Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Unity (Part I)

Unity is a puzzling concept for me. For one thing, it is bound up in identity, and unfortunately it's rather hard to think about identity without subtly (or not so subtly) bringing in Plato's forms. The scenario is familiar. Plato used the example of a chair (therefore I feel compelled to do so as well). We can't call two four legged objects, which happen to be designed expressly for sitting, chairs unless we grant that there's something they both share which makes them chairs. So, we attempt to nail this attribute down. The more we talk about it the more abstract it becomes, and finally we've stripped all of its particulars away and we're left with a universal. By the way, if a better mind than mine can think up something to call this besides "chairness", I would be most grateful. Now we can be Augustinian and locate this in the mind of God, or we can be more traditional Platonists and allocate it to some ethereal region (but let's not). So much is familiar to anyone who has taken an introductory Philosophy course (I have, by the way, and therefore am now part of a minimally exclusive club of people who know everything about it.)

Christian unity, and Christian identity, does not operate in this way. I do not share an ethereal "christian-nes" with the citizens of the City of God. Paul instead uses one particular phrase over and over again. He uses this phrase especially in Ephesians to locate the identity of the believer. This phrase is "in Christ." For example, in the opening verse of Ephesians he states that he's writing to the faithful in Christ. In v. 4 he says "as he chose us in Him (i.e., Christ)." It is this trait, being in Christ, which unites me to all believers. We could talk more about what the implications of being "in Christ" are, but notice that it is no longer abstract. Unity for believers is not bound up in some trait which is itself located in an ethereal realm of the forms. It's not even something located in the mind of God. It turns out that unity is bound up in a person. The person of Jesus Christ.

In the past, I've been distressed by the diversity which I see in the church today. The thought of thousands of different denominations seemed to me, like a great evil. This was especially apparent to me considering that, in the not comparatively distant past (I'm talking about before the East-West split), there once was only one true church.  I may have even taken sides with Chesterton in my frustration, when he seemed to take jabs at protestants for messing it all up. To him, Protestants might be part of what's wrong with the world. My thought is, surely Christ would want there to be only one church which worshipped him.

I get an immediate, "no" answer in Luke 9:49. The disciples came running like tattletales to Jesus with the appalling news that men, who were not with the disciples, were casting out demons in Jesus' name. Jesus gives an ecumenical answer, "Do not forbid them, for he who is not against you (all) is for you (all)." This answers two types of people (who are really quite similar). First, it answers those who, like the disciples probably, are more interested in gatekeeping. We need to stop them because they haven't been with us. Secondly, there are those (more like me) who wish that all these churches would just agree on what the Bible teaches. I did not think of this sentiment as anti-ecumenical until I heard Pastor Douglas Wilson explain it in a sermon. The thing is, it's an excellent sentiment. But what it really means is that I wish everyone would agree with me. After all, I have the advantage of being right.

The complete picture of what true unity is in Ephesians 4, "[There is] one body and one spirit, just as you all were called in one hope of your calling; one LORD, one Faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all." This is true unity. Paul continues in v. 11 to explain the need for apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. They are a gift to equip us all for building up of the body of Christ, to grow us up into maturity so that we are no longer led astray by every new doctrine. In the end, if I were to reject the church because it is supposedly disunited I would be cut off from the very body to which I am called to be united. Besides being sad and lonely, the church of Rob Noland would be composed entirely of hypocrites.

NB: I have borrowed heavily from the work of Mark Driscoll in his excellent book, "Who Do You Think You Are?", which is essentially an exposition of Ephesians.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Christ's claims- A response to a FB discussion

My friend recently had a status update that reads: If you reject Christ, you cannot help but see the Old Testament as a book with an evil dictator for a god, and a chronicle of violence and blood.

One of his friends (not mutual with me) responded thus: I'm kind of missing the message in this status . . . I mean, honsetly I'm seeing it pretty much the same as I would see:
"If you rejected Hitler, you couldn't help but see the Nazi regime as a group in control of a country with an evil dictator and a chronicle of blood and violence."

My friend asked him to clarify, and he said (with obvious errors corrected): It just seems like, by that logic, any group can justify its beliefs and the actions of its leader by simply saying "well you wouldn't understand 'cause you're not one of us."

It did not seem right for me to respond in length on a status which was not mine to a friend I did not share, so I decided to post my "would be" response here.

