John Wesley: Brand Plucked from the Burning

The rescue of the young John Wesley from the burning rectory. Mezzotint by  Samuel William Reynolds .

The rescue of the young John Wesley from the burning rectory. Mezzotint by Samuel William Reynolds.

Thinking he was dying, Evangelical Awakening leader John Wesley penned his epitaph, “John Wesley, a brand plucked out of the burning.” Brother Charles Wesley quipped, “Not once only.”  The ‘brand plucked’ phrase encapsulated the reality upon which not only his but many of his spiritual descendants’ spiritual and moral transformation hinged.  Recount with me the life events that prepared John Wesley for the signal manifestation on 24 May 1738 of his coming to saving faith two hundred and eighty one years ago this year.

At age 23, John Benjamin Wesley read Bishop Jeremy Taylor’s book, Rules and Exercises of Holy Living and Dying.  It deeply affected him.  He said, ‘Instantly I resolved to dedicate all my life to God, all my thoughts and words and actions.’  The next year he read the Catholic monk Thomas à Kempis’s book The Imitation of Christ.  There John Wesley saw that to give his life to God meant giving ‘my heart, yea, all my heart to him.’  John Wesley became what is called a ‘f-a-n-a-t-i-c’ or, same thing, a ‘Methodist’!  Theologian Albert Outler with others following suit argues the 1725 event was John Wesley’s conversion.  Granted, it was a change.  Nevertheless, it was neither the relational change of justification with God nor the new birth from above.  Dedicating his life meant to John Wesley becoming an Olympic religious athlete/monk (like Simon Stylites the ancient ascetic monk who lived on a small platform on top of a pillar for 37 years). Still, he was in dead earnest about bringing all of himself – all thoughts, all words, and all actions – and then some – into perfect conformity with religious righteousness – a.k.a. the rich, young ruler. 

His brother Charles and another friend Robert Kirkham responded to Oxford University’s Vice-Chancellor’s call for students to keep university rules.  What a novel idea!  They started a club in answer to the Vice-Chancellor’s call and made John its leader.  The club aimed at nothing short of “perfection.”  They kept track of every hour’s activity – was it done to God’s glory?  They read the Greek New Testament; fasted; prayed continually; took communion once a week; visited prisoners in the Oxford jail (I visited the cell in the 1980’s); and went to daily worship.  Fellow students called out ‘nerd alert’:  here comes the “the Holy Club,” the “Bible Moths,” and the “Methodists” – likely a pun.  Methodius was a primitive church father and the Methodists followed a stringent, methodical, Christian discipline.

Meanwhile, things were not going particularly well vocationally with John.  Though he was a tutor of Lincoln College, Oxford, some parents were reluctant to send their sons to be taught by the oddball, “Mr. Primitive Christianity.”  Moreover, his brief experience of pastoring a church was lackluster.

When the invitation came to go to Georgia as a missionary, he was ready for a “New World.”  He would oversee the English colonists and evangelize the Indians.  In crossing the Atlantic, Wesley’s tiny ship, the Simmonds, encountered a raging hurricane.  Waves vaulted the ship and smacked its wooden hull. Each time they hit, John thought the ship would be dashed into a thousand pieces.  The turmoil was not just outside.  Inside he asked himself, “Why are you so afraid to die? ... How is it that thou hast no faith?

Meanwhile, German Moravian Lutherans on board quietly served the passengers and calmly sang through the valley of the shadow of death. They were on their way to Georgia to escape religious persecution.  Intrigued, Wesley after the storm asked a Moravian, “Were you not afraid?  Thank God, no,” was the answerHow about your women and children?” “No, they are not afraid to die.”

When John arrived near Tybee Island, Georgia, Moravian leader August Spangenberg asked him point blank a question he had never considered. “Do you know Jesus Christ?”   Wesley paused.  Then he said, “I know he is the Saviour of the world.”  Spangenberg shot back, “But do you know He has saved YOU?” “I hope He died to save me,” said Wesley.  “But do you know yourself?” Spangenberg insisted.  “I do,” said Wesley.  He later confessed, “But, I fear those were vain words.”  Indeed.

Undaunted, still hot from the Holy Club culture, John Wesley was determined to make the American colonists into an Oxford Holy club – an admixture of Catholicism and Protestantism.  The colony would not.  A friend told John, “They (the parishioners) say they are Protestants, but as for you they cannot tell what religion you are of; they never heard of such before.”

In the meantime Wesley was forming a close attachment to the magistrate’s niece, Sophie Hopkey.  Long story short, she married another man.  Wesley refused to serve her communion because he said she deceived him and had not repented of it.  Her uncle the magistrate served a warrant for Wesley’s arrest.  One night Wesley quietly slinked away through the Georgia swamps.  England bound sounded pretty good.  So much for being a missionary.

Sailing home, he was dejected.  He had lost a potential wife.  His congregation was not “holy” – just irate.  His rigorous religion was giving him cold comfort.  “I have a fair summer religion,” he confessed to himself.  “Let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled”… “I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun my last thread, I shall perish on the shore!”  He mused, “I went to America to convert the Indians, but, oh, who shall convert me!”

He could not by all the rigors of self-denial, prayers, fasting, and good works make himself acceptable to God.  After all his strenuous, spiritual athletics, he could not rid himself of sin and guilt.  Should he die, he feared meeting God.

A couple of months after returning to England, in March 1738, he wrote in his Journal, “I was, on Sunday the 5th, clearly convinced of unbelief, of the want of that faith whereby alone we are saved.”  Moravian Peter Bohler counseled him to preach faith until he received it. The Moravian Lutheran understanding of justifying faith is that it is a gift which God gives and one receives.  One decides for it but God sends faith in his own time.  In April John Wesley realized he was a sinner without recourse.  Several times he wept privately over his state.  By now he had no intellectual objections to the nature of evangelical faith.  He accepted it as a sure trust in God that through the merits of Christ one’s sins are forgiven and one is reconciled to God’s favor.  However, was saving faith instantaneous like the Moravians claimed?  He studied Scripture and concluded it was instantaneous.  But was it for today?  Moravian leader Peter Bohler gave him many current witnesses who testified to it.  He was beat out of that retreat.  Intellectually and willfully he had accepted justification by faith.

Several weeks later on 24 May, 1738, after soul searching, Bible study, discussion with the Moravians, and a great sense of his spiritual lack before God, John Wesley went very unwillingly to a religious house group meeting in Aldersgate Street, London. (Nazi bombing in WW II destroyed the house.)  At about a quarter before nine, someone was reading Martin Luther’s Preface to his commentary on the Book of Romans.  As Luther was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, John Wesley felt “my heart strangely warmed.”  He said, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even MINE, and saved ME from the law of sin and death.”

Once he had been providentially plucked from his bedroom in flames.  Now he was rescued from the fires of God’s wrath.  As a child, he was helpless to get out of his flaming room.  Now he conceded he was helpless to make himself righteous.  Two men had to snatch him out of his childhood inferno.  Only Jesus Christ and his mercy offered in the atoning cross could save him from his sin.  Only Jesus could declare him acceptable to God.

Wesley scholars will forever debate the nature of the Aldersgate event.  Was Aldersgate just another step in his Christian pilgrimage?  Was it more assurance of faith than justifying faith? The bottom line is that that night in a room on Aldersgate Street John Wesley’s inner, spiritual ear heard Christ forgive him and accept him.  He went from knowing Jesus as Exemplar to knowing Jesus as Savior.  He no longer trusted in his own but Jesus’ merits.  Aldersgate is the landmark event that notes a change in status having occurred in John Wesley’s life: once a child of this world he was now a child of God; once guilty he was now forgiven; once unrighteous he was now declared righteous.  Now holy living really began.

Aldersgate was the hinge of John Wesley’s spiritual and moral transformation.  May many, many others today have their own similar Aldersgates.  Our hope is that our children and children’s children will not only be retelling his and ours, but theirs as well.

 


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Tom was most recently pastor of the Bellevue Charge in Forest, Virginia until retiring in July. Studying John Wesley’s theology, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Bristol, Bristol, England. While a student, he and his wife Pam lived in John Wesley’s Chapel “The New Room”, Bristol, England, the first established Methodist preaching house. Tom was a faculty member of Asbury Theological Seminary from 1998-2003. He has contributed articles to Methodist History and the Wesleyan Theological Journal. He and his wife Pam have two children, Karissa, who is an Associate Attorney at McCandlish Holton Morris in Richmond, and, John, who is a junior communications major/business minor at Regent University. Tom enjoys being outdoors in his parkland woods and sitting by a cheery fire with a good book on a cool evening.

