I’m sure the posters and readers on Planet Augsburg have encountered bumper-sticker theology before. In my experience, it is usually simplistic at best and snarky at worst. For example, a line such as “My God is too big to fit inside of your God’s box” might be brought out as a supposed “trump card” to win an argument for a universalist interpretation of what/who God is. However, such little quips are more harmful than helpful in rational arguments–no matter which side makes them. They are more for shock value than anything, and in many cases it seems as though their sole purpose isn’t to enlighten the discussion but to silence the opposition.

The specific bumper-sticker theology line that I’m thinking of is the question “Is God so powerful that He can make a rock that even He can’t lift?” There are many atheists who believe that they have the Christian by the short hairs when they ask this seemingly omnipotence-refuting question. The Christian’s answer of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will undoubtedly be met with the “haha gotcha!” response: “But I thought you said God was omnipotent!” Many Christians might be at a loss for an explaination to this seemingly paradoxical point in the existance of an all-powerful Deity. I believe, however, that even responding to the question with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ in the first place is futile because it gives validity to what is otherwise a ridiculous question. In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis addresses briefly how such arguments against an all-powerful God are not quite as solid as your average bear might think:

The absolutely impossible may also be called the intrinsically impossible because it carries its impossibility within itself, instead of borrowing it from other impossibilities which in their turn depend upon others. It has no unless clause attached to it. It is impossible under all conditions and in all world and for all agents. ‘All agents’ here includes God Himself. His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power. If you choose to say ‘God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it’, you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words ‘God can’. It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God. [emphasis author’s]

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Chapter 2: “Divine Omnipotence”

I was going to write my own summary of Lewis’ quote here, but the last sentence of the paragraph does that better than I could. Nonsense spoken about God is just that: nonsense. It would do most Christians well to realize this point and not to lose any sleep over weak, illogical arguments against the faith.

“It bears repeating that we are made right with God because Christ is our substitute. He lived a perfect life in our place, died to atone for our sins, and was raised not only for himself, but for us–guaranteeing our justification, sanctification, glorification, and the redemption of our bodies. This is how Jesus Christ fulfills his mission–not merely by showing the way, but by being the Way. He saves us fully and finally, and leaves no room for us to say, ‘Ah, yes. But I did do that one good thing.'”
– Mike Horton “In the Face of God”

Because our heart is an idol factory until the day we die, let us not forget the Gospel.

B-Rod, (Rod Blagojevich), b-rodthe now-former governor of Illinois, has been impeached by the Illinois Senate which voted unanimously both to impeach him and to bar him from public office in Illinois.

So, is it right for a Christian to shout “Yippee!” about such events? I understand that it’s most unfortunate that a governor should have to be impeached, and his fall was unfortunate. But justice is all too infrequently upheld in this world, and his brazenness was unmatched; in fact, one thing that brought the man down was a new ethics law that would have made it more difficult to trade government contracts for contributions – he had to get “extra fundraising” done by the end of 2008.

Oh, and he shook down a hospital, too – a children’s hospital.

So what do we do when this happens? Do I hide my gloating? I can certainly pray for the man, as we have done regularly ever the last half decade for both him. I am ashamed to be thrilled, but I don’t know what I should be.

Gene Vieth posted this incredible poem by John Updike.  Thought I would share:

Seven Stanzas at Easter

by John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

[Preface: I know, global warming is a vast, left-wing conspiracy. And really, what unexpected consequences might come from modifying the chemical composition of the atmosphere?]

If, for the sake of argument, polluting the atmosphere might cause unforeseen consequences (as CFCs did with the ozone layer), and if we’re going to continue filling our cars with gasoline, how might we keep from modifying atmospheric carbon dioxide levels?

A few nutty ideas have been proposed, like pumping the carbon dioxide into the ground. A low tech approach is to turn agricultural byproducts (wood chips, stalks, husks and the like) into charcoal and then burying it. The charcoal reenters the atmosphere far more slowly than the decomposition of primary byproducts and so effectively sequesters carbon.

