Bags of Bran

Token Life Update
January 3, 2018, 2:11 pm
Filed under: Biography, Personal Adventures

I’ve been away too long, so many have probably given up on any chance that I’ve been thinking about anything worth writing about. The facts are thus (in no particular order):

  1. I hurt my back in October and have been struggling since.
  2. Prior to that, I had been scrambling around to accomplish summertime things, such as get in shape, because
  3. I was sick for much of the spring with things like strep and influenza.
  4. I have also been lazy, which is what makes 1-3 seem like such valid excuses.

Meanwhile my kids have become bigger and smarter. Man, do I love them! Their personalities can be summed up thus:

In a few days, I and the Mrs will be celebrating the beginning of our 18th year of marriage. To say that she has blossomed since she’s been a pastor’s wife would be criminal understatement. She’s more than just a secretary (not only because she’s been on maternity leave for the past three years from her secretarial duties): she is incredibly thoughtful and reminds me often that so-and-so is having a tough time and  could probably use a word of encouragement. It’s like having an alarm clock for my conscience! Beyond this, our kids are really turning out to be neat little people. They spend just about every waking moment with Lady, so it’s no coincidence.

That’s all for now! Maybe soon I’ll get around to writing about my favorite 1 Timothy commentaries or waxing bike chains or something like that.


Selling Things to Christians
November 20, 2015, 2:30 pm
Filed under: Destined to get me in trouble, Personal Adventures

I grew up in a smokers’ home, so there was a time when the smell of smoke was transparent to me. I had no idea that my home smelled like anything, or that I smelled like anything, until one day a friend told me. Even then, I couldn’t smell it; but he could, and that was a turning point in my self-awareness at around age 9.

Today, at age 40, I can’t stand the smell. I’ve become so sensitive to it that I can be driving down the Interstate with the windows up and smell smoke coming from other vehicles. Ick.

Similarly, I’m pretty unplugged from media these days. I generally don’t watch TV or movies, and even when they’re on in front of me, I’m generally not watching them in a participatory sort of way, I’m trying to analyze them. What are these people trying to sell me? What are they arguing for? What do they value? What is the nature of their appeal? It sounds cynical because it is: I reflexively begin from a position of distrust toward a person on a screen telling me something, especially if there are multiple layers of appeal (read: marketing) assailing me simultaneously.

Many (most?) people get all of their information from people talking on screens. There is an entire symbol set that corresponds to the different way that such people think. It constitutes a grammar, and much like we don’t consider grammar when we’re engaged in casual conversation, we see right through those symbol sets to the things symbolized. Screens, as it were, speak our language; and accompanying aesthetic elements such as hairstyles and clothing on the speakers, background music, and cinematography are all employed to give credibility to the message.

Much like I have to work harder to get meaning from Elizabethan English, people who get all their information from people talking on screens would have a tougher time with propositions. You can read about media ecology if you want to understand this better.

I say all that to bring to your attention this video, where Francis Chan pitches his book, Erasing Hell. I’ve not read the book, but that’s more or less irrelevant to my point here, because I’m not analyzing the book. What I’m analyzing is how Chan and his publisher present the book. First, they chose video, rather than printed word or even static pictures. Second, you may notice that Chan and his clothing are the only things in color and in focus in the video. Third, Chan is not speaking in propositions, he’s speaking in the language of therapy; talking about his journey through this topic and what he’s learned. His motions are precisely choreographed. Fourth, there is that amorphous Muzak thrumming away generically–almost transparently–in the background.

I am not denigrating Chan’s pastoral concerns, nor am I calling his earnestness into question. I share his concerns, to some extent, even if I disagree with his conclusions. But this video is telling us more than that the doctrine of hell is actually in the Bible. It’s telling you how to feel. It’s telling you how to feel about Francis Chan. It’s telling you how to feel about Chan’s book. It’s telling you how to feel about the topic of Chan’s book. Now, considering that this is a marketing video: what are you supposed to do with those feelings?

Are Chan et al. manipulating your emotions? I will leave that to your judgment; but at the very least, let’s acknowledge that they are making a very strenuous appeal to your emotions.


The Road Less Traveled
August 18, 2015, 12:02 pm
Filed under: Bike, Biography, Personal Adventures

Every year since I started realizing by experience that there was such a thing as old age, and after a period of general weakness and trembling, I began doing what I call “Birthday Beatings.” They are, essentially, long (relatively) and difficult (relatively, once again) bicycle rides, sometimes over several days. Year to year they vary in length and difficulty with my fitness and schedule.