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Tom Thomas

Tom was most recently pastor of the Bellevue Charge in Forest, Virginia until retiring in July.  Studying John Wesley’s theology, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Bristol, Bristol, England. While a student, he and his wife Pam lived in John Wesley’s Chapel “The New Room”, Bristol, England, the first established Methodist preaching house.  Tom was a faculty member of Asbury Theological Seminary from 1998-2003. He has contributed articles to Methodist History and the Wesleyan Theological Journal. He and his wife Pam have two children, Karissa, who is an Associate Attorney at McCandlish Holton Morris in Richmond, and, John, who is a junior communications major/business minor at Regent University.  Tom enjoys being outdoors in his parkland woods and sitting by a cheery fire with a good book on a cool evening.

Editor's Recommendation: Now You See Her by Mark Harris

Editor's Recommendation: Now You See Her by Mark Harris

Recommended by David Baggett

Sequel to Fire in the Bones, Mark Harris’s Now You See Her—about nothing less than living with our dreams and the iconoclasm of reality—is an unmitigated joy to read. Once again he enchants readers with a poignant and charming coming-of-age yarn about the power of the stories we tell ourselves. Hungry for permanent love and a hope that doesn’t disappoint, the precocious protagonist searches for signs while navigating early 1970s America, culling insights from sermons and songs, from comic books to classical movies. With a fertile mind and incredible imagination, he scans the cultural landscape for role models of masculinity and virtue: from Columbo to John Dean, from Wolfman Jack to Bob Newhart, reminding readers in the process of an earlier time Harris is so adept at resurrecting. Negotiating the deep mysteries of young love and the opposite sex, Luke’s riveting pilgrimage and fascinating psychological journey ultimately tells the tale of the beauty of reciprocity and the power of unconditional love. Growing up, like waking up, reminds us of the infinite value of what’s real and the courage it takes to risk vulnerability to experience it to the full.
David Baggett, Executive Editor

Evil in the Book of Job

Job and His Friends  by Ilya Repin (1869)

Job and His Friends by Ilya Repin (1869)

Job is an excellent, and terrifying, book, and through it we can learn much—if we have the fortitude to patiently endure its deeper lessons.

While there are many small lessons throughout the book, there are three main things I believe we should learn from Job:

1﷒     The righteous will suffer, and sometimes they will suffer because of their righteousness—just like our Savior.

2﷒     Even though Job was “blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil,” he still had faults that needed to be corrected.

3﷒     God cares enough about his children to perfect and prepare them for perfect fellowship in the ages to come.

Lesson 1: The Righteous Will Suffer

God brags about Job—wouldn’t it be awesome if the same could be said about us. And, as the first two chapters of Job make clear—he was in a right relationship with God. The author introduces him as one who was “blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil.” The Lord amplifies this when He speaks of Job saying, “there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” And to seal the deal, even The Satan (The Accuser) does not have anything to accuse Job of, he only has an assumption of what Job might be like given the right circumstances.

There should be no debate at this point in the story, Job was in a right relationship with God. And because of Job’s right relationship with Him, God supernaturally protected and blessed him. The Accuser complains that The Lord had built a hedge of protection around Job where he could not break through and wreak havoc; however, The Accuser was certain that if The Lord removed this protection, and if Job’s material blessings could be taken from him, that Job would “curse You to Your face.” In other words, The Satan accused Job of being righteous not because of his character—who he was, but only because of the good stuff God had given him—what he got. The accusation is: Job gave obedience only because he got good stuff from God.

Now comes the first terrifying part of the book—especially for those readers that are in a right relationship with God and that are living a somewhat comfortable life—God removes His protection from Job. With this, The Accuser is now free to bring about destruction in Job’s life and to test/prove the quality of his character. One important thing to remember at this point is that while Job was righteous he was not sinless. Later in the book Job will confess that neither he nor any other human who had lived to that point was sinless before God. Just as believers in Christ are in a right relationship with God while none of us are sinless, so it was with Job. Also, as we learn in Colossians, Job (like the rest of us) was born into the “domain of darkness” where the “god of this age” has significant freedom to inflict its inhabitants. The Lord’s hedge of protection about him was not something that Job earned but a grace gift that God freely bestowed upon him. God in His righteousness could have withheld all of these material blessings and Job’s life could have been filled with pain all along, but because of the free gift of God it was not.

In his first severe test Job understands this. After his properties and possessions and children are all taken from him Job responds,

         “Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
         And naked I shall return there.
         The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
         Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Once The Accuser had his first restrained access to Job (The Lord still protected Job’s person), he violently removed all of the things that he believed accounted for Job’s righteous behavior. But as we just saw from Job’s amazing response, the first test only proved God’s point and Job’s character—Job was righteous and that there were none like him.

The next time The Accuser stands before The Lord, God again brags about his servant Job and highlights the fact that Job’s love for God was not based upon the material blessings He had given him. Not one to be dissuaded by the facts, however, The Accuser makes his next accusation: Job really only loves you because you have given him health, if that is removed he will “curse you to your face.” And with this, the second phase of Job’s testing begins.

The Accuser now is granted more access to Job (although still not unrestrained) and uses the opportunity to inflict Job with “sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” After inflicting this state of constant pain, The Accuser caps his attack against Job by using what should have been Job’s last source of comfort—his wife—against him. The Accuser incites Job’s wife to try to help bring about his prediction. In her pain, she tells Job to “Curse God and die!” But even through this extreme testing, “Job did not sin with his lips.” Job has withstood the examination and his righteous character has been fully tested and proven.

Now, if the main point of the story was to show Job’s faithfulness in passing the test, I would have expected the story to have immediately jumped to Job 42:10: “The LORD restored the fortunes of Job…,” but given the extra forty chapters between where we are and that point in the book, it looks as if the main point of the story is still to come. So while we will have to dive in deeply to get to the main point, we have already learned some important lessons.

First, we learned that this is the type of universe where, even though a perfect Judge sits as sovereign, the righteous can still suffer. If the story of Job is looked at in isolation, this is true but not very comforting. However, if we look at this story (as we should all of the Old Testament) as a pointer to Jesus in some way, then we can learn an important theological truth: If the sovereign, righteous God never allowed the righteous to suffer on the earth, then Jesus—the Righteous One—would not have been allowed to suffer and die in our place. Jesus was the only sinless person, the One who justly should never have experienced the suffering brought about by sin; however, He suffered extensively (in our place). The atonement requires innocent suffering and Job shows that this is possible. This is a profound lesson we need to learn from Job (and it is one Job’s friends needed to learn also).

Second, the book of Job doesn’t directly answer the question: Why do the innocent suffer?—and, there is no single answer. If it did, the best potential answer offered would be because God was bragging about them. If this was the main point, the story could have happily ended by pasting the end of chapter 42 onto the end of chapter 2. Also, I don’t believe that The Accuser tricked God into allowing Job to be tormented. While a simple reading may seem like The Satan got the best laugh when God said, “although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause,” God’s omniscience—and the other forty chapters in the book—lead me to believe there is a deeper story. God allowed this initial test not only to prove Job’s character via a trial (which it did), but as we shall also see, this was just the first phase of the greater test that Job was about to face.

And this point leads us to the third lesson: Even though Job was in a right relationship with God, and he was proven through trial to be “a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil,” Job still had a character flaw that needed to be purged. In the next article we will see that while he was righteous, Job had a defective theology and that this in combination with a character flaw would lead him to act foolishly, but only under certain circumstances.


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Dave works in the software industry and has a background in both biology and computer science. He has interested in both of these areas, especially where they intersect. He holds a B.S. in Biological Sciences from UC Irvine, an M.S. in Computer Science from West Coast University, and an M.A. in Apologetics from Biola University.

 

 

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Dave Sidnam

Dave works in the software industry and has a background in both biology and computer science. He has interested in both of these areas, especially where they intersect. He holds a B.S. in Biological Sciences from UC Irvine, an M.S. in Computer Science from West Coast University, and an M.A. in Apologetics from Biola University.

Jr. and Sr. High School: Twilight Musings Autobiography (Part 5)

Jr. & Sr. High School in Abilene: Twilight Musings Autobiography

Elton D. Higgs

Five of my last six years of public education were in Abilene, but I spent my senior year in Rule, TX.  The year at Rule High School was such a contrast to all my Abilene school and social experiences that it deserves a separate essay, which will come in the next installment.  My junior high and first two senior high school years in Abilene entailed growing through exposure to new educational structures and fresh opportunities for developing skills.  It was during these years that I had to come to terms with having to work hard in my courses, instead of breezing through, as I did mostly in grade school.  I learned to adapt to trying to do my best, even when my best was not going to bring me the good grades that I was used to.  In reality, some of the courses that were most difficult for me turned out to have long-lasting benefits. I hope that perhaps I made some first steps toward humility in the process.

