The problem of self-esteem seems to be evergreen. There are those on the left who, like a broken record, will claim that almost all our problems are due to a low self-esteem. The solution seems to be that everyone should find a way to raise their own self-esteem, feel good about themselves, such that they will no longer feel depressed.

On the other hand, there are those who are in favor of such inward self-loathing that the image of God seems to disappear. There don’t appear to be very many of these kinds of people around today, but I have no doubt that there are some, especially among the more suicidal types.

As is so often the case, the truth lies somewhere in between. However, in order to see the truth about self-esteem, we need to nuance the discussion. It is not a matter of whether we should have high or low self-esteem. Instead, it is a question of which way (or concerning what) we should have self-esteem, and which way we should not.

One reason for having a proper and relatively high self-esteem is that the image of God resides in us. Any view of self-esteem that refuses to recognize this runs the risk of degrading God Himself. Some conservative reactions to the whole self-esteem movement seem to have fallen into this over-reaction. I was one of these once upon a time. A right estimation of ourselves cannot leave the image of God out of the picture. The image of God requires respect, both in ourselves and in others. We must not let the opposite extremes of the self-esteem movement blind us to the fact that many people loathe the image of God that is in themselves, and wrongly so.

The more common mistake, of course, is to press self-esteem so far upon us all that no problems are even to be mentioned. Sin is ignored. The distortion of the image of God that is here by way of the Fall is ignored. This is the main failure of the self-esteem crowd. Are we to esteem that which is not estimable? Are we to esteem that which the Bible calls despicable?

The Bible commends self-loathing if it is connected to the rightly loathsome thing (namely, our sin). See Ezekiel 6:9, for instance. The right balance here is to esteem highly the image of God in us, and to loathe the distortion that sin brings.


Narcissism in Ministry

I have been doing a little bit of reading on narcissism recently for various reasons, including a realization that I have some characteristics of this mental condition. There are many ways of defining narcissism, but probably the easiest way to define it is to remember the ancient myth from which the condition gets its name: Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in the pool. Words like “ingrown,” “egotistical,” “selfishness” will readily come to mind in defining this condition. Being wrapped up in oneself might be the best single description we could use. Another definition I have seen goes something like this: the primary characteristic of narcissism is an inappropriate lack of boundaries between the narcissist and the other person, whom he will attempt to use in some way. The narcissist sees the other person as an extension of himself. So, the other person exists to fulfill the narcissist’s needs.

One of the things that has been interesting in the literature so far is that the authors I have read agree that our culture encourages narcissism. It is a respectable sin. We give huge amounts of both criticism and idol-worship to the rich and famous, and both of these things encourage narcissism. The fact of the matter is that pastors get this at both ends as well. We have people who love to encourage us, and we have people who love to criticize us. It is just as easy to get self-complacent with the adulation as it is to get defensive about the criticism. Without the grace of God, pastors will VERY often allow this two-pronged engine to drive us into full pathological narcissism. The ministry is all about the minister at that point. The minister usurps the place of Jesus Christ. He becomes the personal lord and savior of his flock. You know that your minister has a big problem with this if he both flares up at the criticism and practically fawns over those people who praise him. What is interesting about this mental condition is that the situation is usually encouraged, while the word describing the situation is feared.

However, it can actually be a relief to know that there is a name for this kind of malady. A lot of people cringe mightily when they hear the term “narcissism.” However, the term (in the literature) is used to describe a range of symptoms. Some people, like myself, have some but not all of the symptoms. It might therefore be more accurate to say that such a person has narcissistic tendencies.

For the pastor who has this, the hardest part is admitting it. Once it is admitted, however, in a very real sense, half the battle is over. Most pastors know from counseling others what needs to happen for people to become less wrapped up in themselves: things like attending the means of grace, service to others, evangelism, and simply making up one’s mind that they will be interested in other people’s lives for the sake of the other person, and not for what he can get out of it.

How do you know if you or someone you know is a narcissist? Here are some clues. 1. The person cannot receive criticism of any kind, no matter how gently phrased. Typically, the narcissist will turn the criticism back on the person offering it. The narcissist gets so good at this kind of deflection that the one trying to offer criticism will be made to feel extremely guilty. 2. The narcissist turns every conversation into something about himself. 3. The narcissist cannot converse on topics that do not immediately interest him. 4. The narcissist cannot understand why anyone cannot drop everything and do something for him.

