In Flanders Fields

This famous poem is perhaps too familiar to us. I’d like to offer a literary analysis of some of the ideas in this poem that may not be perfectly obvious on the surface.

Firstly, notice the poppies. Poppies are a symbol of forgetfulness. Opium is made from poppies, and opium is the drug of forgetfulness. Twice this poem mentions poppies, once at the beginning and once at the end. In the first instance, it is as if creation intends to forget the dead. In the last instance, it is the dead who will NOT forget, even though the forgetfulness of the drugged sleep of death seeks to overcome their awareness. Notice the neat chiasm of the first and last lines, forming a bracket around the middle: Flanders fields-poppies…poppies Flanders fields. Notice also the careful distinction between “blow” in the first line and “grow” in the second to last line. Forgetfulness only stirs at first, but it grows over time. This would be to “break faith.” Breaking faith means either forgetting and taking for granted what was won by the dead, or it means failing to protect in the future the liberty won in the past, or both.

Secondly, notice the larks. Larks are a symbol of laissez-faire attitudes. They may be “bravely singing” (“bravely” here does not have a positive connotation, in my opinion), and yet the noise of war drowns them out. Such attitudes about war are unseemly.

Thirdly, notice that John McCrae actually gave the dead a voice here: “our place…We are the dead.” This is a remarkable literary device. The dead speak, though they die. It is another indication that the dead are not unaware of what happens in the world. The dead are watching…and judging the living.

Fourthly, notice the torch, always the symbol of liberty. This symbol passes from the dead to the living. The call on the living is to protect it and fight for it, as the dead have in the past. “To hold it high” also implies using liberty for that for which it was intended.

In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

How Many Times?

Does a guy have to tell a falsehood before people stop believing him? The Bible clearly teaches us that we cannot know the day or the hour of Christ’s return, and yet Harold Camping claims to know exactly when that will happen. This from someone who has told everyone to leave the church. Now he’s claiming that Christ did come back on Saturday, just in a more spiritual sense. How is this not special pleading, trying to force the facts to fit the theory? It looks just a little too convenient for this utter skeptic to believe. Harold Camping is a heretic. He can’t even say the ecumenical creeds, for crying out loud. You know, the sections that go “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church”? How credible is it for Camping to claim that he loves Jesus but can’t stand His bride? Plainly, he does not have the eyes of faith to see the bride of Christ as she will be, as pictured in the end of Revelation, which is how I argue we should ultimately see the church. Camping has disgusted me for years, and this weasel-wording around his utter failure does not help the Christian cause in any way, shape, or form. He has made a laughing-stock out of his version of Christianity, which isn’t mine, or 95% of the rest of the church’s, either. What he keeps on failing to realize (and this is only if he is sincere!) is that his predictions bring shame to the name of Christ, and ridicule to God’s people. He needs to repent immediately. He is a false teacher, and is leading people astray from the faith of the Bible.

Asking the Wright Questions

(Posted by Paige)

I have recently finished reading N. T. Wright’s 600-some page Jesus and the Victory of God, published in 1996; and I am left with these questions, among others. Maybe some of you have similar ones, maybe some of you have answers:

1. Where do I go for a substantive review of Wright’s portrayal of Jesus here? At first try I was only able to find one careful review online (plus one or two rather complimentary speeches from the Wheaton conference last spring), leaving me to wonder whether maybe things were written 15 years ago that don’t have a web presence now?

2. Given the surge in Wright’s popularity (and notoriety) related to his Pauline studies, is there a new need for critical appraisal of his earlier works? Did his Jesus not garner as much attention because Wright himself was not yet so much in the limelight?

3. Are pastors and others noticing a new interest in Wright’s writings among their flocks (or colleagues), and would it be helpful to have some serious summaries & treatments of his earlier thinking on hand?

Thanks in advance for any thoughts you have on this.

Need a Lift?

