Let this point therefore stand: that those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and that Scripture indeed is self-authenticated; hence, it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning. And the certainty it deserves with us, it attains by the testimony of the Spirit. For even if it wins reverence for itself by its own majesty, it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts through the Spirit.
–John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion I:vii, 5 (Battles version)
Today is the 507th birthday of John Calvin. He left an indelible mark not only in theology, but in the whole configuration of Western republican and democratic ideas and the whole fabric of society. I thank God for the life of such a servant.
Today an article I wrote about the influence of the Protestant Bible on Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges was published (in Spanish) at the Paraguayan newspaper ABC Color.
The thesis of the article is that Biblical influences on Borges came from a Protestant, not Catholic, environment; and in order to understand the Borgean canon, it is convenient to take into account the Protestant outlook on the Holy Scriptures.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked… But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.
— (Ephesians 2:1,4-5 ESV)
In conversation with a friend, this text came to my mind; and once again, it struck me with the depth of God’s work in our salvation through the gospel.
We were dead. I was spiritually dead, as dead as one could be. Look at the meaning of the word: total void of life; total absence of life. A dead body, a corpse, is absolutely unable of any movement, of any function of its own, save for the natural death processes which include decay and cell lisis. Trying to make a corpse do something is a fool’s errand.
The Word of God says precisely that. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We were absolutely unable of anything, event the slightest action on our behalf. That’s how we were… but that’s not the whole story. When we were effectively dead in our trespasses and sins, God made us alive in Jesus Christ.
Just think of it. God gave life to the dead, out of His mercy and the great love with which He loved us. We attained eternal life not because of us, not because of our help or our disposition, but out of God’s sheer mercy and love, and despite ourselves.
We owe God eternal gratitude for His gift to us, and one way of showing this gratitude is to mirror His attitude. If God gave us life out of mercy and love. So, we should also show mercy and love to others in two respects.
First and foremost, we should ensure that everyone is exposed to the Gospel claims of God, so they could learn of this love and mercy, and act accordingly.
But it is also important to remember how we were in our past lives. Seeing how God pulled us from certain death and gave us hope should be sobering. And also, it should move us to display mercy and love to others. Knowing that God showed us mercy and love, should prompt us to be loving and compassionate when confronted with oter people’s miseries.
Today is Father’s Day so first things first: Happy Father’s Day! I hope you can spend this day with your loved ones and your family. So far, here in Asunción it has been a beautiful day, warm and sunny.
I would like to comment about an idea that’s been echoed over and over within my social networking circles of Paraguayan Reformed friends. The idea is something like this:”Your deep theological knowledge is nothing if you don’t have a holy life”; “It doesn’t matter how many Bible books you know by memory; it matters that you live them” and similar slogans and punchlines. In a nutshell: for the Christian faith, a deep knowledge means nothing unless you live a holy life.
That is a great sentiment, a lofty ideal… if you in fact have a deep knowledge, a solid theological learning, a mastery of the Bible, or some other manifestation of said deep Christian knowledge. But is this so?
I live in Paraguay. There, by the grace of God we are experiencing a Reformed, Calvinistic revival that moves me to give joyful thanks to the Lord for His work in this country, which was (and still is) a hotbed of the worst strands of Arminianism and Neopentecostalism when it comes to its evangelical church. As part of this revival, however, it is only understandable that some brothers and sisters in Christ display more zeal than truth in some of their statements; and the idea I quoted above is a good example of this.
Our Paraguayan culture is strongly against all things intellectual. Reading is usually considered something you only do when you are at school, a chore, a bore, and the sooner the better you’re done with it and move on. And this also shows in the church. Speaking of the Paraguayan evangelical church as a whole, the degree of Biblical and doctrinal ignorance is truly appalling, on both pew and pulpit. It is a matter of course that fresh new seminarians enter theological schools without doing the most basic task of all: having read all of their Bibles from cover to cover. And if those who are going to minister the flock don’t know their Bibles, how can we expect the people in the pews will fare?