What can a congregation do if their pastor is a narcissist? First of all, and most importantly, pray, pray, and pray some more. Constantly keep your pastor in prayer, especially about this issue, if it is known that he has a problem with it. Secondly, be very careful about how criticism and praise come to the pastor. Encouragement is very important to a pastor, so we cannot go to a position where the congregation decides it will never encourage the pastor, lest he “get a big head.” The Bible itself commands us to encourage and pray for our church leaders. So, this is not an option. The question is this: how do we do this in a way that will both build him up and not feed the narcissism? My suggestion is this: phrase the encouragement in terms of praising the Lord for how He has used the pastor instrumentally. That way the pastor knows that his labor is not in vain, but he is also reminded that God provides the growth and gets the glory. Start the sentence by saying, “The Lord has been using you to…”

Criticism can feed narcissism just as thoroughly as inordinate praise can. There will be times when a pastor needs to be brought up short. However, there is a way to do this and a way not to do this. Most of the time, when a criticism comes the way of the pastor, the congregant simply lashes out without any kind of thinking whatsoever. They are angry and upset, and so they just blast the pastor. The congregant needs to make a distinction in his mind between two things. Firstly, is the hurt caused by a difference in perspective about what the ministry is about? Or is it caused by a genuine offense? These are two very different things. No congregant should ever blast the pastor because they see ministry differently. Instead, they should take up the difference of perspective in a calm, reasonable conversation about it. If the hurt is caused by a genuine offense, then the proper course is to tell the pastor in as calm a voice as possible, what the particular action (or lack thereof) made them feel. Do not turn the pastor’s offense into an offense right back at him. This is done so often these days. The offended person escalates the conflict because they want to make the offender hurt as much as they do. The goal of talking about it is reconciliation. Nothing is accomplished by lashing back. Nothing is gained by attacking the personal character of the pastor because of just one offense. Remember to aim with a rifle, not a shotgun. Concentrate on the one issue at hand, and do not ever broaden the scope of the discussion beyond the one single issue. Oftentimes, when a congregant has a problem, they “pile on.” Everything they dislike about their minister comes out in one unhealthy deluge. This is not healthy, and will usually put a pastor on the defensive, which is best avoided at all costs, especially if the pastor is tempted to narcissism.

I believe that this issue is under-addressed in seminaries, and is certainly under-addressed by Christian authors. I did not find a single Christian book on narcissism. They are all written by secular psychologists. This is a very intriguing fact to me. Can it be that narcissism is so much winked at in our society (and even encouraged!) that the Christian church does not even see it as a problem? I believe, on the contrary, that it is a far more widespread problem than any of us imagine.

PCRT Seminar: Major Approaches to Creation, Part 1 (Derek Thomas)

(Posted by Paige)

[I owe this to Lane in return for a delicious Italian meal, good company, and the privilege of hearing him sing “And Can It Be” – just amazing. Sorry this one wasn’t live; I still don’t know how he does that, even after watching!]

I chose Derek Thomas’s seminar because I’d just finished reading his Job commentary with my 14-year-old, and I only belatedly realized I’d assigned myself to write up what Thomas dubbed a particularly “complex, difficult, divisive issue.” (That is a short “i” in the middle there; he’s Welsh.) So, here goes. Please don’t shoot the messenger. Please do read everything with a Welsh accent.

There was a lot of content in this presentation, so this will take two parts.

To begin with his endpoint: as the PCA study committee also affirmed, there are several views of creation that can be held without threat to inerrancy. While Thomas would personally subscribe to about 1.5 of the views he presented (on which see part two), he acknowledged that several other views were the convictions of scholars he respects. That said, there are lines in the sand past which inerrancy is no longer viable. The three non-negotiables he mentioned were creation ex nihilo, the special creation of man, and the historical, biblical individual named Adam. (I suspect there may have been more examples in his mind, but he didn’t get to them before Q&A time.)

