Twisting God’s word: Forgiveness and the sin nature: Adrian Stanley, Helmut Thielicke, Joel Osteen; and Rabbi Hirsch to the rescue


Many modern preachers attempt an “original” twist to a biblical passage and in so doing twist the original meaning. They feel the need to please themselves and their audience. And they – preachers and audience – adore it because it’s all about “you.” Truth be told, the Bible is about God in Christ, not about you. It’s often difficult to tell whether these preachers/pastors know or care to know what the original says.

I examine a few mutilations of God’s word where i focus on forgiveness and the sin nature of the human race. I examine three Christian views: Adrian Stanley, Helmut Thielecke and Joel Osteen followed by the Jewish view of Rabbi Hirsch, which puts these Christians to shame.

Adrian Stanley

Adrian Stanley uses the word “leverage” to describe to “forgive” sin. The verb “leverage” has the metaphorical meaning of “to exert power or influence.” In the second video of the Louie Giglio series “God is so great,” Andy Stanley says the following: ” “He will have leveraged your sin for his glory’s sake. He (God) will not be undone.” This means, according to the dictionary definition of “leverage,” that God will have exerted a power or influence over a person’s sin for His glory.

Stanley uses the term “leverage” repeatedly.

As creatures, Andy Stanley says, who were created with more potential to reflect His glory than anything else in creation, it is our role, it is our duty, it is our opportunity to reflect the Glory of God who invites us to call Him ‘Father’” even as a race who has abused the privilege of our freedom. It means that in the middle of your wealth, your pain, of gain of loss… you can ask God ‘how can this be leveraged for your glory.’”


At the end of the day, we can say ‘God, if you can leverage sin for your glory, certainly you can leverage this (my life’s situations), and I make it available to you. It’s for your glory. It is for your glory. It is for your glory.’ And when that happens life begins to make sense, for suddenly we are living our lives in the context of life, which is the glory of God – the Father.”

Stanley continues:

At the end of the day, we can say ‘God, if you can leverage sin for your glory, certainly you can leverage this (my life’s situations), and I make it available to you. It’s for your glory. It is for your glory. It is for your glory.’ And when that happens life begins to make sense, for suddenly we are living our lives in the context of life, which is the glory of God – the Father.” (The “New Model” of Evangelism: Has God also leveraged forgiveness out of his vocabulary? I’m not sure whether “leverage” is intended as a synonym, a euphemism or an evasion.

If God can “leverage” our sin, stern, as Stanley says, he can certainly “leverage” my life for his glory. But why does Stanley not use the very biblical and term “forgive”? Is he catering to his hip sheep? After God forgives people – who, without exception, were previously dead in sin – God promises to “leverage” their lives, that is, believers are his workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). The process of salvation starts with divine grace and has its practical outworking in good works. Ephesians 2:10 describes this process. Here is this verse in context:

Ephesians 2:1-10

1 And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, 2 wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience; 3 among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest:–

4 but God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), 6 and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: 7 that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: 8 for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not of works, that no man should glory. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.

Helmut Thielicke (and Philip Yancey)

Helmut Thielicke says (and Philip Yancey, who quotes Thielicke approvingly in his “What is so amazing about Grace,” Zondervan, 1997, p. 175):

When Jesus loved a guilt-laden person and helped him, he saw in him an erring child of God. He saw in him a human being whom his Father loved and grieved over because he was going wrong. He saw him as God originally designed and meant him to be, and therefore he saw through the surface layer of grime and dirt to the real man underneath” (Helmut Thielicke, “Christ and the meaning of life,” Grand Rapids, Baker, 1975, p. 41).

An important question to address in the above paragraph is: “What is the attitude of a “guilt-laden” person toward God. Does it follow that if you feel guilt that you feel more than mere remorse, that you feel repentance? I don’t think so. “Guilt” is the human condition; but, so is pride. Guilt – except in rare conditions such as psychopathy – begets remorse: “I feel, really and honestly, bad about this or that.” But  repentance is a different mental state altogether, namely, its about longing for forgiveness and falling on your knees before a holy God and pleading for mercy. “Woe is me, for I am undone” (Isaiah, 6:5).

When Thielicke speaks of a “person”, and the “man underneath”, he seems to be talking about anybody who feels guilt, which is the whole human race (except possibly psychopaths, and even there we are not sure what they feel). And there lies the problem with Thielicke’s portrait of sinful man.

Thielicke’s Jesus and Thielicke’s human being are not the people described in the Bible. The Bible says the opposite: Jesus did not see “through the surface layer of grime and dirt to the real man underneath,” because the real man underneath was not only superficially grimy, he was filthy. The “real man” of the Bible is totally depraved in his very nature.  Everything in the Bible glorifies God and abases man. God saves men and women not because deep down they are good, but in spite of the fact that deep down they are evil. He chooses to save them – for one reason only: because He wants to. The natural man despises such a God. Many professing Christians do so as well. But that is the God of the Bible. God floods the whole Bible – but not everyone – with mercy, and “I will show mercy to whom I will” (Romans 9:15), and its got nothing to do with you or me.

(See Why do you call me good?)

Joel Osteen

At church service I attended, the preacher began by holding up his Bible and telling us that Joel Osteen holds up his Bible before all his sermons. I blurted out: “Then he puts it down and that’s the last we get of any Bible.” Osteen starts each of his presentations with “I always like to start with something funny,” and after the funny bit and while the audience laughter is still in full throat, he holds up his Bible and says: “This is my Bible. I am what it says I am, I have what it says I have, I can do what it says I can do. Today I’ll be taught the Word of God. I boldly confess my mind is alert, my heart is receptive, I’ll never be the same, in Jesus name.”

Chris Rosebrough (Pirate Christian radio) often airs snippets of Osteen’s “sermons,” which begin with his standard intro. Immediately after the words “Today I’ll be taught the word of God,” Rosebrough interrupts: “No we won’t.” Osteen’s antics are surely among the most flagrant abuses of the Bible he holds up, which he obviously does not hold dear – well, certainly not up on the stage.

One of Osteen’s sermons is called “Programming your mind for victory” (You Tube link). The blurb on You Tube says “Let Joel bring hope to your life in a fresh, new way in this inspiring message that will remind you of God’s restoration power and His divine plan for your life, even in the midst of difficulties and pain. Let this message inspire you that even through difficulties, God has a plan to strengthen and prepare you for an exciting, expansive….”

… eternity? Not a chance in hell.

In this presentation, Osteen uses, predictably, the terms “software,” “hardware” and “virus.” I said earlier that I’m not sure whether Adrien Stanley’s “leverage” is intended as a synonym, a euphemism or an evasion of “forgiveness.” What I am more sure about is that when Osteen uses the terms “hardware,” “software” and “virus,” he not only evades the true picture of fallen man but mutilates it. Here is a transcript of the relevant part of Osteen’s sermon ( aired on Pirate Christian radio) with Rosebrough’s interjections.


You can have the best computer ever made but if you put the wrong software in it, it’s not going to function as it was designed. All of us have had to contend with computer viruses. They get into the computer and contaminate the software. They’re slow, you can’t access the files. The hardware is fine, the problem is the software..


This is the Pelagian heresy. If you were suffering from cancer but didn’t know, went to doctor, he examined. he said take some aspirin and see me next week. The following week, I feel worse. Doctor: “Come in and we’ll do another examination. External. You look fine.” Make an appointment at another doctor. does full examination. you’ve got cancer. if nothing done you could die. a bad diagnosis will result in the wrong treatment. is the reason why there there is so much evil, armies, police officers, sins in our own life . Reason for this is that you were born dead, dead in trespasses and sins. No one is good. Total depravity, original sin. We are born in bondage to sin, to the devil. When it comes to God, No one has free will. It is God who has to unbind us. Ephesians 2:1 – We are by nature children of wrath. not born morally neutral, not good. inherited a broken nature from Adam. Only solution is Jesus. Osteen is going in the direction of denying original sin.


“Somehow the inside’s got messed up, now the software is contaminated. In the same way he stepped back and said another masterpiece. , your hardware is perfect, the right size, the right nationality, you have the right gifts. Not only that, God put the right software in you. from the very beginning he programmed you to be healthy, victorious, creative.


That’s a weird list. focussing on success here and now. but the fruits of the spirit is self-control etc. Osteen is on about earthly success. We are to pursue holiness, take up our cross.

Osteen [my comments in italics]

Your original software says you can do all things through Christ. [Olympic swimmer, brain surgeon, very very rich, never sick?]. He programmed that whatever you touch will prosper and succeed. He programmed the head and not the tail, lend and not borrow, victor and not victim. You were programmed to live an abundant, victorious faith-filled life. that is how your creator designed you [Not you, but Adam – before he fell]. But the reason why we don’t experience this abundant life….


…is because we are born dead in trespasses and sins.


… because we have allowed viruses to contaminate our software. We think, “I’ll never be successful, I’m not that talented,” I’ll never break this addiction, I’ve had it too long….


Addiction here is a euphemism; here he is talking about sin.


….I’m slow, clumsy, unattractive; nothing good is in my future, because our software is infected, we go around, low self-esteem, not believing for dreams to come to pass….


Not believing for dreams to come to pass. Where does the Bible say that?


…not expecting anything to turn around. There’s nothing wrong with you….


There’s nothing wrong with me! We’re born dead in trespasses in sins.


… like a computer, you’re not a mistake. One of the best things we can learn to do is hit the delete button. When negative discouraging thoughts come attempting to contaminate your software, that thought says, “You’ve seen your better days; its all downhill from here. That’s a virus trying to keep you from your destiny. …my software says, ‘the path of the righteous gets brighter and brighter.’


Whose righteousness are we to pursue? Romans 3 – righteousness comes from God. There is nothing wrong with you according to Osteen. Pelagian. All about the here and the now.


The term “software” in computer speak refers to information, which is non-physical. “Hardware,” in contrast, refers to the physical device that processes the software. The software-hardware analogy Osteen uses can be confusing. Osteen, I presume, is not contrasting physical with spiritual, but spiritual with spiritual. For Osteen, the spiritual “software” is what you imbibe into your spirit – the grime, the guck, while the spiritual “hardware” is synonymous with God’s blueprint of you; Thielecke’s (above) “God originally designed and meant [you] to be, and therefore he saw through the surface layer of grime and dirt to the real man underneath.” “Flesh” in scripture often refers to fallen human nature:

Romans 8:5-8

5 They that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace: 7 because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: 8 and they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

Osteen captivates but is, at best, not captive to the Word of God. The Bible says:

2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Although we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh 4 (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds), 5 casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

In contrast, Osteen is indeed succeeding in reprogramming the minds of his narcissistic admirers sucking on his infernal lollipops as they traipse down to hell. Osteen and his followers have missed the mark, but not the beast.

Rabbi Hirsch

Let a Jew teach Osteen a thing about how to reconcile to God, which Osteen has no clue about.

Open almost any “Introduction to Judaism” book, says Rabbi Hirsch (Can a Reconstructionist Sin?) or consult almost any commentary to the High Holiday mahzor, and one inevitably finds the explanation that the Hebrew word het (sin) means something like “missing the mark” — as if life were no more than a game of darts. Our moral and relational failures receive a soothing bromide of reassurance: We need only try harder next time, with hope that we’ll hit the target more often. The operative concept is that we need to be reassured, rather than reassessed.”

Hirsch continues:

But without first engaging seriously in a deep moral inventory, how can we honestly move forward in life? Without the courage to descend into the depths of our failures, how can we presume to ascend in pursuit of our better self? As the Reconstructionist mahzor states, “reducing sin to the status of an almost inadvertent error hardly seems tenable in the light of our awareness of the horrors of which humans, individually as well as collectively, have proved capable. The concept of sin, in fact, seems more, rather than less, important as we move into the 21st century — not for what it tells us about God, but for what it suggests to us about ourselves.” (My italics). (See Sin in Adam and his descendants and how to reconcile to God: Jewish Orthodox and Jewish Reconstructionist views).

I italicised the phrase: “the horrors of which humans, individually as well as collectively, have proved capable.”  I suggest that Hirsch has not got to the heart of sin. The horrors of which we humans are capable – horrifying as they are – are only the symptoms; the products of our sin nature, our original sin nature that we inherited from the father of the human race, Adam. Most Christians and Jews deny that Adam was a single man  and many Christians and all Jews reject the doctrine of “original sin”, namely, that we are all born with a sin nature that we inherited.

What does sin “nature” mean? Lewis Johnson explains (I have transcribed this from one of his messages):

One of the reasons why people have such a shallow view of sin is because they have not been taught to think rightly about sin. If you ask a man whether he is a sinner, he understands you to mean that he is a great flagrant outbreaking transgressor against the principles of morality that are found in the Bible. If you tell him that he is a great sinner in the sight of God, he thinks you are accusing him of being a blasphemer or a perjurer or a thief, an adulterer or a murderer. But without any of these forms of outbreaking forms of sin there may be a deep and damning hatred of the word of God in that man’s heart.”

But we must go deeper. Why do the unregenerate hate the word of God? Because of unbelief. Every sin is a failure to respond to the word of God. This is clear in the Tanakh (Older Testament) as it is clear in the Newer Testament, where God’s word is manifested through another (single) man, the second (and last Adam), Jesus the Christ, or if you prefer the Hebrew,  Yeshua HaMashiakh.

If the only options for me were reverting to Judaism and following Osteen – pass me the chopped liver.

Non-humanist reflections on violence, death, human evil and the after-life

The problem of evil: People don’t understand the depth of human corruption

and are not eternally minded (Martyn Lloyd Jones)

Gaza, Iraq, Ukraine, Nigeria. Death, death, death; the world, teeming with death, violent death. It’s root? The Bible says the “inward mind and heart of man are deep” (Psalm 64:6b):

Psalm 64

1 Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy.

2 Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,

from the throng of evildoers,

3 who whet their tongues like swords,

who aim bitter words like arrows,

4 shooting from ambush at the blameless,

shooting at him suddenly and without fear.

5 They hold fast to their evil purpose;

they talk of laying snares secretly,

thinking, “Who can see them?”

6 They search out injustice,

saying, ‘We have accomplished a diligent search.’

For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep.

The Bible also says, contrary to the “world” and “prosperity” preachers, that those who place their hope and faith in a better world are deceived:


13 These (Old Testament saints) all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

What have atheists-materialists-humanists to say on the matter? Stephen Hawking says the belief that heaven and an afterlife awaits us is a “fairy story for people afraid of death.” For Hawking, there is nothing beyond the last flicker of last brain cell. What counts he says is making good use of our lives by “seeking the greatest value of our action.” (See The downing of Malaysian airlines flight MH17 in light of Stephen Hawking’s “natural selection assumes natural rejection.”).

The Darwinian (materialist) worldview states that if it ain’t natural, it must be an illusion. In such a world, all human values are, can only be, the product of the brain, where the brain appeared by some unknown natural process called “chance.” Yet, many of these same people say that moral values such as “generosity,” “compassion,” “responsibility, “good, “evil,” “love,” “guilt,” “forgiveness,” “judgement” cannot be reduced to physics, chemistry, physiology. They believe in “the survival of the fittest,” which, by definition means might is not only right but unavoidable. In such a world only the strong, the powerful, the dominant, the ruthless survive.

You don’t have to be a materialist to think that life is often “nasty, brutish and short.” (Thomas Hobbes, “Leviathan”); those who believe in an after-life often also fall hopeless. Some of these like King David emerge stronger from the waves of depression, others, like Alfred Tennyson, sink deep into the slough of despond.

David – Psalm 42:

7 Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterfalls: All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. 8 Yet Jehovah will command his lovingkindness in the day-time; And in the night his song shall be with me, Even a prayer unto the God of my life.

Alfred Tennyson (“In Memoriam” of a friend who had died. In this work appears the famous “nature raw in tooth and claw”):

I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,

And gather dust and chaff, and call

To what I feel is Lord of all,

And faintly trust the larger hope.

Thou makest thine appeal to me [the Lord]:

I bring to life, I bring to death;

The spirit does but mean the breath:

I know no more….

Who trusted God was love indeed And love Creation’s final law

Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw

With ravin, shriek’d against his creed

Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,

Who battled for the True, the Just, Be blown about the desert dust,

Or seal’d within the iron hills ?

O life as futile, then, as frail !

O for thy voice to soothe and bless !

What hope of answer, or redress?

Behind the veil, behind the veil.

Most materialists are “humanists.” There exist various definitions of humanism, Here is one: “…a commitment to the perspective, interests and centrality of human persons; a belief in reason and autonomy as foundational aspects of human existence; a belief that reason, scepticism and the scientific method are the only appropriate instruments for discovering truth and structuring the human community; a belief that the foundations for ethics and society are to be found in autonomy and moral equality (Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”

“Seventy-five years ago, writes J Gresham Machen, Western civilization, despite inconsistencies, was still predominantly Christian; today it is predominantly pagan. In speaking of ‘paganism,’ we are not using a term of reproach. Ancient Greece was pagan, but it was glorious, and the modern world has not even begun to equal its achievements. What, then, is paganism? The answer is not really difficult. Paganism is that view of life which finds the highest goal of human existence in the healthy and harmonious and joyous development of existing human faculties” (my italics). And that exactly describes humanism.

In humanism “man” is not only the measure of all things, but all things are measured for his pleasure, his enjoyment. For the natural man, joy means enjoyment, lots of it – enjoyment of freedom, enjoyment of job, of family, of friends, of sex, of sport, of holidays, of gadgets – and enjoyment of church! “Enjoyment” here does not merely mean amusements, thrills and diversions (French divertissement “entertainment”) but has to do with such things as the relationship between lifestyles and happiness. (See “Enjoyment of life lengthens life: Findings and consequences’” by R. Veenhoven).

Humanism contrasts with Christianity in the following ways: In Christianity, “salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God, it is for God’s glory and that we must glorify him always” ( In several Protestant catechisms, the first item is this: “Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” The Christian glorifies God, which results in enjoying Him for ever. This enjoyment is the Christian’s ultimate happiness.

It all depends, though, what one means by “happiness.” “’Life,’ in the language of our Lord, says John Brown, implies happiness. When he calls himself, then, the ‘life-giving bread,’ he intimates that he is the author of true happiness; that he, that he alone, can make men truly and permanently happy” (John Brown, “True happiness and the way to secure it: Conversational discourse to the Jews – John 6:26-65″). (See my Happiness in humanism in Christianity”).

Contrary to what the odious “wealth and health” preachers say (they represent the majority of new Christians over the last few decades), Christian happiness comes through self-denial and suffering: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Not only does happiness come through taking up one’s cross, so does hope:

Romans 5

5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith[b] into this grace in which we stand, and we[c] rejoice[d] in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Christ’s disciples do not seek their treasure on this earth:

Romans 8

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience…28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

For most people, including, alas, Christians, who should know and believe better, “premature” death is a tragedy, especially when those whose life are “cut short” are children. We think of the children who died violently in Gaza, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and the Malaysian Flight MH17, and on and on. In the biblical worldview, God decrees all things such as whether and when we get born, and we die. Jesus says ““My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). And, as we read above in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Voltaire in his “Candide” whose setting is the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755, mocks verse 28 above:  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”


Lisbon Earthquake 1755

This is not the place to examine the complexities of the question of how an infinitely good God causes/permits evil. What I will say here is this:

The question is how to reconcile evil in the world with God who is all good, all knowing and all powerful? From the start, we have to realise that we can never get a complete answer for the simple fact that God is God, and man is man. Some may think, ”I suppose you’re going to pull out the ‘mystery card.’” Well, regarding the deepest things of God, yes, they remain hidden; this, however, does not mean that the deep things of God are beyond our reach. In the Bible. there are many deep things of God that are accessible to those whom God gives the grace to understand. Many are those who, although good with language, haven’t a clue what the biblical words mean. This is so because it is the Spirit of God within the words that brings light. “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (Psalm 36:9). Of two things a Christian is sure: God always fulfills his purpose, and all God’s purposes are good. So evil always has a good purpose. Out of evil God brings good. That is the biblical understanding of evil. There are  two major human failings  in the  problem of evil. People don’t understand the depth of human corruption and, which is a corollary of the former, are not eternally minded. 

There is much sorrow in the world. The Bible distinguishes between two kinds of sorrow: “… the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:18)

To return to the materialist world view: “The chief error, says Herman Bavinck, here [of a materialist worldview ] is a commitment to a religiously neutral scientific method, a goal that is impossible.” This attitude, Bavinck would agree, is more than an error; it is, the Bible says, a sin that leads to the second death (hell). Like many of us, I have been thinking a lot about the people on board the plane that was shot down over Ukraine. There were probably many materialists aboard.

Without faith Christ, all of us, no matter our physical infirmity – as with Stephen Hawking – will not escape the second death. “The bible, writes Richard Ganz, is meant to be a completely sufficient book for dealing with the nature and dilemma of man. It begins with the creation of man in Genesis 1 & 2. It tells us that man is created in the image of God. THIS is what defines man, not our psyche or unconscious, not our behaviour, not the universe. The Bible next moves to the fall of man in Genesis 3, which is the root of our problems. And then from Genesis 3 to Revelation 22, its purpose is to show man’s redemption and man’s restoration in the image and glory of God, and what this means for our lives and the problems we face. We learn that every person on earth is undergoing a constant transformation that is one of two things: 1. Either you are being conformed to the same image as Christ, from glory to ever increasing glory, so that you become just like the Lord, or 2. you are in depravity and lostness and becoming more and more corrupt, and more and more lost. These are the only two options; and if we disregard this reality, then our worldview and how we deal with our problems and our lostness, will inevitably be off.”

The downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in light of Stephen Hawking’s “natural selection assumes natural rejection.”



Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking


For most of the world, the downing of MH17 was a very sad day. For many it is an occasion for much reflection on human selfishness and agression, and, hopefully, including our own. But surely not for materialists – logically speaking.

At one of his lectures at the University of Cambridge, where he is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, a Chair once held by Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, who suffers from acute motor neuron disease, said his only fear concerned the long-term survival of humanity:

My only fear is this. The terror that stalks my mind is that we have arrived on the scene because of evolution. Because of naturalistic selection, and natural selection assumes natural rejection, which means we have arrived here because of our aggression – chemicals exploding in our reptilian brain. And my hope is that somehow we can keep from eating each other up for another 100 years. At that point science would have devised a scheme to take all of us into different planets of the universe and no one atrocity would destroy all of us at the same time.”

On the “after-life” he said. “The belief that heaven and an afterlife awaits us is a “fairy story for people afraid of death.” There is, for Hawking, nothing beyond the last flicker of the brain waves. What counts he said is making good use of our lives by “seeking the greatest value of our action.”

On the one hand, Hawking says “natural selection assumes natural rejection, which we assumes we have arrived here by our aggression,” and on the other hand, he says “we should seek the greatest value of our action.” Now, if we arrived on this on this planet by aggression – “we” implies every individual human birth then it would be logical that we not only arrived here by aggression but survive by aggression: the survival of the fittest; in value terms the survival of the shittest.

Hawking also said “Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in.”

(Stephen Hawking: ‘There is no heaven; it’s a fairy story.’ The Guardian, 15 May 2011).

To summarise Hawking: “By chance, nothing created the human species out of nothing, where the distinctive attribute of the genetic blueprint is aggression.” All is aggression – “nature red in tooth and claw. In such a materialistic world, human free will is an illusion. Indeed, terms like “will” and “freedom” refer to nothing in reality. In Hawking’s materialistic view of “natural selection assumes natural rejection,” to seek the greatest value in our action means that each person or group has evolved to reject any values that clash with their own – and to do so aggressively. If Hawking puts his money where his mouth is, which I have no reason to question, then in his world – and so it must be in the world of every practical atheist – not only do the terms “free” and “will” refer to nothing in reality, the same applies to the “good” and “evil.” I could go on and on: “love,” “guilt,” “forgiveness,” “judgement.”

Many of those who think or say that the downing of Flight MH17 was an evil act are materialists. In the language of Hawking, evolution has rejected – and no surprise, aggressively so – MH17 by blowing it up and cutting short the lives of all aboard and automatically causing untold suffering to thousands of friends and relatives. Morals, and morale, for that matter, cannot exist in a a world solely of matter.

The moral of my story is: when someone opens their gob about the morality of MH17, or anything else, ask them if they are materialists. If they are, tell them to shut up; unless you’re a confounded one too.


In search of French Past (8): Pope John XXiii and other homos


In In Search of French (7): the hermit, the poet and the clown,  I described my visit to Lourdes and a hermitage, and some of the books that Louis-Albert Lassus, my traveling companion had written on the hermitic life. I continue our travels with our visit to Rome (1962). 

It was the early days of the Second Vatican Council, which was opened by Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962. We took a taxi to St Peter’s square, red and scarlet hats bobbing all around us in vehicles heading in the same direction. At St Peter’s Square we were met by a sea of red and purple, as in the picture.


st peters square vatican 2

Louis-Albert and I went to one of the Pope John’s audiences of about 100 people in one of the rooms of the Vatican. I shall never forget Pope John’s eyes flashing with what seemed to be joy. No, not at seeing me. Here is an excerpt from an entry in his diary when he was 20 years old  (Pope John-xxiii. Journal of a Soul. London:Geoffrey Chapman, 1965, p. 64).

Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going? I am nothing. Everything I possess, my being, life, understanding, will and memory – all were given me by God, so all belong to him. Twenty short years ago all that I see around me was already here; the same sun, moon and stars…..Everything was being done without me, nobody was thinking of me….because I did not exist. And you, O God….drew me forth from the nothingness, you gave me being, life, a soul, in fact all the faculties of my body and spirit…you created me.”

A “traditional” Catholic website relates: Just before his death, John XXIII composed the following prayer for the Jews. This prayer was confirmed by the Vatican as being the work of John XXIII.(73) “We realize today how blind we have been throughout the centuries and how we did not appreciate the beauty of the Chosen People nor the features of our favored brothers. We are aware of the divine mark of Cain placed upon our forehead. In the course of centuries our brother, Abel, has been lying bleeding and in tears on the ground through our fault, only because we had forgotten thy love. Forgive us our unjustified condemnation of the Jews. Forgive us that by crucifying them we have crucified You for the second time. Forgive us. We did not know what we were doing.” Catholic magazine The Reign of Mary, “John XXIII and the Jews,” Spring, 1986, p. 11.

Besides the fact that the crucifixion of Jesus is a unique unrepeatable event, it is wrong for the pope to identify Jesus, in any way, with those who rejected him and continue to do so to this day, even when Jesus was also a Jew. Although it is right that not every Jew should be blamed for the crucifixion, it would not be right to say that some Jews were not responsible for it. And it would also be wrong for a Christian to call the Jew – or any one who does not believe that the Son of God came in the flesh to die for sinners – his spiritual brother.

With regard to Christ’s sacrifice, this time unrelated to the Jewish Holocaust, is it ever possible that Jesus could be crucified again. Absolutely not. And, when it comes to such a crucial event, literally so, let us not reduce it to metaphor, for any reason. (See  Pope John XXIII and the “crucifixion” of the Jew). 

Besides my visits to the usual tourist sites such as Michelangelo’s Pietà, the Mona Lisa and the Sistine chapel, I accompanied Louis-Albert on his visits to various religious orders. I met the Abbot General of the Cistercian Order, who was very kind.

After Rome, I left Louis-Albert and returned to Paris, where I rented a room in a narrow side street, Rue Senlis, off Rue Soufflot. At the top of Rue Soufflot loomed the Pantheon, where famous French people are buried, among them the architect of the Pantheon, Jacques-Germain Soufflot, of course, writers such as Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Cristo) Victor Hugo (Les Miserables) and Voltaire (Candide), and scientists such as Pierre and Marie Curie. I’ve been back to Paris a few more times since this first sojourn in 1962. On my last visit in 1993, I searched for Rue Senlis, but it seemed to have vanished.

My room contained a single bed, a chair, a little table big enough to hold my primus stove, and a tiny space on either side of the bed. The foot of the bed almost touched the door, which opened onto the pavement. It’s dinner time. Lying on the bed, primus stove on the table, fumes of paraffin mixing with the steam from the pot of boiling water heating the tin of bully beef. I got a clerical job in an ice-cream factory. I went to the Comédie-Française theatre a few times to see plays by Molière and other famous French playwrights. Although I sat in the cheapest seats (the “gods” – at the back, the top circle in the picture), the acoustics was very good. (“Acoustics” is not a countable noun so it is grammatically singular. Hence “the acoustics was very good.”).








