Category Archives: Religion

“Jeg Er Saa Glad Hver Julekveld”

Here’s Sissel singing the most famous Norwegian Christmas carol — Jeg Er Saa Glad Hver Julekveld. Generations of Norwegian-American kids have learned it by rote and sung it for church programs. As did I.

The art here is not really appropriate. It’s not a Santa song. It uses the lighting of the Christmas tree to meditate on the wonder of the Incarnation of Christ. The child sings that he/she loves Christmas because of Jesus.

Here’s the words in English

For your Spectation…

I have a column up at The American Spectator Online today. It seems a little tin-foil-hat even to me, and yet it also makes perfect sense to me. Either I am mad, or the world is.

On my mental timeline, that conversation marks a watershed (I’m always seeing watersheds everywhere; probably a sign of OCD). It seems to me to mark a realignment on the Left. The feminists and the hippies were never really compatible, but they made an alliance, like Churchill and Stalin, during the Wars of Aquarius. The alliance was doomed, of course. Feminists have always been essentially Victorian. The last thing they want to see is anyone letting it all hang out.

The promise that isn’t there

I think I can explain everything that’s wrong with western politics today. All intelligent people (that is, everyone who already agrees with me) will understand immediately.

I think the problem rises from the fact that westerners – even those who expressly reject Christianity – base their ethic on the teachings of Christ.

Only they misunderstand it.

They start with Christ’s Golden Rule: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do yet also unto them.” And that’s good. It’s the best of ethical rules, and well worth following.

But they assume a corollary. They assume the next stage is, “And then they will do the same unto you in return.” Be nice to others, and no one will hurt you. A thousand Sunday School papers and children’s books make the tacit promise that that’s true.

But the passage doesn’t actually say that.

There’s no promise that anyone will return your kindness. In fact, Jesus often warns His disciples that people will hate and persecute them.

Most sophisticated westerners assume that if you’re peaceful and act peaceful, and if you’re kind, that will protect you from evildoers. Your kindness will make them kind, too.

There is no such promise.

That’s why the Apostle Paul tells us that the emperor bears the sword. Because somebody has to protect the vulnerable.

It isn’t the government’s job to practice the Golden Rule, unless you want everybody to die.

Here endeth the lesson.

And now, just to prove to you how old and white I am, another instrumental piece from my youth for a Friday – “The Syncopated Clock,” by Leroy Anderson (1908-1975). He was Swedish-American, by the way, and is probably best remembered for the Christmas favorite, “Sleigh Ride.”

Contending for the Faith or Being a Jerk?

Jared Wilson has seen a lot of backlash and argument since the WWW installed itself on our society. Watch bloggers are now a thing. Twitter is easily understood as a cess pool and Facebook an echo chamber. For some people, chatting about anything online feels like walking in front of a firing squad. I preemptively blocked a couple profiles on Twitter last week after they attacked the character of a podcasting pastor under the mantle of spiritual discernment.

To believers who appear to be aggressively attempting to hold everyone accountable, Jared asks, “Is it possible you aren’t contending for the faith but are just being a jerk?

This is something missing in far too many of the online prophets — tears. Setting aside the fact that the biblical vocation of God’s anointed messengers isn’t really a one-to-one correlation with self-appointed pundits on Twitter, we certainly can learn from them — and many other places in Scripture — that there is a certainly a place within the church for pastoral rebuke, prophetic witness, and courageous calls to repentance. But this is but one aspect of prophetic ministry. The guy spending all day every day looking for people to fisk, mock, or otherwise use for his own promotion and praise isn’t echoing biblical prophetic ministry. If anything, he is more like the pharisaical enterprise of nitpicking, condemning, and “laying traps” to catch people in alleged errors or missteps.

Stanley: Make the Church Irresistible Again

Andy Stanley wants to make the church Irresistible again (maybe he should get ball caps printed). He explains the problems he sees in the American church in his new book, released last month, and according to Marvin Olasky, gets several things right.

Stanley notes rightly that “skinny jeans and moving lights” won’t keep many young people from abandoning Christianity. But he argues that the way to hold them, and win others who say they’re “spiritual,” is to abandon the hard things in the Bible and emphasize a smiling Jesus. C.S. Lewis brought us Mere Christianity. Pastor Stanley brings us Mere Sponge Cake.