Before describing any particular views of creation, Thomas dwelt on the tension that exists between biblical and scientific worldviews regarding the nature of the universe. He noted that evolution was not really a scientific theory, but rather “a philosophy, a worldview, an epistemology that affects ethics, morals, and standards.” Even the Big Bang theory moves beyond science and into theology when it tries to address origins (i.e., what happened before this singularity?). “Theologians should get antsy when scientists do theology – generally they do it pretty badly.”

Still, as the church we don’t want to commit another embarrassing error along the lines of geocentrism; it may be healthy to be skeptical of science, but “not to the extent we look foolish.” Thomas acknowledges that we trust science for many things (e.g., “If they’re going to cut me open and remove bits of me, I am going to have to trust the science”). Yet there is no way to reconcile even a generous 7-Day-Creation age of the universe (50,000 years ago? 200,000?) with scientific claims – 13.77 billion years – without doing something radical to the biblical account. And this we may not do.

In any case, “we need a degree of modesty when talking about these issues.” Science may be wrong; it is changing, not a constant. And theology may be wrong – the Bible is inerrant, but its interpreters are not.

Thomas also cautioned us to remember that there is a distinction between the Neo-Darwinian viewpoint (represented by Richard Dawkins) and the worldview of Darwin himself. Darwin’s deism was “ungodly, he had no gospel”; and yet he posited that God creates a few primal forms and always assumed a fixity of species (i.e., he did not advocate trans-species evolution). “That is 13.77 billion years away from Neo-Darwinism,” which has no fixed point of origin and traces “an unbroken line from mollusk to man.” This view is now the most dominant philosophy in modern thought…and it introduces the absorbing question, What might man ultimately become??

Speaking of evolution, we must remember that any so-called Christian view of creation that calls into question the historical, biblical Adam has dropped away from inerrancy. Thomas stresses the adjective biblical here because there are those who suggest that “there was a [historical] dude called Adam that God singled out from other hominids” to endow with the divine image. He referenced Dennis Alexander [dates??] who believed that hominids were around for a couple hundred thousand years (and had acquired language!) before any one of them was singled out by God for homo divinus status. John Stott unfortunately adopted this view. It introduces the conundrum of whether Adam & Eve’s parents were human – or a source of food. (And what happened to all those other hominids? What did they become? Hmmm.)

Closer to home we have Peter Enns asserting that Paul’s endorsement of the historical, biblical Adam can be disregarded because Paul was an ancient man, a product of his times…and we know so much better now about human origins. In Derek Thomas’ wry assessment, “That isn’t just a slippery slope – that’s an Alpine slope!”

Stay tuned for part two…

Fifth Plenary Address: The Bible and Evolution (Rick Phillips)

Did science correct the Bible in the case of Galileo? Or was the interpretation of Joshua incorrect? Does evolution correct our interpretation of Genesis 1-2? Even advocates of evolution will admit that if Genesis is teaching literal history, then it rules out evolution. The species in Genesis were created by God according to their kind. People who advocate evolution posit a non-literal reading of Genesis 1. Are we saying that Genesis 1 teaches science? No, but it DOES teach history. Objections from the Biologos crowd will be that Genesis 1 is poetic. Genre analysis tells us that Genesis 1 is a classic example of historic Hebrew narrative, NOT poetry. It does not have parallelism, but vav-consecutive. Does the supernaturalism of Genesis 1 rules out the possibility of historical narrative, as Keller says? No. Even the presence of more highly exalted language does not rule out historical narrative, as Hebrew poetry itself shows us, since Hebrew poetry can still legitimately refer to historical events. The same objections made against the historical narrative of Genesis 1 could be made against John.

Do Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 conflict? No. Genesis 1 is a wide-angle lens, whereas Genesis 2 is a telephoto lens on day 6. The hermeneutics of the Biologos crowd subordinates the authority of the Bible to the higher authority of secularist science. On the one hand, we have fallible scientists, who have mixed motives, and mixed intellectual capacities, working with limited data. On the other hand, we have God, who has no fallibility, completely holy motives, absolute intellectual capacity, and working with ALL the data. Which authority is higher? Surely it is God.