Although Notre Dame was close by, I never attended Sunday Mass there. I preferred my usual church of St Julien the Pauvre, a stone’s throw from Notre Dame. It is a Roman Catholic
Church of the Melchite Greek rite, a branch of the Byzantine church. I met Louis-Albert for the first time at this church. (See
In Search of French Past (5): Why are you so downcast, oh my soul?).

Most of my days back in Paris were filled checking pink ice-cream slips and eating free ice-cream lollies. After about two months of bully beef and ice-cream, my bowels locked down. I went to hospital for an enema. A short time later (January 1963), I left Paris and returned to London to take a Union-Castle liner home to Cape Town. I described in an earlier chapter my train-airplane journey from Cape Town to London. At the end of my second-year B.A. I had booked to fly to London (From Maputo, Mozambique) and was to return to Cape Town on a Union-Castle liner from Southampton, the port that generally served the Cape Town route. (See In search of French Past (1). The British Union-Castle fleet operated between Europe and Africa from 1900 to 1977. My grandfather (mother’s side), Mendel Gilinsky and his children, one of which was my mother, Feiga (Fanny), arrived in Cape Town in 1912 on one of these Union-Castles, the Galway castle, a new addition to the fleet. it was sunk a few years later by a U-boat (See Russia and the Jew). I arrived home in January 1963. I had been in France for more than a year.

Union Castle

Union Castle  The mountains in the distance are the “Twelve Apostles” a few miles from the centre of Cape Town.


Before I left Cape Town for my first trip to France, I had already completed two years of my B.A. at the University of Cape Town (1960-61). On my return from France I registered for my final year of philosophy (Ethics, Logic and Metaphysics, and Political philosophy). In 1961 I had completed a course in “French Elementary,” which was a misnomer; it included enough complicated grammar to give you subjunctivitus (to wit, the imperfect subjunctive Il eût fallu que nous allassions; so simple in English “We had to go”). I wanted to do a further course in French in this my final B.A. year. I went to see the Head of French, Professor Shackleton, and asked to skip French 1 (which followed French Elementary) because in my humble opinion my French, after my studies at the University of Strasbourg had reached at least the French 1 level. (See In Search of French Past (4): Student at the University of Strasbourg). He said my French language wasn’t the issue. (We were talking in French). He asked me, “What do you know about French literature?” My French courses in Strasbourg focused only on language. My knowledge of French literature was scanty. I mentioned Moliere. The Professor wanted something less dated. I went numb. Then a flotilla of billboards floated out of the fog festooned with titles of various plays that were on during my stay in Paris. I had little idea what these plays were about. I chanced a few titles. The upshot: I sailed into French 2. I graduated at the end of 1963 with majors in Ethics, Logic and Metaphysics (one course) and Political Philosophy, and French 2.

Here would be a good place relate how I got into the B.A. French Honours programme (the next degree after the B.A.) at the University of South Africa. In South Africa, I had completed my French major, Course 3 (1971) as an external student at the University of Cape Town. In 1983. I was teaching French at Mmabatho High School, South Africa. I wanted to do a B.A. Honours in French so I went to visit Professor Haeffner, the Head of Modern Languages at the University of South Africa in Pretoria. It was our first meeting. I met him in the corridor outside his office. He said that he was not taken in by bits of paper (B.A. ShmeeA). He didn’t invite me into his office. He proceeded to interrogate me then and there – in the corridor – to establish whether I was Honours matériel. Now what could this scabrous man ask me in a corridor that would convince him I was up to scratch? As it turned out, it was what I asked him that convinced him that he had taken on more than he could spew. Here is our conversation. My comments are in italics:

Prof – What is a “military parade” in French?

He’s trying to stymie me with one of the many English-French “false friends” faux amis, in this instance the French parade, cannot be used to translate “military parade.”

Me – Un défilé militaire.

He wasn’t expecting the right answer. Before he could ask me another, I shot back with my question.

Me – “What does de fond en comble mean?”

This means “from top to bottom” or one could say “from top to toe.”

Prof – “From top to bottom.”

Me – Wrong. That’s only half-way (I twist my arm behind me and pointed down to my derrière; in Yiddish, toches, and said: It means all the way down: from top to toe.

And that’s how I switched off Professor Bok Drol (Afrikaans for “Buck Poo”) and got to do the B.A. French Honours. It was the hardest studies I had ever done. I completed the degree two years later (See my “A Jewish view of a French bottom).

After my B.A. Graduation in December 1963, I longed to return to France. I wrote to Louis-Albert and he invited me to accompany him on more of his travels. On my first trip to France, my father paid for a return fare and gave me a monthly allowance of 25 British pounds. This time I had a little more difficulty convincing him to pay for me to go back to France so soon after my first trip. I told my father that he need only pay for a one-way ticket and I would fend for myself. I planned to go on to Israel to join my brother Bennie on a kibbutz. I had very little money. I returned to Paris late in the evening. My bed for the night was a sleeping bag on the bank of the Seine.

I spent the night  in my sleeping bag a few metres from the steps on the other side

I spent the night in my sleeping bag a few metres from the steps on the other side


Before sunrise I was awakened by a tap-tap on my head; a gendarme’s boot. I had the address of a fellow philosophy student, Rick Turner, who had also graduated in 1963; Me with a B.A. In philosophy and him with a B.A. Honours in philosophy. He was doing a doctorate at the Sorbonne on the political philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre. I visited Rick and his wife, Barbara and baby girl, Jann, in their little flat. Barbara was also a student at the University of Cape Town. Barbara later remarried and is known today as Barbara Follett, who became a Labour MP in the UK. I was surprised that Rick was doing a doctorate at a French university. I had no idea that he knew French well enough to write a thesis in French. Jean Paul Sartre wrote the foreword to his thesis.

I told Rick I was going to the South of France. He gave me some money to buy a book for him that was unavailable in Paris but was available at a bookshop down South. I said I would post the book to him. I never did; instead I used the money to buy a train ticket to Bordeaux where I was to rejoin Louis-Albert. A few years later, I was visiting the University of Cape Town where I bumped into Rick. He yelled “Where’s my money?” I gave it to him. In today’s money it was about £7. And that was the end of our meeting. I never saw him again. Rick is well known as an anti-Apartheid activist. In 1974, He was shot dead through the window of his house, and died in the arms of his daughter Jann, who was that sweet little baby I saw in her mother’s arms in Paris exactly 50 years ago.

From the Daily Maverick, 15 July, 2014:

“Four months after Steve Biko was beaten to death in police custody in 1977, fellow activist, academic and philosopher, Rick Turner, was assassinated in his Durban home. Both men offered South Africans – black and white – transformative new ways of thinking about and framing themselves and society. Their ideas were such a threat that authorities at the time tried to wipe both men off the face of the earth. MARIANNE THAMM revisits Turner’s legacy and what it might offer contemporary South Africa.”

A short biography of Rick can be found here.

Louis-Albert and I went by train Belgrade, Yugoslavia where we spent ten days in a religious house. I think it was the Augustinian fathers. We then took the long train trip over the mountains to Thessaloniki where we stayed with the Marist Brothers. I enjoyed walking along the pier where Paul, the Apostle, must have walked. I accumulated a large amount of luggage on this second trip. I asked the Marist Brothers to store most of it in their loft, which I would retrieve on my way back to London, where I intended to fly home. Louis-Albert accompanied me to the port of Piraeus in Athens where I took a boat to Haifa.

I visited Paris again in 1973 for a few days. At the time I was a French teacher at the Jesuit St George’s College in Harare (Salisbury in 1973) and it was the July-August holidays. I did not see Louis-Albert on this occasion. From Paris I went to Florence and then on to Istanbul. Istanbul is more hilly than Rome. I walked everywhere. My most memorable experience of my ten days in Istanbul was not the Topkapi museum or the mosaics in the Hagia Sofia but the savage images of Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.” I had no idea what the movie was about. Here is a description of the movie:

A Clockwork Orange is a 1971 British film written, produced, and directed by Stanley Kubrick, adapted from Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novella A Clockwork Orange. It employs disturbing, violent images to comment on psychiatry, juvenile delinquency, youth gangs, and other social, political, and economic subjects in a dystopian future Britain.

Alex (Malcolm McDowell), the main character, is a charismatic, sociopathic delinquent whose interests include classical music (especially Beethoven), rape, and what is termed “ultra-violence”. He leads a small gang of thugs (Pete, Georgie, and Dim), whom he calls his droogs (from the Russian друг, “friend”, “buddy”). The film chronicles the horrific crime spree of his gang, his capture, and attempted rehabilitation via controversial psychological conditioning. Alex narrates most of the film in Nadsat, a fractured adolescent slang composed of Slavic (especially Russian), English, and Cockney rhyming slang. (Wikipedia).

I walked out of the derelict stone movie house into the fresh summer light. A great depression came over me. I began the long walk back to my hotel gulping in the fresh sweet air trying to drive out the darkness that saturated my soul; a darkness endemic to our human condition – “man’s estate,” from which there is no earthly rescue. This morning I was reading Paul’s letter to the Colossians 1:12-14:

[Give] joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”

I visited Albert for the third and last time three decades later in 1993 at the Dominican priory in Nice. I was on my way home to my university (Fort Hare) in South Africa from Moscow where I had attended the XIX World Congress of Philosophy and presented a paper entitled “Multiculturalism in Education: An African view.” (My paper appears here). Louis-Albert had just returned home from one of his monastic retreats. I stayed a few days in an hotel opposite his priory. He gave me a French Pilot’s leather fleece-lined jacket from World War II, a raincoat and a large painted hand-carved wooden crucifix. The leather jacket would have added at least five kilos excess to my baggage so I carried it onto the plane.

I flew from Nice to Heathrow for my return flight to Johannesburg. Before boarding the plane, I stuck the foot of the crucifix into a tog bag on my back. Most of it protruded out of the top. I was wearing a blue T-shirt that was given to delegates at the Moscow Congress. The front of the blue T-shirt was decorated wit the emblem for the Congress: HOMO with the globe of the world in place of the first “O”. Here is a picture of the T-Shirt selling on Ebay for $39. Change the world, bro.

Emblem of XIX Congress of  Philosophy, Moscow, 1993.

Emblem of XIX Congress of Philosophy, Moscow, 1993.


How meanings have morphed! “Homo” is also Latin for “Man.” Philosophy is about Homo’s wishto be Sapiens. Nowadays, homo just wantsto be homo. Many of the passengers were Afrikaners. I walked down the aisle to my seat to the tune oftitters and gasps. I could swear I heard: “Man, wat diefok’s met dié ou!” (Man, waht the f-k’s with this bloke).

I gave the crucifix to my daughter. A few years ago, the heavy thick leather jacket later saved me from great injury. I was riding my scooter in a busy section of my home city, Port Elizabeth, South Africa, when the scooter slipped on a section of road under repair. The scooter fell over on its right side and slid along the ground. I was not badly hurt. I noticed that the leather on the right elbow side of my jacket had been shaved away. If not for the thick leather, I would have no more elbow room.

Providence and Open Theism

When we moderns call someone pathetic, we usually mean “petty/deplorable/useless.” And by “ejaculation” people mostly mean a seminal discharge, and rarely a verbal outburst. Seminal ejaculations usually have physical passion as their immediate cause, while verbal ejaculations may have either or both physical and mental/spiritual passion as their cause. French does not distinguish between mental and spiritual; both are subsumed under the single term esprit. This French term can also refer to “wit” as in homme d’esprit “man of wit.” By no means, is it my intention – well, my main intention – to be witty.

In theology, there are many esprit errors. One of these is Open Theism, which in sum is God knows what’s potting now but not what’s and who’s going to pot. Or for that matter when I’m going to finish this sentence. Open theism reminds me of anti-Onanism. No not anti-Nominism.

“Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.

Alas, open theists don’t want to spill their semen on the ground. They are becoming the rage. They have begotten another monster amongst many others such as Arminianism. All because they refuse or confuse the Providence of God. John Favel writes:

“I will cry unto God Most High: unto God that performs/completes (Hebrew gamar) all things for me.” Psalm 57:2.”

In the Hebrew, the above verse is numbered 57:3. The Jewish Mechon-Mamre version of Verse 1 says:
“For the Leader; Al-tashheth. Of David; Michtam; when he fled from Saul, in the cave.” The transliteration “al-tashchayt” is more accurate: Hebrew אַל-תַּשְׁחֵת. Flavel says more about this word later on.

“The greatness of God, continues, Flavel, is a glorious and unsearchable mystery. The Lord most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth,” Psalm 47:2. The condescension of the most high God to men is also a profound mystery. ” Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly” (Psalm 138:6). But when both these [the Lord be high and his respect for the lowly]] meet together, as they do in this Scripture [Psalm 57:2 Flavel's first sentence above]] they make up a matchless mystery. Here we find the most high God performing all things for a poor distressed creature. It is the great support and solace of the saints in all the distresses that befall them here, that there is a wise Spirit sitting in all the wheels of motion, and governing the most eccentric creatures and their most pernicious designs, to blessed and happy issues. And, indeed, it were not worth while to live in a world devoid of God and providence.”

“How deeply we are concerned in this matter will appear by that great instance which this psalm presents us with. It was composed, as the title notes, by David prayer-wise, when he hid himself from Saul in the cave; and is inscribed with a double title, Al taschith Michtam of David. Al taschith [tashchayt] refers to the scope, and michtam to the dignity of the subject-matter. The former signifies ” destroy not,” or, let there be no slaughter, and may either refer to Saul, concerning whom he gave charge to his servants not to destroy him; or rather, it hath reference to God, to whom, in this great exigence, he poured out his soul in this pathetical ejaculation, ‘Al taschith. Destroy not.’”

(John Flavel, “The mysteries of Providence” – Introduction).

In sum, I have ejected the pathetic heretical ejaculations of Open Theism and welcome the “pathetical ejaculations” of David, pouring out the providential pathos of  his soul.

Related: A Biblical case for Calvinism

The Straw that broke this camel’s back: Anyone want to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, please come forward


This story is about why I left my church. People leave their church for so so many reasons some of which are for so so reasons. I hope my reason is not of the second kind. Christians all agree that “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5b). My reason, which shall become clear is related to the question “When is the Holy Spirit given to us; at regeneration (spiritual rebirth) or as a subsequent gift, unhappily called, I shall argue, the “Baptism in the Spirit?”

I was speaking to somebody who had got a teaching job at a “Word of Faith” (a “charismatic”) school. She said to me that she got the job because they needed somebody who was spirit-filled. Ergo, she fitted the bill. I’m sure that she was a competent teacher to boot.

What did she mean by “spirit-filled?” To answer that question, we need to know what the “Word of faith” movement means by this term. Here is a word of welcome from one of these churches: “Welcome to Word of Faith Fellowship Church WOFFC is a spirit-filled bible-believing and bible-teaching, non denominational church, teaching you how to be victorious …” What the WOFFC means by“spirit-filled” is stated in one of their central beliefs: “We believe in water baptism,  and in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as distinct from the new birth, in speaking with tongues  (Acts 2:4).  We believe that  these are available to all  believers.” (Word of Fellowship Church). The “Word of Faith” movement is part of the wider movement call the “Charismatic” movement.

I once belonged to an Anglican church whose pastor had “Word of Faith” leanings but it never got as far as Baptism in the Holy Spirit as distinct from the new birth. The pastor was replaced by a new pastor. His second sermon was entitled: “The marks of a true church.” One of these marks, he said, was the “Baptism of the Spirit.” He did not elaborate, so it was unclear what he meant by the term, which, of course, is a biblical term. During the next few months nothing more was said on the matter, and so we continued characteristically and uncharismatically as normal.

A few months later, a the end of the Sunday service, the pastor announced a workshop for the following Saturday morning to discuss the direction the church was going and to formulate what he called a “vision statement.” Alarm bells went off, I believe only in my head. One of the pastor’s previous sermons was entitled “What is your vision,” wherein he quoted the well-worn first half of Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision the people perish.” The complete verse reads Proverbs 29:18 is “Where there is no vision [that is, prophetic vision] the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” “Vision” here is in the context of keeping the law, and nothing else. What do many preachers do with this half a proverb, for example, Adrian Stanley, Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, and the “Word of faith” people? They turn it into a sermon series or book on how to get a new vision for your life. This pastor did the same in his :What is your vision?” sermon. (See Where there is no vision: No more cutting and pasting a way to prosperity for this hermeneut).

During the following week, I emailed the pastor and asked him for an outline of the coming “Vision” workshop, which he sent me. The following points were to be discussed 1. “What is vision? 2. A picture of a preferred future. 3. The value of vision. 4.The quotation of half of Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision the people perish.”

Point 3 “A picture of a preferred future” is probably directly or indirectly from Adrian Stanley’s writings on Leadership and Vision – “Leaders provide a mental picture of a preferred future and then ask people to follow them there” (Adrian Stanley).

These points were to be related to external issues:
1. The wider church, 2. Globally, 3. Regionally, 4. Within the country (South Africa), within the city, within the community.

I wrote the following back to him: This is what I shall say to you on Saturday. I see that the vision you’re going to talk about is directed to everything outside our church. About inside our church, do you have a clear picture of who show signs that they are not believers ( born again) or are babes in the faith. It seems to me that growing our church more in-depth is needed before looking for ways to grow in numbers and evangelise the world. Our church needs to be evangelised.”

He agreed that we need to look at growing the faith inside the church. Here are are some of the contributions from different members raised from our church’s “Vision” workshop. My comments are in italics:

One of the church members said, the early church was simple. Have courage and confidence, don’t fight with one another, help one another, be patient, don’t shoot anybody down.

It is very difficult not to rock the boat without “shooting anybody down,” that is without anybody getting sea sick, or worse, taking offense.

We now come to the nub of my topic (I recorded the audio of the workshop).

Elder: You’ve got to be spirit filled.”

Me – What do you mean by spirit filled?

Elder – You have to ask the Spirit to fill into your life. And accept him into your life.

Where does the Bible say you have to accept the Spirit into your life?

Me – What’s the difference between a spirit filled Christian and a Christian?

Church member – You have to be a proper Christian.

Me – So a real Christian. That’s obvious.

Elder – If you accept Christ into your life, then you are spirit filled.

Me – Why say spirit-filled? Just say genuine christian.

Elder – We are talking about people in this church.

Church member – Nominal Christians.

Me – So, not true Christians. What I’m worrying about is that the church is going the way of Word of Faith movement. The charismatic movement, where the filling of the spirit and the baptism of the spirit is considered as a distinct experience, I believe that for you (addressed to the same elder) it is because you speak in tongues and I think this is so for the pastor and for the (Anglican) church he originates from. This church has become officially a branch of that mother church. (Our church, which was struggling financially, was taken over by this charismatic mother church). What I’m worried about is that we are going to get this idea that there are Christians who are born again, which the Bible says can only be done through the holy spirit – you can only be regenerated through the holy spirit, you can’t do anything, you’re dead in your sin. So it is through the holy spirit that you are born again. If you are born again you are going to love Christ, you’re going to follow him, you are going to obey his commandments. He’s the lord of your life. And you are going to want the spirit to nourish you continually. If you don’t want that, it means you are not born again. So we do ask for an increase of devotion in our lives. Increase my faith. Lord I need more of your spirit. We pray for a filling like that. 

Church member – That’s what the elder means.

Me – Then please just say, be a proper Christian, that like “are you spirit-filled?” Somebody once said to me that the reason why she was employed at a Word of Faith school was because they needed spirit-filled people there. You know what that means for them? It means the charismatic church; you have to have an extra baptism, a baptism of the holy spirit. But you don’t mean that do you (to the Elder), do you? You don’t mean the baptism of the holy spirit. Extra after you’re baptised? 

Elder – I think we need to be a spirit-filled guided church. 

He avoided a direct answer.

ME – Alright. As long as we understand our terms. You don’t mean what the word of faith people mean? You have a baptism of the spirit as something separate from your conversion. You don’t mean that?

The elder kept (thinking of his?) mum.

Church member 1 – In this exercise we want to learn the word of God. To be filled by the spirit once I get going. I don’t think we need to be perfect.

Church member 2 – I think we all agree about that.

Church member 3 – Then we should say, let us be spirit filled, those who are willing. 

The pastor then speaks for the first – ad last – time.

Pastor – And we’ll take thought of your view.

ME (a stuck record) to Pastor – So we don’t mean baptism in the holy spirit. All we mean is somebody who is devoted to Christ. In other words born again. True conversion true repentance. Ok fine. Say it like that. 

I had been pleading for clarity from the Elder and the Pastor on where they stood on the dividing line between “infilling of the Spirit” and “Baptism on the Spirit.” No luck. There was something amiss, if, not rotten, in the state of Denmark:

Horatio: He waxes desperate with imagination.
Marcellus: Let’s follow. ‘Tis not fit thus to obey him.
Horatio: Have after. To what issue will this come?
Marcellus: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Horatio: Heaven will direct it.
Marcellus: Nay, let’s follow him. [Exeunt.]

(Hamlet Act 1, scene 4, 87–91)

At the workshop, one of the members asked the Pastor whether members could start a Bible study at the church with me as the leader. The Pastor said yes. Two weeks later, we had our first Bible study session.

The following week, the Pastor phoned me and said he wants to meet with me at the church. We met a few evenings later. He said that he has decided that I stop the Bible study. I asked why. Did he receive any negative reports from attendees of the Bible study? He said, no, but he was thinking about the idea of me leading a Bible study and thought it would not be a good idea after all. I said, surely there must be a better reason. He said: You don’t hold to Anglican beliefs. I asked, which beliefs were those. He said, “You tell me what those beliefs are.” I said, “how can you ask me to tell you which beliefs you think I don’t believe in.” He persisted that I tell him what he thought I didn’t believe. I repeated, no you must tell me, not I you. He said: “You don’t believe in healing.” I said, of course, I believe that God heals. He said: “You don’t believe in the infllling of the Spirit. I said: Of course, I do. He said, you don’t believe in Pentecost. Of course I do; I believe in the incarnation, in the crucifixion in the resurrection, in the ascension, so why wouldn’t I believe in Pentecost. If you mean that I don’t believe Pentecost continues today, that is so, I don’t believe that. The Pastor said that I was wrong. I told him that as it was his church he had every right to do what he sees fit. The meeting ended on that note.

Recall that in the “Vision” workshop, the pastor did not show his cards even after I pleaded ad nauseam for clarity on the distinction between 1. “regeneration throught the Holy Spirit,” 2. “being filled with the Spirit,” which occurs throughout a Christians life and 3. the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” as a subsequent unique event after regeneration (taught by charismatic churches like the Word of Faith movement). A large number of Anglicans have become “charismatic.” My pastor was one of these.

What are these Anglican articles that the pastor says I had rejected. Recall, my pastor had accused me of rejecting “healing.” By that he meant the modern equivalent of the profusion of miracles in the New Testament. Although there is a great variety of beliefs among Anglicans, and Protestants in general – indeed among Roman Catholics as well – what is clear is that the articles of faith held by most Anglicans exclude the belief that the abundance of miracles of Jesus and the miracles of the Apostles (through Jesus), before and after Pentecost, occur today. These Anglicans are cessationists.

The pastor had few words to say in the “Vision” workshop on the “Baptism/Infilling” issue. In our meeting (above), it became clear to me that he was confusing “Baptism in the Spirit” (as a one-off second injection of power) with the “Infilling of the Spirit” (a continuous process in the Christian life).

I decided to quit my church, which grieved me because I had grown close to many of the church members. A few weeks later, I learned that another pastor was to take over most services. Things were looking up. I attended this new pastor’s first service. Being Pentecost Sunday, his sermon was on, good guess, Pentecost. Part of his sermon was on “tongues.” He said: “The bible says it (tongues) can be either a language of men or a heavenly language.” At the end of the sermon he prayed, “Please fill me with your spirit and give me the gift of the holy spirit.”

Didn’t he have the Holy Spirit, then. At the end of the service, he said, “Please come forward if you want to receive the gift of the Spirit.” If you think I was confused by the previous pastor, now, I lost my fuse. I thought, “For sure, I’m definitely outta here.” But I felt I still had to engage this pastor. I used to do this engaging during after-service fellowship, but I decided that it was too stressful for pastors/preachers (visiting ones included) immediately after a sermon, especially when it was rotten one. So I corresponded with them by email. I wrote the following email to the new pastor (who had said in his sermon: “Please come forward if you want to receive the gift of the Spirit”).

Harry (not his real name), here is a major difference between the “Pentecostal – Word of Faith” movement” (the previous pastor and it seems you) and the biblical view of the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” This movement labels the event in Acts 2:4 as the “Baptism in the Spirit,” which it regards as a second and necessary stage in the Christian life. Acts 2:4, in fact, is about “filling” of the Spirit, not “baptism” of the Spirit.

Acts 2:1-4 Filled with the Spirit
1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

1 Corinthians 12:13 Baptism in the Spirit.

“In one spirit are we all baptised into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

This baptism in the Spirit is a one-off act of God that occurs at regeneration (being born again). The infilling of the Spirit, in contrast, is a repeated activity, as in Acts 4:8, 31; 6:5; 7:55.

Harry replied: “You have stated my position exactly. Baptism in the Spirit is a once-only event and being filled a present continuous. I was exegeting the text quite correctly, because that is what happened on the day of Pentecost. When I invited people forward to be filled with the Holy Spirit it was that exactly.”

He confuses “Come forward to be filled with the Holy Spirit,” which he did not say in the sermon (I recorded it) with “Please come forward if you want to receive the gift of the Spirit,” which he did say.

He confuses the “baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13 above), the gift of the Holy Spirit and the “infilling of the Spirit” (Pentecost). The disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit, when they were born again through this same Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the same as the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Scriptures that speak of grace and faith as a gift are quite familiar (Ephesians 2, for example). There is also a scripture that explicitly says the Holy Spirit is a gift, which I quoted in my first paragraph: “… the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”(Romans 5:5b). Here is the context of that snippet in Romans 5:

[1] Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. [2] Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. [3] Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, [5] and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

To receive the gift of the Spirit is not the same as to be filled with the Spirit. Conflating the two has caused chaos (“charismatic chaos” – John MacArthur) in the Church. Also, I wonder whether you should invite people (to come forward) to be filled with the Spirit, as the pastor above did. It seems more biblical to pray to be filled as in Acts 4:24,31; 8:15ff; 9:17,31; Luke 11:13.

A serious matter. A divisive one? Absolutely. Divisive enough to look for another church or stay at home. I think so.

The Jewish heart: Why a Rabbi should not find it too hard to be a Calvinist

Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God.

 The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14).

In his Consumer Alert! Yourphariseefriend (Rabbi Yisroel Blumenthal) sounds the alarm against Christians, who consider religion like a financial transaction, a concept, he correctly says, the Jewish Bible does not teach. He makes a very important point that Christians should heed. My only criticism is that he lumps together the New Testament understanding of salvation with the majority Christian understanding of salvation (the transactional view of salvation). I shall argue that the true Christian view on salvation has much in common with the Jewish view, both of which have been at odds with major Christian movements since the resurrection.

Yourphariseefriend begins:

You may be wondering: What is a “consumer alert” doing on a blog that focuses on religion? Perhaps you never thought about it this way, but religion involves a transaction. There is an exchange taking place. The Christian missionary is encouraging you to give the
devotion of your heart to Jesus and he is promising you eternal life in return for what you have given.”

There is a price to pay; if not, there’ll be hell to pay. Yourphariseefriend continues: “The price you pay [the Christian says] is the devotion of your heart, the return you are promised is escape from the fires of hell and eternal bliss – after death.”

Yourphariseefriend’s aim in his “brief study” is (he writes) “to focus on those passages in the Jewish Bible that speak of the particular transaction that we are addressing in this article – giving the devotion of
your heart in exchange for a future return… One of the primary lessons of the Jewish Scripture is that the devotion of your heart is not yours to give away. It belongs to the God who created your heart in the first place.
Deuteronomy 32:6, Isaiah 45:18, Jeremiah 10:16, Jonah 1:9, Psalm 86:9, 95:6,
100:3, Job 12:10, 35:10, Daniel 5:23 – are but some of the Scriptural
references to this teaching.”

It will be useful to look at these biblical references the rabbi has alluded to. But before we do so, we need specifics on the nature of this If-I-give-my-heart-to-you transaction so prevalent among Christians.

