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“No sane man would deny that the Parthenon was built of marble, even if here and there a speck of sandstone should be detected in it structure. Not less unreasonable is it to deny the inspiration of such a book as the Bible because one sacred writer says that on a given occasion twenty-four thousand, and another says that twenty three-thousand, men were slain. Surely a Christian may be allowed to tread such objections under his feet.
Admitting that the Scriptures do contain, in a few instances, discrepancies which with out present means of knowledge, we are unable satisfactorily to explain, they furnish no rational ground for denying their infallibility. “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 5:35). This is the whole doctrine of plenary inspiration, taught by the lips of Christ himself. The universe teems with evidences of design, so manifold, so diverse, so wonderful, as to overwhelm the mind with the conviction that it has had an intelligent author. Yet here and there isolated cases of monstrosity appear. It is irrational, because we cannot account for such cases, to deny that the universe is the product of intelligence. So the Christian need not renounce his faith in the plenary inspiration of the Bible, although there may be some things about it in its present state which he cannot account for.

Charles Hodge Systematic Theology Vol.1 VI.2.I (p.170)

“No sane man wo…

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Difference between Knowing and Understanding.

It is important, however, to bear in mind the difference between knowing and understanding, or comprehending. A child knows what the words “God is a spirit” mean. No created being can comprehend the Almight unto perfection. We must know the plan of salvation; but no one can comprehend its mysteries. This distinction is recognized in every department. Men know unspeakably more than they understand. We know that plants grow; that the will controls our voluntary muscles; that Jesus Christ is God and man in two distinct natures, and one person forever; but here as everywhere we are surrounded by the incomprehensible. We can rationally believe that a things is, without knowing how or why it is. It is enough for the true dignity of man as a rational creature, that he is not called upon by his Creator to believe without knowledge, to receive as true propositions which convey no meaning to the mind. This would be not only irrational, but impossible.

Charles Hodge Systematic Theology. Vol 1, III.5.A (p.50)

B. Reason must judge of the Credibility of a Revelation.

.. A thing may be strange, unaccountable, unintelligible, and yet perfectly credible. What is strange or unaccountable to one mind, may be perfectly familiar and plain to another. For the most limited intellect or experience to make itself the standard of the possible and true, would be as absurd as a man’s making his visible horizon the limit of space. Unless a man is willing to believe the incomprehensible, he can believe nothing, and must dwell forever in outer darkness. The most sceptical form of modern philosophy, which reduces faith and knowledge to a minimum, teaches that the incomprehensible is all we know, namely, that force is, and that it is persistent. It is most unreasonable, therefore, to urge as an objection to Christianity that it demands faith in the incomprehensible.

Ibid., Vol.1 III.5.B (p.50)

Hodge on Reason: Its Role, Its Limits

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Looks Promising

The Oxford Companion to Beer sounds promising. But this reviewer may show a bit more than optimism when he welcomes the likes of "Chibuku shake-shake" into the canons of beer:

The OCB is like a pub with enough taps to satisfy every variety of drinker. Plenty here is for beer nerds—I don’t know what acidulated malt is, and I don’t much care—but far more isn’t, spanning serious history (“Bacchus,” “Free Mash-Tun Act (1880)”), amusing arcana (“beer weeks,” “last orders”) and profiles of brewers past and present: from the global monster “InBev” to San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company, widely credited with starting the American microbrew movement. You may know something about German beer, but did you know about a Malawian sorghum beer known as chibuku shake-shake? Well, thank me when you’re having a cold one in Lilongwe.

No sir, I will not be thanking you. Nor will anyone else when they slurp that slag called ‘brew’ whether cold or warm, as the Malawians like it. That sort of frothy fermented leftover from the millet drink ‘Thobwa’ is certainly worth noting. But let’s be honest, its as enjoyable and functional as Colt 45, i.e. it works every time. After all, anything that comes in a swollen milk carton just ain’t worth bothering with.

Defining Poverty

It occurred to me today: how do you define poverty? Each suggested answer only brought up more questions. Here are a few examples:

You are poor if you budget is small. — This could be true, and yet you still would have more money left in your pocket at the end of the month than others (see below), or your budget is free of any burdensome payments (car, loan, mortgage, rent, etc.) Conceivably someone who owns their house, their car, and lives by themselves could live on a very small budget. This would result in a great amount of free money in their pocket.

You are poor if you have a small amount of money left in your pocket/bank at the end of your budget cycle. — This could be true, though of someone who has very large expenses and a very large income. Again, it is likely that the person with a large income also includes in their expenses things to their benefit: savings, or debt payments.