The first episode of a birthday beating was in 2007. I rode my mountain bike over to Fumee Lake Recreation Area in Iron Mountain, Michigan and rode just over 40 miles of singletrack. My total for the day was 51 miles, my house at the time being 5.1 miles away, and my ability to ride in straight lines being rather impaired toward the end. You may be asking whether that was a wise thing to do or not, but I assure you, some questions do not have an answer.

Since then I have been more and less ambitious.

This year’s festivities included a truncated trip to Hickory Ridge, near Bloomer, WI, where I discovered that my mountain bike game has grown rusty from storage. I pinballed off of rocks, overshot corners, braked too early or too late, and had a wonderful time. It really is an excellent and underutilized trail system way up there in a festering swamp.

The next day I dithered between my road bike and my cyclocross bike. I was heading east to explore some gravel roads north of Colfax, WI. I wasn’t sure if I wanted the sure-footedness of the knobby tires for the gravel, or the fleet-footedness of narrow road tires for the long journey out to the gravel. “Footedness” was going to be an issue.

I went with the narrow tires, which turned out to be an interesting choice when I came to 1090th Ave. If you look at the map, it looks like a normal road, which normally means normal pavement, or normal gravel:


However, on arrival, here is what you encounter:


Too shadowy...

Is that mud?!

It is mud...

It is mud…

And steep...

And steep…

So then, never trust the internet.

Want to examine this route for yourself? See it here:

More from Arizona
February 4, 2015, 10:39 pm
Filed under: Personal Adventures | Tags: ,

Many good things happened while we were in Arizona. The rest of this paragraph, as you would suspect, given the topic sentence at its head, will be about some of those good things, with the exception of this sentence, which, as you have no doubt become aware, is mere editorial rambling that should never have made it out of my internal monologue. First among those good things that happened was a usually-annual gathering of conservative Christian type people. Second among those good things was the fact that most of the sessions were recorded, with the exception of the session for which the speaker provided an entire manuscript. Third among those good things was the discussion among like-minded folks, which, if you’ve ever been among like-minded folks who like to think and talk, can really wear a guy out. Fourth among those good things was this:

Plant life?

Plant life?

These are all plants, evidently. I know, because I asked. I bear the guilt of telling people from south of the Mason-Dixon line that we have spaghetti farms up here in Wisconsin, so as a consequence I am quick to suspect others of horticultural tomfoolery. But honestly: is there not something troubling and uncanny about those ropy things that appear to be overwhelming that defenseless tree?

The Aesthetics of Nature
January 25, 2015, 11:58 pm
Filed under: Personal Adventures

Environmental aesthetics might not have been the discussion around your breakfast table (certainly wasn’t around mine), but it’s a field full of unexamined assumptions. Is there beauty in nature? What is the nature of beauty in nature? Is that nature beautiful? Is it possible to say “yes” meaningfully? What qualities attach to the “yes” that I want to say with gusto? If beauty exists in nature, what about truth and goodness?

The domination of the discipline of aesthetics by an interest in art had two ramifications: On the one hand, it helped to motivate a controversial philosophical position that denied the possibility of any aesthetic experience of nature whatsoever. The position held that aesthetic appreciation necessarily involves aesthetic judgments, which entail judging the object of appreciation as the achievement of a designing intellect. However, since nature is not the product of a designing intellect, its appreciation is not aesthetic (Mannison 1980). In the past nature appreciation was deemed aesthetic because of the assumption that nature is the work of a designing creator, but this assumption is simply false or at least inadequate for grounding an aesthetics of nature.

The secular side of the discussion (as reflected above) wants to find beauty in nature, but is not interested in finding truth or goodness in nature, because that would entail “a designing intellect.” I understand their objection: there is a great gulf fix’t.

Genesis 1:21 should prevent the Christian from taking that viewpoint, though the fall, curse, and flood (Genesis 3-8) have to come into the discussion at some point. It will be interesting to see what kind of effect the erosion of inerrancy, especially when discussing the opening chapters of Genesis, might have on the discussion of environmental aesthetics among Christians.

It’s another in a long line of fascinating and important topics that I’ll probably never have the time to read thoroughly on, let alone write on. But perhaps someone will.

While in Arizona
January 23, 2015, 4:31 pm
Filed under: Biography, Personal Adventures
Old Man Cactus

Old Man Cactus

Arizona is a remarkable place, so I’ve concluded that I ought to remark about it. The three of us flew out there to meet some friends for a conference (which was tremendous), but some of the extra-curricular activities deserve comment.

