Diderot’s “Holiness”

I have been reading some Denis Diderot for fun these past few days. I looked at his Encyclopedia today and found this definition for “holiness”: “the quality of state of a saint or without sin.”

Full disclosure: I have been influenced by Peter Gentry’s work on this. Found here.

In his lecture, Gentry argues that “holy” and its cognates ought to be conceived as “that which is dedicated to someone or something.” I find this immensely helpful because you can even sense Diderot’s difficulty in finding an adequate definition when getting to the issue of those things used in service to God. Although he offers it as a secondary definition, it ought to be a primary definition.

What’s the cash value of saying that “holy” is equivalent to saying “dedicated to”? I think the immediate result is a re-fashioning of what we understand of God when we say that he is “holy.” Surely the concept ought not to only mean “without sin”–though it is by no means any less than this! For example the preeminent text regarding God’s holiness is Isaiah 6, where Isaiah sees YHWH is resplendent glory and the attendant angels cry out unceasingly that YHWH is “holy, holy, holy.”

Surely they are saying more than YHWH is unblemished by sin, though, again, the implication is there when contrasted with Isaiah’s claim to be a man of sinful lips among sinful people.

Given the rest of the book of Isaiah (since this is our ad hoc test case), “dedicated” makes much more sense with how the rest of the book plays out. You have the bloodthirsty Assyrians and Babylonians who are hell bent on exalting their kingdoms by denigrating and enslaving and destroying all those in their way. They fight with reckless abandon for their own glory. YET, this pride will not go without answer from the Most High.

The balm of chapter 40 is applied to the wounds of God’s people.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that her warfare[a] is ended,
    that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord‘s hand
    double for all her sins. (vv.1-2)

How is this comfort to be administered?

By the proclamation of one crying out in the desert to prepare the way of YHWH. The comfort is only possible because of the Lord’s commitment to his word (v.8).  The comfort is only realized when he shpeherds his people with grace (v.11). The comfort is made palpable when the one who holds all kingdoms in the hollow of his hand–to squeeze or to release (vv.12-17). All this comfort is made true when YHWH exercises his prerogative to flex his arm of salvation. Why does he do this? Because he fully committed to showing his right to do all that he pleases in heaven and on earth.

This provides the solace and justification for our confidence in the midst of darkness. Because YHWH is dedicated to his fame and his renown throughout Creation and has bound displaying this holiness through redeeming his people, we can confidently weep and humbly shout.

Of course I would be remiss if I did not draw the fullness of this holiness to the person and work of Jesus. This is relayed in the wilderness prophet, John, as he cried for all of us to make our hearts clean through repentance. The One most holy, most dedicated to the glory of YHWH would step forward to fulfill all righteousness. His holiness would redound through the splinters of the cross and in the echoes of the empty tomb. This holy and wholly dedicated Christ would free us from our captivation and captivity to other kingdoms. Because of his holiness and unfettered commitment to the vindication of God’s righteousness on behalf of his people, Jesus reigns victorious in resplendent glory in holiness.

This is the cash value. Don’t underestimate a definition.

Morality & Obedience

I just read this article on parenting your strong-willed child. My wife and I have a strong-willed household. I will confess that I am the culprit behind the majority of this. I am working through this–trying to sift the wheat from the chaff.

As it pertains to parenting your image bearers, the author brings up a helpful distinction between raising moral children versus obedient children.

A little background, my wife and I cut our parenting teeth on a variety of parenting that was all about obedience. That is, this phenomenon in evangelical circles called “first-time obedience.” Indubitably we were way too strict and militant with our first child (hey! I have been told this is typical. . .but typical does not make right). We expected her to jump when we told her to. There did not have to be good rationale as to why she ought to jump. Simply the fact that her dictators, er, parents told her to. After all, God had placed us as authorities in her life and we had the jurisdiction and the prerogative to expect said obedience.

Dr. Markham’s article challenged me on one primary level in my parenting that I wanted to pass on along to you, dear reader. She writes (brace yourself!):

 Of course you want to raise a responsible, considerate, cooperative child who does the right thing, even when it’s hard. But that doesn’t imply obedience. That implies doing the right thing because the child WANTS to. As H.L. Mencken famously observed, morality is doing what’s right, no matter what you’re told. Obedience is doing what you’re told, no matter what’s right.

So of course you want your child to do what you say.  But not because she’s obedient, meaning that she always does what someone in authority tells her to do.  After all, that someone in authority might be a mean girl in the 8th grade, or a high school coach who makes a habit of molesting kids. No, you want her to do what you say because she trusts YOU, because she’s learned that even though you can’t always say yes to what she wants, you have her best interests at heart.  You want to raise a child who has self-discipline, takes responsibility, and is considerate — and most important, has the discernment to figure out who to trust and when to be influenced by someone else. That discernment only comes when kids are taught to think for themselves, rather than simply obeying authority.

