Saturday à Machen: Laid Upon Sober Fact

I have often said that few things would be as beneficial to aspiring historians as working through the five volumes of Jaroslav Pelikan’s monumental The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, and jotting down in a notebook each of his frequent one-line definitions of history. And such a notebook would be most appropriately prefaced by these words from the great J. Gresham Machen:

“In the study of history the first step is to learn the facts. No amount of topical study, no amount of reflection on the principles of history, will result in anything better than a mental jumble, unless the memory has first retained the framework of fact.”

I am well aware, of course, that to speak so brashly about “facts” as Machen does would undoubtedly seem almost heretical to the historiographically informed. But here Machen perceptively anticipates the triumph of “theory” in the Academythat strange and disquieting development that has resulted, for example, in literature professors having shelves upon shelves lined with books about literature (or philosophy or psychoanalysis or whatever), or worse, with books about some hideous beast called “the literary phenomenon,” rather than with actual literary works.

But, as always, Machen is not here concerned with the petty nonsense of academic fads, but with something of radical importance. He continues:

“Biblical history is not different in this respect from any other history. The Bible, after all, is a record of events; the gospel is good news about something that has happened. That something is simply the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ—his life and death and resurrection—which was explained and applied by the apostles whom he commissioned. Apostolic history, which we shall here study, is different from secular history; for the apostles were in possession of a divine authority which is valid still for the Church of today. The sacredness of the history, however, does not prevent it from being history; and if it is history, it should be studied by the best historical method which can be attained. Modern Christians often seem to suppose that piety is somehow opposed to thinking, that hard study should be reserved for secular schools, that the reader of the Bible may afford to be neglectful of the facts. Such an attitude is dishonouring to the divine revelation. Christianity is not wild speculation or bottomless mysticism. It reaches, indeed, to the highest of heavens, but its foundation is laid upon sober fact.

“The purpose of the present book is to ground Christian piety more firmly in historical knowledge. Knowledge cannot be acquired without labour. The labour, however, need not be drudgery. On the contrary, it is lack of study which has made the Bible for some people a dull book. If the study here outlined be undertaken with earnestness, it will reveal the wonderful richness and variety of the Bible story, it will do away with the sense of unreality which sometimes oppresses the piecemeal reader, it will show that the extension of the gospel was a real movement in a real world, and finally it will strengthen the conviction that that historical movement was no mere product of human effort, interesting merely to the scholar, but an entrance into human life of the divine power, working permanently for the salvation of men. Historical study is absolutely necessary for a stalwart Christianity. It is necessary, however, not as an end in itself, but as a means to an end. Rightly pursued, the study of ancient Christianity will lead every one of us first to the feet of the living Lord, then to a simple confession of him and an active membership in his Church.”

(J. Gresham Machen, The New Testament: An Introduction to its Literature and History [Carlisle:Banner of Truth, 1990], pp. 9-10.)

[And if you don’t get the title of this post, then clearly you don’t read Nathan Eshelman’s Sabbath a’Brakel—a dominical edifying quote from a monumental, 4-volume work entitled The Christian’s Reasonable Service, written by the greatest of all Dutch Puritans, Wilhelmus à Brakel.]

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The News You Didn’t Hear

And frankly, I didn’t hear them until today either, and then it was difficult to find anything at all about it in English!

It appears that His Grace, Bishop Chrysostom (Jević), of the much-suffering Diocese of Bihać-Petrovac in Bosnia and Herzegovina, was robbed and rather mercilessly beaten in his residence on the night between Sunday, July 15 and Monday, July 16, 2007. One news report reads:

Bishop Hrizostom, from area Bihać-Petrovac was attacked during the night between Sunday and Monday in episcopacy centre. Around 2 am, several persons busted in bishop’s room and attacked him asking for money. The attackers tied bishop’s arms and legs, while one of them seated on his back and threatened to kill him. After that, he started beating bishop with his belt. The attackers were throwing bishop things around the room looking for money. After they were gone, bishop untied himself up and called for help. He was later transported to the hospital by the police car and after the medical treatment he received, was transported back to his residence. The ambulance could not come, as it is stated in the newspaper, since the doctor on duty could not leave his duty station.

