Thursday, December 30, 2010

I have been blessed to spend the last few days with my good buddy, Robert Allister "Bobby" Rose. One of our favorite things to do is watch Japanese anime. We began with a show called Yu Yu Hakusho that aired in the early 1990s. In some respects, it could be suited for a more youthful audience, but this is not always the case. (Indeed, most often not.) But the last couple of years has been spent with a show called, "Ruroni Kenshin," which translates to "Wandering Samurai." (I nerdily recall from a History Channel program that "ruroni" denotes a samurai that does not have a lord.) In any case, this is the plot: (basically)

A swordsman, Kenshin Himura, wanders the Japanese countryside near the dawn of the Meiji Era, (1878) hoping to find atonement for crimes committed as "Battosai the Manslayer," a legendary samurai in the service of the Tokugawa shogunate. Taken in by the gentle but fierce Kaoru Kamiya, Himura finds more than he bargained for, and all of them find, against their expectations, that they need each other to survive. Will Kenshin keep his vow to never kill again, and can he, in the face of all the threats to the new Japan, and his adopted family?

A prequel show called, "Samurai X" introduces us to Himura in his Battosai days, as well as explains the origin of his distinctive cross-shaped cheek scar. In addition, an epilogue movie set some 15 years after the conclusion of "Ruroni Kenshin" tells us what happened to Kenshin and Kaoru (and trust me, you'd be dying to know after watching the show). I was genuinely moved by the film.

One of the fascinating aspects of this story is the character development, especially of Kenshin and Kaoru. The ongoing struggle between Kenshin's growing attachments and his inability to forgive himself is a tension that deserves to be played out in live action film or on the stage. Why am I telling you all this? At one point, our protagonist says, (paraphrase) "There is nothing I could do to atone for all the sins I have committed." What most of the characters fail to realize (Kenshin included) is how true the statement is. Many rationalizations, explanations, and suggestions are offered, but the truth is clear. This declares to the Christian the glory and all-sufficiency of the work of Jesus Christ. Despite the well-known disagreements concerning the application of that redemption to believers, Christians can declare with one voice that Kenshin's responses to his sins, were they in the face of Christ's redemption, would be nothing short of pride.

Yet what a fascinating and sympathetic character he makes! He now spends his days in works of mercy and charity, and one could only guess that were he offered Christ plainly, he would take Him without a thought. The other part of this we ought to remember is that the character Kenshin Himura killed thousands of people in cold blood. If he finds a measure of reconciliation in ignorance, how much more can we expect to find, we who know of Christ and his love? I am blessed that I rejoice in Christ even when watching Japanese anime. Fair warning: There is ample animated blood throughout, and some aspects of this East Asian spirituality are incompatible with Christianity, and are doubtless in the service of the evil one in the real world. Still, it is entertaining, educational, and clarifies many spiritual truths for the discerning.

My interest as an amateur in things Japanese was actually renewed by Tom Cruise's "The Last Samurai," and led to us watching the show in the first place. It for example illustrates the Meiji Era prohibition against wearing swords, which also arises as a side-plot in "Ruroni Kenshin." In any case, the clash between tradition and modernity or postmodernity is intriguing in any time or place.

Friday, December 24, 2010

I'm officially mad about the Google ad at the bottom of my page: one of those Mormon commercials. With all due respect, here at Safe Haven, we believe unreservedly in the Nicene Creed: "We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ...begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, begotten, not made; consubstantial with the Father..." In short, Mormons are not Christians, because they deny this. Sorry; gotta shoot you straight. [What about Glenn Beck?--ed.] Well, he's not a Christian, either. I am right-wing enough to believe that he'll say something true about politics 32.2% percent of the time. But please stuff it concerning God, sir; you've now idea who you're talking about.
My friend Gail Sallee wondered aloud on the inter-webs why people shop in the mall in their pajamas; I don't have a hard and fast answer, but I have a cranky speculation: I think it is a symptom of the loss of the distinction between public and private space. A full-fledged ruckus or fracas ensues if you happen to humbly suggest that the God-man died on a cross and rose from the dead, but curses if you try to stop me from shopping at that Dillard's over there as if it were my living room. It's not that there's too much stuff in the public space, it's just the wrong stuff. Isn't that weird? We can share our bodies in public, but not our hearts. I'll make you a deal: I'll button my face if you button your shirt.
Side-Rant: I love malls. I love shopping. I love nearly everything about it. I don't have to buy anything; I just enjoy the experience. I know I'm not supposed to say this; I'm supposed to lament greed and gaudiness and suburbs and wealth and smiling and cookies. But I suspect that at least 87.8% of the time people worry about "materialism," what they really mean is, "I neither understand nor am able to tolerate the economic activity of free people." It's not like tough decisions and moral conundrums don't arise. And it's also true that without the moral formation to do justly, (Jesus Christ, directly or indirectly) one cannot hope to be just for any length of time. But it can be done. And by and large, I don't know if paternalists on the Upper East Side of Manhattan know what a voluntary, non-coercive contract between two parties actually is. Especially if one of them is non-white. Put simply, paternalism+wealth envy+dim college students="fair trade." I've yet to see an argument against global trade that didn't boil down to A) nationalism, B) "They traded, and that guy made a million dollars, while the other made a thousand. That's so unfair" or C) "I secretly continue to feel guilty about my life of American privilege, so I will unwittingly destroy the system that brought it about." We should all as Christians be concerned about the means and manner of the acquisition of wealth. We should also consider the question of what do with it after it is created. But make no mistake: new wealth needs to be created everywhere. The world is in an economic funk, and robbery or wishful thinking won't help. Leaders of the US: throw the hammer down. Slash the taxes, tariffs, duties, spending, and for pete's sake, STOP PRINTING MONEY!!!! I swear I'm not an economist, but I'm also not a moron. Even Keynes would wake up and say, "Dude, seriously, you guys are making me look bad." And after I give due adoration to our Lord on his birthday, I'm going to the mall.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

5 Thoughts On Finally Watching "It's A Wonderful Life"

5. If I become a tenth of the man George Bailey is, I shall be blessed indeed.

4. Dude, Mary is a total fox. Why'd you fart around so long?

3. Can't get much more Catholic than that movie. Just sayin'.

2. Top 3 Personal Favorite Actresses:

(3. Kelly Preston

2. Natalie Wood

1. Katharine Hepburn.

Top 3 Favorite Actors:

3. Tom Cruise

2. Jimmy Stewart

1. Cary Grant.

Also receiving votes: Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Dustin Hoffman.)

1. Look out, Potter. God is watching.
5 More Ways To Tell You Are Jason Kettinger

5. At least 88 percent of the time, "flush" refers to a poker hand, not to a toilet.

4. You've dreamed of getting "Colombo" on DVD.

3. You've seen "Bloodsport" 37 times.

2. You have yelled out, "Yeah, Carpenters!" and "Darn right, Lionel Richie!" at your TV.

1. Your funniest inside joke involves the word, "crevasse."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Top 5 Dumbest Things I've Heard Since I Started 'The Quest'

5. "I care about the Bible. I don't care about church history." I don't even know where to start.

4. "Nobody has it all right." Well, then how do you know Jesus is God, or that He rose from the dead? How agnostic do you want to be?

3. "Do you really want to join the Church that gave us the Crusades?" No, not really. But I'll take Thomas Aquinas, Chesterton, Ratzinger, Wojtyla, and Mother Theresa. Yahtzee! Or Gin. Or something.

2. "Repeal Trent, and I'm there." First off, most of you haven't even read the thing. Second, this can't possibly happen. As I recall, we asked for an ecumenical council. This is it. What now? Furthermore, in Catholic theology, asking the Church to repudiate an ecumenical council is like asking the sun to rise in the west. Added bonus: Who made you who said this the Arbiter of All Christian Doctrine?

1. "Luther wasn't trying to leave the Church, only reform it." Really? Did you talk with him Putin-Bush style? How do you know this is true? Even if it is, how would Luther know he wasn't working for Beelzebub? (unwittingly) No offense. "I'll take Erasmus for the block, Tom."