Another casualty of this Biologos perspective is the doctrine of man. Man is no longer unique, but is on the same level as the animals. But when God made the animals, He created them by fiat. When He created man, He used His own “hands,” forming Adam personally from the dust of the earth. Psalm 8 does not say, “You made him a little higher than the animals,” but rather associates us with the higher beings, “You made him a little lower than the angels.” Modern secularism directs humanity (already having problems with self-loathing!) to their association with the animals. This is not calculated to solve the problems of despair so rampant in today’s society. Evolution is compatible with racism. Evolutionists are not necessarily racist, but evolution is compatible with racism, because a logical conclusion of evolution is that there are inferior strands of DNA that need to be weeded out. Can anyone say Final Solution? Furthermore, sin will need to be redefined as a form of imperfection, rather than transgression of God’s law.

The Bible says that death is the result of the Fall. Evolution says that death is the mechanism of improving the gene pool. According to evolution, then, death is good, and part of the world which cannot be eliminated. Death is no longer the intruder that the Bible says it is. Leviticus law says that death is bad. Life is part of the camp, and death is to be outside the camp. If Jesus conquered death, how can evolution be true, when evolution says that death is how progress comes to the world? Revelation 21:4 tells us explicitly: death shall be no more. One possible answer is that the Fall is only resulting in spiritual death, not physical death. This is inconsistent with Genesis 3 compared with Genesis 5. The refrain “and he died” is a reflection on the curse of the Fall. Revelation tells us that the first death and the second death are related, but for the grace of God. Christianity says that physical death is wrong! When will you get over the death of your loved one? Ultimately, the RESURRECTION! Christianity is never reconciled to death. If evolution is true, then God pronounced death good. This is absolutely blasphemous!

The problem with wanting to be respectable in society by believing in evolution is that the resurrection of Christ, the miraculous nature of the virgin birth, the miracles of Christ are all equally distasteful to the secularists as creation.

Carl Trueman’s Seminar

Original Sin in Modern Theology

He plans on dealing with four theologians (Friedrich Schleiermacher, Walter Rauschenbusch, Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann). Modern theology, in losing scriptural authority, has lost its unifying factor. He seeks to look at the implications of their project. His basic conclusion is that, in modern theology, sin is horizontal, and not vertical. That is, it brings about enmity between people, and has no implications with a relationship to God.

Friedrich Schleiermacher: original sin became distasteful, and therefore ignored. He wanted to rebuild Christian dogmatics. The God-consciousness (the feeling of utter dependence). Psychology is central to his understanding of sin. The human is two-fold: the higher consciousness and sense consciousness. Obstruction of the sense of the higher consciousness is Schleiermacher’s definition of sin. Sin is psychological. For Schleiermacher, Jesus is the primary example of someone living in utter dependence. He doesn’t care whether Adam and Eve were historical. He regards the traditional teaching on Adam and Eve is incoherent. He believes that creation is inherently flawed. The Fall is therefore a paradigm of how the sensuous consciousness obstructs the God-consciousness. Sin is a disruption of human psychology.

Walter Rauschenbusch: (the originator of the social gospel). Rauschenbusch sought to recast Christianity in such a way as to address social problems. The kingdom of God is central to his theology: but not as individual, but a more corporate focus (can anyone say New Perspective on Paul? LK). Sin of the structures is a Rauschenbusch construct. He implicitly denies the historicity of Adam. His view of Christianity is purely pragmatic. All ideas are judged by their practical merit. He views the traditional view of the Fall as downplaying later societal evils. He does, however, believe in human solidarity. For him, sin is selfishness (dependent on Schleiermacher). If sin is primarily horizontal, then there is no basis for opposing gay marriage. So, this is not just an ethereal irrelevancy.

Karl Barth: he was definitely a rebel against Schleiermacher and Rauschenbusch. However, his thinking on original sin owes quite a bit to liberalism. He often uses the language of orthodoxy, but opposes the ideas behind the traditional doctrine. Barth distinguishes between historie and geschichte (history and significance). Adam and Eve are saga, a third term that is close to myth. He posits a contradiction between Genesis 1 and 2. Plus, he rejects the unfallen nature of the creation before the Fall. For Barth, Adam is Everyman. Adam is the truth concerning us. Adam as the paradigm for us is something Barth has in common with Schleiermacher. Barth reverses the first and second Adams. This pushes Barth in a universalistic direction, though he is not explicit. We are not IN Adam, but we actually ARE Adam.

