The Plowman

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Screwtape Letter #8

<i>My Dear Wormwood,</i>
My Dear Wormwood,

(Editor’s note: These posts on the Screwtape Letters are the result of the high-school Sunday school class that my wife and I teach at Trinity Baptist church, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. If any of this material would be useful to anyone for a similar purpose, please feel free to use it, modifying it in any way you feel necessary. If you have any suggestions, comments, or observations, I invite you to please post them here. This is a work in progress, looking for any honest and sincere help you might offer.)
hybrid: a thing made by combining two different elements; a mixture.
phenomenon: a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen.
propaganda: information of a biased or misleading nature used to advance a point of view.
appalling: awful or terrible.
loathsome: causing hatred or disgust.
ignoble: not honorable in character or purpose.
incentives: a thing that motivates or encourages one to do something.

Has no one ever told you about the law of Undulation?” In this first of a twin-letter set, Screwtape defines and explains the law of Undulation to his young nephew, Wormwood. In letter nine, he will proceed to show Wormwood how to take advantage of this most curious phenomenon, “which“, he says here in letter eight, “will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.

Screwtape defines the law of Undulation in the following sentence: “As long as he lives on earth, periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty.” Isn’t this true of every one of us. This emotional roller coaster has many causes, most of which can be attributed to sin. Each of us crave all kinds of things most of the time, as James points out in James 4:1, 2. If we have to, we bite and devour to get what we want. When we cannot obtain what we crave, then we become dejected. Even if we do get what we sinfully crave, it fails to satisfy for any length of time, and that too brings us down. This is not a picture only of the lost, but of God’s people too. It is only by God’s graciously wooing us that we return to Him for full and lasting satisfaction and contentment.

The bulk of our class time was spent discussing ways Christians can minimize this “law of Undulation”, as Lewis puts it. Here are some of the Scripture passages around which the discussion revolved:

  • Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV)
  • Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2, ESV)
  • Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:1-4, ESV)
<i>Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape</i>
Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape

January 25, 2007 Posted by | Sunday School | Leave a comment

Friday Photos: Cuttin’ and Weldin’

I really do love working with cutting torches and welders. It is still amazing to me how you can make two pieces of metal become one.

I spent the whole day two Saturdays ago (01/06/07) building a couple of drive-through gates for our entry way. Here I have just finished cutting the saddles on each end of the front four pieces of pipe, which will form the tops and bottoms of the frame.

Here’s a close-up of the saddle cuts. A little patients (oops) patience here, getting a close fit, will make weld-up much easier and smoother looking.

Here’s how one of the corners welded up. Nice.

My project was far from finished on that Saturday, and last weekend we were socked in with a massive ice storm here in eastern Oklahoma, so that we didn’t set foot outside of the house until I went to work last Monday afternoon. Early tomorrow another major snow storm is set to move in. The gate project will have to wait at least one more week.

You can check out the rest of my project pictures on my Flickr page. Check out the making gates set there. The first six photos in that set are from a previous gate project, but they are interesting too.

Don’t miss all of the other fine Friday Photos at the Friday Photo Group.

January 19, 2007 Posted by | Friday Photos | Leave a comment

Screwtape Letter #7

<i>My Dear Wormwood,</i>
My Dear Wormwood,

dilemma: a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made
sceptic (skeptic): someone who doubts all that is standard and accepted.
Psychoanalysis: a system of psychological theory aimed to treat mental disorders by bringing the sub-conscience to the surface.
patriot: someone who vigorously supports and is willing to defend their country.
pacifist: someone who believes that any form of violence for any reason is unacceptable.
complacent: self satisfied.
coterie: a small exclusive group of people with shared interests.
faction: a small organized dissenting group within a larger group.
sect: a group of people with somewhat differing views from the larger group they are a part of.
temporal: relating to worldly rather than spiritual matters; having to do with time and space.


This week’s lesson from Screwtape letter #7 focuses on four questions, which were the basis for discussion:
1. What is the difference between forces and spirits? This opening paragraph to letter seven illustrates what the author points out in his preface, that there are two equal and opposite errors that we fall into. The first is that we do not believe in the devils, and the second is that we do and place too much interest in them. The Bible tells us that Satan and the demons are real. Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7, ESV)

2. What are the effects of divisiveness in the Church? Screwtape states that the “subordinate factions within [the Church] have often produced admirable results”. How do denominations, and even strife within denominations limit the effectiveness of the Church’s purpose on earth?

