Casey Newton on the future of reading:

Today Borders has been liquidated, the location I used to visit replaced by an electronics store. Between the web and social media, I read more than I ever have — and yet I read fewer books than ever. Reading over all my notes about the future of reading, I see I have reported it out of hope that books will evolve to repair what other technologies have started to break: my ability to concentrate over hundreds of pages. I think of a line from The Tender Bar, by J. R. Moehringer: “‘Every book is a miracle,’ Bill said. ‘Every book represents a moment when someone sat quietly — and that quiet is part of the miracle, make no mistake — and tried to tell us the rest of the story.”

I’ve never actually read The Tender Bar — I just saw that when someone shared a screenshot of the passage on Twitter.

Mind your Thees and Thous

Here’s a little etymology I learned while digressing from my morning Bible reading:

In English, pronouns come in three cases: Nominative (for the subject of a sentence), Objective (for direct and indirect objects, and the objects of prepositions), and Possessive (to indicate, you know, possession).  Originally, for the second personal pronoun, those forms looked like this:

case singular plural
Nom. thou ye
Obj. thee you
Poss. thy/thine your(s)/yourn

In other words, the word you was objective plural, and that was it.  If you’re having a hard time remembering how ye and you used to go, a little King James Bible might help. Matthew 5:21-22 – “Ye (Nom. pl.) have heard it said…. but I say unto you (obj. pl.)”

Then, one day “You” got tired of being king of all it could survey in its own little pond, and started calling for more a taller throne.  In other words, for some reason people started using “you” as the singular form of the word, but only in formal circumstances.  So at home with the wife and kids, it was thee and thou, but at public ceremonies and in court it was you and you.  If that sounds bizarre and backwards to you, there’s a reason.  Wait for it.

Religious folks, of course, objected to this.  We have our Bibles; words are important to us.  Quakers, for instance, were famous for using their thees and thous far into the 19th century.  But when we finally did start to cave on the formal use of you singular, we wanted to retain the sense of intimacy from the informal use of thou.  And what could be more intimate than a Man’s relationship with God?  So when Martin Buber wrote his famous book, Ich und Du, the English translation was “I and Thou,” not “I and You.”  In the American Standard series of Bible translations, the formal you is used for human conversation and the more intimate thee and thou are used for prayer.

And that’s where pietism broke the evolution of the English language, because prayer in the Bible isn’t intimate and personal.  Nearly every recorded prayer in scripture is from a public or instructional event.  How could it be otherwise?  That’s the way prayer works.  Even your most private, pious prayers eventually find expression in public, if you ever pray in public.

But the American Standard and the King James versions taught us that thee and thou belonged in prayer, even if they didn’t belong in our day-to-day speech.  And since public prayer is the formal, not informal,  we began to think of thee and thou as very formal and officious, and began to think poorly of people who push God away by praying in officious sounding, stiff grammatical forms.

And, of course, putting thees and thous only in public prayers served to shove them further out of our normal conversation.

Incidentally, I also learned that the old letter for “th” – Þ (lowercase, þ) is called “thorn.” (One imagines that calling it “þe” would have been confusing.) I haven’t yet figured out how to put it in the song…

The Dream is Certain

And its interpretation is sure.

Reading Daniel 2 in my devotions this morning (October 17, on the M’Cheyne calendar – I’m only 2 months behind!), I am always profoundly struck by Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s interpretation.  I know a lot of people like to focus on the different levels of the image in the dream.  But two other things always stand out to me:

  1. The mountain covers the whole earth and never goes away.
  2. The first thing that Nebuchadnezzar does after having his dream interpreted is build a statue of his own, presumably something like what he saw in the dream.  Only his statue is gold all the way down.



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)


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.