I had a funny (depressing?) conversation with my lovely wife the other day ...
Me: I'm reading John Wesley's journal. It's good.
Her: Is he one of the messed up guys?
Me: What do you mean?
Her: Did he kill anyone or hate Jews or anything like that?
Me: No, you're thinking about the Reformers -- Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli. Wesley's cool.
Her: I see. :-)
I had a funny (depressing?) conversation with my lovely wife the other day ...
Many, if not most, writings in this category [Apostolic Fathers] were treated as Scripture alongside the Gospels and apostles' epistles by some Christian churches in the second century. In fact, one way of understanding this category is as the books that came to be judged orthodox but barely missed being judged canonical, inspired Scripture when the Christian canon was being determined. In other words, these writings were hardly distinguished from the writings of the apostles by some Christians in the Roman Empire but were ultimately excluded because they received no universal agreement as Scripture . . .
-- Roger E. Olsen, The Story of Christian Theology
I've been reading a translation of the Apostolic Fathers lately, and, despite their inclination toward moralism, they're very refreshing to read. In fact, if Christians used the Apostolic Fathers as a theological resource on certain issues, they could help shed light on the way many first-generation believers viewed certain cultural and doctrinal issues. For example ...
You shall not murder ... you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide.
-- Didache 2:2
Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.
-- Didache 7:1-3
The Lord submitted to suffer for our souls, even though he is Lord of the whole world, to whom God said at the foundation of the world, "Let us make humankind according to our image and likeness," . . .
-- Barnabas 5:5
Those are only a few examples of certain theological and moral issues that the Apostolic Fathers have something to say about. To be sure, the Apostolic Fathers are not Scripture, but, as Olsen said, they are by-and-large considered orthodox. Sure, in many ways they truly didn't understand the Gospel of Grace, but they didn't have the luxury of the full revelation of Scripture that we now possess.
Furthermore, it's important to note that the Apostolic Fathers were the guys who, in many instances, knew the apostles. For example, Polycarp was a disciple of John. While they didn't have the full canon of Scripture to rely on, they did have a close association with the apostles. They were Christianity's first theologians.
I've made it no secret around here that I question the common understanding of Hell being a literal, consuming fire that torments a conscious soul day and night without end. I do believe in Hell, and a "fire" of Hell, but I've found it curious that many believers accept a metaphorical representation of Heaven (e.g. streets of gold) as represented in Scripture, but reject a similar metaphorical representation of Hell.
In The Reason For God Tim Keller summarizes my current thinking on Hell:
In short, hell is simply one's freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity. We see this process "writ small" in addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, and pornography. First, there is a disintegration, because as time goes on you need more and more of the addictive substance to get an equal kick, which leads to less and less satisfaction. Second, there is an isolation, as increasingly you blame others and circumstances in order to justify your behavior. . . . When you lose all humility you are out of touch with reality. No one ever asks to leave hell. The very idea of heaven seems to them a sham.
The idea of Hell being something of a choice for the damned fits hand-in-glove with the idea represented by C. S. Lewis who said that the damned souls are in some sense successful rebels to the end, and, as Lewis' character George MacDonald says in The Great Divorce, "There are two types of people in the world. Those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'"
I believe Dallas Willard presents a similar picture of Hell in Renovation of the Heart.
I'll end with another Keller quotation from the aforementioned book:
All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want, including freedom from himself. What could be more fair than that?
I received this email today:
Milkweed Editions is interested in sending you a review copy of
J.C.Hallman's debut collection of fiction, "The Hospital for Bad Poets."
Will you provide a mailing address so that we can send you one?
I like J.C. Hallman. I like him a lot. He's got a real gift for storytelling, so I'm looking forward to receiving my review copy of his work. I'll plan on posting a review over at Thinklings. Stay tuned.
P.S. Here's an interview I did with Hallman back in 2007.
I may have quoted this line in a previous post on this blog, but I can't quite recall. Anyway, I was reading a bit of Lewis' The Great Divorce, and I had to smile when I read the following line from the character George MacDonald:
There are two types of people in the world. Those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done."
That's a bit of a paraphrase, but I think the quote is pretty close. I don't have the book right in front of me. For those who may not know, MacDonald was Lewis' primary inspiration and, I believe, his most beloved author. Lewis was a MacDonald fanboy. I still intend to read MacDonald one of these days.
I finished Paul Hoffman's book, King's Gambit, yesterday evening.
If you're a chess fan, and if you follow modern chess celebrities like Kasparov, you'll probably get a kick out of King's Gambit, but I doubt the average reader will find it very interesting at all.
