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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Newtown, Connecticut: the bigger picture… the biggest picture

William Blake (1809, The Flight of Moloch, watercolour, 25.7 x 19.7 cm. One of Blake's illustrations of On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, the poem by John Milton

William Blake (1809, The Flight of Moloch, watercolour, 25.7 x 19.7 cm. One of Blake’s illustrations of On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, the poem by John Milton

Do the words “Connecticut” and “Christmas” go together?  They do.

First of all, over at the Lutheran blog the Brothers of John the Steadfast, Charles St. Onge gives us a bit bigger picture to consider:

“On the same day that this tragedy occurred in Connecticut, 22 children were stabbed in an attack at a Chinese elementary school.  On the same day, hundreds of children under five died from malaria in Africa.  On the same day, close to a hundred people were killed in Syria.  On the same day, countless children died while still in their mother’s wombs.  If you will not tolerate this anymore, if you believe these tragedies must end, there is only one to turn to.  It is not Congress.  It is Christ Jesus. Only the child born of Mary can deliver us from Satan’s Court, and bring the real change that will end evil once and for all.”*

But the man who really nails it is Russell D. Moore in his post “School Shootings and Spiritual Warfare”.  Some excerpts:

“… there’s something especially condemnable about the murder of children. I think there’s a reason for that.

…Throughout the history of the universe, evil has manifested a dark form of violence specifically toward children. Not only did the Canaanite nations demand the blood of babies, but the Bible shows where at points of redemptive crisis, the powers of evil have lashed out at children.

… Jesus was not born into a gauzy, sentimental winter wonderland of sweetly-singing angels and cute reindeer nuzzling one another at the side of his manger. He was born into a war-zone…  History in Bethlehem, as before and as now, is riddled with the bodies of murdered children.

…[Satan] hates the life of children, particularly, because they picture something true about Jesus of Nazareth.

… When the woman and her child escaped, the dragon “became furious with the woman and went out to make war on the rest of her offspring” (Rev. 12:17), and has done so ever since.

Satan hates children because he hates Jesus. When evil destroys “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40, 45), the most vulnerable among us, it destroys a picture of Jesus himself, of the child delivered by the woman who crushes the head of our reptilian overlord (Gen. 3:15). The demonic powers know that the human race is saved, and they’re vanquished, by a child born of woman (Gal. 4:4; 1 Tim. 2:15). And so they hate the children who bear his nature.

Violence against children is also peculiarly satanic because it destroys the very picture of newness of life and dependent trust that characterizes life in the kingdom of God (Matt. 18:4). Children are a blessing, and that enrages the horrifying nature of those who seek only to kill and to destroy (Jn. 10:10).

The satanic powers want the kingdoms of the universe, and a child uproots their reign.

… Let’s pray for the Second Coming of Mary’s son. And, as we sing our Christmas carols, let’s look into the slitted eyes of Satan as we promise him the threat of his coming crushed skull.

The mystery of evil is a declaration of war on the peace of God’s creation. The war goes on, but not for long. And sometimes the most warlike thing we can say, in an inhuman murderous age like this one, is “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

If you read this blog and appreciated this, go to the actual article and give Dr. Moore the hits his blog deserves.  Ever speaking the truth in love, Moore cautions “Let’s not offer pat, easy answers to the grieving parents and communities in Connecticut”.  Well said.  But he hasn’t done that at all.  When dealing one-on-one with families affected by the shooting, it makes sense to be like Job’s friends in their better moments, suffering in silence with those who suffer.  But when words are spoken – as they must be – let them be as true and freeing as these.

Also, please don’t think for a moment that this theological point inevitably leads to a lack of cultural awareness and/or what is politically possible (this article speaks powerfully to me as well, as do, of course, the articles about what the shooter was like).

FIN

*-This is how the article ends.  His bigger picture yet entails this thought: “children were never meant to die at all.  The naturalistic materialist cannot speak words like ‘evil,’ ‘senseless,’ or ‘tragedy’ without denying their own presuppositions about the origin of the universe and of life itself”

Picture and caption from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moloch

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Posted by on December 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Mercy triumphs over judgment, and the pastor triumphs over the therapist

“God isn’t angry with you. You are angry with God.”
–Staupitz, to Luther, in the 2003 Luther movie

Readers of this blog know that I have a high degree of respect for the Southern Baptist, Albert Mohler, whose show Thinking in Public I cannot tout enough.

