He who hears the shema drinks the shekar!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Coarse Talking, Proverbial Wisdom, and What is Good

The Proverbs have a lot to say about human speech (using various metaphors of the tongue, mouth, etc.). For instance:

Prov. 12:14 - From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good, and the work of a man's hand comes back to him.

Prov. 13:2 - From the fruit of his mouth a man eats what is good, but the desire of the treacherous is for violence.

What's fascinating about the plethora of Proverbs addressing what we speak is that we are never given a list of words that are unacceptable, except as it pertains to profaning the 'name' of the Lord (cf. Prov. 30:9). In fact, nearly all the references to human speech in the Proverbs don't give you a lot of external specifics. It provides you external scenarios of bad and good speech, but the clear focus of the Proverbs is to get you contemplate the underlying motives involved in human speech.

Part of the problem it seems to me is that we approach Proverbs like we would the Mosaic Law, the later of which is replete with very specific instructions of what one should do and not do. Wisdom literature and the Law fit together under the broad umbrella known as the Mosaic Covenant (cf. 'Listen, my son' in Prov. 1:8 seems clearly intended to mirror the
shema of Deut. 6), but on a rhetorical level they communicate truth to us differently. That's part of why we designate the Proverbs as 'wisdom' literature -- if you read them expecting specific instructions (a la Leviticus or Deut.), you ironically end up gutting the very approach that Proverbs lays forth as how one might acquire wisdom. To a person who seeks a specific rule for every situation, there really isn't much need to acquire hokma!

Twice here in Proverbs 12 and 13, we find a connection between our mouths and simply what's good. No list -- the only category it gives is

I think this is helpful to keep in mind when thinking about speech, because it helps us realize that we need more than simply a 'list' of 'bad' words to avoid. If you start with an external list, then you easily put the cart before the horse, ethics prior to redemption, the imperative before the indicative.

Proverbs understands the subtlety and complexity that the language of communication involves -- which is why it addresses the tongue/mouth frequently -- and that's part of the real profundity of the Bible's so-called 'wisdom literature'. It's not just imparting moral slogans to follow, but it's providing us with a 'covenantal worldview' to evaluate *all* our speech. This goes well-beyond (while including in its evaluation) certain 'words' that might bring a perverse connotation.

For example, there is a time to answer a fool and a time NOT to answer a fool? (Prov. 26:4-5) How do you know the difference? Proverbs doesn't spell it out for you in 'how to' fashion -- "Here's when you do it; here's when you don't!." You simply don't get that. What it does spell out for you is the goal and need for *Biblical wisdom* in deciding the difference, and then providing numerous metaphors and parallelisms that help flesh that out.

This is crucial in evaluating our speech -- there are times when certain language is appropriate, times when it is not appropriate, times when it virtually never appropriate. But how do you know? When do parents talk to their children about topics like sex and drugs? How do parents talk to their children about course language without actually using the language itself? That's why you need 'wisdom' -- the ability to show skill in thinking through what you say with your lips.

I have a Christian friend who's an ADA, and he often has to read depositions and statements aloud in court that involve foul language. Is that wrong? For some, I think that would be a major conscience issue -- they would NOT want to answer such a fool according to his own folly! And so they should refrain from doing that. But for the prosecutor, he recognizes civil justice requires the confrontation of people's sinfulness -- 'answering a fool according to his own folly'....even if that means having to repeat the fool's language to the courts.

The difficulty is that this sounds (at least on the surface) a lot like situation ethics. But Fletcher's whole approach to situational ethics rules out any need for Biblical wisdom in making decisions -- I simply say what 'feels' right at any given moment. Biblical wisdom is nothing like that at all -- it recognizes that complexity of 'situations'...but then seeks to bring Biblical truth to bear in evaluating the situation. [Think of the old 'one meaning, many applications', if you will.]

In short, Wisdom recognizes the massive difference between dropping an 'f bomb' out of anger....and dropping an 'f bomb' while reading a transcript in the middle of prosecuting a major felon. This is not a totally arbitrary distinction based on autonomous thinking; rather, it is recognizing that 'wisdom' is rooted in our creation-ethics, for it is "he who made the earth by his power, who established the
world by his wisdom" (Jer. 10:15).

Stated pejoratively, Biblical wisdom in both Testaments is neither a friend to the Theonomist or autonomist. That's why it's called
Biblical wisdom!

