Category Archives: Religion

New Music in the Familiar

Philosopher William Alston on why he believes the claims of Jesus Christ:

I’m a Christian not because I have been convinced by some impressive arguments: arguments from natural theology for the existence of God, historical arguments concerning the authenticity of the Scriptures or the reliability of the Apostles, or whatever. My coming back was less like seeing that certain premises implied a conclusion than it was like coming to hear some things in music that I hadn’t heard before, or having my eyes opened to the significance of things that are going on around me.

Why America Hates New York City

They hate it for “cheap art-world stunts,” suggests James Panero. Clicking that link will show you an article on a chocolate sculpture representing Jesus on a cross. Sure it’s blasphemous, even if you think it’s defensible under our freedom rights, but James asks the right question, “Why have I yet to see a custard Mohammed?”

I heard a variant of that question from a Christian apologist who debated the Rational Response Squad for a few hours. They are group that encouraged people to deny the Holy Spirit on tape so that they were guaranteed eternal damnation according to their misuse of Scripture. The apologist asked if they respected Allah at all, which of course they did not, and why they didn’t encourage people to rant against him or Mohammed. They said they didn’t want to suffer the backlash. “So you are attacking Christians because we’re kinder?” he replied.

Sure they are. It was Jesus’ divine kindness, his focus on the kingdom not of this earth, that turned the crowd who shouted, “Hosanna,” for him on Sunday to shouting “Crucify him,” on Friday. So what do we do with this as Christians? Do we sigh and return to our petty concerns, our consumer needs, our entertainments? Or do we fight back?

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10 :3-6 ESV).

There May Be a Lutheran Near You

I see that Lars has noticed this discussion, but I’ll spare him from linking to it. Luther at the Movies notes, “There are as many Lutherans in the United States today as there are Swedes in Sweden—9,000,000;” so why aren’t they more visible in the public square? Rev. McCain of Cyberbrethren says:

The very things that Lutheranism have that make it stand out in the crowded “marketplace” of American denominationalism are the very things that so many non-Lutherans find attractive, while cradle Lutherans sometimes seem determined to minimize or ignore them! What are we so embarassed about? The incessant self-loathing and self-depricating attitudes we display toward the treasure of doctrine and practice that is historic, Biblical and faithful Lutheranism is truly distressing to observe.

Dr. Veith explains that Lutherans still have an immigrant mindset, “grateful for this country, but they really didn’t think of it as ‘theirs’ in the same sense that those who were here before them could.”

Honestly, this discussion makes me curious about Lutheran distinctives. I need to look them up. Should I go somewhere other than the Book of Concord?

It is all about us, isn’t it?

Our postmodern world is pulling each individual into a vacuum of self-centeredness, whispering, ‘It’s all about you.’ It’s all about your own pleasure, peace, prosperity, and comfort. It’s all about what you think. It’s all about your own self-actualization, your individual pursuit. It reminds me of the first lie that mankind heard in the garden: ‘You will be like God!’ It is all about us, isn’t it? –Del Tacket, TruthProject.com

Quoted on Your Writers Group.com

I remember a writer, whom I didn’t know then and now can’t remember, saying his biggest hurtle in telling a good story was taking himself out of focus. He wasn’t meant to be the main character of every story.

Smoking or non-smoking?

In my ongoing effort to demonstrate my spiritual superiority and make most of you feel guilty, I’m going to talk about my morning devotional.

(I was pretty guilty about it myself, by the way, until recently. I finally found a way to make my devotions fairly regular. I spend fifteen minutes with the Bible during my first coffee break each day at work. This isn’t a live option for lots of people, I understand, but since I’m the boss, and I can’t leave the office during that time period anyway, it works for me.)

I was in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 this morning. I was using the ESV at work, but I don’t have a copy here at home, so I’ll transcribe verses 11-15 from the NIV:

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through flames.

Occasionally I’ve heard the question asked, “Will Christians go through the Last Judgment?” It seems to me the answer is right here. Christians will be judged, but only in terms of rewards, not punishment.

Paul imagines—or perhaps he once observed—a man going through the ruins of his house after it has burned down. The man sifts through the ashes, recognizing charred scraps of clothing or sticks of furniture, ruined forever.

But in the cinders he touches something heavy and solid. He lifts it up. It’s his savings—a bag of coins. The bag itself has burned up, but the money comes up all together in a lump, because it’s gold and silver. It’s melted together, but it’s all there, and just as valuable as it was before the fire. Because gold and silver are invulnerable to flames.

