Author Archives: Kyle French

Figures.

I always wondered why crowdfunding efforts always offer flimsy awards, on the level with non-profit donation awards, instead of something substantial, like an actual percentage of profits. This economics article explains why.  I’ll save you some scanning: the fed passed a law against it.  Read it anyway: it’s got cool history about Henry Ford.

No Tresspassing!

Aaron Denlinger on John Calvin on Theological Trespassing.   I don’t know that the term “trespassing” is helpful – it carries with it the image of someone sitting on his front porch with a shotgun – but the concept is useful.

It’s no sin to ask questions about things which scripture doesn’t clearly answer.  But the answer should take the form of, “Maybe X, maybe Y, maybe Z, but scripture doesn’t say.”  That’s basically what Paul does in Romans 9:22.  It’s helpful to dip your toe in a couple of theological maybes. It expands the imagination and reminds us that God has his reasons, which are perfectly good, whatever they are.  But moving from “maybe” to “clearly” generally results in us saying something foolish and insulting about God.  My mom always says that all heresy involves taking what is clear in scripture to its obvious conclusion.  I have no idea who she’s quoting.

(HT: Challies)

Teetotal

Or, the half-Nazarite.

So. my seminary application process has hit a snag.

I left Gordon Conwell some six years ago, half-way through my seminary degree, due to finances, and a lack of focus.  The finance issue you can figure out.  The focus was more subtle.  Gordon Conwell didn’t have the best advising program in the world, so there was a partial issue of me taking classes that didn’t actually apply all that well toward degree completion.  But there was also the issue that, when you get out, you have to get a job somewhere, and churches tend to come in flavors.  Where does a Charismatic-Calvinist-Congregationalist go to become a pastor?  Answer me that, and I know what tradition to study, and maybe I’ve got some guide rails to a shorter answer to those big open-ended questions.

So then I joined the Army, which has helped tremendously with the finance issue, and I really dug in to parsing out different theological traditions in modern Evangelicalism.  Best I can figure, I’m a sorry excuse for a Baptist.  I’m not much of a modern Baptist, but go back 200-300 years and I think I can make a decent defense for myself.

I decided to apply to Southern Baptist Seminary.  It has the reputation for academic intensity that I’m looking for, and they certainly can’t get any more Southern Baptist.  The firm denominational footing will be useful to me in thinking through how well I really fit into that tradition, and the name on the degree should be helpful in calming people’s fears when I confess to unusual doctrines, such as my belief in the third person of the Trinity.

But I’ve hit a snag. I really should have seen it coming.  SBTS requires its students to sign an oath not to touch a drop of alcohol.

Now I’m not a heavy drinker.  In fact, I’m hardly a drinker at all.  I had to force myself some years ago to stop being teetotal, because my study of scripture led me to the conclusion that Jesus drank.  The servant is not greater than his master, so if I don’t drink it had better be for some reason other than an ethical one.  Otherwise I’m saying Jesus was a sinner, which rather defeats the whole purpose of being a Christian.  I have never even come remotely close to being drunk.  If I buy a six-pack of beer, it will take me the better part of six months to drink it.  But if a guest to my house offers me a bottle of wine (as happened just last night), I will accept it with a thankful heart.

I won’t give a grand theology of alcohol right here.  It’s not the sort of thing you can persuade somebody to in the space of five minutes.  But it is my conviction.  Jesus and his disciples drank alcohol for the same reason they didn’t fast.  The bridegroom was with his friends, and it wasn’t time for mourning.  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they called him a glutton and a drunk.  He wasn’t either, but he laid himself open to the accusation by not being an ascetic like his cousin John.

But here’s the thing:  drink or don’t drink to the glory of the God.  There’s a dozen reasons why a fellow might abstain in good conscience, but a blanket “it’s wrong to drink” isn’t one of them.  That’s a dietary law, and it isn’t even found in the Old Testament.  When the council at Jerusalem met, the only restriction they thought fit to put on people was to avoid meat that had been strangled.  For 1900 years that’s the way it was.

Tee-total is not a Biblical standard.  In modern western culture, it goes all the way back to the late 19th and early 20th century, when there was a great social push to eliminate drinking.  You may recall prohibition and the 18th amendment. That was the last joint effort between the conservative and liberal church traditions in America.  The liberal churches pushed for it by working for a law to be passed.  The conservatives did it by adding temperance to the moral code, right next to chastity.

