29 December 2004

tsunami relief

If you are looking for some way to help with disaster relief in Asia, Mission to the World (MTW), the missions agency of the Presbyterian Church in America, suggests praying, giving, and/or going. The following is adapted from their website:

1. Pray. Pray for the physical and emotional needs of those millions of affected people, and most of all for their spiritual response to the Lord through the witness of Christians and the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.

2. Give. MTW will issue a Minuteman appeal to raise funds and is accepting contribution now online, by phone, or by check. Relief funds will be immediately advanced to their contacts on the field. Other missions and relief agencies, such as the Red Cross, are also accepting donations. Be cautious and only donate through secure channels. Do not, for instance, give out credit card information over the phone in response to unsoliticed calls.

3. Go. MTW will send Disaster Response teams. Field personnel are now working with nationals to determine where and how we can best help. For more information, please contact Hope Williams at hwilliams@mtw.org or 678-823-0004 ext. 362. Other organizations, either your own denomination or para-church and secular agencies, will also be seeking volunteers.

If you'd like to make donations, visit the MTW website or click either link below to go to the donation forms for the Red Cross, World Relief, or the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee:

recovering from christmas

Despite a sinus infection--accompanied by aches, a bit of a chill, and a lowgrade fever--I survived going to the lightshow and other sights downtown, last minute tidying, my mother-in-law's flight arriving two hours late and not getting back from the airport until quarter after midnight, preparing a turkey dinner for everyone on Christmas Eve lunch, the Christmas Eve family service, the Christmas Eve choral and candlelight service packed with 1000 people, a toddler who isn't taking her naps, the dog retrieving and devouring the remaining turkey mistakenly left out on the countertop, Christmas day with too many presents and a lovely meal at my folks, preparing my Sunday School lesson until nearly midnight Christmas day, teaching adult Sunday School on Zechariah 3 for a suprisingly full class, attending Sunday worship, fixing a Sunday lunch of leftovers, making supper for my brother- and sister-in-law visiting on Sunday night with more gifts, driving out to York for the day on Monday to visit still more relatives and kids and returning later at night than expected, and collapsing yesterday despite the napless toddler, in an attempt to recover from doing way too much during the past five days even though I felt like death for several of them.

All in all, at least it was a fun Christmas.

Even fighting an infection, it's difficult not to enjoy oneself while Claire is yelling, "Happy Birthday, Jesus!" at every mention of "Christmas" or "Jesus' birth" during the pastor's prayer on Christmas Eve. At the end of the service, after the benediction and before the recessional song, Claire leans over and whispers to me, "Thanks be to God," our daily evening Advent celebration apparently making a decent little liturgist out of her.

While I've enjoyed my mother-in-law's visit thus far, today my brother-in-law is taking his mom off our hands for the better part of the day with a trip down to Chaddsford, so hopefully Laurel and I can both relax a bit and not have to do anything much or play hosts. Perhaps I can slip out for a bit a buy some port...

26 December 2004

christmas 1

Almighty God,
you have shed upon us the new light
of your incarnate Word.
Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts,
may shine forth in our lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

24 December 2004

eve of the nativity of our lord

Eternal God,
this holy night is radiant
with the brilliance of your one true light.
Grant that we who have known
the revelation of that light on earth
may come to see the splendour
of your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

22 December 2004

cute toddlerness

Today while Claire's napping we're doing a thorough house-cleaning. She's become very good about taking her naps again, though she went through a rough spot for a couple of weeks after switching to her "big bed."

The other day Claire was sitting at the kitchen counter and came down with a case of the hiccups. She commented, "Daddy, I have the hip-hops."

Yesterday, while I was working on a project, she walked into the room dressed in a scarf hanging from her neck like a stole and one of Laurel's hats perched high up on her head. "Daddy, I'm a bishop!" she remarked.

Tomorrow we hope to go downtown to see the Wanamaker's light show and some of the other Christmas decorations in Center City. She had enjoyed the show two years ago when she was only a few months old. This year she has a much greater understanding of what Christmas is all about and should enjoy celebrating things all the more.

And now, back to tidying.

20 December 2004

done grading

My least favorite part of teaching is completed until the next term starts and I've submitted the grades electronically.

I've got lots to do before Christmas, however, including staining and varnishing a toddler size table and chairs we got for Claire. Laurel's mother will be staying with us for a week, beginning Thursday, which will be nice, but also means some shifting around of things between now and then so that she can stay in Claire's room and Claire can move up the guest room.

It turns out that Westminster Seminary's library is closed until January 3rd, which postpones some research I was planning to do there, though that is no big deal, since I've got enough other stuff to keep me busy for a while.