You are poor if your expenses are largely tied up in loan payments, and other non-productive uses. — While this characterizes the person who makes a lot of money and yet has massive amounts of debt, it does not take into account the person who, has large debt but is privileged by the education that loan made available. Another way to say it; is historical wealth or benefit factored into considerations on poverty? Ability to get a good paying job is certainly a corollary here.

You are poor if you have no privileges which give you the upper hand. — This is something that often misses most discussions of poverty among those who do have privileges (steady family, parents involved in and encouraging education, good schools, financial help for school, etc.) Yet even this does not take into account the ability to excel in a trade or entrepreneurial skills. You can make good money with privilege starting you on the right track. Capitalism at its best allows this (without comment on Capitalism at its worst).

Which one does the job? I’m really not sure. One thing is clear, once you start qualifying for more than one of these you can count yourself in the crew of the poor.

I am thinking about poverty, partly because I wonder how poor we are. I also think about poverty because I wonder if our scruples are misguided; how we define poverty will help us to decide who really needs help.

CSTS Inaugural Conference

A friend of mine (Aaron White) and I have put together a new student group on Covenant Seminary’s campus, Covenant Seminary Theological Society. It sounds more elite than it is; we are looking to promote rigorous Christian scholarship and godliness among students at Covenant. To this end we will be putting on a conference in late January where students will be presenting papers along with professors. Below is our call for papers:

You’ve been working on it for weeks, for the three days leading up to the due date you got a total of 4 hours of sleep, you are now dreaming in greek; all for that grade and the satisfaction of doing a good job. Its worth it, but how often do you get to share what you learned? How often do you get thoughtful feedback from other students or professors consisting of more than one or two lines? Now is your chance!
We are the Covenant Seminary Theological Society, and we are looking for students to present their very own papers for our inaugural conference this January. If you would like to present, you will need to submit a full version of your paper by October 21st to Aaron White or Daniel Robbins (dfrobbins). This will allow us time to select our presenters. Unless you feel inspired, you should feel free to submit papers from previous classes. Note: We would prefer these papers to be thesis papers (ie. not annotated translations, or verse-by-verse commentaries). Student Papers can be on any topic in OT, NT, Systematics, Ethics, Christian backgrounds, etc.

We are very excited about this conference as it will provide a forum for students to test out their theses, and presentation skills, as well as encourage them in scholarship and godly fellowship in the course of it all. Please pray for us as we get all the details together, and for the students who will be presenting (and submitting papers in the coming weeks).

Repentance and Justification

Justification reminds us that saying ‘sorry’ earns us nothing. We ought to be sorry and fess up for our actions regardless of the consequences; this is simply our right duty. Saying ‘sorry’ is embracing the consequences as what we justly deserve. Never mind for just a moment that we will never come to the Lord except by His gracious calling. If we see our sins aright, when we come back to the Lord we ought to expect nothing but judgment for our actions and unbelief.

What is surprising is that we when come to the Lord he also wipes our sins away. This is the overabundant outpouring of his grace. Justification is a landslide of grace on top of his gracious welcoming us back in the first place. We have nothing to pay, but are now treated as if we were faithful like Jesus our whole lives. ‘Sorry’ earns us nothing; Jesus righteous life, death and resurrection have accomplished everything.

Candidates and Theology


In the 2008 elections, I bothered everyone who was stuck with me by constantly saying that I wished I had a document explaining Obama’s political philosophy as a whole, not to mention any system of thought that binds his thinking together. I always felt like I was given well polished snippets which did nothing to reveal the undergirding system of thought.

It turns out I am not alone. Please read this article by David Mills, at First Things. Here is a lovely clipping:

The country does not need religous politicians to collaborate in removing religious doctrine from the public square. We need politicians who lay out their theology and explain how it both binds and directs them, and that theology includes finer points generally considered politically irrelevant. And we need this from secular politicians, who also have a theology, or if they prefer a philosophy, as much as from religious ones.

Not that we will get such disclosures. Religious candidates are happy to argue fiercely about cutting taxes or regulating banks or increasing social spending, but not about anything they can segregate out as religious" or theological." The closest conservatives come is to speak of family values" or traditional values," while avoiding answering the question of what justifies those values and why they should bind anyone else. The closest liberals come is to invoke compassion and concern for the poor without explaining how this justifies their policies.