3. How should we view conscientious objection and the Just War theory? How should we approach military service, and armed conflict. This issue can be complicated, but God’s word can help us as we begin to sort out the issues behind the role of the military, and domestic law enforcement:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7, ESV)

4. What are the effects of combining other things with religion, or confusing other things as a part of, or vital to Christianity? Notice the next to last sentence: “the more “religious” . . . the more securely ours.”What effect does a diluted or absent gospel message have on the purpose of the Church? For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:2, ESV) Also read Philippians chapter three.

<i>Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape</i>
Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape

January 17, 2007 Posted by | Sunday School | Leave a comment


Last week the mailman brought me a copy of One Gospel: Toward a Southern Baptist Consensus, by Dr. David Dockery, president of Union University. I got around to reading the slim 36-page booklet on Monday. I found this a very pleasant read. It was nothing new or novel, but put together well in a direct, precise, yet easy read. It handsomely accomplishes what it sets out to do. Let me give you a brief rundown of its contents.

A Review

As the title implies, this short work by Dr. Dockery is intended to formulate a “proclamation of the gospel” that all Southern Baptists can endorse and rally around. The premise behind this effort is a perception that the SBC is a “disconnected group” made up of many different interests, with Calvinism in the “forefront with the potential for division and confusion.”

One Gospel does beautifully and very well in thirty-six pages what it sets out to do. It is divided into five sections, a preamble, and a conclusion. After a brief preamble, two short historical sections outline the beginnings of Baptists in general and the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention in particular. A third section deals with a biblical overview of the tension between God’s initiation of salvation and man’s responsibility to repent and believe and be saved.

The fourth section is a bit more lengthy, dealing with a historical overview of this same tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. The historical overview is divided into five time periods: The Early Church, The Medieval Period, The Reformation, The Post-Reformation Period, and Baptist Thought. In each of the time periods roughly a page is taken in order to give a compact assessment of the essential facts of the era. There is no wasted space here either.

The bulk of the booklet is taken up with the fifth and final section entitled A Theological Exposition. This section is more thorough, since it contains the actual gospel proclamation, giving a theological exposition of the gospel of grace in the person and work of Jesus Christ. You will find no reductionism here, nothing so simple as “Give your heart to Jesus, so you can go to heaven.”

Within this section the broadest, fullest sense of the gospel is handled, with separate paragraphs dealing with the gospel’s various facets, such as creation, sin and the fall, the person and work of Christ, the Church, and the eternal state. In dealing with salvation proper a number of themes and metaphors describing elements of salvation are explored, including regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, forgiveness, and union with Christ. The results of sin and the fall are lined out in six separate sub-sections: Spiritual Death, Physical Death, Alienation and Separation, Without Hope, Sinful Nature, and Depravity.

The conclusion is pretty much just a summation of the body of the work. A source list rounds out the thirty-six page booklet.

My Conclusion

I am sure no one will be surprised to find that I found this booklet as a welcome addition to my library. As I said at the beginning, it contains no new revelation. The value that I find in it is a well-rounded, beautifully written presentation of the gospel of salvation found in Jesus Christ alone. For someone interested in digging into their rich Baptist heritage, sections one and two provide an excellent outline to get them on their way. If you happen to be interested in getting to the bottom of this Calvinism/Arminian debate, then sections three and four will provide the thumbnail sketch for you to start your journey. If you want to better understand salvation- both to better understand the great price that was paid for your soul, and to better share the gospel with your lost neighbors, family, co-workers, and friends- then this small book is just for you.

All this said, it is doubtful if this booklet gains much traction among Southern Baptists. I predict that maybe only ten percent will find it valuable. The reason? It’s too biblical (translate: Calvinistic).

How to Get a Copy

If you don’t have a copy and would like one, you can email Melanie Rickman at mrickman[at]uu[dot]edu at Union University and request one. Obviously you need to put your mailing address in the email, and one will be sent to you shortly.