Some Christians say that you need to make Jesus, the Son of God, Lord of your life, which in effect means making God the Lord of your life. Whether you believe in a triune (three person – Christian) God or unitarian (one person – Jewish) God, the Rabbi’ point is that it is impossible to make God the Lord of your life owing to the fact that He is already Lord of your life. In this light, we read the scriptures the rabbi has referenced. I italicise the words that I believe are of import to the Rabbi: 

Deuteronomy 32:6 – Do you thus repay the Lord,
you foolish and senseless people?
Is not he your father, who created you,
who made you and established you?

Isaiah 45:18 – For thus says the Lord,
who created the heavens (he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
(he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!):
 “I am the Lord, and there is no other.

 Jeremiah 10:16 – Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob, for he is the one who formed all things,
and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance; the Lord of hosts is his name.

Jonah 1:9 – And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

Psalm 86:9 – All the nations you have made shall come
 and worship before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.

Psalm 95:6 – Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
 let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

Job 12:10 – In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of all mankind.

Job 35:10 – But none says, ‘Where is God my Maker,
 who gives songs in the night..

Daniel 5:23 – but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.


What puzzles me is the rabbi’s assertion that “the Christian missionary” (that is, all Christian misionaries) uses the above scriptures “as an endorsement for the transaction that he is encouraging,” which, the Rabbi says, he is “not authorized to enter into.” I explain: Those Christian missionaries who believe that all scripture is God-breathed (theopneustos 2 Timothy 3:16), certainly agree with the above scriptures, which amplify God’s creative act “In the beginning God…” (Genesis 1:1), the mother of all presuppositions. So, from the point of view of God as creator, sustainer and destroyer, everything we are and have, including our hearts, belong to God. The Rabbi is right: enough already with giving “your” heart to Jesus.

At this point, there is distinction that the Rabbi, indeed all Jews, miss, namely, not all Christians believe in this transactional view, namely “give the
devotion of your heart to Jesus and he is promising you eternal life in return for what you have given.” Granted this is the majority Christian view, for example, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Methodist, Charismatic, and the masses of seeker driven movements. This leaves a remnant of Christians; a “stump of stump” (Isaiah 6) who, with the Rabbi, cry foul.

Why does this Christian remnant decry this transactional view? Let me answer with a rabbinical question: “How on earth can you invite Jesus into your heart? Where in the Bible does it say such a thing? In the Bible we do indeed see God pouring his love into unregenerated hearts, but when God regenerates a sinner, this involves no invitation from the sinner to God, but is a unilateral sovereign divine merciful call. It’s called amazing grace.If you ask God to change your heart, God has changed it already, because you would never want to ask such a question unless you had the desire to do so. Where did your desire originate? Not in you but in God, who  replaced your heart of stone with a heart of flesh: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19 (Also in Ezekiel 36:26). There is only one instance in the scriptures where we read about the opening of hearts. And it’s not of human but of divine initiative:

11 … sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14).



What a Christian should be singing is not “change my heart, O God.” but “strengthen my heart,” in other words strengthen the “inner man,” strengthen my inner being to be more like You.

Christians of the sort the Rabbi is talking about love to sing:

You are the Potter,

I am the clay;

Mold me and make me,

This is what I pray

You bet you’re the clay. The question is do you understand and accept what clay does? It lies. It’s a passive lump. I am pretty sure that if you sing this song devoutly, you believe that the Potter looked down the corridors of time and saw that when He would ask you if he could turn you into one of his pots, you would do so. Wrong, because clay, by its very nature, cannot ask the Potter to mould it. Once, however, the Potter has chosen you for one his pots, lo, a miracle: you, clay ass that you once were, get a voice, and now you can ask God to continue to mould you, embellish you, make you more beautiful. (See Change my heart, O God: Impossible: and frankly silly).

The kind of Christians the Rabbi is discussing are called in Christian theology, “synergists” (Greek “work with”), because they say God needs their cooperation to make him their Saviour and Lord. They are also called “Arminians” (after Jacob Arminius). The stump (Yiddish for stubborn) remnant of Christians are called monergists (Greek “work alone,” that is, God’s work alone). They are also called Calvinists. (See Calvinism and Arminianism for a fuller explanation).

Now you know why I am – and suggest it the best thing to be – a Jewish Calvinist. Thank you dear Rabbi Blumenthal for, if not coming to my side, taking my side on a core issue. It makes my heart feel good. If ever in your wildest you consider converting, you now know; “stump” is the way to go.



The prosperity and asperity of the Gospel: Strangers and pilgrims on this earth

John writes in his third letter to his beloved friend Gaius:

“I pray that in all things thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospers” 3 John 1, KJV). This greeting was normal for those times as it is for our times and all times. This “prosperity” simply means “best wishes,” which is entirely different to the “prosperity gospel.”

If I could ask what the “prosperity gospel” is in words of one syllable: “Why should you have to live rough and tough when God can bless you in all things? This false gospel says God has promised the believer prosperity not asperity (Latin – rough, harsh).

What is the Gospel about?

Galatians 1:3-4

Grace to you and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father.

Repent, believe, trust and take up your cross and follow Christ to his death. And be raised to new life that brings Christ’s peace and joy.

Before we condemn this “prosperity gospel,” we should examine whether we do not fall into the same camp. Are we eternally minded, do we see ourselves as pilgrims on this earth, do we want more than anything to be with Christ now (in others words, the end of our earthly life), are we seeking with the great heroes of faith – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham – more than anything that better country?

Hebrews 11:13-16

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For they that say such things make it manifest that they are seeking after a country of their own. 15 And if indeed they had been mindful of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city.

God has two plans for your life: Salvation or damnation. What about “God has a great plan for your life, release the creativity within you, God doesn’t want you ever sick, poor, stupid?” Those desires belong to this “present evil world” from which Christ came to deliver his own.

Want to be a good mechanic, clerk, lawyer, teacher, artist, theologian, husband, wife, artist, human being; but be these things as pilgrims on this earth.

Human-imposed measures of piety: No booze (hic), and celibacy


The comma in my title makes all the difference. Without the comma, it could mean “No booze and (No) celibacy.”

“In our own day,  says Kevin Reed, we meet with many humanly-imposed measures of piety. For example, some fundamentalists condemn all use of alcoholic beverages, and they use this doctrine as a measure of spirituality. For centuries, the Roman Catholic church has enjoined celibacy upon the clergy as a requirement for service. At root, the issue is still the same: ‘Do men have the right to institute supplemental measures of piety, beyond those given in scripture?'” (Kevin Reed – “Biblical worship”).

Anyone for a top up – Hic, et nunc



In search of French past (7): The hermit, the poet and the clown


In In search of French past (6): To a monastery you will go,” I described my stay at several monasteries in France. The last one was the Abbey of Lérins on the island of St Honorat off the coast of Cannes.

I don’t remember when we went to Lourdes, but this is as good a place as any to say something about it. This market town in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains is famous for the apparitions of Mary, the mother of Jesus. These apparitions were reported to have been seen by Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. Lourdes is the most famous of all Marian shrines. It has the second most hotels per square kilometre after Paris. Mass pilgrimages, many for physical healing, take place from March to September. The water in the grotto is said to have healing properties. Whether it is the clear water that heals or the faith poured into it, is not clear. With regard to miraculous cures, the big difference between the Roman Catholic Church and many of the modern “Charismatic” churches, for example, the “Word of Faith” prosperity movement (Benny Hinn, TBN, God TV) is that whereas the Roman Catholic Church is very cautious about miraculous cures – only about 70 have been declared authentic since 1858 – the Word of Faith “miracles,” in contrast, are legion, and some of their names may be legion too (Mark 5:9). Here is a picture of Lourdes with the Rosary Basilica towering over the landscape.


When I was at Lourdes in 1962, the sides of the walkway down to the basilica (in the picture) were festooned with booths marketing their wares: statues of Mary and rosaries of all shapes, colours and sizes, and other objects of veneration. During the pilgrimage months, you couldn’t see the lawn for the market. Several decades later, when I had left the Roman Catholic Church for Protestantism and, consequently, read my Bible, I found a striking comparison between a passage in the book of Acts and the booths at Lourdes.

About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”

If you want to search for other photos of Lourdes on the internet, you’ll need to search for more than Lourdes, otherwise you’ll end up with photos of Madonna – the other Madonna, and her daughter, Lourdes, in the mix.

After France, we visited a few monasteries in Italy and then on to Rome. The Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) had begun the previous month. One of the monasteries was a hermitage whose name I was only able to recall with recent help. I sent two photos, one of Louis-Albert and I standing on a hill to Frère Laurent Béthoux at the Dominican priory (couvent) in Nice, France. Louis-Albert had been moved from Bordeaux to the Dominican priory in Nice, where he lived for many years until his death in 1992. I asked Frère Laurent whether he recognised the background in the photos. As there were many details lost in the fog of time past, I also asked him whether there was any record of Louis-Albert’s peregrinations for the years that I had travelled with him.

Louis-Albert and Raphael. I m wearing L-A's cape.

Louis-Albert and Raphael. I’m wearing L-A’s cape.



Louis-Albert Lassus

Louis-Albert Lassus

Frère Laurent said he thought the background in the photos was the hermitage of San Girolamo in Italy. He sent me an aerial view of the hermitage.


Here is the translation of his email to me followed by the French original in brackets:

Hello! Nothing, alas, in the papers of Father Lassus about his peregrinations. Thank you very much for these beautiful photos of the young Father Lassus. It seems to me that they were taken near the hermitage of San Girolamo in Italy. I am sending you these aerial pictures of the hermitage. Best wishes. Fr. Laurent Béthoux).

(Bonjour!  rien, hélas, dans les papiers laissés par le Père Lassus concernant ses pérégrinations. Grand merci pour ces belles photos du jeune P. Lassus : ont été prises me semble-t-il, près de l’ermitage de San Girolamo en Italie dont je vous envoie ces vues aériennes. Avec mes sentiments les meilleurs. fr. Laurent Béthoux).

Louis-Albert wrote about a dozen books, most of them on hermits; for example, Romuald of Ravenna, the hermits of Camaldoli (Les Camaldules) , Denys of Chartreux, Séraphim of Sarov, and Nazarena.

Louis-Albert never created the impression that he wanted to become a hermit. He seemed content with his life in community, not only in the Priory but also socializing with other people. On several occasions we visited his friends, sometimes spending a few days. There was an artist whose house was his studio, which he shared with his wife and several children. Finished and half-finished paintings covered the walls. Easels, brushes and twisted tubes of paint were scattered everywhere. A scruffy sofa and other soft furnishings hinted that the room was once a lounge. The artist had a son called Jean-Baptiste. He was about 14 years old. Jean-Baptiste and I went to visit the Rodin Museum. When we came upon Le Penseur “The Thinker,” Jean-Baptiste stood very still in front of the marvelous sculpture. I asked him what he was thinking. What else would you ask somebody gazing in rapture at “The Thinker”? Jean-Baptiste replied in a quivering voice: Ça me donne le cafard “It gives me the blues.” I was surprised that such a young person could be so affected by this kind of art. But I was forgetting that Jean-Baptiste was from an artist family. We walked around the museum and looked at other Rodin sculptures.  Jean-Baptiste limbered along. I tried to cheer him up, but it was no use.  He had, it seemed, lost all hope, all belief; in retrospect, he had – already at 14 years of age -lost the desire to live. I was also quite down in the dumps. Years later, I heard that he had killed himself. He was in his early twenties. I thought back to the cluttered “salon” that was his home. Did it mirror Jean-Baptiste’s turbulent soul? I often think of him. Why are you so downcast, o my John the Baptist? (See THE PASTOR, THE PENSEUR AND THE INFIDEL).

Le Penseur (The thinker) -Auguste Rodin

Le Penseur (The thinker) -Auguste Rodin

On our travels through Southern France, Louis-Albert and I stayed the night with his friends in several towns such as Narbonne and Arles, who regaled us with gourmet dinners, the finest vintage. Conviviality good food and wine and being together was good.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is

    when brothers dwell in unity!

 It is like the precious oil upon the head,

    running down upon the beard,

upon the beard of Aaron,

    running down on the collar of his robes!

It is like the dew of Hermon,

    which falls on the mountains of Zion!

For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,

    life for evermore (Psalm 133).

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,

there’s dancing, laughter & good red wine;

at least I have always found it so,

Benedicamus Domino!

(Hilaire Belloc)

Here is a description of the hermitage of San Girolamo and the daily life of the hermits, which shows not only the stark contrast between the “world” and the monastic life, but also a radical difference between the monastic life and the communal life of the Dominican Order to which Louis-Albert belonged. This is a general description of all hermitages in the West.


The phenomenon of hermitic life was prevalent in the years between 900-1000 AD and 1100. At that time, there were many men who sought to flee the world, dedicating themselves to voluntary solitude, silence and converse with God. These were the solitary Christians, anchorites and hermits typical of the time, for whom, in accordance with the teaching of St Girolamo: “The city is a prison; solitude is paradise”. This was a particular phenomenon within the Church, which began after the fall of the Roman Empire and flourished conspicuously in around 1000 AD. The mountains of Italy were widely inhabited by these solitary hermits. They lived in wild, inaccessible places, either in caves, or in huts made of stones and wood.

A collection of these cells together formed the Hermitage. Some individuals, however, felt the need to have a common base, and so the Monastery came into existence: a place where they could live together, with adjacent cells, an oratory, a church and sometimes a cloister, a refectory, a chapter-house, a library and a scriptorium.


They always lived a solitary life within the hermitage, even though they shared the roof over their heads. They could never enter each others’ cells: at most they could walk to the confines of the cells. They could talk to each other twice a week, when they went outside the cloister, but within the restricted area they could only converse in whispers. They had an inviolable rule of silence, which always had to be obeyed. On days of abstinence, they took their meals sitting on the floor, with bare feet. Meat was never eaten in the Hermitage, and during Lent the monks abstained from dairy produce (eggs, milk, cheese etc.). The consumption of meat was only permitted when someone was ill, or going on a journey. The monks always slept in their habits, either on wooden palettes or on hard straw mattresses. They dedicated themselves to manual labour, according to their individual capacities: they dug the ground, hoed, pruned, built walls, carried stones and dressed them, made bread, cooked, made clothes, did repairs, wrote and composed. They were very charitable towards guests and to the poor. When they fell ill, they were taken to the infirmary. The dead were interred in the church, in the cemetery next to the Hermitage, or in the graveyard at Paracelsus.

I continue:

In 2002, the year of his death, Louis-Albert’s ELoge de l”enfouissement (“In praise of reclusion by a hermit of Camaldoli”) was published. It was on the spirituality of the Camaldoli hermits of Monte Corona in Italy. The English term “reclusion” does not capture the connotations of total abandonment contained in the French “enfouissement.” Fouiller means to dig deep into something. Here are some examples of how fouiller is used:

  1. Archaeological dig – fouille archéologique.

  2. To search a place thoroughly, say, for something lost. “They (fouillé) searched (fouillé) the whole house but couldn’t find him.

  3. To meditate deeply on a problem before coming to a conclusion.

The prefix en (in) added to fouiller means to dig deep into hole and bury something in it – (enfouiller). Enfouissement in the hermitic life embraces all the meanings listed above, which is to bury oneself deep below the surface of the world into the mystical sedimentations of the soul, in search of the priceless treasure.


Here is my abridgement in English of the French review of the Eloge de l’enfouissement d’un Ermite Calmaldule(“In praise of reclusion by a hermit of Camaldoli”).


The  front cover of “In praise of reclusion.

Mount Corona has a Dominican friend, Fr. Louis-Louis-Albert Lassus. He published these notes for the benefit of others. The author focuses on the key values of the hermitic life, which, above all, is his cell, the “parlour of the Holy Spirit” (“parlour” derives from French parler “to speak”). With astonishing acuity he reminds us of some of the indispensable requirements of the ordinary Christian life, namely, to accept failure and not idolise success, self-effacement, unceasing prayer, mourn our sins, not to be idle, search for God and his truth by abandoning our spiritual selfishness, serve one’s brothers with alacrity, etc. Much advice on how these will also help us to remain in the love of God. The author leaves no ambiguity about the true nature of the reclusion (“burial” enfouissement) he extols: it is a burial in God alone. Heed his call.”

(Monte Corona à un ami dominicain, le Fr. Louis-Louis-Albert Lassus. Le Fr. Lassus eut le projet de publier ces notes pour que d’autres âmes en profitent. L’auteur veut souligner les valeurs fondamentales de la vie d’ermite. Avant tout la garde de la cellule, « parloir du Saint-Esprit ». Avec une acuité qui nous étonnera, il nous rappelle par la même occasion certaines exigences incontournables de toute vie chrétienne ordinaire : savoir accepter l’échec et ne pas idolâtrer le succès, veiller au recueillement, à la prière continuelle, pleurer ses péchés, ne pas rester dans l’oisiveté, chercher Dieu en vérité en abandonnant son égoïsme spirituel, servir ses frères avec disponibilité, etc. Autant de conseils qui nous aideront à demeurer aussi dans l’amour de Dieu. L’auteur ne laisse pas d’ambiguïté sur la véritable nature de l’enfouissement dont il fait l’éloge : c’est un enfouissement en Dieu seul. Un appel à suivre).

Being a devout and freshly baptised Roman Catholic, I was in awe of mystics, hermits and the like. Many decades later, I have changed my view. “Hermitic” for me now evokes “hermetic.” “Hermetic” means literally, completely sealed, especially against the escape or entry of air, and figuratively, impervious to outside interference or influence. We speak of the hermetic confines of an isolated life.

Historical linguistics teaches us that meanings of words often change over time. One must, therefore, take care not to ascribe past meanings of words to their contemporary meanings. For example, “hermetic” originates from Hermes Trismegistus (thrice great), a name attributed to an Egyptian priest or to the Egyptian god Thoth, who in some attributes is identified with the Greek god Hermes. Various alchemical, mystical, astrological, and writings were ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus . Although, we should take care not to conflate past meanings with modern meanings – I’m sure that no one in the packing business is thinking of Hermes or alchemy when they hermetically seal an item, there are occasions when such conflation may provide new insights into the modern meaning of a word. The literary technique of “deconstruction” (fathered by Jacques Derrida) digs, playfully and seriously, into the hidden sedimentations (etymologies) of language, which reminds me of the extreme hermitic forms of purifying oneself of the dross of the world and of self, striving like the alchemist, to transmute base metals into gold. The alchemist in the material realm – divination, the hermit in the spiritual domain – divinisation.

Although Louis-Albert was passionate about the hermitic way of life, this passion didn’t express itself in the desire to abandon his Dominican life for a hermitage. A reader of his books might be forgiven for inferring that his passion about the hermitic life was a yearning for reclusion. “Nomad,” not “hermit” sums him up best. He writes in his Les nomades de Dieu (1974, “The nomades of God”:

“I have been and am nothing more than a nomad, the man with a suitcase. I have run all over the world, never ceasing to encourage those of my kind, monks and nuns, and sometimes tramps and the unstable of every kind. I told them never to stop because it is they who yank the church out of its sluggish complacency.”

(Je n’ai été et ne suis qu’un nomade, l’homme à la valise. J’ai couru le monde, ne cessant d’encourager ceux et celles de ma race, moines et moniales, et parfois clochards et instables de toute sorte. Je leur ai dit de ne jamais s’arrêter car ils arrachent l’Église et le monde à l’installation et à la torpeur).

If you can’t imagine tramps (les clochards) and the unstable rattling the Church’s complacency, if you think tramps are not famous for getting off their bums, and would, therefore, not be in a position to inspire the Roman Curia to pull their fingers out of their own bums, then you can’t be French or a Francophile. Charlot (Charlie Chaplin) the tramp, the clown (pronounced “cloon” in French) means much more to French than to English speakers. Louis-Albert often talked about the sadness of clowns. In his room, Rouault’s clown hung on his wall.

George Rouault; The clown.

George Rouault; The clown.


 And then there’s the vagabond, Arthur Rimbaud, the French symbolist poet, another nomad. Rimbaud’s biography, in brief, can be found hereHere is one of Rimbaud’s poems, Ma Bohème (Fantaisie) “My Bohemian life (A fantasy).” The original French follows the English translation:

I went off with my hands in my torn coat pockets;

My overcoat too was becoming ideal;

I travelled beneath the sky, Muse! and I was your vassal;

Oh dear me! what marvelous loves I dreamed of!

My only pair of breeches had a big hole in them.

Stargazing Tom Thumb, I sowed rhymes along my way.

My tavern was at the Sign of the Great Bear.

My stars in the sky rustled softly.

And I listened to them, sitting on the road-sides

On those pleasant September evenings while I felt drops

Of dew on my forehead like vigorous wine;

And while, rhyming among the fantastical shadows,

I plucked like the strings of a lyre the elastics

Of my tattered boots, one foot close to my heart!

Je m’en allais, les poings dans mes poches crevées ;

Mon paletot aussi devenait idéal;

J’allais sous le ciel, Muse ! et j’étais ton féal ;

Oh ! là là ! que d’amours splendides j’ai rêvées !

Mon unique culotte avait un large trou.

- Petit-Poucet rêveur, j’égrenais dans ma course

Des rimes. Mon auberge était à la Grande Ourse.

- Mes étoiles au ciel avaient un doux frou-frou

Et je les écoutais, assis au bord des routes,

Ces bons soirs de septembre où je sentais des gouttes

De rosée à mon front, comme un vin de vigueur ;

Où, rimant au milieu des ombres fantastiques,

Comme des lyres, je tirais les élastiques

De mes souliers blessés, un pied près de mon coeur !

We saw earlier that Louis-Albert extols the hermit’s cell le parloir de Dieu, the parlour of God, where God speaks (French parler) in the silence; the only sound the flicker of the candle flame. Yet, the tramp, the vagabond, the nomad – if only in their mind or their poetry – rebels against incarceration; of both body and mind. They must always be on the move. Space offers vistas of opportunity. Rimbaud’s nature speaking to him alone: sky, stars, the Great Bear, the open road. Always departing, never arriving, yet wanting to possess – oneself most of all. “Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it?” (André Gide). Rimbaud’s “nature,” as with most poets, is his spiritual milk, his substitute mother. Louis-Albert’s mother, in contrast, is not nature, fallen nature (corrupted by sin) but the sinless “Mother of God.”’

Jesus said “Unless you become as a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Louis-Albert said “Unless you become as an owl….” Si tu ne deviens comme un hibou (the title of chapter 1 of Louis-Albert’s La prière est une fête “Prayer is a celebration,” 1978). He writes (I translate):

I’ve always loved owls and I can’t understand why they are regarded as birds of ill omen…you have to become an owl yourself to cease to be afraid of themselves… I love their eyes, those enormous eyes, those eyes like icons. They fascinated the Byzantines long before me. For them, owls became the eyes of Christ Pantocrator (Greek pan “all”; cratos power), of the All Pure, of the angels and the saints. Is this blasphemy, a sacrilege? Come on now! Can’t you see, you who are wise, don’t you see, you with your rational rheumy (chassieux) eyes, you, men and women, with small half-closed eyes that God made the owls eyes so enormous to see in the night, when things are what they are and nothing else? To plumb (fouiller) the darkness…Then the darkness becomes light.” (Fouiller – ferret, pry, frisk, scan, examine, dig into, investigate, explore, plumb).

Earlier in the discussion of Louis-Albert’s “In praise of reclusion by a hermit of Camaldoli” Eloge de l’enfouissement d’un Ermite Calmaldule, I said more about fouiller).





I am reminded of an incident at boarding school in my final school year. One evening we went to a hall in town to see a Billy Graham film. I was overcome. I “made a decision” for Christ. A few weeks later, I was preaching to the boys at the Homestead. We used one of the dormitories. No standing room. They were standing in rows on the beds, supporting themselves against the dormitory walls. They were sitting on the floor between the beds. On one occasion, Jan Malan, lumbered into the hushed dorm with his owl in a cage, tight shorts hugging his  khaki crack.  This photo captures the feathery camouflage, eyes lost in shadow of Jan’s owl.

The grey  of the owl’s feathers  matched the dim-wit glaze in Jan eyes.  The focus shifted from spiritual things to the owl, from one spiritual thing to another spiritual thing, from the revealed Word of God to omens. It’s very important, for what is to follow – to know whether the omen was Greek or Roman. For the Greek, the owl augurs good fortune – the “wise old owl”, the messenger of Athene, the goddess of wisdom. If an owl flew over the Greek army before a battle, it foretold victory. The Romans borrowed the owl –as they did most things – from the Greeks. The Romans were not sure whether the owl was Arthur or Martha. On the one hand, they made the owl the companion of their own goddess of wisdom, Minerva. On the other hand, the hoot of an owl meant imminent disaster. The hoot of an owl predicted the murder of Julius Caesar. The only way to thwart the owl was to kill  it.

I told everyone to close their eyes – “not one eye open” was one of the phrases I picked up somewhere in my very short exposure to preaching. If I had known the whole altar call speech it would have gone like this:

At this time, I’m going to ask those of you who have a need in your life for God’s touch to slip up your hand, with every head bowed and every eye closed. No one will see you. We’re not here to embarrass you in any way. If you’d like us to pray withyou, I’d like you to slip out of your seats while every head is bowed and come to the front, where our team of counsellors will meet with you. This is YOUR special time, it’s just between you and God. No one is peeking. As the choir very softly sings “Just As I AM”, I’d like you to search your heart. If you feel God calling you, get up out of your seats right now and come to this altar, and our specially trained counsellors will be happy to pray with you and give you some helpful literature to guide you in your new Christian walk.”

I couldn’t see the owl, because of the press. Had he one eye closed? I was too ignorant to understand that this type of altar call – perhaps any kind of altar call – is not the way to evangelise. Many evangelists and preachers use this instant coffee approach.

In the dormitory, there was no standing room. Everyone was standing, including on the beds. You could have heard a feather drop. How was anyone to know that it was not only one of the owl’s feathers that would drop? It happened so suddenly . Where a moment before, everything was rapturous attentive, suddenly a flurry of feathers and a wild surge of screaming and shouting boys jumping over one another making for the dormitory door. Jan’s owl had fled the cage.   The terrified bird was trying to find its way between the forest of stampeding legs. It got swallowed up in the crush of the fleeing  mob. The dorm was now empty; except for Jan, the feathers and me; and the poor owl dead on the floor.

At the time I never asked God why this strange thing happened. I can’t understand to this day, what I was doing preaching to crowds so soon after “giving my heart” to Jesus. Many decades later I learnt that you can’t give your heart to Jesus; he takes it, your heart of stone, and gives you a new heart, a heart of soft warm flesh. (See THE RABBI, THE EVANGELIST AND COMING “HOME.”).



What I am going to say now about the monastic, contemplative and hermitic life, and Roman Catholicism in general would probably have hurt my dear friend Louis-Albert with whom I had shared so much.

For about two decades, Catholicism was not only intellectually impressive to me, it also appealed to the “deeper” spiritual side. Not only could you theologise and philosophise about God, you could also become one with Him. I read the mystics. The two outstanding ones are St John of Cross (I wrote about his “Dark night of the senses” whom I wrote about here) and Teresa of Avila.

The mystical kind of spirituality is very popular today among all kinds of religions and non-religions. Those who get tired of the world yearn for an experiential connection to God. But, this yearning downplays the place of faith and Scripture. It exalts “transcendental” experiences that propel the person out of the mundane into a higher “spiritual” plane. But this talking with God is not Biblical prayer. If any practice – be it prayer, or some other contemplative practice – does not square with the Bible, it is not of God. For this reason, mystical meditation and “centering” (Richard Foster, Abbot Thomas Keating) is more a flight of fancy than Biblical Christianity. Biblical spirituality involves the study and meditation upon the literal truth of the Scripture; mystical spirituality, in contrast, looks for a “deeper meaning”, where scripture is regarded as allegorical rather than literal (the normal meaning of grammar, meaning and context, where history does not become allegory).

Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein” (Jeremiah 6:16).

Jesus, the Son God, writes Andrew Murray, is our High Priest. Our boldness of access is not a state we produce in ourselves by meditation or effort. No, the living, loving High Priest, who is able to sympathise and gives grace for timely help, He breathes and works this boldness in the soul that is willing to lose itself in Him. Jesus, found and felt within our heart by faith, is our boldness. As the Son, whose house we are, He will dwell within us, and by His Spirit’s working, Himself be our boldness and our entrance to the Father. Let us, therefore, draw near with boldness!” (Andrew Murray, “The Holiest of All,” Oliphants, 1960, p. 174).