And now we see memes with this idea within our circles. These memes would be appropriate in circles of intellectual Christians; people who may be at ease quoting Calvin, Aquinas, Berkhof, Frame, Pannenberg, or any of the Bible books with a good breadth of knowledge. But this is not the case of Paraguay. Here we need to encourage people to acquire more knowledge. We need more Christian thinkers. We need to raise a generation of intellectual Christians who are able to reflect on their faith with integrity, honesty and creativity. Telling them that they should de-emphasize their intellectual efforts is not only a false dichotomy; it’s counterproductive and wrong.
Let’s remember how the Lord Jesus summarized the first table of the Law:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
(Matthew 22:37 ESV; emphasis mine)
That’s right. We should love God with all of our hearts, but also with all of our minds. I could go on quoting a lot of other verses, but let’s just use Deuteronomy 29:29, which I consider a capital text for any Christian theology of revelation:
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
There are some secret things; thing that we might never know. But there are other things that God chose to reveal to us. Learning about these things is not an option. They belong to us and to our children forever, in order to comply with the instruction (law, torah) that God gives us.
If we are to learn, if we are to live, if we are to obey; that is, if we are to be holy for God, we need to study and to know. Intellect and holiness do not exclude each other. On the contrary, true Christian piety requires both a discerning mind and a humble, willing heart.
Enough, then, with this false dichotomy. Instead, we should take heed of the principle stated by the Lord Jesus Christ when He spoke about tithing: “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Luke 11:42 ESV) We should aim for a holy life, without neglecting the life of the mind. Instead of discouraging the intellectual reflection on Christian faith, we ought to say instead: “It is great that you should strive to learn about God. Do it, by all means. And don’t forget to translate what you learn about Him into a holy life.” This is a message I would gladly subscribe.
Today, the news reported that this early morning there was the worst shooting in U.S. history. Really; the NPR coverage I linked is sobering. At least 50 people killed, and a similar number of wounded persons, inside of a night club.
It appears that this slaughter was motivated by hate. The perpetrator, a radical Muslim, targeted the club seemingly because it catered mainly to homosexual persons. This is a despicable and horrendous action, made against peaceful people who were harming no one.
We Christians have the duty to respect everyone, regardless of any condition: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17) The victims were bearers of God’s image and their lives were sacred and worthy of respect and protection. We cannot and will not accept the hateful mindset that led to this senseless killing. May God grant comfort and hope to the victim’s families and loved ones.
Now, there’s something to reflect on this. I saw from several sources, some close to my family, several calls to enforce tighter gun control procedures in order to avoid similar tragedies. To be honest, I entirely sympathize and I think there should be better gun control in the U.S.
But also it will be very difficult. Pro-gun persons in the U.S. look back to the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. They have powerful lobbies, and it is only fair to say that gun usage by private persons in the U.S. appears to be grounded in the constitutional text and is part of the foundational groundwork of the American experiment.
But whatever the level of gun control the U.S. might enact or not, there’s an inescapable fact. Someone already said this, and I will just repeat it here: Guns don’t kill people. People do.
Guns, as well as knives, spears, ropes, nail, hammers, etc., are just tools. Someone needs to be there to pull a gun’s trigger. Timothy McVeigh did not use guns for his horrendous crime, but fertilizer. My point is: Guns are not the root of the problem. The root of the problem is the evil that lies in the human heart. Old Solomon said it well, thousands of years before the first gun was invented:
This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.
–Ecclesiastes 9:3 ESV
Our hearts are full of evil, and we have no hope of overcoming that unless we submit to Jesus Christ and seek His redemption. Because no gun laws, no educational campaign, no change whatsoever, can give us hope but Him.
I pray for Orlando. I pray for the victim’s families. And I pray for redemption and hope in Jesus Christ.
O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
Sam Powell is pastor of First Reformed Church in Yuba City, CA, (USA), and the face behind the blog My Only Comfort. Browsing over Tim Challies‘ A la Carte series, I found that he linked to a great post written by Rev. Powell who really struck a chord with me. I think I am not the only one, since due to popular response Rev. Powell wrote not one, but two follow-up posts.
The overt theme of these posts is the debate on modesty and how this virtue is taught at church, especially to women. But the subtext is much larger. The issue is not only modesty; it is, as Rev. Powell rightly states, misguided views about sex, and a culture of misogyny and shifting blame to ladies for gentlemens’ sins.