Rudolf Bultmann: arguably the most influential New Testament scholar of the twentieth century. He actually believed that the idea of a pristine creation is due to a gnostic intrusion into the New Testament. Bultmann says that Paul’s account of sin is incoherent. Bultmann believed that the Fall is a myth.

Conclusion: All are in the stream of Enlightenment theology. All reject the relevance of the historicity of Adam. They don’t necessarily say that Adam wasn’t historical. They are saying it doesn’t really matter whether Adam was or not. There is therefore no movement from pristine innocence to guilt, which in turn brings into question the transition from guilt to grace. The nature of sin as attenuated. The “problem” of the injustice of the imputation of Adam’s guilt is not solved in modern theology. If we can’t be held accountable for Adam’s sin, then why should we be help accountable for our own sin?

Fourth Plenary Session: Christ, the Second Adam (Joel Beeke)

Individualism is incredibly rampant. It makes corporateness difficult to comprehend. We are hooked to the belt to one or other of the first Adam or the second Adam, as one Puritan says. The text under consideration, of course, is Romans 5:12-21. Two perspectives are addressed by Beeke: Christ’s work as second Adam, and Christ’s kingdom.

The work of Christ as second Adam. Five points: 1. Christ’s calling as a servant. Adam was called as a servant in the garden of Eden. 2. Facing the temptation of Satan: Jesus won where the first Adam lost. 3. The second Adam’s obedience unto death, where the first Adam was disobedient to death. Compare the Garden of Gethsemane to the Garden of Eden. The contrasts are remarkable. The temptation, the environment, the result of the tempting, the reaching out of the hands (Adam for godhood, Jesus for chains). 4. The Second Adam’s gift of righteousness.[FOOTNOTE] 5. The second Adam’s resurrection unto life.

The Kingdom of the Second Adam, in three points. 1. The recreation of the saints in God’s image. The work of Christ is to conform us to His own image. He makes us prophets, priests, and kings. 2. The resurrection of the saints in glory. 3. The reign of the saints with Christ.


Third Plenary Session: Adam, the Lord of the Garden (Liam Goligher)

Genesis 2:4ff is the text.

A hermeneutical point: we start with a completed canon, and so we start from the end.

The garden of Eden is a proto-tabernacle and proto-temple (this insight comes from Beale). The image-bearers of God are required to multiply the image of God and fill the earth with God’s image. The image-bearers would extend Eden to include the entire earth. Adam was to serve and to guard in the garden. He is more than gardener. He is required to do what the priests would later do. Again, these insights come from Beale. The words “serve” and “guard” are only ever used together when referring to priestly activities, guarding and serving the tabernacle and temple. They are supposed to keep out unsanctified beings from the Garden. This is why Adam’s very first sin is actually letting Satan into the Garden of Eden at all.

Adam is given a covenantal role. The word “covenant” is not used in Adam’s relationship. Neither is it initially used in David’s covenant. Goligher’s take is that the word is much more used later on in history, and it would be somewhat anachronistic for Moses to have used the term. However, Adam’s situation is still truly called covenantal. This covenantal relationship is a matter of life and death. The meaning of the tree of life is suspended until the book of Revelation: it means eternal life, resurrection life, transformation of the universe. (LK: did Adam not then eat of the tree of life? The evidence seems to point to Adam eating of the tree before the Fall: it is possible, of course, that the tree of life in the respect that Liam means, is a sacramental tree, as Calvin would say. In this sense, the tree did not itself bring those things, but signified them).

The first covenant was a covenant of works: eat of the tree and you die (that’s a work!). If Adam had obeyed, he would have filled the earth with image bearers, and expanded the garden until it covered the whole earth. We have to exclude foreign elements from the church. Elders need to guard the church from false teaching.

