Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tradition

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit,
according to human tradition...and not according to Christ.

Gerald McDermott on why not all Christian traditions are "human traditions":
.... Paul commended the Corinthians for “maintain[ing] the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:2). He urged the Thessalonians to “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15). He told Timothy to pass on the tradition the young leader learned from him, and to teach others to do the same (2 Tim. 2:2). And when Paul quoted Jesus’ saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), he was affirming an oral tradition never recorded in the Gospels. ....

The early church recognized it needed tradition when it faced the heresy of Gnosticism. Gnostic teachers claimed that both the God of the Old Testament and physical matter are evil, and that salvation comes through knowledge, not through the life and death of Jesus Christ. Their picture of God and salvation radically opposed the apostles’ preaching. The early theologian Irenaeus countered that the apostles passed down not only certain writings but also a way of reading those texts. And only by following that way of interpreting biblical texts could one hold to orthodoxy.

In its later battles to understand the Godhead, the early church finally established a Trinitarian tradition: God is one divine being in three persons. The word Trinity and the now-classic phrase “three persons in one God” are not in the Bible. But nearly all Christians, evangelicals included, believe the Holy Spirit guided the early church through those debates to reach this consensus. Leaders in the debate reminded their hearers that Jesus promised there were some things that the apostles were not able to bear at the time, but that would be revealed later, as the Spirit guided them and their successors “into all the truth” (John 16:12–13). This understanding of the Godhead used nonbiblical words to express biblical concepts, and has guided all Christians ever since.

But what about the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura? Didn’t Martin Luther, who taught this doctrine most famously, say that Scripture alone is our authority, that human traditions should never supplant the Bible?

Actually, Luther taught that Christians needed the right tradition in order to interpret the Bible. .... [more]

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"The Robin Hood of modern crime"

Delighted to discover that Leslie Charteris' Saint books, many out of print, are now available for Kindle. I thought them great fun in my early teens. It will be interesting to discover whether they hold up. From Wikipedia
.... Simon Templar is a Robin Hood-like criminal known as The Saint — plausibly from his initials; but the exact reason for his nickname is not known (although we're told that he was given it at the age of nineteen). .... Blessed with boyish humour, he makes humorous and off-putting remarks and leaves a "calling card" at his "crimes", a stick figure of a man with a halo. This is used as the logo of the books, the movies, and the 1960s TV series. He is described as "buccaneer in the suits of Savile Row, amused, cool, debonair, with hell-for-leather blue eyes and a saintly smile..."

His origin remains a mystery; he is explicitly British, but in early books (e.g. Meet the Tiger) there are references that suggest he had spent some time in the U.S. battling prohibition bad guys. ....

Templar's targets include corrupt politicians, warmongers, and other low life. "He claims he's a Robin Hood", bleats one victim, "but to me he's just a robber and a hood". Robin Hood appears one inspiration for the character; Templar stories were often promoted as featuring "The Robin Hood of modern crime", and this phrase to describe Templar appears in several stories. ....

Fundamentalist Catholics

...[A] hundred years ago, the term was taken as a badge of honor by theologically conservative Protestants to distinguish themselves from liberal Protestantism. While liberal Protestants in mainline denominations were denying basic Christian teachings like the authority of the Bible and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, conservative Protestants called for going back to the “fundamentals” of the faith – hence the term.

There are obviously a lot of issues on which Catholics and fundamentalists disagree, but there are a few important issues for which fundamentalists take a lot of heat in our culture that Catholics actually agree with them on – or at least are supposed to. ....
His "five":
  1. The authority of the literal sense of Scripture 
  2. The reality of sin and hell
  3. The absolute unicity of Jesus for salvation 
  4. The future Second Coming of Christ 
  5. A willingness to be fools for Christ 
[more]