Laurel is at choir practice at the moment, as the church choir gears up for the annual Christmas Eve service (pdf).

Claire and I just made some little snowmen out of egg cartons, cut up and decorated with bits of paper, felt, pipe cleaners, etc. It's always fun to do craft projects with a toddler.

Speaking of Claire, I probably should go see what she's up to since she just wandered out of the room...

19 December 2004

advent 4

Heavenly Father,
you chose the Virgin Mary,
full of grace,
to be the mother of our Lord and Savior.
Fill us with your grace,
that in all things
we may embrace your will,
and with her rejoice in your salvation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.

16 December 2004

end of term

My students, at least, are done with my class. Around 80 papers were turned in yesterday before 5pm, along with any remaining assignments for FYO, and a handful of stray homeworks. This all means several days of heavy grading ahead. Then I too will be officially done for the semester.

I've got a variety of other projects and appointments in the next several days: a couple of lunchtime meetings, a Bible study Christmas get-together tonight, a committee meeting, and Laurel and I are going to have dinner out before going to hear the Waverly Consort at St. Mark's for our anniversary.

Last night I did rather quickly put our annual Christmas letter up online. For those interested, the Garver Gazette 2004 is now available.

13 December 2004

st lucia's day

Though St. Lucy was a Sicilian by birth--who had consecrated herself to virginity before being martyred in AD 304--her feast day is best celebrated by the Swedes.

In the Julian calendar, December 13th was the equivalent of the Gregorian December 21st and thus the shortest day of the northern year, especially if you live in Sweden. Given that Lucy's name means "light," it is only fitting that this early witness to the light of the Gospel would be celebrated on the darkest day of the year. Part of the irony of her story is that the girl whose name was "light," lost her eyes in the midst of persecution, plunging into her own personal darkness, though the legend goes on to tell us that God miraculously restored her sight, granting her even more beautiful eyes that shone with the light of his own love.

Given this emphasis on light and darkness, many Swedish traditions involve candles, as well as sweet pastries, poetry, and song. Here a bit of a midwinter's night poem by one of Sweden's own great poets, Viktor Rydberg (1828-1895), who drew on folk traditions, in this case, that of the "tomten," a kind of gnome or forest goblin.

Midvinternattens köld är hård,
stjärnorna gnistra och glimma.
Alla sova i enslig gård
djupt under midnattstimma.
Månen vandrar sin tysta ban,
snön lyser vit på fur och gran,
snön lyser vit på taken.
Endast tomten är vaken.

Well, I should get home and bake up some Lussekatter.

12 December 2004

benefit concert

Those of you in the greater Philadelphia area might be interested in a concert scheduled for 8pm, Friday, 7 January 2005, as a benefit for Christ Bible Seminary in Nagoya, Japan, which was one of the places I spoke this past summer.

The concert will feature David Kim, the Concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, along with many of his friends and associates, brought together as a chamber orchestra. They will be performing works of Bach and Tchaikovsky and the concert will be held at the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.

For more detailed information, consult the concert flyer (pdf) the Seminary website or the information page at the Kimmel Center website.

Tickets begin at $50 and range up to $500 for an evening that includes dinner with violinist David Kim and Michael Oh, the President of the Seminary.

advent 3

God of power and mercy,
you call us once again
to celebrate the coming of your Son.
Remove those things which hinder love of you,
that when he comes
he may find us waiting
in awe and wonder for him;
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

11 December 2004


This Sunday School quarter (12 December - 27 February) at Tenth PCA, I'll be leading an adult class on the prophet Zechariah. This was something of a last-minute arrangement, but I'm looking foward to working through the book.

The blurb that I submitted for the Bible School brochure reads:

Descended from a priestly family and living after the return from exile, Zechariah delivers a prophetic message of the temple's restoration and Israel's renewal, pointing forward to a greater and final redemption. We will explore Zechariah's visions and prophecies as a revelation of Christ and who we are in him.
The first class meeting is tomorrow, so I'm busily working away on an overview of the book and a study of the opening exhortation in Zechariah 1:1-6.

If any of you have given Zechariah some thought or know of any helpful resources, please tell me about it. I'll be trying to prepare ahead somewhat over the Christmas break.

09 December 2004

merit and obedience

The Reformed tradition has long held that God entered into a covenant with Adam whereby God would have rewarded Adam's continued obedience with eternal life.

