us all when to jump, and how high.No, I'm a liberal because I trust no-one—not even myself—enough to give them that kind of authority and, if you will excuse the lapse into maths-speak, I see the function as monotonic: the more power you have, the less I should trust you. So let's hear it for freedom, both the freedom to allocate your money as you wish, and the freedom to spend your time in the manner of your choosing!
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Friday, September 19, 2008
"Oh," says the lady on the other end, "that must mean you can't have many dealing with us."
"Yeah," says I, "and when I do ring, I fail security because your records are out-of-date."So, we move on to the question having my NI returned. "And why do you want to get it back?" asks my interlocutress.
"Because I didn't oughter pay it."
"What makes you say that?"
"Because I earn less than any threshold you'd care to name!"And so we press on. "So were you paid weekly or monthly?"
"Neither; I'm paid on a contract basis."
"But were you paid weekly or monthly?"
"Look, this is what I'm trying to tell you. I get paid when the work's done: it's not weekly, it's not monthly, it's not regular."
"But what about the period for which you're claiming NI back?"
"This IS the period I'm claiming NI back for!"Eventually, she concluded that I ought to write a letter to the NI office, giving my name, NI number, address, employer's address, copies of every bit of paper relating to the claim and probably my inside leg measurement (which hasn't been updated since I was 3, no doubt). And then I suppose they'll write back and tell me that over-paid NI isn't their responsibility and I ought to write to the Milk Marketing Board. Argh!On the plus side, there's got to be someone with a bit of nouse at the Revenue: hiring the exasperatingly obtuse is a cunning ploy on their part.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Robert Peston is an idiot.There's nothing like pandering to the "disgruntled banker" demographic, eh?
democratic socialism was founded on a spectacular misunderstanding about the world. Its proponents seriously believed that they could easily control everything while still being democratic. Throughout its entire history Labour has been backing away from a programme that was entirely impractical.In a sense, that describes what happened to me as I started to ditch the socialism-in-a-market I used to believe in as a young adult (although to my shame, I also wanted wage caps): I began to realise that you just can't run everything, and the strong arm of the State will never work as well as the invisible hand of the market.And this just in: Robert Peston, the exaggerater extraordinaire, is reporting that in order to smooth (smooth? ride roughshod! - Ed.) over any objections the Competition Commission may have regarding the mooted Lloyds-HBOS merger, the Government will legislate to itself the power to over-ride that body and the OFT. Great, yet more ill-thought-out and rushed legislation which will no doubt insinuate itself onto our statute book permanently. As a shareholder, I probably ought to take a view on the proposed merger, but frankly, I don't have the heart at the moment.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
The church's vision is:"Knowing, living, sharing Christ"which is expressed in the following waysOf course, as aims they're not bad as such, it's just, well, look at it this way. There is a prominent poster displaying this in the lobby as you enter, smack in your eyes as you walk in, pretty much. The only document with anything like a summary of beliefs (the EA basis of faith which cannot possibly, because we are congregationalists, be our church confession) is pinned to a board in the corner of the back hall, and normally obscured by a door.In short, at York Baptist, credo has been displaced by we do.The good news, and I certainly wish neither to count my chickens nor to tempt fate, is that I may slowly be making some progress on this point. A reasonable and reasonably long chat with my pastor yesterday morning saw him, I think, begin to see why the issue of confessionalism ought to be taken more seriously than it has been. This will call for wisdom, especially as I need to know at what point one stops pushing and lets the thing roll on its own for a while.
- Service : Being equipped to use gifts in service – both in church and in the world.
- Worship : Encountering God in church services, groups and in life.
- Outreach : Spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, from Priory Street to the other side of the world.
- Relationships : Using our relationships to be role models pointing towards Christ.
- Discipleship : Learning how to follow Jesus better and making new disciples
There would be more tax to pay for rich people who rely on "capital", rather than working, to make money, Mr Clegg added."People who rely on 'capital'": aren't they pensioners?
