Which Linux Distribution Should I Install? PDF Print E-mail
News - Web Development
Written by Tim Black   
Friday, 03 December 2010 23:22
A friend asked,

I am trying to put a Linux OS on a [friend's] computer, and I have found that there are 3 different versions: Linux Mint, Ubuntu, and Fedora. Which one are you running, and what do you like about it?

There are many (600?) versions ("distributions") of Linux. I'm using Ubuntu, and recommend it highly. This site can help you pick a distribution that is right for you: http://www.zegeniestudios.net/ldc. I tried Redhat, which became Fedora, from 1999 to about 2006, and always found it either wasn't compatible with my hardware, or I had problems configuring it correctly. Then I tried Ubuntu, and found it installed easily without as many hardware/configuration problems, and I was able to be productive on it. Ubuntu is the most popular distribution (which means better stability & features, and more support from other users), it focuses on being easy to use, and it's known for its broad hardware support. Though I've never tried it, Mint appears to be Ubuntu plus some media codecs and a few other niceties to improve the user experience, so it might be easier to use than Ubuntu. I've installed some of those media codecs myself along the way (by adding the Medibuntu & proprietary hardware drivers repositories), so it might be nice to get them from the outset in Mint. However, I've found that Ubuntu makes it very easy to install those extras when you need them--it prompts you with a popup asking if you want to install what you need. So it's a minor judgment call for you to decide between Ubuntu & Mint; I'd just install Ubuntu since I've had such a good experience with it. As a more major judgment call, I recommend you don't try Fedora, since I only had trouble with it.

I have to say, the design of linuxmint.com (ads, blog layout) vs. ubuntu.com makes me think Mint doesn't have nearly as many users as Ubuntu.

One key way to avoid hardware driver problems is to buy computer hardware that is already known to work fine with Ubuntu (or whatever distribution you're planning to use.) Another way around hardware driver problems is to try out your sound, high screen resolutions, bluetooth, wifi, etc., with your preferred distribution's "Live CD"--just run Linux directly from the CD (or flash drive, which is a bit more convenient).

Another issue in comparing Ubuntu & Fedora is that Fedora's emphasis is on bringing out new versions quickly to push new application features out quickly, and so it leans toward being unstable--things might break when you upgrade, and you might have to fix them. New features are fun, but broken computers aren't. Ubuntu's emphasis is on making Linux easy to use on the desktop, so it's devoted to guaranteeing new versions are stable, and its new versions are more stable than Fedora's. Both Fedora & Ubuntu are on a 6 month release cycle, but the difference is Fedora only maintains old versions for 13 months, while Ubuntu distinguishes some releases (every 2 years) as "Long Term Support" (LTS) versions which are especially stable and supported for 3 years. The underlying reason for this is that Ubuntu is based on Debian, which has a 2 year release cycle, and is divided into three distributions: stable, testing, and unstable (named "sid" after the destructive boy in Toy Story! sid will break your toys.) Regular 6 month Ubuntu versions are based on the previous Ubuntu version and Debian unstable, with enough stability, security, and usability fixes to make it stable. Ubuntu LTS versions are based on the previous version and Debian testing. This creates a blend of new features and stability that I've come to like very much. By way of contrast, Fedora's new features slowly find their way into Redhat Enterprise Linux (RHEL/CentOS), which is released less frequently, is very stable, but also ends up giving you out of date software. Some other distributions (e.g., SUSE, I think) focus on stability & the enterprise users who want it, and I'd avoid that kind of distribution, because I do want new features too. But more than that, I want it to "just work," and normally Ubuntu does just work for me.

Why I like Linux in general--it provides me all the software I need, for free, and automatically updates it all in one shot.

Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism - A Review PDF Print E-mail
News - Theology
Written by Tim Black   
Wednesday, 27 October 2010 11:57

A fellow pastor on the URC discussion list asked,

Someone in my congregation asked about this series and particularly some of
those named as contributors to it. Could anyone give a recommendation or
comments by way of review of this series?


