Sunday, October 1, 2023

Schaeffer's ontology and Genesis days

From  The God Who is There  - end of chapter 2

God has created a real, external world. It is not an extension of His (sic) essence. That real, external world exists. God has also created man as a real, personal being, and he possesses a "mannishness" from which he can never escape. On the basis of their own world-view often these experience-seekers are neither sure the external world is there, nor that man as man is there. But I have come to the conclusion that despite their intellectual doubts, many of them *have had* a true experience of the reality of the external world that exists, and/or the "mannishness" that exists. They can do this precisely because this is how God has made man, in His own image, able to experience the real world and man's "mannishness." Thus they have hit upon something which exists, and it is neither nothing, nor is it God. We might sum up this third alternative by saying that when they experience the "redness" of the rose, they are having the experience of the external world, as is the farmer who plows (sic) his field. They are both touching the world that is.

My comment

The days of Genesis 1 (which Schaeffer claims in his Genesis in Time and Space, are unimportant) underscore the external objective reality of the cosmos and our experience of it and within it.

God speaks and rationally related events follow that are congruent with the propositional word. Each event, and the events as a set are separate from God, but also real.

We can experience the reality as it is mediated in the 'days' -- the space-time -- of our normal experience of life in the objective world. The days of action overlap with our days of experience of the results of the communicative action by God and place our experience in the same domain as which God is active in creating.

Yet our experience is also subjectively but genuinely substantiated as we are real persons with objective existence in the objective created world separate from God: it is a world in which we can really know real things and represent them in meaningful propositions (created by word on God's part, understood by word on our part: this provides the basis for empirical inquiry of the created world).

We are linked to the external world and its objectivity by God's communication to us of 'imageness' which gives us genuine 'mannishness', to use Schaeffer's term, and real experience of the real external world. The link is grounded by the days of genesian action that place it objectively in the same days our history is denominated by, and separate it from God, while showing God is active, present and communicative in that domain by which his domain overlaps our domain he thus created by his word.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Political prayer

A friend (my son's godfather), asked for some thoughts on prayers he was rostered to make at his church's morning gathering.

They were to touch on:

  1. the forthcoming Australian referendum regarding the formation of what would amount to a third house of parliament and a formal constitutionally significant consultative body for the executive government, and
  2. the needs of refugees.

I offered the following thoughts: 


We pray for the forthcoming referendum that whatever the outcome, opportunities for the gospel in remote places will arise and that our brothers and sisters who live in such places will be able to proclaim your word with effect and bring your salt and light to communities where people have no hope.

[I think anything more might be too political, and as a church I don't think we care much about politics except that the gospel is able to flourish and people hear it meaningfully and turn to Christ in repentance.]


We pray for those fleeing persecution and war. Particularly for our brothers and sisters in Christ. We ask that your church in all places will be hospitable to those who are persecuted and that we might effectively make representations to the government on behalf of those fleeing persecution because of their Christian faith; that they may find succor in this land.

We also pray that the difficult task for refugees in coming to grips with the disparate cultures of their hosts will be eased by their faith in you, and those who have not turned to you in repentance and belief may hear your gospel and be obedient to it.

Later I added:

Oh, and another theme to bring in: "Paul teaches us to persevere in times of our momentary light affliction. We pray that your indwelling Spirit equips your saints in difficult circumstances, whether here or abroad, to be faithful witnesses to your grace and power and to be encouraged despite their circumstances as he world sees them, to continue to grow in grace and in communicating your gospel."


Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Evidence for God

The primary evidence, to my mind, apart from the life, teaching and resurrection of Yeshua of Nazareth (which is THE primary evidence) is that God as creator prior to and external to the world (the entirety of the cosmos), his creation, is the only adequate and reasonable ground of our sense of transcendence -- expressed in our pursuit of relationship, beauty, joy, delight, even peace; none of which are finally meaningful in any way in a materialist conception of the cosmos. The obvious expression of transcendence in daily life is the mind and the fruitfulness of our awareness of and fellowship with other minds. Mind transcends material.

Our desire for God (or its inverse, often vehement in atheists, libertines, hedonists and Epicureans) expresses this ground - that we are not merely supervenient upon matter -- whatever that may be--but are truly connected to the source of mind, of life, and all significance which flies in the face of death, that comes from that connection.

Being the creator, Christ -- back to the true prime-- integrates our experience of the creation or sense of meaning and purpose and stands as the explication of the human dilemma and its resolution.

The human dilemma? Man cannot be his own integration point: it manifests in his discontents arising from alienation: the sense of disquiet, of separation (sin in the Bible). Man cannot be his own integration point because he is limited and contingent and must reach outside himself for resolution of his manifold disjuncts with reality. To casual observance transient (Ps. 103:14ff), or ephemeral, inexplicably ungrounded in a creator-less conception; or, on closer knowledge, navigating his own futility as all his being appears to collapse in death and be rendered nugatory -- yet, there is the paradoxical wonder of personhood and relationship.