That's also why the 'fear of the Lord' is so important when reading the Proverbs (e.g. 1:7)! We often gloss 'fear' in Proverbs with the idea of 'reverence'....which is not wrong per se, but doesn't really go far enough! John Murray gave, I think, a much more probing (and Biblically-satisfying) definition -- "The fear of God is the soul of godliness...The first thought of the godly man in every circumstance is God's relation to him and it, and his and its relationship to God." (Principles of Conduct, 229).

We have to constantly evaluate all our language -- not merely certain 'words' designated as offensive! -- in light of our relationship to God in Christ! And our standard cannot simply be whether 'it is bad'....but rather whether it is truly

Is not that message we see Jesus preaching when confronted about the lawfulness of healing on the Sabbath? (Matt. 12:9-14) . How does Jesus confront their Pharisaical thinking? "It is lawful to do
good on the Sabbath." The answer sounds almost too simple....and yet it takes real skill when trying to evaluate what is good to do on the Lord's Day. No list could ever hope to accomplish all that is involved there.

Thankfully, Jesus gives us his own standard for evaluating what is good: And because of him
you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." (I. Cor. 1:30-31). Not merely content to tell us to do good, Christ in the Gospel becomes wisdom for us!

Duking it out at the Altar!

It's funny what you find while Google searching for former classmates.

I was attempting to track down a friend of mine from Seminary, Daniel Sladek. While we were attending Westminter together, he somehow ended up traveling to the UK for a Free Church of Scotland summer internship, where he met a nice gal Scottish gal he would later marry. He's been hard to keep track of ever since. He did manage to write during his time at Free Church College a thesis on N.T. Wright's exegesis of the 'zdk language in the OT. The last I heard from him, he was ministering in some capacity (I think) at a Free Church congregation in the London area. But I can't recall communicating with him (much, if at all!) since I read his thesis, which must have been 5 years ago (at least!).

Enter Google!

The first Google search link I found and clicked on was your basic bulletin insert of the previously-mentioned London congregation, asking the congregation to pray for the Sladeks as he accepted a call to a church in Skye (Scotland). That was April 2006....so I figure I'm getting warmer.

I then tried to Google search the church name listed on the previous link, but it turned up nothing. I then went to the Free Church website, and they didn't have any church listed by that name. Dead end! So I decided to return back to my original search.

Now back at my initial search tab, I go to the next link of the original search and notice the following Google search blurb, "....American-born preacher Daniel Sladek, looked down from the pulpit..." So I'm thinking to myself that I've found him....

...And then I read for a little more context and discovered the title of the actual article in which Dan's name appeared:
Love rivals in punch-up at the altar and the subtitle: Jilted husband thumps wife's lover in Kirk.

[Leave to the Scottish to give you a real attention-grabbing headline! The only words that came to my mind were, "Scratch my back with a hacksaw!"]

Here's a fuller quote from the article:

The minister at the Kirk, American-born preacher Daniel Sladek, looked down from the pulpit in shock as his precentor (choirmaster) was beaten up.

He said last night: "We certainly deplore the incident and lament what happened. It was certainly a shock to myself and the congregation - a most unusual happening."

You can read the entire article here.

This has to qualify as one of the most bizarre ways to get back in touch with one of your Seminary friends -- finding a news headline about (a) your friend's church clear across the pond, in which (b) the choirmaster is a having an affair with a woman in the congregation, and (c) the choirmaster gets attacked by the husband of that woman
during the worship service in front of the entire congregation!

After reading this, I didn't know whether to cry or wind my watch (HT: Mike Lange).

It's hard not to find this humorous...until you realize how utterly tragic the whole affair must have been.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Muller's Post-Reformation Dogmatics

If you're looking for the best deal on Richard Muller's Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (4 Vol.), Christian Book Distributor has it selling for $80 right now. However, if you use promo code "251485FF" during check out, that knocks off 10% of the price, which basically translates to 'free shipping.' Thus, you end up getting the entire set post-paid for $80.

If you don't want to shop at CBD, then the next best option for price appears to be over at Monergism Books -- $84.00 (with s & h).

This is not a blog typically devoted to Historical Theology -- there are plenty of those already out there. However, I wanted to mention this important work for investigating the development of Reformation theology among the post-Reformation Scholastics of the Reformed Faith.