Oh THAT New Castle

My most recent post reflected my confusion at the phrase "Carrying coal to New Castle." And my mother likewise shared her thoughts of wondering where they are keeping all that coal? Perhaps under Coaltown Hill? (I jest. This hill near my parents' house is naught but the bane of many a school bus driver during the winter months. If you are from New Castle, this joke is lame. If you're not, this joke is....even lamer.)

Fear not, our dear friend Google is here to help!

The actual phrase is "Carrying coals to Newcastle" and refers to Newcastle, England, which was the UK's first coal exporting port. It does indeed mean to do something "pointless and superfluous" (score points for using context clues!), since Newcastle was itself a rich source of coal.

Related phrases include "carrying owls to Athens" and "selling snow to Eskimos" since, doubtless, Greece already had its fair share of wisdom and Eskimos need no more snow than they have.

Thanks to The Phrase Finder for providing this information, which I have shamelessly copied directly to my blog with little, if any, paraphrasing.

I'm inspired to come up with my own related phrases...how about "giving football lessons to Hines Ward" or "feeding beans to my husband". Sadly, I can't come up with anything clever that has to do with Chick-Fil-A.

New Castle Must Have Plenty of Coal

I've just arrived home from my second and final road trip of the month. And hopefully will not be putting rump to car seat for a good long time! My Nissan and I have covered just over 2,000 miles in the past 2 weeks, and R.C. Sproul has never seemed such a bosom buddy. Why, we had the most delightful conversation during the last half hour of my drive home from Tennessee. Last night. At 2:30 a.m.

We get a bit punchy when we're on the road for nine hours by ourselves. R.C. will tell you.

Though you can't begin to imagine the solid, Reformation teaching that has permeated my brain in the past few weeks. If Sproul can Renew Your Mind in 26:50, what do you think happens in (18*2*26:50) + (17*2*26:50)?

I will tell you that I can finish his sentences verbatim and answer his rhetorical questions with nary an effort. [He's making a few grammatical errors in his old age, particularly with regard to subject/verb agreement, he loves the Steelers, and his new favorite phrase is "carrying coal to New Castle", whatever that means (I think it means doing something unnecessary or superfluous?).]

The upside?

Never have I felt so confident of my salvation, so sure of my election, and so ready to give an answer for the things I believe. Go ahead, try me. Reformation theology is like a sweet, sweet drug - wine gladdens the hearts of men, but TULIP makes them positively giddy.

Or it could have been something circulating in my A/C for 9 hours straight. I'm not sure.

But today was a great day to submit my rank list for internship! I have a sense of total peace about my placement (or lack thereof) for next year. A few days ago I was blessed to read through Psalm 112 with some dear sisters (and brother) in Christ, and a line caught my eye.

Psalm 112:1,7:
Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who greatly delights in His commandments!
He is not afraid of bad news;
his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.

The Lord is gracious to those who fear him, who walk in his ways and delight in his commandments. We enjoy his providence and tender mercies, and know that whatever comes, it is the Lord's good pleasure for us. So, internship or no, Praise the Lord!

Soli deo gloria!

I'm Dreaming of a White Superbowl

I am not a fan of weather that causes me to eat the proverbial crow in front of the whole interweb.

Or, you know, the .001% of the interweb that hangs out at my blog.

As I watched the weather.com radar map, a very large blob of light blue "snow" moved steadily toward Virginia Beach and then...vaporized. Before my very eyes. Gone. Nary a snowflake so much as crystallized in Hampton Roads today.

Meanwhile, in Raleigh (yes, North Carolina; yes, south of Virginia Beach):

We live in a pocket of anti-freeze.

Cold Day In....

Well you know where it must be a cold day (and I don't mean just at the oceanfront) when Virginia Beach has a winter storm warning. We might get 3-6 inches of snow by tomorrow evening! Snowfall of this magnitude is enough to shut down the entire Hampton Roads area for the day - given our lack of snow tires, road salt, and driving wherewithal.

The best part?