Excited, Shamelessly Selfish Christmas Side-Rant: I stand to get some pretty sweet gifts this year. But even cooler than NBA Jam for the Wii, (one of the top 3 best basketball video games ever) I heard that Hollywood Squares for the Wii is out, and it's cheap. If you grew up in the 1980s or 1990s, you recognize this show as one of the most underrated game shows of all time. D-list celebrities? Check. Off-color humor? Check. Tom Bergeron? Check. Also known as "Tic-Tac-Toe With Jobless Actors and Comedians." Wait, I just described Match Game. Or Dancing With The Stars. Speaking of Dancing, Tom makes that better, too. I figured it out how I feel about Brooke Burke. How can I say this nicely? Burke as the other co-host is like black licorice: It (she) looks nice, but I totally regret the experience. I remind myself of this when I wonder if I am a completely incorrigible pig who needs to star in the re-boot of "Shallow Hal."
OK, everyone. Hi. Today was the final week of the Understanding Catholicism at my Presbyterian church. It's been a fascinating ride, not least to watch the, um, interesting, reactions to official Catholic teaching on a plethora of issues. Frankly, I didn't expect to find so many ex-Catholics here. And I don't think it will wash to say that people leave the Catholic Church because they want to sin, at least not these people, it would appear. And as a semi-official Friend of the Catholic Church, it breaks my heart. Not that my community is any less with their addition, but I would tell any Catholic that he or she is sitting on a gold mine if you happen to notice. [Isn't that a little friendly to an organization that has perverted the gospel?--ed.] As soon as you figure out what 'the gospel' is, I'll let you know. But if that term means something close to, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" then I must issue an emphatic "No!" The Catholic Church believes and teaches faithfully the revelation of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. And He is to be received by grace, through faith, not of ourselves; it is the gift of God, so that no one may boast. Are there legitimate contentions between us, and even potential problems in Catholic theology (or even practice)? Of course. But let me continue to explain.
If we chiefly understand 'the gospel' as something chiefly personal or soteriological, we have almost no chance to see the faithfulness of God poured out across the centuries, in the stories and lives of those before us, and those in communions other than our own. It is not to say we are not correct, nor is it to say that the disputations of systematic theology are unimportant. But it is to say that the ground we Christians stand on is the person and work of Jesus Christ, and to further understand that those disputations concern the application of that redemption won on Calvary, not its fullness, nor the one in whom it originates. The gravest evils of the Reformation, it seems to me, were and are forgetfulness, and a certain pride which makes peace with division. It may be objected that the visible unity offered by Rome (and the lesser sort offered by Constantinople) is no panacea; this is true. But I also know that the Reformers even dared to claim that they were the faithful heirs of the ancient Fathers. Someone understood acutely that legitimacy was found in continuity. It is not my purpose here to confirm or refute that claim. Rather, it is to underscore that we have indeed fallen far if either we fail to earnestly seek that continuity, or worse, if our gospel proclamation in fact rests and depends on discontinuity. I personally reside in an intellectual hamlet that does not allow for the uncritical assumption that the disputants in the 16th century in the West were justified (pardon the pun) in what they did and believed. Neither do I assume Roman dogmas and prerogatives out of convenience. But it seems the toughest questions I am asking swirl around subjectivity and autonomy, which ominously appear to be at the heart of the Protestant project itself.
Still, if all of us desire holiness and the glory of Christ in the world in which we live, the first step is quite clear: we must join Christ in the Upper Room; we must strive to do theology with them there in the final hours, to hear those intimate words He spoke to them as words to us. We must remember that the world that hated Christ hates us too, and if we fail to stay close to him, the world will devour us. He prayed that we would be one, and he did so as our high priest. Therefore, we will not be wasting our lives or time praying for, and working toward the same unity that Christ saw fit to request! And we may find that those who seemed to be our fellow-travelers were not so; some, by reason of ignorance, and some by malice. Nevertheless, if it is the Word we follow, we will not be ashamed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My favorite football player, Brett Favre, failed to start a football game tonight for the first time in 18 years. On September 20, 1992, Favre entered for the Green Bay Packers at quarterback for an injured Don Majkowski, and started every NFL game since until tonight. A record 297-game streak for non-kickers. Favre is not only in the conversation for the greatest quarterbacks ever, the streak is comparable, and in many ways superior, to Cal Ripken's consecutive starts streak in baseball, which, if memory serves, stands at 2632 games. I would barely care about football if not for Brett Favre. He's one of a very few that I have to watch, just to see what will happen. Even when he fails, it's ridiculously exciting. When he was in his prime as the 3-time consecutive MVP in the mid-to-late '90s, I hated him, in a manner of speaking. The Packers walked around with a swagger, led by General Favre. And then Green Bay faced my favorite team, the St. Louis Rams, in the 2001 playoffs. Favre threw 6 interceptions that day, badly losing. I knew my feelings had begun to change when I wasn't happy at all. No true fan of sports wants the greats to play poorly. Perhaps it was the year after, when Favre made his 200th career start at Lambeau Field, also against the Rams, that I changed my opinion entirely. He crushed the Rams on Monday Night Football--and I was happy. After Mrs. Favre lost a family member in an ATV accident, and was diagnosed with breast cancer, these people had become more than sports personalities; they were real. And then, Brett's father Irv died of a heart attack 2 days before Christmas, and the very next night, Favre led the Packers in a rout of the Raiders on Monday Night Football. What was that score, 41-3? 4 TDs, no picks, 399 passing yards. I decided then I was a fan. He's not a perfect man; surely Mrs. Favre's biography could tell us that. And the old man's indecision about retirement the past 5 years annoys many. And this generation of football reporters and announcers has laid the veneration on a little thick. But we forgot him in the Era of the Quarterback. And now that he is about to leave us for the last time--the man of 41 has said this is truly it--those who nearly missed him are a bit nostalgic. You can count me among them. Manning is great, Brady wins, and Drew Brees is the unheralded champ. But Brett Lorenzo Favre is the prototype. To paraphrase one writer who stopped following another sport when a legend retired, when Favre retires, I don't care about football. Don't even show me a box score.
Viruses destroyed my computer, so I was gone for a time, but we're back now. Anyway, I had the occasion to be a little sad, maybe a bit selfish yesterday because a woman that I've had some affections for got engaged. [You're in love with everyone.--ed.] Fair enough. But it brought to mind a pop-country song called, "Just To See You Smile." Consider these words:

Just to see you smile
I'd do anything
That you wanted me to
When all is said and done
I'd never count the cost
It's worth all that's lost
Just to see you smile.

And yesterday I knew just what you wanted
When you came walkin' up to me with him
So I told you that I was happy for you
And given the chance, I'd lie again.

[Me talking] I felt that sting a bit, but I reflected on it a bit longer, and I realized, by God's grace, that I didn't have to lie. Even if it never arose because I wanted her to be happy, (which I do) I could still be happy because God is about to show his love to the world through these people, ready or not. I can honestly say that even I'm not selfish enough to scoff at that. Triune God, be glorified in all things, and grant us your grace, that we might not stand in your way. I pray this through Christ, Amen. Timothy understands, don't you, Tim? The subject of the song, the one I wrote, that's her.

Monday, November 22, 2010

My home computer was assailed by the barbarian tribes; I am referring to viruses. [You just vainly compared your PC to the Roman Empire.--ed.] Yes. This is why I haven't blogged in a few days, and why no new episodes of The JK Show have appeared. [Nobody watches your stupid show. In fact, the viruses probably came from an angry Reformed dude tired of your papist sympathies.--ed.] I've actually considered that; nah, I'm not that important. In any case, since I am (fruitlessly) continuing my Protestant seminary career despite my deep questions, I have to say that today's lecture in my Acts and Paul class (Acts of the Apostles and Pauline epistles) was the best one yet. [It'd better be; this was the text.--ed.] I know, right? Just before I'm ready to chuck Protestant hermeneutics and trust the Church to tell me what I believe, an exegesis like that one comes along. I mean, we defeated the Arian heresy with the Greek text, a little Jewish context, and a little faith. Outstanding. [In fairness, you agree with the Catholic Church on this text.--ed.] True, but how we get there matters in the debate over the sufficiency of Scripture. It is often asserted that the Church's tradition is necessary most evidently in high Christology; it would seem not, in this case. Only a deliberate twisting of the text yields an Arian reading here. [Maybe this is a debate over whether an honest interpreter can fall into heresy.--ed.] Possibly. I wonder if there is any merit to the distinction of material and formal heresy, beyond an assertion of ultimate authority, combined with a heuristic for determining culpability in light of that assumed authority? [Now you sound like me.--ed.] Perhaps we'll end up in the same place. [Don't bet on it, papist dog.--ed.] Well, unless I'm completely nuts, you're coming with me. And that's another thing: If you're the editor, why don't you edit? I sound worse with you around. [I say what you're really thinking.--ed.] Don't bet on it, angry fundie. [You need me to keep you from stupidity.--ed.] I feel like I learn more when I leave you alone to stew in your schismatic juices. [Fine.--ed.] It's not my fault your position is incoherent. [It's not my fault you're about to lay down with the Tart of Babylon thinking it's Christ, either.--ed.] If they are idolaters, we all are doomed, or have you forgotten that we're borrowing about 94.7% percent of our theology from them? [It's the little things that make all the difference.--ed.] Moving on.
"TT" always used to talk about the "hermeneutic of love" to describe the process of figuring out what a text says--paying attention to the context, the flow of thought, the unity of the Scriptures, and the history of interpretation. Sola Scriptura never seemed to bug his conscience. Then again, that may not be a very Protestant way of reading the Bible. [Yeah, remember: he'd tell you probably he's just as confused as you are, papist.--ed.] Hmmm. [Tell them about the Sunday School class.--ed.] Yeah.
The "Understanding Catholicism" class I've been a part of moved to how Catholics understand the four marks of the Church from the creed: "I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church..." Or, I should say, it was supposed to. We were derailed by a long stream of anti-Catholic bigotry. Not from the teacher. From the people. One guy in particular just started ranting, every tired Protestant polemic you ever heard. Not honest fears or objections; I mean, he could have just saved us all time by saying, "Catholics aren't even close to Christians, and are going straight to Hell." One of my seminary colleagues was dumbfounded as the teacher; all he could say was essentially, "Thanks for your contribution." I couldn't get too mad; he seemed like a pretty old dude. But it would have taken ONE SENTENCE to explain the Catholic meaning here: The Church that Christ founded must have the same faith, (doctrine) sacraments, and governance (leadership). We never got there. I tried to interject in the middle of the man's diatribe that the slogan (and similar) "Not The Councils, But The Bible" could be used by every heretic from here to the Catskills to defend their position, and if so, we'd better come up with a better argument, especially since we are not trying to identify ourselves with those heresies. (Arianism, Nestorianism, Apollinarianism, Pelagianism, Monophysitism, etc., to name but a few.) to little avail. But I got it on the record, as they say. Anyway, I also thought we spent too much time saying that perhaps the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church does not have any relevance to the truth claims she makes (and that we ourselves have no room to stand in judgment ourselves, sadly). And there was a bit of a facile me-tooism with respect to the creedal affirmations. We do mean different things by those terms; to pretend otherwise is foolish. Besides that, people were angrily lamenting that we here in this class understand Catholic doctrine better than most Catholics, which, again, is tragic but does not disprove the ideas themselves. [You're right, but much too friendly to their positions.--ed.] Maybe. But I rather think that I'm not going to allow passions to cloud and derail the frank pursuit of truth.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In Defense of Telling Other Nations To Mind Their Own Business In Regard To The American President (Even As a Christian)