The starting point of self-hood: I am not not myself, but distinct and individual, is content-less in isolation and forlorn in mere contingent human relationship. It can only be integrated in fellowship with the one who is, necessarily: resolution by our union with Christ for fellowship with our creator, Yahweh.

Monday, September 25, 2023

The Festival of Psalms

We held this festival recently at church: partly as worshipful encouragement, partly as godly entertainment and partly as education and outreach. It was designed to be 'visitor friendly'.

The choir took most of the running, along with congregational singing, and read segments and prayers.

The read segments included academic, devotional and exotic (!) components. The exotica was a North American Indian translation of Psalm 23.

But it was the academic segment that was most interesting.

The story of the Psalter

Widely respected scholars such as Brevard Childs, Gerald Wilson and James Mays have demonstrate that the canonical editors of the Psalter had clear intent. The Psalter, as we have received it, is organized into five books, with the 'seams' being marked b doxologies and psalms of theological significance. Royal psalms are placed with wisdom psalms at the seams, Typical of Hebrew literature, however, our modern demand for clinical and forensic certainty is not met.

There is a thematic development through the five books within the Psalter. The first book (Ps 1 -- 41) frequently shows David in trouble, crying out to god for vindication. The second book (Ps 42 -- 72  generally sows David comfortably on the throne but with hints of decline emerging. the third book (Ps 73 -- 89) show Israel in decline, her monarchy ineffectual and her people in dire circumstances. Psalm 89 puts this problem most sharply. God's covenant with David, with which the first three books of the psalms are primarily concerned, has apparently failed.

The fourth book (ps 90 -- 106) seems to be the editorial centre which poses the question, "What will happen now that the covenant is broken?" A response to this problem is developed throughout book four and in book five (Ps 107 -- 150). The response can be summarized:

  • Yahweh is king
  • He has been our 'refute' in the past, long before the monarchy existed
  • He will continue to be our refuge now that the monarchy is gone
  • Blessed are they that trust in him!

So the Psalter is a symphony in five parts, swelling towards triumphant songs of praise to God who reigns over his people, despite the swirling currents of chaos and opposition.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Only if you are in the 'in' crowd?

Churches rightly talk much about pastoral care, particularly for the ill, infirm, disabled, shut-in (but probably not if you have suffered a pseudocoma) and the isolated. But what does that mean, particularly if one is not part of the 'in' crowd in the church?

These comments are based on personal and observed experience, along with long experience as a senior executive in human services.

The often asked question, particularly to one with a recent onset of an adverse circumstance is 'how can we/I help?' or 'what do you need?"

As one wit retorted: 'you could always pay the mortgage!' Of course, silly questions get silly answers.

I don't know what the average person in some undesired circumstances is supposed to make of that question, particularly from either a paid Christian or a pastoral volunteer. It's too broad, and has no parameters.

There are a number of domains of need that a person could have in mind.

On the professional level

1. Medical -- probably taken care of;

2. Medical support (that is to accompany to medical appointments and procedures, perhaps provide transport, and related home care) -- some of this is available through general services, others not, of course, but probably beyond the reach of untrained or un-skilled volunteers.

And, more generally:

1. Activities of daily living (ADLs) - personal care: requires training and/or skill for intimate care and, except for some assistance in dressing, and simple washing, not applicable.

2. Activities of daily living - domestic assistance. Most of these would be also out of reach for volunteer systems. This includes domestic duties: cooking, cleaning, laundry and simple home maintenance.

Most churches offer some sort of (very) short term meal support. If a person is infirm, this would be inadequate, and perhaps only a stop-gap while community services were engaged, although still useful. but just think of the volume: meals for three people (two infirm adults, a disabled daughter) over, say four days while community support was organized: 36 meals!

This would be a massive undertaking, and all available through delivery services (at amplified cost, I might add), but I'm sure most parishioners would prefer some church involvement as spiritual encouragement and companionship.

3. Social connection. Here the church community can really start to do its business. The problem is that for chronic conditions, the enthusiasm soon wanes and volunteers get tired, bored, uninterested in the service. One visit or phone call when the need is expressed in not on. Work out the 'pace'; perhaps weekly or fortnightly or anything from three to six weekly. For a person living alone, maybe a quick check-in daily by a pastoral volunteer or a clergy-person could be both prudent and kind in the early stages.

Social connection might involve a low-impact outing: local park or coffee shop, for example, or accompany a person shopping locally. It might be dropping in for a cup of tea, and some light home assistance.