This would mean Day Three of hanging out at home with my hubby! I think I am praying harder for a snow day tomorrow than I ever did in grade school, even though there are no sledding hills around here for miles.

Joel and I enjoyed a very strange Sunday yesterday after I arrived home around 4 a.m. We had the best intentions of attending church but after my marathon drive (involving an accidental and most unhelpful detour) and the tail end of a stomach bug, we slept in all the way til eleven! To make up for missing church, we watched part of a DVD on the Reformation when we had finished our pancakes and hash browns.

Then today was MLK Day (not to be confused with MILK Day. Sometimes I don't read so good. But that's another story.), so of course the Chamber was closed along with Regent. Another day to while away together!

And so if this snow thing does indeed come to pass, I believe it will be the Lord's way of blessing Joel and me with a solid three days together in between my five-day road trips. He always knows just what we need!

Photographic evidence of snow angels and sculptures to come, I hope! Or we might, you know, stay inside where it's warm and brew lots of African-flavored coffee, seeing as how my snow pants are at my parents' house in PA.

If Church Were Like the NFL

A little comic relief on this Saturday morning...though I'm pretty sure I actually have seen some of this stuff in real churches, especially the clips of the pastors introducing themselves.

Highlights of the video: "pre-gaming" with communion cups; "have you ever bet on attendance?", King James vs. NIV, "Chief's fan - they play at 11".

I wish I could give a hat tip for this one, but I don't remember where I came across this little gem. Enjoy!

**HT: Irish Calvinist blog who hat tips a blog no longer in existence. Let me know if you can dig up any other background on the video.


After a brief whirlwind tour of eastern PA and north Jersey, I am pleased to report that I am hereby DONE with internship interviews!

My deepest and sincere thanks to you who covered my travels and interviews in prayer. It could not have been more clear to me that the Lord God went before me and made His face to shine favorably upon the interviews. While they were intense, I felt sharp and on-point with my responses to questions and analyses of sample case vignettes, etc. I can only hope that my interviewers went away feeling as positive about their time with me.

And I can honestly say that I loved both the Reading Hospital and Medical Center (TRHMC) and Greystone Park Psych Hospital (GPPH) programs. My personality would be a great fit at TRHMC, while the GPPH would offer some wonderful opportunities since it is state-funded and housed in a brand new facility. I would be happy matching at either site!

Now we wait for the dice to be rolled. It's still possible that I won't match at all, so don't stop interceding before the Lord on my behalf! We're confident that the Lord has a plan for the next year of our lives, and hope that it will involve an internship - but if not, we'll proceed where He leads and thank Him for it. May He receive all of the praise and glory for two highly positive interviews and for whatever good He reveals in the coming year.

The Shack, Part the First

[This is the first of a few posts on The Shack. I hope you'll bear with me through some potentially lengthy comments and interact with them by leaving your own comments. It is my intent to approach the book with humility and a firm love for the truth, which has been revealed to us in the Word of God. You should know that I work from the perspective of Reformed theology and believe that the Bible is the highest authority against which all else should be tested. I can do no less or more than point to Scripture as an answer to the issues raised by this book, and make no apology for the firmness with which God commands His children to guard His truth.]

I recently read through the current "Christian" best-seller The Shack by William P. Young. This based-on-a-true-story novel depicts a guy named Mack symbolically and literally revisiting the place of his deepest pain. He visits "the shack" only to find - or rather, to be found by - "Papa", his wife's affectionate nickname for God. Mack spends the weekend soliciting Papa's answers for life's toughest questions from the purpose of pain and suffering to the nature of God and His views on religion.

Prior to reading this book, I had perused several reviews by such as Tim Challies and Mark Driscoll. The general consensus among Bible scholars and discerning believers seems to be that the book flirts with heresy, whereas others like Michael W. Smith regard it as "the most absorbing work of fiction I've read in many years....The Shack will leave you craving for the presence of God."

Perhaps, but not in the way Smith intended. Little but fluff, this work leaves the discerning Christian cold and hungry for the meat of the true gospel.

