A Parisian summer, in a time of suspect intellectualism

To think of France is to think of Paris.

And to think of Paris is to think of its icons – the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre with its I.M. Pei glass pyramid (and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel), Notre-Dame de Paris…and that distinctive odour of eau de urine in the Parisan metro…

View of the Eiffel Tower from a metro train. Paris, France
Arc de Triomphe. Paris, France

The Louvre, with I.M. Pei glass pyramid. Paris, France
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. Paris, France
Notre-Dame de Paris. Paris, France

…or its iconic foods: cheese (from Laurent Dubois), sourdough bread (from Poilane),
Fromagerie Laurent Dubois. Paris, France

sourdough bread from Poilane, cheese from Laurent Dubois, chacuterie. Paris, France
escargot, frog legs, oysters, sweetbread at the restaurant of Hotel du Louvre:
oysters, escargot snails, sweetbreads, frog legs, roast potatoes at the restaurant of Hotel du Louvre. Paris, France

more escargot and deliciously heavy creamy foie gras ravioli drizzled with truffle oil at Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie (“foie gras maison!” proclaims its website):

escargot with butter, garlic, and parsley. Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie, Paris, France
foie gras ravioli drizzled with truffle oil. Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie. Paris, France

Having read A.J. Liebling’s Between Meals several times as a continually ravenous university student (possibly due to fencing training 3 times a week, rugby training once a week, and cricket, too, once a week), I used to despair of ever visiting such temples of gastronomy, expecting that any trace of them would have disappeared in the intervening years.

What Paris now offers though, is the pleasure of having my tummy satiated by a normal meal. In Asia, noodles and rice just don’t seem to present much bulk at all – an hour after lunch and I’ll be rifling through the office snack stash with a growling tummy, to the chagrin of weight-conscious colleagues. In the U.K., the ubiquitous potatoes helped some, but that had to be topped up with tea and biscuits ever so often. Ah, in France though, all that good tasty dairy fat in cheese and cream totally keeps me going for hours.

Still, worth rounding off a meal with sweets of course, just for good measure, and Pierre Hermé is just the thing.

feuilles. Pierre Hermé. Paris, France
ispahan. Pierre Hermé. Paris, France.
macarons, Pierre Hermé. Paris, France

I joked with my French ex-housemate that perhaps Paris would be a good place to settle in. Not only was the food a perfect Tinder match, the people too were just up my alley. Ex-housemate had been explaining how the locals considered themselves quite intellectual, and would not listen to even a simple proclamation of the gospel until there had been some serious argument over an issue of choice (not necessarily even the very reasonable and logical questions about the authenticity and authority of the Bible), and I simply love a good argument.

Religieuse pastry. Paris, FranceLast year, Sudhir Hazareesingh wrote about How the French Think. He considered French thought distinctive:

  • in its historical character (by which I mean both its substantive continuities over time and its references to the past as a source of legitimation or demarcation)
  • in its fixation with the nation and the collective self, which provide an enduring focus of public debate and the philosophical underpinning of assorted conceptions of the good life
  • in its extraordinary intensity (ideas are believed not only to matter but, in existential circumstances, to be worth dying for)
  • in the belief that communicating specialised forms of knowledge to a  wider public is an integral feature of intellectual activity
  • in its constant interplay between the themese of order and imagination – or to put it in terms of specific thinkers, between the cold linearity of Descartes and the unbridled expansiveness of Rousseau.

Buddhist monk at Shakespeare and Company. Paris, FranceNaturally, as if to prove his point, many French people have critiqued the book for leaving out certain philosophers, for giving too much space to Napoleon, for misunderstanding nuances of certain ideas (“has he not read Baudrillard?!”), etc. But all agree that French pride in the intellect defines the nation.

Je pense donc je suis“. Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am.

And the French have interpreted Descartes to mean that Thought is man’s highest sacred duty.

But the current hooha over the burkini ban in certain part(s) of France has tarnished this image. Could it be that the French, like everyone else, is happy for the freedom of thought…as long as it is the same as their own?!

crepe, Breizh Café, Paris, France
a bowl of cider, Breizh Café. Paris, France

A more fundamental fallacy is this: the assumption that the human intellect is infallible.

A (more English) empirical enquiry would effectively evidence this.

Bread and Cheese, and D.A. Carson on Biblical Theology

Je manger du fromage avec du pain” (“I eat cheese with bread”) was the first French phrase I learned, even before the usual “je m’appelle” (“I am called”), reflecting the central importance of those foods in my life and even, identity.

The brie de meaux is a lovely and melty (in Singapore weather) cheese with a sweet, creamy, slightly truffley, complex taste that totally cuddles up to your tastebuds. The morbier I am less effusive about – it is stronger tasting (good) but the saltiness trumps any nuance in flavour. There is a bitter aftertaste (interesting), and an almost agar-agar texture (not keen).

Accompanying the cheese, baguette au levain (sourdough baguette) from The Bread Table was a decent loaf. Its lack of an assertive depth of flavour (cf, say, Poilâne) commended it as a good base for any cheese.