I come across my evangelical colleagues starting a story with, "Having lived overseas for X years, I can tell you, we'd be shocked at how we're viewed around the world" and "Bush was an embarrassment". With all due respect, stuff it. (The nuance is following.)
We ought rightly be concerned with those moral issues, which, like it or not, may put the US in a bad light in light of the Word of God, and even the natural law. (War, the nature of capital punishment, torture, abortion, etc.) And we may well find that a particular president failed to defend especially the dignity of human beings in one or many of these areas, and we should never fail to say that. Even in the most successful of presidents (say, Reagan) major flaws remain. May I be never so nationalist to fail to notice. And of course, picking a genocidal monster as leader is never a good idea. (No, Germany, we can't let it go.) But these days, I find myself defending a man in George W. Bush that, in the end, was average at best. Why? Because most of the criticisms are simply falsehoods and exaggerations from what I might call the (leftist) chattering classes around the world which have been uncritically adopted by unthinking evangelicals, who may be dismayed by a certain provincial nationalism that is surely part of American culture. In regard to the moral issues, no other nation has its hands clean here. Even in regard to human dignity concerning torture, this is a bad joke, to be lectured by Europe or anyone else. And I say that as a man who voted for Obama because of such things. (And he's miserably failed, by the way.) Need I mention that most of the so-called "enlightened" world, while guilty of the same moral sins, is beholden to idiotic and unworkable economic policies (socialism/Keynsianism) that will starve millions, in the end? No. Should I care what the state of world opinion is when the suggested alternative, I believe, is worse? And the only reason anyone cares who the US president is, and what his ideas are, is the prominence of the US. Tell you what, world: I won't tell you who I think your leaders should be if you promise to do the same. This ain't a popularity contest. And I promise to pray for you before I vote for Sarah Palin.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Because I don't feel like linking to it, (oh, fine) I'd offer just a couple sentences of critique/constructive thought on why it won't wash against the Catholic claims re: apostolic succession. First, we are essentially agreed on the priesthood of all believers in a baptismal sense. This cannot satisfy, in itself, the objection. We make the distinction between a baptismal priesthood and a ministerial 'priesthood' (I beg pardon, Reformed Protestant brethren!) all the time. I invite you to try celebrating the Eucharist in your own house (then consulting the PCA's BCO) if you doubt me! Weak sauce, Doug, weak sauce. It was our rank inability to be consistent in our priestly egalitarianism that got me thinking about this in the first place! Paging Jeff Meyers! Why ordination, if Doug is correct? And if not, are we sure our dudes are validly sent by Christ? What would prove it? Better yet, what would disprove it? If correct doctrine is the true measure, then 'correct' according to whom?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Top 5 Jokes At The Celebrity Roast Of Huldrych Zwingli

5. "I told Zwingli not to get torn up, but he never listens."

4. "Huldrych was mad because his wife forgot their anniversary; she said she wasn't fond of liturgical observances."

3. "He was mad Marty and John didn't bring birthday presents; they said the gifts were merely symbolic of their affection anyhow."

2. "Your cheese isn't the only thing full of holes. The Platonists waved, and promised a postcard."

1. "Roger Goodell called; he said you'd make an excellent commissioner of the No Fun League."
5 Reactions To The Republican Takeover of the House of Representatives

5. Geez, I hate Republicans, in a pro-liberty, God-fearing sort of way.

4. At least they won't have Nancy Pelosi to kick around anymore.

3. The only thing I see being repealed is common sense.

2. Maybe we shouldn't give franking privileges to people who don't read the bills they pass.

1. Maybe we can dig our children out of mountains of debt by turning off the war machine.

Monday, November 01, 2010

In this journey of mine that will most likely end in Rome [Don't bias it.--ed.] (fair enough), one dear friend of mine has taken to jokingly calling me a "papist dog." [Good friends, sheesh.--ed.] I think it's two-headed: first, we deeply regret many of the nasty things we said about Catholics over the centuries, in light of many faithful, biblical, Christ-loving Catholics we know (and the last two popes). And second, it demonstrates a great fear that particular Catholic distinctives (Mary, the saints, possibly Eucharist) are idolatry. Now, I have to say, my bias of experience spending loads and loads of time with "traditional" Catholics and learning Catholic theology pushes me in the direction of rejecting such a charge as unfounded. Still, idolatry is a serious charge for one Christian to make against another. In fact, it is so serious a charge that it puts the lie to much of our ecumenical talk these days. If Catholics are idolaters, we can have nothing at all to do with them. This means that we cannot reasonably hope to see any orthodox (according to them) Catholics in Heaven/New Earth. When I read John H. Armstrong's book "The Catholic Mystery" and the suggestion via Barna that perhaps 20% of Catholics have an evangelical faith as a conservative Protestant would understand it, I thought 2 things: 1) "Oh, crap, do we really want them to be as messed up as us?" (theologically, mostly) And 2) (after considerable time in their company) "That's preposterously low. Maybe even half, despite the weakness there." When we conservative Protestants say 'evangelical' we mean, "A living, active, saving faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ that affects the way I live, and God-willing, the world in which we live." If we attempt to define it any more precisely, our own biases (such as the means by which gospel truth is received, and where it is contained) begin to affect our vision, and it's little wonder we put the number so low; we're judging it by Protestant notions of authority and the nature of the Church! I don't think I realized this for a long time. On the other hand, there is a pernicious and debilitating Catholic culture that leads a great many to ignorance and presumption (and possibly, straight to Hell). No matter where I go, I hope and pray that renewal efforts continue and multiply in the Catholic Church. Still, the nature of being Catholic in the best sense is to accept what the Church teaches (and obey it) because it is the Church that Christ founded. To trust the Church is to trust Christ, and vice versa. In that case, then, some have levelled the charge of Sola Ecclesia ("the Church Alone") against the Catholic Church. [I already know what you're going to say, you papist dog.--ed.] Well, that's better than No Ecclesia. [So predictable.--ed.] Because Protestants struggle, to say the least, defining the boundaries of fellowship that they share in common despite their visible disunity, the inevitable result is/will be a complete loss of a dogmatic principle. It's as if the persistent egalitarianism at the heart of the Reformation ("priesthood of all believers") mitigates against the pursuit of truth! Because, unless ecclesiastical authority attains an authority it was never meant to have in such a setting, individual interpretation rules the day, only tenuously connected with love for Christ and holy living. It's this invocation of ecclesial authority at curious points that provokes a person like myself to ask what governing authority the Westminster Assembly was given in the first place. [Once you get there, it's almost over.--ed.] I guess we'll find out. But if our church bodies intend to govern with quasi-Catholic authority, there goes 'Mere Christianity.' It might be better if we all thought each other were doomed, because we'd abandon this kumbaya anti-intellectual crap we're doing now, which leaves us all vulnerable to heresy of the worst kind, because we're not specific enough. If you ran into some Nestorians or Arians with jeans, funny jokes, coffee, and a good youth program (gotcha there, didn't I?) would you recognize them? So, a deeper investigation into Mariology is warranted, because I cannot consent to practices which are contrary, it is alleged, to the worship of God alone, even if I wanted to for ecclesiastical/historical reasons.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

5 Signs You Are Ankle-Deep In The Tiber

5. You start laughing at traditional Protestant notions of "apostolic."

4. You say "Holy Mother Church" without snickering.

3. You are more anti-Nestorian than anti-Marian. (Svendsen, MacArthur, get with the program!)

2. You start daydreaming about dating Catholic girls. [It's always sex with you, isn't it?--ed.] Nolo contendere.

1. You join an RCIA class. [You're outed now.--ed.] The biggest open secret ever.
Is Jon Alter completely insane? I say yes. I've known Democratic fear-mongering, but this is astonishing. Get this man an economics textbook (and perhaps a functioning brain, bless him), stat. I'm under no illusions about the greatness of Republicans; in fact, it'll probably be like 1994: The Revolution That Wasn't. But the left-wing version of ideal America has never existed, and will never work. How did we get to the point of addressing our opponents as sub-human like this? I was concerned about what Obama and Co. would do [Not that concerned; you voted for him.--ed.] but I recall nothing but optimism even at the change of Congress. You'll note well that the Democratic congressional candidates in '06 and '08 that provided the majorities in both houses on paper are not terribly liberal, either socially or economically. Their Faustian bargain to support Pelosi (a true believer) and to bite the bullet on the president's health-care plan (enacted shadily) will be their undoing. More's the pity. Personally, I enjoyed punishing the establishment Republicans; they deserved/deserve it. [You didn't punish them; Obama was the only Dem you supported.--ed.] True, but watching those entrenched opportunists go down was exciting. I'll take 100 Joe Sestaks over 100 Arlen Specters or Charlie Crists any day. An honest liberal who leads with his heart can learn he was wrong; a power-hungry opportunist is useless.

