losing an hour :(

It would have been nice to reward myself with an early night tonight after working flat out all week, until it turned out it’s tonight the clocks go forward. So this is me signing out till Monday – have a beneficial Lord’s day one and all.

hodge on 1:4

The Confession:

The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God.

AA Hodge:

This section teaches the following propositions: –

1. That the authority of the inspired Scriptures does not rest upon the testimony of the Church, but directly upon God.

This proposition is designed to deny … that the inspired Church is the ultimate source of all divine knowledge, and that the written Scripture and ecclesiastical tradition alike depend upon the authoritative seal of the Church for their credibility. They thus make the Scripture a product of the Spirit through the Church, while, in fact, the Church is a product of the Spirit through the instrumentality of the Word. It is true that the testimony of the early Church to the apostolic authorship of the several books is of fundamental importance, just as a subject may bear witness to the identity of an heir to the crown; but the authority of the Scriptures is no more derived from the Church than that of the king from the subject who proves the fact that he is the legal heir.


worship with warrant

A typical worship service in my church goes something like this:

  • Call to worship (“Let us begin our worship…”)
  • Singing, a capella, some verses of the psalms
  • Prayer
  • Scripture reading
  • Another psalm singing
  • Sermon, expounding and applying some part of scripture
  • Another prayer
  • Another psalm singing
  • Benediction

Some aspects are less critical than others – it doesn’t really matter what order the praying and singing comes in, or how often you sing and pray – and as appropriate, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper will also be administered in amongst more prayer and praise.

What is critical, however, is that the various components of the service are all legitimised by scripture. The last thing you want, as would-be worshippers, is to be flummoxed by the question, ‘Who has required this at your hand?’* Since worship is part of what we owe to God, the God of infinite perfection, the God of grace – he deserves it, he demands it – and since we presumably intend to honour him by it, it is essential to be certain that whatever we offer by way of worship is acceptable and honouring to him, whether that’s in the context of collective worship in the church, family devotions in the home, or personal worship in the privacy of our own rooms.

He hasn’t, in fact, left us to our own imaginations in terms of what we counts as acceptable worship. Our penitent and thankful hearts have a variety of channels to express themselves in, according to the scriptures. These are known sometimes as the means of grace – prayer, reading the Word, hearing the Word preached by gospel ministers, the singing of psalms, psalms, and psalms, participating as frequently as possible in the Lord’s Supper, being baptised once yourself and witnessing the baptism of others, fasting, meditating on the Word, fellowshipping with other Christians, and so on.

These are all scriptural ways of expressing the fact that we know the Lord and love the Lord and want to live obedient lives which will honour him. And that’s scriptural in the sense that these things are authorised by scripture, not only that they’re not directly ruled out by scripture, which is the distinction that has been so much insisted on particularly in the Scottish context that I’m coming from – the scriptures are both comprehensive and authoritative in the guidance they give in the matter of worship, just as in every other aspect of life.**

There is of course a difference between the forms of worship under the Old Testament and now under the New Testament. (The forms, only, since the same believing, penitent, adoring spirit/attitude/heart is required from everyone everywhere at all times.) The church in the Old Testament had a huge amount of extra work on their hands, observing rituals for all sorts of things, in ceremonies which were minutely detailed in the books of Moses (and which shouldn’t be disparaged even now, as they were God’s ordinance at the time for symbolising or typifying the person and work of the Messiah to come). Nothing like this level of detail is laid down for New Testament worship – but what the prescription of the ceremonies teaches is that extreme care and caution should be characteristic of any individual or group of people who set about to worship. Without authorisation, nothing can be acceptable, even in New Testament times, and the lack of NT guidance on matters which were dealt with in the OT (furniture in the temple, routines associated with the burnt offerings, and so on) is itself argument against innovating our own procedures for analogous or derived rituals in the NT, when it is acknowledged on all hands that the death of the Saviour marked the end of the OT era and the abolishing of the ceremonial law.

