Pondering Morsels


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.

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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!

This description of the “Interfaith (worship?) service” would be positively hilarious if it weren’t so sad. From M.Z. Hemingway at NRO:

Interfaith worship services usually follow a Judeo-Christian liturgy but with the insertion of other Scriptures and clergy. So instead of a procession of clergy behind, say, a crucifix, the clergy were led by four Native Americans beating drums.

Rather than a reading from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the New Testament, and a Gospel — as you would hear in a liturgical Christian service — there were readings from the Torah, the Sutra Nipata, the Koran, and more from the Old Testament. No New Testament. It is unsurprising that no reading contained a claim of exclusivity or, for that matter, any claim that adherents of a different religion would disagree with. Rather than using proper names to refer to prophets or deities, clergy tend to overload on pronouns and non-descript names. “Lord,” rather than “Jesus.” “The God of Leviticus” becomes “Holy One of Blessing.”

Huge screens displayed the gathering’s logo — vaguely reminiscent of Luther’s Rose. The multilayered mandala incorporated sunbursts and geometric shapes. Throughout the liturgy, the layers were unpeeled to show a candle, a dove, the Statue of Liberty, and the earth.

Now, I am not going to take this opportunity to bash Democrats (surprising, I know) most especially because Republicans can be just as ridiculous in trying to contrive ways to mix faith and politics.

But, look at what a farce this is. This is what being “spiritual” has come to mean in America in 2008.

It’s like a Frankenstein Monster of a worship service. If only we put all these pieces together, then we will create new life. But, just like Frankenstein, we end up creating a monster.

I can just hear Screwtape cackling with excitement over such a festival.

To add more to it, in the middle of the “service,” several protesters stood up and shouted: “Obama supports the murder of children by abortion.” They were all soundly booed and escorted out by police.

What an abomination!

Cranach has linked to a very interesting article in “Modern Reformation” about “home churches.” He includes the following excerpt:

In a fairly recent study, Willow Creek-a pioneer megachurch-discovered that its most active and mature members are the most likely to be dissatisfied with their own personal growth and the level of teaching and worship that they are receiving. From this, the leadership concluded that as people mature in their faith, they need the church less. After all, the main purpose of the church is to provide a platform for ministry and service opportunities to individuals rather than a means of grace. As people grow, therefore, they need the church less. We need to help believers to become “self-feeders,” the study concluded.

How far can this trajectory take us? Evangelical marketer George Barna gives us a good indication. Like the recent Willow Creek study, Barna concludes that what individual believers do on their own is more important than what the church does for them. Barna, however, takes Finney’s legacy to the next logical step. A leading marketing consultant to megachurches as well as the Disney Corporation, he has recently gone so far as to suggest that the days of the institutional church are over. Barna celebrates a rising demographic of what he calls “Revolutionaries”-”millions of believers” who “have moved beyond the established church and chosen to be the church instead.” Since “being the church” is a matter of individual choice and effort, all people need are resources for their own work of personal and social transformation. “Based on our research,” Barna relates, “I have projected that by the year 2010, 10 to 20 percent of Americans will derive all their spiritual input (and output) through the Internet.” Who needs the church when you have an iPod? Like any service provider, the church needs to figure out what business it’s in, says Barna:

“Ours is not the business of organized religion, corporate worship, or Bible teaching. If we dedicate ourselves to such a business we will be left by the wayside as the culture moves forward. Those are fragments of a larger purpose to which we have been called by God’s Word. We are in the business of life transformation.”

Of course, Barna does not believe that Christians should abandon all religious practices, but the only ones he still thinks are essential are those that can be done by individuals in private, or at most in families or informal public gatherings. But by eliminating the public means of grace, Barna (like Willow Creek) directs us away from God’s lavish feast to a self-serve buffet.

Wow! There was certainly a time when Christians had to gather in small groups, inside their homes for private services. This came out of necessity because public worship had been banned. This came in a time when confessing Christ as Lord meant you were likely to end up on a burning cross in a Roman-constructed arena.

Now, apparently Christians don’t want to be bothered with all the hassles that come with public worship. We just want to be left alone to do it ourselves . . . and eventually to die by ourselves . . . for all eternity.

This passage was also revealing:

“In just a few years,” Barna predicts, “we will see that millions of people will never travel physically to a church, but will instead roam the Internet in search of meaningful spiritual experiences.” (7) After all, he adds, the heart of Jesus’ ministry was “the development of people’s character.” (8) “If we rise to the challenge,” says Barna, America will witness a “moral resurgence,” new leadership, and the Christian message “will regain respect” in our culture. (9) Intimate worship, says Barna, does “not require a ‘worship service,'” just a personal commitment to the Bible, prayer, and discipleship. (10) His book concludes with the warning of the last judgment: “What report of your commitment to practical, holy, life-transforming service will you be able to give Him?” (11) The Revolutionaries have found that in order to pursue an authentic faith they had to abandon the church. (12)