I highly recommend a recent show entitled “An Anthropologist Looks At Evangelicals: A Conversation With Tanya Luhrmann”  for all kinds of reasons.  For one, it takes Christian Smith’s observations regarding “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” to new levels.

There is an interesting point in the conversation I want to quote and comment on:

Mohler: Well this theology that is of such obvious concern and interest to you as an anthropologist is of very great concern for me as a theologian, and deep within your book I think you uncover something of incredible theological significance when you write, this is on page 105, “the point is that the real problem with which we all struggle is not God’s judgment but our own. God believes that we are worthwhile and loves us for ourselves, we feel shameful and unworthy because we magnify our guilt and hold ourselves responsible for our pain.” I think that is a brilliant description of a huge theological shift that many pastors perceive but don’t know how to name. I think you’ve actually named it pretty well in just that one sentence.

Luhrmann: Thank you. That is really interesting, I do think that that is a terribly important way of thinking about sin that I just saw in the church. That it was not about you’ve done something wrong and God is punishing you, but that a shadow falls between you and God because of the way you have been thinking. It’s also a psychotherapeutic God.

Mohler: Absolutely.

That is interesting.  As a Lutheran of course, I think immediately about how we emphasize that God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself (II Cor. 5).  Via His atoning sacrifice, He is reconciled to us!  And here the focus is not so much on us, whom the Scriptures describe as having “become worthless”, but on the God who loves us because of who He is.  “Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be” as the hymn writer puts it.

It is for this reason that we take delight in the Luther movie (2003) when Luther’s “father-confessor” Staupitz says to a Martin Luther who is terrified and angry with God: “You just aren’t being honest.  God is not angry with you.  You are angry with God”

So here, we see something that is not so much “therapeutic” as pastoral.  Luther had not disowned his Christian faith, but was nevertheless imagining that for God, judgment triumphed over mercy.  Staupitz responds appropriately to His confusion.  Christ reconciles judgment and mercy, taking judgment onto Himself for our sakes… Indeed, He is reconciled to us that we might have eternal life by knowing Him in His grace and mercy.

And yes, “whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them”. (John 3:36)

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Lutherans as weaker brethren

weakest_linkEarlier this week, I mentioned how I had explained the original reasons for the Lutheran distinction between justification and sanctification (namely, to “to assure true Christians that they were true Christians”, which in general corresponds to comforting sinners who are genuinely terrified due to their sins before God – see here) to a learned Eastern Orthodox gentleman, who responded in this way:

“[if the distinction between justification and sanctification] was made in order to help the weak… [this] leads to the inevitable conclusion that for those who aren’t, the distinction does not obtain. We should not let peoples’ misunderstandings drive our theology and what it should say.”

I certainly found that to be an interesting way to respond!  With the help of an Eastern Orthodox friend who has some affinity for Martin Luther (this gentleman),  I responded in the following way:

 “I’d say that insofar as we are new men, [God’s commands] are indeed not a burden. Insofar as we remain infected by sin however (Romans 7), we groan under the burden of our imperfection, knowing that our Lord desires us to be and do much more.

An E.O. friend said to me ‘surely all people, at times, (and not just the weaker brother) have experienced doubt or the hammer of God’s law that pulls them up short when they realize they are not living up to the law and commandments of God and the gospel. In short, we often don’t live like Jesus–so then what? In the Orthodox liturgy and prayers there are certainly prayers that could be understood as prayers of assurance and comfort, though they might not use those terms or embrace a Lutheran explication of them.’”

I thought that was wise.

I’d also say this: as any good Lutheran will tell you, sanctification entails much more than just defending the pure teaching that brings life and salvation.  There is no doubt that we are in need of greater sanctification, and with that, greater faith – even as it makes little sense to focus on our faith, rather the Object of our faith, Jesus Christ.

And for all our need, we weak Lutherans ought not be ashamed to beg.  God is glad to not only give us sure peace with Him and confidence of eternal life – but an increase in righteousness as well (even if we ourselves can’t see any progress….)