We showed the video and used the printed study guide, one chapter per week, at our Wednesday night Bible study & prayer meeting recently.  It worked well in that format.  Several points of review:

  1. In general it's very well done--a correct presentation of scripture, theology, and church history, making good use of the Westminster Standards and Three Forms of Unity (and the London Baptist Confession, but it isn't given the most prominent position), in an attractively produced video.
  2. To my surprise, I learned that its host, Eric Holmberg, was also the host of the video called "Hell's Bells" back in the early 90's.  He claims to be an ordained minister (I don't know in what denomination, but I have no reason to doubt the claim), and has lots of videos on YouTube under the username "VorthosForum," in some of which he's doing street evangelism / street preaching.
  3. Many of the people in the video are professors or students at Knox Theological Seminary, so they lean in the direction of Evangelism Explosion and postmillennialism (and maybe theonomy?), though those emphases are not very evident in the video.  So, though I have nothing against Evangelism Explosion, I would hesitate to recommend our church members go and read more works from each of those professors with an uncritical eye, yet I have no serious qualms about the accuracy of their presentation of Calvinism itself.
  4. I wasn't excited about the presence of many Calvinistic Baptist speakers in the video, but I recognize that may help Calvinism gain traction with Arminians by helping to give them the impression that Calvinism is not restricted to NAPARC churches alone, but is maintained by other kinds of Christians too.
  5. A fellow OPC pastor who is studying for a D.Min. at Knox said he wished the presentation of Calvinism was more focused; I agree.  Yet the presentation is still quite good.
  6. The DVD is a very appropriate way to promote the Reformed faith to friends--give them the DVD to watch at home, or invite them over to watch it with you.  It doesn't have to be posed as a Bible study; it's just watching a DVD together.  I do think Bible studies are one of the best outreach methods we have today, but for those who don't like reading books as much as watching a DVD, and who have worries about the commitment involved in a Bible study--and that probably amounts to the majority in today's culture--a DVD may be just the right vehicle for reaching them.
  7. The study guide is well-written, but doesn't include questions for discussion.  Rather, it is mostly a transcript of the video, and it includes blanks for key words which you can fill in as you watch the video.  It does include occasional topical excurses whose content is not found in the video.  At some points I found that the video and the study guide did not actually present the content in the same order, but that wasn't too bothersome.  At some points I also found the video's transition between one chapter and the next went by without my noticing the transition; that problem can be fixed by paying careful attention to the playing time of each chapter, which is written at the beginning of each chapter in the study guide.
  8. For those who do like to read books, I recommend Joel Beeke's "Living for God's Glory:  An Introduction to Calvinism," for two great reasons:  1)  Beeke's presentation is more squarely in line with what NAPARC churches consider to be consistent Calvinism, so can be recommended without hesitation, and 2) (which is almost the same point) Beeke's book shows that Calvinism is much more full-orbed than just the 5 points of Calvinism--it is richly biblical, deeply orthodox, fully faithful Christianity.  Its chapters are numerous but manageable in length:  each is 10-15 pages long, and ends with study questions.  I'd be interested in other people's reviews of Beeke's book; I'm trying to find the best way to use it in our congregation.
A Review of Islam: What the West Needs to Know PDF Print E-mail
News - Theology
Written by Tim Black   
Wednesday, 21 July 2010 14:51
If you have time for two movie nights in a row, you might want to watch the following two (long) videos.

A friend forwarded this video to me, which I found a very interesting, even convincing presentation of the threat posed to the West by radical Islam:


Then I watched this second video, which responds to many of the points made in the first video from a peaceful Islamic perspective:


It appears to me that BOTH forms of Islam - radical and peaceful - exist.  After watching the second video, I was reminded of a question a brother asked me at GA:  Is God a theonomist?  He wanted me to answer "Yes."  But I answered "No."  Theonomists are ungodly, when in regard to the death penalties in the OT, they are unwilling to require human civil courts to maintain the principle of "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth." (Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21)  That principle, called the Lex Talionis (law of the tooth), God made universally binding on all men in the covenant with Noah in Gen. 9:6, therefore it is more foundational than God's temporary delegation to human courts under Moses of His divine court's right to punish sins less than murder with death, which delegation was ended when God removed the Davidic monarchy by sending His people into exile.  If theonomists ruled our civil courts, I believe the West would have some of the same opposition to theonomy which it has to Shariah law.