Although our whole lives should be dedicated and devoted to the Lord and his glory – even eating and drinking and whatsoever we do should be done to the glory of God – yet there are times in our daily (and weekly) lives when we need to step aside from our ordinary business and deliberately set ourselves to the task/privilege of worship, and that’s when we need to know that what we do is not disqualified from the outset by being (i) “will-worship,” something which we want to do off our own bat and might make us feel good but is offensive to the one we’re purporting to worship or (ii) “vain,” teaching for doctrines the mere commandments of mere men, as well as more generally (iii) defiled by being undertaken with an attitude of contempt, or resistance, made a disguise for sin or an attempt to cancel out sin, and so on. In guarding against (i) and (ii) particularly the scriptures are our only reliable, and wholly sufficient, resource.

‘For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing mercy to thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.’

* I know that this question was addressed to the Church in the Old Testament, not so much to query the forms of their worship (which were all scriptural) but in the context of a rebuke for their making a mockery of divine worship by observing the correct forms while continuing to lead rebellious and sinful lives in their relations with each other. But this only adds force to the requirement to be careful how we worship – the heart has to be right and the format has to be acceptable, because worship is a serious matter.
** My co-religionists might recognise this as the regulative principle, and the mention of it has reminded me to make the point that this principle isn’t (really) recognisable in works such as John Frame’s Worship in Spirit and Truth, whatever the claims and intentions behind it might be. A discussion for another day, perhaps.

just and no more

I made it onto my train home this morning by dint of a sprint which, shockingly, left me short of breath and wheezing pitifully for a good three quarters of an hour after. Other than teaching me not to rely too much for cachet among six year olds on claims of how fast I could run at their age, it shows that it’s quite right to continue to politely turn down hill walking opportunities and invitations to participate in other insanely strenuous activities. Touch of asthma, better not risk it eh.

Apart from that, on arrival back to my email it transpires that this is the week when I need to decide whereabouts the colon in my thesis title can most strategically be placed. Things are getting interesting.

here’s the plan

I’m going to be away this weekend, not for Easter, Friday to Monday inclusive.

When I get back I’ll try and write something about some of the side issues left over from last week’s discussions.

Right now I’m immersed in stats and struggling. I console myself by considering that at least it’s not more marking of woeful undergrad assignments. I know better than the student who thought that what and when constitute examples of English irregular plurals.

what speakers know

Working on a Saturday again. Contemplating linguistic knowledge:

Currently, the only theoretical framework that embeds indexicality centrally within phonological knowledge is the exemplar-based model of representation discussed by, amongst others, Goldinger (1997), Johnson (1997), Pisoni (1997), Pierrehumbert (2001, 2003a, b), Lachs, McMichael, and Pisoni (2003), Hawkins and Smith (2001), and Hawkins (2003). The exemplar model takes a very different point of departure from most other models by not assuming that lexical representations are stored solely in abstract and invariant form. Instead, knowledge of linguistic structure is built up by representing in memory the totality of linguistic experiences that an individual has. So, for example, knowledge of the sound patterning associated with the word cat is not considered to be reducible to something like a three phoneme string, /kat/. Rather, it consists of a detailed record of all of the exemplars that an individual speaker–listener has encountered of that word. In principle, a lexical representation may therefore include a potentially vast set of detailed acoustic traces based upon tokens an individual has heard, and a parallel set of traces bearing articulatory information about tokens that the individual has uttered. Each exemplar simultaneously encodes non-linguistic as well as linguistic information since the acoustic record contains reflexes of who was speaking and what the speaker’s voice sounded like (in terms of segmental features, pitch range, voice quality, etc.).

Foulkes & Docherty (2006), ‘The social life of phonetics and phonology.’ Journal of Phonetics 34: 409–438

Scottish age of consent non-consultation

** [Update: It appears from what I heard this evening that the consultation period may have been extended for another week. If you feel strongly about it and missed the Fri 14th deadline it can’t do any harm to write.] ** 

Email from the Christian Institute this morning:

We discovered only yesterday that the Scottish Government has been holding an extremely low key consultation on radical plans for sweeping changes to the age of consent law.

The deadline for responding to the consultation is tomorrow (Friday, 14 March).