It may be emotionally powerful and spiritually gripping, but largely unbalanced in its presentation of "truth" and its answering of Mack's questions.

In my posts discussing the book, I will attempt to distill my own opinions of the book (of which there are many) into several overarching themes. In this initial post, I'd like to address a few general arguments I have encountered regarding fiction-as-theology (particularly The Shack). I encourage you to read my responses and interact with them via your comments below. I realize these arguments are born of a genuine desire to be open-minded and I appreciate their intent, but I don't believe that they hold up against the standard of Scripture. I do not highlight these arguments in order to rebuke, but rather to exhort fellow believers to the high calling of God's Word.

1. It's only a work of fiction - it's not trying to teach doctrinal truths about God.

No human creation is devoid of a worldview, or basic presuppositions about the nature of reality. To create is to leave a mark that tells something of the creator's character and values (isn't this, after all, what Christians believe about the general revelation of nature?). So let us first discard the notion that a novel could be free from certain kinds of views and values. And when we understand that the book explicitly depicts the Triune God as physically present with a human being, answering questions and explaining His own nature, red flags and alarms ought to be going off in every direction! How could such a book not present truth claims in some form or fashion? We ought, then, to read carefully.

And indeed, this novel purports to be more than fiction: "The answers Mack gets will astound you and perhaps transform you as much as it did him. You'll want everyone you know to read this book!" This from the back cover of the book. The author's apparent intent, from what I can gather, is to share the answers he's found to life's tough questions and his own God-image transformation. He hopes the book will be transformational and encourages its readers to expand its circle of influence. The author himself has stated in a number of interviews that he intended his work to be more than fiction.

2. You shouldn't form an opinion about the book without reading it for yourself.

A fair enough protestation on the surface, but what if we were to carry it through to its logical conclusion? One could not claim to have an opinion about anything he had not tested, tasted, smelled, touched, heard, or seen. I would have to read the entire Quran, or the complete works of David Koresh, in order to deem them false. In Scripture we are exhorted to "test everything" in terms of teachings so that we can "hold fast to what is true" (1 Thes 5:21). But does this mean that I, personally, must try everything? I should weigh every teaching that I encounter, in terms of discerning truth from falsehood. But let us not discount the value of relying on trusted believers' evaluations. In the case of The Shack, I've read reviews and perused information from a variety of sources including those comments mentioned above. I would venture to say that when it comes to book and other kinds of reviews, the purpose of discernment shifts to the weighing of the source. One should not, for instance, give undue credit to someone who writes outside his area of expertise, nor take seriously the critique of a man whom you know to hold untrue beliefs. A book review written by Brett Favre or Rob Bell (not to place these two on the same level of esteem...) wouldn't persuade me to form an opinion on anything.

On the other hand, I can trust Christian scholars like Sproul, Challies, Piper, etc. because I have continuously compared their teachings against Scripture and found them to be discerning and trustworthy. Thankfully we can turn to those more informed and well-read than ourselves to provide reliable information, so that we do not need to read for ourselves every book ever written. My life would be spent frantically trying to keep up with the publishers, with no time left over for lofty blog posts! So I inform myself via the work of trusted others, thus exercising my responsibility to test and discern what is good without wandering right into the lion's den, so to speak. Indeed, according to Challies (2007), just because we are to test everything does not mean that we are to try everything. "We do not necessarily need to touch or experience things to know that they are evil" (p. 84). I believe that The Shack contains heresy because I trust the theology of those who have told me so.

That said, it isn't as though I am against reading things in order to form firsthand opinions of them. It's just that, after learning that the book contains untruths and partial truths (which are really untruths if you think about it), I had no desire to read The Shack. I just didn't feel like it. And to anyone who would desire to read it, I only caution you to read it with discernment and to be aware of the charges brought against it. As believers, are we not called to be responsible and well-informed readers? Is this not part of our duty to "test everything"?