Eve was the first theological liberal: she added to God’s Word in the temptation, and paraphrased. We do not paraphrase when we are quoting God. The command is changed into something jealous, small, and mean. Knowledge is the lure for Eve. The first doctrine that is ever denied explicitly is the doctrine of judgment. Denial of Hell and judgment is nothing new, obviously. Temptation attacked reason first. Sin is an assault on the truth of God. If we want to look at sin, don’t look first at the whorehouse, look at the academy. This is why Enns has fallen for the lie of the devil, when he says that science has a consensus on evolution, and that therefore biblical theologians must follow suit. Why is the academy more authoritative than God?

Second Plenary Session: The Case for Adam (Joel Beeke)

Trueman has said that the historicity of Adam is the most important doctrinal issue facing the church today. Beeke means by the historical Adam that a real human being existed who was the progenitor of the human race. The alternative that many Christians claim today is that there were a thousand hominids in the beginning. Genesis 2 is then a symbolic allegory of the entrance of the human soul into a previously soulless animal world. Enns, for instance, believes that evolution is scientifically proven. And therefore the interpretation of the Bible must conform to what science has irrevocably proven. Beeke’s specific focus is go back to what the Bible itself says about the historical Adam. He will make an historical case for Adam from the Bible (4 points), and then a theological case for Adam from the Bible (6 points).

Historical case 1: Genesis portrays the creation of Adam as an historical event. To overcome this historical interpretation, opponents raise three points. 1. They say Adam is a symbol for man (given the name for Adam). Answer: but the Bible distinguishes between man in general and Adam in particular. the reason Adam was given the name he has is because he is the progenitor of the human race. 2. Genesis 2 contradicts Genesis 1. Answer: they are not contradictory, but rather describes the same events from complementary perspectives. 3. The serpent talks: it must therefore be symbolic. Answer: the Bible tells us that the devil was not the snake, but that the devil used the serpent.

Historical case 2: Biblical genealogies present Adam as the father of other historical persons. Genesis 5 is not myth, but historical record. 2 Chronicles 1 follows Adam to Abraham, to David, and to the exile. Luke 3 traces the lineage of Jesus back to Adam. This latter is particularly crucial. Luke 3 is nonsense if Adam is not historical.

Historical case 3: Christ himself spoke of Adam and Eve as historical persons. Jesus’ teaching concerning marriage quotes Genesis 1-2.

Historical case 4: If Adam is not a real man, who else is not real in the Scriptures? Why not make Abraham, Moses, and even David into mythical figures? Skepticism makes a tidal wave that covers over all the Bible. In what chapter of Genesis does historicity begin in Genesis? Will you not eventually deny Christ’s resurrection?

Theological case 1: Adam is not just an interesting figure, but is foundational to our theology. If Adam is myth, then our view of human identity and human sin (and through the parallel to Christ) our Savior. The historical Adam is the basis for believing in humanity’s original nobility. If Adam is myth, then there is no difference between humanity and the animals. The image of God is part of our very constitution, not an add-on. We will treat man like animals and animals like man if we lose the historical Adam.

Theological case 2: The historical Adam is the root of mankind’s unity. This is not just Israel’s story (contrary to Peter Enns). Genesis 3:20 says specifically that Eve is the mother of ALL LIVING. Acts 17:26 says that all are made from one blood (some translations say “from one man”). Christ takes on Himself common human nature, not the nature of part of humanity. Our unity in Christ depends on the historical Adam. How shall we stand up against racism if we are not from one origin? True philanthropy depends on the unity of the human race.

Theological case 3: the historical Adam is the foundation of gender relationships. The Bible loses its authority to tell ALL humanity what God’s will is in regard to sexuality (or anything else, for that matter) if we lose the historical Adam. We need an historical basis for our sexual ethics.

Theological case 4: The historical Adam is the basis for understanding the Fall. Paul says that death reigned from Adam to Moses. Paul means (among other things) that Adam is just as historical as Moses. Otherwise, Paul’s entire argument in Romans 5 is meaningless. We can’t understand the second Adam in His person and work unless we understand the first Adam. We lose the doctrine of original sin. We lose his imputed guilt, which then means that we lose the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Theological case 5: The historical Adam is a type of the Savior. Paul says explicitly that Adam is a type of Christ who is to come. Paul is not just using Adam as a cautionary tale, but rather Adam and Eve is the story on which all history hinges.