It was during junior high school that I played in the band for a couple of years.  My brother Thavis got me a cheap clarinet and encouraged me to participate.  The director, Mr. Griep, was a classmate of Thavis in the master’s degree program at Hardin Simmons University, but that connection didn’t bring me any advantage.  I was a mediocre player, neither the best nor the worst in my section.  I remember being a part of a trio and practicing with two girls for a competition.  We did a passable but not an excellent job. The band played and marched at half-time for football games, so there was a lot of practice for that.  We traveled with the team for out-of-town games as well as performing at home games.  We went to the state band competitions, and I think we got a first, as a result of Mr. Griep’s vigorous drilling.  By the third year of junior high, I was losing interest in the band and didn’t sign up again.  However, I still remember the embouchure (lip configuration) for the clarinet and can make some kind of appropriate sound when I pick one up.  That is the only musical instrument that I ever learned to play, but it sharpened my ability to read music, which was a lasting benefit.

I had another girlfriend experience in junior high.  There was a girl named Charlotte Elliot who appeared on local television as a singer, and she caught my fancy.  I left notes in her locker, but, alas, she did not reciprocate!  I lived through it somehow.  As well as I can remember, all of my subsequent infatuations were with girls from church, none of which lasted long.

Taking a couple of years of Spanish in junior high school led to my first trip out of the U.S.  The class went to Monterrey, Mexico for cultural exposure to a Spanish-speaking country and practice in the language.  My family couldn’t afford the cost, so it was a blessing that someone at the school paid the fee.  I never knew for sure who it was, but I suspect it was my Spanish teacher, who thought I had done well in the class and wanted me to go.  I gained some proficiency in speaking Spanish, and even my rudimentary ability enabled me to work in a dry goods store in my senior year in Rule, selling clothes to Mexican migrant workers who were there picking cotton.  They were commonly referred to in Texas as “wetbacks” because they were pictured as having entered the country by wading the Rio Grande River (sound familiar?).

I went to Abilene High School for my sophomore and junior years, and I have several good memories of those two years. One of my initial courses there was two semesters of typing.  I was terrible at it, and my grades were the lowest of any course I ever took.  But the basic skill I gained has been monumental in its significance.  I became thoroughly immersed in touch typing, rather than hunt-and-peck.  I have often thanked God for making sure my advisor signed me up for the class. 

The high point of those years was singing, first in the Men’s Chorus and then the next year in the Acapella Choir, with admission only by audition.  The Acapella went on tour for a week toward the end of the year, and all music had to be memorized.  The director was Gene Kenny, a man with high standards, demanding the best we could deliver and using mostly classical and folk music for his material.  Those who heard the Choir commented on its mature sound for a high school group.  There was individual talent, too, in the person of a marvelous bass-baritone named Julian Long.  The Choir made a recording (33 rpm disc) of its repertoire, of which I still have a copy and play from time to time.

Another major high school memory is two world history classes I took from a dynamic teacher named Sarah Hardy.  She was probably in her 50s or 60s and had been around for a good while.  She engaged my attention and interest more than any other high school teacher.  I didn’t realize at the time that her anti-Russian bias marked her as a political conservative, but she was fond of saying that Stalin was from an Eastern culture and could not be expected to act like people from the West.  The framework of Western History she gave me in those two courses has been useful during all of my subsequent academic studies.

My five years in junior high and senior high in Abilene were a time of broadening my cultural and political perspectives.  My Spanish courses not only took me to my first visit to a foreign country and provided skills used in employment later, but also laid the foundation for studying other foreign languages, such as French and Latin, which were necessary to my graduate studies in English.  And not only did I enjoy singing high-quality music in the Acapella Choir, I developed an ear and a taste for classical music and excellent choral singing.  My early enjoyment of classical music was reinforced during my high school years by occasional times when I visited my brother Thavis’s room while he was attending college.  He had records of classical music that I listened to while he was in class.  And my world history class broadened my cultural and political outlook and paved the way for pursuing more history in the future, which meshed well with my interest in English literature as it developed in my college years.  All in all, my advanced public schooling in Abilene gave me valuable chances for trying new things and adjusting to the mix of success and failure in those endeavors.

My family’s move to Rule, TX in the summer after my junior year was necessitated, again, by my father’s illness with cancer, this time of the lungs.  We needed to be near my brother Otho, who had moved to Rule a year or two previous to our arrival to establish an appliance and watch repair store.  Otho provided work for my Dad in minding the store when my brother was out doing service or installation for the appliances he sold.  My enrollment in Rule High School was a part of the process of resettling, and it proved to entail experiences I would never have encountered back in Abilene.  More of that in the next installment.


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Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)


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Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Editor's Recommendation: The Doctrine of God by John C. Peckham

Editor's Recommendation: The Doctrine of God by John C. Peckham

Recommended by David Baggett

Laudably even-handed and researched, elegantly written and explicated, Peckham’s eagerly anticipated, student-friendly contribution is a treasure trove. Exploring God’s existence is valuable; asking who God is priceless. Peckham investigates the latter by deftly navigating an expansive, philosophically and theologically sophisticated literature to mine substantive doctrine with fertile and far-reaching implications.
— David Baggett, Executive Editor

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Early Difficulties Translated into Valuable Lessons: Twilight Musings Autobiography (Part 4)

Early Difficulties Translated into Valuable Lessons: Twilight Musings Autobiography (Part 4)

Elton Higgs

My family’s move from Stamford, TX, back to Abilene when I was 7 years old turned out to entail challenges that became opportunities for me to grow.  The transfer to a new school is often difficult for a child, but since my illness in Stamford had forced me to begin 1st grade again, I went into 2nd grade with the advantage of being ahead of my classmates in both age and classroom experience.  That advantage put me ahead of the game for the rest of my primary school years.  Adding to the ease with which I made the transfer to a new school was the fact that I had very supportive teachers there, and that spurred me on to do my best.  I was hungry for approval, and it came most easily to me by performing well in the classroom.

I’m not sure what the immediate catalyst was for my family’s making the move back to Abilene in 1944, but it coincided with a downturn in our financial security.  Since my brother Otho and his wife Lucille had already gone back to Abilene and set up a business in watch repair, it made sense for my family to be there so that we could be more easily helped by them.  Not long after we moved back, my father was diagnosed with throat cancer, and that necessitated my going to work at an early age to earn some pocket money and eventually to contribute to the family’s purchase of groceries.  I had to adjust to the need for me to be a contributing member of the household, not just a dependent. 

We rented a house in Abilene only a few blocks away from Travis Elementary School, so I was able to walk to school.  I have numerous memories of my years at Travis.  My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Buttrick, enabled me to attract the attention of the woman who was to become my third-grade teacher, Mrs, Jackson.  Mrs. Buttrick had given me the task of reciting a little piece for the Parent Teacher Association, and after the event, Mrs. Jackson summoned me from the playground to tell me what a good job I had done.  Her commendation was a complete surprise, and it paved the way for a close relationship with her when I went into her class the next year.

At some point in my 3rd grade year, the principal of our school, Mr. Etter, gathered all the boys to present some basics on the “birds and bees.”  I suppose it was an appropriate time for such a lecture for me, because I subsequently developed a crush on my 4th grade teacher, Miss Caffee, and in the 5th grade I exchanged romantic looks and notes with a girl in my class.  It was there that I learned how “love” was engendered by the locking of eyes “across a crowded room.”  She sent me a little missive saying she liked me, and I manifested my early linguistic skill by replying “Likewise,” a word that probably no other boy in my class would have used.  I don’t remember that the girl to whom it was addressed responded, so our brief remote romance must have faded.

I was honored in 5th and 6th grades to be voted a Patrol Boy, which gave me the responsibility of standing at the pedestrian crossings outside the school to make sure traffic stopped to let the kids cross safely.  I was quite proud to wear the belt and the badge that went with the office.

Our Physical Education teacher was Mr. Sherman, a tall man who had a commanding presence.  Under him I learned to play soccer, a relatively new game at the time in the U. S.  It had this strange rule that you couldn’t touch the ball with your hands, so you had to learn literally to “use your head,” as well as your feet.  Mr. Sherman also coached the competitive team sports, football and softball.  My parents would not allow me to go out for the contact sport of football.  However, I did have a stint catching for the softball team.  I did not excel in sports, so early in life I accepted that my greatest successes would be achieved as an “egghead.”

My 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Barnes, inadvertently became an early sponsor of my entry into the work world.  She was a kind older lady, and my chief memory of her was her answering the door bell when I was going door-to-door selling greeting cards, my first work for pay.  Out of pure charity, no doubt, she bought some of my wares, for which I was grateful.  Though I don’t remember much about our relationship in the classroom, it must have been generally positive. 