3. It is (rigid/closed-minded/inflexible/etc.) of you to call a work of fiction 'heresy'!

Let's talk about the definition of heresy for a moment. In its broadest sense, heresy refers to any teaching or belief that departs from orthodoxy (the traditional teachings to which Christians through the years have held). More specifically, we can look at different "levels of theological urgency" (Challies, 2007, p. 87). Several teachings have been most central and essential to the Christian faith, including the doctrines of the Trinity, atonement, the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith alone, and the authority of Scripture (Challies). This will be an important list to keep in mind as we compare these first-order theological issues with those tackled in The Shack.

While we are to take all theological issues seriously ("test everything", remember?), those who deny or distort any of the above teachings have departed from biblical Christianity (Challies). So these areas are those in which we can most certainly apply the label of "heresy" to inaccurate teachings. Christians differ significantly on other topics, such as baptism and spiritual gifts, but one can be incorrect here without actually being heretical. I understand that heresy is an emotionally loaded word that sounds extreme and harsh, but an untruth about the nature or character of the God of the universe or of His gospel ought to bring harsh criticism from those who love Him and His truth. For my part, I find it impossible to endorse a book that might contain a few helpful principles about God's love that are largely wrapped in layers of half truths that feel good. Any dilution or distortion of the truth is problematic.

Does this represent a rigid view of Scripture? Judge for yourself: Hebrews 5:11-14 says that the mature are those whose powers of discernment are trained to distinguish good from evil, and tells us that those who are immature require milk and are unskilled in the word of righteousness. (By no means do I claim to have arrived at full spiritual maturity, per Hebrews 5, but by God's grace and Holy Spirit I'm being shaped to that end.) 1 and 2 Timothy exhort believers to guard the deposit of truth; we are to hold fast to the Word of truth (1 Cor. 15:2, Phil. 2:16). The Scripture has a high view of itself, and through it God tells us in countless ways to cling to what is true and hate what is false or evil, particularly when it comes to the truths of the gospel (Gal. 2:5). The Psalmist sings of the Word, of the statutes and ways of the Lord, which bring wisdom and delight when learned and rightly obeyed (Psalm 119). God's Word leaves no room for a casual approach; those who love Him obey His commands (1 John 5:2). According to what Scripture says about itself, those who love the Lord are also to love truth and are to guard it fiercely, especially truths about the very nature of God and His gospel!

These are the very truths that are undermined in The Shack. Even providing some leeway for the book to be viewed as fiction, the answers given by "Papa" in the book are problematic. Allegorical aspects aside, old heresies including modalism and Gnosticism are sprinkled liberally throughout the novel. There is nothing new here, but the discerning reader ought to be concerned nonetheless.

4. Shouldn't you be able to take the good and leave the bad?

This might be possible for the discerning reader. I can acknowledge some helpful aspects of the book - but the danger is that it still contains too many half-truths and untruths to render it truly helpful, or something I could recommend to anyone else. Would you place even one drop of poison in a glass full of water and deem it fit to drink? A book that contains an un-Scriptural view of God ought to be passed over in favor of one that presents Him truthfully, regardless of how moving the underlying story might be.

And indeed, would those who love God's truth even enjoy reading something that requires such sifting of wheat from chaff? I personally found many statements in the book to be jarring to my thoughts and to the storyline as Scripture after Scripture bombarded my mind with truth after countermanding truth.

But more about that soon, when I post my thoughts about the book itself...

Challies, T. (2007). The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Marriage Blessing

Joel and I had the opportunity to visit with some dear friends while we traveled for Christmas. We stopped in Pennsylvania to stay in the home of Len and Sue, and their son Micah. This Godly family extended warm hospitality, and we enjoyed catching up with them and sharing in their family devotional time. What an encouraging example of placing Christ and the Word at the center of their lives.