But would it be proper to say that Adam's good works (or continued obedience) would have merited that reward? The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) 16.5 states:

We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come; and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom, by them, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins, but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from his Spirit; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God's judgment.
The primary focus of this section is obviously the impossibility for sinful human beings to merit salvation from God. But this is not all that the WCF is teaching here. Several crucial aspects of its teaching also apply to the good works of the prelapsarian Adam.

WCF 16.5 distinguishes between two rewards our good works might be thought to merit: "pardon of sin" and "eternal life." While pardon of sin certainly has the condition of fallen humanity in mind, the reward of eternal life applies not only to fallen humanity, but also to Adam in his Edenic perfection to whom such "life was promised" upon his obedience to God (WCF 7.2).

The evidence that the teaching of the WCF concerning the merit of our works applies even to the prelapsarian Adam is found in the reasons offered by the WCF to exclude any claims to merit, reasons that include not only ones that are peculiar to fallen humanity, but also ones that apply to humanity simply in virtue of being creatures of God.

With regard to our sinfulness, WCF 16.5 denies merit to our works because: [a] we cannot "satisfy [God] for the debt of our former sins" and [b] any good works that are "wrought by us" as fallen creatures remain "defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God's judgment."

But WCF 16.5 also excludes merit from our good works on the basis of our being creatures and this in two respects.

The first is in virtue of the absolute distinction between Creator and creature. Our relationship to God as Lord is one of complete dependence for all we are and have and thus we owe complete and perfect obedience to God as a reflex of our created relationship to him of trust, sonship, and life. It is therefore impossible for the creature to put God in his debt.

Thus WCF 16.5 denies the possibility of meritorious good works because: [c] due to our creaturehood there is an "infinite distance that is between us and God," [d] God, as the all-sufficient Creator, cannot "profit" from any obedience we render to him, and [e] as creatures "when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants."

The second is in virtue of the fact that, if we had, in Adam, maintained obedience to God, then there would have been no room for boasting since our whole ability to obey was itself a gift of divine grace and the reward given to that obedience would have been graciously disproportionate to the homage rendered.

Thus WCF 16.5 denies the possibility of meritorious good works because: [f] insofar as any of our works "are good, they proceed from [God's] Spirit" and good gifts to us and [g] there is a "great disproportion that is between [our good works] and the glory to come."

Both of these set of reasons against seeing our good works as meritorious are rooted not in our fallenness, but in our creaturehood and thus would apply equally to the prelapsarian Adam.

This is congruent with the WCF's teaching elsewhere that all of God's covenants with man are essentially gracious, what WCF 7.1 calls a "voluntary condescension" on God's part (which was standard 17th century language for the graciousness of the covenant, apart from using the actual term "grace" to which a few Reformed divines admittedly had objections).

As such, the "disproportion" between our works and their reward--eternal life--is one that was present as part of even God's covenant with Adam in which Adam could not have merited a reward. As WCF 7.1 says, our first parents could not "have any fruition of [God] as their blessedness and reward" except by that gracious condescension of God.

Morever, the original ability to do good works proceeds from gifts of the Spirit, by whom the prelapsarian Adam himself was "endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness...in...communion with God" and was only thereby able to obey God (WCF 4.2).

This outlook and understanding of the WCF is in keeping with the trajectories of English Reformed theology leading up to and at the time of the Westminster Assembly.

Thus William Ames had written, "In this covenant [of works] the moral deed of the intelligent creature leads either to happiness as a reward or to unhappiness as a punishment. The latter is deserved; the former is not" (The Marrow of Theology, 1.10.11), thereby denying merit to the good works of unfallen humanity.

Likewise, Anthony Burgess (1608-1664), one of the delegates to the Westminster Assembly, states in his 1647 work, Vindiciae Legis, that "though it were a Covenant of Works, it cannot be said to be a covenant of merit. Adam, though in innocency, could not merit that happiness which God would bestow upon him." He goes on to explain his reasoning in terms of the grace of God granted to Adam both in his ability to obey and in terms of the sheer disproportion between Adam's abilities and the promised reward. Thus Burgess concludes, "if by the help of God Adam was strengthened to do the good he did, he was so far from meriting thereby, that indeed he was the more obliged to God."

Along similar lines, John Ball writes,

In this state and condition Adam's obedience should have been rewarded in justice, but he could not have merited that reward. Happiness should have been conferred upon him, or continued unto him for his works, but they had not deserved the continuance thereof: for it is impossible the creature should merit of the Creator, because when he hath done all that he can, he is an unprofitable servant, he hath done but his duty. (A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace)

Similar affirmations can be found in works of covenant theology by William Perkins, Robert Rollock, Patrick Gillespie, and other English-speaking divines.