The book didn't seem to have a strong, central theme. Sure, it's chock-full if interesting, and downright exciting, interviews with colorful, flamboyant, and wacky chess personalities, but the tome tasted more like a so-so pot luck dinner than a filet mignon, or even a double-quarter-pounder meal. At its best King's Gambit is a hodgepodge of chess anecdotes with no real, substantive connecting thread between the chapters (with the exception of a good dose of father bashing; man, this guy's got an Eldredgian Wound like you'd never believe).
Hoffman must have received inspiration from J.C. Hallman's, The Chess Artist, because he tried his darndest to emulate Hallman's knack for storytelling. While Hoffman is no slouch, he's not quite a J.C. Hallman.
If you're a chess fiend, pick up King's Gambit, it's a worthy read. If not, don't bother.
In the tradition of Jared's annual "Haul" post, I offer this photo of my Christmas books:
I'm alone in Waco right now. My wife and kids are still in Houston; I'll rejoin them on Wednesday. I got a pretty big stack of books for Christmas this year, and that stack has been keeping me warm at night.
Most notably right now I'm getting into King's Gambit by Paul Hoffman (mentioned in my "Chess" post below), and The Reason for God by Tim Keller. As best I can tell, Keller's book focuses primarily on theodicy, explaining why a good God allows evil and sends people to hell, et cetera.
I'm also digging -- big time -- my copy of The Apostolic Fathers translated by Michael W. Holmes. The Apostolic Fathers is a collection of the earliest, non-canonical, extant Christian writings, circa 75 to 150 AD.
I need more hours in my day to read all of this stuff.
I'm a self-proclaimed chess fiend. Curiously, though, I've been in my new Bloo digs for almost a month now, and I haven't broached the chess subject. I hadn't even set up a category titled "chess," until now.
About two months ago some uncles and I played our semi-annual family chess tournament. For a month leading up the tournament I did nothing but study chess. I read about chess. I played chess online. I played chess on my PC. I thought about chess before going to bed. I lived in a chess cocoon. I even dropped all of my normal reading in favor of studying chess.
I rolled through the first two games of the tournament, dismantling two of my uncles with ease. My confidence was high, but I knew the big challenge would be my uncle Mark in the final round. When we squared off I was confident, but quickly my position deteriorated, and I ended up playing one of the worst games I played in years. To Mark's credit, he seized every available opportunity and tore me to shreds. I had nothing left to do but to lick my wounds.
Losing stinks. As Paul Hoffman says in King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game: "He [the loser] cannot rest until he discovers where he went awry. To this end, he goes over the game repeatedly, on the board, or in his head, mulling over lost opportunities."
Furthermore, as many chess masters have said throughout the centuries, chess is a microcosm of reality, a metaphor for life. To quote Hoffman again: "When I lose, I repeatedly remind myself that chess is only a game. Yet even that reminder doesn't stop me from replaying in my head not only the moves of the game where I went astray, but also the other things in my life that have gone wrong."
I haven't done much with chess since that loss a couple of months ago. I had invested so much mental energy in preparing for that tournament that I needed a break. Subsequently, I dropped my chess pieces and picked up my books; I read about all of my favorite topics, all except chess. Sure, I've nursed a few games on Thinklings Chess, but nothing more. No Chessmaster. No books. No Internet club play. Nothing.
Then Christmas came around, and, thanks to my Amazon Wish List, I received most of the books I requested, including the aforementioned Hoffman title and the quintessential chess instructional tome: How to Reassess Your Chess by Jeremy Silman. Silman's book is, I believe, the most sought-after chess tutorial in history (or at least close to it), and in the introduction Silman contends that the average player (like myself) will have to deconstruct everything he thinks he knows about the game. He says your game may actually devolve before it improves, because so many chess players learn the game by building a fragmented, faulty foundation -- a hodgepodge of knowledge that might work against patzers but doesn't do much for getting a player to the next level of play. Silman even goes so far as to claim that the average player who submits to his tutelage will have no problem achieving a master ranking a few years down the road. So I'm officially a Silman student, and once again I find myself fiending for the game; it's like a drug, a transient addiction.
After a big loss it's not uncommon for a player to go into hiding, or, at the very least, to be completely disinterested in the game for a period of time. The real players, though, always come back to the 64 squares.
Hopefully this weekend I'll find some time to mess around with my shiny new Bloo blog and make a few changes. For example, I need to update my reading list. I finished The Kite Runner about six days ago, and, of course, I've got about a million other books I'm currently into.