There is a sense in which every belief system has the power you have mentioned. Any adherents to a worldview (such as National Socialism) can defend that worldview using their own presuppositions and be perfectly justified in their own minds. The cracks are sealed and every horrifying action is justified by their beliefs. It is the perfect circle of logicality which Chesterton described. We, on the other hand, can see the system and see precisely where it falls down because we are out of the system. From this position we can rightly condemn National Socialism on every point in which it deviates from the Law of God. Christianity is similarly closed, with one important difference. It closes around the entire world. The power of the Nazi party was constrained to a few European states (and that for a short period of time) and is now limited to a small number of National Socialists worldwide. If Christ is who He claims to be (which Christians believe), then he lays legitimate claim to the entire world. It is not possible to step out of the world and judge its creator. So, yes a Christian can defend the Old Testament based on His belief in Christ.

I sense an objection. You, I assume, do not agree to my presuppositions. You do not believe that Christ is creator and redeemer and therefore you do not recognize His claim. This would seem to make the argument meaningless. Actually, this fact is regrettable but it does no damage to the argument at all. It still remains the case that Christ’s claims are infinite and, indeed, belief in Christ is essential to seeing the Old Testament rightly. Moreover, we as Christians have legitimate reasons to believe in Christ’s claims. You may continue to judge the actions of a being you do not believe in (this seems to me a worthless endeavor), but you may not compare Him to Hitler or His followers to Nazis. The distance is simply too great. It is quite easy to step out of the tiny domain Hitler claims for himself and judge him from there. It is quite impossible to step out of the domain Christ claims.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

I am apparently unable to talk about anything other than dirt.

So. I've been out a while. School and all that. But I'm still thinking about dirt, which I'm sure is exciting to a total of one person in this world. Namely me.

Dirt is life and death: death out of life, life out of death. When things die they hit ground. Bunches of little beasts eat them, die, and fall apart into dust. One of Danny Boyle’s movies told me that 80% of dust is human skin. Everything dies into dirt. Dirt is death. Every living thing pulls its life from the ground. Dead dogs are eaten by worms and flies and members of phylum Zygomycota. They die, and crumble into dust. A man comes, and dead pieces of him fall off in invisible flakes of skin while he cuts the dirt in two with an iron sword. The man drops in round balls that look dead. Water drops fall from clouds and shatter on the dirt. Seeds take nutrients from the dirt and live – they pull death from the soil and make it green life. Months later, this plant too will die, its hard labor ripped away and the stalk cut down. And the man’s wife will grind and knead and feed her family with bread, bread grown from death, life out of the dust.

We become dirt. Dirt looks better when we adorn it, like a beautiful woman wearing diamonds. It’s a mutually beneficial existence. Dirt in the wild is great, but not like earth that is cared for, tilled, and cultivated. It’s not the same. At the same time, the soil of overworked, overfarmed land is one of the saddest sights in the world. Drained of all life, it holds no promise, only sorrow. It’s true, though, that the untouched dirt of a national park is good like the Sabbath is good, that the pristine white sand of Pensacola is beautiful, but we need six times more earth to balance it out. Good earth. Dark earth. Black with minerals and nutrients and promise and growth and rot and hard work and death and life. We are becoming to dirt.

Dirt becomes us. A man is at home with his fingers in the dirt. Perhaps it’s my Southern roots, but I think there’s universal respect for a farmer, for a man who plunges his hands in the soil. Those who don’t like getting their hands dirty aren’t people I want to be around, speaking in the most general way possible. We need to be touching dirt. There’s a labor of Hercules in which he tries to defeat Antaeus, the giant who is immortal while touching earth, that should ring true for us (perhaps far truer than the Enlightenment would have us think – are we not just that way?). After all, “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” Why is it that the most disturbing shot in every Western the toes of the cowboy’s boots dangling three inches off the ground beneath the lynching tree? Why does it always work? Why do people in space begin to deteriorate from the inside out? We need dirt to survive. If we leave it for long it leaks out our bones and muscles and we die. There’s a reason being hanged is the most disgraceful possible death in almost every ancient culture. Go, says the judge, go be pulled away from what makes you human, what you are most like in the universe, and be held there until you can’t breathe anymore while everyone watches you. Dirt is becoming to us.

