interesting correlations

This week’s key empirical observations.

  • “Aaah, it’s eleven twenty-one and my wordcount has only increased by 2 words” – the day I tried to patch up my section about ‘alternative theories of developmental dyslexia’
  • Today, as I discuss ‘challenges to the established position that writing is only an outward manifestation of internal representations which would have existed anyway’ – seven hundred words in three hours.

What could it possibly mean?


bonar (and sievewright)

Berenike asks what ‘trust’ brings, beyond assent, to the Christian life.

This quote from Andrew A Bonar isn’t a complete answer, but I’m posting it to set the stage for (hopefully, perhaps, maybe) writing something in my own words later … time permitting …

Resting on this Person [ie Christ, the Son of God in our nature] for salvation is called “faith in Jesus Christ.” In this faith, there is an intellectual act – namely, the apprehending of the meaning of what is stated concerning Jesus. But this apprehension of the meaning of what is stated, or testified, concerning Jesus, is but the avenue that leads on to the magnificent mansion. It leads the soul to the Person of whom these things are declared. It is never the belief of bare propositions that saves the soul; for these have only to do with the understanding. Propositions, however weighty, must guide us onward to the Person who is the essence of the testimony; and they are made use of for this end by the same Holy Spirit who enlightens our once carnal understanding to see the real truth. The belief of the testimony, or record, concerning the Son of God, our Saviour, is the porch of the building, through which we pass into the audience-chamber and meet the Living Inhabitant, full of light, and life, and love.

Throughout the book which contains this paragraph, Bonar draws from the writings of other pastors and theologians who made the same point. Some of them I haven’t heard of, but they were presumably well enough known to a nineteenth century Scottish minister like Bonar and his audience. In a footnote to this paragraph, someone called Sievewright is quoted as saying, “Faith is not so much a disposition of the mind toward the truth, as a disposition of the heart toward Christ, produced by means of the truth.”

Even if these excerpts don’t perhaps show precisely that trust is what’s necessary, they are both clearly trying to show that assent alone is not enough to constitute the kind of faith that is required by the gospel.

Andrew A Bonar, The Gospel Pointing to the Person of Christ, 1858. Quote from p3-4 of the edition republished 1988 by Christian Focus Publications, with the title, The Person of Christ.

flavel’s triple metaphor

Something I heard yesterday reminded me of this quote from the seventeenth century writer John Flavel, where he points out from three different perspectives how much power is required for a soul to be converted. I posted it on my old blog, but for some reason it didn’t make the transit over here when I moved. So here it is again, only minus an addendum from Gurnall which you can look up via this link should you be so inclined.

“The Scripture expresses the work of conversion by a threefold metaphor, namely, that of a resurrection from the dead, Romans 6:4; that of creation, Ephesians 2:10; and that of victory or conquest, 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.

All these set forth the infinite power of God in this work, for no less than almighty power is required in each of them, and if you strictly examine the distinct ideas, you will find the power of God more and more illustriously displayed in each of them.

To raise the dead is the effect of almighty power; but then resurrection presupposes existent matter. In the work of creation, there is no preexistent matter; but then there is no opposition; that which is not, rebels not against the power which gives it being. But victory and conquest presuppose opposition: all the power of corrupt nature arming itself and fighting against God, but yet not able to frustrate his design.”

This quote comes from The Method of Grace, p88, and obviously it’s really Scripture’s metaphors, not Flavel’s.

My other Flavel quotes are here:

they haven’t been cleared

At last, a point of contact with the SNP. I too shared Angus MacNeil’s disbelief on hearing that, after all the time the police spent investigating, nobody, but nobody, is going to be charged with anything related to cash for honours.

But it’s completely inaccurate to say that Lord Levy and the rest of the crew have been “cleared” of wrongdoing when there hasn’t even been a trial. The lack of evidence doesn’t mean that nothing dodgy was going on.

And in the light of my last post, perhaps more creepy on this occasion than the actions of the police is the news that John Yates, the policeman in charge of the inquiry, is going to be called before MPs to “explain himself.” Hmmm.

creepy policemen

Even before I realised that the CCTV camera on the building opposite my flat could be, and indeed had been, swivelled to look directly into my bedroom window, I was never too keen on constant camera observation, and not just because I’m not terrifically photogenic either.

But with the police evidently working hard over the last few months to negotiate for even more access to ever more detailed footage, the issue of CCTV surveillance has taken on a whole new menacing aspect this week.

Firstly, it was announced yesterday that Gordon Brown’s cuddly new authoritarian Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has waived parts of the Data Protection Act to allow the Metropolitan Police to have access to real-time data from London’s congestion charge cameras – giving the police the ability to track all the vehicles which enter or leave the congestion charge zone, live. In an implicit acknowledgement of just how objectionable these new police powers are, the Home Secretary has actually provided Transport for London (the organisation which owns the cameras) with special documentation exempting them from legal action from drivers who might have concerns about the invasion of their privacy (as reported here, eg). As mentioned in this BBC report, the police can currently only ask for vehicle data on a case by case basis: their new powers give them access to all the data from the London cameras in real time.