But there is another subtext, that even Rev. Powell does not mention. And I think this is more serious: under “concern” for other people’s holiness, Christian are labeling beauty and a lot of other good things as sinful. And this is not only incorrect. It is sinful, even to the point of being blasphemous; because we are calling sinful something that is a reflection of God’s beauty (Acts 10:15 rings in my head).
So, let me share with you Rev. Powell’s three posts, which I fully endorse. This madness has to stop. Hope you like them.
1. The Modesty Debate
“Girls, listen up! These guys are your Christian brothers! When you dress immodestly, you are putting stumbling blocks in their way to purity! They are always tempted to lust, and you girls have to understand that, and dress accordingly.”
This sounds good on the surface, and many don’t give it a second thought. Except, of course, for the girls.
The problem with it is this. It’s degrading to women. It’s degrading to men. It’s degrading to Christ and his work. It’s thoroughly unbiblical, and therefore of no use whatsoever to salvation, purity or holiness.
First, I never claimed that women should dress like harlots. In fact, I never commented on HOW women should dress at all (other than the statement “Dress like a daughter of the king.”) My ONLY point was that blaming the attire of a woman for the thoughts of men’s hearts is unbiblical, unhelpful and wrong. Perhaps I wasn’t clear.
It seems a bit strange that there were so many who took issue with that. Some said that since we still live in a fallen world, guidelines for dress are necessary, just like law in general. I find it interesting how little men understand their daughters and their wives. The assumption, again, is that if we men don’t lay down the law, our women will just rush right out to Backroom Boutique and buy stilettos and fishnets.
Why do I get so worked up about the modesty debate? So much ugliness and misogyny!
It is one thing to say that we should teach our daughters to dress like daughters of the king, loved by Christ and honored. It is quite another to teach them that they are responsible for the lust of men’s hearts. One lifts up and encourages. The other leads to the date rape mentality.
If she is responsible – even a little – for my lust, why can’t I say that she is responsible when I attack her? Oh, that’s right. WE DO! God, though, is not mocked. You stand alone before His judgment throne. I would URGE you to quit griping about Jezebels in your midst and deal with your own ugly hearts!
I hate abuse. I hate blameshifting. I hate the despising and belittling of women and children. And I really, really, really hate the idea that women are responsible for the lustful hearts of men.
One of these days I was in conversation with a single young lady who was passionate in her zeal in following Christ. When the conversation turned on the subject of dating relationships she said something on these terms: “It’s really easy to forget about the dating scene when you do everything to please Christ and He is your highest priority.”
This sentiment was admirable of itself but something sounded fishy to me, so I inquired further:
“Wait; so, can you say that Christ something like your husband?”
“Yes”, she said. “We talked about it on the women’s meeting of our [Reformed] church.”
And then some bells rang in my head.
Christ as your husband. This is exactly what cloistered nuns are told to in order to handle their emotions and impulses and direct them towards Christ, or so they say. And it dawned on me: this is the meal our Reformed young ladies are feeding from. This lady of my acquaintance firmly believed this hogwash as if it were the utmost principle of sound doctrine and morals.
There you have it. Our young ladies, so full of zeal, hopes, and dreams, were conditioned as if they were nuns. What is going on in our churches that we have to resort to this thoroughly unbiblical baloney to get our young people to obey Christian morals? And then we wonder when our young people get married and have all sorts of issues in their intimacy. We can do better than that, certainly.
And I don’t have any quibble against monasticism or nuns. But it should be plain and evident that monasticism and lifelong celibacy are not for everyone, and the presuppositions of monasticism should not be taught as a good universal rule for Christians.
Young single ladies who love Christ, keep this in your mind: Christ is not your husband. Christ is your Lord. You don’t owe Him marital love. You owe Christ obedience, worship and service. In any case, Christ is our Brother (Hebrews 2:11-18). But most definitely not your husband. Christ is the husband, but of the Church (Ephesians 5:25, among others).
No wonder there are countless worship songs that sound too much like erotic love songs. No wonder why so many males find church services repellent (not that we should begin to cater to their tastes, but you get my drift).