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), we read:

No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). The Church invites us to invoke the Holy Spirit as the interior Teacher of Christian prayer” (CCC 2681).

It is not the (Catholic) Church who invites us (Christians), but Christ. He invites us (who is His body, the “church”)  through his Word (the scriptures) to invoke the Holy Spirit to dwell in us in a deeper way.  “He breathes and works this boldness in the soul that is willing to lose itself in Him” (Murray above).

Here is a response I received from a Catholic with regard to my argument that if prayer (for example, what I described as “transcendental” prayer) does not  square with the biblical kind of prayer, then this non-biblical kind of prayer is not talking to God, the God of the Bible.

My respondent says: “How can you say that …But this talking with God is not Biblical prayer…’ Your narrow minded, prescriptive view of the world is really sad. The sadness is that you really believe the nonsense you sprout. God is infinite – to limit him to one narrow written tradition, and to damn all other prayer is arrogance which is breath taking.”

Yes, I do limit valid prayer to one “narrow written tradition.” That is the difference between many Catholics, for example, Thomas Merton (whom I wrote about here) and Carlo Carretto (whom I wrote about here).

In Newsweek, Sept 2005, appeared a feature article  “Spirituality in America.” It said: “Americans are looking for personal, ecstatic experiences of God.” The article went on to describe the Catholic use of Buddhist’s teachings. For example, Father Thomas Keating, the abbot of St. Joseph’s Abbey, noticed how attracted Roman Catholics were to the Eastern religious practices As a Trappist monk, meditation was second nature to the Abbot. Americans, like everybody else, is looking for transcendental prayer, transcendental meditation (TM), which could, it seems, also stand for “Trappist Meditation.”

The contemplative life. Here again, people left the world to pray for the world and to be closer to God. “The act of contemplation, imperfect as it needs be, is of all human acts one of the most sublime, one of those which render the greatest honor to God, bring the greatest good to the soul, and enable it most efficaciously to become a means of salvation and manifold blessing to others.” (NewAdvent).

In the last decade, contemplation as a fruitful pursuit is gaining in popularity. A popular modern author on this topic is Richard Foster. He says:

The apostle Paul withdrew for thirteen years from the time of his conversion until he began his ministry at Antioch. He probably spent three years in the desert and then approximately ten years in his home town of Tarsus. During that time he no doubt experienced a lot of solitude. This was followed by a period of very intense activity as Paul carried out his mission to the Gentiles. Paul needed both solitude and activity, and so do we. (Richard Foster, “Solitude” in Practical Christianity. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1986), 305.”

I gather from the Apostle Paul’s life that he did very little withdrawing, but was continually in the thick of people. Having said that, it is true that “time spent in quiet prostration of soul before the Lord is most invigorating. . . . Quietude, which some men cannot abide, because it reveals their inner poverty, is as a palace of cedar to the wise, for along its hallowed courts the King in his beauty designs to walk. . . . Priceless as the gift of utterance may be, the practice of silence in some aspects far excels it” (Charles Spurgeon in his “Lectures to students”).

The Bible advocates time for solitary devotion, prayer and adoration of God, but not the kind of sustained and continuous withdrawal from life. Why does the Bible not contain any pattern of isolation? One might respond that an argument from silence is no argument at all, that is, just because the Bible doesn’t say anything explicit about leaving the world for a hermitage, this does not mean that it is wrong to do so. My response: the Bible stresses in many places the importance of community, how Christians are knitted together in the Body of Christ, that I should not be an Island; as much as I often wish I was.

“Let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water [the "water" of the Holy Spirit] let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised: 24 and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh” (Hebrews 10:22-25).

“Be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-21).

This does not mean you can never have a pious tipple – even if you are a Calvinist. But it does mean that the melodies you sing be sincere and true; for example, if you are going to sing “I wanna be with you-hoo-hoo, Lord,” don’t add “but not yet.”


The deadish ISH and darkish darkness of the unregenerate: The libertarian view

How spiritually dead is natural man? Not so dead, say the majority of Christians. They say that they are free to “give their heart” to Jesus – and any time they choose – whom they trust, as Doris Day sings about giving her heart to her suitor, who will handle it with care. So, they say, when the Bible says we were “dead in sin,” it doesn’t mean stone dead but merely deadish; a deadish ISH (“man”in Hebrew).

This is how they read Ephesians 2:1-5:

1 And you did he make alive, when ye were deadISH through your trespasses and sins, 2 wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience; 3 among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest:–
4 but God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 even when we were deadISH through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved).

And what will these libertarians say about the darkness of the natural soul, of the human will?

Isaiah 9:2 “They that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” And: “Ephesians 5:8
“You were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord: walk as children of light.”

This: “You were once darkISH, but now have more light in the Lord: walk as children of more light.”

They do not understand or refuse to understand the starkness of the darkness: the natural man is unable to want and doesn’t want a saviour, especially a bloody one. It is foolishness to him.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25
For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought.
20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. 22 Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: 23 but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumbling block, and unto Gentiles foolishness; 24 but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Here is Jonathan Edwards who sheds a brilliant light on the dark darkness of the unregenerate soul. How could such radical corruption give its heart or life to Christ?

“This lower world before the fall enjoyed noonday light, the light of the knowledge of
God, the light of his glory, and the light of his favour. But when man fell, all this light
was at once extinguished, and the world reduced back again to total darkness, a worse
darkness than that which was in the beginning of the world, that we read of in Gen.
1:2, “And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the
deep.” This was a darkness a thousand times less redeemable than that. Neither men
nor angels could find out any way whereby this darkness might be scattered. This
darkness appeared in its blackness then, when Adam and his wife saw that they were
naked, and sewed fig leaves, and when they heard the voice of the Lord God walking
in the garden, and hid themselves among the trees of the garden, and when God first
called them to an account, and said to Adam, “What is this that thou hast done? – Hast
thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee, that thou should not eat?” Then
we may suppose that their hearts were filled with shame and terror. But these words of
God, Gen. 3:15, were the first dawning of the light of the gospel after this darkness ( Jonathan Edwards, “History of redemption.”

There are many professing Christians who say, “What have I to do with Adam?” Which sharpens Edwards’ point; and thickens their darkness.

Related: Dead, dead, see I am dead: How to soup up a sermon on regeneration

My Gospel: Much ado about noting


There are fictitious stories and non-fictitious stories. French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, said that we tell stories because human lives need and merit to be told. Writing stories is one of the noblest employments of the mind and soul. Most good stories aim at knowledge and wisdom. This aim is most evident in life stories: biographies. For many professing Christians, most of the value of Bible stories lies in what they tell them about themselves, not what they tell them about God. Story, writes Leslie Leyland Fields, is all the rage. Everyone pants to tell their personal narrative or to give the Bible a simpler and more relevant plot. Maybe it isn’t such a good idea.” (The Gospel Is More Than a Story: Rethinking Narrative and Testimony). (See The Gospel is more and less than a story).

I’m reminded of Reconstructionist-Reform Judaism (most Jews fall in this category), which sees the Bible as man-made stories that bind the Jewish community together. Actually, it’s much more than about community. In a sense, the Bible is often less than about community; it’s about self.

You yourself, and I myself, says Martyn Lloyd Jones, are our greatest enemies. The 
curse of life is that we are all self-centred. We live for self instead of for God, and thus we are selfish, we are jealous, and we are envious. As Paul puts it, we are ‘hateful, and hating one another’ (Titus 3:3). Why? Because we are out for ourselves. Instead of living 
to God, in worship of Him and to His glory, we have all made ourselves [into] gods.” That’s, at bottom, the meaning of “total depravity”: we have made ourselves gods rather than God’s. (See Kinda Christianity”: The Bible as stories about ourselves; our gods).

Here is the French Jesuit,
Jean-Pierre Causssade, famous among Roman Catholic contemplatives for his 
handbook “Abandonment to divine providence,” Here is an excerpt from Caussade for whom the Gospel is merely “a tiny stream” in comparison to the river that God 
is dying  to pour into you.

The Holy Spirit continues to
carry on the work of our Saviour. While helping the Church to preach the
Gospel of Jesus Christ, He writes His own Gospel in the hearts of the just. All
their actions, every moment of their lives, are the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.
The souls of the saints are the paper, the sufferings and actions the ink. The 
Holy Spirit with the pen of His power writes a living Gospel, but a Gospel that
 cannot be read until it has left the press of this life, and has been published on 
the day of eternity….Teach me, divine Spirit, to read in this book of life. I desire to become Your 
disciple and, like a little child, to believe what I cannot understand, and cannot
see. Sufficient for me that it is my Master who speaks. He says that! He
 pronounces this! He arranges the letters in such a fashion! He makes Himself 
heard in such a manner! That is enough. I decide that all is exactly as He says.
I do not see the reason, but He is the infallible truth, therefore all that He
 says, all that He does is true. He groups His letters to form a word, and 
different letters again to form another word. There may be three only, or six;
 then no more are necessary, and fewer would destroy the sense. He who reads
 the thoughts of men is the only one who can bring these letters together, and
 write the words. All has meaning, all has perfect sense. This line ends here 
because He makes it do so. Not a comma is missing, and there is no
 unnecessary full-stop. At present I believe, but in the glory to come when so
 many mysteries will be revealed, I shall see plainly what now I so little 
understand. Then what appears to me at present so intricate, so perplexing, so
foolish, so inconsistent, so imaginary, will all be entrancing and will delight me
 eternally by the beauty, order, knowledge, wisdom, and the incomprehensible
 wonders it will all display.” (Mystical YOUnion: Do you want God to write a Gospel about you or are you aching to write it yourself?). 

Something is amiss in this mystical effusion, namely, the belief that besides the “Gospel” proper, which for Caussade means the scriptures, there is another Gospel, a Gospel for you and for me. It seems quite possible that God takes copious notes on each individual’s story, but should we call that individual story another Gospel, even if we mean it metaphorically? The word of God in the scriptures “is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16). The focus of Christians should not be on the memorable, momentous “Gospel” God is writing about their lives, but on the historic remarkable life of Jesus Christ. 

Owing to the fact that Caussade is both a Roman Catholic and a contemplative, and a Jesuit,  it comes as no no surprise he writes in such an imaginative way; the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola’s “Exercises” (in imagination) are famous among Roman Catholics. Caussade’s drift seems  to be that unless the Gospel story is faithful to “my story,” it has little significance. Martin Luther would execrate such chutzpa. Many modern Lutherans would do likewise. There are other Lutherans, however, who would love Caussade’s idea of one person, one Gospel – a typical postmodern pursuit. For example, Walter Brueggemann does not consider theology and Bible interpretation a matter of certainty but of fidelity; fidelity to 1. the “divine office of creative imagination” (Ignatius Loyola?) and 2. to the “other.” 

For Brueggemann any interaction between 1. certitude, which he considers limited because it is restricted to a single meaning (univocity) and 2. fidelity, should be discarded. We should rather, as Jacques Derrida says, remain open to “an unlimited number of contexts over an indefinite period of time,” and thus to unrestricted interaction between suffering persons desiring to tell their personal stories. The biblical story for the imaginative is about always departing never arriving, unless it arrives at the front door of my singular story. (The postmodern pursuit: Always departing, never arriving). There are many Lutherans, thankfully, who have not taken this postmodern turn.

Compared to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our “Gospel” is much ado about nothing. If you don’t agree stop singing those silly songs, “It’s not about me Lord, it’s all about you-hoo-hoo-hoo.” Who again?




Of Fundamentalists and Fundaments: the Divine Expiration of Torah


Paul , the Apostle, and Rabelais: Of fundamentalists and bottoms

Originally posted on OneDaring Jew:

“Fundamentalist” can mean many things to different people. What is the traditional Orthodox Jewish view of a fundamentalist Christian?

“…to the fundamentalist Christian – says Rabbi Simchah Roth – the whole of the Bible (and specifically what he terms the ‘Old Testament’) is the directly revealed word of God; while ancient Jewish tradition has ascribed that quality to the Torah, which is not true of the prophets and writings.”

Barry Freundel expresses a similar opinion. In his “Contemporary Orthodox Judaism’s response to modernity, p. 11, he says” “While the prophets and the Writings also contain revelations from God, these do not achieve the level of the Mosaic revelation, and, as we have said are not sources of law. Rather they tell us a history, exhort to follow God’s commands, and offer understanding of the human condition.”

So the above Jewish hashkafah (perspective) of the Jewish Bible says that only the…

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Let the Gospel that rips up and tears and cuts even kills sink into your soul

“Avoid a sugared gospel as you would shun
sugar of lead. Seek that gospel
which rips up and tears and cuts
and wounds and hacks and even
kills, for that is the gospel that
makes alive again. And when you
have found it, give good heed to it.
Let it enter into your inmost being.
As the rain soaks into the ground, so
pray the Lord, let his gospel soak
into your soul.”

Charles Spurgeon

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Theological Memeology: The Noble Pagan


As the writer explains so well, the reason why people are sent to hell – they don’t choose to go there – is because they love darkness.

Definitions: We all know what genes  are so we don’t need to wrangle  about that. And memes. If you said it’s about me me, look at me-me, you would not be far off the mark. Memes are bits of our social selves that we transmit through time and space. I think it was the evangelist Richard Dawkins, who coined the term “meme.” Now what does  the person who believes that life’s main purpose is transmitting his genes  and memes fixate upon? Yep, me-me.

“What was that you said, Richard Dawkins is an evangelist?”

For sure, he is.

Originally posted on KINGDOMVIEW:

photo 4.PNGHere’s our first meme to examine. Let’s think through the message and implication of that message.

In this meme we have what appears to be an Eskimo fishing while speaking to an unseen Christian priest/missionary. The Eskimo asks whether those who are ignorant of God’s righteous character and our moral rebellion against him would, in light of that very ignorance, be held accountable. The priest/missionary replies “No, not if you did not know.” The Eskimo’s response is the key to understanding the single point of the meme, “Then why did you tell me?” According to the rationale of the meme’s creator, Christians appear to hold to 3 contradictory beliefs: a) Those who reject the message of sin and the forgiveness provided by the cross-work of Jesus are eternally damned (i.e. go to hell), b) it is the Christian’s job to tell as many people as possible the message of sin and…

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Did Vatican II really let more of scripture be her guide?


The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) claims that the fruit of this Council is an updated vision and based on Scripture. Pope John Paul II referred to Vatican II as “a compass with which to orient ourselves in the vast ocean of the third millennium.” The Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) began on October 11, 1962, and officially ended on December 8, 1965. Vatican II brought many profound changes to the RCC.

Here are some of the major outcomes of Vatican II:

1. Renewing the liturgy. The Mass could be celebrated in the vernacular instead of Latin. The priest no longer celebrated the Mass with his back to the congregation facing the altar. Pope Benedict XIV (Ratzinger) was not happy with these changes, because he said for the priest to do the Mass ad populum “toward the people,” belittles the meaning of the Mass as the sacrifice of Christ. 

2. Greater emphasis was placed on Scripture, reflected in reforms to the missal – the book of instructions and texts used for the Mass. Bible-study groups were also encouraged. Protestants would say that a greater emphasis on scripture should have led to studying it more deeply leading to questions of the validity of doctrines that cannot be extrapolated from the Bible; doctrines such as the “Treasury of merit” and Marian doctrines of the “immaculate conception,” the “assumption” (Mary not dying but taken to heaven like Elijah) and Mary as mediatrix – the “neck” between the Head (Christ) and believers (the “church”). The “treasury of merit” is related to indulgences. Here is article 1478 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins.” The Bible is clear that it is only the merits of Christ, not of anyone else, that remit punishment for sins; Christ the holy purifier from the poison of sin, the one who sits at the right hand of God the Father. With regard to “saints,” these in the Bible refer to all those who are born of God (born again). 

3. Lay people to be regarded as equal members with the hierarchy. All who are in Christ, without distinction or exception, are called to be holy. To be true to scripture, which the Council endeavoured to do, they added, a holy “priesthood.” “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). This holy “priesthood,” however, is far removed from the non-biblical “priesthood” of “holy orders,” namely, those priests who sacrifice Christ on the altar at every Mass: 1 Peter 2 – “4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The divide between these two priesthoods is as wide as that between the wafer before and after consecration: infinite. 

4. Acknowledging God’s presence beyond the Church. The Holy Spirit is working in all religions, including “our separate Christian brothers” (Protestants). Ecumenical efforts should be made to foster dialogue with all religions. The Catholic Church, since Vatican II (1962-65), has radically changed its attitude towards inter-religious dialogue. Thomas Merton and other Catholic devotees of Eastern thought had a significant influence on changing Rome’s attitude to non-Christian religions.

Peter Kreeft, the Catholic philosopher and apologist, in his “Ecumenical Jihad,” sounds the modern Cathslamic call: “We can and should investigate and learn from the wisdom in other religions” (Peter Kreeft Ecumenical Jihad p.79). “Allah is not another God…we worship the same God”(Peter Kreeft Ecumenical Jihad p.30). “The same God! The very same God we worship in Christ is the God the Jews-and the Muslims-worship.” (Ibid. p. 160). (See God’s got sons by the tons: Ecumenical Jihad, ecumenical Shmeehad and  The influence of Universalism on society and the church).

The papal encyclical Nostra Aetate (“In Our Time”) states:

The Church therefore has this exhortation for her sons: prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge,preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values in their society and culture” (NostraAetate 2 – (NostraAetate is the Declaration onthe relation of the Church to non-Christian religions proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, October, 1965). (See Buddhism, Judaism and Catholic Nostra Aetate).

Here is Pope John Paul II receiving the mark of the adorers of the Hindu god Shiva, February 2, 1986.


pope john paul hindu

Here is a RCC  tabernacle with a  budhha atop at John Paul’s inter-religious prayer meeting in Assisi, 1986.

catholic Tabernacle with a squattin buddha atop

(see Most Holy Family Monastery website).

The sacred writings of Islam, says Pope Francis, have retained some Christian teachings; Jesus and Mary receive profound veneration and it is admirable to see how Muslims both young and old, men and women, make time for daily prayer and faithfully take part in religious services. Many of them also have a deep conviction that their life, in its entirety, is from God and for God. They also acknowledge the need to respond to God with an ethical commitment and with mercy towards those most in need.” (Paragraph 253 – Apostolic Exhortation Evabgelii Gaudiam of the Holy Father Francis to the Bishops, clergy, consecrated persons and the lay faithful on the Proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world.

No surprise; we find the same sentiment in the (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Para. 841): The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. ‘The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.’” 

Visualise (and if you’re a mystic, envision) Paul, the Apostle, transposed to our times saying “Muslims (and Jews) adore the one merciful God, so it doesn’t matter if they don’t believe the following report. 

1. Who has believed our report?
and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? 2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant,
and as a root out of a dry ground:
he hath no form nor comeliness;
and when we shall see him,
there is no beauty that we should desire him. 3. He was despised and rejected of men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:
and we hid as it were our faces from him;
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs,
and carried our sorrows:
yet we did esteem him stricken,
smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities:
the chastisement of our peace was upon him;
and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53).

And 1 Peter 2:

24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Paul said of such gainsayers: “6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1).

5. Accepting the world. Roman Catholic theology regards people as essentially good. For this reason, it hopes for the restoration of the whole world, which began with the advent of Christ, and which will be perfected when Christ returns at the end of time. The question is, if everyone is born dead in sin (the doctrine of Original Sin), which only baptism, says catholic teaching, can remove, how does this harmonise with the idea that people are essentially good. Vatican II aspires to put a greater emphasis on scripture, yet in regard to this essential doctrine of the radical corruption of human nature, which scripture makes so clear, it balks at offending the world it wants so much to please. “… having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh (essentially, in your human nature), God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses” (Colossians 2:12-13).

The doctrine of papal infallibility was announced dogmatically at Vatican 1 (1869-1870). Vatican I also announced dogmatically that there is no salvation “outside the Church,” that is, those who are not members of the RCC. Vatican II changed all that (infallibly?) and much more. Just because a thing changes doesn’t mean it, or what it changed from, was the sane thing.







In search of French past (6): To a monastery you will go

At the end of  In search of French past (5): Why are you so downcast, oh my soul?  I described how Albert-Louis and I met. One Sunday after Mass at St Julien le Pauvre in Paris, I was sitting on a bench in the courtyard when a Dominican priest, sat down next to me. He said he was sitting close to me during the Mass and was struck by my fervor. His name was Louis-Albert Lassus, an itinerant retreat master serving the monasteries of Europe. His birth name was Louis and his priest name, given at ordination, was Albert. I admired the monastic life very much; most Roman Catholics do, especially recent converts like me. I found Roman Catholicism not only intellectually impressive, it also appealed to the “deeper” mystical side, the nectar of the soul. Louis-Albert invited me to his priory in Bordeaux. This was the beginning of many journeys and retreats with Louis-Albert in different monasteries in France and other parts of Europe. A few weeks later, I quit my job at the food depot and joined Louis-Albert in Bordeaux whence we departed on our peregrinations “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10).

Before Louis-Albert and I leave Bordeaux on our journey, I say something briefly about the rationale, or rather mysticale, for the monastic life. In brief, monasticism in all religions is the struggle to overcome concupiscence (lust, inordinate desire): the lust of the flesh, of the eyes and of the pride of life for the soul and sole purpose of uniting with God. The most conducive environment for this purpose is generally considered to be reclusion (permanent seclusion) – in a monastery or hermitage. A key verse for such aspirations in Christendom is 1 John 2:15-17: Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God abides forever.

Here is the Haydock Roman Catholic Commentary on 1 John 2:16:

All that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, under which is comprehended all that pleases the senses, or the concupiscence of the eyes; i.e. a longing after such things which enter by the eyes, as of riches in gold and silver, in apparel, in houses and palaces, train and equipage, &c. curiosity as to vain arts and sciences; or, the pride of life, as to honours, dignities, and preferments. But the world passes away, and all these things that belong to it. — He that doth the will of God, abides for ever, with God in heaven.”

Matthew Henry’s Protestant commentary below says practically the same thing. Protestants, though, would would not seclude yourself away from world to be close to God.

The things of the world are classed according to the three ruling inclinations of depraved nature. 1. The lust of the flesh, of the body: wrong desires of the heart, the appetite of indulging all things that excite and inflame sensual pleasures. 2. The lust of the eyes: the eyes are delighted with riches and rich possessions; this is the lust of covetousness. 3. The pride of life: a vain man craves the grandeur and pomp of a vain-glorious life; this includes thirst after honour and applause. The things of the world quickly fade and die away; desire itself will ere long fail and cease, but holy affection is not like the lust that passes away. The love of God shall never fail.”

These three concupiscences incite the corruption of morals, indifference, unbelief, pride; in sum, the rejection of Christ. The Roman Catholic Church claims to be the divinely appointed guardian and restorer of the virtues. Here is Pope Gregory XIV in the introduction to the first volume of the works of Bernard of Clairvaux, describing the strides that the Church has made in controlling concupiscence. I translate from the French, which follows in brackets:

“Societies and their institutions have undergone essential modifications: polygamy is eschewed, divorce abolished, monogamy uplifts ennobles marriage and defines the family; the wife is liberated and rediscovers her dignity as encouraged in the Gospel; chastity purifies morals; celibacy, embraced by a multitude of Christians, becomes the yardstick of higher vocations; maternity is given due honour and respect; and, above maternity, hovers the angelic virtue of virginity, which elevates the soul to a heavenly perfection. (Italics added). All these facts attest to the tempering of the flesh (the “law of he flesh”) and the beginning of a return to the unity of the spirit.

(French: Les sociétés et leurs institutions subissent des modifications essentielles; la polygamie est réprouvée, le divorce aboli; la monogamie ennoblit le mariage et constitue la famille; la femme, affranchie, reprend sa dignité avec la liberté que l’Évangile lui présente; la chasteté purifie les mœurs; le célibat, embrassé par une multitude de chrétiens, devient la condition des vocations supérieures; la maternité est entourée d’honneur et de respect; et, au dessus de la maternité, plane une vertu angélique : la virginité, qui élève les âmes à la perfection du ciel. Tous ces faits attestent l’affaiblissement de la loi charnelle et le commencement du retour à l’unité de l’esprit).

It’s very hard for most to remain celibate or virginal in this world, and consequently to rise to the virtuous heights of angelic beings, who, by nature, are sexless. Is the solution a monastery? Much more, of course, goes on in a monastery than the mortification of the body. I describe monastic life as I go along on my journey.

I stayed with Louis-Albert in the residence of the Dominican Order in Bordeaux for a few days.

We left Bordeaux for several monasteries where Louis-Albert would lead retreats for the monks and nuns. Our first monastery was a Carmelite monastery for nuns deep in the hills. I don’t recall its name. We spent about a week there. The Roman Catholic Church has decreed that The Carmelite Order is under the special protection of the Virgin Mary, and therefore it has a strong devotion to her. But then, all monastic orders, in fact all Roman Catholic priests, indeed all Catholics have a special devotion to Mary, regarding her as the mother of all graces and the way to Jesus, “the way, the truth and the life.” Jesus, the head, Mary, the neck, the conduit between the head and the Body of Christ – the Church. The “Church” for Romans Catholics means the Pope and his Magisterium in Rome; for Protestants it means believers.

Newly converted Roman Catholics often acquire very quickly a strong devotion to Mary. When I was a student at the University of Cape Town, there was another Jewish student Andrew (not his real name), who was taking instruction with me in the Catholic faith at Kolbe House, the university residence and chaplaincy. Father Peter Paul Feeney was the chaplain and our instructor in the faith. At the end of our instruction, Fr Peter Paul baptised us together. During our year of Catholic instruction together at Kolbe House, Andrew and I used to spend time sharing our joy in our new found faith – two wondering Jews wandering no more. I had rented a room in a quiet part of Rondebosch near Kolbe House. Andrew lived in the main residence on campus. Whenever Andrew talked about Catholic things, his voice quivered, his eyes shone; he was in love. I was not too far behind him. He had a special love for the mother of Jesus. Many Catholics tend to gravitate to the mother of Jesus more than to her Son. This is generally true not only of born Catholics but also of converts. There’s just something special about “Mother”, Ma-me-le (Yiddish). If you can have a heavenly father, why can’t you have a heavenly mother. Sometimes your father can be so “other.” That’s why you need mother. Mary’s role for Catholics, though, is far more than that, as several papal encyclicals make clear. For example: “Mary places herself between her Son and mankind in the reality of their wants, needs and sufferings. She puts herself “in the middle,” that is to say she acts as a mediatrix not as an outsider, but in her position as mother. She knows that as such she can point out to her Son the needs of mankind, and in fact, she “has the right” to do so. Her mediation is thus in the nature of intercession: Mary “intercedes” for mankind. And that is not all. As a mother she also wishes the messianic power of her Son to be manifested, that salvific power of his which is meant to help man in his misfortunes, to free him from the evil which in various forms and degrees weighs heavily upon his life. (Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater: On the Blessed Virgin Mary in the life of the Pilgrim Church, 1987.03.25). (See Enough already with serving the Mass, have to get home to recite why this night is different from other nights – the Passover).

As with most of the monastic orders dating from medieval times, the First Order of the Carmelites consists of the friars , who combine activity and contemplation, the Second Order is the nuns, who are cloistered, and the Third Order consists of lay people who live in the world, who can be married, and who participate in the liturgical prayers, the propagation of religion or doctrine (the apostolates), comtemplation and prayer. There are also Carmelite sisters who are active in the world such as schools, hospitals and other social institutions.

Louis-Albert told the nuns I was Jewish and knew Hebrew. The mother superior asked me to sing for the nuns a few of the Psalms in Hebrew. She led me into an alcove, drew open a curtain in the centre of the wall opposite to reveal a grill behind which sat rows of sisters seated on tiered benches. The original tunes of the Psalms is unknown, so I made up my own, adapted from the tunes and “davening” (Yiddish for recital of prescribed prayers of the synagogue), which I was familiar with from the synagogue. “Daven” is probably derived from the church Latin divin, as in “divine service.”