Monday, November 17, 2014

Millennials at worship

A friend directed me to this from the Barna Group: "Designing Worship Spaces with Millennials in Mind." The research targeted that generation's attitudes about the most appropriate worship settings. The summaries of what they found included:
  • For many, size is a necessary evil rather than a selling point. Participants acknowledged that a successful church would grow and therefore need to increase the size of its services and facilities. But they also expressed a bit of tacit distrust for very large churches. One young man put it starkly: “It seems like a really big business.”
  • ...[M]ost Millennials’ overall preference [is] for a straightforward, overtly Christian style of imagery—as long as it doesn’t look too institutional or corporate. Not only do such settings physically direct one’s attention to the divine, they also provide a rich context of church history as the backdrop for worship.
  • Most Millennials don’t look for a church facility that caters to the whims of pop culture. They want a community that calls them to deeper meaning.”
There is much more in the article describing both differing attitudes among those surveyed and the methodologies used. There is also a link to the full study.

"Do you hear the people sing?"

...[W]hat do you hear when your church worships God in song? What is the defining sound? For some, it will be the old, massive, beautiful organ — a full, enduring, and familiar tone. Others would say it’s the energy of an electric guitar and the deep pounding of a bass drum. Maybe you have one or two vocalists you love. They could sing the encyclopedia on Sunday morning and bring you to God.

I enjoy and appreciate all of the above — I really do — but I believe the defining sound on Sunday morning should be the singing voices of God’s people. ....
The main points:
1. Only one instrument sings.
By no means is God against musical instruments. He loves the sounds of praise that come from a string or horn or drum. Many of the Psalms — the songs of the saints — were written, after all, to be accompanied “with stringed instruments” (Psalms 4, 6, 54, 61, 67, 76). And God explicitly calls for praise to be played on the tambourine, harp, lyre, and trumpet (Psalm 33:2; 71:22; 81:2; 144:9; 150:3). ....
2. Those saved by God sing to God.
.... Throughout the Bible, God’s people — saved by his grace, because of his love — sing. It’s never been exclusive to the talented, or trained, or female. No, it’s part of being human, and it’s part of being Christian. When God rescued you, he became your Song.
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:2) ....
3. We are all — young and old, male or female, musical or not — commanded by God to sing.
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. (Psalm 5:11)
Sing to him; sing praises to him, tell of all his wondrous works! Sing to the Lord, all the earth! Tell of his salvation from day to day. (1 Chronicles 16:9, 23)
We need to trust the God worthy of our worship with how we worship. Singing doesn’t always feel natural, and many of us aren’t good at it, but God tells us to sing. ....
4. Heartfelt singing to God is a spectacular miracle.
Not all singing is a miracle. Most of the music we’re exposed to any given day is beautiful in its own right, but it’s not supernatural. What makes a song a miracle is when it is offered with a redeemed and genuine heart of awe and praise to God. It’s not a song that comes from deep within, but from far above. It is an act of sovereign grace.
[God] put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:3)
When God saved us, he retuned our souls to sing. He didn’t train us in music theory or give us vocal lessons, but he opened our eyes and made us alive. Our mouths look and sound like the same old instrument, but they’ve been radically and eternally transformed to declare the glory and goodness of our God. ....
5. Worship leadership calls for worshipers, not spectators.
Worship leadership is about leadership, not performance. Worship leaders have this difficult task of bringing people to God and then getting out of the way. They have to find a way to lead without taking all of the attention. Worship leadership that doesn’t aim for congregational participation in worship often becomes a distraction — a performance that ironically and tragically upstages God. ....
Do you hear the people sing? If not, consider making some changes to encourage and highlight the miracles happening all over your sanctuary. [more]

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The right to be offended

John O’Sullivan explains why the only solution to bad speech should be more speech:
.... Hearing criticisms of your own convictions and learning the beliefs of others are training for life in a multifaith society. Preventing open debate means that all believers, including atheists, remain in the prison of unconsidered opinion. The right to be offended, which is the other side of free speech, is therefore a genuine right. True belief and honest doubt are both impossible without it. ....