Interestingly, the BBC reported the Home Office as “stressing” that the police “will only be able to use the data for national security purposes and not to fight ordinary crime.” So could this have meant that the police were finally acknowledging the very thin evidence for the effectiveness CCTV in fighting ordinary crime and striving to find a use for it fighting terrorism instead? Terrorism being, as we all know, a most extraordinary type of crime necessitating the renunciation of a staggering number and variety of the freedoms and liberties enjoyed by civilised society.

Alas, no. Hard on the heels of this outrage came the news today of an accidentally leaked document produced by the Home Office, containing proposals to give police the powers to track drivers throughout the whole of England and Wales via the growing network of cameras equipped with automatic number plate recognition technology, again in real time. The Home Office, in a statement which we can obviously judge for ourselves, has denied that it is showing a disregard for public opinion and civil liberties. Rather, as quoted in the the Guardian, they are claiming that “the police need the data from the cameras, which can read and store every passing numberplate, ‘for all crime fighting purposes’.” Clearly, public concerns would be grossly unfounded, and the civil liberties case laughably overstated.

What the government is doing is showing again not just its obsession with large scale IT projects and the seductive novelty of being able to collect lots of people’s personal data in lots of different databases and link it all up, but, yet again, its sheer thoughtlessness and glib lack of concern about freedom in its dogged belief that its own legislating activity and increased police powers will make us more secure. Far better, although of course it’s only wishful thinking, if they would frankly acknowledge that no government will ever be able to guarantee national security, and firmly assert a total commitment to maintaining our historic and democratic rights and liberties.

proving jeremiah

The Telegraph ran a story the other day with the headline, ‘Tiny tablet provides proof for Old Testament.’

The tablet is a Babylonian temple receipt from 2500 years ago, made out to a person called Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, and what the researcher who read the tablet is suggesting is that this is the same person as mentioned in Jeremiah 39 under the name Nebo-Sarsekim.

The Babylonian official named by Jeremiah is far from a central figure in any part of the Old Testament narrative, and is only mentioned in passing in the account of events when the Babylonian army finally invaded Jerusalem, after a long siege. As Irving Finkel from the British Museum is reported to have said,

“If Nebo-Sarsekim existed, which other lesser figures in the Old Testament existed? A throwaway detail in the Old Testament turns out to be accurate and true. I think that it means that the whole of the narrative [of Jeremiah] takes on a new kind of power.”

I think this is obviously a fair comment, but I wouldn’t go as far as the Telegraph’s headline and treat it as “proof” for the (whole?) Old Testament. At best, it’s corroborating evidence, but as much as I’d like people to accept the whole bible as accurate and reliable, even I can see that the case isn’t watertight.

And on the other hand, it is not the case a person needs the verification of external evidence for the smallest historical details in Scripture before it is legitimate for them to accept it and believe its message.

Jeremiah himself, in fact, believed what was written in the scriptures even though some of it, including some revealed to himself, wouldn’t even happen for hundreds more years into the future. His inability to verify some of the matters of fact he read and preached didn’t hinder him in any way (- and in fact it was possibly the least of his worries in the face of the persecution he was having to deal with; see chapter 38 for a particularly memorable escape thanks to the help of Ebed-Melech). Rather, as can be seen in chapter 32 for example, he just continued his work of communicating what God revealed to him and believing it himself.

So as valuable and reassuring as this kind of corroboration is, at its best it can only leave the contents of Scripture on the factual level, speaking only to people’s minds and rationality. It shouldn’t be a distraction from the main, moral and spiritual, message of Scripture, which demands acknowledgement and approbation not just from the mind, but from the consciences and hearts of anyone who hears it.


It’s only some translations, incidentally, which segment the list of names in Jeremiah 39 in this way. The NIV says, “Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came and took seats in the Middle Gate: Nergal-Sharezer of Samgar, Nebo-Sarsekim a chief officer, Nergal-Sharezer a high official and all the other officials of the king of Babylon,” but the AV lists, among others, “Nergal Sharezar, Samgar-nebo, Sarsechim …”, making Samgar-nebo into the name of one individual rather than a placename and the prefix of someone else’s name. (See here for some more comparisons.) In other words, if you were only familiar with the AV you’d never have made the link between Nabu-sharrussu-ukin and Jeremiah’s list of ‘the princes of the king of Babylon.’ Another good reason not to fall into the trap of thinking that any particular translation is infallible, as I’ve argued here before.

an unlikely innovator

I’ve just come across an article by John E Joseph on the man who invented the term ‘phoneme’. It’s something of an accidental followup to this post which was really only an opportunity to showcase the narrow escape which phonologists had from the tonguetwisting nightmare of phthongology – but it turns out there’s tantalisingly more to the question of the origin of some of our most familiar terminology than I’d realised.