One of the most constant dangers that Christians face is the temptation to think that our sin is greater than God’s grace. It isn’t. Paul points this out rather extensively in Romans 5:15-17, where the entire theme is “how much more” is God’s grace than all sin in the world. Phillip Melanchthon’s commentary on the passage is worth quoting here for its pastoral sensitivity:

“The godly should diligently consider this superiority of grace in order that they may oppose it to the magnitutde of their sin and to their present weakness. No sin, no matter how great, ought to be considered greater than grace (p. 139 of the Kramer translation).”

Inerrancy and Justification

by Reed DePace

I recently finished reading the most recent issue of the Westminster Theological Journal. In it Gregory K. Beale has an excellent article in which he offers an exegetical defense of the necessity of inerrancy. I won’t offer a review of that article here, but rather encourage y’all to get a hold of it. It is pretty good.

In the article Beale uses God’s standards for prophets speaking His word to make the case that inerrancy is indeed an essential and necessary characteristic of the Bible. Centered mostly in an excursive in Revelation, Beale offers a pretty convincing argument. (But, of course, I’m already a kool-aide drinker, so what do I know?)

As I read the argument I was reminded of a passage pressed upon me in my early days of discipleship, Deut. 18:20-22:

20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’ – 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

So, is not God’s word written by men called under the standards of prophetic ministry? Yes, of course. And do these standards not require that their words be true? Yes, of course. Specifically, is not the characteristic of truth in the above passage specifically historical truthfulness, that is accuracy in terms of what actually does happen in time? The passage certainly does say that.
So, if it be maintained that God’s word does indeed contain historical inaccuracies (e.g., no real Adam), does this not mean, at the very least, that Moses (and any inspired editor of the Pentateuch), fails the Deuteronomical test for a prophet speaking for God?

At the very least, we should not “be afraid” of Moses. Let’s throw out any book he had a hand in writing, and of course any book dependent upon his writings. (Uhh, wait a minute, that includes the whole Bible.)

Wait, here is a worse thought! Suppose you want to maintain inspiration, but deny inerrancy. That would mean that Moses really was speaking for God. So, if there are errors in the Bible, that would mean God Himself is guilty of being a false prophet. Now we’re facing a real dilemma. If false prophets should die, God should die for authoring error in His own name.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sure not going to start throwing stones at God. Instead, I’m going to stick with my conviction about inerrancy. It is much simpler to believe the Bible is what is says it is, God’s own inspired, infallible, AND inerrant word, than to spend the time trying to figure a way out of the mental knots one ties himself in when he denies inerrancy.

God’s word is inerrant. Stay away from the stones.

Reed DePace

Newest Volume in REC

Inerrancy and Hermeneutic

(Posted by Paige)

In our recent thread on inerrancy, some titles were mentioned as worthwhile reads for those who wanted to learn more on the topic. I was curious about this one, a collection of essays by Westminster East faculty published in 1988. Despite the extremely low-budget cover, it is no cheap paperback; but if you are eking out a seminaryish education by hook or by crook, you should count Inerrancy and Hermeneutic as pretty inexpensive tuition. Here’s a brief rundown of what you will find inside:

A Historical Prologue: Inerrancy, Hermeneutic, and Westminster (Harvie Conn)
Both a historical survey and an introduction to the book, this chapter traces trends in hermeneutics and Westminster’s creative responses to them.

Inerrancy and Westminster Calvinism (Clair Davis)
A treatise on the submission of the believing scholar to the limits of the Word.

How does the Bible Look at Itself? (Sinclair Ferguson)
“We subscribe to biblical infallibility not on the grounds of our ability to prove it, but because of the persuasiveness of its testimony to be God’s own Word.” (64)

Old Princeton, Westminster, and Inerrancy (Moises Silva)
A helpfully nuanced discussion of the doctrine of inerrancy.

What does God Say Through Human Authors? (Vern Poythress)
A look at the issue of dual authorship from a canonical perspective.

