Archive for May, 2012

“We are not invited now to live in the created order as though there had been no cross.  The resurrection body of Christ bears nail-prints, and the life of those who follow him means taking up the cross. The path to full participation lies through being excluded.  Discipleship, then, involves us in suffering of exclusion from various forms of created good which are our right and privilege as Adam’s restored children…[if] our own fallen humanity does not equip us as it should to participate in these goods without compromise…Striking bargains with the world is not the imitation Christi.  Christ’s followers are called to bear his cross, to ‘mortify’ those aspects of their own nature which are inclined to compromise ‘upon the earth’ (Col. 3:5).  They are called to accept exclusion from the created good as the necessary price of a true and unqualified witness to it…[Yet] that moment of self-denial, when we prefer to forgo the created good which is our right rather than to enjoy it on terms of compromise, is also a moment of knowledge, at which the good becomes clear and conspicuous to us as rarely ever besides.” (Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics, pp. 95-97)


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Resurrection Hope

“‘The Lord guards the loyal.’  This is the people Israel, who recite, ‘Blessed be He who revives the dead,’ and answer ‘Amen’ with complete trust, for they trust with all their strength in the Holy One (blessed be He!) that He will revive the dead, even though the resurrection of the dead has not yet come about.  They recite, ‘who redeems Israel,’ even though they have not yet been redeemed, and ‘Blessed is He who rebuilds Jerusalem,’ even though it has not yet been rebuilt.  Said the Holy One (blessed be He!): ‘They were redeemed only for a short time and then they were once again subjugated, yet they trust in Me that I will redeem them in the future.’  Hence, ‘The Lord guards the loyal.'” (Midrash Tehillim to Psalm 31:24, cited in Jon D. Levenson, Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life)

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My latest piece at the Harvard Ichthus is now up here.

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I have a love-hate relationship with the obsession some Christians have with memorizing Scripture.  In particular, I tend to react negatively when I sense that the memorization of Scripture is being valued for its own sake, as if the cognitive storage of holy writ grants an automatic boost in sanctification or an increased knowledge of and love for God.   On the other hand, as a means to an end, memorizing Scripture can be of great worth.  I’ve never come across a better, more balanced statement of this nuance than this passage from Augustine:

“A man speaks more or less wisely to the extent that he has become more or less proficient in the Holy Scriptures.  I do not speak of the man who has read wisely and memorized much, but of the man who has well understood and has diligently sought out the sense of the Scriptures.  For there are those who read them and neglect them, who read that they may remember but neglect them in that they fail to understand them.  Those are undoubtedly to be preferred who remember the words less well, but who look into the heart of the Scriptures with the eye of their own hearts.  But better than either of these is he who can quote them when he wishes and understands them properly.” (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, 5.5.7)

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Gordon Wenham offers some splendidly helpful insights into the often (for us) obscure conceptual world of Leviticus:

“Everything that is not holy is common.  Common things divide into two groups, the clean and the unclean.  Clean things become holy, when they are sanctified.  But unclean objects cannot be sanctified.  Clean things can be made unclean, if they are polluted.  Finally, holy items may be defiled and become common, even polluted, and therefore unclean…It is perhaps because ‘common’ is a category between the two extremes of holiness and uncleanness that it is mentioned only once, in Leviticus 10:10…

Cleanness is a state intermediate between holiness and uncleanness.  Cleanness is the normal condition of most things and persons.  Sanctification can elevate the clean into the holy, while pollution degrades the clean into the unclean.  The unclean and the holy are two states which must never come in contact with each other…Cleanness may be transmitted from some unclean things by contact (e.g., 11:39-40; 14:36; 15:4ff., etc.).  Similarly some holy objects make everything that touches them holy (Exod. 29:37; 30:29; Lev. 6:18, 27).  But cleanness is not conveyed to other things. Cleanness is the ground state; holiness and uncleanness are variations from the norm of cleanness.  The basic meaning of cleanness is purity…But cleanness is a broader concept than purity.  It approximates to our notion of normality…The notion of normality has very wide ramifications in Levitical theology.