Zimbabwe – Summary

Dear Friends and Supporters,

We had a wonderful time visiting the Theological College of Zimbabwe, and the fellow Presbyterian churches in Bulawayo. Bethany has done a great job giving some color to the stories of our time there at her blog Still in St. Louis. Please visit there to get a glimpse of our daily life there and the ministry and relationships she had.

In an effort to keep things brief, here is an executive summary. Over the five and a half weeks we were there, I was able to:
– Teach on Romans 12-16
– Teach on Philippians 2
– Teach on Amos 5-6
– Teach two lectures with KJ Drake on Covenant Theology
– Teach on Episcopalian Polity
– Teach one chapter of Greek Grammar
– Lead one session of an advanced Greek reading course, looking at Romans 8
– Tutor 2 Greek students a handful of times
– Preach twice; once in the TCZ chapel and once in City Presbyterian

I feel quite blessed not only to have been able to go and visit the school, but also to have been able to participate and teach as many sections as I did. It was quite encouraging teaching. I had a great time doing it, and realized how much more I need to learn to teach well (pedagogy is difficult).

There were 3 guys and 1 girl from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and 2 of us from Covenant (myself and KJ Drake). The guys from Gordon-Conwell were all there without their wives and children. All the guys stayed on campus and ate PB & J and Ramen noodles. I had the sweetest gig of all; I got to teach and research all day long, and then come home to a wonderful meal and my wonderful family. I got to spend time with my wife and kids every night of the week (a bit rare in our home during the semester while working at the restaurant!)

We are praying for wisdom in how we spend the next two or more years here in STL. We would love to go back to Zim, and especially TCZ. It would be great if they could use us as well. It was quite exciting to meet the Presbyterian ministers there, and very encouraging to here their hearts for the church and vision to see the Lord continue his work among them and among the city. It would be a life well spent partnering with the church there and serving along side these wonderful brothers.

If we were to go and work with the church there, an M.Div would be sufficient. But if I wanted to teach, I would need to get a Th.M or an equivalent research Masters. This is not because I haven’t studied enough to teach at a Bachelor’s level, nor is it a requirement of the college. Rather, it would be a good degree to have to bring some higher credentials to the table for the college’s sake. They want to eventually offer an MA in theological/biblical studies. but in order to do that it seems they need a certain number of faculty with Ph.D’s or Th.M’s. At this point, a Th.M (or an S.T.M. at Concordia Seminary) seems like the best option. It, ideally, would only take a year to complete after finishing my M.Div. It would allow me to teach at a higher level, and wouldn’t take the next 5 or more years to complete (like a Ph.D would; if I could be accepted to a program).

So, please pray for us. Pray for our wisdom in deciding how to go about the next few years in terms of study, but also in terms of continuing relationships with those in Zim. It would be lovely if the Lord had a place for us in Zim at the end of our studies. At the end of the day, though, we don’t want to go anywhere if the Lord isn’t there as well.

Thank you to all of you who were praying for us, and especially to all of you who prayed for us and gave us the money we needed to get there! It was amazing to see all of the support come together so quickly; that in and of itself is a testimony to the Lord’s kindness and our continued partnership.


Nothing more miserable

Getting my hair cut has, in recent days, limbed the list of ‘most miserable activities, ever.’ It is number one. It combines all my least favorite things:

– complete lack of control over my appearance, since whatever I say to the stylist or barber will fall on deaf ears; "no my hair really is that crazy", "please don’t give the corky st.clair cut"
– forced small talk "so do you live nearby?" "yup." "did you walk in?" "yup." "What do you do?" "I go to seminary and am a waiter." "Oh…. neat."
– neck, ear, and scalp abuse (especially at places like great clips). Constant scraping, pulling, shaving more scraping….. ugh.

It doesn’t matter where I go, its roughly the same experience. The nicer places try a bit harder to have civil conversation despite my clear disinterest. The haircut mills (great clips, supercuts) give up after a few tries.

Where can an ornery, wiry haired, crotchety seminary student go these days for a decent haircut? My wife is to be applauded for her years of patience, and many many haircuts she has lovingly given me. Getting my haircut by her is at the top of my other list; "sweetest, most nicest ways my wife loves me."

The Business of Education

Arts and Letters Daily recently posted this link to the following article: The studentloan market has $800-billion in debt, a lot of borrowers in default, and the federal government on the hook. How’s that for a big bubble?