Friday, October 22, 2010

To follow up on a point I was making on Facebook, we don't realize the scandal as Christians we've created by all our denominations. The principled way to be in one is only this: "My other choices are so wrong on doctrinal point X that we have to separate." In today's evangelical world, to suggest that someone might be wrong enough to be in danger of Hell is, to say the least, uncool. Even when it's absolutely true. Door-to-door Arians, liberal Protestants, etc. looking in your direction. We say completely stupid things like, "Well, as long as so-and-so believes the gospel" WITHOUT EVER SAYING WHAT IT IS, and apparently not caring that we all are telling a slightly different story on that point. It simply doesn't bother us that we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord (variously understood) but that we don't share it in common, largely. We share common rites (baptism, Eucharist) but we understand them differently. We even deny them to each other based on that disagreement. And if you don't think sinners use those various opinions as an excuse to keep on sinning, well, I have a beach house in Arizona I can sell you. Stop me if you've heard this one: "You're more sinful than you'd ever dare believe, but you can be more loved and accepted in Christ than you'd dare to dream by faith; this is the gospel." Problem is, that affirmation, however true it may be, is personal and soteriological; it is no more the gospel in its entirety than the fact that Saul (called Paul) is from Tarsus. Not to mention the fact that it's a distinctly American Protestant way of stating things. You or I have no way of questioning, clarifying, or explaining it without sounding gravely suspicious. Welcome to Mindless Evangelicalism 2010! Feel free to look around, but it won't take long.
Episodes of what is sure to be a YouTube phenomenon, "The JK Show," can be found here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I've been away for a few days. The internet has been down at the house; I think the previous residents (my mother and stepdad) forgot to pay the bill again. [Would you pay it, if you didn't live there?--ed.] They said they would, through this month. Anyway, my grandfather was in town; my big-mouth mother told him about That One Thing At That Secret Place. He's Church of Christ. He matter-of-factly stated that I was looking into a cult. I recovered, though: I told him I was doing research for a book. (Totally true.) I will never again speak ill of anyone whose family relations present a difficulty for them. I need to be honest here, though: I utterly hate the Restorationist movement. I hate most of its theology, its hostility toward other Christians, its antipathy for serious theology, its view of history, and the rather prevalent tendency toward fundamentalism. I love many people in those churches, not least my family. But I gotta call it like I see it. [That denial of original sin is a deal-breaker, no?--ed.] I'd like to think that mistake is a product of an abiding anti-clericalism, not an affection for the Pelagian heresy, but I'm probably wrong. In my grandfather's mind, church authority=occasion for sin and lust for power, nothing more and nothing less. I asked him how he knows he is not a law unto himself (in a bad way) owing to the fact that he is relying on his own interpretation of Scripture. He didn't seem to understand. The Scripture is clear, he says. We had the perfect illustration of how it isn't when we began to discuss infant baptism with my sister. Yes, this really happened. I didn't call him on the carpet when he mocked the concept of original sin. I should have. [But baptism is a peripheral matter.--ed.] Not when the human need for grace (in either Catholic or Protestant conceptions) is up for debate. This is the kind of crap that makes me want to be Catholic. You can hide the individualism and rebellion behind layers and layers of ecclesial authority if you want to, but at bottom, it's a spirit of willful Christ-denial. One day, you're disputing the universal jurisdiction of the successor of Peter, the next, you've cast your lot with Pelagius (and admittedly, the second is much, much, worse). We're on pins and needles, Keith Mathison. Answer me this: Why shouldn't I be Catholic just to protect what I believe now? (God be praised) Isn't my generation leaving Christian communities in droves? Ever ask why? Maybe it's because they want truth, and they can see you don't have it, or can't defend it. We hit the Roman Catholic Church with every argument and nasty name we could collectively think of, and she's still there. Granted, you'd think she's trying to destroy herself from the inside half the time. But one thing I know for absolute sure: the evangelical affection for fads mixes uneasily with fideistic apologetics and hypocrisy, and Presto! we're dropping like flies.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Though I am not a good singer, I love to sing. On the one hand, I'll sing almost anything; my affection for a wide array of pop music is well known (and perhaps derided). On the other, the great hymns of the faith* are often on my lips and heart. One such hymn is "Rock of Ages." The tune of this hymn has been quite varied since its intitial composition a bajillion years ago, but the tune I learned (linked above) through Reformed University Fellowship I'll call "the RUF melody." Whether or not they had anything to do with it. In any case, this particular iteration never fails to sink deep into my soul. I saw an episode of "Little House on the Prairie" where Mr. Ingalls (Michael Landon) sings this at church (and disturbingly low-church it was, BTW), and I have to say, I hated its whole musicality. That original melody sounds like we walked into a saloon. Will I turn to my right and see Yosemite Sam? Just for fun, take the words out. Saloon, right? And not that I dislike saloons. ["A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" was a drinking song.--ed.] I'll drink to that song! In any case, I had trouble finding that first version, but it's definitely the best. This performance has a few mistakes, and surely too many flourishes to sing along with, but I love it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Delaware Debate for US Senator: O'Donnell vs. Coons:

First 15 minutes--Coons [I am a protectionist, and a redistributionist]. O'Donnell [I am a horrible public speaker, but I am cute and right-wing].

Next 10--Foreign Policy: O'Donnell [You favor random withdrawal]. Coons [It's a random narco-war we cannot win in Afghanistan].

Social Security/Medicare--O'Donnell [I'm not terribly conservative and willing to cut it].

Abortion/Faith: Coons--[I'm allegedly a Christian but morality has no impact in public life]. O'Donnell--[Of course evolution is a myth, but don't make me say it].
Marxism--Coons [I'm a capitalist! I swear!] O'Donnell-- [You are a commie].

Education Reform--Coons [Charter schools rule]. O'Donnell [I don't have the guts to eliminate the Department of Education, but I like vouchers].

Health Care--O'Donnell [Obama care confuses coverage with care, coverage portability]. Coons [I support Obamacare].

CNN idiotically interrupted this debate to tell us about Chilean miners. No offense, but right now, I don't care. In general, I thought this debate is a wash. Coons is right about Afghanistan; O'Donnell is better on education, and the central issue of the election: Obamacare. And Coons should be ashamed to call himself a Christian and unabashedly defend the killing of children. That said, O'Donnell has gone negative, and I don't like it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I'm not sure how much "secular" music Jesus listens to, [He hears it all, dummy.--ed.] but I'm willing to bet a large sum of money he really likes this song. He might point out, however, that loving is harder is than James Taylor makes it sound. Well, He would know. (God be praised!) In any case, I spent all day (in Mental Conference Room 2, anyway) trying to remember "Everyday" by the aforementioned JT, because I keep hearing part of the song in a phone commercial or something, and thinking, "JT singing this is so much better." Duh, right? I needed a lift earlier (besides the mild annoyance of not being able to remember the name of a song I've heard eleventy billion times) so I looked up "Up On The Roof" and listened to it a lot of times. It's that version he did on "Sesame Street" circa 1976 that rules. I actually heard this song for the first time in 1991 or thereabouts, when JT was a guest on "Saturday Night Live." By the way, if you can sing your 15 year-old rendition of a song you covered at that time, and in fact maintain a rep as one of the greatest songwriters in American history despite doing half remakes, that, friends, is the epitome of being (a) "BA." I can picture this, too: Taylor might just have been walking by in New York City when accosted by Mr. Michaels to please, please, be the musical guest on the show tonight. "What should I sing?" provokes, "Geez, I dunno, sing 'Up On The Roof'! You're James Taylor, who cares? You could sing a song about the grazing habits of sheep in New Zealand, and they'd love it!" At least I'll know why if I buy a fancy-pants cell phone for no purpose whatever. I can blame James Taylor.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I like music, and thus, I like YouTube. Though most of the videos flirt with copyright violations. Anyway, I got roped into a "Wow, Toto is amazing!" phase yesterday, [waiting while you look up "Africa"and cower in the corner, hoping not to get caught] and I happened to come across a song called "Lea." Now, more experienced Toto fans know that they like naming songs after members of the fairer sex, and that they've changed lead singers a couple times, for whatever that's worth. My first thought was, "What an outstanding pop song," and my next one was, "Why didn't Babyface cover this on his remake album 'Playlist'?" Don't even act like it's not right up his alley. [Babyface should pay you.--ed.] I know, right? Why didn't Toto's label release "Lea" as a single in 1986? [Because they're stupid, and they think we are, too.--ed.] Even so, follow the Money, that is, the Soul Train. As long as we are amorous and/or sad, there's a market.
Besides that, I had read that Welcome to the Black Parade by My Chemical Romance was one of the better-regarded albums of 2006. Not instantly a fan of the whiny, emo pop-punk on offer this past decade, I was suspicious. But I recalled their single from that album, and I've always liked it. The first two minutes is like a counterfeit messiah story, unfolded like an arena-rock ballad. I love that. One professional critic compared them and it to the best of Queen, and that's exactly right. Being the sap I am, I hoped they'd do the whole song like that, but it's enjoyable enough.
A brief note on page views: This blog crossed over 3000 page views 6 days before Christmas, 2009. As of last night, we have 5200. It's not monumental, but I thank those who read and enjoy my occasionally intelligent blather. [Your page views are inflated because you read your old posts.--ed.] That'd be reasonable, but for the fact that it tells me when I'm inflating the counter. So eat it!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

5 Reactions to the Foreign Service Officer Test (Yes, I promise, Uncle Sam, not a word as to its content)

5. It was fun. There was a time crunch, but it was enjoyable.

4. There was a bit of liberal clap-trap on the test, but less than I thought there'd be.

3. A lot more people whose heads are filled with useless, random information (like mine) should think about serving your country like this. You're d--- skippy, I felt patriotic taking the test, and well I should.