I couldn’t have been closer to a mystic, if not to mysticism, than Louis-Albert, who, in his lifetime, published about a dozen books on the great hermits (solitaires, recluses) among them Romuald of Ravenna, the hermits of Camaldoli (Les Camaldules) , Denys of Chartreux, Séraphim of Sarov, and Nazarena, the recluse. He also had been leading retreats (prédicateur de retraites “retreat preacher”) in monasteries for many years. Monks on retreat – retreating deeper into reclusion (long-term seclusion).

Not all monks are hermits. Hermits hardly speak to anyone; neither do they seek one another’s company. Thomas Keating, the Trappist monk (Trappists are Cistercians who hold to a stricter observance) relates that he only spoke to another human being twice in six years. Keeping mum for such a long time does not mean that he was a hermit, that is, seldom in human company, because Trappists gather in the church several times a day for the liturgies. Don’t you want to be a monk? a Cistercian? Haven’t you had enough of the vanities of this world? The ideal life is possible. Here is a phantasmagorical version of the peace you’ve been looking for written by the Cistercian Fr. Raphael in his “The Praise of Bells.”

A call from God is how a Cistercian vocation is born. Throughout the course of a monk’s or nun’s day, this divine call finds expression in the sound of bells that call us to prayer, to spiritual reading, to manual labor, or to simple enjoyment of the company of our brothers and sisters. When night falls, the heart of a Cistercian savors the impressions of a day in which body, mind, and spirit have been formed by Christ whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. We remember the gentle rhythms of prayer chants, the scent of a well oiled tractor rolling through fresh cut fields, the way aged wooden floorboards retain the smell of burnt incense, the heaviness of weary legs stretched out on a simple hardwood bed prepared with fresh laundered sheets. It is remarkable how swiftly the days pass in a monastery. At days end, a last bell is heard whose music delights for a moment and passes away — like a life given to God.  (In “A Monk’s Diary”, March 24, Fr. Raphael )

The real picture is not so rosy. Truth gives the low-down as well as the highlights; blurbs, in contrast, highlights only.

In the monasteries where I stayed, I spent much time alone, reading theology, the saints, the mystics, trying to pray. If I don’t pray and dwell on what I read on these topics, it remains nothing more than information (notitia) and mental assent (assensus). There would be no divine sap coming up the vine to feed the dry branches. “I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Knowing stuff is not abiding. According to the world’s most famous and dangerous “theologian,” Oprah Winfrey, all that matters is to believe in a higher force (fortz, in Yiddish ). Knowing who God is, however, is crucial; our eternal destiny depends on this knowledge. Knowing who or what God is, is only the beginning. In Christianity we learn who God is through Christ, and in Christ. To know Christ in a personal way cannot be done without information about him, without learning who he is. This knowledge is found in divine revelation, which, for Protestants, is found in scripture alone, but for Roman Catholics in scripture and post-biblical tradition.

Like most Roman Catholics, I didn’t read much scripture outside the missal – the book of instructions and texts used for the Mass. “Mass” is the English for the Latin missa from the phrase Ite, missa est (“Go, it is the dismissal/sending”), which came to mean the ceremony of the Mass itself. Far was it from me to know that my missal was to revert to revert to dismissal two decades later when I left the Roman Catholic Church. They say, once a Catholic always a Catholic. They also say once Jew oiveys a Jew (See When is an “ex-Jew” not a Jew? Once (your mother’s) a Jew Oiveys a Jew . And once a Catholic Jew always a Catholic Jew.

Louis-Albert and I never discussed mysticism. Although my French was still more effluent than fluent – effluent French is good enough to pass at many universities in the English-speaking world – I could still understand quite a lot on philosophical and religious topics in French. The reason why I could understand was, firstly, because I had some knowledge of the subject matter, and secondly, French and English have many words in common with regard to mysticism, philosophy and theology. For example, here is the French translation of the italicised portion of the previous sentence, which even Peter Sellars’ English minkey would understand: “Le français et anglais ont beaucoup de mots en commun à l’egard du mysticisme, la philosophie et la théologie.” From a teacher’s view, one of the main reasons for the failure of learners who use a second or foreign language as a medium of instruction is not only poor knowledge of the language but also a lack of knowledge of the subject matter and of mental – I have to politically correct – energy. (See my Language, Content and Skills in the Testing of English for Academic Purposes).

Having joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1960, I had only been a Roman Catholic for two years. In 1961, I started my philosophy courses at my university (Cape Town). I didn’t get high marks in philosophy partly because I neglected the secular philosophy of my courses in favour of the Scholastics, the “schoolmen” of the Middle Ages such as Anselm, Abelard and Aquinas, and partly perhaps – though my children will vehemently deny this (love you Dad) – because I was not as mentally energetic as the others in my class. There were six of us majoring in philosophy. One, his surname was Cobban, went “up” to Oxford University (is Oxford on a hill?); another, Heard was his surname, became an editor of a prominent newspaper in Cape Town, and another, Rick Turner, went to the Sorbonne in Paris to do a doctorate on Jean Paul Sartre. I shall say more about Turner later on.

After the Carmelite monastery we went for the day to visit a a Cistercian monk, one of Louis-Albert’s friends, at the Cistercian monastery of Senanque. The monastery was founded in 1148. In 1544, it was badly damaged during the Wars of Religion, and was vacated. The state bought it during the French Revolution in 1791. It was restored in 1854, and the Cistercian monks returned, but in 1903 new laws against religious congregations forced the monks to leave. When Louis-Albert and I visited the place in 1962, there were hardly any monks – a skeleton staff; skeleton in more ways than one, which will become clear shortly

Before we went to this monastery, Louis-Albert and I spent the previous night with a well-to-do friend. The next day, the three of us went to visit the monk at the monastery. We didn’t enter the grounds of the monastery. It seemed we weren’t allowed to do so. We stopped on the gravel path that sloped down to the gate of the monastery. We waited for while. Two moving figures in the distance, one quite far in front of the other. As they came nearer, we saw that the one in front was dressed in normal worker’s clothes, and the one behind, the monk, was wearing a “habit” consisting of a black strip over a white robe. “Habit” is derived from the French habillement “clothes.”


cistercian habit

Senanque Abbey

Senanque Abbey

It was close to sunset and chilly outside. The monk approached Louis-Albert and knelt down before him. Louis-Albert said, “No, no, it is I that should kneel before you.” Next to Albert and the kneeling skeletal soul stood Louis-Albert’s ruddy-faced friend, puffing a cigar, swathed in a beige coat of pure wool. I think of another skeleton, this time without a soul or flesh sitting in a cage above the altar of the church in Mondsee, Austria, orbiting the extravagant wedding Mass for the dashing Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews, his bride. The hills are alive. (See The Bishop under the Bell Jar – and the food!).

skeleton konrad_basilika_mondsee

Louis-Albert and I went to Barcelona to spend 10 days with Jaime Torres (“Jaime” pronounced like the Jewish name, Hymie – add the guttural ch) – James Bull in English. Wh en it came to Spanish I knew as much as Edith Piaff’s “Non, rien de rien” (no, nothing of nothing). Louis-Albert spoke Spanish fluently because he had been a missionary in Argentina for many years. There was much festivity in Jaime’s house over those ten days.

On the train journey back to Bordeaux, France, we broke our journey at Miranda. I had previously asked Louis-Albert if I could spend some time at a hermitage. He arranged for me to spend a solitary night, in both senses of the word, at a hermitage. I left Louis-Albert behind and took a tatty taxi with bad shocks. We travelled about14 kms on a narrow pot-holed road into the winding hills. It was dark and very cold when I arrived at the hermitage. I knocked on the front door, a little panel in the door opened. I couldn’t see the face behind it. I pushed the note Louis-Albert had given me through the opening. The big door opened. A hooded smile greeted me and with few words, which is less than a few words, the monk came outside and led me to a very large building with many windows and several storeys. We entered the building and climbed a few flights of stairs. My host led me, candle in hand, down the passage into one of the rooms. He lit another candle from his own, left one on the table, turned round and left, closing the door behind him. In the morning I learnt that this building had been abandoned for many decades; the few hermits that remained occupied the part of the monastery whose door I had knocked on the previous night.

A thin quilt covered the hard mattress on the iron bed. The candle flame threw flickers of shadow and light across the ceiling and stone walls. It was freezing. I lay on the bed, covered myself, and thought of Edmond Dantès in the dungeons of the island fortress of the Chateau d’If, the first prisoner to escape from the island. I heard a scratching sound coming from the bottom of my door. A hatch I had not noticed, opened and a tin plate slithered into the room. The hatch flopped back. I heard no footsteps coming or going. Hungry as I was, I couldn’t eat the mess of pottage.

I crept back under the quilt and tried to sleep. I was alone in this giant deserted building that use to house thousands of monks over the centuries. Shadows skated up and down the window. No angels for comfort. The wind howled. I had a “madeleine” moment; a remembrance of time past, of time lost. Marcel Proust wrote a gigantic novel called “A la recherche du temps perdu (In remembrance of time past). The most famous passage in Proust’s novel is “La petite Madeleine” (a small cake):

Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?”

My “madeleine” moment, in contrast, was more of a maudlin moment. I’m seven years old, in the Cape Jewish Orphanage’s holiday camp at the beach town of Muizenberg, South Africa. I have a cough. They’ve left me all alone after lights out; the other children are in the hall doing nice things. It’s so windy. Something is scraping at the window. Please come back quickly, please! I shivered myself to sleep. The scraping against the window was the unsurprising branch of a tree.

After Toulouse that we went to stay at the Cistercian Abbey of Lérins on the island of Saint-Honorat (Lerina in Roman times) very close to Cannes in Southern France. In 410 Saint Honoratus, a disciple of a local hermit,Caprasius of Lérins built a monastery on the uninhabited island. Saint Honoras intended to live alone as a hermit, but before he could say “peace” was ambushed by disciples, who formed a monastic community around him, which, 17 years later was bursting, it seems, at the you know what.

One of the greatest leaders of this monastic community, the famous Vincent of Lérins, a semi-Pelagian, attacked Augustine’s theology of grace.Two of Augustine’s most popular sayings are, the more know, “our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” and “Grant what You command, and command what You desire” – both his “Confessions”. It was the second that got Vincent of Lérins’s goat. For most Christians and all Jews, “Grant what You command…,” evokes dismay, outrage and total contempt. That was Pelagius’s reaction, the famous rival of Augustine, in their dispute of the role of God’s grace and human will in salvation. For Pelagius, as for Judaism, the role of grace is highly exaggerated and leaves little play for man’s free willy. Nilly, says Augustine. When an Augustinian (we say Calvinist today) reads the Bible, he sees man freely following his heart. The man thinks, he desires, and his mind directs that desire to its object. The will is not a noun, it is a verb, a present continuous, always willing, moving, in its natural state, away from God (of the Bible). Man is dead, totally dead, totally deprived of the love for God; in other words, totally depraved. And that includes his willing. And that is the original Bible doctrine of ”original” sin; willy-nilly. (See The pith of ”It’s not he who willeth.” Romans 9 and free will).
One morning at passed a cadaverous monk shuffling his way to one of the daily liturgies in the chapel. His pallor melded into the marble hue of his robe. It w
as all sunshine and green outside. When I went to Rome a few weeks later and saw Michaelangelo’s Pietà’, I thought of the white marble face of the monk wafting past me in the corridor of the church in Lérins.



Island of St Honorat and monastery

Island of St Honorat and monastery

Lerins Abbey

Lerins Abbey

Coastline of St Honorat

Coastline of St Honorat

I left Louis-Albert to spend 10 days at the Dominican priory in Toulouse, which served as a training centre for priests. Here is an abridged description of the Dominican vocation to the priesthood.

“The 7-year process of becoming a Dominican priest or brother (known as “friars”) is called “formation”. The first year is called the novitiate. Novices engage in prayer, study, and various ministries. The Dominican formation process is both rigorous and balanced to ensure that candidates are well-adjusted and suited to this special calling. By offering a unique combination of tradition and contemplative life (wearing a “habit”, engaging in common daily prayer) balanced against preaching, teaching, and ministry in the greater community, the Order seeks to produce well-rounded, spiritually mature men who will provide outstanding leadership and genuine pastoral care to the People of God. The second step of formation occurs after the novice completes his year-long process of study, discernment and ministry in Denver. After taking first vows at St. Dominic Church in a ceremony called “Profession of Vows,” the novice becomes a professed student brother. The student brother engages in philosophical and theological graduate studies for approximately six more years before his ordination to the diaconate and priesthood.”

In Catholic seminaries, three of the first four years of study are devoted to Greek philosophy, mainly Aristotle. Aristotle is central to Catholic theology because Thomas Aquinas ((1225 – 1274) built much of his theology on Aristotle.  The bulk of Catholic theology derives from the dazzling intellect  of Aquinas whose Summa Theologiae/Theologica covers almost the whole of Catholic theology. He stopped working on it the year before he died in 1274 . (Thomas Aquinas: Philosophy and Education in the Middle ages)..

I aped the student priests’ routines. At meal-times, the only voice heard was that of the reader at his lectern. The books he read were not always of a religious nature, which is a good thing, because most Dominican priests work with people, and need to know what’s going on in the world. Although Christians are not meant to be of this world, they are meant to be in this world, which the Bible says applies to every Christian.

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:14-16).

I asked one of the senior priests to observe me during my stay and tell me, not whether I was following the rules of the place, but when I was being selfish. He raised his eyebrows, said nothing and walked off. Now, how on earth could he or would he want to spend time filching through the trough of my soul? Monsieur Raphael you took too much butter at lunch and poured too much olive oil on your salad. Plus (de plus) you flare your nostrils at others. He didn’t understand: I often got a blocked nose. How else was I too breathe?

After dinner, I joined the student priests in an alcove outside the dining room, where they were allowed to socialise. The ceiling of the alcove was very low. Two close rows of stooping young men facing each other, walking in the same direction. When we reach the one end of the alcove, it’s the turn of the row that walked forwards to walk backwards. Backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards. One of the students told of a good laugh he had one time. What amused me was not what he was amused about, which escapes me, but how he expressed himself. J’ai vachement ri, he said. This means “I laughed my head off” or “I was in stitches.” Allow me to translate“I laughed my head off in French” into French: J’ai ri (I laughed) matête (my head)… shucks French has no word for “off.” “Erf” should do it: J’ai rima tête erf. Wonder what’s the French for “Gamar off.”

The literal French of J’ai vachement ri is “I laughed cowly.” Turning a noun into an adverb ”cow” to “cowly,” that was funny. There is a French processed cheese called La vache qui rit “The cow that laughs.” A laughing cow is a happy cow; a happy cow is a healthy cow. The same with people, including monks. There is the French insult: Vous parlez français comme une vache espagnole “You speak French like a Spanish cow.”

La vache qui rit

La vache qui rit

It was October 1962, the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. Louis-Albert and I were off to Rome. Home?



The Second Coming of Christ: Charles Spurgeon


On Spurgeon and the Second coming. I was moved – in my soul, and to read the book. On Kindle for a dollar/60p, or free as separate PDFs.

Originally posted on Scripture Thoughts:

I’m now reading through Charles Spurgeon’s “The Second Coming of Christ” (available on Kindle for 99 cents), a collection of seven lectures on several prophetic texts. Spurgeon himself observed that he rarely addressed the doctrine of eschatology, yet through the years he delivered quite a few messages. I have read some of his sermons on this topic, not in this collection, including sermons on the First Resurrection (Revelation 20) and about the future restoration of Israel – but these seven specifically relate to Christ’s Second Advent and are collected together in this work available in print as well as in electronic format.

It is Spurgeon’s textual style of preaching, in which he examines all the facets of a text itself and expands on those words, with excellent insights, application, and practical considerations.  The seven sermons look at the following texts: Revelation 1:7, Matthew 25:31-36, Acts 1:10-11, Romans…

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John 6 and the Eucharist: The deception of pereception


Transubstantiation (the change from one substance to another) is the Roman Catholic observation that if it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, indeed, tastes like a duck, this does not mean it is a duck, that is, is “substantially” a duck but simply that it is “accidentally” a duck. Roman Catholic theology (Thomas Aquinas) uses the Aristotelian concepts of “substance” (essence – independent of the senses) and “accidents” (how things appear physically – to the senses) to explain transubstantiation. So, to get back to our duck, say you transmute duck substance into human substance, the latter won’t taste, smell, feel human, but will still taste, smell, feel duck.

The distinction between “sensation” and “perception” is useful: the former relates to one or more of the fives senses, the latter to how the mind-brain processes this sensation to create understanding. For example, I’m typing this on my Ipad. My wife says to me “Switch on the dishwasher.” She says it again. And again. And again. Then “SWITCH ON THE DISHWASHER!” I jump and run to the dishwasher, open it and start unpacking the gooey innards. When it comes to housework, I’m terribly switched off. The mellifluous tones wafting from my wife’s buccal cavity lambast my ears (I hear her) but I don’t listen (don’t pay attention, thus don’t perceive).

Here are three biblical examples of misperception, all based on the same biblical excerpt from John 6, the “Bread of Life” passage. The misperception is the wrong reasons given wy the disciples decided to no longer walked with Jesus (verse 66 underlined)

Example 1

When I was a Roman Catholic, this is what I perceived when I read this portion of John 6:

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?


66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

On this reading, it is clear that the reason why the disciples chose to abandon Jesus was because he was commanding them to be cannibals. Verses 63 to 65 are missing, not in the actual text itself, but in the perception of the text. I shall progressively restore these verses in the next two examples.

Example 2

Let’s leave Roman Catholics and move on to Protestants. The majority of them perceive a little more, namely, verse 63: 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.


66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

What would the Protestant say is the reason why those who believed in Jesus (a false belief) abandoned him? Actually there are two Protestant answers – originating from to different kinds of Protestants (I explain shortly); answers totally unrelated to each other. The first kind of Protestant will give the same answer aS the Roman Catholic, namely, the cannibal reason. This kind of Protestant will add that Roman Catholics are blind, because they can’t see (perceive) that if Jesus was referring to his literal flesh, call it the “substance” of his flesh or skin and sinews or whatever you like, he would not have said “the flesh is useless.” In the third example, I introduce the second kind of Protestant; my kind.

Example 3

Example 2 describes the majority of Protestants. Alas, like Roman Catholics, their minds (perception) do not sync with their eyes (sensation). What did they (and the Roman Catholic in Example 1) not perceive? They did not perceive verses 64 and 65.

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

The reason why Example 1 and 2 ignored verses 64 and 65 is because they are Roman Catholic and Protestant Arminians. When Calvinism is contrasted with Arminianism, what first comes to mind is God’s role and man’s role in coming to faith. The Calvinist says that man plays no cooperative or contributive role in coming to faith, while the Arminian says that man cooperates with God in that man turns his heart to God, that is, exercises his will to come to faith. In Calvinism, God first regenerates the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. Faith, for the Arminian is something the believer does, not something God gives, as Calvinism understands it.

Verses 64 and 65 (in bold above) mean that if people don’t believe in (come to) Jesus is because he has not granted them this belief. The “gift” of faith, is not the prospective beleiver’s gift to God but God’s gift to the prospective believer. This gift of faith of God does not mean that you can accept on your own bat whether you want to receive this gift, but that God frees you from the bondage of your radically corrupt will, which by nature, hates God (of the Bible). As a result. you accept this gift of faith with joy. In a nutshell, a person plays no part in his reconciliation with God; it’s all of God. All Roman Catholics and the majority of Protestants don’t believe this. As a result, they will define “no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father” in such a way that it does not mean “permitted by the Father.” What I don’t know. The majority of Protestants are Arminians. These include Anglicans, Methodists and most Baptists.

Here is an example of grammatical cohesion, without which coherence suffers:

Peter, Paul and the latkes

Peter – I’m not going to eat with those Gentiles.

Paul – You hypocrite.

Peter – For that, you can’t have any of my latkes

Paul –  I’m ephing oph to Ephesus.



Question: Why did Paul leave? Answer: Was it because Peter refused to eat with the Gentiles or was it because of the latkes? I can’t be sure. There is, though, a language rule (of cohesion – words that link ideas together, for example, “this,” “because” and pronouns like “it.”) that says that first consideration should be given to what Peter said to Paul immediately antecedent to Paul’s “I’m ephing off to Ephesus, namely, no latkes for Paul.

When we apply this rule of cohesion to our biblical text, it is reasonable to conclude that the followers of Jesus abandoned him at the least because of the last thing he said to them before they left: 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

It could be, though, that they abandoned Jesus because of any one or all of the things Jesus said, namely: 1. the hard saying “unless you eat my flesh…,” 2. “the flesh counts for nothing,” (duh, first he tells us to eat his flesh, then immediately afterwards says, “the flesh counts for nothing.” So which is it? But perhaps they’re too dense to ask such a question) and 3. the last thing Jesus said: “No one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” “Come to,” of course, cannot mean anything but “believe in.”

To return to the grammatical notion of cohesion, the grammatical glue that makes coherence possible. A better example of this is Ephesians 2:8-9, owing to the fact that it is arguably the biggest bone of contention in the Calvinism-Arminian dispute. Also, Ephesians 2:8-9 is closely related to “no one can come to me unless granted by my father” (John 6:65 above). Here is Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

William Lane Craig, like all Arminians, says that “this” in “and THIS is not your own doing, it is a gift of God…” cannot refer to faith because “this” is neuter while “faith” is feminine. Craig doesn’t know that “grace” is also feminine. I discuss this issue in depth elsewhere (See my The Calvinist Robot and the Arminian Zombie: Grammars of coming to faith and other articles on Calvinism and Arminianism. Recent posts appear first). My focus here is on cohesion. Sometimes a writer/speaker mentions several items but can only retain in short term memory (Freud’s “preconscious”) the last thing he wrote/spoke. So, when he says “this” he is, in his mind, pointing back to at least the last thing (the immediate antecedent) he wrote/spoke, which in our verse is “faith”: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.

All English translations of this verse illustrate the grammatical rule that the demonstrative pronoun this (some translations have “that”) in Ephesians 2:8 automatically refers to, at the least, its immediate antecedent, which in Ephesians 2:8 is the noun “faith.” So, “that not of yourselves must refer to “faith.”

Which deception is more serious, the “substance-accidents” of the Lord’s supper or the belief that faith is the believer’s gift to God rather than God’s gift to the believer, which He plants in the soul he regenerates? I’m thinking.

“Word of faith” Baptism of the Holy Spirit: The invasion of every crook and granny

An Anglican studying for the priesthood told me that unless one believes in the “Baptism” of the Spirit as a necessary subsequent event to regeneration, one cannot be  true to the Anglican confession. If one knows anything about Anglicanism, the aforementioned view reveals an abject ignorance. The “Word of Faith movement” (Benny Hinn, TBN, etc) has invaded every crook and granny of the church. This movement fuses the “Baptism” of the Spirit and the “filling” of the Spirit. Result: mayhem.

Here is the major difference between the “Pentecostal – Word of Faith” movement” and the biblical view of the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” This movement labels the event in Acts 2:4 as the “Baptism in the Spirit,” which it regards as a second and necessary stage in Christian growth. Acts 2:4, in fact, is about the “filling” of the Spirit, not the “baptism” of the Spirit.

Acts 2:1-4 Filled with the Spirit

1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all FILLED with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

1 Corinthians 12:13
In one SPIRIT are we all BAPTISED into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

This baptism in the Spirit is a one-off act of God that occurs at regeneration (being born again). The infilling of the Spirit, in contrast, is a repeated activity, as in many instances in the book of Acts:

Acts 4:8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!

Acts 4:31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

Acts 6:3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them

Acts 6:5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.

Acts 7:55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Acts 9:17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 13:52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Be filled with the Spirit. But if you’re not born again, He must first baptize you.

Another song – No, you never poured out your life, and definitely not again and again: A discordant note

Once again, one more discordant note,  to sow discord. The song in question is called, prophetically, “Once again.” Here are the lyrics:

Once Again

Jesus Christ, I think upon Your sacrifice
You became nothing, poured out to death.
Many times I’ve wondered at Your gift of life
and I’m in that place once again.
Yes, I’m in that place once again.

And once again I look upon the cross where You died
I’m humbled by Your mercy and I’m broken inside.
Once again I thank You, Once again I pour out my life.

Now You are exalted to the highest place,
King of the heavens where one day I’ll bow.
But for now, I marvel at Your saving grace
and I’m full of praise once again.
Yes, I’m full of praise once again.

And once again I look upon the cross where You died
I’m humbled by Your mercy and I’m broken inside.
Once again I thank You, Once again I pour out my life.

Thank You for the cross; Thank You for the cross
Thank You for the cross, my Friend.
Thank You for the cross; Thank You for the cross
Thank You for the cross, my Friend.

And once again I look upon the cross where You died
I’m humbled by Your mercy and I’m broken inside.
Once again I thank You, Once again I pour out my life.

Much in this song is faithful to the Bible. There are even a few words from the Bible. I wonder whether the song writer was aware of the context of these few words ‘I pour out my life.” Is there a verse that says something about the Christian pouring out his life, and, pouring it out “once again,” as in this song? No, nothing on both counts. There is, though, in the Bible a pouring out of life, but not your life. When did you, and how many times do you, pour out your soul to death and bear the sin of many,
 and make intercession for them? 

Here is somebody who did do that, and once for all (time), and which was enough to pay the price for those Jesus died for, which may also include you. 

Isaiah 53 

10  Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
 he has put him to grief; when his soul makes[h] an offering for guilt,
 he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities. 12  Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, becausehe poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
 and makes intercession for the transgressors. 

That doesn’t mean that you cannot, with the psalmist, pour out your soul, your heart to God. 

When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude of the festive throng” (Psalm 42:4). 

Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah” (Psalm 62:8). 

The Apostle Paul, not long before his execution, does say “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near” (2 Timothy 4:6). 

Firstly, there might exist a few Christians who suffered as much as Paul. Examine yourself to establish whether you are in this league. If not, church leaders don’t bring such songs to church. Secondly, Paul would not say “I pour out myself,” and certainly not, “I pour out my life” because he would know that he was tearing scripture out of context – a unique unrepeatable event: the Suffering Servant, who poured out his soul unto death, once for all time.

If Jesus poured out his blood for you, don’t sing these songs; silly, at best, blasphemous, at worst. They deceive mixed with truth. Examine whether you are truly in the faith once for all (time) delivered to the “saints,” (Jude 1:3), God’s holy people. Who are God’s holy people? Those the Father gave the Son (John 17) before the world began, and, as a result, “received him, who believed in his name, (whom) he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12b-13).







God is Me: The divinisation of Self in mysticism


La France. C’est moi (Louis XIV “France is me”).

 Here are a few examples of Roman Catholic mystics who teach the divinisation of those in whom God is confirmed in the soul. The quotations are from “Mystical Marriage and Divinisation in True Life in God” written by a hermit nun living in Wales:

Alphonsus Liguori

“In the spiritual marriage, the soul is transformed into God and becomes one with Him, just as a vessel of water, when poured into the sea, is then one with it.”

Teresa of Avila in “The Interior Castle”

“Besides, this company it enjoys gives it far greater strength than ever before. If, as David says, ‘With the holy thou shalt be holy,’ doubtless by its becoming one with the Almighty, by the union of spirit with spirit, the soul must gather strength, as we know the saints did, to suffer and to die…”

John of the Cross, “The Spiritual Canticle”

“This (the spiritual marriage) is, beyond all comparison, a far higher state than that of espousals, because it is a complete transformation into the Beloved; and because each of them surrenders to the other the entire possession of themselves in the perfect union of love, wherein the soul becomes Divine, and, by participation, God, insofar as it is possible in this life. I believe that no soul ever attains to this state without being confirmed in grace in it, for the faith of both is confirmed; that of God being confirmed in the soul…For granting that God has bestowed upon it so great a favour as to unite it to the most Holy Trinity, whereby it becomes like unto God, and God by participation, is it altogether incredible that it should exercise the faculties of its intellect, perform its acts of knowledge and of love, or, to speak more accurately, should have it all done in the Holy Trinity together with It, as the Holy Trinity Itself?

Anne Madeleine de Remuzat

I found myself all at once in the presence of the Three adorable Persons of the Trinity…I understood that Our Lord wished to give me an infinitely purer knowledge of His Father and of Himself than all that I had known until that day…How admirable were the secrets that it was given to me to know in and by this adorable bosom!…My God, Thou hast willed to divinise my soul, so to say, by trans-forming it into Thyself, after having destroyed its individual form.”