Below is lovely snippet from the article which simultaneously relieves my own unexpressed angst and conjurs up a more thorough-going distaste with the academy as a career:

Higher education seems an unlikely site for this kind of speculative bubble. While housing prices are based on what competing buyers are willing to pay, postsecondary education’s price is supposedly linked to its costs (with the exception of the for-profits). But the rapid growth in tuition is mystifying in value terms; no one could argue convincingly the quality of instruction or the market value of a degree has increased ten-fold in the past four decades (though this hasn’t stopped some from trying). So why would universities raise tuition so high so quickly? “Because they can” answers this question for home-sellers out to get the biggest return on their investments, or for-profits out to grab as much Pell Grant money as possible, but it seems an awfully cynical answer when it comes to nonprofit education.

First, where the money hasn’t gone: instruction. As Marc Bousquet, a leading researcher into the changing structures of higher education, wrote in How The University Works (2008):

If you’re enrolled in four college classes right now, you have a pretty good chance that one of the four will be taught by someone who has earned a doctorate and whose teaching, scholarship, and service to the profession has undergone the intensive peer scrutiny associated with the tenure system. In your other three classes, however, you are likely to be taught by someone who has started a degree but not finished it; was hired by a manager, not professional peers; may never publish in the field she is teaching; got into the pool of persons being considered for the job because she was willing to work for wages around the official poverty line (often under the delusion that she could ‘work her way into’ a tenurable position); and does not plan to be working at your institution three years from now.

This is not an improvement; fewer than forty years ago, when the explosive growth in tuition began, these proportions were reversed. Highly represented among the new precarious teachers are graduate students; with so much available debt, universities can force graduate student workers to scrape by on sub-minimum-wage, making them a great source of cheap instructional labor. Fewer tenure-track jobs mean that recent PhDs, overwhelmed with debt, have no choice but to accept insecure adjunct positions with wages kept down by the new crop of graduate student-workers. Rather than producing a better-trained, more professional teaching corps, increased tuition and debt have enabled the opposite.

If overfed teachers aren’t the causes or beneficiaries of increased tuition (as they’ve been depicted of late), then perhaps it’s worth looking up the food chain. As faculty jobs have become increasingly contingent and precarious, administration has become anything but. Formerly, administrators were more or less teachers with added responsibilities; nowadays, they function more like standard corporate managers—and they’re paid like them too. Once a few entrepreneurial schools made this switch, market pressures compelled the rest to follow the high-revenue model, which leads directly to high salaries for in-demand administrators. Even at nonprofit schools, top-level administrators and financial managers pull down six- and seven-figure salaries, more on par with their industry counterparts than with their fellow faculty members. And while the proportion of tenure-track teaching faculty has dwindled, the number of managers has skyrocketed in both relative and absolute terms. If current trends continue, the Department of Education estimates that by 2014 there will be more administrators than instructors at American four-year nonprofit colleges. A bigger administration also consumes a larger portion of available funds, so it’s unsurprising that budget shares for instruction and student services have dipped over the past fifteen years.

When you hire corporate managers, you get managed like a corporation, and the race for tuition dollars and grants from government and private partnerships has become the driving objective of the contemporary university administration. The goal for large state universities and elite private colleges alike has ceased to be (if it ever was) building well-educated citizens; now they hardly even bother to prepare students to assume their places among the ruling class. Instead we have, in Bousquet’s words, “the entrepreneurial urges, vanity, and hobbyhorses of administrators: Digitize the curriculum! Build the best pool/golf course/stadium in the state! Bring more souls to God! Win the all-conference championship!” These expensive projects are all part of another cycle: corporate universities must be competitive in recruiting students who may become rich alumni, so they have to spend on attractive extras, which means they need more revenue, so they need more students paying higher tuition. For-profits aren’t the only ones consumed with selling product. And if a humanities program can’t demonstrate its economic utility to its institution (which can’t afford to haul “dead weight”) and students (who understand the need for marketable degrees), then it faces cuts, the neoliberal management technique par excellence. Students apparently have received the message loud and clear, as business has quickly become the nation’s most popular major.

When President Obama spoke in the State of the Union of the need to send more Americans to college, it was in the context of economic competition with China, phrased as if we ought to produce graduates like steel. As the near-ubiquitous unpaid internship for credit (in which students pay tuition in order to work for free) replaces class time, the bourgeois trade school supplants the academy. Parents understandably worried about their children make sure they never forget about the importance of an attractive résumé. It was easier for students to believe a college education was priceless when it wasn’t bought and sold from every angle.

If tuition has increased astronomically and the portion of money spent on instruction and student services has fallen, if the (at very least comparative) market value of a degree has dipped and most students can no longer afford to enjoy college as a period of intellectual adventure, then at least one more thing is clear: higher education, for-profit or not, has increasingly become a scam.