August 31, 2002

Next week classes begin at APU. This week has been a tough one: Three days of new faculty orientation, going off summer flextime cold turkey, and food poisoning Friday. I think it's gonna be a rough ride.

There were bright spots, of course. My three-year-old daughter played 'doctor' with me by wrenching up my eyelid, staring intently into my eye, and declaring me cured. I got to meet some of my wonderful new colleagues at APU. And after weeks off the blogging job, rather than an angry e-mail, I received a message that made my day:

Dear Prof. Work,

You don't know me, but I read your blog. I'm a sort of troubled nonbeliever, but I think your blog is a wonderfully eloquent and disturbing case for faith.

Anyway, I was wondering if you're going to start it up again. I know you must be incredibly busy, since you're starting a new job. But I wanted to let you know you do have fans out here, despite the fact that most bloggers seem to think nobody reads them. Keep up the good work, and good luck with your new position!

It's people like this whom I have been betraying by keeping my weblog quiet, and I apologize. And I thank you for a message of grace that suggests more than troubled nonbelief.

To try to make up for lost time, I have introduced a new feature on my website: Theological FAQ. These are responses to common questions from students and others, and sometimes to questions of my own. So far there are seven entries, a good Christian number. They cluster where students' concerns tend to cluster: on the trustworthiness of Scripture, and the integrity of the Christian faith. Check them out. In the meantime, I'll be frantically working on my church history lectures and will try to offer a running commentary on this page.

Oh, and there should be a site redesign one of these days, which among other things will reduce the already inexcusable size of this page.

Thanks for reading, folks.

10:54 PM

August 14, 2002

Another month-long blog blackout, unannounced. Sorry about that.

Our fourth child was born in June, we moved in July, and I begin a new job at Azusa Pacific University at the end of August. We're stressed. I am facing the future with the same expression as Dan Quayle looking into a network television camera.

There are some very good responses on the pacifism debate, particularly several from Eve Tushnet. Sorry I've been out of the action. Maybe someday I will give her responses the attention they deserve.

In the meantime, I had an experience at Church Sunday that I want to get down in writing.

The worship band at my fabulous church released a new CD of its worship music. As always, it is fantastic. To celebrate we had the first string playing a set mainly of the new music this past weekend. It was at that service, and because of that set, that the 'holiness'/Pentecostal way of being Christian finally made sense to me. (Specifically, it was the combination of Jacob Park's "For God So Loved the World" and Bob Wilson's/Tommy Walker's "Your Throne," whose changes send chills down my spine.)

Here's what I mean:

Most Christian traditions proclaim how different God is from his fallen world, then go on to celebrate Jesus' becoming one of us as something that gives his disciples the gift of that holiness. All three of these were strong in the music Sunday. The Holy God through Christ's incarnation and the Holy Spirit's outpouring yields the Holy Church.

You can still take this common conviction in more than one way. The Orthodox and Catholic varieties of Augustinianism tend to take it as an unconditional assurance that the Church is free from sin and stain, even when its members and leaders do horrible things for centuries, and the pope or bishops or sacraments or Bible are signs of that assurance. The Lutheran and Calvinist varieties of Augustinianism stress God's holiness as a basis for distinguishing God and his unholy world, in which the Church enjoys God's holiness more as a promise and an abstract truth than as a present reality, as a thing that the Church almost has to fail to attain until Jesus returns. But the Wesleyan variety – my church's variety – envisions the Church as enjoying God's holiness as a mandate and a goal, as something given and already demanded, as a thing that is meant to make his disciples as strange as God is, so that when Jesus returns they are not surprised and he is not disappointed. At my church we go crazy singing God's holiness and striving to appropriate it as our own. This holiness is why and how we resolve to be different in this world.

Now all these varieties have good reasons for their teachings, though of course all of them cannot be right in the same way. And all of them produce characteristic abuses: Catholic superstition, Orthodox smugness, Lutheran license, Reformed resignation, Wesleyan pettiness and legalism, Pentecostal elitism.

Though I have learned the grammar and beauty of each school, the deep grammar of the Wesleyan holiness tradition has been slowest in coming to me – even though I earned my doctorate at a Methodist school and have attended Pentecostal or Wesleyan churches for five years! However, since Sunday I get its grammar and beauty in a way that textbooks haven't taught me – can't teach me.

And now that I get it, I want it a lot more than I did before.

4:56 PM


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