Implied within this is the fact that your child trusts you. I have found it intellectually lazy to merely tell a child that they ought to listen to Mommy and Daddy because God has placed us as an authority in her life. It is lazy because, although true at a most basic level, we have not done the hard work of appealing to the child’s motivation itself. That is, if I were to be told by my boss that I ought to do something because God has placed her in authority over me, which is also true!, I don’t think my reaction would be the same as what I am seeking from my child. Think Golden Rule here, for simplicity’s sake.

I am taking these two paragraphs as a challenge to be the kind of parent that is trustworthy. This begins with me first deeply caring about my child as a person. Not merely because she is my flesh and blood, but because she is a human being firstnot to mention the implications of this worldview of affecting how we treat our neighbors.

What is more, this is going to take a little more thoughtfulness on my part–remember the charge of intellectual laziness? I need to pause long enough to consider whether what my call to obedience is motivated by–sloth or righteousness? I am afraid to say that more often than  not, the former is the motivation for why I want my child to pick up that sock.

It is true that I want my child to pick up after herself, but because of the virtue of being clean and responsibility and some other reasons I am sure–you can be creative I am sure. But, I have found that most of my struggles for obedience have been the result of barking terse orders rather than getting on my hands and knees and picking up (my own) socks. What’s the harm in serving my child in picking up her socks. I have imported a lot of good reasons to not serve her–”Well, I want her to learn to do this!” Or “I told her to do it and she ought to obey me!” What a slothful despot I have been.

I must be reminded of the Latin origins of our word for “parent.” It essentially means to bring forth. Assuredly this refers to the actual birthing of a child. Yet, a father does not birth. So I must take it  a little more loosely. My task is to bring my child forth into a moral, Christ-loving adult–emphasis on the latter, for from it stems the former.

May us bringers forth never forget that labor is not for a day or two but a lifetime. Yes, a lifetime–not just until 18 years. I lean on my dad for wisdom even still. . . because I trust him, not quintessentially because God placed him as an authority in my life.

May we all gain a full-orbed vision of bringing forth. May we not lead with the authority card. When that happens, you can be assured that their is no trust.

7 Things to Ask in Your Church Interview

Inevitably, if you are seeking a job or membership at a church you will be asked if you have any questions for them. I have heard too many people say, “No, I think I’m good. Appreciate it.” They leave the room and don’t get some key questions answered by the leadership. Might I encourage you to ask these questions?

  1. Could you give me a brief history of how your church started? Who it is affiliated with? (This gives you a snapshot of pitfalls and issues that birthed the church, as well as 10,000 ft view of their commitments)
  2. Why does your church exist? (Basic vision question here. Is it clear? Is it specific? Too generic of a vision statement doesn’t convince me that that church ought to exist. If it’s to merely make disciples, or merely to love God, then every other church does that already and I could be just as happy going to another place if that’s all they’re about. Further, a generic vision betrays a lack of thoughtfulness in why the church actually exists. Some may say that that’s what Jesus commanded his disciples. It smacks of piety, but Jesus also commanded his disciples with a particular context and particular mission–Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, uttermost parts of the earth. Give me something I can hold on to. On the flip side of this, you can have a vision that’s so specific that it misses the bigger vision of making disciples around the world. You are looking for the sweet tension between big and minute. Behind this question is: Has the leadership done the hard work of defining who they are?)
  3. Visit during one of the gatherings. (No, make that 3 visits!)

a) Ask a member why the church exists (i.e., why should I join this church rather than the one down the street). (This is looking for whether the leadership is communicating what they are seeking to communicate. It also helps you see how much ownership members have in the church. Like the point above, the more people you ask the better picture you will have).

b) Ask a member why the church exists (i.e., why should I join this church rather than the one down the street). (This is looking for whether the leadership is communicating what they are seeking to communicate. It also helps you see how much ownership members have in the church. Like the point above, the more people you ask the better picture you will have).

c) Ask a member what her favorite thing is about the church. Then ask a him.

d) Ask a member what her biggest challenge is at the church. Then ask a him.

4. What was the latest sermon series on? Why did they choose to do that?

5. Who is responsible for who in leadership?

6. How are the pastors/leaders spiritually nourished?

7. What books are the leadership team reading? (If they aren’t reading, you probably want to go to the next church. If they’re reading all the same books, run to the next church.)

Matthew S. Wireman | Life & Theology