.... Before the 1960s, arguments for censorship tended to focus on sexual morality, pornography and obscenity. The censors themselves were usually depicted as benighted moral conservatives—priggish maiden aunts. Freedom of political speech, however, was regarded as sacrosanct by all. As legal restraints on obscenity fell away, however, freedom of political speech began to come under attack from a different kind of censor—college administrators, ethnic-grievance groups, gay and feminist advocates.

The new censors advanced such arguments as that “free speech can never be an excuse for racism.” These arguments are essentially exercises both in begging the question and in confusing it. While the principle of free speech cannot justify racism any more than it can disprove racism, it is the only principle that can allow us to judge whether or not particular speech is racist. Thus the censor’s argument should be reversed: “Accusations of racism can never be an excuse for prohibiting free speech.” ....

Democrats in the Senate are seeking to restrict political speech by restricting the money spent to promote it. And in the private sector, American corporations have blacklisted employees for expressing or financing certain unfashionable opinions. In short, a public culture that used to be liberal is now “progressive”—which is something like liberalism minus its commitment to freedom.

The U.S. and Britain have long thought of themselves as, above all, free countries. If that identity continues to atrophy, free speech will be the first victim. But it will not be the last. [more]

Armistice Day



They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Laurence Binyon, 1914

 First World War.com - Prose & Poetry - Laurence Binyon

Monday, November 10, 2014

Moral exhaustion

From Carl Trueman's review of a new book about how the Catholic theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand responded to the rise of Nazism:
If Bonhoeffer enjoys continuing status as the Protestant opponent of Hitler, then the claimant to the Catholic equivalent is surely Dietrich von Hildebrand. Von Hildebrand may not have been martyred but he saw the danger of Hitler well before the N.S.D.A.P. was a serious electoral force. He also identified the centrality of the “Jewish question” much earlier than many other opponents of Nazism did....

Von Hildebrand was disappointed by the many fellow Catholics who failed to see the danger of Nazism and to oppose it. Some used the Hegelian argument that history was on the Nazi’s side. Others seemed simply motivated by anti-Semitism. ....

...[T]he question of the lack of opposition to Nazism cannot be reduced to a confessional one. It is far more complex than that. Many Protestants, Catholics, and atheists failed morally in this context. Only a few acted in a manner which history would ultimately regard as admirable. One hesitates to use sadly outdated and quaint terms, but it seems that such opposition was in part more likely to have been a function of individual, personal moral decency, integrity, and courage than of the wealth of social teaching which one had at one’s ecclesiastical disposal. Do not blame Luther’s writings or the Pope’s concordat for acquiescence to tyranny. Blame those who chose to acquiesce.

In this context, von Hildebrand offered an interesting insight into why opposition to Nazism was so hard. It was not because it was risky, though that was undoubtedly true. It was because it was tedious. To stand in opposition to something takes time and energy and yields little or no results and rarely brings immediate social credit (in fact, it typically brings the opposite). Sooner or later most people become tired of being indignant and simply accommodate themselves to what appears to be an invincible force. They may not privately approve but they publicly acquiesce. .... [more]
"...[N]ot because it was risky [but] because it was tedious. ...."

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Free eBooks

If you have an eBook reader and have not yet taken advantage of the free past-copyright books available at ManyBooks.net, then you are missing out. Today I found these:
And many, many, more. There is something there for any reader. As it says at the site, "There are more than 29,000 eBooks available for Kindle, Nook, iPad and most other eReaders, and they're all free!"


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Read with care

“A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.”
C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

.... In college I absorbed the prevailing idea that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, was just a historical curiosity, and that science could explain everything. By the time I was in my mid-to-late twenties, I was convinced that there was no God (or any spiritual reality). I did not believe that I had a soul; I thought I was just an intelligent animal, and that when I died, my consciousness would simply blink out. I thought that there was no ultimate meaning in life, and that people who believed in any form of God were seriously self-deluded. It was a bit depressing, but I believed it to be the best explanation of the way the world is, and truth is better than false comfort. If that’s not atheism, I’m not sure what counts…

...[C]lassic Christian literature planted seeds in my imagination as a young girl, something I write about in more detail in my book. Later, Christian authors provided dissenting voices to the naturalistic narrative that I’d accepted—the only possible dissenting voice, since I wasn’t interested in reading anything that directly dealt with the subject of faith or Christianity, and thus wasn’t exposed to serious Christian thought.

