Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Not of this time
A friend of mine, now deceased, used to tell a story about a renowned preacher with an outsized adam's apple (always part of the story), a dominie who, in a fit of religious enthusiasm, all too often messed up words, did so with such frequency in fact that his flubs made him a better preacher because his congregants paid close attention. No one knew what he might mistakenly say.
This tall preacher with a ponderous adam's apple was cranking it up in a feverish heat one Sunday morning when he referenced Satan's "fiery darts" (Ephesians 6:16) and, unfortunately reversed consonants to form a barnyard phrase that little boys--and others--had to stifle their giggles, which made it more hilarious and unforgettable.
My old friend told it so often I sometimes wonder if I wasn't there to hear it myself.
I'm no linguist, but the NIV has graciously replaced the KJV's "fiery darts" with "flaming arrows," which means the story, told today, would today require a footnote, death to any great joke.
We ran into Satan's "fiery darts" in an old translation of the Canons of Dort (or Dordt) a couple of weeks ago. In the early 17th century "fiery darts" were prescribed biblical language. But coming on that phrase reminded me of my friend's tale of the long-necked preacher of yesteryear.
I wish that weren't so, but if you read through the Canons in the form the old preacher must have, you'll be amazed at the style, which is simply not of this time, not at all. Sentences are huge, ungainly, almost impossible to gather in, diction incredibly high and mighty.
But even in a more contemporary translation, you can't help but be amazed at how people thought 400 years ago because the Canons seem conspicuously irrelevant today. The reach of its arguments is astounding, but seemingly useless. What it argues is absolutely fascinating, but so is the Hundred Years War. Even when Satan's fiery darts are flaming arrows, what the Canons so rigorously argue is quite clearly from and for another time.
Once upon a time, the battles it waged--between election and free will--were in actuality life-and-death issues: in salvation, what role do we play as fallen human beings? Do we choose or are we chosen? The Canons attempt to answer a question most of us would say is largely unanswerable. We simply acknowledge the mystery.
Nobody brings fiery darts along to theological battlefields anymore, or flaming arrows for that matter. That doesn't mean the issues the Canons address is somehow settled. They're an amazing body of work that for centuries affected the world I come from. For me at least, the Canons are heritage. In many churches I know of, even today office-holders must pledge fidelity to the Canons as one of the "Three Forms of Unity." I can't imagine that most of those men and women know much about what they're saying.
The Canons of Dort, soon to celebrate their 400th birthday, are amazing, but they're not of this time.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:35 AM