Stanley says he knows “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” but seriously people, “the Ten Commandments have no authority over you.” I don’t think Jesus would sign off on that. The new covenant is the fulfillment of the old covenant. The law given to us by Moses still reveals the state of our sin and our need for salvation. When Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount, he essentially told us if we thought we knew what the law required, we didn’t know the half of it.

I don’t doubt Stanley has a pretty good point somewhere at the beginning of his line of thought, but where he runs with that line is straight heresy. I love what Steven Graydanus said about Stanley’s solution, published in an interview this summer.  Stanley said, “Without the OT, we can make a better case for Jesus,” to which Graydanus replies, “As *what*? Go into the Sistine Chapel and paint over everything except the figures of Yahweh on the central ceiling panel and Jesus on the west wall. At that point, what on earth are you looking *at*?”

Love Yourself Above All Else

Aimee Byrd based her book No Little Women on the charge that Christian women were being led astray by shallow or false teachers who wrote books and studies for a churched female audience. Prime examples of this threat come in the form of charming, intelligent authors who use Christianized batons to beat the drums of self love.

Writer Alisa Childers reviews a new book by one such author, Rachel Harris, entitled, Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be. Naturally, it’s a New York Times bestseller (hopefully by honest sales) and currently #3 in three Amazon.com categories. Childers notes how much she likes Harris’s style and some of her stories, but despite the Christian words here and there, the themes do not point to Jesus. She preaches loving yourself above all else.

“You are meant to be the hero of your own story.”
“You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.”
“You should be the very first of your priorities.”

The answer is always something like picking yourself up by your bootstraps and striving and trying . . . Anything but surrendering your life to Jesus and placing your trust in him alone.

Self love is big message for Christian women today. You can see it everywhere, and of course it has its place. But Jesus never talked like this. He urged us to seek His Kingdom before ourselves and to remember we are blessed when we have nothing but our Lord to rely on. If we could tune those drums up a bit, we might be able to hear a message of loving yourself enough to love Jesus most.

‘Superheroes Can’t Save You’ by Todd Miles

There is no hint that Batman is anything other than an incredible human being (with seemingly unlimited amounts of cash). Though such qualities and skills are never found in any one real human being (that is what makes him Batman, after all), they are just human qualities and skills. He may be the most remarkable human being in comic lore, but in the final analysis he is just a human being.

And some people feel the same about Jesus.

Todd Miles, professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Ore., spent most of his allowance on comic books for many years back around the time each book cost a quarter. He would browse the drug store rack weekly, reading most issues while in search of the few he would redeem with his not-so-hard-earned dollar. Many years later (after the experiments of a mad scientist would ruin his ambition to become the first man to circumnavigate Mars in a weather balloon), he connected his theological training to his comic lore fascination to make this conclusion: “Every bad idea about Jesus can be illustrated by a superhero,” at least the biggest bad ideas can. He ran with that idea in a Sunday School class, later a youth retreat, and with much encouragement wrote a book on it.

Superheroes Can’t Save You covers seven of the most popular heresies about the person of Christ Jesus, tying each of them to memorable superheroes. The chapter on the Trinity ties to Ant-Man, arguing against the idea that God manifests himself in one of three modes: the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. The chapter on Jesus’s full humanity connects to Superman, explaining how Jesus, as God, did not merely pose as a man (as Kal El did in taking the alias Clark Kent) but became a man completely.

While each chapter is not evenly paced, they do follow a pattern. Miles begins with the comic lore, segues into the heresy, takes a moment to explain who commits the heresy today, describes the biblical truth, and then offers reasons for the importance of these truths. I think in every case, the key problem with the heresy is the undermining of our salvation. The Bible offers a clear logic for salvation, why we need it and how it is accomplished. With humor and careful writing, Miles tells his readers these alternate concepts of Christ don’t work in that logic. Thor can’t save us. Neither can a savior like the Hulk with all of his incredibleness. Only the living Jesus can save us.

I said each chapter is not quite even, because some of them dive into the comic storyline more than others and some swim through history more than others. Miles’s explanation of each heresy in a modern context brings the history forward, so it doesn’t remain as weird ideas from the past. Casual readers can discover liberals commit the Batman heresy and ways we teach about the Trinity easily lead people into the Ant-Man heresy (Oneness Pentecostals teach that heresy explicitly).