I found that my favorite authors were men and women of deep Christian faith. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien above all; and then the poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, John Donne, and others. Their work was unsettling to my atheist convictions, in part because I couldn’t sort their poetry into neat ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’ categories; their faith infused all their work, and the poems that most moved me, from Hopkins’ “The Windhover” to Donne’s Holy Sonnets, were explicitly Christian. I tried to view their faith as a something I could separate from the aesthetic power of their writing, but that kind of compartmentalization didn’t work well, especially not with a work of literature as rich and complex as The Lord of the Rings.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I needed to ask more questions. I needed to find out what a man like Donne meant when he talked about faith in God, because whatever he meant, it didn’t seem to be ‘blind faith, contrary to reason’. ....

I read a lot of books! C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity was one of the most important ones, particularly with regard to his moral argument, but also for the way that he provides vivid images and analogies to illuminate what words like ‘faith’ and ‘repentance’ mean.

For the philosophical and historical questions, I was particularly helped by a book called Does God Exist?, a debate between J.P. Moreland (a Christian) and Kai Nielsen (an atheist), articles by philosopher William Lane Craig, and the book In Defense of Miracles, which includes David Hume’s famous argument against miracles as well as arguments for the possibility of miracles. One of the most important books I read was N.T. Wright’s magisterial scholarly work The Resurrection of the Son of God, which convinced me that the Resurrection was a fact of history.

Literature also helped me along the way. In particular, the Chronicles of Narnia helped me connect my intellect and my imagination, so that I grasped the meaning of the Incarnation and saw its importance not as an abstract idea, but as something that impacted my life. .... [more]

Contradictions?

I have no problem with efforts to harmonize seeming contradictions in the biblical accounts, but as a student of history I have always found this approach persuasive:
The Gospels are full of contradictions. There, I said it. Take, for example, the differing accounts of the resurrection. In Matthew, the two Marys – Magdelene and Jesus’ mom – are at the empty tomb, greeted by an earthquake and an angel. In Luke, Joanna and other unnamed females are added to the mix, and they see two angels, rather than one. According to John, it is Mary Magdelene only, and after running to fetch Peter and John (the author), she sees Jesus, although she mistakes him at first for a gardener. Mark ends most strangely, with the two Marys and someone named Salome speaking to an angel and then fleeing the tomb – trembling, astonished, and afraid.

These contradictions, among others, have been used by some in an attempt to undermine the veracity of the Jesus story, but is that fair? ....

.... I have heard it said that no two eyewitnesses will ever tell the same story (and if they do, they have probably been tampered with)....

In this light, the Gospels suddenly seem astoundingly consistent, though never so much as to suggest collusion. The empty tomb was first discovered by women (itself a stunning detail in 1st century Palestine), angels were seen, but Jesus was not. The very fact that the Gospels have not harmonized their contradictions, but have left them bare, seems to me an act of courage – “here are our stories and we’re sticking to them!” – both on the part of the authors and the compilers of what we now call the New Testament. ....

Sunday, November 2, 2014

"Seek and you shall seek"?

A couple of day after the anniversary of Luther's 95 Theses, I was reminded of this from 2011:

Matthew J. Milliner, a professor at Wheaton, offers "9.5 Theses" about postmodernism in the Church. For example:
1. I'll say it again: He who marries the spirit of the age will soon become a widower. Do those who married postmodernity realize their spouse is in a nursing home?

1.5 Christians who cater their theology to accommodate deconstruction are comparable to sub-rate CCM bands who copy Green Day five years after they've ceased being cool. They'll sell, but to a subset of evangelicalism who want to be "relevant" — which is the only group they'll ever be relevant to.