In fact, I’d say that abstaining from alcohol isn’t really a Christian standard at all.  It’s closer to Mormonism or Islam than anything else. And yet, here’s this oath in the middle of my seminary application.  What do I do with it?

There’s a line of reasoning I got from DA Carson (though for the life of me I can’t find a reference in print) where he says that if somebody asks him to abstain from drink because they have an alcoholic background, of course he won’t drink.  Or if someone asks him not to drink because it’s an unacceptable practice in the local culture, and it will confuse the non-believers, of course he won’t drink.  But if someone tells him not to drink because it’s a sin, he’ll say, “pass the port!”  I’m wondering if this should be that sort of thing for me.

There is, of course, another way to look at it.  There was one condition in the Old Testament that allowed for abstaining from alcohol:  the nazarite vow.  For a set period of time (or occasionally a person’s whole life), a man would dedicate himself to the Lord, and the sign for this would be that he would abstain from alcohol, all the fruit of the vine, and from getting his hair cut.  Samson is the famous example, but there’s reason to believe that John the Baptist was also a Nazarite.  Paul apparently took a Nazarite vow on his final return to Jerusalem.

So, it’s possible to consider a requirement by a seminary not to drink alcohol as a kind of Nazarite vow.  Seminary makes sense as a kind of temporary period of religious fervor.  And they make you sign an oath, that is to say, a vow.  Of course, as a Soldier, I couldn’t make it a fully Nazarite vow – failing to get a haircut is grounds for disciplinary action in the Army.  But could I consider this oath as a kind of half-nazarite vow.

Of course it’s a rather transparent mendacity to commit to something “for purpose of evasion,”  that is, affirming something with a certain meaning, knowing that it is taken by the other party as having a completely different meaning.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter what sort of mental gymnastics I put myself through in order to sign an oath.  What really matters is what it means to the person requiring the oath.  Does Southern Seminary, and whatever board they fall under, think of their temperance oath as sort of temporary vow that you can reaffirm or rescind later, or do they think of it as a commitment to adhere to an already established moral standard?

Because if it’s the one, sure I could do it.  But if it’s the other, how can I submit to a moral standard that violates my conviction?  What sort of convictions are those?  I may have to take my studies elsewhere.

And each its attendant weeds.

In conversation with somebody today, I had this pithy thought:  Jesus told us to repent of worrying, not anxiety.  Worry is the activity of going over what might be if you don’t.  Anxiety is the emotional state of being fearful about the future.  Worry is a sin; anxiety is a condition.  So we need to repent of worry and trust in Jesus, but that may not meant that the anxiety will disappear right away.  Emotional states are too much subject to conditioning for that.

Instead, you can think of anxiety as being like the withdrawal effects of caffeine, or some stronger drug.  People worry, because they are anxious, and the worry gives them minor relief from the anxiety.  But in the long term worry feeds the anxiety.  Attempt to stop worrying, and the anxiety hits stronger than ever.  And the only way out is through.  Repent of your worrying; stop feeding the anxiety.  Trust Jesus, and understand that, if you obey him about the worrying, the anxiety will eventually go away.

Of course, you may always have an anxious disposition.  Rejoice!  Some people are unnaturally blithe, and never have the benefit of anxiety to remind them to turn to Jesus.  Those people expect good things to happen to them, not because they trust Jesus, but because they tend to think the universe is bent to be their own personal servant.  Each of us must tend the garden that he’s given.

Gold Standard Inflation and Deflation

Here’s an article from the Mises Institute on why Austrian economists don’t really care about a gold standard.  I know you were looking for that.

One of the cool things I learned reading The Wealth of Nations was how even a gold standard can inflate or deflate.  Gold is valuable, and so people go looking for it.  As more is dug up, the supply of gold increases, which means the stuff is worth less, overall.  The Spanish gold from South America comes to mind.  Gold inflated something like 40% across Europe – and since all that cash wasn’t invested in anything productive, Spain endured a 100 year depression that they still haven’t recovered from.  On the other hand, because gold is so soft, and people use it for industrial and decorative use as well as for cash, it eventually wears off and can’t be recovered.  Very slowly over time, the natural process for gold as a currency is a slow deflation, or at least it would be, if people wouldn’t keep digging it up.

Worship Paradox

Start with this: I categorically deny that worship is doing whatever you do all day long. I’m not saying that it can’t be, or that it shouldn’t be, but I am saying that Martha-ing is not the same thing as Mary-ing. There is one thing needful, and it isn’t summed up or subsumed in our other daily activities.