That’s how it will be at the Last Judgment, Paul is saying. It won’t be like the Muslim Last Judgment. Muslims believe that everyone—Muslim and infidel—will stand before the same court. There will be a balance scale there. On one side of the balance, all the person’s good deeds will be placed. On the other side all his sins will go. If the good is heavier than the bad, the person goes to Paradise. If the evil weighs more, he goes to Hell. Thus no Muslim is ever entirely sure of salvation (unless he’s a martyr, of course).

I suspect a lot of people who think they’re Christians are actually Muslims, at least in this doctrine.

But Paul says that as long as you stand on the Foundation—that is, Jesus Christ—you can’t be condemned in the Judgment. Your deeds, though—all the stuff you bring with you from your life—your achievements and piety—all that will go through the fire. When the fire has had its way, you’ll see (and I’ll see) how much of that was gold, how much was kindling.

A comforting thought, and a troubling one, all at once.

I should practice sleeping out of doors, I think.

Cryptic post

A lot of people have a lot invested in the belief that Jesus Christ was merely a great human teacher, about whom fantastic but fictitious tales were spread after his death. This view permits such people to consider themselves “Christians” in the sense of being followers of “the real Jesus” (about whom, according to this theory, we really can say nothing for sure, but they’re sure they know what He truly meant anyway, and—what do you know? It’s precisely what they already think!). Most importantly it avoids the whole scandal of the Cross thing, which is so tacky.

And that, in short, is what I think of James Cameron and his documentary on Jesus’ tomb. I move right past discussion of his claims and settle on an ad hominem attack.

But if you want a discussion of Cameron’s arguments, I recommend to you this post at Dennis Ingolfsland’s Recliner Commentaries blog, a blog that deserves to be better known than it is.

For a more sinister, humorous take I liked what Dirty Harry wrote yesterday at Libertas blog.

Out of Egypt on the Lutheran Confession

Presbyterian blogger Donovan praises some Lutheran doctrines and criticizes others. He writes, “. . . though I love the first part of the section on Election (and think that the best Calvinist practice is in line with its cautions), find the second part (which teaches the doctrine of resistable grace) to be in conflict with the FoC’s own teaching earlier on, in the section on Free Will. And not in a paradoxical sort of way either, just an out-and-out contradictory sort of way.”

You don’t have to thank me for bringing this to your attention. I blog because I care.

Man, Teach Not The Lord’s People

“10 reasons why men shouldn’t be pastors”

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.

5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.

Here’s a bit o’ humor passed from blog to blog which could be a conversation igniter. I’ve gotten my chuckles out of it, and I link to it here despite my fear that it could be fodder for a feminist diatribe on women in church leadership. I don’t want to support that. I’m one of those failed intellectuals who believes the Bible grants church and family authority to men, not to men and women equally. Both genders are equally valuable in all roles of life, but men have the responsibility to lead their families and churches after the example of Christ.

Can’t Imagine It’s Enforced

Blasphemy in Massachusetts: Chapter 272, Section 36. “Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing,” etc.

And if you raise a ruckus in church, section 38 will send you jail too, so watch it.

After posting this yesterday, I asked myself if anyone would want this kind of thing to be enforced. We won’t improve our neighbor’s character by forcing them to keep select vices, like blasphemy, to themselves. Disrupting a worship service is another matter, which I don’t think automatically falls under free speech protections. It is proper for a society to protect places from unruly citizens, so if it were a crime to heckle a minister in my state, I wouldn’t mind. Not that I would press charges on it either.

But common vulgarity or blasphemy as is restricted in Section 36 above shouldn’t be unlawful. Neither should stating that homosexuality is perversion.

Will the Real Jesus of Nazareth Step Forward?

Jared is blogging about Jesus again.

Lest we think “Jesus in our own image” is a sin solely owned by so-called “liberal” academics and historians, we should at least acknowledge the Western Church of the modern world is frequently just as guilty. Just because our Jesus looks different doesn’t mean He’s the historical Jesus.

It was G.K. Chesterton who, in his defense of Christian orthodoxy, said, “I did not make it. It is making me.” Can we say that of Jesus? Can we say the Jesus we believe in, rest in, trust in is the Jesus who is making us? Or is He the one we’d prefer, the one who’s most like us, who’s safer and nicer, who reflects all of our personal or political values and idiosyncrasies? Is Jesus making us, or is he the Jesus of our own making?

Adventures in faith, by a non-adventurer

It’s been weeks (or days at least) since I’ve promoted Andrew Klavan. In this LA Times piece today he analyzes Hollywood’s problem with portraying the War on Terror, and as usual he’s dead on. H/T to Dave Lull for the link.