I spent an afternoon with some friends at the cleverly-named Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. What a place! Weird, wonderful cacti and other succulents, many of which were on the verge of blooming. My sincere thanks to Pastor Chris Leavell from Grace Baptist Church in Tempe for sharing this treat with us! It was a stark treat for a Wisconsin native who is used to ferns, hardwoods, and mushrooms, which are beautiful in their own right.

I also went hiking several times, usually with the wife and daughter, and we saw some truly breathtaking things together. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon now. I would characterize it as a “broad handsome ditch” with all due respect to Mr. Lessing.

We also went to Sedona, avoided the health crystal salespersons, and bee-lined for a local butte to do some hiking. Our daughter, at 16 months, felt that her sense of taste was the best way to enjoy the landscape:


If you ever find yourself in Prescott, I highly commend Watson Lake to you. It is utterly phenomenal, like someone stacked immense granite dinner-rolls haphazardly, and festooned them with stubborn vegetation. Locals fish, hike, and feed wildlife here. It is a worthy place.


Click to enlarge!



Another lesson from Philippians: some books are better than others
November 17, 2014, 6:06 pm
Filed under: Bible, Bibliophilia, Personal Adventures | Tags: ,

My Philippians Combat Shelf would include the following volumes:

Markus Bockmuehl, The Epistle to the Philippians, Black’s New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998).  Bockmuehl was sensitive to the larger discussion, but was primarily driven by the flow of Paul’s thoughts. Of all the commentaries I consulted, I looked forward to Bockmuehl’s perspective because he seemed, of all the authors, to have the best grasp of the mind of Paul. Needless to say, he was regularly a sane and trustworthy guide through difficult passages.

Moises Silva, Philippians, 2nd ed., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2005). Silva was routinely full of good sense. He often helped me with structure and exegetical decisions, which he lays out with great clarity. When you disagree with Silva, you know exactly why. Highly recommended.

Fred Craddock, Philippians, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985). Don’t let the slender size of this volume, or the fact that it lives in the Interpretation series (a friend called it the “liberal Ironside commentary set”) dissuade you from the clarity that is Craddock. He blazes an often frustratingly narrow trail through the text, sometimes through the weeds and into the ditch. But his clarity and insightful reading of the text, uncluttered with ponderous research, was refreshing.

Lightfoot. Nobody needs me to defend the use of Lightfoot. His tome is an embodiment of painstaking research and thus inefficient for time-crunched prep, but necessary reading nonetheless. His discussion of the Praetorian Guard is unparalleled. Nothing comes off as half-baked in this volume.

Other helpful volumes include:

H.G.C. Moule, Philippian Studies. This is good supplementary reading, but less often helpful than I imagined it would be.

Ralph Martin, Philippians, IVP. Martin was occasionally a voice in the wilderness. Worth owning, and probably affordable.

Calvin. Calvin needs an updated translation to make his rich insights a little less blocky. Very sensible and pastoral though, as one would expect from Calvin.

Lenski. He’s quirky and ornery, but often brilliant. Sometimes his quirkiness and orneriness were good for my sermons. Lenski is often blustery in the absence of firm evidence (aren’t we all?), and not exactly well-researched, but nevertheless, I found myself consulting him week by week.

Don’t waste your money:

Frank Thielman, NIV Application Commentary. I liked Thielman’s NT Theology. I thought I’d like this volume, but I found it to be derivative and often a bit shallow in the first chapter and a half or so that I consulted it. The applications themselves reminded me of a sermon on evangelism delivered by someone who never ever interacts with actual people outside the evangelical ghetto.

Ironside. I honor Ironside as a man, but his exegetical insights remind me of somebody playing with Duplo blocks. This is one of the first “commentaries” I ever bought, so I was hopeful to be able to use some insight or another, but I felt that his judgments were birthed more from his own blandly orthodox impressions than from Paul’s.


Celebrating Revivalism and Other Noxious Pieties


\"If I am immoderate, I am immoderate to God.\" - Bengel


Like sawdust, but edible.

Broad Meadow

I have spoken the truth coldly; who cares for the truth? To be useful, one must be charming, and my pen has lost that art.

Planting churches with the Baptist Confession in one hand and Tolkien in the other

Orchard Keeper

Plucking fruit from the grove of biblical and theological studies

Jubilate Deo

Music in the service of the church


Theology, apologetics, ramblings

Towards Conservative Christianity

Promoting true conservative Christianity


"a changeless sword, By pen and paper lies, That it may moralise My days out of their aimlessness." - Yeats

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