God became dirt. Infinite beauty and power and love was bound and wrapped and pressed into clay that walked around on the earth and was hungry and hurt and cried and grew angry. Matter has never been created or destroyed, the great lords of science tell us. But the apostles chuckle and say that they’re wrong. A few trillion molecules are missing from this universe. Because Christ rolled away the stone from His resting place in the earth, and stepped forth in a body of dirt made new. And it’s not here any more. And so I must believe that there is dirt missing from this earth. It’s remade, renewed, purified of all remnants and scars of death, and sits at the right hand of the Father.

Dirt becomes us. Dirt was what God took and breathed life into. Dirt is what makes up our skin, our bones, and that little thing next to your small intestine called appendix. Dirt is made up of molecules, and some of those molecules are sucked up by roots into most everything. Grass. Wheat. Grapes. Some of those molecules go into cows after being grass. Wheat molecules become flour, then bread, and the grape similarly becomes wine. All of our food, at some point, came from dirt, and so all that we physically are came, sooner or later, from dirt. Dirt makes us better – Christ healed the blind man with mud. He called Zacchaeus out of sin into life: out of a tree and onto the dirt.

We become dirt. When we are done fighting with air, pulling it down and letting it out of ourselves, we are laid to rest. We sleep in the dirt, surrounded by the dust that we were. There we give up trying to hold the dirt we have. We give it back. And that’s the economy of the Gospel. Give up what you have. Give everything you have to others, and it will come back to you. Give up your pride to Christ and He will give you a real reason to be proud. Give up your strength to the dirt, from whence it came, give your bones back to the ground. And, one day – even so, come quickly Lord Jesus! – dirt will be raised up and pressed into a true body, one without decay or sin or death, and the breath of the Spirit will fill it with flame and purified, clean, unshatterably beautiful, you will stand made new in the World made new. An Earth made without sin, made with no thought of death, on dirt washed pure by the blood of Christ.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Best Video Ever

Yeah, so this is my new favorite youtube video. Done by my friends Christian and Sheffield Leithart, starring Stephen Sampson. All filmed In Bucer's Coffeehouse Pub in Moscow, ID. I'm using a link rather than an embed, just because.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


There are some people who seem to be always right. I used to look up to these sorts of people, and want to be like them. That was before I realized that they aren't always right. They are all phonies. So what happens when they are wrong? Well, either they deflate gracefully or they end up worse than anything Roald Dahl could of dreamed up. Admitting wrong means stepping out of yourself and viewing yourself from another viewpoint. Being wrong is like little worldview aftershocks; some peoples' worldviews just can't take it.

Take fatherhood. The father-young children relationship fascinates me. When the father is taking his proper role (and even when he is not) he is creating a model of the Father to his children. When they are young, he can do no wrong. Gradually, as his children get older they come to realize that their father is human and he makes mistakes. He is an imperfect model of God, but a model nonetheless. Incidentally, what happens when no father is in the home? Statistics.

The people I can truly admire are the ones who can be wrong. I want to be like them. I want to be like my father.

It's not enough to be mistaken, mislead, or whatever. No excuses. Just be wrong and expect it to hurt. This will be my easter resolution: BE WRONG. I'm sure I won't be lacking in opportunities.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Joy in the parentheses

People say that the past gets in the way of the present too much. That's probably true, but the future matters to me more. Perhaps this is because I'm young (a mere 21 years old; God willing I have more future ahead of me than past behind me). Right now the future is distracting me. I pray God for patience but I want joy now; without all the pain, anxiety, and heartache that comes with it. (My whole life up to now has been a parentheses; let's get to the good stuff already).

I've always been that way (is this a basic human trait, or am I special?). I'd love to learn piano without practicing or recitals; boy I hated those (If I had learned I would have been much better than you, by the way). I'm a lazy neat freak and an apathetic radical (my room's a mess and I haven't done a darn thing about the issues I care about). Wouldn't it be great if things just worked themselves out with no effort?

I think a lot of people have this "parentheses" view. It couldn't be more wrong. My life is a book and this is the good stuff. What's keeping me from having joy now? What, my singleness? My dependence on my parents for money? The pain in my back? Pain is transient (seriously, it's getting better), singleness is where God wants me right now, and God bless my parents. In the words of my little brother, life is glorious. Rejoice!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Same moon

Originally uploaded by robnoland
Ain't it gorgeous? I didn't have the aid of a 400 mm lens this time, so it was just 200 and the texture of the moon didn't come out quite the way I would have liked. But I still like it.