Thursday, February 23, 2012

John Bunyan for Lent

Lent has begun and I normally like to write an Ash Wednesday-post but did not have access to my blog yesterday. I wasn’t able to make it to an Ash Wednesday service but spent yesterday evening with a Christian friend and ended up reading out-loud one of my favorite sections from one of the most influential books in my life, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. I think this section also made a good Ash Wednesday and Lenten reading:
But now, in this valley of Humiliation, poor Christian was hard put to it; for he had gone but a little way before he espied a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him: his name is Apollyon. Then did Christian begin to be afraid, and to cast in his mind whether to go back, or to stand his ground. But he considered again, that he had no armor for his back, and therefore thought that to turn the back to him might give him greater advantage with ease to pierce him with his darts; therefore he resolved to venture and stand his ground: for, thought he, had I no more in mine eye than the saving of my life, it would be the best way to stand.
So he went on, and Apollyon met him. Now the monster was hideous to behold: he was clothed with scales like a fish, and they are his pride; he had wings like a dragon, and feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke; and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion. When he was come up to Christian, he beheld him with a disdainful countenance, and thus began to question him.
Apollyon: Whence came you, and whither are you bound?
Christian: I am come from the city of Destruction, which is the place of all evil, and I am going to the city of Zion.
Apollyon: By this I perceive thou art one of my subjects; for all that country is mine, and I am the prince and god of it. How is it, then, that thou hast run away from thy king? Were it not that I hope thou mayest do me more service, I would strike thee now at one blow to the ground.
Christian: I was, indeed, born in your dominions, but your service was hard, and your wages such as a man could not live on; for the wages of sin is death, (Rom. 6:23); therefore, when I was come to years, I did, as other considerate persons do, look out if perhaps I might mend myself.
Apollyon: There is no prince that will thus lightly lose his subjects, neither will I as yet lose thee; but since thou complainest of thy service and wages, be content to go back, and what our country will afford I do here promise to give thee.
Christian: But I have let myself to another, even to the King of princes; and how can I with fairness go back with thee?
Apollyon: Thou hast done in this according to the proverb, “changed a bad for a worse;” but it is ordinary for those that have professed themselves his servants, after a while to give him the slip, and return again to me. Do thou so to, and all shall be well.
Christian: I have given him my faith, and sworn my allegiance to him; how then can I go back from this, and not be hanged as a traitor.
- John Bunyan (1628-1688), The Pilgrim's Progress

Friday, February 10, 2012

Random Update #8: Neurology → Nephrology

Well, my blog has reached a low ebb in the last few weeks. For one reason or another I've lacked all inspiration to write. But there have been a few things happening...

1. I just spent a month working on the inpatient neurology service at the hospital, taking care of mostly stroke patients, seizure patients and a random assortment of other neurological disorders. Even with some very long hours at times it was an enjoyable month which makes me realize I'm finally settling into this doctor thing a little bit. I got to do another lumbar puncture which ended up going very well - I got a "champagne tap" which means there were no red blood cells in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples I collected. Frequently you will nick a small blood vessel as you insert the needle deep into the patient's back, thus contaminating your sample with a small amount of blood. I was able to avoid this complication and received the traditional gift of a bottle of white wine - CSF (without blood in it) is clear - from my attending. Technically the traditional gift is a bottle of champagne but the colonel reasoned that no one really drinks champagne. Unfortunately I'm not much of a wine drinker either.

2. Today I started working in the Nephrology clinic and that's where I'll be for the next month except for a week of leave I'm taking starting on the 18th.

3. I've occasionally been able to read a few pages of the Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation. It's an amazing work of history and of literature. Two men about whom I knew little were St. Augustine of Canterbury (d. AD 604) (not to be confused with "of Hippo") and Pope Gregory the Great (AD 540 - 604). Both of these men played a great role in the evangelization of my ancestors and the formation of the English Church. For that I am grateful to them and more so to God who chooses such sinners for tasks so great.

A snowy drive to work
4. I passed my final board exam (USMLE Step 3) to be a licensed physician. I took it in Puyallup, Washington just before most people in the Puget Sound area got socked-in by a huge snow and ice-storm or "snowpocalypse 2012" as us residents who had to drive to the hospital each morning at 4:30AM in spite of the weather referred to it (and yes I grew up on the West-side of the Cascade Mountains so I am a snow-wimp like the majority of Portlanders and Seattleites).

5. While I haven't been writing on my blog I have gotten myself involved in a facebook debate about baptism with a bunch of Lutherans (with whom I mostly agree) and Baptists (with whom I mostly disagree). And by Baptist I mean "Non-denominational," "Charismatic," "Pentecostal," and also all those with the honesty just to call themselves "Baptist." With that said I know a lot of great Christians who are Baptists (heck, just look at my favorite Christians blogs on the right-hand of your screen - 4 out of the 7 are Baptists). But the debate I've been in has made me examine my own thoughts on baptism, and to be honest it's something I've probably tried not to think too much about in order to avoid debates with a good percentage of my Christian friends. A friend challenged me on a statement I made denying the intrinsic efficacy of baptism as a means of grace. He confronted me not with some systematic theology and not with some sappy platitude but with a fairly clear and plain-sounding statement from God's word: "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience." Hmm... Doesn't really seem to fit with what I had written.

6. St. Augustine wrote: "For whatever unbaptized persons die confessing Christ, this confession is of the same efficacy for the remission of sins as if they were washed in the sacred font of baptism." (City of God, Book XIII, chapter 7.)

"Baptism of St. Augustine" (of Hippo) - Troyes 
7. John Calvin wrote: "We must at the same time beware of another evil, such as prevails among the Papists; for as they distinguish not as they ought between the thing and the sign, they stop at the outward element, and on that fix their hope of salvation. Therefore the sight of the water takes away their thoughts from the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit. They do not regard Christ as the only author of all the blessings therein offered to us; they transfer the glory of his death to the water, they tie the secret power of the Spirit to the visible sign." (Commentary on 1st Peter 3:21)

8. On the subject of Baptists and scriptural fidelity, I recently visited a nearby "Non-denominational" (read Baptist) church because they had a Saturday night service and it was my only chance to go to church that week. It was a pretty hip place, lots of 20-somethings with cool-looking clothes and the very latest in praise music. But I was thoroughly unimpressed by the preaching, which was topical and during which a very few Bible verses were used (likely misused) in making the preacher's somewhat questionable points. And then I started thinking about how the Lutheran church I sometimes attend when I'm in the Portland area and the Anglican church I like to worship at in Olympia have sermons that are absolutely saturated with Scripture. I can also think of quite a few other Non-denominational churches I've been to where very little Scripture is read during the service. The thing that gets me is that it's often these same people who will accuse Lutherans and Anglicans of being too beholden to "tradition" while they supposedly simply follow the Word of God.

9. Much of the best, most Scripture-saturated and Christ-centered preaching I've ever heard was at Cornerstone Bible Church (Baptistic in theology) in Riverside, California during medical school. It's a complicated world we live in.