Friday, November 30, 2007

Thomas Boston on Assurance

“Assurance is the believer’s ark where he sits, Noah-like, quiet and still in the midst of all distractions and destructions, commotions and confusions. . . . [However] most Christians live between fears and hopes, and hang, as it were, between heaven and hell. Sometimes they hope that their state is good, at other times they fear that their state is bad: now they hope that all is well, and that it shall go well with them for ever; [then] they fear that they shall perish by the hand of such a corruption, or by the prevalency of such or such a temptation. . . . They are like a ship in a storm, tossed here and there”

~Thomas Boston, Heaven on Earth

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Jesus: Adam in reverse

I was intrigued this week, in reading a wonderful commentary by Sinclair Ferguson on the book of Philippians, to see his claim that Jesus is "Adam in reverse". He outlines his case this way, comparing Philippians 2:5-8 with Romans 5:12-21 and John 13:3-5:

1. That Jesus, being in the form of God but not grasping after that glory, reminds us of how Adam, also made in the likeness of God, was a grasping man.

2. Jesus emptied himself, making himself a servant, while Adam refused to serve God.

3. Jesus was obedient unto death: a death brought about by Adam's disobedience.

The first thing that struck me in this comparison is how much I feel like Adam when I read this. No big surprise, I guess, for someone who has held the doctrine of total depravity for almost 30 years. Yet we can bask so long in the place of favor with the Lord that we forget the reasons we have to be humble. This is a good reminder.

The second thing that happens as I reflect on these truths is worship. What a contrast between what that first Adam, and I, his daughter, have been, and what Christ was by grace for me and all like me. As Ferguson says, "No wonder such theology produced poetry!"

Monday, November 26, 2007

Augustine on Rhetoric

Now, the art of rhetoric being available for the enforcing either of truth or falsehood, who will dare to say that truth in the person of its defenders is to take its stand unarmed against falsehood? For example that those who are trying to persuade men of what is false are to know how to introduce their subject, so as to put the hearer into a friendly, or attentive, or teachable frame of mind, while the defenders of the truth shall be ignorant of that art? That the former are to tell their falsehoods briefly, clearly, and plausibly, while the latter shall tell the truth in such a way that it is tedious to listen to, hard to understand, and... not easy to believe it? ... That the former, while imbuing the minds of their hearers with erroneous opinions, are by their power of speech to awe, to melt, to enliven, and to rouse them, while the latter shall in defense of the truth be sluggish, and frigid...? Who is such a fool as to think this wisdom?

- Augustine, "On Christian Doctrine"

Sunday, November 25, 2007

An introduction to the progymnasmata

As the old Monty Python guys used to say, "And now for something completely different..."

It has been some time since I wrote about classical education or homeschooling, likely because I am on sabbatical: that is, because I have two weddings coming (one this December, and one next September) I decided not to teach any classes to the home schoolers in our town this year. Except for chorus, of course.. but that hardly counts. At any rate, while I enjoy choosing music and approaching chorus from a Christian and classical perspective, I've already written about that. And chorus doesn't tend to spawn any deep thoughts on the nature of education or anything.

I have been asked, however, to prepare a little talk on the progymnasmata for Monday evening's classical home school support group. It is a very basic beginner's group, and so I am trying to give a very basic introduction to these classical writing exercises. I am printing the text of my notes below, in case anyone wants to know what the progymnasmata are, and why they are an excellent training ground for the craft of writing.

Introduction to the progymnasmata:

In classical education, writing is about learning a craft. It is a set of tools put in the toolbox of the apprentice that he will be trained in using, and will one day use in growing measure on his own. In Christian education, writing is about dying to self and learning to communicate to others. So in classical Christian education, we want to train our children in the craft of writing well to enable them to communicate that which is good, true and beautiful to a lost and broken world that needs that truth, beauty and goodness.

Rhetoric and Poetics:

All writing is either persuasive or imaginative, and these are the two main divisions of classical upper-level writing instruction. Rhetoric focuses on persuasion, and is really not simply writing instruction, but the end result of good writing, good analysis, good reading and good logic. It is the practical application of both reading and logic.

Rhetoric itself is traditionally organized into 5 canons: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. In the current day, because we use largely written communication, memory and delivery are less emphasized. Basically:

· Invention: what ideas are we going to talk about

· Arrangement: how we arrange those ideas

· Style: how we word our ideas


These are writing exercises that prepare the student for rhetoric. Different teachers present the exercises in different order, but most contain these exercises:

· Narrative: story telling. Includes:

o Condensing

o Expanding

o Changing voice/point of view

o Differing modes of narration (direct declarative, indirect declarative, interrogative, and comparative)

o Narrative elements: action, agent, time, place, manner, cause (what, who, when, where, how, why)

o Attributes of an excellent narrative are brevity, clarity and credibility

· Description: the verbal representation of people. Places and things that exist in time and space.

o Learn how to detail persons, places, actions, things, and time

o Learn to order the details by special, temporal or order of impressions

o The attributes of an excellent description are clarity and vividness.