January 12, 2007 Posted by | Book Reviews | Leave a comment

Screwtape Letter #6

“My dear Wormwood,”

(Editor’s note: These posts on the Screwtape Letters are the result of the high-school Sunday school class that my wife and I teach at Trinity Baptist church, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. If any of this material would be useful to anyone for a similar purpose, please feel free to use it, modifying it in any way you feel necessary. If you have any suggestions, comments, or observations, I invite you to please post them here. This is a work in progress, looking for any honest and sincere help you might offer.)

tribulation: great trouble or suffering
fortitude: courage in the presence of tribulation
hypothetical: something not necessarily true or real
periodicals: a magazine or newspaper published weekly or monthly
vindictive: having or showing a strong unreasoning desire for revenge
milksops: someone laking courage or decisiveness
benevolence: showing kindness or helping someone in need
circumference: the edge of or distance around something, usually a circle
pernicious: having a harmful effect in a gradual or subtle way
concentric: two or more circles, of different sizes with all sharing the same center

We turn again to issues of faith, fear, and doubt in letter 6 of The Screwtape Letters,which were begun in letter 5. We conclude the letter on the subject of loving one’s neighbors and enemies.

The use of the word cross in the first part of this letter employs a device known as allusion, in which a well-known literary or historical event, person, or object is used to draw comparisons or contrasts to something in the story. In this letter, Screwtape uses cross to refer to those things that make our lives uncomfortable, or worry us. In history, the cross was that instrument on which the Romans put Jesus to death. It was the electric chair, or the gallows of his day. Notice in Mark 8:34-36 that even before He was crucified on a cross, Jesus referred to his disciples taking up their crosses.
And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? (Mark 8:34-37, ESV)
Note the different ways the word cross can be used, in Jesus’ execution, in Jesus’ teaching, in our common use every day. In this last usage we should be careful not to trivialize its meaning.
Fear of the present is no sin, but to fear the multitude of possible happenings off in the future is. Screwtape points out the fact that Wormwood needs to work on the patients forgetting the fact that all of his fears cannot possibly happen, since they are incompatible. Remember from last week’s lesson the verse emphasizing God’s concern for the well being of His children.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6, ESV)
Screwtape wraps up his letter to his nephew by giving him good advice concerning hatred. Hatred for the Germans, whom the British were presently at war with, was no real big deal, since they were mostly far away. Screwtape advises Wormwood to direct the patient’s malice toward those near to him, and his benevolence toward those who are far away. This brings to mind how Jesus responded to the lawyer in Luke 10:29, who asked “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ reply within the story of the good Samaritan basically was anybody whom you happen to come across is your neighbor, whether he be a family member, a close friend, or a dreaded foe.

“Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape”

January 6, 2007 Posted by | Sunday School | Leave a comment

Defining Terms: Orthodoxy

If this first week of 2007 is any indicator of what is in store for the coming year of the SBC blog world, then it is going to be a thriller, somewhat akin to last Monday night’s Fiesta Bowl.

It all began with Marty Duren breaking his Blog Fast this last Saturday morning, with a post entitled The Great Divide. In this lengthy post (with an even greater volume of comments), Marty divides those in the SBC into two categories, which he calls reformers and tories.
This general division is formulated on the heels of the statement that
“it seems that everyone in the convention at the moment falls under one of two philosophical umbrellas”. I read this post to my wife as she drove us to church Sunday morning, which is something I often do, since we have about a 20-minute drive from home to church. The post was interesting, well written, and, I believe, by creating and defining terms, helped to shed light on the current problem facing the SBC. The basic thrust of the post was nothing new, however. Those on the dissenting side still want a large tent, and those on the Conservative Resurgence side want a small tent.

This post prompted a couple of posts in response, one by Ben Cole on January 2nd where he gives a peaceable biography of Dr. Malcolm Yarnell (who plays a large part in the comments section of The Great Divide) entitled Malcolm in the Middle…. The other post, by Nathan Finn was entitled Is the SBC a Two-Party System? in which he argues that Duren’s terms don’t fit everyone in the SBC, and shows a bias against the one group and favors the other group. No real comment on this, just to let you know some of the related posts that I found. I am sure there were more. The next day, on January 3rd, Marty posted a follow-up entitled The Great Divide Exemplified, which draws from comments from his first Great-Divide post.