2. It wasn't hard. I will eat crow if I failed, but it was easier than I expected.

1. I think I passed, consequently.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

I cannot get away from politics, hard as I might try, and I can only hope that I keep the spheres separate enough that noone reading this blog is tempted to think the Christian gospel is linked to the political fortunes of one group or another. I sure don't feel that way, and I hope you don't, either. That said, not only do I have opinions, but I have some training as a political scientist/analyst, (which in truth is nothing more than the collection of a few insidery terms, a dash of history, and a love of the political process, which frankly anyone can have) so I see the world through those eyes also. I need to tell you about the 2006 midterm elections. Here in the US, every seat in the US House of Representatives is contested every 2 years. In 2006, the Republican Party (henceforth "GOP" for 'Grand Ole Party') controlled the House, the Senate, and the presidency leading up to the elections. The GOP lost the majority in both houses of Congress. Gary C. Jacobson of UC-San Diego argued that it was a referendum on Bush and the Iraq War in a prepared paper to the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association in the spring of 2007, but I think otherwise. I think spending played a far more significant role. Also, the personal scandals of GOP members played a major role. With the GOP in total control of the legislative and executive branches of government, there was no other way to signal dissatisfaction with the GOP than voting against them (and for the Democrats), but the nature of that disaffection was varied, to say the least. In fact, I had predicted that the GOP would begin an intra-party revolution in 2006, hoping that they could retain control while completely changing the ideology (at least by appearances) that underlied it. By 2006, the internal tensions between libertarians (free markets, radical downsizing of government in accordance with their view of the Constitution, generally anti-war) and 'conservative' Republicans (generally in favor of US military force, less market-driven, socially conservative) were too much, especially in light of the personal scandals of the GOP members of Congress (lobbying, sexual indiscretions). In fact, the so-called 'base' of the GOP had no trouble associating the profligate spending ways of the majority with its ethical lapses. I think the war cannot have been the primary reason for the electorate's disaffection, because Congress did not move in the direction of ending the war in 2006. It seems clear that a willingness to de-fund the war was a distinctly left-liberal position even among the Democratic caucus in 2006. What may bolster Jacobson's thesis, however, was the deliberate vagueness of the national Democratic message on Iraq: "A New Direction for Iraq," which, as you might guess, could encompass those opposed to the war from the beginning AND those who believed that the strategy for victory being followed was 1) too conciliatory toward Muslims, and 2) not likely to succeed. Democrats going forward were quite correct to surmise that the electorate, though not blessed with infinite patience as to the time-frame of this mission and to its costs, (both personal and economic) were quite ready to punish those who let the rebuilding nation collapse just to make a point. Even anti-war candidate Obama in 2008 spaced out his timetables on withdrawal of US forces so far as to make his anti-war stance irrelevant, in context. It was simply a matter of excellent timing: the supposed anti-war candidate benefits from the end of major hostilities, while garnering the support of outraged doves for his outspokenness! No, the war did not drive the elections. The Bush team had already put the surge strategy in place by the US elections. One could reasonably argue that the GOP's single-minded focus on the war (which still had the quiet support of most elected Democrats anyway) opened the way for their demise on spending. The candidates recruited by the Democrats to furnish the majority were from the South, pro-business, pro-Iraq war, and often pro-life (and other GOP-friendly views). It was a referendum on Bush, but not Bush's war. In fact, candidate Obama even cast his dovish war rhetoric against the backdrop of Bush's stubbornness, free spending, and perceived incompetence, not on the decision itself. I still think the combination of Jack Abramoff, Mark Foley, Larry Craig, et al. did in the GOP, not Iraq. Samantha Power was asked to leave as an adviser to Obama when she let slip that Obama's true views and plans on Iraq were the same as Bush's plans. However, if that's true, it helped Obama, not hurt him.
In short, the Tea Party is nothing if not a populist budget-hawk movement that might have gone unnoticed by the Democrats if they hadn't/weren't: 1) benefitted from it; and 2) completely and utterly clueless. The last two years at least is the tale of Obama (as the leader of the Democrats) completely misunderstanding the nature of his winning coalition, especially in terms of economics and spending. The entry of social conservatives (like Glenn Beck) into the fray is a complicating factor. In essence, if he or another major known figure on the right (like Palin) becomes the de facto head of the Tea Party, it will signal that fusionism (the historic alliance of social conservatives and fiscal libertarians) has been revived. This seems unlikely to happen, in my view. On the other hand, the Tea Party may itself fracture over national defense/war, or other issues, especially while Christians debate nationalism and bioethical issues, as they discover that the new movement doesn't share their concerns, at least not directly.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

OK, two more things: (And Anne Katherine Robinson, you may officially stop reading until the second "thing," because this is about pop music, though the self-depracation and witticism may be worth it. Your choice.) I woke up with a song in my head: "Isn't She Lovely" by Mr. Stevie Wonder. Which was weird, because I have an absolute certainty that I am not father to a daughter. Still, a lovely song it is. And the second song that popped in was "I Can't Sleep Baby (If I)" by R. Kelly. It was a huge hit when I was a teenager. And Mr. Kelly is sadly better known for his legal troubles, and the fact that 87.8% of his songs are about sex. Not relationships, as you may be thinking. Yet this disarmingly simple song is one of those that makes you say, "He sang the #@&! out of that one." It's just criminal how good a voice he has, and he's wasting it, and his life, at least by appearances, in pleasure. He wrote and sang the annoying but memorable "I Believe I Can Fly" for the movie "Space Jam," and I listened to "The World's Greatest" a couple times yesterday. It's a thinly veiled ode to Muhammad Ali, as the video would indicate, which means I'm a fan. :) [You always have smooth-singing black dudes in your head.--ed.] True. It's one of those secular "hymns" that doesn't make any sense, but it's oddly uplifting.

[Oddly Pro-Catholic Insight On Authority and Succession] In the absence of an hermeneutic from scripture alone that gives one distinct, discernable body of body of truth by which traditions can be judged, the fairest thing to do is admit the historical and theological evidence on its own merits. Remember, it was the Reformers who claimed that scripture supported their position(s). If humility demands that we on the Protestant side listen to each others' traditions to avoid reckless overemphasis, it surely demands that same humility to say that rejecting particular Catholic doctrines or authority is not quite so simple as we pretend. Scripture cannot serve as a critique of anything if the precise content of the corrective is not established.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I published some snark in the general direction of Baptists in my "Historic Church Documents" post/rant, whereupon it was contested quite ably and respectfully by J. Patrick Smith, a cousin of "Tbone," which makes him a friend of the blog covenantally speaking :) as any good paedobaptist would do. We'll see if he wants to make the association his own later on. :) In any case, I thought his illustration in the comments was a good one, and framed it in a new way for me. But this provides a delightful segue into another problem introduced by the comment: the appeal to Sola Scriptura. Given the fact that A) both (Protestant) paedobaptists and credobaptists affirm Sola Scriptura (and its necessary corollaries of inspiration and infalliability/inerrancy, and B) both have Scriptural justification for their positions, tell me, who is right? Forget baptism; pick anything you want. Same problem: No obvious means for settling disputes, and no path for eventual visible reunion in the joyous event such disagreements are resolved. Still waiting on Keith Mathison's response in writing to this. On the other hand, I don't know why I should accept the Catholic hierarchy and doctrines as God's appointed answer to the thorny problems. Though admittedly, it is a very alluring answer. No, the worst part of Sola Scriptura is that I could assume complete benevolence on the part of everyone involved in the process (not a good idea anyway) and we would still seemingly be unable to maintain real (read: visible) ecclesial unity, or know when we had come upon the most significant doctrines, contrasted with the less significant. We may share many or most in common if we made a list. But we may well differ. Then what? [Baptism Side-Rant: For instance, I no longer contest the idea that Christian Trinitarian baptism forgives sins. Luther, Calvin, and the Catholic Church all agree, shockingly enough. [People leaving] Yeah, well, read the Bible. You may object that this makes salvation's gate guarded by a thing that can (and often is, many say) be divorced from Christ who saved us. And my only answer is a question: Why are you so opposed to God mediating his own grace and love through material things that you turn the extraordinary acontextual mercy of God into the normative? In practical experience, the people most opposed to so-called "baptismal regeneration" are those who have refused baptism for some dumb reason or other. In short, if you believe Jesus is the Son of God who saves you from your sins by his atoning death and resurrection, just do it. You don't have to understand how it works.] We're often in the business of agreeing on "the essentials" without saying what those essentials are. This is also why "creedal minimalism" fails; Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants mean very different things when confessing the creeds re: the Church, so it can't unify us (completely) unless somebody bends.

Friday, September 24, 2010

OK, two things: First, I have counted 6 times by two different professors at my steadfastly Reformed, Westminster-loving seminary in the last week-plus, occasions where any normal Protestant would add the word, "alone" to the phrase, "justification by faith." Golden opportunities, mind you. Even in contexts of disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church, where such an appellation would seem most appropriate, in fact. 6 times. And my alleged comrades-in-arms, birthed not only in the bloodbath of Luther's protest, but in the blood of the Lamb, declined to add it. Look, I'm almost Catholic; I don't care what you say, to some extent. And I certainly wouldn't want to get anyone in trouble over there. But if we Reformed are re-visiting this position, we ought to talk about it, not hide our insights behind the bulky sweater of covenant theology or the Coke-bottle glasses of storied hermeneutics. [Maybe they're sick of being trapped by the Catholic apologist-bots you're getting snookered by.--ed.] Well, good for them. But if they're that afraid of our historic stance, maybe they should swim the Tiber ahead of me.
Secondly, I have a confession to make. [You mean a confession confession?--ed.] Simmer down, Sparky. Don't get ahead of...ourselves. I'm Protestant until I say otherwise. Besides, I agree with Rabbi Tbone: Either way I go, my soul is safe, at least as far as I know. God knows me, and I know Him. Even if I'm supposed to be Catholic, I am hiding nothing from his merciful touch, and I quite frankly cannot desire the promises contained within the Catholic sacraments (and God help my Protestant soul, the sacraments themselves) any more than I do right now.
But no, what I meant to say before I was so rudely interrupted was this: I love 'Grey's Anatomy.' Maybe I need to turn in my man cards for saying that; I don't care. If 'Scrubs' hadn't been made first, and its protaganist, John "J.D." Dorian was A) a woman, B) less of a tool, and C) looked a lot like Ellen Pompeo, you have 'Grey's Anatomy.' It's amazing. I sampled it here and there, but as it happens, my brother and his wife who just moved in love the show. And since my brother is the coolest, manliest man I know, I have cover. Still, you may have heard the audience is mostly women. And I have to tell you, even if so, we can learn a thing or two from them. In general, women in this culture seem to favor character-driven stories; action or suspense are not bad things to like. But female audiences (anecdotally) witnessing a disaster are not going to be hooked by the disaster itself; rather, they seem to want to see how the characters react to the events, and how they react to each other. And frankly, I do too. This show has a pretty impressive array of deep, multi-layered characters. You want to like them, to root for them, but they all fail the heroic ideal at points. We'd hate them, but...they're us. That's good storytelling. [Rant on 'Scrubs' and "John Dorian" forthcoming.]