I find it more compelling to consider not whether Islam is violent (1st video says "yes"), or unjust (2nd video says "no"), but whether it has any true mercy.  Islam claims "Allah is merciful," but by denying Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, has no way for Allah's mercy to be extended to man and retain any semblance of justice--Allah's supposed mercy is arbitrary and capricious, perhaps promised to some men in general but not guaranteed to particular men in particular on the basis of an atonement for their particular sins that satisfies Allah's justice.

The good news that Christianity offers is that "Christ died for our sins" (1 Cor. 15:3)--not for the sins of every man in general, but for the sins of the elect--those particular people whom God chooses to save.  This is the 3rd of the 5 Points of Calvinism, called "Limited Atonement," or "Particular Redemption."  It is just, because our sins are truly paid for in the atonement, AND because that payment is truly applied to the accounts of those particular people for whom Christ died, so that Christ who said "I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:15) can also say "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out" (John 6:37), and "they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:29).  Through the work of Jesus Christ, God is both just and merciful--"just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."  But Allah is not merciful, because he has no way of justly paying the penalty our sins deserve, and so has no payment to apply to our accounts.  In Islam, man must pay for his own sins, and attempt to cancel out his evil deeds by doing enough good deeds, as the second video also makes clear--Allah loves the one who is righteous.  But Christians must admit what Muslims will not--"None is righteous, no, not one...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:10, 23)  We sinners cannot make ourselves righteous by our own works, as Islam expects us to do.  Because we have sinned.  Praise God for giving us a Savior, who saves us from our sin!

So I don't think the first video's possible implication that the West must defend Christianity with the sword is really the right solution.  Rather, Christianity must save the East and West with the gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 July 2010 16:17
Worship Prep Using a Spreadsheet of Trinity Hymnal Hymns PDF Print E-mail
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News - Theology
Written by Tim Black   
Wednesday, 21 July 2010 14:26

For my own quick reference while planning worship services, I combined the table of hymn numbers, titles, authors, composers, tunes, meters, and scripture references publicly available on the OPC website with this page's list of which hymns have guitar chords in the Trinity Hymnal into a Google spreadsheet and thought I'd share it with you in case you would find it useful.  So here it is:  Trinity Hymnal Hymn Data Spreadsheet.

I use that spreadsheet to track whether a hymn is familiar to my congregation, and when we last sang it, and expect other pastors could benefit from using the spreadsheet that way too.  I also think the spreadsheet could help people in the future to find guitar chords for the Psalms in the Trinity Psalter, if I could find an appropriate way to add the Psalm numbers into the spreadsheet.

I should point out that my spreadsheet's list of which hymns have guitar chords is LONGER than the list compiled at http://www.pontificationadnauseam.com/?p=65, because I have written guitar chords into my hymnal for some hymns which were not originally printed in the Trinity Hymnal with guitar chords, and have updated my spreadsheet to match my hymnal.  So if you or someone else wants to use this spreadsheet, I recommend you copy-and-paste it into a new Google spreadsheet of your own, then (sort by the guitar chords column and) delete the marks indicating chords are printed for those hymns which are not listed on http://www.pontificationadnauseam.com/?p=65.

You might want to know several other ways I use this spreadsheet.  Basically, I use the spreadsheet's ability to sort all the data by a particular column to serve the same purpose as the multiple indexes in the back of the Trinity Hymnal.

1.  We are using our choir to teach our congregation new songs from the hymnal.  So to find musically beautiful hymns for our choir to sing, I sorted by composer, looked for classical composers since their harmonies are (arguably) likely to be more beautiful, then picked out several that are unfamiliar to our congregation.

2.  For the same purpose with the choir, to find songs with unfamiliar words but familiar tunes, I sorted by tune name and then looked at the "Familiar" column.

3.  When I'm in a hurry to find hymns I can play on the guitar and whose words are appropriate for a particular worship service, I sort by the "Guitar" column to get a short list of hymns with chords.

4.  Though I normally use the printed hymnal for this purpose (and though I think maybe this spreadsheet's list of scripture references contains some errors), you could sort by scripture reference and see immediately what the titles of the corresponding hymns are--the printed hymnal lists only the hymns' numbers, not their titles, so using the spreadsheet could save time.