For a Christian Institute briefing that sets out the proposals, click on this link:

For contact details and tips for writing, click on this link:

The consultation is a response to a Scottish Law Commission report published in December 2007. The Commission’s recommendations include legalising sex between children both aged 13 to 15.

The proposals will also permit those over 16 to engage in certain forms of sexual activity with someone no more than two years younger.

Under the plans a 15 year-old could legally engage in homosexual activity with a 13 year-old boy; a 15-year-old boy could have sex with a girl aged 13.

Please respond to this consultation. It is vital that as many Christians as possible object to these proposals.

Please pray:
* That the Scottish Government would drop these horrific plans.
* That there would be fair and widespread media coverage of this matter.
* For the staff of the Institute as they work on this issue.

If you read this in time and can possibly respond to the consultation please do.

the basic mission

A little bit of phonology, to, I dunno, lighten the tone.

“The incommensurability between discrete and continuous time is surely one reason why linguists often consider most cognitive disciplines outside linguistics to be irrelevant (e.g. experimental psychology, neuroscience, and experimental phonetics). They may assume that these time-dependent fields can have no direct impact on language, a pure symbol system. (Of course, the discrete subdisciplines of mathematics and logic are taken seriously indeed.) Correspondingly, this is why scientists from many other disciplines have great difficulty understanding the basic mission that linguistics has taken on. If one believes that cognitive and linguistic events could not, in fact, exhibit symptoms of existence either in space or time, then, since real physical and physiological events do, there is no way to make them fit together.”

Port & Leary (2005), ‘Against formal phonology.’ Language 81: 927-964

the problem with pictures

According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, some of the things forbidden in the second commandment include:

“the making of any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it…” (q109).

In his commentary on this catechism, JG Vos makes the following points (when you come to the dates, note that it was originally published as a magazine series in the 1940s – edited later by GI Williamson and published in book form in 2002) .

1. Why is it wrong to make any representation or picture of God?

    Because God is a pure Spirit, without bodily form, and any picture or representation which man can make can only give a false idea of the nature of God. This is true, as the catechism intimates, regardless of whether an outward image or likeness is made, or only an inward image in a person’s mind. In either case, the attempt to visualise God is sinful and can only falsify or distort the revelation of God presented in the Bible.

    2. Is it wrong to make paintings or pictures of our Saviour Jesus Christ?

      According to the Larger Catechism, this is certainly wrong, for the catechism interprets the second commandment as forbidding the making of any representation of any of the three persons of the Trinity, which would certainly include Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, God the Son. While pictures of Jesus are extremely common in the present day, we should realise that in calvinistic circles this is a relatively modern development. Our forefathers at the time of the Reformation, and for perhaps 300 years afterward, scrupulously refrained, as a matter of principle, from sanctioning or making use of pictures of Jesus Christ. Such pictures are so common in the present day, and so few people have conscientious objections to them, that it is practically impossible to obtain any Sabbath School helps or Bible story material for children that is free of such pictures. The American Bible Society is to be commended for its decision that the figure of the Saviour may not appear in Bible motion pictures issued by the Society.

      3. What attitude should we adopt in view of the present popularity of pictures of Jesus Christ?

      The following considerations may be suggested as bearing on this question:

      (a) The Bible presents no information whatsoever about the personal appearance of Jesus Christ, but it does teach that we are not to think of him as he may have appeared ‘in the days of his flesh,’ but as he is today in heavenly glory, in his estate of exaltation (2 Cor 5:16).

      (b) Inasmuch as the Bible presents no data about the personal appearance of our Saviour, all artists’ pictures of him are wholly imaginary and constitute only the artists’ ideas of his character and appearance.

      (c) Unquestionably pictures of the Saviour have been very greatly influenced by the theological viewpoint of the artist. The typical modern picture of Jesus is the product of nineteenth-century “Liberalism” and presents a “gentle Jesus” who emphasised only the love and Fatherhood of God and said little or nothing about sin, judgment, and eternal punishment.