While we were there, Len provided us with a handwritten copy of the blessing he spoke at our wedding over two years ago. Joel posted it on his blog today, and reading through it brought me to tears. This blessing speaks of the priorities and privileges of a Christian marriage, and by God's grace I believe He is carrying this blessing out. It is humbling and astonishing to read Len's words and to realize that God has been working out these Biblical exhortations in my marriage! I hope you will read the blessing for yourself and be encouraged to commit your relationships to God. By the power of His Spirit, He is mighty to bring about His purposes and to glorify Himself through our small, human lives - through both our challenges and our joys! We have obviously not arrived at the full sanctification of our marriage just yet (what an understatement!), but the hand of God is undeniably shaping us and conforming us to His image. Lord, continue your work in us and help us always to submit to your ways.

For Joel and Liz,

As each day unfolds, the Lord calls us to approach that day as one filled with wonder, amazement, and opportunity. A gift from God to be used to bring Him honor and glory. We are called to fill each day with all the love that lives within us, with goodness, with charity, with kindness, with generosity. May your life together take shape day by day. May these vows of marriage in the name of Jesus Christ be the cornerstone on which your life is built. May the visions you both hold dearest be those that come to pass. May the lives you touch and the friendships you make be those that endure.

As your hearts are full of love, may the world always be filled with the beauty that He gives to us. May you always realize how precious the gift is that God has given to you both - the heart of the one you love. May He bless you with many merry days. May everything you do in life reflect that special glow of the Holy Spirit who dwells within.

May contentment always latch your door. May the Lord make your relationships a great and holy adventure together. May you surrender to the King - your conflicts and your burdens. May you always be guided in the ways of holiness. May your relationship together be as a burst of light; a fount of love and wisdom for you both, for your family, for your community, for our world. May you always remember that in each other you have the most beautiful woman, the most beautiful man. Yes, even the strongest one in whose loving arms you are repaired and made whole all over again. May you remain forever young in your marriage. May you grow each day in wisdom and in your desire to serve one another as you both serve the King of Kings - our Lord, our Savior, our God, Jesus Christ.

In His name we pray, Amen.

Last Horse Across the Finish Line

Remember how I was going to read through Isaiah over break? No deal. But this is because Joel blessed me with the new ESV Study Bible for Christmas, and I've been deeply absorbed in its pages for the past few weeks. Well, week anyway. And I have an earth-shattering observation to share with y'all.

When I read the Bible every day, it changes who I am!

I know, I know...slow clap, as we applaud the final straggling horse (me). After all, doesn't the Scripture tell us that it has this effect? Can't we see this example in those like David who meditated upon the Lord's statutes day and night? (Well, at least early in the morning; that's one example of which I will likely always fall short. I don't do early mornings.)

Really, I wish there were some way to conduct a double-blind study of the correlation between my spiritual health, experience of and resistance to temptation, and my reading of the Word. As it is, there is no hope of a control group, and far too much experimenter bias to render the study reliable or valid.

But alas, all I can report is a shoddy collection of anecdotal evidence. I started in Genesis when I got my new Bible (which weighs a certifiable 50 lbs - if the Word of God is a double-edged sword, then this is a battle axe), just soaking up all the extra information with regard to authorship, themes, cross-references, etc. It not only nourishes my spirit, it also feeds my mind! With the ESV Study Bible it's easier than ever to trace themes and notice connections, and it always highlights the sovereignty of God and His faithful work in a particular (sinful) people for a particular purpose. What a needed reminder in the midst of internship interview season! I can identify with Abraham, who lived in anticipation of a promise, in faith that the Lord would bring it about.

Allow me to reach my point (finally! you no doubt sigh in relief...): I skipped an evening this week (I'm telling you, the early morning thing is my arch-nemesis, though I long to master it) and noticed an immediate decline in my sanctification, as evidenced by increased occurrence of overtly sinful thoughts and decreased ability to withstand temptation. Coincidence? I think not - though this is where that double-blind study with control group would come in handy.

Dissertation, get thee out of my head.

What I'm trying to say is that the Word of God? It's like a light to my feet and a lamp to my path or something. Like maybe reading and meditating on the Word and promises of God bring life and revive the soul? I don't know. But it's like I read that somewhere once...