In the chapter on the Green Lantern heresy, Miles’s dive into Christ’s humility as Paul puts it in Philippians 2:5-8 had me in tears. Christ Jesus is awesome. He is the only one who can save us. But from who? Luthor? Bane? Magneto or Doctor Doom? No, the real life treat we face is ourselves. We have forged our own destinies, followed our own dreams, and would pour dust upon dust forever if the Lord God, our Creator, refused to intervene.

Does ‘Loving Your Neighbor’ Mean ‘Just Preach the Gospel’?

Jesus told a story about a successful man and social outcast who rescued the victim of highwaymen on a Jericho road in response to a lawyer’s self-justifying question. “Yes, yes,” the lawyer said, “I know loving God with all of my heart, mind, and strength means I must love my neighbor, but surely some people are not my neighbors. Some people are actually beneath me, aren’t they?”

And we continue to seek self-justification today.

Jared Wilson offers five reasons for applying the gospel to societal ills as a rebuke to those who suggest orthodoxy means orthopraxy and to spend much time on the latter will undermine the former. (Of course, those who teach this don’t believe that because they only bring it up in select context.)

Jesus did not come simply preaching the gospel as idea but the gospel as kingdom. One need only consider Paul’s words in Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 15 to see how expansive the finished work of Christ really is, just how much it is supposed to impact. For several years now, we’ve had certain corners of the church warning us about neglect of holiness and the law, scolding what they see as “cheap grace” and bloodless belief. Now many in these same corners are insisting that just the gospel message will do the trick against ethnic divisions or other sins. You rarely hear this imperative in response to the challenges of illegal immigration or the systemic injustice of abortion. Perhaps it’s because those issues do not effect us — or indict us — as directly.

Dr. Norvald Yri, 1944-2018

Norvald Yri

I learned today of the death (on Sunday) of a man I’d worked with and respected greatly. Dr. Norvald Yri was a Norwegian missionary and Bible scholar. Born in 1944, he served on the mission field for many years, both in Ethiopia and in Tanzania, and served as secretary for an international mission organization. He took his doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1975, and was the author of several books. One of them, Guds Ja, was a commentary on Romans 1 through 8. I translated it for him, but we never found an English publisher.

In recent years he had been a teacher at the Fjellhaug Bible School near Oslo. He also participated in a Bible translation project. He and several others were unhappy with the Norwegian Bible Society’s most recent translation, so they produced an alternative one, based on the King James version.

I corresponded with him by e-mail for many years, but only knew him personally for a short time when he was a visiting instructor at the seminary where I work. He and his wife were/are splendid people, and I think he will be hard to replace.

Hvil i fred (Rest in peace), Dr. Yri.

Slay the Clichés of a Shallow Mind

Matt Smethurst cuts up five Christian clichés that we ought to find gracious ways to contradict, such as “let go and let God.” I last saw this on Facebook in response to a friend going through an intense struggle and I came this close to telling that person to shut up. That wouldn’t have been gracious.

Smethurst writes, “At its best, this phrase highlights the value of surrender. God is God and you are not, so lay down your résumé, your excuses, your fears. All too often, though, the phrase is wielded as if the symbol of Christianity is not a cross but a couch. It’s subtly used to put the brakes on striving, on working, on effort.

“As J. I. Packer once put it, ‘The Christian’s motto should not be “Let go and let God” but “Trust God and get going.”‘”

Let go and let God

In a related vein, Jared Wilson dislikes the Little Red Hen. It’s good for teaching the nature of work, not so much to nature of grace. “When was the last time you were scandalized by grace? When was the last time you pondered how personally discombobulating and religiously revolutionary the gospel is? Grace covers us screw-ups and the things we screw up. ”

If the Little Red Hen had offered the bread to all the lazy animals who didn’t help her make it, perhaps she could have also noted how much the farmer provides for them (but that would break the story, so we don’t need to go down that road, to use the cliché.)

Embracing Homosexuality While Observing Christianity?