We really need to change our ways. Or, we are going to raise a mixed generation: half prudes, half hypocrytes. May the Lord deliver us from this awful future.
I found this inflorescence at Mom’s garden and immediately struck me because of the odd flower there. Seemed to me like a living illustration of the truth that one should not fear to be different. Anyway, it’s really beautiful. Hope you enjoy it.
I hope you all have a very blessed start of the year of our Lord 2016. Again, my hope is that you may be able to celebrate with joy and surrounded of the affection of your loved ones.
2015 was a very blessed year in all respects. I acknowledge that I had many struggles and disappointments, like many others. But God also showed His mercy in all times and, by Him and thanks to Him we were able to overcome.
May 2016 be a year full of success, accomplishments and joy; and also an opportunity to turn back to God and walk again by the path of hope. I leave you with these Bible texts to meditate and act accordingly upon them:
Let us test and examine our ways,
and return to the LORD!
Let us lift up our hearts and hands
to God in heaven:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Yesterday, while I was adding the previous update, I noticed something funny. Like many other Web surfers, I have an ad blocker installed. Well, while updating the blog I saw a tiny number on the ad blocker’s toolbar button.
That was weird. I never had any advertising code inserted on the blog, so I was dumbfounded and completely amiss as of how this could have happened. Worse, there is no feature to see which elements are blocked on Google Chrome, so I couldn’t even see which the offending elements were.
However, I opened Firefox; its ad blocker, thankfully, was quick to supply a list of offending elements. Some of them I was able to track to a plugin and is part of its code (albeit a doubtful one). But other elements came directly from the main site. But, how?? Again, I never inserted any advertising code.
I googled a little bit. It turned out that the culprit was an old link I had to SiteMeter. As you can see in the snippet below, the hat tip goes off to Lindsay. I removed the SiteMeter references, and the two rogue elements were gone.
In sum, SiteMeter was quietly doing some dubious stuff behind my back. If, as a consequence of visiting this site you experienced some random ads or any other suspicious behavior, I am sincerely sorry.
I’m sad for SiteMeter, and the moral is: We have to stay vigilant.
Linus Torvalds is a rare species: a public benefactor who did it all “just for fun”. Thanks to him, we’re able to run a world-class kernel for Unix-like systems, with unmatched quality and hardware support.
Happy birthday, Linus! Your contribution is greatly appreciated. May you have a great day with your family and loved ones.
I hope you have a merry Christmas. My sincere wish is that you all spend these days in God’s presence, with much joy and surrounded of the affection of your loved ones.
Let’s remember in time of celebration and gladness to ponder this profound truth: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory… full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 ESV). The Son of God took human nature as tangible proof of God’s mercy.
May the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in a manger of Bethlehem may be an occasion to go to Him. Among the fatigues and absurdity of this existence, let’s remember that the way of Jesus is our only confort and consolation, in life and in death.
I just finished updating Windows 10 to the major November update:
The process was long. Very long.
Be ready to have the computer downloading overnight.
Have a good, stable Internet connection (and no overages or else you’ll be in for a world of hurt)
Expect several reboots.
The update, despite its massive scope, did not seem to affect my Linux partition. Good!
Microsoft seriously needs to make their downloads resumable or schedulable or both. It’s no good to patiently download 35% of a multi-gigabyte file only to get back to zero after some network glitch.
The inability to stop updates in Windows stinks like a rotten skunk. I couldn’t boot into Windows for a long time because all the network connectivity I had during that time was a metered-by-the-kilobyte 3G modem. No way I would risk running an expensive bill or eating all my megabytes (you read that right) available for the month. Get serious, Windows folks!
Overall, everything looks good.
I’m writing this from Edge, the new Microsoft browser that got an update in this new release. It feels good and fast, but definitely needs an ad blocker.
For a detailed rundown of changes in this major update you can see this article at Howtogeek.
Remember that I graduated from Calvin Seminary as a Master of Theology? Well, if that’s the case you might also remember that i majored in Philosophical Theology and my major research paper was on the subject of the doctrine of God of noted Spanish philosopher Zavier Zubiri (1898-1983). There, I argued that based on two of Zubiri’s most representative works —Nature, History, God and Man and God— Zubiri’s view of the God-world relation could be understood as a transcendental panentheism.
