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Thursday
Sep142017

The reality of the sanctified mind

I'm re-reading Confessions for my Church History class. I have an assignment to write a book review on a primary source document, and my choices were Confessions or City of God. I wonder how many in my class will read City of God, considering the review is due on October 13th.

I love Confessions. I loved it the first time I read it, and again last fall when I read it for a class on Augustine. This time, I have to be a more critical reader if I'm going to review it. 

The role of memory is obviously crucial in Confessions, and Augustine comments frequently that he sees it as God's sovereignty that he does remember things so that he can record them. I'm about to start Book X, where he really gets into the role of memory, but it is important even in Book VIII, where his dramatic conversion is found.

In Book VIII.5, he continues on a theme of recounting the conversion of a man named Victorianus. He is moved by the account and wants to do the same, but still struggles:

I longed to do the same, but I was held fast, not in fetters clamped upon me by another, but by my own will, which had the strength of iron chains.

So these two wills within me, one old, one new, one the servant of the flesh, the other of the spirit, were in conflict and between them they tore my soul apart.

The whole of Book VIII leading to Augustine's point of crisis is filled with similar emotionally charged language. It is obvious that Augustine was torn. The first time I read Confessions, many years ago, I recognized similar experiences; knowing that something was wrong, but not being able to understand exactly what. That was the reality of a mind which had not yet been converted, which had not been changed by the Spirit.

Works of memoir such as Confessions are not written as if the author is right in the moment. Their very nature is that they are reflective. Any memories he has of the events will naturally be processed through his own current state of thinking. Augustine wrote Confessions at least ten years after his conversion, and he didn't write it all at once, but over a period of three years from 397-400. There was no journalist following alongside Augustine, recording his thoughts. Augustine wrote Confessions through a sanctified mind. So, while his descriptions of his reactions are vivid, there is a very good chance that at the time, he didn't fully understand what he was going through. Anyone who has been a Christian long enough recognizes in the second quoted passage above echoes of Romans 7. We don't call into question the veracity of the narrator's account, but we do understand that his words cannot help but be influenced by the present.

This does not mean that we can't rely on the words of Augustine. But as a work of memoir, we have to recognize that it cannot be a complete reproduction of the past. Augustine, at the time of writing, had become a mature Christian and a bishop. He was changed. Augustine cannot help but see his past through his present. The transformative power of the gospel is such that we begin to see everything as the new creatures we have become. Before conversion, it was the same: we saw the world through our current condition. After conversion, we are changed. That is one of the best things about Confessions is that we see the power of conversion.

I share Augustine's wonder at how I can remember certain events which were ultimately crucial to my own conversion. And like Augustine, I marvel at God's sovereignty in putting each piece into place. God has given me the ability to name the condition I faced prior to my conversion. But at the time, I suspect I really did not know what my ailment was. Praise God for his timing in revealing everything, leading to my conversion.

Wednesday
Sep132017

Old Lady Greek - Week 2

Well, technically, I'm not really an old lady, although the young guy who sits behind me in Greek probably thinks so. My Greek class is a mix of older and younger. I sit beside one of the other two women. She's a pastor's wife and has middle school kids. There are also a couple of gentlemen who are older.

I have taken Koine Greek before. It was over 25 years ago, and I suppose, if I had tried, I could have asked to take some sort of proficiency exam to test what I remember, but I know I would have easily failed. I just don't remember a lot. Besides, the point isn't to simply get the credit; the point is to become proficient in reading Greek. I have not really used Greek since finishing my previous studies, and you can't retain what you don't use. My prof shared a story yesterday about how he had Scot McKnight as a prof once and McKnight said even seven minutes a day would keep it fresh. I guess I'll find out if that's true next summer when there is four months between Greek II and Greek Exegesis.

I wasn't sure how much my previous learning would help, but as we went through some exercises yesterday and then broke into pairs to do some others, I realized how much I remembered. Something as simple as automatic recognition of the letters and their sounds has been cemented into my head. Of course, being able to say Koine isn't really the point, but when learning language, it really is better to associate what we see with what we hear; get all the senses going, so to speak.

In this class, we will not be going from English to Greek, but simply Greek to English. I think that is a shame. When I took Koine before, we had to do both. I believe it helps to do both. I'm not a linguist or language theorist, but it seems to me that translating in both directions helps our brains. Constructing our own sentences in another language means we must be more intimate with the way the language works.