The NT’s Use of the OT (Dan McCartney)
An examination of the NT authors’ Christological approach to OT texts, and a critique of an exclusively grammatical-historical method that neglects the authoritative guidance of special revelation.

Oral Tradition (Bruce Waltke – remember, this is 1988)
A survey of ANE & other societies where oral recitation plays a part, concluding that as long as writing has existed, even oral compositions have been preserved in permanent form (as opposed to, say, the material in Genesis gradually accruing new features over a long period of oral transmission).

Storytellers and Poets in the Bible: Can Literary Artifice be True? (Tremper Longman III)
A helpful discussion of fiction, nonfiction, and the deliberately crafted “literariness” of the Scriptures.

Harmonization: A Help and a Hindrance (Raymond Dillard)
The pros and cons of harmonistic exegesis.

The NT as Canon (Dick Gaffin)
My favorite of the more technical pieces: the canon is closed because God’s pattern is one of redemptive acts followed by verbal revelation, and the redemptive acts are done for now.

Normativity, Relevance, and Relativism (Harvie Conn)
I admit to being completely baffled by this one, lost somewhere in the hermeneutical spiral. Our horizons did not fuse. Am I to consider myself too culturally embedded to understand the Bible at all, or only able to understand it because I am culturally embedded? Not sure.

The Use of the Bible in Ethics (David Clowney)
This is a fine piece on living in Christian love and wisdom, receiving the commands of the Lord from the inerrant Scriptures and learning to work them out in creative and godly ways.

Bible Authority: When Christians Disagree (George Fuller & Sam Logan)
I read this one first, and I can cheerfully attest that it will not please everybody. The authors acknowledge that even true Christians can be inconsistent in their views of Scripture, and they promote cordiality in discussion, though they do not shy away from the responsibility of speaking words of correction and rebuke.

Evangelicals and the Bible: A Bibliographic Postscript (John Muether)
The librarian of WTS offers an annotated bibliography on inerrancy and hermeneutics, grouping the references by time periods.


The Literary Connection of Matthew 24 to Matthew 25

Jesus’ discourse on the last times in Matthew 24-25 is tightly connected and parallel in construction. This has important theological and pastoral ramifications. Let me demonstrate.

Two mini parables end chapter 24: the parable about the thief and the master of the house, and the parable about the faithful and wise servant who is doing what his master commanded when the master returns. What follows in chapter 25 is three large sections, two of them definitely parables, and the last section possibly a parable, or perhaps an extended metaphor. The first parable of chapter 25 is the parable of the ten virgins (five were wise in being prepared, five were foolish in being completely unprepared). The second parable is of the talents, again having wise servants (with the 5 and the 2 talents) and the foolish servant (with the 1 talent). The chapter ends up with the separation of all people into sheep and goats. For our purposes here, I want to point out the parallel order: the ultimate once-for-all preparedness of faith in Christ precedes and grounds the subsidiary preparedness of obedience. Faith is the foundation for obedience. The master of the house who is wise in watching for the intruder is the faithful servant doing what his master commanded when the master comes back, who is in turn the wise virgin who prepared by bringing extra oil, who in turn is the faithful servant multiplying his talents, and is the sheep at the end. The (implied) foolish master of the house who did not watch is the foolish servant who beat his fellow servants, who is the foolish virgin caught without oil, who in turn is the foolish servant who hid the talent in the ground, and is the goat at the end. There are two parallel threads here marking out (ultimately) the sheep and the goats.

Even further, however, notice that in both chapter 24 and chapter 25 the ultimate preparedness comes before and grounds the subsidiary preparedness of obedience. You have to be the wise master of the house in order to be expecting the master’s return and behaving accordingly. Similarly, in the parallel chapter 25, you have to be the wise virgin in order to be the wise servant multiplying talents. Faith always leads to obedience. It is the source of obedience. The indicative grounds the imperative, as it does in all of Paul’s letters, and as it does in the Ten Commandments.