Friday, September 12, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Sunday, September 07, 2008
- I darkened the door of a Lutheran church today. To be precise, the Evangelischen Kirchegemeinde Koeln-Deutz. All was well though, for I prayed to the Sacred Brain of St. John of Calvin and he protected me.
- I never do think much of performance choirs in church. It's not a spectator sport, darn it. "Let all things be done to aid mutual edification." It's in St. Paul's Epistle to the Laodiceans.
- My eyebrows went up half an inch when I flipped through and saw Sirach mentioned as the textual basis for one of the hymns. That was followed by a whole inch when I realised it was Nun danket alle Gott!
- German Lutherans sit down to sing. Even the aforementioned Nun danket, which is lyrically rousing. And no, it's not because they're all elderly and can't do standing; they stood for the reading of the Gospel.
- And while we're on the singing, what gives with the unnecessarily elaborate introductions to hymns, with little-to-no musical connection with the melody to follow? I refer interested parties to point number 2.
- And another thing: little musical interludes where we all sing the Gloria in excelsis are not unwelcome, but only the over-65s know them any more, and certainly not your visitors from overseas. Give us proper bulletins!
- The Pfarrer nearly got it. Being a Christian, he said, isn't about doing good things, because even atheists can do good things. Brilliant, I thought. Nope, he goes on, it's about following Jesus (by doing good things). There's a memo somewhere that I missed, I swear.
- You can always tell when it's the Lord's Prayer, whether the language is Chinese, German or whatever. By contrast, I only recognised the Creed because I happen know it will begin with something like Wir glauben all' an einen Gott.
- He made the sign of the cross over the elements. Don't remember that bit happening in the Institution. Also, it tends to imply that the Word isn't sufficient to make the Supper what(ever) it is. Times like these, I love semper reformanda.
- Only about half the congregation, and certainly less than that in the choir, took communion. Huh?
- The main reason I didn't participate was 'cos I didn't understand the instructions for when to come up. Beadles, guys, they're the way forward!
Thursday, September 04, 2008
After World War II a play in West Berlin made a deep impression on the city. It was The Sign of Jonah by Günter Rutenborn. In a courtroom scene all the actors are found guilty in the evils of the war they have survived, and all transfer the blame to God. God is accused, found guilty and sentenced to become a human being, a wanderer on earth, deprived of his rights, homeless, hungry, thirsty. He shall know what it means to die. He himself shall die! And lose a son, and suffer the agonies of fatherhood. And when at last He dies, He shall be disgraced and ridiculed. (Source)That central question hangs, I think, over the whole of God on Trial: What use is a God who suffers? Says Clowney,
God's amazing grace has done more than the most bitter blasphemy could propose. God's wrath has been poured out on earth already, and God himself has borne all its fury.The God who judges is become the God who suffers, and all so that he can show himself the God who loves.
areas that recycle the most are not necessarily those that recover the most value from their waste. Recovery includes recycling, composting, incineration with energy recovery and Refuse Derived Fuel manufacture. And my long-standing objection, as a suffering council-tax payer, is that we don't see a penny of this vaunted benefit returned to us, the suppliers of this economically-valuable resource.
 On the other hand, one does wonder why, if this is true, the private sector hasn't taken the opportunity already. The rag-and-bone man used to be a common sight, after all.
 This isn't simply a laissez-faire capitalist objection to "not making a profit". Any profit from recycling derives from the fact that it is more efficient (in terms of energy and resources as well as labour and capital) to produce certain factors by recycling old ones than to mine or farm new. If recycling isn't profitable then it must be less efficient, and consequently worse for the environment, than producing new. And if recycling is worse for the environment…
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Monday, September 01, 2008
I fear that our minister did little to help this confusion, especially since he managed to convey the message, "For sure, we're justified by faith but…" This is the kind of line which always causes me dismay, as it pushes the glorious doctrine of justification by faith, that articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae , onto a back seat in favour of whatever the preacher has to talk about. It feels rather like a man who, faced with the Mona Lisa, wants to talk about the amazing arch bridge.