I'm really grateful for Dr Koöistra, my first Greek professor. He clearly did a good job if I can remember as much as I have even after all this time.

Sunday
Sep102017

Oh God, You Are My God

I'm continuing to enjoy Fernando Ortega's recording The Shadow of Your Wings. This is a short song, based on Psalm 63. It is a wonderful example of how one can set the Psalms to music.

Oh God, you are my God
Earnestly I seek you
My sould thirsts for you
My flesh yearns for you
In a dry and weary land
Where there is no water

I remember you at night
Through the watches of the night
In the shadow of your wings
I sing because you helped me
My soul clings to you
And your hand upholds me
You alone

Saturday
Sep092017

Lookin' for love in all the wrong places

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that there are no little circles in the Christian blog world where I feel like I fit in.

There are groups of women who promote very traditional views of marriage and family. I agree with much of what they believe. I totally support a woman's decision to remain at home with her children if she is able, to homeschool her kids, and to be unashamed because she finds joy in domestic things. That describes me. But eventually, there comes a point where we begin to reveal substantial differences.

There are groups of women who believe in equality within the body of Christ between men and women. They see no disparity between the intellect of a woman and a man. They challenge traditional views. I totally relate to that. I'm a seminary student. I fully support Christian women participating in dialogue with regard to spiritual issues. I would love to see more women engaging in theology proper, not just applied theology or cultural critique. I have no problem agreeing with the freedom of a woman to work outside the home if she desires to. But again, there comes a point when I cannot endorse everything. In some cases, I feel compelled to distance myself from certain places.

So, am I without an online country? 

As quickly as that question comes into my thoughts, reason prevails, and the answer comes: why does it matter? I, like many others, have become so accustomed to making online life a part of my every day habits, that it feels wrong to if I'm not fully engaged in it. It reminds me of being in high school, where I felt the need to find a group to align myself with so I don't get left out. High school is over, and although life online periodically bears a creepy resemblance, I am past that. 

In short, why do I care if I don't fit in with a little group? I need to remind myself to grow up and live the life God has given me. And if I don't fit in with any particular group, what does it matter? The effort in trying to "fit in" can be detrimental to my spiritual growth; just as it was detrimental to my intellectual and social growth in high school. Sometimes, I just want to shake myself, because I've learned the pitfall of the need to "fit in." I ought to have learned from my mistakes.

Ultimately, no matter how wide or influential our online connections are, we stand before God on our own, in Christ. Having X amount of online connections or Twitter followers won't make a difference to God. But am I faithful? That's a better question to ask.

Friday
Sep082017

Conviction, attitude, and strategy

I had my first Greek class yesterday. It was a full class. I felt bad for the guy who came last and had to find a seat. This is why one shows up early: a good seat. I prefer the back, in a corner preferably.

The lecture focused on the content of the syllabus and some introductory words about the value of studying Greek. I really like the prof, because he said something I hoped he would say: studying Greek is more than just an academic exercise; it wil help us devotionally. It will help us become better teachers (and for some, preachers), but it will also affect us on a personal, devotional level. One of the books we will be using is Zondervan's Devotions on the Greek New Testament.

There were three things he emphasized that will help us: conviction, attitude, and strategy. The conviction we must have is that we are going to learn. We need to see this as a valuable pursuit. Secondly, we must have a proper attitiude, an attitude of worship. Worship is holistic; we worship with our heads, hands, and heart. Worshiping God with our minds involves learning. If someone is given the ability to use his mind, he ought to use it for God. And thirdly, the strategy we employ is to review frequently. I liked his comment about avoding the "binge" approach. Language learning doesn't work well with the binge approach. It may work for getting through a course which, ultimately, we will never use again, but a language requires constant review.

Something which made me really pleased was what he shared about Logos software. I've got a very basic, bare bones version of Logos 7, which was available for free. I have purchased a couple of things and I've taken advantage of the free book of the month, but I don't have anything beyond the basics. It was my intention to purchase something this year. I learned that in the third installment of Greek, which is Greek Exegesis, a Logos Bronze package is a required resource. So, the students who take Greek Exegesis have that added to their tuition payment and then are given the software; and it's half price. It's still not cheap, but half price is a very good deal. Lord willing, I hope to take Greek Exegesis in September 2018; that is when I'll make my purchase of a package which contains many of the resources that help a student stay reading Greek.