Worship is worth-ship. It is the mental and emotional act of ascribing the proper weight to that item which is of supreme value. Any physical act is essentially symbolic, specifically because worship is primarily a mental and emotional act. It is only because physical acts of worship are symbolic that someone can make a ham sandwich as an act of worship.

But we must keep in mind that the symbolism is still the drive train of everyday worship. The further removed from the mental and emotional evaluation of the one for whom all service is due, the less like an act of worship it really is. You can totally run a cash register as an act of worship. But singing is still a better kind of worship, because the physical is more closely tied with the mental and emotional act that makes up true worship. If you must run a cash register, why not rather run the register and sing?

I say this because leading worship is a strange task. And it is not the task of equipping people to wash dishes with a better attitude. By all means, wash with a better attitude, and may your washing be qualified by worship. But worship is more like prayer and less like labor, so leading worship is more like leading people into better prayer.  You prepare, musically, emotionally, administratively – Individually – so that the congregation may worship immediately. You work at worship so that the congregation may worship more effectively without the same  labor.

Judy Renfrow doesn’t sing in the choir. She isn’t on the worship team. She doesn’t play, and not to put too fine a point on it, she can barely sing. Well, music isn’t everything, despite its blessed usefulness in getting our hearts where they need to be. But let’s be honest: she’s not all that great at privat prayer and personal devotions. She loves Jesus, but the fires of her devotion are a little dusty ember. She needs corporate worship to pull her through the next week. When she joins in a congregation that worships well, her heart is lifted, the veil is torn, and she remembers what it is to be human,

A little dusty ember does a better job of burning on a bed of hot coals. It’s the worship leader’s job to make the job of burning brightly as convenient as possible, not by engaging in displays of impossible pyrotechnics, musical and emotional displays of what their worship could be if only the congregation could collectively quit their day job, but by providing songs that engage the heart and mind to the proper glorification of God with as much ease as possible.

It’s a bit like the pattern of excellence in practice my mother taught me when I was a kid: You work hard in private so that you can perform easily in public. Only the worship leader works hard by himself and in a small group so that the congregation as a whole can perform easily in public.  And it has lasting ramifications:  The  worship that is easy in the congregation leads to better and more frequent worship in the prayer closet, and every congregant who worships well in the closet becomes a little worship leader, with the world as her congregation.

Leading worship well is not as easy as it looks, but oh! what work is there that is more like prayer and less like labor?!  How can you practice leading worship, except by worshiping?  And how can you study to worship well without pursuing clarity on what true worship consists of?

Not a master

I’m a hesitant libertarian; I believe in rulers and political power, following 2 Samuel 23.  However, this quote from Michael Huemer strikes me as right.  If kings have authority, it is because God gives it to them.  It isn’t an absolute authority, and the king as a man is subject to God’s censure like any other man.  Rulers are sinful people too. You can’t get around that by distributing the authority among 50, 450, or 300 million people.  If the government does what is wicked in God’s sight, then the people who used the power of government to do what is wicked will be subject to God’s judgment.

I’m not a master of theological math, but my guess is that a democracy doesn’t get around God’s wrath by dividing it by 300 million voters.  It seems more likely that he will multiply that responsibility to each of us, rather than divide.

May common sense triumph!

Ugh. Watching Super Why continue its assault on Western Children’s literature, I discover that they have also been taken over by the grammar hypercorrection Nazis.

Wyatt gets in trouble for something, and he walks out, saying, “oh, I feel so badly!” This is wrong. It’s a hypercorrection of the phrase “to feel bad,” under the misconception that “bad,”as an adjective, must be modifying something. Since the only thing around to modify is the verb “feel,” the adjective is corrected to an adverb.

“I feel bad” is the correct phrase, and it’s perfectly fine. “Bad” in this case is a substantive adjective, an adjective functioning as a noun. You feel something and the feeling that you feel is “bad,” a generic term covering a wide array of negative physical and emotional sensations – pain, guilt, sorrow, sadness, etc.

“I feel badly” means something quite different from “I feel bad.” “Badly” means that the verb being performed is done ineffectively, or incorrectly. So a person who feels badly either has leprosy, making them unable to feel physical sensations, an emotional disorder that gives them inappropriate feelings, such as the desire to laugh at funerals, or perhaps some form of synesthesia or a phantom limb.