Saturday, September 20, 2014

Where we are: An Update

Back in May, I officially graduated from seminary with my Master of Divinity degree. At that point, I was torn between pursuing my Ph.D., or another advanced degree, and taking some time off from school. I realized just how much I wanted the other degree, so I decided to plunge ahead and start taking language courses in support of the Ph.D. application.

Turns out, I don’t really want that degree bad enough. While I have somewhat enjoyed the idea of learning German and French, I just don’t have the energy to plunge ahead with distance learning again right now.

Distance learning, you see, has its ups and downs. It’s convenient for those of us who live out from formal education spaces. Quality-wise, while you can slack through it, you get what you bring in, so wanting to learn a lot and being willing to work, makes for a positive learning situation. The downside? You have to be entirely self-motivated. If you even have class sessions, they are typically spent staring at a computer screen, wondering if you look as asleep as the other people in the class.

There’s also the challenge of a lack of interactive feedback. This is especially a drawback in language learning. It works like this: I do an assignment, and turn it end. If it turns out that I am misunderstanding a concept, then I’ll fail the whole assignment. But, because there’s not any other way to interact, that’s the only way to find out if I am understanding a concept. The result is a highly frustrating mix of learning while getting failing or nearly-failing grades. Professors typically put heavier weight on exams to counteract this, which helps.

But it is a discouragement issue. Plus, the lack of general fellowship is tiresome. While I have some friends among the student body, we’re all pretty scattered in both classes and geography.

All this to say—I’m out for a while. I am most likely going to rethink the doctoral level work I intend to pursue, with an eye toward a more practical degree instead of the theoretical Ph.D.

That means that in a couple of weeks I’ll wrap up the German and French classes I had already paid for when I made this decision, and reshuffle my energy. My hope is to invest some time in a writing project or two—possibly even one that generates a dollar in revenue.

Beyond that, I will continue to preach and blog, pastor and teach, and hopefully find some better ways to be an encourager and Internet genius. As always, I’m here if you need me, dear readers…but I will do much better if you contact me in English than in German or French! I will be switching over and doing homeschool German and Latin with the kids, but the pacing is very, very different on those—so I’ll keep nerding up. Just a little differently.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Book: The Theology of the Westminster Standards


Today’s book is provided by Crossway Publishers, and I received a free e-book version for the purpose of reviewing. Crossway is nice to give free content, and cheap to send digitally. I appreciate the former and understand the latter.

The Theology of the Westminster Standards, by J.V. Fesko, is a serious book. That’s the first statement I would make: you’re not in for light reading here. Additionally, you may find yourself needing to either read the actual Westminster Standards or consult your favorite Presbyterian to grapple with the content. After all, why bother with the theology of something you have never read?

Fesko’s work breaks down the collection of documents known as the Westminster Standards, which includes the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Form of Church Government. The focus is on the Confession and two Catechisms.

The material is organized around the general categories of systematic theology, tracing how the Standards speak to the doctrines of Scripture, God, Christology, and more. I would recommend you be familiar with the general academics of theology before tackling these chapters, though this work could be your introduction. A more general introduction, though, would be of benefit to you.

I found the first chapter the most beneficial, as it covers the historical context of the writing of the Westminster Standards. (Technically, I suppose it’s the 2nd chapter, as the Introduction is labeled Chapter 1.) This chapter serves the valuable role of reminding the reader of what is going on, and has gone on, in the world around Westminster when the Standards come into being.

Fesko’s writing style is accessible, but does require a willingness to focus in and read. I recommend a notepad and a Bible close at hand. It is worth your time, especially if you are looking for the historical foundations of Reformed Theology.

If you are a casual reader, you’ll need to stretch out to tackle this one. If your interest in theology is either “gotcha” games for tweetable lines or feel-good only, then you need to give this a pass or be prepared for frustration.

If you’re out for a deeper understanding, this is a good look at Reformed Theology, especially in its initial settings.

Free book provided in exchange for the review.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Follow your heart? Deuteronomy 11

In Summary: You are welcome to check the prior Deuteronomy entries to catch up on the setting at this point. I think it would belabor the point to rehash it all, so I’ll move on.

That is, after all, what Moses is doing in this chapter. We are through with the recapitulation of the journey and have moved on to the final preparation for the journey in. Moses is giving instructions for what the people are to inside the Promised Land.

It is noteworthy that the warning is consistently about idolatry. Not specifically about the making of graven images or carved images, but about the shifting of allegiances from YHWH, Covenant God of Israel, to other gods. Even with all that God had done for the Israelites, this remained their greatest danger.

It was an even greater danger than immorality! Most of the condemnation of immorality that comes on the Israelites in the years to come stem from the blending of immorality with the worship of idols. Their pursuit of wealth to the point of injustice also starts there: seeking more to build bigger idols.

This is certainly worth noting in our day. It is extraordinarily easy to find fault with immorality, and immorality is everywhere to be found. We should, perhaps, pay greater attention to where worship is centered than we do with what behavior occurs. Why? Because behavior follows worship. Focusing on behavior only makes an idol of the rules (or of breaking them!)


In Focus: I would like to put the focus on one particular verse today. Take a long, hard look at 11:16 about making sure your hearts are not deceived, and pulled away to worship another god.

The people of Israel are being warned here that they cannot trust their hearts to guide their worship. The heart can be deceived—and so “follow your heart” becomes bad advice. It is worth noting, though, that heart here implies not only emotions but the will and thoughts as well.

Every part of our decision making process is vulnerable to deception if we are not careful, not just our emotions. It is, however, preventable. A deceived heart is an option.

In Practice: If that is the case, then what do we do? How do we prevent the deception of our hearts?

First, we remember what God has done for us. How easily we forget, it seems, the distance that God has covered for us. Eternity is no small thing, and yet He came for us anyway. Our memory should be filled with the knowledge of what God has done, and this anchors us against drifting from His truth.

Second, we actively seek to learn His word. In this, we do not simply trust memory, for we are blessed to have an available Bible. The more we pour in the Word of God, the less likely we are to fall into deception.

Third, we join together with our fellow believers. Not a one of us are smart enough, nor committed enough, to walk alone before the Lord God Almighty. Let us join each other to strengthen and encourage, and hold one another close as we walk the path God has given us.


In Nerdiness: Just a short nerd moment in Deuteronomy 11:10. Moses refers to the use of the foot to water the land in Egypt. This is attested to by history as we see pictures of treadmill and pedal powered irrigation systems.


That’s right—we can see how these worked. And the difference in Egypt and Canaan? Rain. Rain watered the land, and there were myriads of small, seasonal streams. There was no need for major irrigation works to sustain life.