I know the subject is so interesting you can’t wait to read the paper 😉 (honestly speaking, it is a very interesting subject despite the technical jargon). And now you can! I am glad to announce that a slightly modified version of my paper has been graciously accepted for publication by Dr. Thomas Fowler of the Xavier Zubiri Foundation of North America and the Editorial Board of The Xavier Zubiri Review and appeared in the latest issue of the journal. You can download the link below:
Our strength fails, but God never does. We grow weary, but God is never tired. We become discouraged, but God is Sovereign… Not that all things are good or pleasant or easy, but that for those who love God (notice the qualifier) and are called according to his purpose, they will work out for our good, and I dare add, for His glory.
Wherefore, in so far as we hope for anything as being possible to us by means of the Divine assistance, our hope attains God Himself, on Whose help it leans. It is therefore evident that hope is a virtue, since it causes a human act to be good and to attain its due rule.
— St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, q17 a1 resp.
Out of the blue, yesterday I felt the impulse to read Aquinas. So I just took the secunda secundae from the shelf and landed on Question 17. Found this little gem I wanted to share with you. Have a great day.
When I’m at the computer, a great deal of my writing activity happens not precisely in a word processor (such as MS Word, or LibreOffice Writer), but on a text editor, preparing source code for a document typesetting and preparation system known as LaTeX (Wikipedia entry). This system is easy, powerful and beautiful, allowing me to prepare professional-looking documents with a minimum of effort, way less than with a regular word processor. This advantage is achieved by separating presentation from content; once you got your presentation parameters sorted out, all you have to do is write text. It is also batch-processed: you write text with some markup code in an editor, then you feed the text to a LaTeX processor, which in turn produces readable output (my system produces camera-ready PDF files). An additional advantage of LaTeX —though I have not explored that fully— is that it is cross-platform; LaTeX systems are available for almost any computer system imaginable, since LaTeX is FreeSoftware.
You can write LaTeX in any text editor, because the processor requires a plain text file as input. In Windows, Notepad would be adequate, and any barebones text editor would suffice in any platform. (Or you could use a gorilla such as MS Word or any other word processor, as long as you save your files as plain text, but that would be overkill.) There are document processors that act as a LaTeX frontend and that could be used more or less like “LaTeX graphical word processors”, such as LyX or GNU TeXmacs. They are great, capable tools, but they are also limited; if you want the full power and flexibility of LaTeX, the best approach is to code your document in LaTeX itself. (And besides that, LaTeX is not that difficult. It is actually quite simple to learn.)
The best way to typeset text –to code– in LaTeX is by using a dedicated LaTeX development environment: A special text editor that, in a way that is analogous to IDEs (integrated development environment), provides specialized access to tools, reusable code components, and such. For casual uses it may be too much; but when you’re really into LaTeX typesetting, it could be a lifesaver.
As a Linux desktop user, my graphical environment is KDE, and it has been so almost since the day I began using Linux. For the uninitated, let me explain that KDE is a graphical desktop for Unix-like systems built on top of the Qt graphical library. KDE is great and it is so friendly and powerful that it almost feels like an extension of my brain, staying out of my way and letting me getting my work done. The current stable version is KDE 4.14.1, from the great KDE 4.x series, based on the Qt 4.x graphical library:
KDE folks are now readying a completely new environment based on the Qt 5.x graphical library, which could be loosely known as “KDE 5”. This denomination is inaccurate; in fact KDE released so far Plasma 5.0.x and Frameworks 5.2.x, and the whole world of KDE applications are being ported to Frameworks 5.x as of now. Thanks to the work of Eric Hameleers, one of the Slackware Crew members, I now have the latest and greatest of KDE 5 on my computer: Plasma 5.0.2 and Frameworks 5.2.0. So far, it is behaving itself quite well:
The writing is on the wall, then; the applications I use on my workflow should be in the process of porting to KDE 5 or I risk being cornered with an obsolete version of both desktop and applications. As of now, however, and despite being totally usable, KDE 5 is in a very early stage of development to be useful. In order to make it my default desktop I need at the very least to be able to migrate my PIM workflow, which is highly dependent on KDE4’s aKonadi and there’s no clear upgrade path to KDE 5 yet. So, for me it’s KDE 4.14.1 for the time being.