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dear George Michael,

Recent events involving your car and drugs have forced the British legal system to incarcerate you. I suppose we are all relieved that no one was hurt. And as you are no doubt aware, you will have some time to reflect not only on this incident, but on the general direction of your life. As one optimistic friend once said, "There are no problems, only opportunities." I might only interject that there seem to be both, and this is fitting for the merciful God to allow.
I would not dare to judge you, or claim to know exactly what you must do. That said, I wonder if your remarkable and full life up to now is all that you had hoped. Is it abundant in the true sense? You have explored every human avenue of pleasure that exists on earth. You've worked hard, and played harder. Perhaps even now, those things are revealed as cruel masters indeed. Others looking in might say that I've no standing to say such a thing; 'tis true, my path has been mercifully safe. But the difference between us is only in degree, if there is one.
Do you remember when Diana, Princess of Wales, died? I remember you and Sir Elton John (with one other man) singing "The Lord Is My Shepherd" at her funeral. I remember how you and all the world barely could contain your sadness. Have you ever wondered at this Shepherd? Who is He, that he could inspire us to enter a holy place and invoke his help when death overtakes even the best of us? I know Him. Remember when you sang "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" with the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin? Whatever it is actually about, it sure sounds like a gospel tune to me. Then again, everything she sings takes me to church. Your first hit was called "Faith." Have you ever pondered beyond the vague allusions? What is it about God that so clearly captivates you, in spite of what griefs you may carry against "organized religion"?
As much as it may annoy some, (even you) I have to speak of the love and mercy of God found in Jesus Christ. As one hopelessly lost fool to another. I have always liked your music and respected your talent. And now, if I could in some alternate universe be counted a friend of yours, I would plead with you to turn away from the path of self and emptiness which has led here. Not because I am better than you, but because I have tasted emptiness and tasted Good, and I shall never give it back, God help me. If you have found love or good or joy in this life, dare to scratch below its surface, and you will find Almighty God as the source. You once sang a remake called "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me." One thing I know for sure is that God never does. He delights to extend the light of day until we all bask in the light from his beloved Son. You may have a great deal of time or a little, but you must ask how much more delay you can afford. I'll be praying and hoping for you.

A fan in the USA,
Jason Kettinger

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I've been something of a fan of President Obama since he appeared on the scene in 2004. I heard the convention address that made him a star in 2004 (and was deeply moved, I must say). I predicted his election in 2006, after hearing a speech he gave to the Save Darfur rally in Washington, DC that spring. Right-wingers (and I am one, in many respects) scoff at his alleged soaring rhetoric and meteoric rise. And he should rightly receive mountains of criticism for his anti-life policies regarding abortion, his nationalizing economic policies that stunt growth, and his amateurish dealings with the opposition and its ideas, such as they are. But those who do not respect the events of his election, who mock his supporters as unthinking idiots, who behave as though the country is a gulag in which we are all trapped (understanding that the logical end of many Obama policies/ideas is exactly that) are not only irritating, but they demonstrate a lack of understanding in how American politics works. As my old teacher Rick Hardy told me when noting that the academic discipline in which we were both engaged (let the reader understand) was misnamed, "Politics is an art, not a science." Obama was a master artist in 2008; he got a little lucky, he had bad opposition (of course, that opposition was selected largely by members of the opposition party) and he has a great story, which he used to great effect. And this piece is substantially true, if a little inoffensive and basic. Yet one of the most significant points of data in this story is Obama's undiminished standing among black Americans (north of 90 percent). And I would caution some of us in using certain metaphors to describe black loyalty to the Democratic party (though I encourage and do not denounce black conservatives for doing so). And I would describe most policies embraced by the Democratic Party in the US as counterproductive and actively harmful to race relations and the good of the nation in general. But, if you or I were black, could anyone blame us for feeling intense loyalty to the president as a symbol? No. Even on the worst day of the Obama administration, it is inarguably and irrevocably historic. Heck, I'm white, and I hate criticizing him. [You just say that because you're one of the idiots who voted for him.--ed.]

[Totally New Separate Thought That Should Likely Have Been A Separate Post] True, admitting a mistake like this is a difficult thing. Still, I don't feel as though I could have done differently, given the understanding I had before me at the time. Christian leaders are justifiably hesitant to tell parishoners for whom to vote as a spiritual matter, but I will say that if I had been commanded one way or the other, I would have obeyed. Still, I do feel that conservative Catholics and other Christians who were exhorted to vote against Obama are in major danger of co-option and betrayal by those with whom they ally. However, I'm not muddle-headed enough to tell the Catholic Church or anyone else to "stay out of politics." That fascistic move is the first step in, well, fascism. The state is always in the business of silencing the Church when it, under the dominion of Satan, is engaged in evil. Stupid people who see the often close connection between theologically and morally conservative Christians and "conservative" political groups often make the equally vapid mistake of affirming their opposites out of some simplistic contrarianism. I need to say this: Jim Wallis, God bless him, is the epitome of this. He's not only infuriating most of the time, it's quite obvious he hasn't thought through most things with the intellectual rigor that's required. "Progressive" political theory and opinions are just plain factually incorrect, largely. And indefensible historically. And the problem for Christians of a more anticapitalist/redistributionist stripe becomes this: When the state acquires the requisite power to reach its economic goals, certainly becoming tyrannical in the process, what will you do? Politically conservative American Christians already face dissonance when their favored choices support the death penalty, foolish and deadly wars, and betray them on abortion and other bioethical issues. And while capitalism presents unique challenges and temptations, it does not, contra some, lead inevitably to nearly irreversible sin and evil.
[Back to Advice/Final Thoughts On Race and Obama] If you hang around American conservatives enough, you'll hear Obama described on the kind end of things as the "Affirmative Action President" and other such things. And while he may be out of his depth, and he may have benefitted from a certain lack of scrutiny partly due to his race, we have to be really careful in how we express these things. The Republican Party deserves not only more historical credit for its willingness to combat anti-black discrimination, but its members deserve the good-faith assumption that they are not racist, despite the brilliant and immoral job Democrats have done painting Republicans and their ideas as racist. However, because most of the party is white, the attitude Republicans often use in mocking Democrats and their policy inanities in regard to race (which, granted, they richly deserve) is, at best, tone-deaf. Racism still exists, and most of us are unaware of its continuing pervasive impact. In short, the GOP will not eat into black (and other non-whites) support for Democrats until we frame our ideas through black (and brown, etc.) eyes, with an acute sensitivity to our continuing lack of awareness (which should continue to dissipate with time). We can't yet say, "We pick the best person, without regard to race" and brush the argument aside, because we do not live in a colorblind nation, despite our aspirations. All other things being equal, in fact, the GOP should prefer representatives of color to white ones. For now, we should play the cynic's game right along with the Dems, until we reach our goal(s). The GOP needs to be more active in recruiting minority candidates; they need to stop favoring the creation of "majority minority" congressional districts if they still do (too much like the tactics used in the South to dilute voting strength in the past); they need to get younger (my generation is much more aware of the nuances here, and powerfully committed to a post-racial vision). Finally though, are you ready and willing to accept that a significant, indeed massive amount of historical revisionism will take place regarding Obama--no matter what happens--especially in the hearts and minds of black Americans? In short, can you deal if Obama goes down a hero? Like Lincoln, Kennedy, FDR, and Reagan? This is actually very likely to occur. And like the men in this brief list, it will largely be undeserved when it occurs. But I guarantee you: our first black Republican president will have Obama to thank, and will happily do so.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

At the risk of getting him in trouble, I have a list of 5:

Top 5 'Collins-isms' Of The Past 3 Weeks (possible paraphrases)

5. "I hear a lot of sneezers and coughers in here. Make note of the sneezers and coughers, so that when we all fall ill with various afflictions, we can beat them to death."

4. "You are used to seeing David as a Jesus figure. The message of the Bible is that Jesus is a David figure." (Lesson: Respect the original OT context)

3. "If you read Psalm 24 and say, 'How great is it, that Jesus kept the Law in my place?' I will beat you, because that's not what it's saying." (Lesson: We should strive for holiness)

2. "This is a love song, a poem. Not a particularly good one, mind you, but some of you were no doubt conceived with a song like this playing in the background."