Peddling greeting cards brought me my first pocket money, with which I bought my first bicycle, enabling me to graduate from self-employment to a brief career in selling newspapers.  I broke into the newspaper trade by walking around downtown Abilene selling the Fort Worth Star Telegram (which competed with the local paper, the Abilene Reporter News) on the street, in hotel lobbies, and in restaurants.  Getting up at about 4:30 in the morning to do this job; I rode my bike downtown to pick up my papers, passing by the lighted clock on a bank on Chestnut Street, which shone eerily on the deserted pavement.  I would set out with a bundle of papers under my arm, for which I had to account at the end of the day by giving my employer the wholesale price for each paper sold and returning the unsold papers.  It was a marvelous feeling to pay him his money and have no papers to return.  There were tips from time to time, but I didn’t have to tell him about those.  I found that areas around hotels were the best places to sell, since out-of-town people were most likely to want a newspaper from a major city like Fort Worth.  The papers were delivered twice a day by truck from Fort Worth, mostly on time but sometimes not.  When the papers were late and the delivery boys got rambunctious, Mr. Bennett, who managed the Abilene franchise for the paper, used to say, “When I die, I won’t go to Hell; the Lord will just make me wait for the paper truck to come!”

After several months of selling on the street (newspapers only!), I advanced to doing home deliveries on my bicycle, which gave me a steadier income.  The wind seemed to be my adversary during my newspaper delivery years.  When I was peddling papers on the street, the wind at the corners of tall buildings (as much as 17 stories in Abilene at the time!) would nearly rip my papers out of my arms.   When I was riding my bicycle on the residential route, it was exceedingly difficult to make headway facing into the wind.  Moreover, the bicycle I was riding supplied an additional challenge: it had only a cruising speed and it took a lot of initial energy to get it going.  However, that necessary struggle on the bicycle turned out to be good for my legs, creating good, firm muscles that have stood me in good stead over the years.

Meanwhile, back at Travis Elementary, my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Lavinia Ward, took me under her wing and I worked hard for her, but my efforts were more quantitative than creative.  She didn’t much challenge that deficiency in my work in 6th grade, but it turned out that she went up to junior high teaching (7th grade) the same year I entered South Junior High School, so I had a social studies class with her there.  Her standards at that level, however, were appropriately more challenging.  I turned in an assignment (making a papier-mache map) on which I spent a great deal of time and turned it in expecting that I would receive the same kind of praise from her that I had in the 6th grade.  However, she returned the map with the comment that she expected some original thinking on the assignment, not mere hours spent.  That was my first real experience with thinking analytically, and I am thankful to Mrs. Ward for initiating it.  I was thereafter academically the better for it.

Our very early experiences shape attitudes and character.  In my case, God used what appeared to be difficult circumstances (early illness and the need for me to work) to help me develop special strengths.  My late start in schooling gave me an academic advantage which fed into my choosing an academic career.  My days selling greeting cards and delivering newspapers developed self-discipline and a sound sense of thrift in using the money I earned.  My family struggled financially during those years, and I was able to help out with my little bit of earnings, as well as being able to buy a few small things for myself.  I was profoundly affected by my father’s example of being a faithful tither, even when things were tight.  Even before I began earning my own money, I would put two or three cents of my weekly allowance of 25 cents into the offering plate on Sundays, so it was easy to transfer that principle when I had my own earned income.

I entered junior high school eager to navigate my last six years of public education and prepared to continue working to help the family. More about junior high school in the next installment. 


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Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)


 

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Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Editor's Recommendation: Worldviews and the Problem of Evil

Editor's Recommendation: Worldviews and the Problem of Evil

Campbell makes a compelling, clear, and insightful case that Christian theism offers a preferable framework for understanding and addressing the problem of evil. Along the way, Campbell carefully introduces and charitably engages a host of theological and philosophical issues, providing a well-written and easy-to-read treatment that will be of value to both introductory and more seasoned readers.
— John C. Peckham, Professor of Theology and Christian Philosophy, Andrews University
By Ronnie P. Campbell Jr.
Which worldview best addresses the various specifics of arguably the thorniest philosophical problem of all? In this careful and thorough analysis, Campbell probes the most central cognate dilemmas in order to evaluate the ability of each perspective to provide the best insights without avoiding the toughest sub-issues. The chief benefit of this volume is being guided through the maze by an insider. Highly recommended.
— Gary R. Habermas, Distinguished Research Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, Liberty University
Amid the sea of books dealing with the problem of evil, Ronnie Campbell’s work truly stands out. By bringing to bear philosophy of religion, religious studies, and analytic theology, Campbell argues that a robust, ‘thick’ Christian theism explains evil as well as or better than rival worldviews. I highly recommend this creative volume for philosophers and theologians alike, and indeed anyone troubled by the problem of evil (as we all should be).
— Garrett J. DeWeese, Professor at large, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

Editor's Recommendation: C.S. Lewis and the Art of Writing

Editor's Recommendation: C.S. Lewis and the Art of Writing

Corey Latta has accomplished a rare feat, penning an engaging and exquisite treatment of C. S. Lewis as a voracious reader and writer’s writer. It will be relished and savored by Lewis aficionados, and take readers of every sort on a fascinating guided tour of Lewis’s literary adventures with an assortment of disparate scenic stops along the way. A book worthy of the subject, it’s a fitting tribute to Lewis, often haunting in its beauty and perspicacity, on occasion downright stirring. It shows the indissoluble link between Lewis’s prescient and prodigious writing and his wide reading, features a treasure trove of eminently practical advice for the aspiring writer, and fills readers with a poignant sense of the nobility of the writing vocation.
— David Baggett, Professor. Liberty University
C. S. Lewis and the Art of Writing is an enjoyable and instructive treatise on all things writing-related. By uniquely centering the discussion on one of contemporary Christianity’s finest writers, clearest thinkers, and staunchest defenders, this handbook guides readers toward writing improvement, encouraging spiritual reflection and edification along the way. With his own lively style and passionate commitment to truth and beauty, Latta serves as both navigator for readers on this educational journey and model of its result.
— Marybeth Baggett, Associate Professor of English, Liberty University

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No Longer in Glimpses: In Memory of My Mother Joan F. Decker

Touched by the Hand of God  by Jayt74

Touched by the Hand of God by Jayt74

Richard Decker is a second-year English master’s student at Liberty University. His eulogy for his mother, on her recent passing, speaks to God’s transforming grace and the hope we have as Christians that God’s love will fully restore us to our true selves, made in his image and for eternal communion with him and our fellow creatures.


When I think back to the good that my mother did during her lifetime, what comes to mind is a person who, despite everything, made it clear that she loved me and was on my side—no matter what. My mother showed me how important it was for me to stay strong and to break the cycle. She gave me a love for music and for people. She taught me the importance of being down-to-earth and open with one’s thoughts and feelings, and she always made it clear to me that I could tell her anything. I believe what I am trying to say is that through all the cloudiness, I was still able to see glimpses of a person who loved and cared so much for me and for others and did her best to show that love. But as I said, these were glimpses.

Joan and Richard Decker

Joan and Richard Decker

 For when I would look at old pictures and hear stories of my mother when she was young, I must admit it was always a surreal experience for me. Because the young woman in those pictures and in those stories—the young woman that many of you knew and loved so well—I knew only in photo albums—in glimpses.

As my mother and I would tell jokes with one another, I would see glimpses of that young woman who walked the hallways of Cider Ridge High School, laughing and having a good time with her friends. As I read my mother’s cursive on my Christmas and birthday cards, I would see glimpses of that young woman who loved sending similar cards and letters to her friends and relatives. As I would see my mother dressed up for a get-together with family, I would see glimpses of that young woman who aspired to be a model—and had her aunts and uncles drive her to modeling classes. As I would watch my mother tidying up the house, I would see glimpses of that young woman who would babysit her cousins and clean up their house solely for the sheer joy of seeing things tidy. As my mother showed me the ills of addiction, I would see glimpses of that young woman who wanted so much to be a nurse so that she could care for and look after others. I would see that young woman, every now and then, through these small actions that my mother would take—and I loved her for that.

And above all, my mother knew Christ and trusted in Him. And I know that she is now with Him in a state of peace—no longer afflicted by the demons of this world—no longer consumed by its cloudiness. You know, I heard once—mostly through rumors—that when people enter heaven, they tend to look like their younger selves. I do not know how much I trust such an idea, but I believe I do trust the symbolism behind it: a symbol of purity and innocence that reveals that we as believers are able to see each other as our greatest selves when we are once again with our Heavenly Father.