These quotations also confirm that the very language of the WCF under question was deployed and understood in the way that I have suggested above, both by members of the Westminster Assembly and within the larger tradition of English theology in which the Assembly stood.

Thus, I would conclude, to maintain that Adam's reward would have been by merit, had he obeyed under the original covenant, is contrary to the teaching of the Westminster Standards.

06 December 2004

feast of st nicholas

Last night Claire left her favorite pair of shoes outside her room door before going to bed, expecting them to be filled with something special in the morning.

She knows that a long time ago there lived a man named Nicholas who was a pastor in the city of Myra and who loved Jesus very much. Because he loved Jesus he wanted to help the people of his town. Once there were three daughters of a man in the town who were so poor that nobody would marry them, but Nicholas left precious gifts in their shoes so they would have some money.

We remember Nicholas by leaving our shoes out and getting a special treat from those who love us and who love Jesus too. Claire also has a picture of St. Nicholas from a coloring book to color today.

If you'd like to know more about the historical St. Nicholas and the legends that surround him, I suggest the St. Nicholas Center as a great starting point.

05 December 2004

175th anniversary

Today Tenth PCA celebrated its 175th anniversary, commemorating the formation of the congregation in December of 1829, under the pastoral leadership of the Rev. Thomas A. McAuley, back when we met in a building on the corner of 12th and Walnut Streets.

The current church building, at 17th and Spruce Streets dates from 1856 and was built to house a daughter congregation of the original Tenth church, the two congregations merging at the present location in 1893.

The Rev. Dr. Philip Graham Ryken is the current pastor, the tenth senior pastor to serve the congregation since its founding.

Today's anniversary church service was really quite nice with the Lord's Supper being celebrated, the Rev. Eric Alexander preaching (retired pastor of St. George's Tron Church in Glasgow), C. Everett Koop (a long-time elder) delivering a short message, the Westminster Brass playing, and the choir singing.

I hope to post some pictures of our building one of these days, but they're all on Laurel's computer, which is still out of commission.

advent 2

Almighty God,
you sent your servant John the Baptist
to prepare your people to welcome the Messiah.
Inspire the ministers and stewards of your truth
to turn our disobedient hearts to you,
that when the Christ shall come again
to be our judge
we may stand with confidence before his glory;
with is alive and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

03 December 2004

online courses

I've agreed to teach two concurrent sections of an ethics course during the summer of 2005. The course will take 12 weeks and each section will meet for three four-hour Saturday sessions over those 12 weeks, adding up to 12 classroom hours. The bulk of the course (in theory equivalent to around 26 hours) will take place online.

I've got some reservations about teaching philosophy in an online format, given the centrality of discussion, personal persuasion, rhetoric, and face-to-face contact in philosophical pedagogy. I really think it is a less than optimal way to conduct a class.

I'm also not thrilled with the prospect of teaching one section at our Bucks County campus from 8:30am - 12:30pm and another section on Main Campus from 2pm - 6pm, though I'll only have to work those 10+hour days on three occasions.

Nevertheless, the University will run the course whether I teach it or someone else does, so I might as well do it and try to make the best of it, especially given that I'm a bit more technologically savvy than any of my colleagues, teach a lot of ethics classes, and probably have fewer reservations about it than the others.

The demand for online courses with reduced classroom time is becoming ever stronger in the higher education market, particularly for continuing education students, even though, from the standpoint of the professor, the end product is often pretty shoddy, at least with certain subject areas that do not as easily lend themselves to this kind of course format. There's increasing competition among area schools in providing these kinds of courses and so La Salle is jumping into the market, though a bit late in the game.

I suppose there's an ethics question right there--is it ethical for La Salle to offer prospective students an "inferior product" simply to compete in that particular market? Or should we just be honest and say this is just a matter of producing degrees as quickly and efficiently as possible and give up the illusion of providing a substantial liberal arts education, thereby exempting students from these core liberal arts courses altogether. After all, part of the attraction of some place like La Salle offering these kinds of courses is having the name of a moderately selective Catholic liberal arts college on the diploma without having to enter into that liberal arts tradition or share in Lasallian Catholic values.

In any case, I didn't decide to post this in order to gripe (though it seems to have devolved into that). What I wanted to know is if any of you out there have experience in either teaching or taking these sorts of mostly online courses and might have suggestions to offer on how to best format the material, assignments, and student interaction so that I can at least make the best of what, I think, is an less than ideal situation.

I'm going to start working on the course content over the winter break, so suggestions are welcome immediately. Feel free to email me if you'd rather not post comments.