Uncleanness is the converse of cleanness…Unlike cleanness, though, uncleanness is contagious and incompatible with holiness.  Things may be unclean in themselves (e.g., some animals, ch. 11; this might be termed permanent uncleanness), or what is intrinsically clean may become temporarily unclean.  Temporary uncleannesses may result from contact with corpses, childbirth, disease, discharges (chs. 11-15), and various sins including illicit sexual intercourse (ch. 18) and murder (Num. 35:33).  All these different types of uncleanness are regarded as in some way abnormal, or at least not quite usual.  The greater the deviation from the norm the greater is the degree of uncleanness and the difficulty in cleansing.  Permanent uncleanness cannot be altered and is not contagious, so no rites are prescribed to cure it.  Unclean animals do not pass on their uncleanness to others: they simply cannot be eaten.  Paradoxically, temporary uncleanness is taken more seriously.  Some types of this uncleanness are contagious and may be passed on to others (e.g., 15:19ff.).  All types of temporary uncleanness require cleansing.  Those who neglect to undergo the appropriate decontamination procedures endanger themselves and the whole community (Num. 19:13, 20)…This insistence on purification of the unclean is a corollary of the idea that Israel, the camp, and especially the tabernacle are holy.  Contact between uncleanness and holiness is disastrous.  They are utterly distinct in theory, and must be kept equally distinct in practice, lest divine judgment fall.

Holiness characterizes God himself and all that belongs to him…Anyone or anything given to God becomes holy…A person dedicated to the service of God is holy.  Preeminently holy in this sense are the priests (Exod. 29:1; 39:30; Lev. 21:6ff.)…In a more general sense all Israel is called out from the nations to serve God is therefore holy (Exod. 19:5-6; cf. Lev. 20:26).  Uncleanness results from unnatural causes (e.g., disease) or human actions (e.g., sin), but holiness is not simply acquired by ritual action or moral behavior.  Leviticus stresses that there are two aspects to sanctification, a divine act and human actions.  God sanctifies and man also sanctifies.  Only those people whom God calls to be holy can become holy in reality.  ‘The man whom the Lord chooses shall be the holy one’ (Num. 16:7).  The divine side to sanctification is expressed in the frequent refrain ‘I am the Lord your sanctifier’ (Lev. 20:8; 21:8, 15, 23; 22:9, 16, 32).  Sometimes the divine part in sanctification and the human side are mentioned together [Lev. 21:8; Exod. 20:8, 11].  Usually, however, the main emphasis of the book is on the human contribution to sanctification, what man has to do to make something holy…

This survey of the use of the terms for holiness, cleanness, and uncleanness has demonstrated the importance of these ideas for understanding Leviticus.  I have suggested that cleanness is the natural state of most creatures.  Holiness is a state of grace to which men are called by God, and it is attained through obeying the law and carrying out rituals such as sacrifice.  Uncleanness is a substandard condition to which men descend through bodily processes and sin.  Every Israelite had a duty to seek release from uncleanness through washing and sacrifice, because uncleanness was quite incompatible with the holiness of the covenant people…Holy means more than separation to divine service.  It means wholeness and completeness…This idea of wholeness or normality [is] the notion implicitly assumed to be essential to holiness and cleanness.” (Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, pp. 19-25)

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“I entirely agree that a historian ought to be precise in detail; but unless you take all the characters and circumstances into account, you are reckoning without the facts.  The proportions and relations of things are just as much facts as the things themselves.” (Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night)

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“At the core of every moral code there is a picture of human nature, a map of the universe, and a version of history.  To human nature (of the sort conceived), in a universe (of the kind imagined), after a history (so understood), the rules of the code apply.” (Walter Lippman, cited in Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, p. 9)

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