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Reflection on Pastor Jonathan Fisk’s “Broken” [interviews]

which was just shipped today.  I hope the advertisement Concordia Publishing House has placed in “Outreach” magazine (see here for the pic) is effective – and I hope as many evangelical Christian read Jonathan Fisk’s Broken as possible.  Confessional Lutherans have very few people who are as gifted communicators as he is, bolstered by his knowledge and critical appraisal of popular American culture – as well as of history and philosophy.  Ever creative and insightful – nothing can be boring in his hands! – Fisk’s book will be full of relevant analogies, anecdotes and antidotes.  Especially for those who sense evangelicalism’s weaknesses and errors, his message will benefit them greatly.  No doubt, Pastor Fisk has succeeded more than any person in my age group (thirtysomethings) to consciously promote Confessional Lutheranism to the wider public.  For this reason alone, I must promote the book and lend my support!  I hope it is wildly successful.

If you’d like a taste of what the book contains – and the shining start that is Pastor Fisk (note: he will hate that line and promptly direct you to Jesus) – you can check out the series Issues ETC. has done interviewing the author.  See here, here, and finally, here (also see this)

That said, as a serious Lutheran who hopes to catechize his youth with Fisk, here are some of the thoughts (minor concerns) I had as I heard him speak (I have not read the book):

  • To say that the devil convinced Adam and Eve that what God called good (namely them) was not quite “good enough” certainly rings true (they were right where God wanted them to be!), but at the same time, I think Lutherans have historically believed that they were to ultimately become better, meaning more mature (i.e., being not able to sin was and is the goal), albeit only through God’s giving even this to them.
  • While it is certainly true that “Christ for you” is the primary message we preach to fallen man, “Christ in you” – put in the proper context – is a very important topic to discuss as well.  Living from our justification (“Christ for you”), God certainly would have us delight to grow in our sanctification as well (“Christ in us”) – to increase in righteousness with Him and to increasingly will, from the heart, to run the way of His commandments – and not only to will but to do.  Again, talking sanctification here, not justification! (Hebrews  10:14)
  • The philosophical system known as “pragmatism” is indeed evil, but of course being practical is not!  God, like earthly parents, has certain goals for His children, such as keeping them in the true faith, increasing their love for the neighbor, protecting them from evil – and that they would come to deeply know how much He desires that all persons come to repentance and faith in His Son.  While God never redefines His ultimate goals – and chooses to meet them through His Word and Sacrament – the Church can certainly resist His goals also when it involves resisting changes that are both valid and necessary (i.e. “more than one way to skin a cat”) – as I think Fisk himself argues in his interview (#3).  Of course, the reality of the predestination of the elect need not be incompatible with such thoughts.
  • From the interview here: “…when it comes down to it, I don’t matter, and you don’t matter. Jesus matters, and because of him, you and I are free, redeemed, and able to see each other in the foreshadowing light of the world to come.”  Yes, we make ourselves worthless (Rom. 1), but we speak of “love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be” – because we all matter to God!

I offer this as constructive feedback for Pastor Fisk, my brother in Christ.  May he prosper (rightly!)!  With some of my points I do not doubt he would agree.  In any case, I do not wish to debate any of these issues at this time – I will be too busy reading the book when I get my hands on it (that doesn’t mean I won’t read any comments with interest).

I am confident that reading Broken will be well worth your time.   I’ll be reading.  Go to this website just launched today to see more on the book and order it.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

You know you are in the End Times when…

EndTimesYou know you are in the end times when you get a call from a professional fundraiser representing a Christian organization at 9:00 am on a Sunday morning (yesterday).

Or, when you realize that there are serious Roman Catholics that insist a person can be sure where they currently stand with God (“state of grace”)  and serious Calvinists (i.e. vs Arminianism) who do not think it is a big deal whether or not Christians know they have eternal life and peace with God.

(The Gospel is certainty.  Christianity is certainty.  For we are those who are given and give real peace with God [Rom. 5:1] and real knowledge of eternal life [I John 5:12,13])

Or, when you explain the original reasons for the Lutheran distinction between justification and sanctification (namely, to “to assure true Christians that they were true Christians”, which in general corresponds to comforting sinners who are genuinely terrified due to their sins before God – see here) to a learned Eastern Orthodox gentleman and he responds:

“[if the distinction between justification and sanctification] was made in order to help the weak… [this] leads to the inevitable conclusion that for those who aren’t, the distinction does not obtain. We should not let peoples’ misunderstandings drive our theology and what it should say.”

Huh.

More on that later this week…

Image credit: http://www.silverbearcafe.com/private/04.11/getready.html

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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