When justification by faith alone is displaced in this manner, it can only cause problems. At this point, I'd like to quote Michael Horton's A Better Way, which I mentioned earlier I was reading. I don't have it to hand, but somewhere in it he relates the following vignette.
One conservative evangelical pastor told me, "I just preach the Word. If I'm in Galatians, I sound like an antinomian; if I'm in the Sermon on the Mount, I sound like a legalist."It wasn't our minister, but it might just as easily have been. Exegesis with lax systematic controls soon leads into dangerous territory, and the matter of eternal rewards in particular needs great care, lest the bruised reed be broken and the smouldering wick, snuffed out. However, exegesis which doesn't pick up all the points of the passage is even worse, as it's not even faithful to the text. Here are a couple of points which he did not draw out from the parable, which are of very great comfort.
Firstly, all those who entered into their master's joy received a reward for the work performed: no-one is received into the kingdom disappointed. Secondly, the gradation in the story came not from the servant's work but from the master's entrustment: the reward for the obedience comes not from our effort, or even our faithfulness, but from God's grace.
This is critical to see because otherwise, we can miss the greatest truths about obedience. By focussing on the importance of our obedience, we miss that this obedience comes from God; we ignore that he is the source of the opportunities to obey; and we miss that he is the one who determines what our obedience ought to be. In all, we treat obedience thanklessly, as if it is not a gracious gift of a loving God.
Moreover, we can give people unhealthy motivations for service. This is a clear danger of the Biblical doctrine, and a danger against which we must warn: just as the doctrine of free grace apart from works can lead to antinomianism, so also the doctrine of eternal reward for works can lead to a legalistic mind, competitive to boot.
Finally, we can be encouraged in the error of seeing our good works as being inherently good, rather than being so mixed with false motives and sinfulness that they are in need of a just and righteous Saviour whose only righteousness will justify not only persons but also our works. For the last word, I'm indebted to Bullinger; perhaps I should rather write, I'm indebted to God, who provided us with Bullinger.
God Gives a Reward for Good Works. For we teach that God gives a rich reward to those who do good works, according to that saying of the prophet: "Keep your voice from weeping, … for your work shall be rewarded" (Jer. 31:16; Isa., ch. 4). The Lord also said in the Gospel: "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven" (Matt. 5:12), and, "Whoever gives to one of these my little ones a cup of cold water, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward" (ch. 10:42). However, we do not ascribe this reward, which the Lord gives, to the merit of the man who receives it, but to the goodness, generosity and truthfulness of God who promises and gives it, and who, although he owes nothing to anyone, nevertheless promises that he will give a reward to his faithful worshippers; meanwhile he also gives them that they may honour him. Moreover, in the works even of the saints there is much that is unworthy of God and very much that is imperfect. But because God receives into favor and embraces those who do works for Christ's sake, he grants to them the promised reward. For in other respects our righteousnesses are compared to a filthy wrap (Isa. 64:6). And the Lord says in the Gospel: "When you have done all that is commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty'" (Luke 17:10).There Are No Merits of Men. Therefore, although we teach that God rewards our good deeds, yet at the same time we teach, with Augustine, that God does not crown in us our merits but his gifts. Accordingly we say that whatever reward we receive is also grace, and is more grace than reward, because the good we do, we do more through God than through ourselves, and because Paul says: "What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (I Cor. 4:7). And this is what the blessed martyr Cyprian concluded from this verse: We are not to glory in anything in us, since nothing is our own. We therefore condemn those who defend the merits of men in such a way that they invalidate the grace of God. (Second Helvetic Confession, Art. 16) A phrase which certainly has its roots in Luther but which, in that form, Scott Clark traces to Alsted, a seventeenth-century German Reformed writer.