I believe that such an idea is close to the truth because I also believe that when my time comes—when I, too, am with my Savior—I will also be with my mother again, and I will be able to not only see her but also that loving and caring young woman—no longer in glimpses, but in a full, bright, and beautiful image—to whom I will say, “Joanie! Mom! There you are! I knew you were there that whole time—and I love you for that.”

Editor's Recommendation: Cultural Apologetics by Paul Gould

Editor's Recommendation: Cultural Apologetics

by Paul Gould

Recommended by David Baggett

Reading this book is a pure joy. A breath of fresh air, Cultural Apologetics is one of the best books I’ve read in years. Paul Gould was meant to write it. His ideas having marinated, his prodigious teaching skills honed, his reading wide and deep, he was able to write with the fertile mind of a philosopher, capacious heart of a poet, vivid imagination of an artist, and the nimble hands of a passionate practitioner. This is essential reading for every actual or budding apologist; in fact, the book deserves a very wide readership among believers and skeptics alike. Not a book to be read quickly, but digested and savored. Read, relish, and reread it; use it in class; give it away as a gift. Culturally informed and sensitive, embodying what it extolls, eclectic in numerous respects, and punctuated with clever and telling illustrations—both verbal and visual—this remarkable book makes a powerful case for an expansive apologetic true to a good anthropology. Just the corrective to reawaken the imagination of a disenchanted age. Every page crackles with insight and erudition. At moments it’s veritably sublime and enchanting; as inspiring, persuasive, and moving as it is eminently practical. I simply can’t recommend it enough.


LBTS_david_baggett.jpg

With his co-author, Jerry Walls, Dr. Baggett authored Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality. The book won Christianity Today’s 2012 apologetics book of the year of the award. He developed two subsequent books with Walls. The second book, God and Cosmos: Moral Truth and Human Meaning, critiques naturalistic ethics. The third book, The Moral Argument: A History, chronicles the history of moral arguments for God’s existence. It releases October 1, 2019. Dr. Baggett has also co-edited a collection of essays exploring the philosophy of C.S. Lewis, and edited the third debate between Gary Habermas and Antony Flew on the resurrection of Jesus. Dr. Baggett currently is a professor at the Rawlings School of Divinity in Lynchburg, VA.


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The Early Years, From Gutter Sandpile to First Grade: Twilight Musings Autobiography (Part 3)

The Early Years, From Gutter Sandpile to First Grade

A Twilight Musing by Elton Higgs

If we stay long enough in one place, our personalities are affected by where we have lived.  I spent my first 24 years in Texas, and Texans absorb certain outlooks and perspectives.  For example, we smarted from Alaska’s joining the Union and becoming technically the largest state.  After all, one can travel 1,000 miles from border to border and still be in Texas.  The sky itself is bigger in Texas.  Everybody’s your neighbor in Texas, and we are a generally friendly bunch in casual interactions with each other.  Texas is so big, it has at least four distinctive topographies within its boundaries: “piney” forest in the east; flat, semiarid plains in the west and north; “hill country” in the central part, and hot, humid coastland in the south.  I grew up in the part of the plains called West Texas, mainly in a town called Abilene (named after the one in Kansas), in a region of cattle ranching and oil production. 

I lived with my family in Abilene the first four or five years of my life  My earliest memories (late 1930s, early ‘40s) are connected with the little house my family owned on Locust St. in Abilene.  A couple of them were traumatic, like getting into a red ant bed, or waking one morning to find that the city had cleaned the gutter outside our house, thus depriving me of the sand pile I had delighted playing in.  I was greatly offended by the maintenance workers’ arbitrary decision to take away my sand pile!  I flew in to tell my mother, with indignant tears, about this abuse of municipal power.  But in a happier vein are pictures of me in my overalls playing outside the house, or sometimes posing with my brothers.  One showed me in a little cart pulled by a goat, so there must have been enough money to give me a treat once in a while.

A couple of vivid memories from the house on Locust St. had to do with my paternal grandmother.  She was a wizened little lady who sat in her chair chewing snuff and spitting nastily into a receptacle at her feet.  When she died sometime around 1940, we went to the funeral and burial in Nugent, TX, a little town north of Abilene close to the family farm where my father had worked until he got married.  It had rained heavily the day before, and we had to drive carefully through a creek flowing high enough to cover the running board in order to get to the burial site.  As we sat in the car at the graveyard, my father wept freely, the only time I ever saw him do so.  

While we were at Locust St., my mother suffered a complete psychological meltdown (what was then described as a “nervous breakdown”).  I remember her spending whole days in bed, unable to get up and function normally.  I was sent to stay with my uncle Oby and Aunt Sarah, out in the country in the little village of Nugent.  This was rather fun for me, a change of pace from town life.  I enjoyed my aunt Sarah’s home cooked meals and going with my uncle on his rounds in a pickup to check on the large oil pumps that took the crude oil from the ground and pumped it into big tanks nearby.  I remember the cigar that he kept in his mouth most of the time; he must have put it out when he went to check the oil pumps, since we never experienced a conflagration on those trips.

As I look back on these earliest remembered experiences, I realize that in the midst of feeling secure with my family and feeling that I belonged, I was also being forced to deal with the realities of pain and loss.  Indeed, introduction to that mix of pleasure and unpleasantness is typical of our early years, and the places we have lived form a significant context for that stage of our education, both informal and academic.

We moved to Stamford, TX, when I was about 5 or 6, because of my mother’s felt need for some change in our situation.  My dad hoped that moving to Stamford would help her, and he was able to continue his bread delivery route from there.  Mother was a lifelong hypochondriac and was much pampered by my father, according to my brothers.  She was certainly focused on her illnesses and seemed always to be under physical and psychological stress. 

My earliest memories in Stamford were associated with the fact that my brother Otho had joined the Army Air Force and was stationed in Delaware, with the result that his wife, Lucille, came to live with us while he was away.  While there she gave birth to my oldest niece, Linda, and I had my first opportunity to observe an infant first hand.  That was my introduction to the anatomical differences between the sexes and my first lesson in sex education.  I knew nothing, of course, of the implications of those differences, but it made a deep impression on me nevertheless.  Socially, I was informed that I was now an uncle, and I was told later that I was very proud of the fact.  At some point we went to an event involving the Red Cross (related to war time, I imagine), and I was given one of their little pins.  So now I bragged that I was an uncle and a member of the Red Cross!  My sister-in-law was much amused.

Lucille was attended by a Dr. Metz, who sported a little mustache (rather resembling Hitler’s), and she drew a caricature of him on one of my Tinker Toy pieces (all wooden, no plastic) that gave us both a chuckle.  Lucille took a special interest in me at that time, and we continued to have a special relationship until she died many years later.  I was to her like an adopted son.

My memories of those early days in Stamford include playing on the sidewalk outside our house (a quite safe thing to do in those days) and encountering a girl with golden curls as she walked home from school with her mother.  Her name was Gwendolyn Rogers, and she was the object of my first crush.  I evidently had an early attraction for older women!  To her I was no more than a little boy on his tricycle whom she walked past on her way home, but she was my chosen one.  The attachment must have come to an end when I started to school, but I remember no trauma attached to the separation.

I have other memories of Stamford during my pre-school years.  We were within walking distance of the town square, and my brother Thavis took me sometimes to the drugstore, where we would drink a limeade at the fountain.  On the way there and back, I remember going by a shop that had a partially assembled small airplane, probably a military one, visible through a big window..  I don’t know the function of the shop, but the image of the plane stuck with me.  The town was evidently safe for kids to play in, even a little way from home.  I remember going down to the railroad tracks to watch the engines go back and forth, switching cars.  I have a vague recollection of meeting another little boy in that area, because he allowed me to read his Captain Marvel comic books, and I tried to see if the magic word that turned little Billy Batson into Captain Marvel (“Shazam!”) would work for me, but it never did.

On perhaps my fifth or sixth birthday, my mother made me a cake that lasted a few days after the party.  On the day when only one piece was left, my dad wanted to share it with me, but I said I wanted it all for myself.  That little act of selfishness haunted me for years afterward.  I’m not sure when the guilt faded, but the memory has stayed with me all this time.

I have vivid memories of playing indoors at our house in Stamford during my pre-school years.  My toys reflected the context of wartime.  I had a bomber model that dropped marbles, with which I destroyed imagined enemy installations.  One Christmas I was given a model electric train by Otho and Lucille, and it engaged me many hours with its electric engine and circular track.  It was operated by a transformer box with a lever that made the engine go backward or forward, and I often derailed it with my rapid changes in direction and speed.  I can still smell the oil with which I lubricated the wheels of the train.