Going back a bit further into chapter 24, we notice that Jesus is setting up these two threads by talking about preparedness: some will expect Jesus to come back any day, while others will treat it the same way as those sinners in Noah’s day. Going back even further, Jesus gives us signs of the times, some of which signs apply to the destruction of Jerusalem, while others apply to the end of the world (see the programmatic question of the disciples in verse 3). It all hangs together: prepare for the Lord’s coming by believing in Christ, and obeying Christ, and obeying Christ because you believe in Him.

Yet Another Bible Translation

I see that yet another Bible translation is coming down the pike. After watching the people on the video moan and groan because they can’t read any of the older translations (maybe it’s because they can’t read much at all), we are treated to a translation that gets things wrong right off the bat in Genesis 1:1. Their translation: “When God began to create the heavens and the earth—the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters—.” They treat verse 2 as a parenthesis, followed by verse 3 being the climax. This translation says something vastly different about physical matter than the more traditional interpretation does. The CEB assumes that matter was already existing when God began to do His creating work. Since time did not exist before creation, this translation assumes (or at the very least strongly suggests!) the eternality of matter. One wonders why in the world they opted for this translation when the vast majority of scholars and translations have examined it and rejected it. It smacks of trying to be edgy, and I despise that in Bible translation.

In terms of style and readibility, what does this translation offer that the New Living Translation doesn’t offer? Is the NLT now too archaic? Or let’s even talk about, say, the NIV. Why is the NIV now so incredibly unreadable? And these are only those which are on the dynamic equivalent side of things. Is the ESV, NKJV, or even RSV so very difficult? I would even argue that the KJV is not nearly as difficult as people think. Those poor people must not have searched very long if they couldn’t find a Bible they could understand. One has to make a little effort, or does the translating world now think that we have to dumb everything down to the lowest possible level? I admit to being harsh here. That is because I do not believe that the proliferation of translations out there is doing us any favors. Now we have a niche translation for every possible sector of society, and a resulting Babel of confusion when it comes to biblical literacy (I wonder whether that even exists anymore).

In terms of modern translations, my two favorites are the HCSB and the ESV. I especially like the translation philosophy of the HCSB, which the dynamic equivalent folks need to pay far more attention to. But as I am reading my KJV through this year, in honor of its 400th anniversary, I am finding that with a little perseverance, the KJV is not difficult.

Don’t we have enough English translations now? We have them on every possible spot on the translation philosophy spectrum, and we have them on every possible spot on the conservative/liberal spectrum. We have them on every possible spot on the spectrum of this supposed criterion of “readibility.” Scholars really need to find something else to do with their time.

Great Article on Matthew 18 and Public Discourse

D. A. Carson weighs in on theological controversies and the consequences of blowing the whistle, and why people are often wrong in positing a necessity to “follow Matthew 18” before publishing. In the PCA’s Book of Church Order, we have clear distinctions between personal and general offences, and then a further distinction between public and private offences.

The first distinction is between personal and general offences. A personal offence is something that is committed against nameable people, whereas a general offence has no such reference (BCO 29). The distinction between public and private is equally important here. “Private” means an offence known only to a few, whereas “public” means an offence known to the public.

These distinctions are important when it comes to the accusations of Ninth Commandment violations that are constantly being thrown about in the PCA these days. It is often assumed that because person A didn’t go talk personally to person B about person B’s public teaching, that therefore person A violated the Ninth Commandment. As Carson says, this is a methodological question, not a question about Matthew 18. When Peter was violating the gospel by his practice in Galatians 2, Paul did not go to him privately, seeking to make sure he fully understood him. No, he rebuked Peter to his face without any sort of preamble whatsoever. I might also add here that if it were necessary to talk to a theologian to ensure that one understood him, then we could never understand dead theologians. One’s teaching is, as Carson notes, a general thing. It is not private, and it is not personal. Therefore Matthew 18 does not apply. One could, out of mere courtesy, go to the theologian to seek to make sure one understood him, but this is not required either by the Ninth Commandment, or by Matthew 18.