There was no reason why a finicky child born and bred in Singapore, where lactose-intolerance prevailed on a sizeable chunk of the population, would take to bread and cheese so readily. It was too specific a liking and too early a proclivity to be any sort of pretension.

Photograph Wine and Cheese and Bread by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

On the subject of non-pretentiousness, we were discussing theology and the ordinary Christian, and how all Christians engage in theology, not just pouncy academics. Of course, the term could be used to mean generic academic study (in the U.K.) and systematic theology (in the U.S.), but at its heart, all these merely amount to serious discourse, reflection about God, based on the Bible.

Some points from D.A. Carson’s Introduction to Biblical Theology at The Gospel Coalition’s 2014 National Women’s Conference:

Biblical theology is interested in the temporal development themes across redemptive history. It is normally concerned with the following:

  1. What is the particularly set of theological emphases in particular book or corpus? What is contribution of Gospel of John? What is role of Moses in redemptive history? So as we study Nehemiah, we want to outline the biblical theology of Nehemiah – thinking through themes, argument, priority of Nehemiah.
  2. The examination of certain themes that run through the entire canon, where you’re keeping an eye on temporal development. What does the bible say about the temple – where is the temple first introduced? storyline? Some themes that run through the whole Bible: temple. covenant, priesthood, sacrifice, exile, creation-new creation etc.
  3. A combination of the first two: theology of a particular book, but looks backward to see what biblical themes it is taking up and looks forward to see how later books use this particular book. Carson recommended James M. Hamilton Jr’s With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology as a good example of this.

What are the ways that a good grasp of biblical theology help us to understand the Bible better, lead better Bible studies, and preach better?

    1. biblical theology directly addresses the massive biblical illiteracy prevalent in our age. If you have preaching and teaching that thinks only in terms of systematic theology, you just pull in all sort of biblical texts that seem to apply to your theme. It does not help you understand the Bible. You need to examine the flow, immediate context – what comes before and later. For example, the “fear of the Lord” is a theme in Nehemiah, but how does it work out in Nehemiah, how does it contribute in understanding Nehemiah? Look at the flowline, textline.This is also one of the aims of expository preaching. The truthfulness of what is being taught in systematic preaching is based largely on proof-texts. Rather, with expository preaching we take readers to the text and say “follow with me”. What we want to hear after the sermon is not “boy, i could not have seen it in the text” but “it is so obvious, it’s in the text”.Look at the Bible storyline – how the story of redemption is unpacked. It works with biblical categories: fear of lord, tabernacle, faith, kingship that are there in the Bible. Pointing out biblical categories is desperately important because these usual themes are incoherent to current biblically-illiterate generation. Systematic theology generally uses synthetic categories – categories that are not found in Bible, eg. trinity or cessationist. These might reflect truths but they don’t help readers understand the Bible, because when they turn to their Bibles, they don’t find these words there.
    2. biblical theology draws attention to the turning points in biblical history. If we only use bible as source book for pious thought for the day, it may be of some help, but reading like that won’t tell you how all the bits fit together.

      Turning points: creation – fall – choice of abe – beginning of covenant people of God – story of Abraham and patriarchs – Jacob and sons to Egypt – slavery – exodus – law at Sinai – tabernacle and priestly system – entrance to land – judges – united monarchy – David and davidic dynasty – splitting of kingdom – northern tribes go to captivity – southern tribes go to captivity – return and rebuilding – silence – coming of Jesus (sacrifice, temple, high priest, covenant – all categories in the new testament) – descent of Spirit in Pentecost – new heaven and new earth.

      If you know the Bible storyline well, you know how the different books fit in it. The Bible is not primarily organised on chronological grounds. For example, in the New Testament, the letters to churches come before letters to individuals. And long letters come before short ones.

    3. biblical theology enriches systematic bible reading and vice versa. This prepares the way for mature preaching. A biblically-informed parishoner is the best hearer.

    4. biblical theology encourages various kinds of integration and diversity in preaching. We can see that biblical books are of many sorts: letters, poetry, songs, narrative, discourse, curses, maledictions, oracles, apocalyptic, wisdom. Every genre of literature has its own way of making an appeal. What would be lost from the book of Genesis if i lost this chapter? What is this chapter doing in this book?
    5. biblical theology fosters inductive rigour. If we what bring to bear on the Bible first from systematic theology, then comes out of our pre-existing framework. This blinds you to what can be inductively perceived from Bible. BT therefore makes you a better interpreter of Bible.
    6. biblical theology helps you to avoid anachronism in preaching and teaching. It enables biblically-warranted connections and avoids imposing something from the big picture on the local text – this may be doctrinally right in general but anachronistically wrong in chapter.
    7. biblical theology is also fundamental for detecting one of many penetrating biblical arguments for connecting Old Testament and New Testament, and the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament. See Edmund P. Clowney’s The Unfolding Mystery.