In Newsweek, Sept 2005, appeared a feature article  “Spirituality in America.” It said: “Americans are looking for personal, ecstatic experiences of God.” The article went on to describe the Catholic use of Buddhist’s teachings. For example, Father Thomas Keating, the abbot of St. Joseph’s Abbey, noticed how attracted Roman Catholics were to the Eastern religious practices As a Trappist monk, meditation was second nature to the Abbot. Americans, like everybody else, is looking for transcendental prayer, transcendental meditation (TM), which could, it seems, also stand for “Trappist Meditation.” I recently heard Thomas Keating, the Trappist monk, say that the goal of contemplation is to discover that the self and the “Other,” which is God are identical.

Chris Rosebrough’s “Fighting for the faith” exposes the Christianese in so many seeker-drivel churches today. In his “The Inventor Of Centering Prayer Teaches Us What It Is For.” These seeker-driven churches focus on a variation of one message” “Grab your vision; let your creative pants down.” Lately, though, they’re raising the vision higher and higher into prayer itself. This is where “centring prayer” comes into the picture, which can be summarised as “go into your closet, close the door, sit down, shut up, your mind, and let God.” In so doing, you will come to see that…, but let’s hear from a famous Trappist monk, Thomas Keating, one of the inventors, perhaps the main inventor, of “centering prayer,” who is the feature speaker on “The Inventor Of Centering Prayer Teaches Us What It Is For.” Here is a snippet from Keating (Minute 20 ff).

Questioner: What is the journey from the false self to the true self?

Keating: “The spiritual journey is the realisation, not just the information, the interior conviction that there is a higher power or a God, or to make it as easy as possible, an Other, capital O. Second step: to try to become the Other, capital O.”

I used to read Paul Brunton avidly. He coined the term “Overself,” which is the source of all being, which is found deep in the the human heart. That centre, said Brunton is the “Overself.” In his notebooks, published after his death, he wrote:

“No one can explain what the Overself is, for it is the origin, the mysterious source of the expanding mind, and beyond all its capacities. But what can be explained are the effects of standing consciously in its presence, the conditions under which it manifests, the ways in which it appears in human life and experience, the paths which lead to its realization… The point where man meets the infinite is the Overself, where he, the finite, responds to what is absolute, ineffable and inexhaustible being, where he reacts to That which transcends his own existence–this is the Personal God he experiences and comes into relation with. In this sense his belief in such a God is justifiable.”

The Overself is the point where the One Mind is received into consciousness. It is the ‘I’ freed from narrowness, thoughts, flesh, passion, and emotion–that is, from the personal ego…Because of the paradoxically dual nature which the Overself possesses, it is very difficult to make clear the concept of the Overself. Human beings are rooted in the ultimate mind through the Overself, which therefore partakes on the one hand of a relationship with a vibratory world and on the other of an existence which is above all relations. A difficulty is probably due to the vagueness or confusion about which standpoint it is to be regarded from. If it is thought of as the human soul, then the vibratory movement is connected with it. If it is thought of as transcending the very notion of humanity, and therefore in its undifferentiated character, the vibratory movement must disappear. It is a state of pure intelligence but without the working of the intellectual and ideational process. Its product may be named intuition. There are no automatically conceived ideas present in it, no habitually followed ways of thinking. It is pure, clear stillness.”

That capital O – call it the “Other,” call it the Overself is, in reality, the SELF, the uber dragon in the dungeon of the soul, not glorifying, but lauding Self over, God. The seeker seeks to become God, not to worship Him. A fantasy game – “Dungeons and dragons” where “one person gets to be the dungeon master and he plays the role of the quote – “supreme god” in the world. He creates a world for his players. His tools are maps, dice, miniature figures, rule books, and so forth. And a game can last for several years. And the players will play through those years for hours and hours and hours. What is the ultimate fantasy of man? The ultimate fantasy of man is that man should be God. This speaks of that fantasy. (John MacArthur, “Reasons for the wrath of God 4).

The “self is God” defines Buddhism in a nutshell. Thomas Merton, another Trappist monk, and the most famous of modern Roman Catholic monks says: “I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity. The future of Zen is in the West. I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.”

And not only now and zen”, as a Yiddish “Jubu” (Jewish Buddhist) might say. (Thomas Merton’s “I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can”: All roads, including to Rome, lead Home). 

The pure, clear stillness of Home.





Mary, mother and God: What have they done to the mother of my Lord?

Originally posted on OneDaring Jew:

One of the reasons why Mary, the mother of Jesus, has such an exalted position in the Roman Catholic Church is that she is called “Mary full of grace.” Here is an explanation of this term from Catholic Answers:

“The Fathers of the Church taught that Mary received a number of distinctive blessings in order to make her a more fitting mother for Christ and the prototypical Christian (follower of Christ). These blessings included her role as the New Eve (corresponding to Christ’s role as the New Adam), her Immaculate Conception, her spiritual motherhood of all Christians, and her Assumption into heaven. These gifts were given to her by God’s grace. She did not earn them, but she possessed them nonetheless. The key to understanding all these graces is Mary’s role as the New Eve, which the Fathers proclaimed so forcefully. Because she is the New Eve, she, like…

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Word, sacrament and sign in Luther and Calvin

There are many areas of Protestantism where Luther and Calvin are brothers, other areas where they are kissing cousins, and, alas, others where they are at loggerheads, if not at each other’s throats,  for example, baptism, the eucharist and confession. Here is a good article on words, sacrament and sign where Luther and Calvin bang heads.

“Why Luther is not Quite Protestant: The Logic of Faith in a Sacramental Promise.”

You’ll need strong faith in your noggin for this one.

Does the way to conversion of the head lie through a converted heart?

Andrew Murray Jr. (1928 – 1917) was the South African born son of Andrew Murray,  a Dutch Reformed minister and missionary from Scotland based in Graaff Reinet, South Africa, situated 160 kms from my home town in Port Elizabeth. My visit to the parsonage was a wonderful experience. It remains in the  same state today  as when the Murrays lived there. Andrew Jr., like his father, became a minister and missionary. He was minister in Wellington, Cape Province, South Africa from 1971 to 1906. I spent  five school years in Wellington, and whenever I walked to town, I passed his statue outside the church where he was minister. (School years after the Orphanage: Wellington). He was a prolific author and is widely read today in the Christian community.


andrew murrray use

Andrew Murray


parsonage murray use

The Parsonage. Now a museum

While Andrew and his brother John were studying theology in Holland, Andrew wrote to his father requesting that he and his brother finish their studies in Germany. What attracted them to Germany was August Tholuck (1799-1877) of Halle University, a brilliant orientalist. What attracted Andrew Murray to Tholuck, however, was not Tholuck’s knowledge of languages, but his pietism, which is a religious movement in 17ty century Germany that stressed Bible study and personal religious experience in reaction to the pervasive rationalism of the “Enlightenment”.

Here is an extract from Andrew Murray’s letter from Holland to his father in Graaff Reinet, South Africa:

“There is a plan that I have to propose to Papa. I cannot say that I am sure that it will meet with his approbation, but I mention it thus early that he may think about it and shall write more fully about it afterwards, and then he will be kind enough to give me an answer. In about two years from this date, which is all the time that it will be necessary for us to stay here, I shall be just twenty years old. The lectures here are such that it is almost impossible to get any good from them. What would Papa say to my, or perhaps both of us, then going to Germany ? It would likely be to Halle, where there are a great many excellent {both in head and heart) professors, at the head of whom stands Tholuck, a pious man, professor of exegesis, who is the leader of those who at the present time oppose the German neology [more on neology shortly]—at least as to what concerns the New Testament. From living being cheaper in Germany than here, the expenses of the journey would be compensated for by the difference in the living. About the same time the Cape students at Barmen would be going there so that perhaps we would be able to live still cheaper. The reason I have spoken of myself alone is that from the want of ministers at the Cape it would perhaps be necessary for John to come home immediately, and he would then be just about the age at which he could be ordained, while I think it very unlikely that in this stiff country where everything must happen according to rule, they would ordain me so young, little more than twenty. It would, however, be of course a very great advantage for him too. You will say, my dear Father, that is looking far forward. May God guide us in all our steps, and give us grace to do whatsoever our hand finds to do with all our might.”



August Tholuck

German neology is “a 17th century religious movement originating in Germany in reaction to formalism and intellectualism and stressing Bible study and personal religious experience.” (The Quarterly Christian Spectator, 1834, Art. X, p. 509, Google books).

Here is Tholuck:

“I have been young, but now am old. I have spent a whole lifetime in battling against infidelity with the weapons of apologetic science; but I have become ever more and more convinced that the way to the heart does not lie through the head; and that way to conversion of the head lies through a converted heart which already tastes the living fruits of the Gospel.” We are reminded of Pascal’s “The heart has its reasons that reason can never know” Le coeur a ses raisons que le raison ne connaît point.

If read in context, Pascal does not mean that God can only be known through the heart, but that He can be ultimately known only through  the heart. The modern meaning of “heart” in this context connotes spiritually discerned. In the Hebrew scriptures, however, “heart” refers to the whole being. Pascal’s “heart” is not the Old Testament meaning of “heart.” In Pascal the head reasons, the heart feels; in the Old Testament the heart is not merely the seat of the feelings but of thought as well, as in Deuteronomy 6:5 – And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ׃ [ve-ahavta et Adonai ( יְהוָה YHVH) elohecha b’chol l’vavcha [בָבְךָ YOUR HEART]oovechol nafsh’cha oovechol m’odecha].

The Greek of the New Testament introduces the mind as distinct from the heart: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart (kardia), and with all thy soul (psyche), and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind (dianoia)… (Luke 10:27). (See God seems distant in the midst of personal loss and suffering: When suffering comes to a head, strengthen it).

To return to Tholuck’s “I have become ever more and more convinced that the way to the heart does not lie through the head; and that way to conversion of the head lies through a converted heart which already tastes the living fruits of the Gospel.”

Tholuck 1. “the way to the heart does not lie through the head.”

There is an important sense in which the way to the heart must lie through the mind, as the scripture says:

[13] For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [14] How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? [15] And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” [16] But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” [17] So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:13-17 ).

The words preached are the divinely authoritative and declarative facts that have to pass through the ears into the head before it can reach the heart. Only after regeneration (being born again of God in Christ), however, will one’s mind be turned to and gradually renewed to grasp and obey the divine authoritative declarations embodied in “facts and statements, and assurances and promises and revelations in which God has told us all that we need know of what we are, of how we became such, of what He is, of what He has done for us, of what He is doing, of what He will do, not one of which could we learn from nature, for a knowledge of which we are totally dependent upon God’s statement, and of which we have no other personal knowledge than that what God tells us about them.” (“Thus says the Lord,” by James Petigree Boyce).

Theologians speak of notitia (facts), assensus (mental assent to these facts) and fiducia (faith/trust in these facts). The fact of the matter is that notitia will only be assented to after the mustard seed of fiducia has been implanted in the soul by the Holy Spirit of God.

Tholuck 2. “that way to conversion of the head lies through a converted heart which already tastes the living fruits of the Gospel.”

This is so; conversion through the converted heart. (Conversion embraces regeneration, repentance, faith, justification and reconciliation to God). Someone may hear Gospel words but reject them as facts. As Tholuck says your heart must first be converted. What he means, I suggest, is that the human soul (heart) must first be regenerated, which is a sovereign unilateral work of God, wherein the soul, dead in sin, is raised to spiritual life, and in the process repents and is reconciled to the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ. Colossians 2 13″ And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (See also Ephesians 2:1-10).

 Andrew Murray’s life work was (as were his whole family’s) totally devoted to the study, meditation, dissemination, exhortation of and absolute surrender to the divine facts of God in Christ.


The blind tour guide to Israel

In the latest Christianity Today there appears the article “How we forget the holiness of God. There is much in it that is sound. There is one bit in the introduction however, that is misguided. It is what the writer’s guide in the Holy Land, Amir, told him.

The intro

A couple years ago, I visited Israel with a group of Christian journalists. We bobbed in the Dead Sea, ate “Peter fish” in Galilee, and ascended the desert fortress of Masada. We toured the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, prayed at the Western Wall, and sat amid Gethsemane’s twisted olive trees. But for me the highlight of the trip wasn’t a place. It was a person—our guide, Amir.

Amir was in his late 50s, stocky, with skin that looked like leather from leading trips through the Holy Land for three decades. At each site, Amir would seek out an isolated spot, gather us in a semicircle, and expound upon the historical and theological significance of the site. Sometimes he seemed more like a preacher than a tour guide.

I remember one talk in particular. With the Mount of Olives shimmering in the background, Amir described what he saw as the basic problem of the universe. “God longs to come down to earth to redeem the righteous and judge the wicked,” he said. “But there’s a problem.”

He leaned toward us and stretched out his arms like a scarecrow.

“His presence is like plutonium. Nothing can live when God comes near. If God came to earth, both the righteous and unrighteous would perish. We would all die!”

Amir said: “God longs to come down to earth to redeem the righteous and judge the wicked.”

That’s Rabbinism; Christianity is the exact opposite, which says: God longs to come down to earth to redeem the wicked (sinners, the blind) and judge the righteous (those who say they can see).

Romans 5:6-12
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8 But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. 11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.

John 9:39-41
Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind. 40 And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? 41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remains.

Luke 5:27-32
27 And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. 28 And he left all, rose up, and followed him. 29 And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. 30 But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? 31 And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. 32 I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

With regard to Amir’s “If God came to earth, both the righteous and unrighteous would perish. We would all die!”

The Bible says those who think they’re righteous are not; they’re desperately sick – sick unto death, the result of their radical corruption. Without the Father’s mercy (grace) and gift of faith in His Son, Jesus, the Christ, everyone without exception will be condemned; the unrighteous or those who think they are righteous.

Righteousness in the New Testament is given to believers in exchange for their sin, which Christ takes onto himself on the cross: 2 Corinthians 5:21 “He has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Christians are called saints even before they have done anything. Everyone whom God brings to life from death – in sin, is holy (a saint). And good works? They are also gifts ordained by God: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God had before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Ephesians 2:1-10

1 And you has he quickened (raised to life), who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: 7 That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God had before ordained that we should walk in them.

This does not mean that Christians are robots; they are still required to work out the process of their salvation in fear and trembling. I say no more on the issue here, which I have dealt with in other posts.

Mystical YOUnion: Do you want God to write a Gospel about you or are you aching to write it yourself?

Did you know that everyone has a Gospel story inside aching to be
written – and a world screaming to listen?

“God, says Bill Johnson, has ideas; he puts them into words and speaks them.
And those words form inside the heart of surrendered individuals, and from
that comes a demonstration of who Jesus is.” Chris Rosebrough asks “where is
he getting this – and much else – from? Bible verse please.” (“Birthing the
what? Last 45 minutes, Rosebrough’s “Fighting for the faith.”).

Johnson continues: “The Lord wants to bring forth something out of every life,
out of every heart, something that is absolutely impossible. God loves
manifesting himself through your gifts, your history, your family, the good the
bad and the ugly. He loves being recognised by others as your God in the
midst of that. I’m not wanting to do a study of the gospels, I just want to say,
you’ve got your story too, and Jesus is wanting to bring something out of the
impossible through you. I want to challenge every believer. There is a miracle
that God has been planning in eternity past, a miracle, something
impossible,something that can only be brought forth in its purest form through
you. It cannot be done by someone else. it is a representation of this
wonderful saviour, this wonderful king, it cannot be brought forth accurately,
powerfully, purely except through you. The world is looking for, the expression
of Jesus through you. You’re highly favoured (Johnson compares believers with
the mother of Jesus, but on a less exalted level), set aside for the impossible.”

And, which is the inspiration behind my title:

“I want to see the expression of Jesus in and through you in ways that the
world is aching for. Some of you carry some gifts and praises on you that are
so unique that there is a gospel to be written. Every one of you has a gospel
story that can be only told through your life experience. There’s a book to be
written in and through your experience with this wonderful saviour that will
touch people whether it’s the Greeks or the Romans.There’s a gospel story to
be written through your life, by countless numbers of people that will represent
him (the saviour) well in a way they can relate to. And that’s the miracle of
this mother’s day.

The last sentence explains Rosebrough’s title “Birthing the what?” Only
mothers give birth. You o man can give birth too; so mother’s day is also for you. Indeed you are a mother.

I ask: Is the world really aching to see the expression of Jesus in and through
me, or Bill Johnson or anyone? Absolutely not. The world doesn’t give a toss.
Ask Jesus: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated
you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but
because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore
the world hates you (John 15:18).

Here, in a similar vein to Johnson, is Walter Brueggemann.He distinguishes between “certitude” and “fidelity.”   For Brueggemann, any interaction between 1. certitude, which he considers limited because it is restricted to a single meaning (univocity) and 2. fidelity,

should be frowned upon. We should, therefore, be open, as Jacques Derrida
says, to “an unlimited number of contexts over an indefinite period of time,”
and thus to an unrestricted interaction. The main focus of the Bible, for
Brueggemann, is suffering persons desiring to tell their personal stories. For him,
there is no no such thing as the (objective) True story, but only
hurting people telling their “true-for-me” stories, which are the only stories
that ultimately matter. And if the Bible stories are able to buck – and back –
them up, thank you Holy Spirit.

Jesus says: The Truth will make you certain and free. Brueggemann says The
Truth will make you uncertain and flee.

The Truth necessarily brings suffering and makes you feel very unsafe. Unsafe
in the world, yes; for the supernatural reason that the biblical story clashes
with the world’s story/stories (the world system).

This is what the Cross means to Brueggemann: “The symbol of that (fidelity) is
the way of the cross. The way of the cross is always to be departing certitudes
so that we may be in the company of Jesus.” Now, one can feel certain about
something yet it may not be true, that is, objectively true (Truth). In
Brueggemann, however, “certitude” is synomymous with Truth; as we read
earlier, he says “certitude” is restricted to a single meaning (univocity), that is
the normal meaning of words; in their context, of course.

According to Brueggemann, fidelity means being in the company of the
crucified Jesus, but this can only become a reality if we “depart” from our
“certitudes;” If language has consensual meanings, I presume Brueggemann
means by “certitudes,” all certitudes. Surely, though, if we are to be faithful
(fidel) to the way of the cross, as Brueggemann suggests, we need to be
certain that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he
was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the
Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Jacques Derrida, Jean Paul Sartre, Andre Gide, Albert Camus, as well as every
postmodernist, poststructuralist, deconstructionist, in fact, anyone who doesn’t
believe in Certitude, would ask the question: “What fun’s left once you find the
Messiah, once you’ve found the “Cross?” After all, the ideal, says Renan, is
fundamentally a utopia. What is more utopian than Truth? (See my Certainty
and Fidelity in Biblical Interpretation: The Deconstruction of Walter Brueggemann).

Where do Bill Johnson and Walter Brueggemann get all this stuff from? It
seems that Postmodernism has influenced Brueggemann. And Bill Johnson?
He’s into contemplative Spirituality. In his Sozo manual on inner healing, he

“Sozo is a Christian based prayer ministry helping to heal people from the
effects of sin and wounding, of delivering individuals from the resulting
influence, control and dominion of the demonic, and of restring them to
relationship with God. This is accomplished through prayer and the guidance of
the Holy Spirit, during which He uncovers past and present lies believed,
reveals sin issues, as well as points of entry or access. When we remove the
ground for this access, the spirits lose their ability and right to influence and
control our lives. It is then that blessing and obedience can be established. The
primary purpose of Sozo, at its best, is to move through healing and freedom,
and into restoration of the relationship with Papa God and out of that
relationship, to reestablish destiny, purpose and direction.” (The Shack’s Mamma Papa God?)

Sozo (which is Greek for “salvation”) reminds me of the French Jesuit,
Jean-Pierre Causssade, famous among Roman Catholic contemplatives for his
book “Abandonment to divine providence,” highly recommended by Thomas
Keating, founding member and spiritual guide of “Contemplative outreach”
extending beyond the monastery into the home. Here is an excerpt from Caussade. For
him, the Gospel is merely “a tiny stream” in comparison to the river that God
wants to pour into us. If, however, you want the river to swim in you, you’ll
need a guide – like Thomas Keating. I italicise the parts in Causssade that
resonate with Bill Johnson and Walter Brueggemann. Caussade is describing
the gospel that God is writing on contemplative hearts:

The Holy Spirit has pointed out in infallible and incontestable characters,
some moments in that ocean of time, in the Sacred Scriptures. In them we see
by what secret and mysterious ways He has brought Jesus before the world.
Amidst the confusion of the races of men can be distinguished the origin, race,
and genealogy of this, the first-born. The whole of the Old Testament is but an
outline of the profound mystery of this divine work; it contains only what is
necessary to relate concerning the advent of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit has
kept all the rest hidden among the treasures of His wisdom.

From this ocean of the divine activity He only allows a tiny stream to escape,
and this stream having gained its way to Jesus is lost in the Apostles, and has
been engulfed in the Apocalypse; so that the history of this divine activity
consisting of the life of Jesus in the souls of the just to the end of time, can
only be divined by faith. As the truth of God has been made known by word of
mouth, so His charity is manifested by action. The Holy Spirit continues to
carry on the work of our Saviour. While helping the Church to preach the
Gospel of Jesus Christ, He writes His own Gospel in the hearts of the just. All
their actions, every moment of their lives, are the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.
The souls of the saints are the paper, the sufferings and actions the ink. The
Holy Spirit with the pen of His power writes a living Gospel, but a Gospel that
cannot be read until it has left the press of this life, and has been published on
the day of eternity. Oh! great history! grand book written by the Holy Spirit in
this present time! It is still in the press. There is never a day when the type is
not arranged, when the ink is not applied, or the pages are not primed.
We are still in the dark night of faith. The paper is blacker than the ink, and
there is great confusion in the type. It is written in characters of another world
and there is no understanding it except in Heaven. If we could see the life of
God, and behold all creatures, not as they are in themselves, but as they exist
in their first cause; and if again we could see the life of God in all His
creatures, and could understand how the divine action animates them, and
impels them all to press forward by different ways to the same goal, we should
realize that all has a meaning, a measure, a connexion in this divine work. But
how can we read a book the characters of which are foreign to us, the letters
innumerable, the type reversed, and the pages blotted with ink?

Teach me, divine Spirit, to read in this book of life. I desire to become Your
disciple and, like a little child, to believe what I cannot understand, and cannot
see. Sufficient for me that it is my Master who speaks. He says that! He
pronounces this! He arranges the letters in such a fashion! He makes Himself
heard in such a manner! That is enough. I decide that all is exactly as He says.
I do not see the reason, but He is the infallible truth, therefore all that He
says, all that He does is true. He groups His letters to form a word, and
different letters again to form another word. There may be three only, or six;
then no more are necessary, and fewer would destroy the sense. He who reads
the thoughts of men is the only one who can bring these letters together, and
write the words. All has meaning, all has perfect sense. This line ends here
because He makes it do so. Not a comma is missing, and there is no
unnecessary full-stop. At present I believe, but in the glory to come when so
many mysteries will be revealed, I shall see plainly what now I so little
understand. Then what appears to me at present so intricate, so perplexing, so
foolish, so inconsistent, so imaginary, will all be entrancing and will delight me
eternally by the beauty, order, knowledge, wisdom, and the incomprehensible
wonders it will all display.

End of Caussade

Caussade’ description of God as the arranger of “type” (letters) evokes the
Jewish system of Gematria described in the Zohar where the 27 letters of the
Hebrew alphabet in different combinations have the power to release the riches
of your unconscious mind. Materialists would agree that the human being, at
bottom, is a concatenation of letters but only four – in the DNA, but you’re not
going to find the “Endless One” (Ein Sof) there. So, if that’s what you want to do, see your doctor.

To return to Caussade. In the gospel that God is writing on Caussade’s heart,
Caussade sees himself – as I understand him -in a glass darkly, and says when he shucks off his mortal coil, he would see himself as he really is. Is that what the Bible says,
see himself as he really is? Frankly I only want to see God as he really is – and
myself covered in his light. Here is the Gospel of the scriptures?

1 Corinthians 13:9-12

“I know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is
come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as
a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we
see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but
then shall I know even as also I am known.”

What shall I know even as also I am known (by God)? God.When Causssade says:

“At present I believe, but in the glory to come
many mysteries will be revealed, I shall see plainly what now I so little
understand,” he is not talking about what is written in the scriptures, but what
has been left out of them; what has been written in the mystical realm – about
Caussade, and you and me. If only, as Thomas Keating says, we would dare to
enter our closet, sit down, shut up and allow God to write Himself – much of
whom is not found in the “little stream” of the scriptures – into our hearts.
Contrast this self-preoccupation of Johnson, Brueggemann and Caussade with
the Gospel writers, for example Matthew’s cameo appearance, who only
mentions himself is in the third person. “And as Jesus passed forth from
thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and
he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him” (Matthew 9:9).

For our three kissing cousins described above, scripture is insufficient. For them,
there’s the patchy universal Gospel story in the scriptures, which becomes heavily
supplemented by your story/gospel that God is writing on your heart or
you are aching, if you’re Johnson, to write in a book. Paul warns us in
Galatians 1:6-10:

“6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the
grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some
that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But though we, or
an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we
have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I
now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have
received, let him be accursed. 10 For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I
seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of

In the Roman Catholic Church, tradition interprets and supplements scripture,
where “tradition” is generally understood as 1. those sacraments not found in
the biblical material, for example, confession and holy orders (the priesthood,
etc) and 2. dogmas such as those about Mary, the mother of Jesus,
indulgences, purgatory and papal infallibility. There is another domain of
Roman Catholic tradition, namely, the mystical/contemplative tradition as in
Caussade. In the last decade, many who call themselves “evangelical” such as
Bill Johnson are embracing mysticism. As someone said, what begins in a
myst, ends in a schism – the Gospel (about God) and gospels about oneself.
Caussade spoke of the Scriptures as a little stream. I prefer Jonathan Edwards’
puritan fountain, which taps into the pristine ocean of the scriptures:

“God is the highest good of the reasonable creature. The enjoyment of him is
our proper; and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To
go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant
accommodations here. Better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or
children, or the company of any, or all earthly friends. These are but shadows;
but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams;
but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are
but drops, but God is the ocean.”

Two conversions: the mind (NOTITIA) and the heart (FIDUCIA) of faith in Blaise Pascal


Many accuse Calvinists of being all logic and no fire. Without logic, you can’t understand what you read, and thus the Bible would be no more than a smothering smorsgasbrod of seeker-friendly maxims. True Calvinism, is “logic on fire” (Martyn Lloyd Jones).

Originally posted on OneDaring Jew:

If you’re a computer programmer, you’ve probably heard of the computer programme “Pascal.” If you’re also into physics then you absolutely must know about the pressure unit “Pascal.” And if you’re familiar with physics you must also be familiar with the Pascal’s mathematical theorem.

Blaise Pascal had two religious “conversions.” The first is connected to his study of Jansenism (1545–1563) which broke away from the Catholic Church after the Reformation and  the Council of Trent. Jansenism’s distinctive feature was its Augustinian doctrine that salvation is entirely of  God, which is summed up in Augustine’s famous “Grant what You command, and command what You desire” (Confessions 10, 29). The most important of God’s commands is to repent.

Matt. 4:17 – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Mk. 1:15 – “Repent, and believe the gospel.”
Lk. 24:47 – “repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name.”

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Larry King on Russia Today : Bill Maher throws his marbles away – in a hurry

Larry King, in his Politicking interview with Bill Mayer, introduces him with these words: “He’s opiniated, outspoken and ready to take a stand on today’s  red-hot issues… Get ready.” Towards the end of the interview, King asked him whether he believed in life after death? Maher replied maybe, but this other thing that God had a son, that’s nonsense.  For Mayer, the program Cosmos has got it right. Just imagine, he said, (not exactly in these words) the whole universe exploded into being 13.5 billion years ago from a being no bigger than a  marble. When I think of it, continues Mayer, I want to say “Gimme the Jesus thing. But I know that the Big Bang is right.” But see the interview for yourself.   Picture 40

 Larry King: “Get ready”

Bill Maher

Bill Maher

Go figure, but what are you going to use to do so? Your marbles?  Mad people lose theirs; sane people throw theirs away – in  a hurry (Hebrew: maher). 

Maher-shalal-hash-baz – מַהֵר שָׁלָל חָשׁ בַּז‎ “He has made haste to plunder” (Isaiah 8:3).