1. "I'm hearing what you are saying, and it's horrible." (response to a question)

Added Bonus: In response to a "pastoral question" regarding what Collins would do with a congregation moving too quickly from the original context and intent of the Old Testament to seeing Christ, in the midst of a nuanced and careful answer, he was interrupted by a student, who said, "I'll tell you what he'd do: he'd just yell at them." [Raucous laughter] And without missing a beat, Collins added: "Now he's got it."
Anybody who knows me knows that I'm a bit girl-crazy. [What are you, 12?--ed.] Yes. After a fashion. No one of the fairer sex has seen fit to snag me off the market, so yes. Anyway, one meets with a certain lack of success (or limited success) and the natural reaction, albeit perhaps not the most productive one, is to question one's desirability and so forth. I'm not breaking any news here, surely. Lonely dudes, can I get a witness? I know you feel me. [You're a jobless, penniless bum in graduate school who's apparently about to torpedo your most viable career option. Would you date you?--ed.] No. But kats get lucky all the time like that. I had a friend who introduced me to the film version of "Phantom of the Opera" directed by Joel Schumacher. Yes, I know, it's not faithful to the story/play, blah blah, shut up. Anyway, I personally really identified with the Phantom. And yes, it begins on creepy terms, given the fact that Christine Daae is just a girl when the Phantom takes a shine to her, a la "The Thorn Birds" [You just lost all the papists, bringing that up.--ed.] Well, sorry. It happens. No, the funny part is, I've never actually seen "The Thorn Birds." But a story about a priest who falls in love with a woman is always going to some kind of cultural marker, so long as priestly celibacy is a norm in the Catholic West. I digress. The Phantom. I like him. I understand him. That is, I suppose, until he started killing people. But deformity and being on the fringes, this I understand well, whether I choose to admit this as my reality or not. I know tons of good-looking women who went for other dudes, too. In any case, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and his minions decided to add a song to this film called "Learn To Be Lonely" that I really love. The words ring true, in some sense, in a nice, accessible, singable form. [Is 'singable' an actual word?--ed.] It is now! The song is an odd, bittersweet encouragement to me, as I consider all the possible permutations of my estate. Still, I hope this line isn't true: "You've always known/Your heart was on its own." I didn't come here to tell you that, as the great Cosby would say.
I'm doing That One Thing At That Secret Place (let astute readers understand) whose outcome, whose mission, if I choose to accept it, would entail a great many changes. I don't want to put some girl who loves her Lord the way she knows how through that kind of change. Just a bomb I drop in the middle of the relationship: "Oh, by the way..." "Uncle Bryan" was already married. If he hadn't been, that would have been a fun reality show to watch. (But not for Bryan.) It's certainly not over, but I actually expect matters to conclude in that fashion. Should I wait until the crisis is over? Seriously, what should I do? [That's what you get, chasing theologically committed girls, dummy.--ed.] At least they're holding to a dogmatic principle! How comforting. (Not) I wish God would give me the faith one way or the other. No, I pray he does.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I deserve to be thrown out of our little ecclesial protest movement for a paragraph like this:
[Also, it is neither the Law or the prophets, so it is wisdom by the process of elimination using the Jewish categories. Goerling says of Psalm 1, “Psalm 1 is a didactic Psalm, a guide to life.” He adds, “In form and content it belongs to the wisdom Psalms.” Tuell adds, “Just as Jesus' beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12) are descriptive rather than prescriptive, so the beatitude pronounced upon the righteous in Ps 1 describes rather than defines them.” What this may mean is that Collins’ concern about legalism arising from certain readings and views of merit may be premature. It seems quite possible that the blessed man can both “deserve his blessedness” and be in a totally dependent covenant relationship. We’ll return to this later.] [Sheesh, hurry up and become a Catholic already, and stop leading us on.--ed.] Well, you shouldn't be that surprised; as I told the great Tim Butler, "The Catholic Church is like a girl I'd lead on, but never marry." [But you will, and you know it.--ed.] I fully expect this to happen, but I'm not forcing anything. Frankly, I want some coherent push-back from the Reformed. If you want to keep me, you'll have to fight. The big problem for the Reformed (and maybe Protestantism in general) is that the law of prayer is not the law of faith with respect to systematic theology. When it is consistent, frankly, it's Catholic at best; when consistently bad it's just antinomian gnostic crap. It'd be OK to simply agree with the Catholic Church, except...we left because we didn't, or so we thought.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

5 Obvious (And Not So Obvious) Reactions To Catholic Theology/Ecclesiology If One Is Protestant

5. "Seriously, you believe that?"

4. "That's beautiful, but I don't see that in the Bible."

3. "The Church is infalliable...really? Watch the news lately? [After being informed of the "faith and morals" qualification] Great. Now, with a few more qualifications, your dogmas can be completely impervious to actual historical evidence."

2. "Lecture us about how we're not 'apostolic' when you and the Orthodox figure out which one of you is the true Church."

1. "Al Gore should have made 'An Inconvenient Truth' about this $#!@ right here. Polar bears are much more important. Yeah." (No.)
I have a friend who, God bless him, doesn't handle honest questions and debate very well. I've annoyed him severely on 2 separate occasions. I should have known. But it wasn't my fault. We were listening to that great new hymn, "In Christ Alone" when we came to this line: "Till on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisfied." And I couldn't stop myself, saying, "That's the only line that gives me the slightest hesitation." And then there we were, discussing atonement theology and soteriology. The next line in fact makes even less sense in Reformed theology: "For every sin on Him was laid..." And we talked about whether it was fitting for the God who is Love to require obedience that he does not, and will not, enable by his grace. Because, of course, in Reformed theology, the atonement of Christ is effectual for the elect only. And since the elect are brought through the ordo salutis monergistically without cooperation on their parts, (at least until after justification) we have a whole host of interesting problems with A) the apparent meaning of many Scripture passages; and 2) whether or not this makes us determinists in the philosophical sense, and how that affects the character of God in our view. (For we dare not say God is the author of sin.) Catholic theology as I understand it (limited, ahem) makes a distinction between sanctifying grace/justifying grace and actual grace, with actual grace preceding the justifying grace, with the purpose of moving the will. This actual grace, given to all in sufficient but not equal measure, can be resisted, contra Reformed theology. (And the distinction in kinds of grace is not made in Reformed theology. One will hear of "special grace" unto salvation for the elect, and "common grace" for all without exception in Reformed theology, but the difference is that common grace is not meant to be understood as leading to a grace which justifies; to borrow a Scriptural phrase, God's grace either "makes you alive with Christ" [paraphrase of Eph. 2:5] or it "leaves you without excuse" [based on Romans 1:20].) "Union with Christ" is the buzzword in Reformed theology, which helps explain all the parts of the order of salvation without having to make a bloody mess of the Scriptural text by forcing it into systematic categories at every point. And it has been a gift from God Himself for many people trying to understand and progress in their sanctification. However, it strongly implies participation by its very nature to some, and is thus rejected. It implies theosis. Even for those who accept the phrase and some of its implications, we then must answer the question of how this squares with a view of justification that is 1) forensic/legal in nature; 2) once-occurring and unchanging; and 3) monergistic. No one could fairly accuse the best of Reformed theology of being unconcerned about sanctification or cavalier about sin. In fact, on a personal note, worship at any of the churches where I've been a member; "lax" is not a word I'd use. BUT...given statements about the seriousness of sin and the necessity of repentance, one cannot help but think that something has to give. God will not be mocked, nor will the perishable inherit the imperishable, so either our formulations of justification must be "nuanced" to fit with the reality of daily experience and the reality of apostasy, or they are plain wrong in the first place. My friend I spoke of earlier asked a good question, even granting Catholic notions of grace: "What then, ultimately, is the difference between me who accepts the gospel, and someone else who rejects it?" He continued, (paraphrase) "You're forced to say there is something good about me apart from saving grace which makes the difference." The Catholic helpfully interjects that grace changes a man and allows him to participate, so that his justice is truly his, in some real sense. My friend concluded thus: "I don't know; to me, either God does it, or it doesn't happen. You can't accept or reject something if you are dead." Alive or dead, no in between. I must admit, it is compelling when framed thus. What is having actual grace, but not sanctifying grace in Catholic theology? Being mostly dead? (Ha Ha.) If the Reformed notions of grace and justification can lead to presumption, the same Catholic notions lead to a complete lack of comfort in Christ, it would seem. [You won't know until you try.--ed.] Whose side are you on anyway?
Alas, The Wedding Weekend Extravaganza is over! Congratulations to Tamara and JJ, and Evan & Stacey. (Smith) Note to JJ: Feel more than free to introduce me more formally to your cousin Brooke. Ahem. [You know nothing at all about her.--ed.] True. And it was only a few dances. But there should be warning labels that come with beauty like that. I hate when that happens. She also stated at the end of the evening that I was "Rock Chalk", which, note well, is a high compliment from a member of a family that is loyal to the University of Kansas. [Kansas?! You've gone mad!--ed.] All I'm saying is, if I ran into her again, I wouldn't mind. Added bonus if the words "church" or "Jesus" don't make her vomit. In any case, the second wedding was like going to a party with friends. The Smith/Meek wedding, by contrast, felt like a family reunion. In the best and purest sense. The Smith patriarch (let the reader understand) said to me, "You're part of the family, you know that?" Funny, that, since I didn't marry anyone! But well taken. "Rabbi Tbone" is just like that. I feel I've been adopted. We shared many other things that I can't talk about here. Just know that,--if you didn't know it before--"swimming the Tiber" seems like the dumbest thing I could ever do, in the face of all this love. I was also honored to spend some time with 'Tbone's eldest, Martyn, and his wife, Zoe. I share in Thom's sadness that we won't see them again probably for eighteen months. Martyn and Zoe help the "least of these" in the UK; Zoe is British; Martyn just sounds like he is! But I promise I'll stay in touch, Martyn, and I won't call you 'Marty'! [You forgot to ask him what he thinks of David Cameron.--ed.] He can't vote for him, anyway. And good for you, Martyn; I couldn't renounce the USA, either. But it was also good to chat up some old friends, and some of the attendees prettier than Martyn. [I'm sure he's hurt and disappointed.--ed.] Sure he is. But congrats to Evan & Stacey (and Tamara & JJ). May each family have 17 children, for the good of the world, and in defiance of certain haughty US presidents.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The thoughts I had regarding the "Historic Church Documents" page here are thus: There is quite a variation in confessional position represented by the documents here. Reformed, Anglican, Lutheran, and of course, creedal documents from the early undivided church are here. I must conclude that their presence represents affirmation by the proprietors, which presents problems by the fact of the variance alone. Possible Reasonable Explanation: The differences between them, say the authors, are less than the gulf between all of us and Tridentine Rome. But if it were a united Protestant front, wouldn't they unite ecclesial governments? I cannot conclude that the documents' presence was an act of mere reportage, because there is nothing overtly contrary to the Reformed tradition on the page. That they believe all these traditions can broadly be called Reformed is astonishing, and is an insult to anyone holding the other confessions. Still, perhaps it's a way of affirming a soteriological monergism that they all share (to some extent). Even if that could describe all the documents (which it doesn't) it's pretty reductionistic to say the Reformed faith is wholly about soteriological monergism. If that weren't enough audacity (and not the hopeful kind, I'd add) for one web page there's this mind-boggling quote: The delivery of Christ’s doctrines and commandments by men does not make them the doctrines and commandments of men. ... Their dogmas are not man's, they are God’s dogmas." --J. Girardeau. Which would be a refreshing recovery of the dogmatic principle if I knew which communion I should worry about getting tossed out of! But they don't seem to know. On a personal note, when I saw the Baptist Confession of 1689, I almost flipped out. Nothing personal, but I feel more comfortable among people who believe God's saving work happens objectively in some sense and in keeping with how God has always done things (see Passover, circumcision), not by way of articulation or knowledge in every case. ("Believers' baptism" is dumb.)