Most of our news came from the radio, supplemented by the newspaper, and though I don’t remember listening to any of President Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats, the family must have listened to some of them.  One program that I do remember my mother listening to faithfully was the commentary of Gabriel Heater.  I can hear even now his soft but confident voice, delivering his opinions on the news of the day, particularly of the war.

My first-grade experiences in Stamford were dominated by respiratory illness.  I was sick so much during my initial enrollment that my parents decided just to pull me out so that I could concentrate on getting well.  Consequently, I started again from scratch the next school year.  Since I had learned the basics of reading in my first enrollment (including phonics, an exercise in audial perception that has helped me throughout life), I spent much of my convalescence time developing my reading skills, and consequently, when I went back to school, I had a head start on the other students.  In fact, I read so well that the teacher asked me to listen sometimes to students reading and to correct them, while she worked with still another group. That spotlight on my advantage was, I fear, unhealthy food for my ego—I enjoyed it overmuch.  However, being one of the oldest in all my classes thereafter contributed materially to my academic successes.  Being held back in early primary school is often a good strategy for an initially struggling child.

I should note several other memories of my first-grade years.  My family bought a milk goat because someone had said that drinking fresh goat’s milk is good for ailing children.  The nanny goat my father milked became a pet, and it was great fun to play with her baby when he was born.  We took the goat with us when we moved back to Abilene around 1944 and created a shed and pen in back of the house.  I remember going out with my dad to milk the goat, and he taught me how to do it, though I never became really proficient at it.

I had significant interactions with my brother Thavis (eight years older than I) during our stay in Stamford.  He was a builder of model airplanes, and he spent hours meticulously cutting out parts of the plane from sheets of balsa wood and gluing them precisely together.  His room was off-limits to me, but I sneaked in when he wasn’t home and looked over his work.  I don’t remember seriously disturbing anything, but when he caught me in his room, his displeasure was strongly expressed.

Another of his wartime activities was to collect tin foil from chewing gum wrappers and roll them into a ball to convey to a recycling center for the war effort.  I can still see and feel the process of starting at the corner and carefully peeling back the foil from its wax paper base. I helped with building some of the balls of foil, and they became rather large, say about the size of a hardball or larger.

While we were in Stamford, Thavis got a job at a little grocery store owned by a man named Earl Stagner.  He and Thavis became good friends and remained so for years after we moved back to Abilene.  Another of his jobs in Stamford was working at a little café, where he learned to cook some of the dishes he served.  As a result, he introduced me to an egg and jelly sandwich which was made with three pieces of bread, with a hole cut in the middle of the middle slice to fit over the fried egg resting on the bottom slice.  Jelly was added to make it a memorable taste experience.

My most traumatic experience with Thavis was his trying to teach me to swim.  After a few rudimentary instructions, he decided that it was time literally to let me sink or swim, and I sank.  I was very frightened and swallowed some water, I think.  The swimming lesson failed, and much to his disgust, I refused to try any more.  It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I made any progress in learning to swim.

Thavis decided to run away from home after we moved back to Abilene, in order to finish his senior year in high school at Stamford.  Our time together in Stamford created a bond between us, and he continued to be a special big brother to me even after we were separated.

These scattered memories attached to places lived make me aware of how important seemingly insignificant details of experience can be.   Being stung by the red ants and being deprived of my gutter sandpile were my introduction to loss, but it took the brief, isolated event of watching my father weep at his mother’s death for me to have my first limited understanding of the grief attached to death.  I had the dawning of conscience in the small incident of not sharing my birthday cake.  Early experiences with my sister-in-law and my brother Thavis were not dramatic, but they were the foundation for more mature relationships later on.  My illness as a little boy actually resulted in my having an advantage when I finally started school.  So it was that my early years in Abilene and Stamford contributed significantly to who God has enabled me to become.    

 


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Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)


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Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Adoption, the Children of God, and the Spirit of Supererogation

Adoption, the Children of God, and the Spirit of Supererogation

Jeffrey R. Dickson

The Bible illustrates the wonder of redemption in many captivating ways—all of which demonstrate the goodness of a loving God. One analogy that has become especially meaningful to my family is that of adoption. The apostle Paul writes,

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent for the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. (Gal. 4:4-7)

Recently our family adopted a beautiful little girl and this process has provided us with a new appreciation for what God has accomplished for sinners. This growing admiration for what Christ has completed for the lost has come by means of several parallels that might be drawn between our family’s personal adoption story and Jesus’ program of redemption. To be sure, any comparison between Christ’s salvific work and my family’s experience should not be taken as a suggestion of congruency between the two. However, several similarities do exist that elucidate the heart of spiritual adoption, something of the abundance of God’s grace, and its implications for the believer.

First, my wife and I were under no obligation to adopt. In fact, prior to our newest addition we already had three children of our own. Though we tragically lost our third child (a son) a couple years ago, the only motivating factor behind our desire to adopt a new baby stemmed from a deep and mysterious yearning to show love to another child. Similarly, God was not obligated to redeem lost sinners in a way that would bring them into his family. As God is perfect and (as the passage above intimates) exists in triune community, there is no insufficiency, loneliness, or incompleteness that adopting sinners could possibly satisfy. Instead, it is his mysterious desire to share love, particularly for his Son, with others that motivates him to grow his family. If supererogation is defined as the performance of a work or activity that transcends what duty or obligation requires, God’s spiritual adoption of the sinner is supererogatory in excelsis and par excellence. (Admittedly, some would argue that God himself has no duties, in which case he can’t go beyond his duties, since he doesn’t have any; even if so, though, there’s something of the spirit of the supererogatory at play here in God’s unspeakable grace. Language of duties alone is inadequate to the task of capturing God’s great love.)

That God’s grace is beyond explication in terms of duties alone in adopting anyone manifests in several additional parallels that can be drawn between our family’s experience and the experience of redeemed sinners everywhere. For instance, the offer of adoption is not always reciprocated. For my wife and me, the process of being matched with a birth mother involved sharing our carefully crafted profile with several potential women. Five of these women passed us over for someone else in spite of what we believed was a fairly attractive and convincing presentation. Though we thought we had produced a convincing appeal to raise their biological children, they decided to choose another family. In the same way, Christ’s offer of adoption into the family of God is not always accepted either. This is especially curious given all the convincing proofs of his ministry (as witnessed, for instance, in the compelling case for the historicity of his resurrection), his glory (as seen in the beauty and design found in creation), and his goodness (as evidenced in common grace throughout the world and moral tendencies within the human person). In fact, God’s case for adoption includes the most compelling profile of all, rendering the proposition of passing it over for something/someone else especially grievous and tragic.

Adoption also comes at an unusually high price, often requiring great sacrifice. This was true in the life of our family as we counted the cost and sacrificed plans and pleasures to satisfy what was required to bring our girl home. Added to legal costs were traveling fees and other accommodations as we were made to go a long distance and remain a couple of weeks before being reunited with our older children. Even further, there were multiple hoops through which we were made to jump in order to bring our adoption to finalization. However, what was true in a financial, emotional, geographic, and legal sense for our family is even truer of Christ who, in providing for the adoption of sinners, was required to pay the ultimate price—his life. Not only that, but Christ traveled much farther in his efforts to arrange for sinners to be invited into the family of God and ripped through far more red tape.

. . .although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5b-8)

This passage highlights not only the special and sacrificial barriers Jesus crossed, but also demonstrates the myriad of hoops he jumped through, as it were, in order to pave the way for the spiritual adoption of the redeemed.

Finally, for our family (and most others who adopt children), our new baby girl will not be considered a second-class child nor will she even be introduced as “my adopted daughter.” We consider her as much ours as our other children and her status as one of ours will never change. She has become another member of our family in every way for as long as God leaves us on the earth. In fact, she stands to inherit a portion of what little my wife and I may leave behind along with our other kids. Similarly, God’s adopted children are called “sons and daughters of God” in every meaningful sense. Their legitimacy as children in God’s family is further confirmed by the inheritance they will one day share—“therefore, you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:7). This would have proven especially meaningful to the first century reader as most adoptees were adult males and the reason for adoption was usually to pass on one’s inheritance [Hugh Lindsey, Adoption in the Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 25, 28]. Finally, their status as one of God’s children is permanent as Jesus says, “and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29). Again, first century readers would have no doubt appreciated the connotation of permanence associated with adoption as under Roman law a man could never disinherit an adopted son but could more easily put away a naturally-born child [Ramsay, A Historical Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979), 353)].  