The Jesus thing is not silly, it’s shocking, for two reasons: 1. The Son takes on flesh to be cursed and slaughtered 2. in the place of sinners.

Related: Something from nothing: a beautiful idea.


In search of French past (5): Why are you so downcast, oh my soul?

In the previous chapter, I described my student days at the University of Strasbourg and my sojourn in Perugia, Italy. After three weeks in Perugia, I hitch-hiked to Rotterdam to collect a letter from my father that contained my monthly allowance. A Belgian gave me a lift all the way from Strasbourg to Brussels, a distance of 431 km. As he was a Flemish-speaking Belgian, not a French-speaking one, and didn’t know French, I spoke Afrikaans to him, a South African language, which I learnt at school. My first language is English and I speak Afrikaans well because not only did I take Afrikaans as a school subject – which was compulsory in South Africa at the time – now no longer so but I also attended a dual-medium school for five years where all subjects except languages was taught in both languages, where the teacher would switch between English and Afrikaans in the same lesson. Afrikaans originated from Dutch. The Flemish consider their language to be Dutch as well, but the Dutch think of it as “ a funny little lingo.” There are many Dutch and Flemish variants. The variant of Flemish my Belgian spoke was very similar to Afrikaans: his funny little lingo and my kitchen Dutch.


When I arrived in Brussels, I took the train to Rotterdam and went to the Post Office to collect my letter. It wan’t there. I didn’t think that in 1962 you could phone South Africa from a public phone in Europe. I no longer had any strength to carry my heavy brown bag. I saw a man standing outside his house near the river bank who let me store my bag in his garage. I walked to the centre of the small river bridge close by, leaned over the barrier. ”Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 43:5a).

I backed away from the the barrier, crossed the bridge, came to a stone church and entered the poorly lit dank interior; a Protestant church because there were no statues. I knelt down in one of the pews prayed. What I prayed, I cannot recall. The rest of Psalm 43:5 I quoted above would have been appropriate: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” I left the church and aim for the centre of the city. I was walking along eyes on the pavement when I nearly crashed into a young “couple” (which in 1962 still could only mean a man and a woman) walking in the opposite direction. I must have looked wretched because they asked me whether I would like something to eat. They led me into a restaurant where they treated me to a ham omelette, toast and coffee. My hands quivered so much from hunger and fatigue that my fork battled to find its destination. The good Samaritans pretended not to notice. This pretense had, of course, the opposite motivation of the priest and the Levite of the parable , who “passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:25-37).

The couple contacted the authorities who retrieved my bag and put me up in a youth hostel, where I was told to stay until they had contacted my home in South Africa. After four days, they informed me that they had phoned my father who said that he had posted the money not to Rotterdam but to Amsterdam. I was given the train fare to Amsterdam. The letter was there with my monthly allowance of £25.


My student card from the University of Strasbourg was valid for all French universities, which meant that I could eat lunch at any university restaurant in France at a cost of £14 a month, which though cheap in absolute terms was expensive for me, because I only had £25 allowance. I needed a job. I took the train to Paris where I found accommodation in a university residence close to the Jardin du Luxembourg, which was not difficult to find because the students were on long vacation.

jardin du luxembour


“Regrets, I had a few, too few to mention.” A familiar line from the song “I did it my way,” and a big lie. One of my regrets was making an appointment with someone but letting him down. At the university residence I met Luc, a Quebecois, who was studying cinematography. We had arranged that he would fetch me from my room and we would go out to a restaurant. When Luc arrived to fetch me, I was in conversation with an English-speaking student, and had forgotten all about my arrangement with Luc. He knocked on my door. I opened, and for some reason, I looked surprised to see him. He said he was sorry to intrude and left. I was stricken. My thought was that Luc felt that I preferred someone someone who shared my mother tongue to him. The truth was that the Englishman was a big yawn. What is more, although English is my mother tongue (not my mother’s tongue, which was Yiddish), I wasn’t “English.” I felt much more comfortable with the folks from Calais than from Folkstone.  

After a few days, I registered with the tourist bureau as a French-to-English interpreter. My first job was a trip to the Palace of Versailles. I was the guide’s interpreter on the bus. After the tour, the group asked me where they could spend a good night out. This was my chance to return to the small restaurant in the Latin Quarter where I had been a few days earlier and had fallen in love with the Spanish dancer in the band. My first visit to this restaurant was at the invitation of a two North American students. When the boy went to the bathroom, I asked her if he was her boyfriend. Not at all, she said. She seemed to take to me. I wanted to ask whether I could see her again. She gave me her address but I didn’t contact her again. What I did instead was slip a postcard into the post box at her university residence wishing her a good life. And rode off into the night like the man of La Mancha – on my ass. “O! that ye would read [the scriptures] oftener, and ponder them better, how there is nothing in this world,—which may seem to fall out by chance to you, that you know not how it is to come to pass, and can see no cause nor reason of it,—but it falls out by the holy will of our blessed Father. Be it of greater or less moment,—or be it a hair of thy head fallen, or thy head cut off,—the most casual and contingent thing,—though it surprised the whole world of men and angels, that they wonder from whence it did proceed” (Hugh Binning). In short,  “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33).

I took the Versailles tour group to the restaurant. The meal was very expensive and second-rate. I couldn’t eat the black inky paella. They were shocked at the bill. They paid my share. An elderly American in the group was furious for wasting his last precious night in such a tacky, expensive place. What I could have pointed out to him was that the Folies Bergère would have been much more expensive if not less tacky. Besides, all that matters in this life is to see the Spanish girl again, which I did, boxed in by her extended family.

The job at the tourist bureau was not well paid – the guide gets all the tips (“tip” in French is pourboire; “for drinking” – what else?). I got a job as an interpreter at a big food supply depot. Trains delivered the supplies and workers would unpack them from the trains and load them on to trollies that transported them to the hangars. The workers would rip open random boxes and help themselves to some of the contents. Chocolate bars were popular because they could be wolfed down quickly. I don’t recall participating. I lunched with the workers. A morass of red faces – not because caught red-handed, but because of all the bottles of red plonk they drank at, or more accurately, for lunch. On rainy days, I brought my umbrella to work, which caused much merriment. My nickname was “parapluie” (umbrella).

I attended Sunday Mass in the small church of Saint Julien le Pauvre situated near Notre Dame Cathedral. The church was first mentioned in the 6th century in Gregory of Tours “History of the Franks,” which makes it the oldest church in Paris. It is now a Roman Catholic Church of the Melchite Greek rite, a branch of the Byzantine church. Its interior is like a Greek Orthodox church, embroidered with icons and frescoes. There are no statues as would be customary in Roman Catholic churches of the Latin rite (the vast majority of Roman Catholic churches). Since Vatican II, the Mass in most churches is no longer celebrated in Latin. I felt the same Byzantine ambience in Saint Julien le Pauvre as I felt in the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral in London, which also has a Byzantine interior. I preferred icons to statues because, they were less physical, and therefore, more “spiritual.” I never liked that song “Let’s get physical, physical, I wanna get physical, let’s get into physical, Let me hear your body talk, your body talk, let me hear your body talk.” Talk about what? What not.

st julien le pauvre

One Sunday after Mass, I was sitting on a bench in the courtyard (behind the trees on the left of the picture) when a Dominican priest, sat down next to me. He said he was sitting close to me during the Mass and was struck by my fervor. His name was Louis-Albert Lassus, an itinerant retreat master serving the monasteries of Europe. His birth name was Louis and his priest name, given at ordination, was Albert. Here is a photo of Louis-Albert, which he gave me.


Louis-Albert Lassus

Louis-Albert Lassus


 I admired the monastic life very much; most Roman Catholics do, especially recent converts like me. I found Roman Catholicism not only intellectually impressive, it also appealed to the “deeper” mystical side, the nectar of the soul. Louis-Albert invited me to his priory in Bordeaux. This was the beginning of many journeys and retreats with Louis-Albert in different monasteries in France and other parts of Europe. I describe some of these in the next chapter. A few weeks later, I quit my job at the food depot and joined Albert in Bordeaux whence we departed on our peregrinations “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10).


My purpose-driven life

You can do something voluntarily or freely. What is the difference between these two kinds of will? Voluntary means you do what you want. What you want – your inclination, your heart’s desire – is to fulfil your purpose. Freedom, in contrast,  is neutral; it can decide to follow/want self or follow/want God. But to want God (of the Bible) is not what the natural man can or wants to do, because he is, without realising it, a prisoner of his desires, and loves being this way.When Christ frees you from the bondage of your will  by regenerating you, granting you the desire and ability to repent, to believe in him, to do his commandments, and brings you to your final rest, then you will have fulfilled your purpose, because all the former  is God’s purpose. That is why Rick Warren’s “The purpose driven life” is not the right title. His book says it’s about God not you, but then the book proceeds to be all about you. So a better title would be “My purpose-driven life.”Are you looking for your purpose in life? Read you Bible, and avoid purpose-driven authors and preachers like the plague.

 Yes, be driven, but who is doing the driving? Ephesians 2:8-10 For it is by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

The Times of Israel: How Christians are not fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah


I have just watched a documentary on the arms industry in Israel, which is the fourth largest in the world. How in heaven could the 1948 declaration of independence of Israel and the subsequent massive return to the “land” signify the return promised in the Bible? In this way: this return is for judgment, the preliminary to the return of the Messiah.

Originally posted on OneDaring Jew:

In “TimesofIsrael” (26 Sept 2013), Eliezer Melamed writes on the festival of Sukkot (Booths) and how Christians are Fulfilling the Prophecy of Isaiah. The Isaiah text referred to is “Strangers shall stand and pasture your flocks; aliens shall be your ploughmen and vine-trimmers.” (Isaiah 61:5). The strangers Melamed has in mind are Christians. Here is Melamed’s story of Tommy, the Christian (my italics):

Tommy Waller

Recently, a troublemaker distributed libellous materials accusing Tommy Waller, an American Christian, of being a missionary. This despite the fact that Tommy has been actively recruiting Christian volunteers for Israel for ten years, and not a single Jew claims that Tommy or any of the thousands of people he has brought here have tried to undermine their faith. Therefore, I feel it is incumbent upon me to speak on his behalf. Out of an abiding faith in the uniqueness of the Jewish people and…

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Hebrew for French sinners made easy

Are you French? Are you a sinner? You’re at least the latter, naturally. Now say you’re the former as well and want to learn Hebrew but find it impossible. Success in whatever, they say, is the best motivation to learn more. Here is a good way to get you excited about Hebrew. The Hebrew word for “sin” is pesha? There are more Hebrew words for sin, but don’t worry for now. If you’re French, pesha should remind you of péché (sin). Péché comes from the Latin pecco via the Proto-Indo-European verbal root *ped” (“to walk, fall, stumble”).

In Latin we have pēs, pedis (foot) and in ancient Greek πούς, ποδός (poús, podós). So pecco, péché, pous means, think of it like this, putting your foot in it.

The root of the Hebrew pesha means “rebellion.” Put all what we’ve read together, then you will see that when the Serpent rebelled in the Garden, God cut the feet off, literally, from under him, which made him not merely stumble but fall, and never to stand up again. 

Now that I’ve convinced you Hebrew is not so hard, you will want to make a go of it. You may stumble but not that you should fall.  If you’re a pastor preparing a sermon on the Fall and sick of tedious old  context, context, context, feel free to tap my roots.

“There is the menacing word pesha, “rebellion.” Why “menacing”? Because it is the killer-word. No matter how much we make an excuse for the fallen nature which prompts and effectuates actual sin, the fact remains that, in cases too numerous to recall, a choice was presented to us and we chose the path of deliberate, conscious, willful rebellion. We sinned because we wanted to.” “Stricken for the transgressions of my people: The atoning work of Isaiah’s suffering servant,” by J. Alec Motyer in “From heaven he came and sought her,” David and Jonathan Gibson.

Gibson photo page 35

In search of French Past (4): Student at the University of Strasbourg – and much ado about lying

Most people either cannot write, are too lazy to write or don’t have the time to write, or all three. Some who can write, and have time to write and are energetic enough to write will do so but avoid writing about their own lives – an autobiography. The reason why some shy away from autobiography is because there are thoughts and actions in their lives that are either too painful or too shameful to disclose. Many – probably most – people, though, take a less dim view of their lives. Where some feel failure and shame, they see the “courage to be.” to let it all hang out- spill the beans if not your seed. Yet no matter how great the courage “to be”, there always remain things many prefer to hide – not because they are coy, but because they know that it would shatter their image. Secretly they are proud of the dirty linen they would be ashamed to hang out in public. They can’t resist keeping it to themselves; so, they reveal it vicariously; they write novels in which they create a surrogate through whom they can not only exhibit themselves with impunity, but also get paid to do it.

In autobiography, there is a nobler reason for not revealing all – “all” invariably means “all the evil we do”. Often, the evil involves an accomplice. As long as the evil is not a “crime”, we have no right to make public the evil deeds of others. For example, if a couple decided to abort their child, and one of them wanted to write about this in an autobiography, it would be wrong to do so unless the other approved, for, not only will the other partner be adversely affected, his or her relatives and friends will also be affected. Some sins are between you and God alone; that is, if you believe in God or in sin more than being (in)famous at any cost. (See OneDaringJew: An AutobiogRaphy).

At the beginning of 1962, after the second year of my B.A., I decided to go to Europe, especially France. I would finish my B.A. on my return the following year. My father offered to pay for my ticket and gave me an allowance of 25 British pounds. After three months in London (See In search of French past (1)), I took the ferry to France. In search of French past (3): French philosophy, Paris and fleeing the OAS, I described my brief sojourn in Paris and hasty “escape” to Strasbourg.


france germany map use

My father sent me an allowance of 25 British pounds a month. It barely covered the basics. I loved the French banknotes, surely the most beautiful in the world. Cardinal Richelieu (10 New Francs) on the left; the playwright, Molière, on the right, worth 50 Richelieus. Talk about the “Purpose-driven life”: what can be more fulfilling than crumpling a Richelieu, not even to mention a Molière, in your pocket.


Ten New Francs 1960s500 New Francs

I rented a room in the Avenue de la Forêt Noire (Black Forest Avenue) close to the main campus of the University of Strasbourg where I registered as a full-time student. Tuition was free with a small fee for registration. My main subject was French for foreigners. I also attended a few philosophy lectures where students translated from Greek and Latin texts. How far did my £25 British stretch? Monthly rent was £10 and meal tickets £14. The shortfall I “borrowed” from students and took a job during the university vacation for three weeks in a furniture factory in Wissembourg on the Northern French-German border, and one day in a canning factory in Strasbourg, where I stamped the rubber seal onto can lids whizzing past on a conveyor belt – and didn’t get paid. Why only one day? I could’ve taken the boredom for a little longer. I was in the staff bathroom washing my hands, had just picked up a bar of soap when one of the ladies snatched it away. “Get your own.” Not something you should tell a lonely sensitive Jewish Catholic boy, so abruptly. I fled the factory.

On Sundays and several times a week, I attended Mass in the crypt of Strasbourg Cathedral, and sometimes at one of the small university residences close to the cathedral. Some of us would gather in a prefab student residence in the grounds of the Chateau de Pourtalès. Only rich students could afford to stay in the chateau itself.

You wish

You wish

How I envied the ruddy well-fed chap playing classical guitar surrounded by an adoring crowd. Westerners are losing their wonder at the staggering contrast between men and women. This guitar episode came to mind five years later, when I started to learn the classical guitar. I still play and practice regularly.

A Dutch student friend, more than twice my age, had been doing French for a few years. I asked him why he never said a single French word. He said that when he was ready to speak he would do so (it’ll all pour out, will it!). That is not how you learn a language; your mother tongue or an extra language.

A Catholic student friend lived on a farm in the Vosges mountains. He was lame (boiteux) in one leg. He invited me to his farm for a weekend. As we climbed up the hill to his farmhouse, a man, also lame in one leg, hobbled down to meet us – his father. Their farmhouse could be this very one I found on the internet.

vosges as i remembered he farm

Strasbourg is in Alsace and is part of France. Besides French, the indigenous language, “Alsatien,” a Germanic language, is spoken. I overheard my friend’s father ask him whether I was “katolische” (a catholic). Very much so, his son nodded. On Sunday we walked through the woods to a little chapel where we attended Mass.

For breakfast, the father brought down from the loft a slab of smoked fat interlaced with filigrees of bacon. Decades later travelling on a train from Moscow to Kiev, a portly occupant in my compartment offered me at daybreak a slab of pure lard. It went down, well, not so well with her, because, I turned down her offer. I’m not a “Messianic Jew” who balks at bacon, but rather like Jack Sprat, who could eat no fat. “Messianic Jews” are followers of Yeshua (they don’t like saying “Jesus”); many of them observe the Jewish dietary laws. But then what about Peter’s vision of the sheet descending from heaven?

“The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, [Simon] Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour [12 noon – lunch time] to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven” (Acts 10:9-16).

One of the landmarks of Strasbourg is the Goethe statue at the entrance to the main campus of the University. I passed many a quiet moment on a bench close reading French Catholic philosophers like Jean Guitton and Etienne Gilson in French. The previous year (1961) I had registered at the University of Cape Town for courses in philosophy where one of my philosophy professors, Martin Versfeld, had inspired my interest in modern Catholic philosophers, many of whom are French. Now, if only Goethe were French, that would make it all picture perfect. Alas, Goethé looks silly. Anyone for a cuppà thé.


Statue of Goethe

Statue of Goethe

Why did French grip me so. It all began the previous year (1961) at Cape Town University. I was lunching with some friends in the cafeteria. One of them was studying French Elementary. His French textbook (Brooks and Cook) was lying (French gisait) on the table in front of him like a dead thing. Something stirred within me. I picked up his book, opened it at random and began to declame. “Very good,” he said. I knew less French than Peter Sellars. And he only knew “minkey” and hotel phrases like “Have you got a rhume?” A room where the previous occupants had flu. Was some kind of anamnesis (remembrance of things past) going on? It was the Greek philosopher, Plato, who said you don’t learn anything new; you knew it all the time. So, not only, as the Preacher said, is there nothing new under the sun, neither is there anything new in your noggin.

During A short university vacation I was hitchhiking with a German student around France. We almost came to blows over who was the greater – Goethe or Shakespeare. I knew very little Shakespeare, and less about him.

There was Roberta, who was 10 years older than me. We went to a river bank café where I serenaded her with a Johnny Mathis version of “A Certain Smile.”  When the song ended, she told me off. I had to do hard rethink on the meaning of romance, if not of languages. One of my failings in later life is equating sentimentality   with romantic love – between husband and wife. There’s a saying, Les Français, toujours les sentiments “The French, always feelings.” Sentiments (feelings) in French is not equivalent to sentiments in English. I remember how much the girls at school in Wellington, South Africa used to swoon when I serenaded them. As the advert goes for some lotion or other, “It’s not just about feeling but about feeling.” How much I was appreciated the year before when I performed  “A certain smile” for the University of Cape Town Catholic students at our Kolbe House concerts. With Roberta, Romance was in the air, choked by the rancid smoke of the omnipresent Gauloise. (Gauloise is a popular cigarette in France). One weekend, Roberta and I cycled to Freibourg in Germany, 86 kilometres from Strasbourg.


Route from Strasbourg to Freibourg

On the way home in the cold drizzle, we stopped off an an inn where we mulled over wine. I couldn’t understand why Roberta was so shortshrift, why she paid me scant affection. She, ten years my senior, was wiser than I. After leaving the inn, I got so miffed with her that I rode on ahead and left her behind to ride home on her own. I bought a huge slab of cheap dark chocolate, went back to my lodgings, got into bed and wolfed down the whole slab. I got very sick. A few hours later she came to see me and asked me why I had left her behind. I didn’t know what to say; I did a bad thing.

I loved my navy blue duffel coat that was my second skin in England. It was getting warm in Strasbourg, so before class one day, I hung it on one of the dozens of hooks in the foyer. After class I returned to retrieve my coat. It was gone. So that’s why all the other students carried their coats.

The academic year at the end of June. I went to Wissembourg for three weeks where I got a job in a furniture factory.


Wissembourg (French-German border)

Wissembourg (French-German border)

On the outskirts of town, I rented a room in a modest double-storey house alongside the railway line. The landlady dressed in black every day. I never asked the reason why she did so. I assumed that this was her custom. At the time I was too dense to consider that she might be in mourning – over a deceased husband, perhaps, and that was why she was taking in a lodger.

When I arrived, she was very kind and asked me whether I was hungry. She offered me a bowl of rissoto (creamy rice). Afterward she said: That’ll be (so much) for the rent plus (so much) for the rice. I don’t remember the exact amount. Something snapped inside of me. After the previous few months of self-pity, Now this phony kindness, the greedy eyes set in the parchment face framed by spindly black hair.

To exit the house, I had to pass her room, the door was always open. There she is lying on her bed, staring at the doorway. Go. Do it. Into the room; hands round her neck. I had been going after work to the empty church to pray: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:43-44).

At the furniture factory, I spent my three-week vacation removing freshly varnished sheets of hardboard from conveyor belts, which others stapled onto the back of wardrobes. The alcohol in the varnish made me dizzy and my lungs burned.

In my lodgings on my last day in Wissembourg, I slipped off my precious embossed leather cover from my “The Imitation of Christ” – and went to her room. She was lying on the bed. The French gisait [giZe] (from Latin iacere “to throw, cast down”) captures the moment. Gisait (was lying) often refers to the dead or dying. I wanted her one or the other. The sound gisait also evokes ooZing lifeblood. Never before or since had I wanted to strangle someone to death. She leapt off her bed. I held out the leather book cover and thanked her for being so nice to me. I turned and walked out of the room and out of her life.

“I want to strangle you” is generally a harmless outburst; no more than a venting frustration. But it’s more serious when you don’t say it but think it, feed it, sleep it. Should such homicidal inclinations be accepted as part of the human story, part of life, of the evil inclination (Hebrew: yetser hara) of our human frame? No, for such thoughts, indeed hatred, which is their source, can send you to hell: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-22a). Jesus says, following on: “… anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Who, then, can be saved; who is able to avoid damnation? Here is what Jesus says about the rich man. “And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:23-26).

Few believe in hell anymore. And heaven? We all end up there; except Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Hmmm.

A few weeks later I celebrated my 21st birthday in the Black Forest. I rode my bicycle down the Avenue de la Forêt Noire (Avenue of the Black Forest) out of the city into the Black Forest along the narrow beaten tar road that borders the Maginot line. I rested at one of the crumbling bunkers along the way.


The Maginot Line

The Maginot Line

The Maginot Line was a gigantic fortification stretching the length of the French-German border. Maginot, Minister of War between 1922 and 1924, pushed for its construction. General de Gaulle  preferred military mobility to fortications, proaction to reaction, but others argued that Germany might feel less threatened by fortifications. When Germany made its move in 1940, it bypassed the Maginot line and attacked France through neural Belgium, and this vast, intricate Maginot defence just lay (gisait) there to be crumble and get ingested by the living wood.

In July, I left France and  went to Perugia, Italy, to visit a friend, Gerard, from my Cape Town University days with whom I stayed for three weeks. Gerard had a bursary from Italy to study, surprise, Italian. I had learned a little Italian, which is easier than French. Italian is a phontic language – spoken as it is written – like African languages, for example Tswana, a language of South Africa. Dumela is Tswana for “Hello.” The stress in Tswana and Italian falls on on the second-last syllable. Tswana – “duMEla.” The e is pronounced as in “egg” and lengthened “du-MEEE-la.” Tswana speakers can pronounce perfectly the Italian word doMAni (“tomorrow”). When, however, it comes to the French equivalent, demain, that’s different. What makes academic Italian relatively easy to understand is that its vocabulary has much in common with English. After all, half of the English vocabulary comes indirectly from Latin. Latin is a phonetic language, which developed into the Latin languages – also called Romance languages – like Italian, French and Spanish. These are also called “Romance” languages, not because knights went weak at the knees everytime their “Dulcineas” sighed, but because these languages originated from the Romans. Dulcinea is the lady of Don Quixote’s impossible dream. (Seventeen years later I was to be Don Quixote. See In search of French past (2): English Effluence).

I attended art history classes, Italian, at the Summer school of the University of Perugia. I understood quite a bit. It also helped to have some background in the history of art. Here is an Italian sentence. How much do you understand? Michelangelo era uno dei più talentuosi artisti in italia. No, “era” doesn’t mean “era,” “dei” doesn’t mean “deist,” and piu doesn’t mean “poo.” It means “Michelangelo was (era) one (uno) of the (dei) most (piu)…the rest – talentuosi artisti in italia – you should know.

During my stay, I visited Assisi several times. Many art historians believe the Basilica of Assisi to be the cradle of Italian art. Giotto’s frescoes adorn the Basilica. Thirty five years (1997) after my sojourn in Italy, many of Giotto’s paintings as well as those by Cimabue and others were destroyed in an earthquake. I left the Basilica, climbed down the valley, sat down on the grass, opened my knapsack and spread out the cheddar, rye bread, black olives and bottle of red. My déjeuner sur l’herbe (luncheon on the grass). Why – this is for those who want more juicy bits to my story – did I get the feeling I hadn’t really had lunch?

Manet's Le dejeuner sur l'herbe

Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe

After three weeks with Gerard in Perugia, I made for Holland where my father had posted my monthly allowance. Gerard lent me a few pounds. He never got it back.

Folly of New York Times’ Coverage of Chris Plaskon Connecticut School Stabbing


Worlviews matter.

Originally posted on The Domain for Truth:

Folly of NYT Coverage of Chris Plaskon Connecticut School Stabbing

One shocking news from last week was of a junior in high school name Chris Plaskon who stabbed a fellow student name Maren Sanchez.  It happened on Friday morning in a hallway at Jonathan Law High School in the state of Connecticut.  Apparently Plaskon had a crush on the girl and he stabbed her since she did not want to go to prom with him.

I do not want to focus my post on this story as much as a piece over at the New York Times about this unfortunate event.  The article can be accessed by clicking HERE.  Its title is quite indicative of what I’m trying to critique: “Suspect in Stabbing at Connecticut School Is Described as Popular.”

From a Christian worldview one can’t help it at times to see the folly of what the media spew out which reflect their inability to grasp a deeper understanding of what…

View original 1,066 more words

Roman Catholicism: Desperate refuge

In The canonisation of two popes: what better day…To pray to them? To bake biscuits?? Read Calvin???, I related that a CNN interviewer asked the Dean of the Roman Catholic “Westminster Cathedral,”London – one of my favourite haunts when I was just out of my teens – whether Catholics pray to saints. He said no; they serve as an example. NO, no; they certainly do pray to the saints. Maybe the Dean doesn’t pray to the saints, but  we cannot even infer that from his answer.

When I was 19, and a student at the University of Cape Town, I converted to Roman Catholicism. Two years later, this devout Roman Jew was in London where I often sought refuge from the city in the Catholic “Westminster Cathedral” near Victoria station, where I frequently attended mass.

I came upon the Cathedral by accident. I was wandering around the environs of Victoria station when I came across what I took to be a Greek or Russian Orthodox cathedral because of its Byzantine architecture; a strange sight next to the other typical grey London office blocks. The interior of the Cathedral is decorated in mosaics.

westminster cathedral

The Catholic church conducts its services according to the Roman rite (which is the majority Roman Catholic rite) and the Eastern rite. Eastern Orthodox churches such as the Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox churches practice the Eastern rite but they are not in union with Rome. Westminster Cathedral uses the Roman rite.

In London there is also the Westminster Chapel (a misnomer, because it is very big), a Protestant church where Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones (formerly a Harley Street specialist), arguably the greatest preacher and Bible commentator of the 20th century was pastor (1939 to 1968), who had and continues to have such a great influence on so many, including myself. Many decades ago, Westminster Cathedral (1962; Martin Lloyd Jones at Westminster Chapel was close by) was my refuge; today, it would be – if I lived in London – Westminster Chapel. From Jew to Catholic to Protestant; from a Catholic Jew to a Calvinist Jew!

Today I speak flippantly of Westminster Cathedral as one of my youthful “haunts.” Yesteryear, it was a desperate refuge. I have to admit, the Roman Catholic Church has got so much that appeals to the religious mind; for one, there is more than enough to feed the senses and the mind, and to intermittently dispel the darkness . Alas, it is not only the flesh that is carnal.