In this regard, if you think that LaTeX is important in my workflow, you are correct. I code LaTeX with a great KDE application known as Kile (KDE’s Integrated LaTeX Environment). At version 2.1.3, it is a stable, mature and powerful application, perfectly suitable for any major LaTeX editorial project.
Founded by Pascal Brachet in the early KDE 3.x days, maintainership passed over to Jeroen Wijnhout, and then to a team headed by Michel Ludwig. They have all done a great job; and it shows. I wrote several mission-critical texts with it, including my lawyer’s thesis, my Th.M. major research paper, and several published works. Over the time, it proved itself an invaluable asset for my workflow. But there’s a problem.
KDE 5.x is already on the horizon, and Kile does not have an upgrade path to it. Version 2.1.3, while powerful and stable, was released on 2012 and there is no sign of active development on its SourceForge page. It is reasonable then to assume that Kile development was, for all practical purposes, abandoned. Now, for KDE 4.x this statu quo would be fine, since the current version works great and it’s rock-solid. But I had to find somethinhg that would work well with KDE 5 in order to be ready for the future.
I researched alternatives. One was Texmaker, which is developed by Kile’s founder, Pascal Brachet. Version 4.1 was released last August and it is clearly in active development. It is a Qt-only application, cross-platform, and it compiles under Qt5. However, it feels like a very early and limited Kile:
Don’t jump to conclusions, though. Texmaker is a great application, very powerful and well-designed. But it does not adjust itself well to my workflow. So, I had to look for an alternative. After some searching, I found what it seems a good option, Texstudio:
Developed by Benito van der Zander, Jan Sundermeyer, Daniel Braun and Tim Hoffmann, TeXstudio began as a series of patches to Texmaker, with the hope of integrating them upstream; however, it soon became apparent that it would not be possible. So they forked Texmaker, applied their improvements, and began development of a wholly different application. TeXstudio has a strong resemblance to Kile, and it could be made even more similar by applying customizations (such as keyboard shortcuts and menu items). Even better: like Texmaker, it is both cross-platform and could be compiled under Qt 5.x by passing a simple compilation parameter to the build system, so it’s future proof and could be used under KDE 5.x. I began to use it and I find it pleasant to use and a great drop-in replacement to Kile.
Thus, one major roadblock to KDE 5 was sorted out. I may not be able to use Kile, but I can certainly use TeXstudio.
Update – Sep 29: Jure Repinc replied in a comment that Kile is being actively developed after all, and there is also a porting effort to Frameworks 5. Great!
There is a pervasive tendency to ignore our Christian heritage and how Christianity introduced a respect for life and liberty that was completely unknown before the coming of Jesus Christ. In the ancient world, the teachings of Jesus Christ halted infanticide, emancipated women, abolished slavery, inspired the first charities and relief organisations, created hospitals, established orphanages and founded schools. In the medieval times, Christianity built libraries, invented colleges and universities, dignified labour and converted the barbarians. In the modern era, Christian teaching has advanced science, elevated political, social and economic freedom, promoted justice and provided the greatest inspiration for the most magnificent achievements in art, architecture, music and literature.
Christianity has been the most powerful agent in transforming society for the better across 2000 years. No other religion, philosophy, teaching, nation or movement has so changed the world for the better as Christianity has done.
Some of you may know that I was a graduate student at Calvin Theological Seminary. From 2000 to 2002, I was a student in residence for the Master of Theology degree, in the field of philosophical theology under the supervision of Professor John Cooper.
My time at the Seminary was a great time. John Suk, then director of The Banner, the official periodical of the Christian Reformed Church of North America (the denomination of Calvin Seminary), said: “When I was in seminary I had the time of my life”; and I wholeheartedly concur with that. My time at the Seminary is something filled with joy, and a cherished memory that I hope to never forget.
But it was also a challenge. I simply lacked the habits and proper discipline required of a full-time graduate student. The workload was an enormous undertaking, becoming a full-time student after being a part-time student (as it is the norm in Latin America). To complicate things further, Calvin Seminary had its academic activity organized not in semesters, but in quarters. Any subject had to be taught in a crash course format, and when you thought you were settled on it, it was time to submit the term paper. (Calvin Seminary moved to a semester system afterwards.) Nevertheless I had academic success, but at the price of a lot of emotional and physical effort.