People are often reluctant to ask for this sort of support, so it would be the duty of the ministerial team (paid and volunteer) to gently and politely 'probe' to see what is needed and/or accepted: a couple of unobtrusive calls to say hello and to gauge the scene (pastoral reconnaissance). Often the demands would end up being quite light and easily managed: maybe a weekly or fortnightly or even less frequent contact by a couple of volunteers in team. For volunteers it is important not to 'rush' the person and seek to do too much, but always to listen carefully for need expression from a shy person.

It is also important to avoid a demeaning 'poor dear' demeanor or tone of voice. Kind and careful, yes, but mature adult to mature adult, please. 

Open questions such as 'how are you doing?" or "how are things?" can be next to useless, as most people would give a brief answer as to OK, or if not OK, would not readily know where to start, not wanting to appear demanding or burdensome and so loose any support that may have been available. A skilled discursive conversation is far better to find where the relevant points of support might be.

If the person in question does come along to church gatherings, this is a good occasion for one of the 'team' to probe for service opportunities/needs. This can be a short conversation or to invite the person out for a coffee, or to drop in to the church centre (the eccleseum), or the minister's home, if that's how it works in your parish. Again, this is to both serve and do reconnaissance. Remember, the blunt 'what can we do for you?' is too big a question: undefined and intimidating and probably embarrassing.

In my professional work I came across a person who was asked this by my predecessor. Her answer was a lift so she could remain in her family home. $300,000 later, she was pleased, but when I took over the area, I most definitely was NOT.

If they do not attend regular church gatherings, I would think it is the duty of the minister to call and inquire as to if he/she could visit and spend some time with them.

4. Pastoral. By this I mean the full game. This is the key job of the minister or trained volunteer. It could include 'light touch' reading scripture together, the minster praying (but not expecting the visited to pray...they may be too upset or nervous, or not used to this), and even singing, or saying, a hymn together.

I am part of a church that uses liturgical forms (laughingly known by non-participants as 'traditional'), so if I was very infirm, I would expect the minister to read through morning prayer with me...even if an abbreviated version, or perhaps the Collect for the preceding Sunday could be read, along with the readings set down for that day. The minister might want to conversationally summarize the sermon he/she delivered, or what transpired in a recent study group. They might even read through and conduct holy communion together.

5. Referrals. People in distress are often unable to sort out the public services that are or might be available to them, how to obtain them, and how to sort out eligibility. Sometimes a GP can assist, or perhaps a social worker at a local hospital. The church might be able to help with a relevant contact to assist here, but this game is a complex one and a person with suitable expertise has to be involved.


Many years ago I was seriously ill with a stage 3 cancer, even worse because of extended radio-chemo therapy. My minister kindly visited every couple of weeks or so and we shared a coffee. He was gentle, un-rushed, and spent time. We just chatted for 30 minutes or so. He prayed, then left. This was fabulously encouraging, even though, while extremely sick (and very thin), I was quite cheerful. He didn't pry, but chatted as an adult to an adult. He didn't comment on my attire, my appearance, my home (which I could do no housework in, but had organized others) or anything but matters that found their way onto the 'agenda'.

More recently I saw one of the paid Christians at church ask an ill parishioner "What can we do for you, just let us know". What was he to answer? He could not know the options and so could not even start to answer. It would have been better to ask if he could be visited, and phone later to arrange a time (for pastoral 'reconnaissance').


Volunteers are, or should be, the life-blood of the local church. It is essential that all who are pastoral volunteers must be trained to understand pastoral care, pastoral conversations, and the special needs of those who are ill, particularly where the illness produces functional or cognitive deficits or is terminal. Based on what I've had reported to me, volunteers must be trained to have reserved (that is, non-judgmental) spiritual conversations, not to insist on spiritual acts such as prayer or reading the scripture or prayer book, and to be un-rushed. They must double check any rendezvous locations and times, and either take the fault for misunderstandings, or handle them neutrally. In dealing with trying conversational circumstances, some training in assertive pastoral conversations would help.

Volunteer driving is not the cinch it is often considered to be. Knowledge of locations and a careful driving style that considers the needs of the passenger is essential, as is good road sense and a clean driving record. An ability not to see the car as a conversation lounge is important. Your job is driving, not chatting.

As with any volunteering role, all volunteers must be trained to understand the general flow of the Bible, of Christian belief, pastoral practice and pastoral conversations and to handle the 5 basic questions. They are, after all, the public face of the church in this role.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Remembrance of Things Past

Sorting through old papers over the last couple of days I came across my father's memorabilia. He died in 2006 and while those memories have faded, many returned as I looked through his and my mother's photographs.

Photos taken by him, and of him, we children, our mother and other relations.

I found my parents' wills, my father's funeral and executor's arrangements and, most poignant of all, a set of reminders I had made for the day of the funeral.

My father had been a musician when younger, and played the clarinet for pleasure, teaching, with local orchestras and bands and for his small church until his death. He asked that at his funeral we play the Going Home movement from Dvorak's Symphony from the New World (see here for a wonderful arrangement).