2. Yes Paul said he sees through a glass darkly — but he still saw. Don't forget to keep reading.


2.5 Paul did not end his speech at the Areopagus by saying "the Unknown God" is a great idea, sorry I bothered you. Nice statue. Can I have a copy? ....

4. Yes, God is at work in the world already. That doesn't mean the church needs to be like the world. The best thing the church can do for the world is to be the church, not regurgitate graduate school seminar room talk from 1985.

4.5 Wrestling with the difficult questions of the Christian life (the eternal destiny of non-Christians, the reliability of the Bible, church hypocrisy, etc.) does not constitute a movement. It's called normative Christian maturation. It is risky business, but followed through, opens into holy mystery and stronger, more nuanced faith. Abandoned, this process can lead to faith's termination. Perpetuating those questions indefinitely, however, is another thing entirely: Frozen adolescence.

4.75 POP QUIZ! What is wrong with the following Biblical quotation? "Seek and you shall seek." ....

5.5 Tom Oden is right: "A center without a circumference is just a dot, nothing more. It is the circumference that marks the boundary of the circle. To eliminate the boundary is to eliminate the circle itself. The circle of faith cannot identify its center without recognizing its perimeter." ....

8. Heresy is boring, not exciting because it eviscerates mystery. If you're attracted to heresy because it makes you feel naughty then that's kinda creepy. If you're attracted to it because you don't want to "limit God," then the religion that serves a God who became a particular first-century Palestinian Jew might not be for you. .... [more]
millinerd.com: 9.5 Theses

Saturday, November 1, 2014

We'll meet again

In "Saying Goodbye for Good" Wesley Hill writes:
In his book A Severe Mercy, a memoir of Christian conversion and student life in Oxford, Sheldon Vanauken tells the story of his last meeting with C.S. Lewis, who had become a friend. The two men ate lunch together, and when they had finished, Lewis said, “At all events, we’ll certainly meet again, here—or there.” Then he added: “I shan’t say goodbye. We’ll meet again.” And with that, they shook hands and parted ways. From across the street, above the din of traffic, Lewis shouted, “Besides, Christians never say goodbye!”
Hill recounts this story to make a different argument. Saying "goodbye" is important because doing so acknowledges the reality and pain of physical separation. Vanauken's book is largely about his separation, because of her death, from his wife. And of course Lewis wrote A Grief Observed after the death of Joy Davidman. They both felt the pain of physical separation in this life. Feeling the grief of separation is important but so is remembering what Lewis is saying here.

A Severe Mercy is still in print and it is very good. My copy dates from the year of its publication and I haven't read it in many years. I should read it again.

This is the somewhat longer account that appears in the book. So, on All Saints' Day, it may be particularly appropriate to remember that we will meet again.
On that last day I met C.S. Lewis at the Eastgate for lunch. We talked, I recall, about death or, rather, awakening after death. Whatever it would be like, we thought, our response to it would be 'Why, of course! Of course it's like this. How else could it have possibly been.' We both chuckled at that. I said it would be a sort of coming home, and he agreed. Lewis said that he hoped Davy and I would be coming back to England soon, for we mustn't get out of touch. 'At all events,' he said with a cheerful grin, 'we'll certainly meet again, here—or there.' Then it was time to go, and we drained our mugs. When we emerged on to the busy High with the traffic streaming past, we shook hands, and he said: 'I shan't say goodbye. We'll meet again.' Then he plunged into the traffic. I stood there watching him. When he reached the pavement on the other side, he turned round as though he knew somehow that I would still be standing there in front of the Eastgate. Then he raised his voice in a great roar that easily overcame the noise of the cars and buses. Heads turned and at least one car swerved. 'Besides,' he bellowed with a great grin, 'Christians NEVER say goodbye!'
A Severe Mercy at Amazon

Alleluia, Alleluia!