      (d) [People who derive their ideas about Jesus from such pictures] inevitably think of Jesus as a human person, rather than thinking of him according to the biblical teaching as a divine person with a human nature. The inevitable effect of popular acceptance of pictures of Jesus is to overemphasise his humanity and to forget or neglect his deity (which of course no picture can portray). …

      4. Are not pictures of Jesus legitimate provided they are not worshipped or used as ‘aids to worship’?

      As interpreted by the Westminster Assembly, the second commandment certainly forbids all representations of the persons of the Trinity, and this coupled with the truth … that Christ is a divine person with a human nature taken into union with himself, and not a human person, would imply that it is wrong to make pictures of Jesus Christ for any purpose whatsoever. Of course, there is a difference between using pictures of Jesus to illustrate children’s Bible story books or lessons, and using pictures of Jesus in worship … Admittedly the former is not an evil in the same class with the latter. …

      JG Vos (2002), The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary (edited by GI Williamson).

      retelling the story

      According to media reports, the BBC is soon to air a dramatisation of the crucifixion of Jesus. The series will run throughout March, and according to an organisation called the Churches’ Media Council, “There’s no need to debate whether or not the Christian community should welcome this production or not.” They want the Christian community to “celebrate the fact that the story of Jesus is being retold” and welcome it unreservedly, remembering that it is a work of drama (not an evangelistic effort) and recognising that it will get millions of viewers talking about Jesus.

      Without wanting to be needlessly curmudgeonly about it though, I can’t say this position is one that I share.

      There are, of course, serious concerns about how having an actor play the role of the Saviour is blasphemous. I wrote on this before:

      “Films are favoured as teaching tools because of the way they can convey their message much more powerfully than conventional media. But when you present someone with an actor attempting to play the role of Jesus, the message that that conveys is wrong from start to finish. It’s wrong ultimately because it contravenes the second commandment, but it’s wrong too in the sense that it gives the viewer a fatally distorted idea of what this person Jesus Christ is really like.” (Full post here.)

      However, even that aside, the goal of a Christian witness is not simply to ‘get people talking’ about Jesus and his life. Clearly it’s better for people to be acquainted with the facts about his life, death, and resurrection than to be completely in the dark about these things. But getting people talking is really only worthwhile to the extent that the information they base their conversations on is accurate, complete, and well-motivated. (In the education system many of us are sadly only too familiar with scenarios where discussions are based on a mistaken and partial grasp of the material under discussion and the point of the exercise is more or less entirely missed.) I’d suggest that even without the problems about the second commandment, it’s odd to think that the Christian community would unreservedly welcome a production made by contemporary scriptwriters with no particularly obvious commitment to the doctrinal interpretation of the death of Christ (the atonement) or the intended purpose of the history being recounted in the gospels (so that people would put their faith in the crucified Christ for salvation from sin) – a production made more with an eye to portraying iconic stories than providing people with what they need to know about the person and work of the Son of God in human nature.

      Might I also suggest that the eagerness of some sections of the Christian community to identify this kind of production as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” is not only somewhat naive but also a missing of the real opportunity that arises. It’s naive in the sense that one-off instances of major publicity for some aspect of the contents of scripture don’t seem to have any long-term positive benefit for the church at large, whatever the immediate impact might have been in terms of people reporting being profoundly moved and inspired to greater emotional devotion. The event itself takes place once in a generation, perhaps, but the generation is not shaped by it in any significant way. And although there are website resources made available specifically for people who want to ‘find out more about Jesus’ after watching this series, these are not really the resources which genuinely equip the church to deal with the opportunity itself. Rather than providing a safe starting point for people to develop an ‘interest in Jesus’, dramatisations like this need to be critiqued from a Christian perspective, so that the doctrinal and practical nuances are exposed for Christians to either guard against or make use of, as appropriate. Even if people find it a positive emotional experience, or can appreciate good acting in a historical drama, it’s surely irresponsible to treat it as an off-the-shelf evangelistic tool unless and until it has been openly evaluated in terms of respect for the global message of the scriptures and a clear presentation of the relevant doctrinal truths.

      Links are as follows, purely for the purposes of traceability. Anyone who is reluctant to look at pictures of actors playing Jesus and other bible characters should click with caution.
      The report in Christian Today; the guidance notes from the Churches’ Media Council; the BBC page, including video clips; the resources linked to the programme for people with further questions.