Perhaps this is why the adoption image is utilized in the scriptures to speak of Christ’s redemptive work, for, in it, the unspeakably gracious nature of God is on full display, the high cost of Christ is in full view, and something of the permanence of the familial relationship that is forged as a result is adequately celebrated. All of these considerations demonstrate, among other things, the desperately helpless state of the adoptee (lost sinners) and something of the overwhelming benevolence of the adopter (the Lord God). Much as our little girl was helpless, if left unto herself, to enter a good home, so too are lost sinners without a relationship with Christ. That said, praise be to God that he arranged a program for adoption, provided for its cost in the giving of his Son, and paved the way for full and final inclusion in the family of God.


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Jeffrey Dickson, PhD studied Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University where he now serves as an adjunct professor of Bible and theology. Dr. Dickson is also the senior pastor of Crystal Spring Baptist Church in Roanoke VA where he lives with his wife Brianna and their children.

 

Assessing One’s Parents: Twilight Musings Autobiography (Part 2)

Assessing One’s Parents

Twilight Musings Autobiography (Part 2)

  

          Not all people have siblings, but we all have parents, and their presence (or absence) in our lives exerts an irradicable influence on who we turn out to be. I once heard of a college counselor who regularly told his undergraduate counselees that “We all have to come to the point of forgiving our parents.”  That is to say, whatever our relationship to our parents, to some degree or other, usually by the time we become adolescents, our parents’ faults will have become obvious to us, and we have to deal with our perception of their failures. 

            That may seem an ungenerous introduction to talking about my relationship with my parents, and I must make clear at the beginning that I suffered no abuse at their hands, and indeed they loved me and provided for me as they were able.  But their age when they were raising me, the last of their brood, meant that they did not have the energy or the health to be very actively involved with me.  Nevertheless, I received some significant guidance and nurture from them.  Sorting through this mixture of influences from my parents challenges me to honestly identify and evaluate their effect on me, being thankful for the good things they gave me and gracious about any deficiencies I thought they had.  It takes God’s help to review one’s upbringing clearly and to take responsibility for what we have become, whatever the advantages and disadvantages of our early home life.

I remember my father as a generally kind man.  He certainly went extra miles trying to make my mother happy, and he seemed to be well liked by his customers and fellow workers during his long employment as a bread delivery man.  Women responded well to his gentleness, and one of my sisters-in-law adored him as a surrogate father, having lost her father early in her life.  Dad was a Bible-reading man and a steady Christian, qualities that led to his appointment as an elder in our congregation of the Church of Christ we attended in Abilene.  He had strong convictions.  I remember that when the Revised Standard Version of the Bible came out in the 1950s, he was adamant in upholding the greater authority of the King James Version because the RSV rendered the quotation of Isaiah that “a virgin shall conceive” a child (Jesus) as “a young woman shall conceive.”  To him, that was changing the very Word of God; he had no conception of such a rendering being justified by a scholarly appeal to the meaning of the original Hebrew.  Neither he nor my mother went past the 8th grade in formal schooling, and neither of them had traveled beyond Texas, so they had no experience that exposed them to any culture except what they had grown up with.

My father and I didn’t share much at a deeply personal level.  When I was small he took me along with him on his bread route sometimes in the summer, but I don’t remember hanging out with him just to engage in some mutually satisfying activity, like attending sporting events or making visits to a park.  He was a hard-working man, and our only regular family activity was going to church and having an occasional extended family meal with my brother Otho and his wife and children.  Things were financially tough for my father and mother and me after he became ill with throat cancer.  After his employment with Mead’s Bakery came to an end, he took up selling Watkins Products from door to door, and I would sometimes go with him on his deliveries and his trips to the warehouse to purchase products to sell.  That ceased when I began to have jobs of my own to pay for my personal purchases and to add to the household income. 

My mother’s health was always precarious, and she had several operations to correct internal problems, including a hysterectomy.  Sometime during my early childhood, she had an emotional meltdown, or what was then referred to as a “nervous breakdown.”  For a period of weeks, she was unable to take care of household chores; I think I was sometimes taken care of by some of my aunts and uncles during this period.  She frequently felt bad, and though there were some real physical problems, my brothers and I, and several of our close relatives, I think, considered her to be a hypochondriac.  From the time I was aware enough to make an evaluation, I responded to her perpetual health problems by wishing that she could be more stoic in enduring them.  I can remember overhearing her telephone conversations with her female friends discussing clinical details of her ailments and medical treatments.

Merely by token of my being at home alone with her after she had sufficiently recovered from her meltdown to be active again, she exerted a kind of environmental influence on me.  I was a rather sickly child up through my primary school years, often having to stay home from school.  Indeed, I had to drop out of school during first grade, starting again the next year.  (Incidentally, this gave me an ongoing advantage in my subsequent years in school, always being a year or so older than my classmates.)  My mother took good care of me when I was ill and was very solicitous of me when I was well, insisting that I always wear a cap in cold weather.  I have some very vivid memories of being treated when I was ill.  As I recovered from upper-gastral problems, I was fed mashed banana and saltine crackers as soft food to re-accommodate my stomach to eating solid food again.  When the problem was constipation, the remedies were always unpleasant and awkward, involving either milk of magnesia or non-orally administered water to loosen things up.

All of this care could have established a close emotional bond, but my mother’s wearing her emotions on her sleeve actually effected a determination in me to repress my emotions, and that early development has been manifested in my adult life.  It took me years to learn to share emotionally with others, including my wife.  Even now, I remain governed more by rationality than by emotion.  That has probably been good for my scholarly pursuits, but less so for my personal life.  I was especially turned off by my mother’s frequent appeals in my teen years for me to tell her that I loved her.  The more she appealed, the less inclined I was to respond in the way that she wanted.  I loved her dutifully, but not fervently or deeply.  I honored my mother according to the commandment, and I saw to her needs to the end, but I did not weep when she died.  Indeed, I rarely weep at all, which is probably a deficiency in my life.

I remember being envious of one of my closest friends during my post-high school years.  His mother had heroically continued as mother to her two sons and a daughter as the family tried to make a go of their farm after the father had left them.  She was a warm, affectionate woman, who welcomed guests and always had a treat ready when her children’s friends visited.  I admired her for her combination of strength and warmth, and I wondered why my mother was so different from her.  I can’t remember my mother ever acting with that kind of spontaneous hospitality toward my friends.

More than balancing out any deficiencies in what my parents gave me was our religious life together.  We went to church three times a week and took it for granted that all of us would be there if not hindered by illness.  We lived close enough to the church building to walk there, which took about 15-20 minutes.  The routines of our household also reflected commitment to serving God.  I remember vividly our custom of praying together every night before retiring.  My father and I would kneel, and he would lead the prayer.  This time was called the “family altar,” and my parents told me that it had been their custom to do this from the beginning of their marriage.  Prayer came naturally in our family.  We gave thanks at every meal, and that’s where I first learned to pray aloud.  My mother was especially dedicated to prayer and had great faith that prayer was a spiritual privilege that produced results.  Her great faith and readiness to pray anytime conditioned me to see prayer as a natural part of everyday Christian living.

My Christian walk, then, was undergirded by the example and teaching of my parents.  Their lack of bitterness and their strong faith in the face of my father’s illness and loss of income encouraged me to work alongside them to supply the family’s needs.  I might not have learned the value of hard, honest work if we had been better off financially.  Their faithfulness to one another during over 35 years of marriage was another powerful working out of their desire to honor God and one another.

On the other hand, my lack of strong personal connection with my father and reaction against my mother’s excessive emotionality resulted in my taking a long time as an adult to learn emotional sensitivity to others, particularly my wife.  I am by temperament strongly inclined toward a rational outlook, and my upbringing did not contribute to tempering that inclination with appropriate emotional expression.

In sum, God gave me parents with both virtues and flaws, like most people.  I thank God that the benefits I received from them outweigh in significance those things I wish they had been able to give me.  I can’t blame any of my deficiencies on them, for I am responsible before God for what I have made of their gifts and how I have compensated for any disadvantages they might have passed on to me.  I must be as charitable and merciful toward them as I hope my children will be toward me.


Elton_Higgs.jpg

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)


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Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

My Family: Twilight Musings Autobiography (Part 1)

My Family

Twilight Musings Autobiography (Part 1)

Elton Higgs

Prologue

          In February of this year, I did a Musing justifying writing an autobiography.  My reasons were that every life has a story that will be interesting to somebody; that if one has lived as a Christian, his or her life will reveal what God has done in that process; and that people should have access to a record of their forebears’ lives.  My own notes for an autobiography were experiencing a long pause when I had a lengthy conversation with the manager of this site, David Baggett.  He encouraged me to get back to the notes and the drafting of the treatise because (bless his heart!) he wanted to see it come to completion.  And he had the concrete suggestion that I use material from the autobiography to do my Friday Twilight Musings.