This is my reminder list:

-Tape of Dvorak

-Tape of Dad + Mum + Dv [or Dr...I forget what this referred to, but dad and mum had performed a number of items together, notably Schubert's Shepherd on the Rock--many an evening this put we kids to sleep as they performed together in the lounge room after we had gone to bed.]

-Polish Shoes [i.e. make them clean, not their nationality]

-Mount on plastic

-clean ribbon

[I have no idea what the last two were for]

-call Jeanette

-S----: dad's cashmere jumper + our gift

-call RSL 9625 5500

-Normie C. check speakers?

-Emma A - check work to perform [dad's clarinet student]

As I went through these things I pondered the brevity of life, its griefs, its joys. The joys we shared as a family, the wonderful life our parents provided and our wonderful wider family: cousins, aunts, uncles in abundance and grandparents alive through our childhoods.

But for all its ups and downs, life runs like sand through our fingers: impermanent, mainly unnoticed, and quickly forgotten by those who may come after us. The futility and horror of death sat with me. It is unremitting, and confronting. All the great things we have to remember others by remain only in images and scraps of notes on paper, memories of course, the odd recording.

I looked at my father's old harmony notebook, which grew into his notes about anything. Fragments of his rich and creative life were in my hands, but once it was his flesh and blood. His thoughts, his loves, his hopes and his ambitions.

The Psalmist came to mind (Ps 103:14-16):

As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes

When the wind has passed over it, it is no more,
And its place acknowledges it no longer.

 But the lines preceding, full of such hope:

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is his lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.
For he himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.

I then turned to my favourite passage; written perhaps centuries before the psalm, yet also full of transcendent hope and the power and love of God (Job 19:24-26):

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.
“Even after my skin is destroyed,
Yet from my flesh I shall see God;


Saturday, July 1, 2023

Days? Really?

In a comment on a Stand to Reason blog:

@29:40, the '7 days of creation'? In fact, there are 6 days of creation. The 7th is God's rest: which he is now in, which the Sabbath pivoted on covenantly and which we join fully in the realized kingdom.

The issue about the days reminds me of the old joke: a man wheels a barrow of straw out of the mill each evening. The foreman carefully checks it, finds nothing stolen, and waves him on. At a retirement party some years later the foreman asks him why he took the barrow of straw home each evening. He replied, It wasn't the straw, but the barrows: I sold them down here at the pub.

He was stealing them right before the foreman's eyes yet the foreman hadn't seen for looking!

So it is with the days of creation: they stare us in the face, but we miss to easily their theological import. They must have one, because we know the creation that they describe is the basis of our worship of God as it is articulated through the scriptures; they are the crux of our worship of him (in his direct speech) in Exodus 31:12ff...a passage just after the passage about the skilled craftsmen, interestingly This worship continues re-configured on Christ: John 1:1-3, Romans 1:20, 1 Cor 8:6, Colossians 1:16, 17, Hebrews 1:2, 2:10 and 11:3.

 The sequence of days are the very act of God revealing his identity as creator. They are not trivial.

Our worship of God cannot hang on an analogical creation, a creation that is more Neoplatonist fantasy than concretely real or one that is a mere echo of pagan trash talk (I think of Enuma elish). It has to hang on what is objectively real.

The days do three obvious things:

The days, real days, show that the creator God is:
- placed personally in the creation: in our history, while not containing him in his creation
- powerfully and directly active in the creation (cf Psalms 8, 33), while not part of the creation, nor remote from it and
- lovingly relating to creatures in his image in the commonality of action in history, not subordinate to them, but holy, eternal and wise.  

These are not figurative attributions, but the direct implication of real days, and distinguish our Creator God from the distant god of deism (an uninvolved God who 'wound up the cosmos': somewhat where 'long age' views take us), the invisible god of theistic evolution, which attempts to adopt modern monist materialism, to merge god into the cosmos on the pretense that it made itself, and inviting the everything is god/god is everything impersonal god of pantheism, nor the non-god of modern 'I'm spiritual not religious'.

The personal God who is love and who speaks is none of these and makes the point immediately clear in the creation in terms of the tempo he has set for us to live and work in as the first act of loving fellowship, expressed conclusively in Genesis 3:8. God shares in the domain that he made for us to worship and enjoy him within by him first creating that domain in the very days which denominate our experience of life within it, and of him. The days join the creation events to the flow of history in which we live and experience God and make real the link between our world and God's acts.

The real days of real action provide the context for the theophanic events throughout the OT, and resoundingly for the Incarnation, where the God who was active in our history in creation is the God who comes into our history in Christ, in the form of a creature. The creator enters his creation in which he is not foreign! This to resolve the brokenness of the world through the Kingdom to be consummated in the New Creation (also made by the Creator).