· Fable: a fictional illustration,

o Primary purpose of a fable is to illustrate a point in order to give advice. This lends emotional impact to an argument.

o In a fable, there is a single incident that illustrates the point at hand, and can be summed up in a pithy statement.

o We retell, condense, expand and invent fables.

o We write moral tags for fables

o We adapt the structure of a fable by introducing it with its moral tag, then telling the fable itself, then drawing an analogy from the fable to real life. We can turn that order around, too. Then we are ready to use a fable in the midst of a longer piece of persuasive writing.

· The Proverb: a short, pithy saying that is true from common experience

o 3 kinds of proverbs:

§ those that exhort to action

§ those that dissuade from action

§ those that instruct or enlighten moral understanding

o We learn how to amplify proverbs or write a fable for them as an illustration

o We learn a pattern for writing a deliberative essay around the proverb (Cite the saying; praise its wisdom; define its key terms; paraphrase or explain its meaning; give reasons to support it; draw a conclusion)

· The Anecdote: a wise saying or short exposition that gives moral instruction

o This is also known as chreia.

o There are verbal anecdotes (similar to the proverb), or action anecdotes, where the short account of an action speaks for itself, or a combination of these.

o We amplify anecdotes, and practice fitting them into larger deliberative essays (Introduction, Narration, proposition, confirmation, refutation, conclusion)

· Refutation/Confirmation: supporting or attacking a position

o This prepares writers to meet public controversy with persuasion.

o We identify the type of question being raised: is it a question of:

§ Fact (conjecture)

§ Definition

§ Qualitative (value, quality or nature)

§ Jurisdiction (who decides)

o We use some of the sub-topics of invention to help us discover ways to refute or confirm our topic:

§ Is it probable/improbable?

§ Is it clear /obscure?

§ Is it possible or impossible?

§ Is it consistent or inconsistent?

· The Commonplace: an amplification of a good or evil that is self-evident.

o This is directed against a deed (as opposed to a person)

o The sub-topics of invention that can be used well to amplify a commonplace are:

§ Contrast (e.g. a good act with a wrongful one)

§ Comparison (a wrong with something worse)

§ Intention (accidental or intentional)

§ Past life of person (how personal background affected the act)

§ Rejection or appeal to pity

§ Question of legality

§ Question of expediency

§ Question of honorableness

§ Question of practicality

§ Question of immediate result

· Praising/Blaming: an amplification of the virtues or vices of a person

o This is also known as encomium and invective

o Again, we will use some of the sub-topics of Invention to discover ideas for our amplification:

§ Background

§ Education

§ Virtues/Vices

§ Achievements/Crimes

· The Comparison: a double composition of praising and/or blaming.

o We will talk about two persons or things in one of the following relationships:

§ Similar things: the good beside the excellent/the mean beside the base

§ Different things: the good and the evil

§ Greater and lesser things

o We’ll use the same sub-topics of invention we used when we talked about encomium and invective (background, education, virtues, achievements) and compare and contrast them in the two things being compared.

o We’ll practice different patterns of arrangement we can use in presenting these comparisons.

· The Speech-in-Character: the imitation of a person’s character, habits and feelings.

o The student here is asked to put him/herself into someone else’s place and express that person’s thoughts and feelings.

o This is related to both soliloquy (a speech in which a character talks to him or herself as though alone) and monologue (a speech in which a character speaks to an implied or real audience).

o We talk about these speeches as being either pathetic (depicting the emotions and feelings) or ethical (depicting the moral character) or both.

o The character can be a specific, definite person (like Hamlet), or an indefinite one who has the features of a class of people (like a soldier).

o Often the arrangement of this exercise involves structuring around time: a statement from the character about the present, followed by one about the past, and ending with one about the future.

· The Thesis: a reasoned inquiry into a yes-or-no proposition.

o The purpose of the thesis is to deliberate on practical and philosophical questions, and the exercise is structured to provide experience arguing both sides of an issue.

o The thesis seeks to persuade or dissuade an audience concerning the advantage or disadvantage of something for the future.

o The topics of a thesis can be dividing into:

§ The definite (specific time/place) or indefinite

§ The practical (political or social) or theoretical (philosophical or speculative)

o The sub-topics of invention we will use for thesis are:

§ Necessary/unnecessary

§ Possible/impossible

§ Advantageous/disadvantageous

§ Easy/hard

§ Fitting/unfitting

§ Lawful/unlawful

§ Customary/uncustomary

§ Just/unjust

o We will again practice this in a specified deliberative essay arrangement (Introduction, narrative, proposition, confirmation/refutation, conclusion) and in others, such as an alternating confirmation/refutation pattern.)