The man in question began his career as a sailor and travelled all over the world, giving ‘considerable energy to the recording and analysis of the phonetic inventories of whatever languages he came across.’ (p57) Intriguingly, he is still known only by his surname, Dufriche-Desgenettes – his first name has never been discovered beyond its initial, A.

He never had any formal training in languages or phonetics (in other words, he was an ‘autodidact,’ which the OED informs me means ‘one who is self-taught’). Joseph portrays him as a man always on the margins of the academic linguistic community, stubbornly holding on to his own opinions regardless of how much they were dismissed and disregarded by other scholars. He seems to have always been very careful in matters of terminology – one letter (translated by Joseph) shows him defending himself for using the term phonology rather than phonetics: ‘I’m not trying to substitute this name for that of phonetics: certainly there are two nuances.’ (p67)

His term phoneme was adopted by a younger associate of his, Louis Havet, who later became acquainted with Saussure (Saussure was only a teenager when Dufriche died in 1878). Joseph credits Havet with a fairly substantial role in propagating the term – he was the first to quote it, and he edited and even read out some of Dufriche’s papers to the Société de Linguistique in Paris, for example. The term was then available for Saussure to pick up – he ‘put it to memorable use in his Mémoire,’ which itself became more widely known thanks in part to the enthusiasm of Louis Havet. ‘From there,’ says Joseph, ‘phonème found its way into the work of Jan Baudouin de Courtenay and Mikołai Kruszewski, where it would gradually take on the meaning with which it would be the very cornerstone of structural linguistics through most of the 20th century.’ (p71)

So there we have it. And that’s only the origin of the term itself – never mind the tortuous debates over what it actually means, or whether phonemes even exist beyond phonological notation and diagrams – questions which I think we can safely leave for another day.

Joseph, John E (1999), ‘Dufriche-Desgenettes and the birth of the phoneme.’ In Sheila Embleton, John E Joseph, and Hans-Josef Niederehe (eds), The Emergence of the Modern Language Sciences. Volume 1: Historiographical Perspectives. Amsterdam: John Benjamins

owen’s priorities

John Owen was one of the most intellectual, prolific, and deep of the English puritans, someone who was regarded as a genius by his contemporaries and whose theology has been respected and followed down to the present day. His works have been republished by the Banner of Truth, with an attractive minimalist white and green cover, in no less than 23 formidable hardback volumes.

But I was touched by this remark he made in a treatise in volume 1 of his works.

“I had rather choose my eternal lot and portion with the meanest believer, who, being effectually sensible of the love of Christ, spends his days in mourning that he can love him no more than he finds himself on his utmost endeavours for the discharge of this duty to do, than with the best of them whose vain speculations and a false pretence of reason puff them up unto a contempt of these things.”

Or, loosely paraphrased: “I would rather choose my eternal inheritance with the most insignificant believer who is conscious of the love of Christ in a way that has an ongoing impact on his life, and spends his days mourning that he can love him no more than he does, even after he has done his utmost to perform this duty, rather than with the best of those who are puffed up into a contempt of these things (ie the love of Christ and his work as Mediator) by their pointless imaginings and a false claim to reason.

What I think it shows is not just Owen’s own reverence, and the impact that his scholarly theological work had on his own personal piety (making him adore and worship God more and more the more he studied), but his generosity of spirit and his awareness that he shared his experience of God’s saving grace with all other believers in whatever circumstances they might be. Reading, you can’t avoid the realisation that these doctrines were very real and valuable to himself, but he also gives this sense of longing that other people would come to share with him in admiring and loving and worshipping the same God and Saviour.

Theology without reverence is worthless – even harmful – and I mean the kind of reverence that shows itself in practical application, in a life of personal godliness. But this (if I remember rightly) is the same theologian who said that for all his learning, he would rather be able to preach like the tinker, John Bunyan.

It’s the same principle: the little that a truly godly person has in the way of experiential religion, is more and better far than all the wealth of theoretical theology which some people seem to be able to store up while all the time the experience of saving grace is completely foreign to them. They might know all about the Saviour, but they’ve never wanted to know him.

John Owen, ‘A Declaration of the Glorious Mystery of the Person of Christ.’ In the Works of John Owen, vol 1, The Glory of Christ. First published 1679, Banner of Truth reprint 1965. Quote from p167.

all tingly

After the last amusing misspelling of my name (which seems to have resulted in me not receiving four of the promised six free installments of the magazine in question), I seem to have developed a problem with voicing in word-initial stops. I was booking some tickets over the phone last night and when the email confirmation arrived, my name which I’d said at least twice and spelled out, with a D, at least once, arrived all made out to a T.

Meanwhile, apropos of absolutely nothing, this was the depressing sight which confronted me on the way to the office this morning. I estimate that this summer I have spent a total of three hours and seventeen minutes in sunshine, and a fortune on umbrellas.