That same news report, and others as well, note that this barbaric act has been soundly condemned by the leaders of the Croatian and Muslim communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that the authorities have pledged to thoroughly investigate the attack and bring the perpetrators to justice. One can only hope that actions will match their words, and that justice will be made, no matter who the criminal attackers are.

[UPDATE: I have just found a Spanish news report on this crime. According to the Bishop’s office, this is the fourth attack against members of the Serbian Church in past few months. The Bishop’s residence is not in the Republika Srpska (i.e., the Serbian political entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina), but rather in a Croatian and Muslim-controlled area. It is not yet known whether this was a random criminal act, or a politically (and I might add, religiously) motivated act.]

TNIV Quest, Finis (Or, I Can Quit Any Time I Want)

That’s it. I give up.

No TNIVs are to be found anywhere around here. I’ve called every bookstore in the phone book. No decent, low-priced editions, and not even grossly overpriced ones. This is a travesty, alasthe very bane of my soul!

Listen to me, Borders! You will pay for this. How dare you do away with your awesomely well-stocked Bible section?! I mean, I even bought a Catholic edition of the NLT (i.e, one with the Deuterocanonical books) there once! Like, who carries that? And yet you had it. But now you have betrayed me, and that utterly. Maybe some day I will remember again the good times, but I wouldn’t count on it, busters.

Wal-Mart, I thank you for carrying the NIV Archaelogical Study Bible, and indeed, for having a far better selection of English Bibles than Borders (!). We will become good friends. In the meantime, order some TNIVs.

And… maybe some Updated NASBs as well. I definitely need a better copy of that.

TNIV Quest, Pars Secunda

No, I don’t mean that there’s a TNIV edition of Christianity Today‘s Quest Study Bible. At least I hope not. Augh.

I’m talking about my quest to find a decent, low-priced edition of the TNIV around here, now that my local Borders has wholly forsaken the Bible market. I called a number of Christian bookstores, but those who happened have English Bibles had only KJV and NIV. Thus I set out for Wal-Mart, hoping that they would have a book section.

Well, they did have books, and even Bibles! In English! Unfortunately, they had no copies of the TNIV. King James, New King James, NIV, and even Holman Christian Standard, yes but no TNIVs. Oh, well! In a sense, the trip was not wholly wasted in that I came across a new(er) Zondervan Study Bible of which I was unaware: the Archaeological Study Bible (NIV), published under the auspices of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and which apparently was the best-selling Bible of 2006. It seems to be the Evangelical response to The Learning Bible (CEV, now also NIV), launched by the American Bible Society in 2001. I spent some time examining book introductions, notes, inset thematic boxes, and appendices, and my impression is that, regrettably, this Bible makes very few improvements over its slightly older counterpart, and has a number obvious disadvantages and even errors, to boot. I was very pleased with the presentation and layout, however, and will very likely purchase one whenever I can find a reasonably priced, and perhaps used, copy. Which is to say that I might get one next time I’m at Baker.

(As an aside, I must to note the following: this edition makes use of “red” lettering for the words of Christ, which practice is, of course, against my religion. To quote my hero Father Ephrem Lash, “I must protest most vigorously against the wholly unorthodox inverted Arianism of the typography whereby the words of Christ are printed in salmon pink, while his heavenly Father has to be content with mere black along with Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate.” Further, the color actually used in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible is neither red nor salmon pink, but rather a very loud orange. I’m still not over the shock of the color clash, since the text is printed in what one Amazon reviewer called a “fake papyrus background.”)

Back to my search for a copy of the TNIV, it seems I’ve exhausted my local options. There is another Borders, and another Wal-Mart, about an hour away from here, but I’m unsure I want to go all the way out there only to come away with empty hands. Well, we shall see!