· For and Against Laws: the exercise in legislation.

o This exercise focuses on enabling students to argue for and against laws, ordinances, regulations and rules. It gives them practice again in arguing both sides of topic.

o We will practice using the same topics we used in the thesis to help us discover ideas, and arrange our ideas in the same deliberative essay arrangement.

By the time we have worked through these exercises, you can see that many tools needed for every kind of persuasive essay has been practiced. By the time we are arguing for or against a law, we are narrating, describing, using fables, anecdotes or proverbs, making comparisons, praising or blaming, etc.

As each exercise is introduced, I recommend using imitation and analysis from the ancient and great authors as a starting place. Copy and analyze what they have done. Then imitate it. Write and rewrite. You can see how I have applied this to high school students in my composition classes in my notebooks: feel free to take a look at them.

Some suggested resources:

· Books for the teacher:

o Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, E.P.J. Corbett and R.J. Connors, Oxford University Press

o Composition in the Classical Tradition, F. J. D’Angelo, Allyn and Bacon

o Imitation and Analysis (aka Model English I) & Model English II & Persuasive Speech by Francis P. Donnelly (out of print, Allyn and Bacon)

· Internet Resources:

o {A great rhetoric resource}

o {A translation of THE early medieval text for teaching the progymnasmata by Aphthonius)

o {a .pdf document of Francis Donnelly’s out of print masterpiece, Imitation and Analysis}

o {Writing Assesment Services, a variety of online writing services by classical educator and homeschooler Cindy Marsch, including her progymnasmata tutorials}

o {a good beginner’s reference on the progymnasmata)

Some thoughts on marriage and courtship-- mostly not mine...

As a mom of two sons, both of whom will be getting married, D.V., in the next year, I have been thinking a lot about this subject lately. I have been thinking about it for a long time as the dh and I tried over the past 23 years or so to raise boys to be godly men in this culture. For a time we followed down the expected courtship route of every "good" homeschooling family, but as our young men entered this phase of life, reality hit the fan, so to speak, and got splattered all over all of us!

Now, as my dear friend Cindy has said in her wise and clever way, she hesitates to post about courtship because people have such strong ideas about courtship, and the younger your children are, the stronger your opinions tend to be. So, instead of saying much, I just thought I would share the first part of what should be a series of articles. I read the first part this morning, written by David Bayly. I think he is hitting on something important when he says,

"Scripture tells us that a king should count the cost before sending his army into battle. In the same way a young man should count the cost and weigh the odds before entering the lists of romantic battle. It’s not an easy course. Rewarding, pleasurable, wonderful, yes, but pitched conflict fraught with danger as well...."

And in speaking of the modern "courtship" movement, he makes this point:

The obvious problem with such an approach is that it doesn’t eradicate danger, it merely delays the necessary battles of courtship and wooing until after marriage—when the stakes are even higher and the costs of failure even greater."

I think there is a lot of wisdom there, and look forward to reading future installments. I hope you'll take the time to read his entire presentation. It is well worth your effort.

He shares his blog space with his brother, Tim (who pastors the church of one of my ds), and I grow in appreciation of them both as I read their writings.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A good thing to be thankful for...

Thanks to Terry at New Lumps for the following wonderful gem from Matthew Henry. It's a good one to contemplate, and much material to lead us into thankfulness.

Besides the heavenly inheritance prepared for the saints, there is a present inheritance in the saints; for grace is glory begun, and holiness is happiness in the bud.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

November Give-Away at

November Giveaway


Dave and I attended the movie "Bella" yesterday afternoon (I am currently on travel with Dave in Las Vegas, and they have it showing in several places here.) If you want to find out more about the movie, look here:

This is a lovely movie. It has a beautiful message, without preaching or telling, but by showing how beautiful life can be. It contrasts the idea of grief and pain with the joy of being that can only be known through the eyes of a child. And it did all this without downplaying the grief and pain.

Add to that the fact that we sat in a large, "brand name" theatre and watched a film with pro-life film. That was perhaps the only time we have had the privilege of doing that.

I highly recommend you search around for a viewing of "Bella" in your area. It is worth the time and the effort to support this endeavor!

Sunday, November 04, 2007


This morning in worship, as we were preparing for communion, our pastor shared a wonderful quote from a Puritan author:

"There is more mercy in Christ than there is sin in us."
~R. Sibbes, A Bruised Reed

Wow. I don't know about you, but the hugeness and seeming endlessness of my sin seems awfully big to me most of the time. To contrast that with the greater vastness of Christ's mercy really got my attention today. I think my acting and unspoken assumption was that my sin was the most vast of things. But I am wrong-- God's mercy is more vast. Hallelujah! Now that is something to be ever thankful about!