5.  If you find that a hymn's words would be appropriate for a particular worship service, but the tune is unfamiliar or otherwise undesirable, you can sort by the "Meter" column, find the hymn whose words you like, and find the music for a different tune which might work with those words.

6.  If you want to teach about a particular author's life as a background behind a particular hymn, it can be useful to sort by "Author" to easily find which hymns he wrote.

7.  As I mentioned, I keep a running record of which hymns are familiar to my congregation, and when we last sang each hymn.  This helps me avoid having us sing too many unfamiliar hymns in one service, which can be discouraging to members, and it helps me avoid having us sing the same hymn too frequently.  To use the spreadsheet this way, typically I find a hymn in the hymnal which I think would be appropriate for a service, then hit CTRL-F to bring up a search dialog, then I search for the hymn number in question to see how recently we sang it and whether it is familiar.

8.  Though normally I have no need to do so, if I want to find a hymn by its title, I can sort or search by title.

9.  Of course, after sorting the hymns into a strange order, you can sort by hymn number to put them back in their original order as found in the Trinity Hymnal.

The only way to gain ALL of this functionality is for a person to copy the data into their own spreadsheet file, so they can have their own personal records of whether a hymn is familiar and when it was last sung.  If you don't need that record, the other sorting functionality is already provided here http://opc.org/books/THrev/ (that page is linked to by the Wikipedia page on the Trinity Hymnal).

One last note:  My reason for playing the guitar is not primarily to add another instrument, variety, or a popular style to the service, though I'm not necessarily opposed to those things, and am in favor of members using their musical gifts to help accompany congregational singing.  Rather, I play the guitar in our service to help fill in for when our (two) pianists are unavailable; because one of them is in her 80's I feel obligated to be able to help with the accompaniment.  This means sometimes I provide ALL the accompaniment, or we may sing a capella (which isn't necessarily bad.)  But in the process I've discovered the Trinity Hymnal has no chords for several songs which are commonly used in every service--the doxology, Gloria Patri, etc.  So I've found and made up chords for those songs.  If there is ever a new edition to the Trinity Hymnal, I recommend including guitar chords for songs which are commonly used in our churches' services, not to lower the quality of our services' accompaniment, but to enable some of our services--and perhaps even churches--to have accompaniment. To ameliorate this problem for myself and guitarists who cannot read music, I've begun posting the chords that are missing from the Trinity Hymnal, and video demos of how to play each hymn on the guitar, for others to use at Trinity Hymnal - Guitar chords & demo videos.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 August 2017 09:06
Why did Jesus say "tell no one" the gospel? PDF Print E-mail
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News - Theology
Written by Tim Black   
Thursday, 15 April 2010 08:39

On the OPC email discussion list, Dean asked,

In Mark 5:19 Jesus says, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you." The man returns to Decapolis, but toward the end of Mark 7 when Jesus visits Decapolis and performs a miracle "He commanded them that they should tell no one."

Why the two different instructions from Jesus for the same geographic region?

Many Reformed commentaries (see John Calvin, Matthew Henry) give the following good explanation of the several places where Jesus told people not to tell anyone about Him and His works, which is also known as the "Messianic secret":  it was not yet the time for Christ to be delivered over to the hands of sinful men to be crucified, and then to be raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God the Father.  But there was a turning point when Christ said "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified" (John 12:23), when Christ no longer hid His purpose to reign as king from full view in the eyes of the public and of the government:  the Triumphal Entry, John 12:12-19.

Before the Triumphal Entry, Jesus did tell some to proclaim the gospel of faith in Christ to which His miracles bore witness, but He limited that proclamation's content, frequency, and extent, until the proper time when He commanded us to go into all the world, preach the gospel, make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them to obey everything He commanded.  That proper time was after His resurrection, and particularly, after the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus trained His disciples to proclaim the gospel, but He did so in stages, in a limited manner, during the time of His humiliation, and we must learn our gospel proclamation today from that training.  But now, during the time of His exaltation, He commands us to go forth and proclaim the gospel as He has trained us to do.  This is how these two stages of Christ's ministry--humiliation and exaltation--and these two sets of instructions--"tell them" and "tell no one"--are connected in regard to their impact on our gospel proclamation today.

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