If there’s one topic I am most hesitant to say something about online, even the lightest comment, it’s homosexuality. Nowhere seems safe. But the topic is beginning to encroach on me in the form of a conference at the end of this month at a church within my denomination. Many words have already been spilled about this. There have been many posts and essays from the principals of the conference (and movement behind it) and their critics, and since the essence of the argument is on how to love our neighbors and fellow believers within a difficult context, background reading could take a long time, especially when the people behind the conference say they are being misrepresented and misunderstood.

The conference hopes to inspire Christian communities to embrace and empower “gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.” That means the two conference principals and some supporters claim homosexuality as an identity description, albeit a disordered one, and that biblical morality does not allow its expression.  Any act is a sin, the orientation is a disorder, but they nonetheless hope to embrace same-sex attraction in the form of Christian friendship.

Here’s how one writer puts it.  Continue reading Embracing Homosexuality While Observing Christianity?

Hearing from Grandma

Grandma's hands
Photo credit: Cristian Newman

I had a moment of grace yesterday. No great miracle as miracles go, but it kind of moved me.

I’ve been using my grandmother’s old devotional book for my daily devotions this year. It’s an old book, in pretty bad shape, but I’ve found the meditations insightful. And anything connected with my grandma, who was perhaps the best person I ever knew, carries a measure of comfort. The book is Thy Kingdom Come, by Ludvig Hope. Hope was a leader of the lay evangelical movement in Norway, and along with several other church leaders (both conservative and liberal) he spent time in a concentration camp during World War II.

The book includes space for writing in important anniversaries at the bottom of each page. Grandma noted birthdays and weddings, and sometimes baptisms. Yesterday I noticed an unfamiliar name on an upcoming page. Most of the names in the book are familiar to me – family members and people from our church. But this name was unfamiliar. It was a woman’s name, and she would be a few years younger than me. I grew curious.

I went to Facebook and searched to see if she was listed under (assuming she was married) her maiden name. She was. I discovered that she is part of my own church body (which is not the one I grew up in), and her daughter is married to the son of one of the administrators at the Bible School where I work.

I contacted her, and found out she’s the granddaughter of Grandma’s sister. So I found a new cousin.

It was gratifying to find a lost relative. It was deeply satisfying to find one who believes as I do.

Grandma, I think, would be pleased.

Ascension Day

Ascension Bamberg Apocalypse
The Ascension of Christ” from the Bamberg Apocalypse, 11th Century

Today is Ascension Day in the Christian calendar. I won’t tell you what it’s called in Norwegian, because you’ll laugh.

All right, I’ll tell you if you insist. But don’t laugh.

Kristi Himmelfartsdagen.

Ascension Day is one of those sadly neglected church festivals that’s actually pretty meaningful. Ascension Day ties up the bow of the Resurrection, you might say. It finishes the operation, resolves the chord.

It has a number of implications. I saw a list today, and there were more than I’d ever thought about.

But I’ll mention the one that I remember, one Francis Schaeffer mentioned in one of his books.

Ascension Day verifies the physicality of Christian faith.

If you believe (and if you don’t, you’re not really a Christian) that Jesus rose from the dead with a body – a functioning body that could be touched and that ate food – then where is that body now?

The Ascension tells us that it’s with God in Heaven. Not some “metaphysical other.” Not the land of spirits and ghosts and legends. Some physical place. You can’t hide a body in a myth.

A place, as He promised, where we will be also someday.

Happy Ascension Day!

Defending the Faith; Denying the Image

This is a moving article on how Christians, particular Reformed believers and Presbyterians, have sat beside the biblical lawyer in justifying themselves by asking who is actually our neighbors, by which we meant who did we not have to love in accord with the second commandment.

tl;dr – Mainstream conservative Calvinism neither caused American chattel slavery, nor cured it, but it capitulated to it, was complicit in it, and cooperated with it. Nineteenth century confessional Calvinism, especially in the South, codified, confirmed, corroborated and was coopted by American pro-slavery ideology, and then perpetuated that ideology in segregation after slavery was gone. While all along, the theological cure for slavery (and its underlying racism) sat quietly ignored in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms: the imago Dei, neighbor love (along with, esp., the WLC expositions of the 6th and 10th commandments), the communion of the saints, and especially justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (see Galatians 2, as deployed by John Newton and William Wilberforce in their arguments against the slave trade and slavery)!

Defending the Faith; Denying the Image – 19th Century American Confessional Calvinism in Faithfulness and Failure