High drama at my house last night—not the kind that would make a John Woo movie, or even an Edward Albee drama, but the internal kind.

I paid my bills, and there was an insurance bill in there I’d been worrying about. Sure enough, when all was done and I looked at my checkbook balance, a metaphorical hand, cold as a pump handle in February, took hold of my heart. The balance was about the size of the check for a large party at a nice restaurant (not that I ever eat at nice restaurants).

I’ll get paid in a few days, so it wasn’t the end of the world, barring emergencies. But it scared me badly. I’m not a gambler, and I find myself in a game of economic Russian Roulette these days.

Many Christians don’t worry about such things, or claim they don’t. “Jesus promised us our daily bread,” they say. “He’ll always provide for our physical needs.”

I don’t read the Bible that way. Lots of better Christians than me have lost homes, family members and their very lives without Jesus doing anything about it. I think the error comes from mistaking Jesus’ point. I don’t believe He meant to say that we were guaranteed some kind of miraculous minimum wage. I think He meant that we have to orient our spirits to understand that all we really need is Him, and if He chooses to deny us any “necessity,” it’s because it’s not really a necessity. Only He is a necessity.

Which isn’t to deny that God generally provides most of us our daily bread. I know the stories about George Mueller. It’s just that sometimes He doesn’t provide physical needs, and it’s always His choice, for His purposes. We can’t manipulate Him, and we’ve got no right to complain if the decision isn’t one we like.

In other words, God has the right to take my house, and I have to live with that. Rejoice in it, even.

Then, just before bedtime, I picked up the mail I’d gotten that day, and forgotten to open. There was a reimbursement check from my health insurance flex account. I’d pretty much forgotten it was coming. It didn’t entirely solve my problem, but it certainly increased my comfort level.

Frankly that spooked me as much as the low balance had.

The old widow in the smoky house

A relative recently sent me a copy of some pages from an old “kalender,” (actually more like what we’d call an annual) published in 1932 by Augsburg Publishing House in Minneapolis. These pages contained an essay by a pastor (identified only by the initials “Th. F.”), concerning his memories of a particular aged widow he’d known when he was a young schoolteacher in Norway. The article was of interest to me because this widow was one of my ancestors. Her name was Sophie, which was also the name of my grandmother, a descendent of hers—also in her own turn a godly widow.

The essay is called “Den gamle enke i røkstuen,” which means, “The old widow in the smoky house.” A røkstue was a kind of cottage once very common among the poorer classes in Norway. It was a single-roomed house with a plastered fireplace in one corner for heating and cooking. Such fireplaces had no chimneys. The smoke filled the room, then escaped through a hole in the roof. They were sooty and unpleasant places, and Sophie’s living in one was evidence of her poverty.

The author remembered Sophie as a simple, quiet, loving soul who devoted her life to prayer. One time she went down to the river to wash some clothes, and felt compelled to spend some time with God. Because she didn’t like to “pray to be seen of men,” she went further along the river to a quiet spot where she wouldn’t be seen. But just as she knelt down, a stone rolled over on her foot and crushed it, pinning her. She had to call for help to get free, and she was crippled for the rest of her life. She often wondered, the pastor recalled, why God would allow such a thing to happen while she was “approaching the throne of grace,” but she finally decided it was for God to understand and for her to accept.

The pastor felt he knew why. He believed that if the accident hadn’t happened, no one would have known about her secret prayers. He felt the sight of her limping (like Jacob’s limp in Genesis) was a constant testimony to God’s presence in her life.

Such thinking seems insane (not to mention heartless) to us today. But I wonder if it’s possible that we, with our love of ease and comfort, have simply grown unable to understand things that were clear to earlier, tougher generations who took daily suffering for granted.

Or maybe not. I’m not drawing conclusions here. I’m just wondering.

I’ll translate a little from a passage near the end:

And she was not one of those who, while listening to God’s Word, sit and (in their thoughts) share the message generously with others; she applied it to herself, and so brought rich blessings home with her. One time, when the pastor at the altar said, “Let us all pray,” she began to think that obviously not everyone there in church was praying along. How could so-and-so pray, being such-and-such, etc.? And just as she sat and thought that way about others, she realized that she, precisely because of such thoughts about others, was herself neglecting to follow along with the prayer. “I was both grieved and ashamed that the devil should deceive me so,” she said. But after that she was always vigilant in guarding against that temptation….”

We think of our forebears as unenlightened compared with our educated selves. I suspect God doesn’t see it that way.