Wikipedia notes "Protestants generally regard all true Christian believers as saints and if they observe All Saints Day at all they use it to remember all Christians both past and present"



For all the saints,
who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith
before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus,
be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
The golden evening
brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors
comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of
paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou wast their Rock,
their Fortress and their might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain
in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness,
their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
But lo! there breaks a
yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant
rise in bright array;
The King of glory
passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
O blest communion,
fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle,
they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee,
for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
From earth’s wide bounds,
from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl
streams in the countless host,
Singing to God,
the Son, and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Modern virtues

...[T]he problem isn’t that we no longer live in an age concerned with virtue. The problem is that we have organized ourselves around the wrong virtues.

Did I say “wrong”? Sorry. That’s so judgmental. So let’s call them, instead, the “modern” virtues. There are, by my count, seven cardinal modern virtues:
  • Freedom
  • Convenience
  • Progress
  • Equality
  • Authenticity
  • Health
  • Nonjudgmentalism
These are the characteristics modern society most prizes and has begun to organize its strictures around. Often with nonsensical results.

For example, the writer Mary Eberstadt notes that we live at a bizarre moment when it is nearly impossible to speak with any moral judgment about sexual practices—but a great deal of moral and philosophical energy is spent on the subject of food. You wouldn’t dare say that someone ought not put this part there with that person. And you wouldn’t say it because (a) your peers would think you a troglodyte and (b) you don’t really think it’s wrong. It’s just a lifestyle choice. Maybe it’s not for you, but who are you to judge? Food, on the other hand, is different. It’s morally elevated to eat organic grains and eggs that come from cage-free hens. You’re a better person if you only eat locally grown produce. A better person still if you don’t eat meat. ....
The essays:
PART I: THE CARDINAL VIRTUES
Chapter 1: "The Seven Deadly Virtues and the New York Times" by P.J. O'Rourke
Chapter 2: "Prudence: Long Live the Queen" by Andrew Ferguson
Chapter 3: "Justice: The One Virtue Nobody Really Wants" by Rob Long
Chapter 4: "Courage: The Rise of 'Shelter in Place' America" by Michael Graham
Chapter 5: "Temperance: The Deadliest Virtue" by Andrew Stiles
Chapter 6: "Hope: Chicago is a Place Called Hope" by David Burge
Chapter 7: "Charity: You Can't Give This Stuff Away" by Mollie Hemingway
Chapter 8: "Faith: The Eleventh Commandment" by Larry Miller
PART II: THE EVERYDAY VIRTUES
Chapter 9: "Chastity: The Final Taboo" by Matt Labash
Chapter 10: "Simplicity or the Many-Splendored Virtues of Hoarding" by James Lileks
Chapter 11: "Thrift: The Un-American Virtue" by Joe Queenan
Chapter 12: "Honesty: It's Absolutely the Best Policy (Sometimes)" by Rita Koganzon
Chapter 13: "Fellowship: Reach Out and Touch Someone" by Christine Rosen
Chapter 14: "Forbearance: Opting Out of the Politicized Life" by Sonny Bunch
Chapter 15: "Integrity: Living by the Code of the Superman" by Jonah Goldberg
Chapter 16: "Curiosity: Maybe the Cat Got What It Had Coming" by Christopher Caldwell

By grace alone

Today is Reformation Day, the anniversary of the day Martin Luther posted his challenge to debate ninety-five theses on the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Robert Rothwell explains why Protestants think that is important:
.... An heir of Bishop Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther is one of the most significant figures God has raised up since that time. This law student turned Augustinian monk became the center of a great controversy after his theses were copied and distributed throughout Europe. Initially protesting the pope’s attempt to sell salvation, Luther’s study of Scripture soon led him to oppose the church of Rome on issues including the primacy of the Bible over church tradition and the means by which we are found righteous in the sight of God.

This last issue is probably Luther’s most significant contribution to Christian theology. Though preached clearly in the New Testament and found in the writings of many of the church fathers, the medieval bishops and priests had largely forgotten the truth that our own good works can by no means merit God’s favor. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, and good works result from our faith, they are not added to it as the grounds for our right standing in the Lord’s eyes (Eph. 2:8-10). Justification, God’s declaration that we are not guilty, forgiven of sin, and righteous in His sight comes because through our faith alone the Father imputes, or reckons to our account, the perfect righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21).