“Roaming the internet in search of meaningful spiritual experiences.” I have no doubt that what Barna predicts will come to pass. But, “roaming the internet” will not be able to replace Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or the Word. Of course, if you think the heart of Christ ministry was “development of people’s character,”I guess you would think this sort of Church of Self sounds great.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. (Eph 6:5-8)

“Woe to you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Mt 23:27)

Whitewashed Tomb

Smells bad inside

Lutherans hold to the doctrine of vocation, which is loosely to say that what we do we do in service to the Lord, each of us a part of God’s care for this creation It’s a comfort because it says: not everybody has to be a missionary or a clergyman. We serve God as fathers and mothers, as grandparents, as programmers and as waitresses. In all of these things, we are in the profession where God has placed us to serve him. We need not be rich, or beautiful, or athletic, or popular. We don’t even need to think about success, instead we think about how we can serve the Lord best in what we are doing. Even the humblest activities count.

The “Whitewashed tombs” reference is self explanatory.  Jesus is handing out seven woes to the scribes and pharisees. He condemns that their external righteousness belies their internal unrighteousness. These sorts of things all men understand and condemn

Where do the two ideas come together? They come together at 3:30 in the morning when cleaning up after a dog with diarrhea. The idea of one’s vocation including cleaning up after “the dog you gave me” (as Adam might have put it) and doing so “as to the Lord” is a comforting one. I’d much rather be cleaning up after God’s dog than my own.

And whoever thought that a dog that could smell perfectly fine on the outside could smell so utterly awful on the inside?

How I wonder how distant you are

How I wonder how distant you are

How far away are the stars?

This is a great question for creationists. The reason is that unlike the varied techniques used to determine the age of the Earth, the distance to the stars is determined  by the behavior of light, and the behavior of light is agreed upon: Things farther away look smaller and dimmer than things close up; Similar objects will emit similar amounts of light; Objects moving toward or away from us will have the frequency of their light shifted. And importantly, because the speed of light is fixed, distance is equal to time.

The stars form a microcosm of the creationist’s response to the old Earth theories and the theory of the evolutionary descent of man. If one argues that the physicists have misunderstood or covered up the real laws of physics with regard to astronomy, one will argue that with the old Earth theories and the evolution of man. If one argues for unknown extra physical laws in astronomy, one will likely invoke them with relationship to the Earth and evolution. And if one argues, as I would, the creation of an old-looking heavens (and indeed, wouldn’t it have to look like something?) one would certainly argue the same for the Earth and for man himself.

So where do Lutherans stand? How far away are the stars?

End of the line?

Not q-q-q-q-quite

We get it regularly and it always jars me. Some well-known person dies, perhaps untimely as Tim Russert, newsman and host of the long-running program Meet The Press or Tony Snow, once a U.S. executive branch press secretary. The press recapitulates the person’s career and personal life, his or her controversies and successes. There will be the tacit regret of a life so rudely cut short, or consternation at a senseless end, or even a celebration of a life fully lived. There may be an uplifting and inspirational message as from the New York Times:

Mr. Snow’s tenure was interrupted by a recurrence of his cancer, and he was quite public about his battle with the disease, saying he wanted to offer hope to other cancer patients. His message to them, he once said, was: “Don’t think about dying. Think about living.”

And after all the obituaries, it’s done with, nothing more to be written. Case closed. That’s all folks.

What jars is that Christian thinking is completely different. We can change back and forth – Christian, world, Christian, world – like shifting gears, able to handle either of them even though they are inconsistent. And they are certainly inconsistent. The everyday view of death and the Christian view of death are inimical:

  1. Snow’s idea of thinking about living rather than dying didn’t save him and won’t save you. Fighting the cancer or lowering your cholesterol won’t save you. Ray Kurzweil and a bottle of vitamins won’t be able to save you. There are no cancer survivors. The world knows this and ignores it, but Christians have no excuse.
  2. A person’s position does not matter. It isn’t important that Ronald Reagan was a U.S. president or that Rose Morrison was the deaf wife of a man who painted refrigerators for a living. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Pol Pot who killed a quarter of the population of Cambodia or mother Theresa who lived in poverty serving the outcast sick. Both Lazarus who was saved and the Rich Man who was lost would tell you: The only important thing is faith in Jesus. This is something the newspapers can’t report on, because only God knows the heart.
  3. Death is not the end, and it is not a time for “resting in peace”. For Tony Snow and Tim Russert, this was the most excitement they had ever encountered. It was the final report card, where they learned if what they had done, what they had believed was true or false. Had their faith saved them? Either the old sinful nature was killed that day and they are now glorious beyond our conception and present with Christ, or they fell into inconceivable and perpetual torment. The excitement goes beyond anything they had ever felt – no wedding, no birth, no election means anything to them next to the events of that day. And so it shall be for us.

We are deceived. The world teaches us to value position, money, fame, accomplishment. It teaches that what we accomplish in life is what defines who we are. But all this is passing. Jesus, who is God made man, laid down his life for the forgiveness of our sins that we might be reconciled to God. Faith and trust in him is the only way that our sins will be forgiven, and that means Heaven or Hell for us. Faith and trust in Jesus is the only thing that will define in the long run who and what we are.

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