Pointless Consumer(ist)’s Report

This weekend I have discovered that K-mart stores here in Puerto Rico do not have a book and magazine section. You see, I’m on the market for a low-cost reading/reference edition of a recent Bible translation that shall remain nameless. (No, I don’t already have it. Well, I only have the New Testament. And I want—no, need—the whole thing. Who are you to judge me?!) Generally I would obtain such things at the unusually well-stocked Bible section at the local Borders, except that it turns out that it is no longer well-stocked, but rather has been reduced to a faint shadow of its former glory. On my way back to the car I pondered where to look next, and it dawned on me that low-priced Zondervan Bibles can usually be found in the book section at major department stores, so I stopped in the K-mart across the street. Well, my friends, there were no books to be found anywhere except for the new Harry Potter novel. And same thing with another K-mart nearer to where I live. I have not yet tried Wal-Mart, but I think that they do have a book section. And I know for a fact that Sam’s Club sells books, but I don’t currently have a card. Grievous, the whole thing. Can’t a guy get a TNIV in peace in around here?!

Oh, shoot. That was supposed to remain nameless, wasn’t it?

Further Constantinopolitan Thoughts

After news like those reported in my previous post surface, it generally doesn’t take too long for someone (usually in North America) to ask why won’t the Ecumenical Patriarchate just move out of Constantinople. After all (so the reasoning goes) the Patriarchate of Antioch is now exiled in Damascus; why couldn’t the Patriarchate of Constantinople exile itself to, say, Patmos or Thessalonica, both of which are under its jurisdiction, finally putting behind itself this tedious, multisecular ordeal?
Well, grasshopper, this is because the Patriarch of Constantinople is, above all, the real Bishop of a real flock in a real city. And while this flock, through relentless repression and brutal ethnic cleansing, has dwindled in less than a century from a flourishing 250,000 to a mere 5,000 cornered in a single quarter of the once glorious Queen of Cities, they should on no account be deprived of their Bishop. If the Patriarch chose to exile himself, the godless Turkish government would never recognize his canonical jurisdiction over his Constantinopolitan flock (seeing how they consider him to be the head of the Greek community strictly in Turkey); and since no other Bishop could be named to the See, the diocese would effectively be orphaned. Also, given the Turkish modus operandi, one can imagine that commemorating at the Divine Services the rightful (but exiled) Patriarch would come to be considered a criminal act on Turkish soil, and so the stage would be set for the final extermination of the last remaining pocket of the native Greek population of Asia Minor. May God deliver us from that day!

Now, let us add a drop of utter delusion to an otherwise sensible (if, as we have seen, enormously misguided) thought, courtesy of the Militant Americanist OrthodoxTM (who are to be distinguished, of course, from normal Orthodox Americans): why doesn’t the Ecumenical Patriarch (again, like the Patriarch of Antioch) exile himself, but by moving to the US instead? “That way,” say they, “we get undisputed autocephaly, and even a patriarch of our own.” (I can’t tell if the author of this particular comment was serious, or seriously thought he was offering the solution to end all solutions, or what, but I have certainly heard that thought seriously expressed more than once.)

Well, for a start, because the New World is not a part of the historic canonical territory of the Ecumenical Patriarchate the way Damascus is part of that of the Patriarchate of Antioch, so the situation would not really be analogous (as it would be, for instance, if the Ecumenical Patriarchate moved to Patmos). But further, for Patriarch Bartholomew to be the Primate of an Autocephalous Orthodox Church in the Americas, he would have to be the Bishop of a local diocese in the New World, even as he now is Archbishop of Constantinople, and thus Primate of the Autocephalous Church of Constantinople. Now, even if there suddenly came to be a single Autocephalous Church in the Americas, and if Patriarch Bartholomew moved to the US and became “Archbishop of Washington and Patriarch of the New World” or some such, this new Church would be the last in the precedence of honor among the world’s Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, and its Primate (even if he himself had been Ecumenical Patriarch before) would be the very last to be commemorated in the diptychs by each of the Primates of the other Churches. Which is to say that the Primate of an Autocephalous American Orthodox Church would not be the new primus inter pares of the Orthodox episcopacy; pride of place would go then to the Patriarch of Alexandria. So, is that clear enough? Good.

Really, sometimes I wonder where in the world people get their ideas!

Constantinople is NOT Istanbul

Today marks the fateful 33rd anniversary of the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus (backed, incidentally, by the United States), a truly sorry and inglorious remembrance.