What I found interesting in all of this was the comments in these two posts by Druen, especially the comments by Dr. Malcolm Yarnell, and those comments that his comments prompted. Dr Yarnell is the Associate Dean for Theological Studies, Director of the Center for
Theological Research, and Director for the Oxford Study Program,
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology” at Southwestern seminary. Originally I had not read the comments of Marty’s first post, we had arrived at church before I got to that, and my browser wasn’t tabbed up with the comments anyway, and then later it had just slipped my mind. It wasn’t until yesterday (the 4th) that, reading a post by Art Rogers entitled Oligarchy that I realized that I was missing the “big show”. In the comments of Marty’s two posts all of the big-name dissenters were there: Alan Cross, Art Rogers, Wade Burleson, Ben Cole, both Littletons, and many more besides. Dr. Yarnell was in the middle of it all, seemingly not ruffled at all. All of this is really not why I started this post. That was all just intro to what I really wanted to say.

In his defense of a small-tent, narrow-parameters for cooperation, Dr. Yarnell used the term orthodoxy in comment #71 of The Great Divide, and it appeared from the context, and the ensuing discussion, that he applied the term incorrectly. I believe it would have been helpful in revealing the true nature of the tory position as just plain wrong if someone would have challenged him as to his usage and application of the word soon after he used it. Ben Cole did challenge him on the use of the term the next day in comments (#84) in the second Duren post, but I believe too much water had flowed under the bridge by that time to do much good. Cole hit it right on the head, though. Here is his comment: You and I both know that the “orthodox faith” is a fence, not a fence post. Orthodoxy allows for a variety of interpretations of sacred scripture within a well defined perimeter outside of which the gospel is not preserved.

Orthodoxy Defined
My electronic version of The New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Edition, defines orthodoxy as: “authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice.” and the word’s origin comes from the Greek: orthos ‘straight or right’ + doxa ‘opinion.’ It is this broad, general definition that I believe that Dr. Yarnell was using, so that orthodoxy, as he was using it, meant right thinking on all of theology, concerning all matters of all degrees of importance. Historically in the Church, orthodoxy has not been used in this broad manner. Orthodoxy historically came out of the great theological controversies of the first few centuries. The great councils of Chalcedon, Nicea, and others were conviened as a result of these controversies, and the great historical creeds were the products of these councils. The purpose of these creeds, as Ben Cole put it, were intended to put up a fence to mark the boundaries between the Christian faith, and that which was sub-christian, non-christian. Those historic creeds contain the items that make up orthodoxy. To be sure there are critical doctrines missing from those creeds, doctrines that were not threatened by aberrant views and teaching. The nature of the atonement, or the doctrine of hell, for example don’t find their way into those creeds, but the principle still applies. The creeds are almost synonymous with orthodoxy. You don’t find secondary or tertiary items in those creeds. The creeds were intended to define what true Christianity was.

I believe Dr. Yarnell’s broader use of the word orthodoxy is not accidental, but intentional. This is very telling of the two camps, the reformers and tories. The latter group views that fence as the Great Wall of China, keeping any and all out, even those with the slightest of differences. They view all who are even slightly different as invaders, wanting to take over. The former sees that fence as a garden fence, intended to keep the dogs out, but not family, friends, and neighbors. It is just here where the trouble lies in this great SBC strife. We would do well to realize that these two groups often do not work with the same definitions of terms.

January 6, 2007 Posted by | Defining Terms | 2 Comments

A rainy night at work

This shot was taken last Friday evening at work. I don’t believe I have ever taken a night shot in the rain before. I like the way the lights reflect on the pavement. The driver is a guy we all call “Sparky”. He’s a good Penticostal brother.Creeping Phlox

This shot was taken today. Imagine that, something blooming on the first week in January. Nope, this is not coastal Georgia, it’s Oklahoma, “where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.”

I hope you enjoy the photos. Be sure to check out all of the other fine pics at the Friday Photo Group.
Have a great weekend, and I hope to meet with you, and all of the saints on the Lord’s Day in His presence.

January 5, 2007 Posted by | Friday Photos | Leave a comment