You make charcoal by heating organic materials in a low-oxygen environment. It produces methane and hydrogen which can be used for heating, while the balance of the carbon is turned into charcoal. Charcoal is a soil conditioner so there is a double benefit to farmers.

I see two advantages over, say, pumping the carbon dioxide back into old wells

  1. There is no prospect of catastrophic release. Buried CO2 would be an excellent target for terrorists on enemy countries in time of war.
  2. It can be done cheaply and profitably by individual farmers rather than being an expense to government or industry. Individuals could do it for immediate gain rather than governments or industry doing it as an expense.

Sounds like a great idea. Perhaps it’s time to take out the composter and to build a charcoal maker!

Example of a syllogism

In my historical theology class, we learned an important distinction between the Medieval Roman Catholics and the Reformers (Luther, Melancthon). The big distinction is the “Ergo” vs. the “Never the less” syllogism.

Medieval Roman Catholocism fell under the “Ergo” which is essentially this:

Major Premise: God is righteous
Minor Premise: I am a sinner
Ergo: I will be condemned in God’s righteousness.

For Luther, scripture proclaimed a different saving syllogism called the “Never the Less”:
Major Premise: God is righteous
Minor Premise: I am a sinner
Never the less: I shall be saved on account of His righteousness (Rom 4:5).

Thank God for Reformation syllogisms!

It is indeed a wonderful life!

This coming Sunday is “Pro-life” Sunday at my Fieldwork church in St. Louis. My fieldwork pastor recently asked me to prepare a short devotional to give on Pro-life Sunday on the question, “How would the world be different without me?” I thought I would share what I wrote:

When this question was first given to me for pondering, I didn’t even know where to start. “This is a tough question to answer,” I thought to myself. So I decided to call my mother to see what this world would be like for her if I wasn’t in it. I thought of all people, she would know. Her initial response was, “Wow….I really don’t know. If you weren’t here, I don’t know what I’d do. I miss you enough as it is when you’re away in St. Louis. That is tough.” At first I thought her answer was a bit unexpected, where was the “Without you this would never have happened?” Or the “I never would have made it through that trial if you weren’t here?” You know, the Bette Midler Wind beneath my wing speech? Where was it? This caused me to wonder about my life, had I ever done anything for my family or friends that was extraordinary? I couldn’t recollect any dramatic moments where I swooped in on my “white” horse and rescued anyone from impending doom, and I don’t remember any real humanitarian efforts. This question had become all too hard for me, it forced me to ask that tough question, “Who am I?” As far as I was concerned, at that moment I was a nobody. But then something dawned on me, I meant more to my mom than actions or deeds. I am her child, the object of her love and affection. The one she raised, the one she played games with, the one she dressed up in cute Halloween costumes, the one who always made sure Christmas’ were special for me, and the one she loved no matter what. She had an unconditional love for me that would never stop. There’s nothing I can do that would make my mom think more of me. She loves me because she and my father decided to love and give of themselves. Who am I? I’m somebody’s son, I am loved. I’m special because my family thinks I’m special, because I’m a part of them, I was brought forth from their love.

In many ways, that’s how it is for all of us as Christians. We can get so worked up in trying to please a God who already loves us with a love that gave up everything; trying to prove our love with actions or deeds to a God who loves us for the sake of His son Jesus. We are the object of His affection. He didn’t want to be without us, so He brought us into His family through His son. Who are we? We are His children. We are special and unique; we mean so much to our Heavenly Father that he thought His son’s life was worth it to save us. So if that question “How would this world be different without me” stumps you. Maybe you should ask yourself a different question, “How would this world be without Jesus?” How could we ever get on with our lives if we were always as St. Paul said, “Being busy hating others and being hated, with doom hanging over our shoulders?” Remember then, our Savior who in great kindness, tenderness, and mercy came forth and saved us from our wretched state so that we would be free to love our neighbors as His children, free as his children to exclaim, “I don’t want to live in a world without my neighbor!” That is what being pro-life is all about!