Martin Luther’s rediscovery of this truth led to a whole host of other church and societal reforms and much of what we take for granted in the West would have likely been impossible had he never graced the scene. .... [more]

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wishing you a fun Halloween

From 2011.

The Internet Monk re-posts Michael Spencer's annual "Halloween Rant." I didn't grow up in a fundamentalist church like he did but otherwise my Halloween church experience was very similar to his — as was, later, the reaction to supposed pagan or satanic influences in that holiday [and Christmas and Easter, too]. Spencer:
.... I grew up among Southern Baptist fundamentalist Baptists. The KJV-only, women can’t wear pants, twenty verses of “Just As I Am,” Jerry Falwell, Jack Chick, twice a year revival kind of fundamentalist Baptists.

We were serious about things like beer. By sheer quantity of attention in sermons, drinking beer was the most evil act one could describe. We were serious about movies, cards, and something called “mixed bathing,” which normal people would call “swimming.”

We were serious about the Bible, Sunday School, suits and ties, and walking the aisle to get saved.

And we were big time into Halloween.

No, that’s not a typo. I said we were big time into Halloween.

From the late sixties into the early seventies, the churches I attended and worked for—all fundamentalist Baptists—were all over Halloween like ants on jam. It was a major social activity time in every youth group I was part of from elementary school through high school graduation in 1974.

We had haunted houses. Haunted hikes. Scary movies. (All the old Vincent Price duds.) As a youth minister in the mid to late seventies and early eighties, I created some haunted houses in church education buildings that would win stagecraft awards.

The kids loved it. The parents loved it. The pastors approved. The church paid for it! ....

And then, things changed.

Mike Warnke convinced evangelicals that participating in Halloween was worshiping the devil. Later, when we learned that Warnke may have been one of the most skillful of evangelical con-artists, lying about his entire Satanic high priest schtick, the faithful still believed his stories.

Evangelical media began to latch onto Halloween as some form of Satanism or witchcraft, and good Christians were warned that nothing made the other team happier than all those kids going door to door collecting M&Ms.

Evangelical parents decided that their own harmless and fun Halloween experiences were a fluke, and if their kid dressed up as a vampire, he’d probably try to become one. If there was a pumpkin on the porch, you were inviting demons into your home, just like it says in Hezekiah.

A general fear of the occult, manifesting itself in Satanic ritual abuse mythology, crept into evangelicalism and took a deep hold on many churches. ....

Today, if you want to split your church, divide your singles group, get a fight started with parents or see the youth minister fired, just find some way to have an old-fashioned Halloween event in your church. .... [more]
The Internet Monk Annual Halloween Rant | internetmonk.com

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Heresy

Yesterday a Christianity Today report about a new LifeWay poll was titled "Poll Finds Evangelicals’ Favorite Heresies." Today Trevin Wax, in "Here’s Where Your Neighbors Are Theologically," comments on some of the poll's findings:
Your neighbor is likely to belong to the 67% of Americans who believe in heaven. If your neighbor identifies as evangelical, the number shoots up to 90%, which explains why books and movies on heaven find such an adoring audience. There’s little debate that heaven is for real.

Similar percentages reveal people believe in hell too, although few seem to be worried about going there. The same number of people who affirm belief in a heavenly afterlife also believe humans are basically good, even if they sin a little. And only 18% of Americans say small sins lead to hell.

In other words, your neighbor is more likely to believe in heaven and hell than not, but they’re not too worried about which destination they’re headed to.

Takeaway: Use the common ground of belief in the afterlife to bring up questions of eternal significance. But don’t forget that most people who are lost won’t recognize themselves as lost. The heaven and hell conversation is likely to be an entry point into deeper spiritual matters. Your evangelism will need to probe deeper than the question, “What happens when you die?”