Things got to the point that the only requirement remaining for my graduation was writing a small master’s thesis. Since my field of study was philosophical theology, I wanted to write on the philosophical theology of Spanish philosopher Xavier Zubiri (1898-1983). Concretely, I wanted to do a study of his work to prove that Zubiri was a panentheist on his theology. (Panentheism is a doctrine that maintains that while God and the world are different, they remain ontologically linked to the point that God is in the world and the world is in God. It is usually an offshoot of Neoplatonism. Well known panentheists are Philip Clayton and Jürgen Moltmann.)
But I never got around to write that thesis. I faced several constraints. I had to read all of Zubiri’s relevant work on the subject and there was no single book of Zubiri in the campus library, so I had to request them on inter-library loan. And then, funding from my country all but dried up; while I was in the States, Paraguay had to face one of its worst economic crises. And I was tired and homesick. So, I took the decision to leave and see if I could finish the degree from my country.
When I arrived here, things were very different from two years before. I remember the many “For Sale” signs in front of houses. People were migrating to Spain and Argentina. I was unemployed for seven months and then, the only job I got was as an English teacher in a day school; and teaching youngsters is something very difficult to me. The thing is, writing my thesis was something definitely put in the back burner.
By the grace of God, I slowly began to recover. I got married, some years later I got certified as a translator, and shortly afterwards I entered law school and graduated as a lawyer. One day, while I was finishing the procedures and paperwork for being a registered lawyer in my country (the equivalent to being admitted to the bar), my sister asked me out of the blue: “Why don’t you consider getting your seminary degree now”? And it really seemed a great idea.
I wrote to the seminary. It turned out that my graduation was certainly possible. I had so much credit accumulated that I could graduate with a major research paper instead of with a thesis. Thus I wrote the paper on Zubiri’s transcendental panentheism, the same subject of the original thesis; but this time I restricted the scope to only two representative Zubiri works: Nature, History, God and Man and God. The term paper was accepted (with an A, mind you) by Dr. Cooper, and I got my degree on Commencement Day, May 24, 2014. (I graduated in absentia.)
It was nice to be able to focus once again on philosophical theology, a discipline that I really love. For a number of months I was absorbed in the way only a graduate student knows. Every single available second of my time was devoted to research, reading and writing. That’s one of the reasons I blogged so little this year, despited having the desire to do so. Now you know the reason 😉
So, after 14 years of first setting foot on the Seminary, I was able to finish it. I am so grateful to God, to my family, to my beloved wife, to Calvin Seminary faculty, staff and former classmaates, to friends from the States and here for their support. It was quite a ride!
The last weeks brought a lot of new developments and I plan to share them soon. But now I’d like to report that the Paraguayan evangelical church has shown some change and not for the better. Sadly, Paraguayan Evangelicals of the traditional (perhaps, “mainstream” kind) are slowly turning to aberrant, deviant Charismatic practices.
One of the worst offenders here is the Prosperity Gospel, a heresy that affirms that one of the marks of being in God’s favor is financial wealth. The other is what has been called the New Apostolic Reformation, another heresy that maintains that the offices of apostle and prophet have been restored on this age.
Together, these two heresies have swept our churches with a putrid wave of chamanism and authoritarism, and the new generation of Evangelicals are growing like cult fanatics, totally ignorant of the Bible. It is a sad state of things. The worst part is that leaders are not doing anything to curb this; they rather jump on the bandwagon and take advantage of these heresies as much as they could. I cannot tell for sure, but the two chief driver for this approval by Evangelical leaders may be economic profit and spiritual influence.
Some Facebook posts of mine have been critical of these two cultic errors, and the backslash has been strong. I have been treated as a pariah, a leper, for daring to question these doctrines!
So, this is how the Church is in Paraguay now. Sad, sad state of affairs. But the good news is that there are some churches, a minority, that would have none of this cesspool of cult teachings. Please pray so they can make a strong stand for Christian orthodoxy.