This anniversary of Turkish aggression occurs within a short few weeks of the latest in a long list of wrongdoings and crimes by the “modern,” “European” Republic of Turkey against its Greek Orthodox and other Christian minorities. In recent weeks, the highest court of the godless Turkish state has declared that His Holiness, the Patriarch of Constantinople (traditionally styled “Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch”), may not legally use the title “Ecumenical,”1 because, according to them, he is merely the head of the Greek community in Constantinople. (See this uncharacteristically excellent news report.) Of course, the Turks have always referred to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople as the “Greek Patriarchate of Fener” (see Turkish news item), but this judicial decision denying the canonical prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch in the Orthodox Church is both unprecedented and scandalous. The European Union, which Turkey is anxious to join, might want to take note of this crass infringement on religious freedom by the Turkish state. (At least the matter will actually be brought to the EU’s attention by Greece’s foreign minister.) And of course, the recent tensions around Constantinople have not yet subsided. Can you tell it’s an election year in Turkey?

Σῶσον, Κύριε, τὸν λαόν σου,
καὶ εὐλόγησον τὴν κληρονομίαν σου,
νίκας τοῖς Βασιλεῦσι κατὰ βαρβάρων δωρούμενος,
καὶ τὸ σὸν φυλάττων διὰ τοῦ Σταυροῦ σου πολίτευμα.
1From Greek οἰκουμενικός (“universal”), meaning, in context, that the Archbishop of Constantinople is the Patriarch of the chief city and capital of the Eastern Roman (“Byzantine”) Empireand as such, the primus inter pares (“first among equals”) of the Bishops of the worldwide Orthodox Church. The Empire was usually called the Οἰκουμένη (i.e., the “known” or “civilized” world) by its citizens.

"Minister Rejects Hell, Loses Congregation"

The tale of how former Pentecostal superstar Carlton Pearson came to believe a bona-fide heresy (namely, that there is no such thing as eternal condemnation), boldly started preaching it, was soundly condemned for teaching said false doctrine (gasp, how dare they!), and thus lost his empire.

I was greatly amused by the fact that Pearson seems to think that he has a right to preach whatever his little heart desires, without reference to the faith of the communitybut when the community rightly rejects his teaching and designates it as heresy, then they’re acting out of ignorance and spite, and causing him undue grief. Oh, boohoo! Please excuse me while I bust out the world’s smallest violin for you.

I was also amused by the pointed visual and narrative references to the Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible while the reporter spoke of the “crisis of faith” that lead to Pearson’s loss of faith in the infallibility, and perhaps also in the inspiration, of the Scriptures (a crisis precipitated by “study,” of course, because it is understood that no classical Christian doctrine can withstand critical scrutiny). As we know, the weaker the argument, the greater the appeal that must be made to perceived authority! Yea verily, this is the stuff that makes theological lightweights, like the thrice-wretched John Shelby Spong et al.

Let’s Try This Once More

So, here’s a little story for you.

It was only in May 2005 that I, owing to the phenomenon I like call “bookworm lag,” first ventured in the unknown world of the BlogosphereTM. In my own brand-spankin’-new blog, I hoped to share with world my more carefully pondered (and by extension, enlightened!) thoughts on a wide range of topics, written in the best English prose I could muster.

By August 2005, my blog was dead. It was no more. It had ceased to be.

Of course, this came as no surprise. It takes me a terribly long time to write anything at all, let alone the kinds of things that I wanted to post; blogging thus quickly became more of a drag than a pleasure. But I have often wished since then for an outlet for opinion and commentary: a place where I could speak my mind more or less freely about news, events, topics and publications that catch my attention, but without having to be particularly insightful, innovative, or inspirational (er, or alliterative, I guess). Well then, folks, welcome to my new blog!

Okay, so maybe that’s not the more marketable way to describe my “blogging goals.” What I mean is that I wish for this place to be a venue where I can think out loud without pressures or expectations (mostly my own!). In that way, it can become the outlet that I desire, and not the burden it once was.

So yes, welcome to my new blogand thank you for enjoying the ride with me!