          I will try to comply, but I don’t want these very personal Musings to be the undisciplined ramblings of a garrulous old man, and I want them to have something of take-away value.  I trust that my wife and David and his wife Marybeth will prevent my using this venue for mere self-referential satisfaction.

 

My Family

          My life began with my being different from my three older brothers.  I was born in Hendrick Memorial Hospital, Abilene, Texas, on June 14, 1937, the youngest of four sons and the only one to be born in a hospital; the other three were all born at home. There were eight years between me and my closest sibling, so I was raised pretty much by myself, and some of my brothers saw me as rather pampered, which may have been true.  At any rate, I avoided the kinds of problematic development that made things difficult for my brothers.  I believe that God’s hand was in my being born the youngest of the four and in my coming as late in my parents’ lives as I did (I doubt that my arrival was expected).  Let me expand on how my life was significantly formed by my being last in the birth order.

The oldest son, Ordis, was born with cataracts on both eyes and was sent off at an early age to a school for the blind to learn how to make his way in the world.  He engaged in some rebellious behavior at the school, resulting in his being sent home before he graduated.  In spite of that rocky beginning, he eventually married, had children, and became a responsible Christian citizen. Although he was designated as legally blind, he was able to transcend his limitations through learning braille (which he used mostly to read the Bible) and taking advantage of jobs for the blind supplied by the state he lived in.  For many years he operated a stand selling newspapers, snacks, and other items in the state capitol building, and he was able to take up a similar job when he moved to another state. 

The two middle brothers were also rebellious. The second in line, Otho, got married before he was out of his teens, and he and his wife had to live with our family for a while—a complicated beginning to an enduring but troubled marriage.  However, he managed to achieve some stability by joining the military during WWII, gaining enough G. I. benefits to fund some training in watch repair and electronics.  He eventually had his own store selling home electronic devices and repairing watches.

The third son, Thavis, ran away from home when the family moved back to Abilene from Stamford, because he wanted to finish high school in Stamford.  He ended up joining the army so he could finance his college education after he finished his army stint.  Having played an instrument in an Army band, he determined to get a degree in music education. He was ambitious and determined to have a life with more opportunity than had been available to him at home, and he wanted the same for me.  He had a variety of music-based jobs after he graduated: teaching band at the high school level, being a traveling sales representative for a band instrument company, and owning a music store.  He earned extra money during most of his life playing the saxophone for dance bands.  His vocational life was rounded out by a decidedly non-musical job, doing rural mail delivery.  That gave him some retirement benefits, along with a bit of social security income.  

All my brothers, then, worked at a number of jobs, and the middle two were very entrepreneurial. I was the only one of the four who led a fairly normal and conformist life.  I was a “good” boy and unduly proud of it, I fear.  Perhaps the lack of adventuresome activity in my early life was attributable in part to my parents’ being already in their decline by that time; they were less restrictive with me and and I was less dependent on them than my older siblings had been  It was also true, however, that my temperament was more sanguine than that of my older siblings, particularly the middle two.  Whatever was the cause, my upbringing was more peaceful than that of my brothers.

The lesson that I draw from these circumstances in my childhood and teens is that they laid the groundwork for my later life going in more conventional directions than my brothers had.  I also had the advantage of being encouraged in my development by the two closest to me in age: Thavis urged me to equip myself intellectually and socially to have a better life than my parents had, and he furnished me with the model of completing a college education.  And during my senior year, Otho gave me some hands-on instruction in basic service to electronic devices.  However, after seeing my ineptitude for applying what he had taught me, and seeing that I excelled in academics, he gave me the memorable advice to “stick with your books.”

So it was that God helped me to avoid the difficulty of a rebellious early life and provided a push toward my pursuing an academic career.  But more about that in another Musing.


Elton_Higgs (1).jpg

 Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)


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Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Can We Know Anything about the Historical Jesus?

Can We Know Anything about the Historical Jesus?

Yes, and It’s Much More Than You Think

Brian G. Chilton

In 2000, I made the difficult decision to step away from my faith. I entered into what I call theistic-leaning agnosticism, one step removed from pantheism. I believed that some kind of God could possibly exist. However, I didn’t know that a person could know if that God really did exist and most certainly could not know anything about the historical Jesus of Nazareth. These doubts were brought on the claims of the Jesus Seminar who held that less than 14% of the sayings attributed to Jesus were actually his own. The Seminar claimed that the rest of the sayings were inventions from the apostles. Couple the Seminar with PBS’s show From Jesus to Christ which claimed that the Christ of faith evolved over time from the Jesus of history, then one could see why I needed some serious answers. When I asked Christian leaders about how I could know if Jesus was accurately portrayed in the Gospels, I was met with scorn and hostility. Add to that the nepotistic hypocrisy I often saw, then stepping away from the faith was pretty easy.

            However, everything changed in 2005. I was introduced to the writings of Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, William Lane Craig, and Gary Habermas. This past week, my journey came full circle. I had the honor to have one of my apologetic heroes, Gary Habermas, once again as a professor. The class investigated the New Testament creeds which is the material in the New Testament that predates the New Testament writings. It is thought even by skeptical scholars that many of these creeds date to no later than 35 AD when Paul met Peter and James in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18-20). The NT creeds tell us much about the historical Jesus because this information is located at ground zero. The creeds tell us about the message of the earliest church which in turn came from the historical Jesus of Nazareth. So, what can we know about the historical Jesus of Nazareth from these creeds?

 

Creeds Tell Us about the Nature of the Historical Jesus. As fascinating as it is, the creeds provide us with high Christology. In fact, the earliest church had the highest Christology. This decimates the claims that the church evolved the nature of Jesus from a prophet to a divine God-man over time. For instance, consider the Philippians hymn. The Philippians hymn notes that Christ Jesus “existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity” (Php. 2:6-7a, CSB). The sermon summaries of Acts, all thought to be extremely early, denote the deity of Jesus as one who “has been exalted to the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33, CSB). Don’t forget about the Colossians creed where Christ is said to be the “invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15, CSB and see following Col. 1:16-20). One may say, “Okay, but this shows the church’s theology, not the historical Jesus of Nazareth.” In response, one must note that there is no historical presence of evolutionary development, not even legendary development. The earliest church held an extremely high view of Jesus. Therefore, Jesus of Nazareth must have taught something about his divine nature, backing them up with miraculous works.

 

Creeds Tell Us about the Life of the Historical Jesus. While the majority of the creeds focus on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the creeds do provide details pertaining to the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. The creeds note that Jesus was born a descendent of David (Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3). Jesus was noted to have been a Nazarene (Acts 2:22; 4:10; 5:38). Jesus of Nazareth performed numerous miracles (Acts 2:22; 10:38) and fulfilled several Messianic prophecies (Acts 2:25-31; 3:21-25; 4:11; 10:43). From the creeds, the researcher begins to see a similar pattern of Jesus of Nazareth’s life that is portrayed in the biblical narratives concerning him.

 

Creeds Tell Us about the Death and Resurrection of the Historical Jesus. The majority of the creeds are based around the earliest kerygma of the church—that is, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Most notably, 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 denotes the resurrection appearances of Jesus, even stating that 500 people witnessed the risen Jesus at one time (1 Cor. 15:6). The sermon summaries of Acts also provide the same formula in that Jesus lived, died, and rose again. The Acts 13 sermon summary even gives a nod to the empty tomb. For Paul’s early message stated that “When they had carried out all that had been written about him, they took him down from the tree and put him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and he appeared for many days to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people” (Acts 13:29-31, CSB). The creeds denote the numerous witnesses who saw the risen Jesus. They sometimes provide details that other sources do not, such as Simon Peter’s private interaction with the risen Jesus (Lk. 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5) and James’ private meeting with the risen Jesus (1 Cor. 15:7).

 

The early creeds are impressive in what they tell us about the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Some will skeptically hold that since the creeds speak of the miraculous and the divine that they must be thrown out. However, such attitudes show more of an anti-supernatural bias than they do a quest for historical truth. At the very least, these early creeds tell us what the earliest church believed about Jesus. At the most, the early creeds give a fascinating description of whom Jesus was, is, and forever will be. The creeds tell the life-changing truth that Jesus is risen. Will you allow this truth to transform you?

 

Brian G. Chilton is the founder of BellatorChristi.com and is the host of The Bellator Christi Podcast. He received his Master of Divinity in Theology from Liberty University (with high distinction); his Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Gardner-Webb University (with honors); and received certification in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Brian is currently enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University and is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Evangelical Philosophical Society. Brian has been in the ministry for close to 20 years and serves as the Senior Pastor of Westfield Baptist Church in northwestern North Carolina.

 

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