The findings on salvation are distressing, especially when so many of these responses come from people who identify as evangelical or Catholic. ....
Most Americans (71 percent), and in particular Black Protestants (82 percent) and Catholics (87 percent), say people must contribute some effort toward their own salvation. Two thirds (64 percent) say in order to find peace with God, people have to take the first step, and then God responds to them with grace.
The idea that Christianity teaches that salvation comes through keeping a moral code is prevalent today. Sociologist Christian Smith described America’s religious views as “moralistic therapeutic deism,” a worldview he explains in five statements:
  1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.” That’s the “Deism” part. God created the world, watches things, but doesn’t do much in the way of intervening in human affairs.
  2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” That’s the Moralistic part. The goal of religion is to be a nice, moral person.
  3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” That’s the Therapeutic part. The most important thing in life is to be happy and well-balanced.
  4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.” Now, we see the Deistic view of God combine with God’s therapeutic purpose. He exists to make us happy.
  5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.” Salvation is accomplished through morality.
Along these lines, it’s no wonder that so many Americans believe there are more ways than Jesus to get to heaven. The good news is, evangelicals are much more likely to affirm the Christian teaching that Jesus is the only way to God, a sign that despite offering moralistic understandings of salvation, they recognize there is something uniquely powerful about Jesus and His gospel.

Takeaway: Realize that most gospel presentations are going to be interpreted from within a moralistic framework. Terminology like “Get right with God” and “make a decision for Christ” is likely to be heard by lost people as “get your act together” and “ask Jesus for help in being good.” We must always stress our inherent sinfulness and Christ’s gracious rescue in order to counter the moralistic assumptions of our culture.

On fundamental Christian doctrines like the Trinity, the results are abysmal. Almost 60% of self-identifying evangelicals claim the Holy Spirit is a force, not a person. The findings get worse from there, even among the most religious. .... [more]
Mathew Block at First Things, in "Misreading Scripture Alone":
The story goes on to highlight widespread confusion among Evangelicals on core doctrines like the Personhood of the Holy Spirit and the divinity of Christ. A full 51 percent of Evangelicals apparently deny that the Holy Spirit is a Person, instead conceiving of Him as “a force.” An additional 7 percent aren’t sure what to think on the subject. At the same time, 16 percent of Evangelicals think Jesus is a created being (another 11 percent were unsure), while 22 percent further believe He is less divine than the Father (with 9 percent unsure). The survey also suggests a large portion of Evangelicals hold Pelagian thoughts when it comes to the doctrine of salvation.
Also see "Americans Believe in Heaven, Hell, and a Little Bit of Heresy"

No fear!

I've posted this in years past as Halloween has approached.

As Halloween approaches it is useful for the more excitable among us to be reminded that the Evil One has already been defeated. From "Concerning Halloween" by James B. Jordan:
.... "Halloween" is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word "hallow" means "saint," in that "hallow" is just an alternative form of the word "holy" ("hallowed be Thy name"). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.) ....

The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. [emphasis added] ....

The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us. ....

Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even – Hallow-E’en – Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ – we have NO FEAR! .... [more]
Biblical Horizons » Concerning Halloween

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Good news

Will McDavid at Mockingbird offers more precise understandings of "Seven Common Theology Phrases That Should Be Used More Precisely" among which:
Relationship with God – .... First, it’s never used in the Bible; second, it implies an unfortunate comparison with human ‘relationships’; third, it seems to imply something which [is] in flux, and thus something which can improve or deteriorate; and fourth, it obscures the fact that the way we relate to God is different from the way God relates to us. If ‘relationship’ were replaced with a more biblical emphasis on relational identities – e.g., God is like a father, God is the Giver of all good things, God is our shepherd, Christ is our Savior, we are God’s children, we are heirs, we are sheep, we are those saved – if such a substitution occurred, we would no longer have a ‘relationship’ to ‘build’, but we would have a set of accomplished facts to contemplate, internalize, get used to. With more verbal precision comes less conceptual room within which we may maneuver, but given the facts which have been revealed to us, that’s almost certainly Good News. .... [more]