See my Autobiography: In search of French past (2): English Effluence



The canonisation of two popes: what better day…To pray to them? To bake biscuits?? Read Calvin???

Today, the Roman Catholic Church is making saints of two popes. What better day to read one of the church’s greatest sons, second, arguably, to Augustine of Hippo: Calvin’s Institutes. I’m  not being perverse, for I’ve been reading Calvin for the past few days already. I explain what the “for” is there for:

From the Institutes:

Peter says that believers are “elect” “through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ,” (1 Pet. 1:2). By these words he reminds us, that if the shedding of his sacred blood is not to be in vain, our souls must be washed in it by the secret cleansing of the Holy Spirit. For which reason, also, Paul, speaking of cleansing and purification, says, “but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God,” (1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 4:15; Rom. 6:5; 11:17; 8:29; Gal. 3:27).

This does not mean that a Christian does not grow in holiness (sanctification). Nor does it mean that there are special human beings whose good works are of such a high quality that they should be made “saints” – to which, furthermore, Christians can pray (as a mediator between Christians and Christ). The Roman Catholic view of sanctification is far removed from the Bible.

Time to bake some biscuits while listening to the Institutes on my iPad app “Voicedream.”

I also dream dreams.

12 hours later. On CNN, the interviewer asked the Dean of the Catholic Westminster Cathedral of London – one of my favourite haunts when I was just out of my teens – whether Catholics pray to saints. He said no; they serve as an example. Tosh about the not-praying-to bit. For starters:

pope pius xpadre pio new

The prayer cards for the two new saints were probably printed a long way back. They must be selling well already.

If you don’t preach hell, you’re going there

In his three-part series on hell , John Gerstner relates how, after a strenuous Asian campaign to 25 countries, he and his wife had the opportunity to spend a few days on a Nile steamer. Gerstner spent those days reading very slowly through the Gospel of Matthew. He said that a central thread running through Matthew was Jesus speaking of hell, eternal hell.

It seems to me that a preacher who does not preach on hell is going there.

The Quadrilateral of scripture, tradition, reason and experience

The springboard of the Reformation and the turning point of Luther’s life and of the Christian church was the jubilant discovery that “the Just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16b quoted from Habakkuk 2:4). This doctrine is one of the five solas (“alones”) of the Reformation. Al Mohler, in his lecture “Sola Scriptura” (Sola13 Conference) discusses the relationship between scripture, tradition, experience and reason. “Luther said that we go to hell by tentative understanding of a tentative God about a tentative hell. The only way to heaven is to go to a real God that gives real salvation for a real heaven. It’s the therefores of Scripture that get us to the gospel. No therefore, no gospel. How do we get to the point of therefore? It is the Scripture. The Scripture does not give us a tentative understanding. It was the Church that discussed the tentative understanding of truth then. Today we have something similar. It’s called the Wesleyan quadrilateral. It’s a four sided figure that includes Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.”

Joey Cochrane’s abridged transcript of Mohler’s “Sola Scriptura” omits any mention of Mohler’s description, which Mohler gave in his lecture, of the Wesleyan “quadrilateral as a“perfectly square shape…equally-sided square” whose four side are experience, reason, tradition and scripture. Whether Cochrane omitted the “perfect square” bit because he thought it peripheral or because he understood that Mohler was misrepresenting Wesley, and didn’t want to, as I am doing here, show Mohler up, I don’t know. (I am awaiting a reply to my comment on Cochrane’s blog). This “squaring” of Wesley’s view – pivotal to Mohler’s critique of Wesley – does not square with the real meaning of the Wesleyan quadrilateral. I explain:

Mohler argues that the relationship between scripture, tradition, experience and reason is not symmetrical, where the four sides of the square are of equal length, which would make scripture of equal value to the other three sides. The implication is that each of these have “authority in your life” (Mohler). Tradition, for example, says Mohler, does play a role in the discussion; in our fallenness, “we are traditioned… We are the product of a cultural and intellectual tradition that brought us here… There’s a lot in tradition that we want to retrieve…Does reason – induction and deduction – belong in this discussion? Of course they do. God made us as rational creatures and the only way we can know anything… true or through reason.” And experience – “We are, says Mohler, experiential creatures… it is the dominant mode to many evangelicals… Experience is a pretty lousy test for truth.” For William James “truth happens to an idea,” so if the idea does not work, is not useful, it can’t be true. The nub of Mohler’s argument is that as a result of the Fall, reason, experience and tradition are finite, and therefore cannot be a reliable arbiter of truth. Only scripture is reliable in this regard: “only scripture rules” (Mohler). Scripture, God’s word in written form, is described by Luther as norma normans (“the rule that rules”), while reason, experience, tradition (e.g. creeds) are norma normata (“a rule that is ruled”).

In Hebrews 4:12 – 13 we read: 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” If scripture does not rule, we shall never “enter that rest,” as written in the preceding verse, which explains what “fore” (beginning of verse 12) is there for: 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For…

Mohler’s describes the Wesleyan quadrilateral as a “perfect square.” A quadrilateral ( four sides), however, is not restricted to a square (four equal sides). The quadrilateral can generate six different shapes.


Mohler’s depiction does not apply to Wesley. Here is the Ashbury Bible Commentary, which contradicts Al Mohler’s “symmetrical” (Mohler’s description of Wesley’s quadrilateral) understanding of Wesley. We read in the Ashbury Commentary, “In affirming sola scriptura… Wesley considered Scripture primary, but he recognized that other factors played complementary roles in matters of faith and practice. In particular, Wesley referred to tradition, reason, and experience as inextricably bound up with Scripture in our understanding of true Christianity.”So far, Mohler is on track. He veers off, though, with his “perfect square” description of Wesley. Perhaps the misunderstanding was inspired by his narrow defintion of “quadrilateral” as an “equally-sided” square. In truth, Mohler’s view, which is the Calvinist view, turns out similar to Wesley’s.

“In summary, continues the Ashbury commentary, Wesley affirmed the primary authority of Scripture while at the same time affirming the genuine—albeit secondary—religious authority of tradition, reason, and experience. He saw the four sources of religious authority as complementary and interdependent. As a shorthand reference to Scripture, tradition, reason and experience, some Wesley scholars refer to the ‘Wesleyan quadrilateral.’ Albert C. Outler coined the term “Wesleyan quadrilateral.” See “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral in John Wesley,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 20.1 (1985): 7-18. The term was not used by Wesley, and it should not be conceived as a geometric figure with equilateral sides and relations. Instead the quadrilateral should be conceived as a heuristic metaphor for studying the dynamic way in which Wesley understood the primacy of scriptural authority in concert with tradition, reason, and experience.” (Ashbury Bible Commentary).

Wesley’s quadrilateral would possibly look like this where the longest side represents scripture.

wesley's quadrilateral

I wonder how much Mohler’s superimposition of “square” on “quadrilateral” and how little his study of Wesley’s view of sola scriptura had to do with soiling a tad what in other respects was, as it usually is, an inspiring, original and informative presentation.
Finally, here is an alternate depiction of the relationship between scripture, tradition, reason and experience, which encapsulates what I suggest is a truer description of both Mohler’s and Wesley’s views of the relationship between scripture, tradition, reason and experience, which, as I have argued are one and the same. The upward arrows represent the Holy Spirit.

sola scriptura

I wonder what would happen if, on the way down, someone, say Pope Francis, detached one of the strings, tradition, and wrapped it round the chute, scripture. Luther, in his altercations with Rome, might have had much to say. What we know for sure is: splat.


Related: Reason, Experience, and God’s Truth: Where do I start?


Mysticism, philosophy and the unsearchable Trinity


In a previous post, The Incarnation or Substitutionary Atonement, which is the grand miracle? CS Lewis and John MacArthur say the former; George MacDonald, definitely not the latter, I began with this quotation from Hugh Binning on the Trinity: “All mysteries have their rise here, and all of them return hither. This is furthest removed from the understandings of men,—what God himself is, for himself is infinitely above any manifestation of himself. God is greater than God manifested in the flesh, though in that respect he be too great for us to conceive.” (Lecture X11 “Of The Unity Of The Godhead And The Trinity Of Persons”).

The Trinity is the bedrock of all the teachings of the Bible. What I’d like to raise here is the human desire of those seeking to understand the Christian God to penetrate into the great mystery of the Trinity. One tries to do so through two means: mysticism or philosophy.

Most calvinists accept ”mystical unions” – what other way is their around ”we’re seated in the heavenlies – but are uncomfortable with mystical (that is, very personal) encounters with God. Owing to the excesses in mysticism, they do have a point. Christians, though, are meant to experience (feel) the presence of Christ/God here and now. That is no big stretch, because when we are born again, we are lifted up to the heavenlies (no not necessarily “up”). Yet we remain caught ”up” in this corruptible body, struggling, sinning, and groaning for the redemption of our bodies. (See Inviting Jesus into your aorta: Personal and Mystical Union at the White Horse Inn).

In summary, here is the “mystical union” in a nutshell (the “Truth Project,” Lesson 8). The Mystical Union between:

A. Husband and wife

B. Christ and His church

The Body of Christ – Making many One (i) Many members – we form one body with unique gifts and roles (ii) The Mystery of Christ – “… for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (III) Jesus’ vision for the church 1. John 17: 20-23 ” …that all of them may be one …so the world may believe that you have sent me …may they be brought to complete unity …”

C. God and the individual – the Unio Mystica 1. Colossians 1:27 “Christ in you” 2. John 15:5 “If a man remains in me and I in him” 3. John 14:16-17 “for he lives with you and will be in you” 4. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 “God’s Spirit lives in you.” (See Of mysticism, cooking and them goose bumps).

So, mysticism does not have to – as someone said (I wish it wwere G.K. Chesterton) begin in a mist and end in a schism. The issue is how much can we know in this life about what the Bible calls the unsearchable doings (Job 5:9), judgements (Romans 11:33, greatness (Psalm 145:3), riches (Ephesians 3:8) of God, and – in our specific topic – about the Trinity.

Here is a great piece from Hugh Binning who deals with this human desire to unlock the Trinity. As you read, consider this question: Is Binning talking about philosophical/rational or mystical endeavours to penetrate the Trinity?

(I notify when I come to the end of Binning).

All mysteries have their rise here, and all of them return hither. This is furthest removed from the understandings of men,—what God himself is, for himself is infinitely above any manifestation of himself. God is greater than God manifested in the flesh, though in that respect he be too great for us to conceive.

There is a natural desire in all men to know, and, if any thing be secret and wonderful the desire is the more inflamed after the knowledge of it. The very difficulty or impossibility of attaining it, instead of restraining the curiosity of man’s spirit, doth rather incense it. Nitimur in vetitum is the fruit, the sad fruit we plucked and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If the Lord reveal any thing plainly in his word to men, that is despised and set at nought, because it is plain, whereas the most plain truths, which are beyond all controversy, are the most necessary, and most profitable, for our eternal salvation. But if there be any secret mystery in the Scriptures, which the Lord hath only pointed out more obscurely to us, reserving the distinct and clear understanding of it to himself, (Deut. xxix. 29.),—that is the apple which our accursed natures will long for, and catch after, though there be never so much choice of excellent saving fruit in the paradise of the Scriptures besides. If the ark be covered to keep men from looking into it, that doth rather provoke the curious spirit of man to pry into it, 1 Sam. vi. 10.

If the Lord show his wonderful glory in the mount, and charge his people not to come near, lest the glorious presence of God kill them, he must put rails about it, to keep them back, or else they will be meddling. Such is the unbridled license of our minds, and the perverse dispositions of our natures, that where God familiarly invites us to come,—what he earnestly presseth us to search and know,—that we despise as trivial and common, and what he compasseth about with a divine darkness of inaccessible light, and hath removed far from the apprehensions of all living, that we will needs search into, and wander into those forbidden compasses, with daring boldness. I conceive this holy and profound mystery is one of those “secret things” which it belongs to God to know, for who knoweth the Father but the Son, or the Son but the Father, or who knoweth the mind of God but the Spirit?

Yet the foolish minds of men will not be satisfied with the believing ignorance of such a mystery, but will needs inquire into those depths, that they may find satisfaction for their reason. But, as it happeneth with men who will boldly stare upon the sun, their eyes are dazzled and darkened with its brightness, or those that enter into a labyrinth, which they can find no way to come out, but the further they go into it, the more perplexed it is, and the more intricate, even so it befalls many unsober and presumptuous spirits, who, not being satisfied with the simple truth of God, clearly asserting that this is, endeavour to examine it according to reason, and to solve all the objections of carnal wit and reason, (which is often “enmity against God,”) not by the silence of the Scriptures, but by answers framed according to the several capacities of men. I say, all this is but daring to behold the infinite glory of God with eyes of flesh, which makes them darkened in mind, and vanishing in their expressions, while they seek to behold this inaccessible light, while they enter into an endless labyrinth of difficulties out of which the thread of reason and disputation can never extricate them or lead them forth. But the Lord hath showed us “a more excellent way,” though it may be despicable to men.

Man did fall from blessedness by his curious and wretched aim at some higher happiness and more wisdom; the Lord hath chosen another way to raise him up again, by faith rather than knowledge, by believing rather than disputing. Therefore the great command of the gospel is this, to receive with a ready and willing mind whatsoever the Lord saith to us, whatsoever it may appear to sense and reason, to dispute no more, to search no more into the secret of divine mysteries, as if by searching we could find them out “unto perfection,” but to believe what is spoken, “till the day break, and the shadows flee away,” and the darkness of ignorance be wholly dispelled by the rising of the Sun of righteousness. We are called then to receive this truth,—That God is one, truly one, and yet there are three in this one, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This, I say, you must believe, because the wisdom of God saith it, though you know not how it is, or how it can be. Though it seem a contradiction in reason, a trinity in unity, yet you must lead your reason captive to the obedience of faith, and silence it with this one answer, The Lord hath said it. If thou go on to dispute, and to inquire, “How can these things be?” thou art escaped from under the power of faith, and art fled into the tents of human wisdom, where thou mayest learn atheism, but no religion, for “the world by wisdom knew not God,” 1 Cor. i. 21.

End of binning.

Initially, I thought Binning was talking about mysticism. Both the mystical way and the rational/philosophical way lead away from biblical truth – and biblical experience of the Trinity.


The Calvinist Robot and the Arminian Zombie: Grammars of coming to faith.


Yesterday on James White’s Dividing Line, I witnessed once again William Lane Craig’s poor understanding of Ephesians 2, “7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”

Craig, like all Arminians (synergists) says that “this” in “and THIS is not your own doing, it is a gift of God…” cannot refer to faith because “this” is neuter while “faith” is feminine. But so is grace feminine. So then is grace not a gift of God? In this piece I examine why synergists (God offers faith and it’s up to our crass, radically corrupt, depraved swills to decide whether we want to be part of God’s select group) – make a mockery not only of faith but of grace, where the latter can only work if we allow it to. That’s not even getting it back to front. It’s the backslide of the Gospel.

Originally posted on OneDaring Jew:


Grammar police

Grammar police (Photo credit: the_munificent_sasquatch)

The term “grammar” has its origin in the Greek word for “letter,” gramma. “Grammar” used to be restricted to language, but no more. There’s now a grammar of all sorts of odds and togs, for example, a “grammar of fashion”: The larger the ‘vocabulary’ of someone’s closet, the more creative and expressive the wearer can be. If you were to attend Stanford University, you could dig into the “grammar of cuisine,” and slaver over such fare as “The structure of British meals.”And, if you are one of those who thinks deeper, there’s the grammar of the genetic code. (“Code” in linguistics is a another name for “grammar”). The reason why we can use the term “grammar” in so many diverse contexts is because the “grammar” of a system is simply the structure of interrelationships that undergirds that system, showing how…

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Where there is no vision: No more cutting and pasting a way to prosperity for this hermeneut

Why do so many hermeneuts get it wrong? Take, for instance, the distinction between exegesis (analysis of a text) and its application. Application to what? To life? Often “application” requires mutilating the context of a passage and applying it to the mutilator’s life.

Example: Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” What do many preachers do with this half a proverb – the likes of Adrian Stanley, Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, and the “Word of faith” people? They turn it into a sermon series or book on how to get a new vision for your life. Believers love it to pieces. Why do you think Christianity is growing so fast in many countries; in Nigeria and South Africa, for example. Envision your vision; see yourself well, see yourself with a good job, new car, the mortgage paid off. See yourself hounded and beaten for the faith; or for just being a drip – hmmm. It’s easy to catch these preachers with their hermeneutical pants down; if you really want to really. It’s not difficult to know where to look. Just read the bits before and/or the bits after the tasty morsels that these preachers feed you. Example: we return to the “vision” bit in Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” It has a context. Read the next bit in the verse: “but he that keeps the law, happy is he.” “Perish” in the KJV is not a good translation of the Hebrew פָּרַע para`. A better translation of Proverbs 29:18 is “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.”The Hebrew word for vision is חָזוֹן chazon (wrongly transliterated in the Blueletterbible as chazown (North American English pronunciation). Possible meanings of this word are 1. vision (in ecstatic state), 2. vision (in night), 3. vision, oracle, prophecy (divine communication).

Chazon in this verse means being able to grasp what God’s word emanating from the prophet’s mouth (not the vision God gives you) is saying about God’s law. If you take God’s law to heart by keeping it, you will be blessed. Here is John Calvin in his preface to his Institutes of the Christian Religion, addressing the French king: “

The characteristic of a true sovereign is, to acknowledge that, in the administration of his
kingdom, he is a minister of God. He who does not make his reign subservient to the divine glory,
acts the part not of a king, but a robber. He, moreover, deceives himself who anticipates long
prosperity to any kingdom which is not ruled by the sceptre of God, that is, by his divine word. For
the heavenly oracle is infallible which has declared, that ‘where there is no vision the people perish’ (Prov. 29:18).”

A word out of context has a dictionary (lexical) meaning but no useful (pragmatic) meaning. A word without a context is connected to nothing – in the real world – only to a dictionary.

Pastors, please, no more cutting and pasting your way to sermons and books – and prosperity.

Be blessed. Now plant your seed. Phones are now open.

Related posts:
Out of context: Where there is no vision
The revelamce and vision of the Bible

KJV or NASB? Of by and through and one less all to fight Arminians over

In the KJV Ephesians 3:9-10, I read:
9 And to make all (men) men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: 10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.

Re verse 10: I’m not so hot on 17th century English. I can’t make head or tail of verse 10. Who is intended to know the wisdom of God, the principalities or the church. All the other English translations on Bible Hub have “through the church.” That makes sense. Here is the New American Standard Bible (NASB):

9 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.

If that is not enough to madden King Jamesophiles, the NASB, in contrast to all other English translations on Bible Hub, follows the Alexandrian Greek text, it seems, by omitting “all” in verse 10.

10. and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things.

Whoopee for Alexandria, ’cause that’s one less “all’ to fight Arminians over.

Have to now “select all” in my word processor and paste it into WordPress. Bye y’aaahhhhl.

Archibald Alexander and how we come to faith: Thank God that he never depends on human understanding to bring us to faith


Have been listening to several podcasts on the Arminian aberration of the kissing cousins, foreknowledge of God, predestination and how a sinner comes to faith. The latest trio of podcasts by “Designofprovidence,” critiquing the Arminian view of predestination – this time from the “Eastern Othodox” author, Matthew Gallatin.

This prompted me to reblog this post.

Originally posted on OneDaring Jew:

God can use a crooked pencil to write straight

From the moment that Jesus entered his public ministry, people were divided. No surprises there; the human condition by nature is partition. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians writes:

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas [Peter]”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

In this article, I speak of Calvinists and Arminians. There is a sense in which the person “follows” Calvin or Arminius but…

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Pirate Christian Radio: Plundering galleys of drivel

 The world laughs at Christian sermons. And I don’t mean every Tom and Dick in the world; I mean the world “system.” There are many sermons that Christians should also laugh at – in the sense of Psalms 2:44 “He that sits in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.” These are effluent sermons volubling (lubloo – Russian for “I lurv”) from the mouths of people like Joel Osteen and Rick Warren; sermons on how you can have a beautiful life  and wife, and lose weight like Daniel. And plant your seed (in my garden. easy gro, bro) – because in so doing you are honouring God. If you want to have a good laugh in both senses of the word, and learn what the Bible really is about, share a barrel of  fun and rum with Chris Rosebrough.

Picture 30You deserve a rose, bro.

Faith and repentance: two sides of the same coin

Which comes first, faith or repentance? Here is John Calvin”

“Now, both repentance and forgiveness of sins – that is, newness of life and free reconciliation – are conferred on us by Christ, and both are attained by us through faith. As a consequence, reason and the order of teaching demand that I begin to discuss both at this point. However, our immediate transition will be from faith to repentance. For when this topic is rightly understood it will better appear how man is justified by faith alone, and simple pardon; nevertheless actual holiness of life, so to speak, is not separated from free imputation of righteousness. Now it ought to be a fact beyond controversy that repentance not only constantly follows faith, but is also born of faith. For since pardon and forgiveness are offered through the preaching of the gospel in order that the sinner, freed from the tyranny of Satan, the yoke of sin, and the miserable bondage of vices, may cross over into the Kingdom of God, surely no one can embrace the grace of the gospel without betaking himself from the errors of his past life into the right way, and applying his whole effort to the practice of repentance” (Calvin, Inst. III.iii.1).

Calvin says above “Now it ought to be a fact beyond controversy that repentance not only constantly follows faith, but is also born of faith.” I wonder, though, whether the Bible states that repentance follows faith. On this matter, here is Sinclair Ferguson

“Any confusion is surely resolved by the fact that when Jesus preached “the gospel of God” in Galilee, He urged His hearers, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14–15). Here repentance and faith belong together. They denote two aspects in conversion that are equally essential to it. Thus, either term implies the presence of the other because each reality (repentance or faith) is the sine qua non of the other” (Sinclair Ferguson, “Faith and Repentance”).

That seems more like it: faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin.

“Jerusalem Jerusalem” – John Piper’s tender (?) word to Pharisees in the parable of the prodigal son

The question I examine here is “What has the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15) got to do with Jerusalem Jerusalem?” The parable is not about church discipline and reconciliation, as in Stephen Davey’s “In Pursuit of Prodigals: A Primer on Church discipline and Reconciliation.”Jesus addresses the parable to the pharisees. The two sons in the parable are both Jews. The elder son represents a pharisee, the younger, a publican, a sinner. For Charles Spurgeon, the parable’s central focus is the younger brother – his sin, his misery, his penitence, his restoration (reconciliation, salvation). Here is Spurgeon:

Though it be true that all sinners are a great way off from God, whether they know it or not, yet in this particular instance, the position of the poor prodigal is intended to signify the character of one, who has been aroused by conviction, who has been led to abhor his former life, and who sincerely desires to return to God. I shall not, then, this morning, specially address the blasphemer, and the profane. [the elder son in the parable]. To him, there may be some incidental warning heard, but I shall not specially address such a character. It is another person for whom this text is intended: the man who has been a blasphemer, if you please, who may have been a drunkard, and a swearer, and what not, but who has now renounced these things, and is steadfastly seeking after Christ, that he may obtain eternal life. That is the man who is here said to be, though coming to the Lord, “a great way off.”Once again, there is another person who is not intended by this description, namely, the very great man, the Pharisee who thinks himself extremely righteous, and has never learned to confess his sin. You, sir, in your apprehension, are not a great way off. You are so really in the sight of God; you are as far from him as light from darkness, as the east is from the west; but you are not spoken of here. You are like the prodigal son, only that instead of spending your life righteously, you have run away from your Father, and hidden in the earth the gold which he gave you, and are able to feed upon the husks which swine do eat, whilst by a miserable economy of good works you are hoping to save enough of your fortune to support yourself here and in eternity. Your hope of self-salvation is a fallacy, and you are not addressed in the words of the text. It is the man who knows himself lost, but desires to be saved, who is here declared to be met by God, and received with affectionate embraces.”

What about the elder son? The parable is not only about the younger son but the elder son as well; after all, the elder son represents the pharisees whom Jesus is addressing. As Robert Leroe points out in his “The prodigal sons.”

Here was the best of homes. The father has both compassion and wealth. He loves his sons and is concerned for their happiness. Both sons are far from home–one geographically, both spiritually. To both He earnestly, tenderly calls: ‘Come home, come home, you who are weary come home.’”

John Piper’s “A Tender word to the pharisees” focuses on the elder son:

This Sunday I preached at Watermark Church in Dallas under the title “A Tender Word for Pharisees.” There are not many tender words for Pharisees in the mouth of Jesus. Mainly his words to Pharisees are tough, even terrifying (see Matthew 23). The most moving words of tenderness for Pharisees are in Luke 15:25–31, the words of the father to the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son… The father says, “All that is mine is yours” — Verse 31: “My child, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31).

There is a massive inheritance coming. And the father only hints at the condition: “Child . . . all that I have is yours.” Jesus leaves unsaid the possibility that the elder son will remain forever on the porch with the slaves, rather than sit at the table of mercy as a grateful child, a son. He leaves unmentioned what he said in Matthew 15:11–12, ‘Many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.’ Not here. Not in this parable. Here it is all tenderness toward the Pharisees. The message of the parable ends with tenderness to both brothers: Come in from the foreign country of misery, and come in from the porch of hard-earned merit. Both are deadly. But inside is the banquet of grace, and forgiveness, and fellowship with an all-satisfying Father.”

And now to Jerusalem – where I shall argue we have no business. In the last few minutes (36:42 ff) of his sermon (on youtube here). Piper says:

Four chapters later, in Luke chapter 19, verse 41, Luke says , “When Jesus drew near to the city, Jerusalem, he wept over it saying (Piper is reading – not sure whether the actual verse), ‘would you [then he looks up], even you have known the day of peace, and now it is hid from your eyes.’ In other place [I think he means 'in other words." Piper is looking at his audience with arms outstretched] I would have gathered you like a hen gathers her chicks; he’s looking on Jerusalem filled with pharisees and people saying crucify him, crucify him because he’s wrecking our legal system of merit.”

if Piper had not taken is eye off the page, what would he have read in Luke 19:42ff after breaking off after “would you?”

41b And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Nothing here of tender pleading at all. Also nothing about hens and chicks, mentioned by Piper. For these, we need to back track to Luke 13:34 (in italics), which I quote in context:

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that ea prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ 34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Piper said earlier “There are not many tender words for Pharisees in the mouth of Jesus. Mainly his words to Pharisees are tough, even terrifying (see Matthew 23).” True. Indeed, in Matthew 23 there are a half dozen “woe to you scribes and Pharisees,” followed by our returned from AWOL hen and chicks. (The hen and chicks also appear in Luke 13, quoted above).

Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Note “you are not willing” in the above passage. James White mentions instances where Arminians quote the above verse to buttress their case that Jesus, the failing Messiah (failing because, they say, he sovereignly set himself up to fail out of respect for human free will) is longing for sinners to come to him but they don’t come because they are not willing, which, they say, proves that it’s up to you whether you come to Christ or not Here is how some Arminians quote the verse: 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered YOU as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.”

I have, like James White, heard on several occasions the mutilation of “your children.” Woe is and to me, I never took note of the names of these Arminian recalcitrants. I never thought, though, to hear a Calvinist, in this instance, John Piper, misquote it. But slips happen. If only Piper had not lifted his eyes off the text – to increase the poignancy of the moment, perhaps? – he would’ve seen that he could not have used the text in front of him to exemplify Jesus’s tenderness towards the Pharisees. Maybe his eyes, Piper being a good reader, were streaking far ahead of his voice, and when he saw what the passage actually said and saw himself heading in the wrong direction – I’m not saying he panicked – he sensibly continued at lib. But look where such ostensible sensible liberties led him. Recall the passage Piper began to read “Would you…” and then abandoned – Luke 19:42 ff:

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

In the above passage, Jesus is not longing to gather the Pharisees/leaders like a hen gathers her chicks; he is longing to gather their children but they are not willing to allow their children to come, and consequently are condemned by Jesus.

In conclusion, in the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus does have a tender word for the Pharisees, but exactly the opposite attitude in the “O Jerusalem Jerusalem” passages. In the parable of the prodigal son, the father saw the son far off. In Piper’s sermon as well, there was something far off.

So should this booboo make me, or you. write Piper off. Don’t be a klutz! He’s one of my favourite preachers and a very good theologian.