Theological case 6: The historical Adam is a test-case for biblical authority. Without the lenses of Scripture, our sin-clouded eyes will only see what the world sees. Enns actually says that we do not need to follow Paul in his statements about Adam, because he is an ancient man, and we know better. What is the husk and what is the kernel, and who gets to choose which is which?

Are we going to believe the Bible and are we willing to endure the shame that the world heaps on us for believing things that the world believes is completely outdated (and that is only the kindest term)?

Contemporary Classical Music

I think I have figured out why contemporary classical music doesn’t satisfy. There are several ways to create and resolve musical tension. There are rhythmical ways, harmonic ways, dynamic ways, timbrel ways, and more. However, of these various ways, the harmonic way is the most easily recognizable way. It works by creating harmonic tension and then relieving that tension. In much modern classical music, there is no harmonic resolution. Therefore you cannot tell when the musical plot has been resolved. Maybe you’ve noticed that when some of these pieces end, you don’t know when to clap. This is because many modern pieces have rejected the tonal system altogether. Without a tonal system, there is no such as resolution. Harmonic musical arcs proceed from tonal consonance to tonal dissonance, and then back to consonance for the resolution.

This idea can be applied to much modern novel-writing as well, especially the more stream-of-consciousness models. If there is no narrative arc from happiness to crisis to happiness, then readers will not be very happy. Of course, that will be the author’s intention in a tragedy, though even there, a resolution to the tension still takes place, just not the one we “want.”

Why do we love this narrative arc? I would suggest that it is because that is how we want history to flow, in its ultimate proportions. It is the narrative arc of the Bible (creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation). I think God put that arc in all of us, and that’s how we want the story to end.

Joseph Caryl on Teachableness

One thing that really disturbs me about the blogosphere (and not just there, but also in the church in general) is a complete lack of teachableness. It arises out of pride, of course, pride in one’s own knowledge. We have to be right. It doesn’t actually matter who has the better argument. It only matters who can be seen to have gotten in the “knock-out” punch. Joseph Caryl has some wonderful things to say about this. I would encourage anyone to ponder these words deeply:

A gracious spirit is a teachable spirit. A gracious heart calls for teaching. Teach me, and I will hold my tongue…A teachable spirit is an excellent spirit. A man that is willing to be taught, is in a better condition than many, who are able to teach. It argues a holier temper of the heart, to be willing to be taught, than to be able to teach. And it is far worse to be unwilling to learn, than not to be knowing: Unteachableness is more dangerous than ignorance. It is sad to consider how unteachable many are; they will not be taught, or they think they have learned all, they have devoured all knowledge; they are full and need no more; Some deceived souls (and they most) carry it, as if they had a spirit of infallibility: what? teach them? they are above teaching. It is a sweet frame of spirit, when a man sees he may be out of frame. He is in a fair way to truth, who acknowledges he may be in an error. And he who will not acknowledge that he may be in an error, is certainly out of the way of truth…Nor doth he (Paul in 1 Cor. 8, LK) commend to us that proud modesty, which will not let us acknowledge, we know what we know; but his mind is, to meet with those, who think they know anything so well, that they need not, or cannot know it better, and abound so in their own sense, that they have no room to admit the sense of others…It is best to be fixed in judgment, but it is very ill to be fixed in opinion. It is to be feared that man is much divorced from right reason, who is so married to his own, that he resolves, nothing but death shall part him and his opinion…To say, “I am fixed, I am fixed, I am resolved, resolved,” when yet things are doubtful, and under difficult dispute, is actually to be in error, though possibly the thing we fix on be a truth. The apostle cautions his Ephesians, and us in them, Chap 4:14: “That they, and we, be not henceforth children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine,” and yet they are under a rebuke, who will not be moved by any wind of doctrine; that is, let never so powerful and forcible a wind of truth, breathe and blow upon them, they will not be carried or moved in judgment by it…He that will have all the talk, shall have but little profit. Joseph Caryl on Job, volume 2, pp. 528-529.

Of course, one last caveat is in order. When one reads such a quotation as this, one is apt to rejoice in the good fortune of one’s neighbor in that they need to read this. It might not even occur to us that we should be the ones humbled by this. And, if it does not occur to us to apply this to ourselves, then we are falling under the very strictures which Caryl proposes!

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