[In Defense of Baptists, and Other "New Testament Church" Types: I know lots of you, and by and large, you're lovely people who love Christ. And I'm all for people understanding their faith as much as possible, too. And I don't see the papists force-feeding their infants the Eucharist, so you're not entirely insane. But I guarantee you, there will be about a bajillion infants and other young children who confessed diddly-squat before they left us for whatever reason, and God will embrace them, because that's just how God is. Please tell me you're not giving an aptitude test for the sign of the New Covenant. Please. "Please tell me you have something more, counselor. These men are on trial for their lives. Please tell me you haven't pinned their hopes to a phone bill." Sorry. I get movie quote-itis at times.]


Sorry, that turned into a rant, and a blog post.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I would say I'm pretty conversant with pop culture; maybe too much. Then again, I think I'm pretty discerning. All prospective (Protestant) pastor-types learn to develop a little voice in our heads that affirms (in some sense, if possible) and challenges everything that we, or our parishioners may watch or hear. Like every twentysomethingish (American) dude who happens to be a Christian, I have my odd list of famous or influential people that I'd love to befriend and testify to Christ in their general direction. In my dreamworld, it's set up like this: "You have one hour to tell influential person X whatever you wish about Jesus and the gospel, and they won't run away." It's a rotating list of sports heroes, political figures, pop singers, etc. I realized today I had to add a name to my list, even though he's not American, and he is, in my words, an "awesome pariah": George Michael. You can't grow up in the 1980s (especially listening to pop radio) without encountering him. When I read his Wikipedia page, I didn't even realize how successful he's been. That is of course knowing a big handful of really well-known songs, not as one who's scoured the man's catalog. But I know that my mother bought his greatest hits compilation--one of them, anyway--and I remember thinking that I had heard of all of them, and really liked a lot of them. Whether as part of "Wham!" with schoolmate Andrew Ridgeley and others or as a solo artist, the guy definitely made an impact. As you can read from various sources, George has some problems. Drugs and alcohol, as well as sexual sin are present. But when God-given talent is made so plain in a person, you say, "It's a shame that's being wasted, in some sense" even though you don't know him. Every time I listen to Sirius/XM satellite radio, if I listen long enough, George will come on. Gut reaction every time: "Yes!" Even if I haven't heard a song by him, he's in "I Gotta Hear This One Out" territory. Try not to laugh. I had a friend play a trick on his mother using Madonna's greatest hits once: he put it on, and didn't tell her who it was. Result: she liked it. Sometimes, famous people have done bad things or weird things, and they have earned a fair amount of mockery, scorn, or whatever. But if you try this test with George Michael, it may surprise you. Now, don't get carried away. How might Bryan or Larry say it, if they listened to every song? "He has disordered desires." Undoubtedly. Still, most famous people are famous for a reason, and there's no sense denying the ordinary gifts of God in people and running to our Christian cultural ghettos, as good as separateness can be at times. In truth, I share a ton of cultural reference points with non-Christians that some of my brothers in Christ don't because of how they grew up, (though of course there's loads of good about that, as well) and that makes me feel comfortable when the uncomfortableness of the gospel shows itself.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Casino Royale" was on my TV when I returned tonight. I love this movie; it once again demonstrates that Texas Hold 'Em is "BA," Daniel Craig did a superb acting job, and you can take this character seriously now. However, I hate the final climactic scene. I had to turn it off. Yes, I am a sap. Worse still, I logged into Facebook, and there is a feature called, "Friend Finder." It then informs you which of your friends found friends with it. And the cursed thing keeps showing my current "like" interest. For the record, we saw 1 movie, ate ice cream, and had one other thing fall through. In any case, I'm trying to forget her, because it's a hopeless cause, but even one inch square, she takes my breath away. Sheesh. Someone punch me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Today was my first day back at seminary. It's a conservative evangelical seminary of some repute, committed to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms (with no real gripe against other confessionally Reformed documents). I doubt anyone can see my own doubts about Reformed Theology or Protestantism in general. [Well, now they know, idiot.--ed.] Yeah, well. I'm jazzed about my professor for Psalms and Wisdom Literature; I was mad that his Wikipedia entry is threatened with deletion for lack of notability. He's "BA" as my brother would say. I've made friends with some prospective Catholic priests, and their laments about modernism overtaking some of their teachers sadden me. I know if not for that thorny problem of visible communion with the Catholic Church, they would be ridiculously blessed by him, as we are. I don't know whether to root for this or not; obviously, if I did, I would place myself in communion with the successor of Peter. That may well come, but Rome must show the legitimacy of her claims until I cannot do otherwise. Perhaps they understand this, but I fear that many do not. If the Catholic Church is correct in all that she claims, all Christians everywhere must return to her, insofar as we know and understand those claims. That remains highly offensive, but it cannot be ignored. Let me say that again: it cannot be ignored. If we as Christians take another position on some matter of faith, it seems to me it must be principled. And exactly at the point where we tend to make our stand, Scripture and hermeneutics, this is the point where it makes the least sense. We've not bothered to deal with Protestant variance in scriptural interpretation (with some major soteriological implications we just gloss over) though the method(s) and source are the same, nor have we defined what makes a Christian a Christian, though we all seem to know. I can see with the eyes of faith that all who love Christ truly are connected. I know that it crosses boundaries even as significant as justification. I am open to the possibility that I had it right all along, but if so, we MUST solve the issue of subjectivity in the individual interpretation of Scripture. We absolutely cannot simply appeal to the Holy Spirit in each of us, because it does not prevent even the most careful interpreters from 1) significant disagreement; and 2) the possibility of making oneself the ultimate arbiter of truth. A "burning within my bosom" could tell me anything, and who could objectively challenge my deeply held opinion? God in his grace often sees fit to utterly ruin the plans of those who "make it up as they go along," but this isn't always so, as the many wolves in sheep's clothing show us. I recall a post (ah, here it is) from Peter Leithart (yes, Peter Leithart) mentioning disapprovingly an "invisible church" ecclesiology, and what jars me about it is, our half-arsed one-paragraph answers for the Reformation seem to utterly depend on such an ecclesiology! Read the WCF lately? Supposing just for the moment that something of God's people is living outside the Reformed faith, (shocking, I know) what is this "true" religion? In which doctrines exactly does it consist? When do you go from "mixture and error" to "synagogue of Satan?" I'm betting, quite frankly, that the number one synagogue of Satan in their view was Rome, but then again, they don't say. My favorite questions I want to ask, one I asked to my noble friend John H. Armstrong: "Do you stand by your remarks at the end of your book, 'Understanding Roman Catholicism' to the effect that saved Catholics are thus in spite of their church, not because of it?" He truthfully and courageously said, "I don't know" at that time. To Leithart, and not as an accusation: "Why aren't you Catholic?" It would be, I'll bet you, one of the most interesting conversations I've ever had. He's clearly done more than sample the Church Fathers, as I have so far. But obviously, he hasn't swum the Tiber. Don't you want to hear what he says? Still waiting on Keith Mathison's promised response to the provocateurs at CTC. Bryan Cross, this is free advertising. Feel free to send money to...just kidding. I'm open to the idea that they are being unfair. But in my universe, they are simply raising questions that I must answer.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I feel always a little bit betrayed when I consider that one alleged proof-text of double-imputation: 2 Cor 5:21: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (ESV) That "might become" seems fairly significant, no? But don't jump to any hasty conclusions. [grabbing BGAD lexicon] Um, I did not find a verse reference for the exact form in the Greek, but the subjunctive after the "in order that" strongly implies the "might." Anyway, it most assuredly does not say, "possess the righteousness of God". It says "in order that we might become the righteousness of God." As in, we are not currently displaying it. Same problem in Romans 1 and 3: However full our forgiveness and security may be, the text really isn't talking about an alien righteousness; it's talking about the character of God shown forth in us as a whole. In fact, it may be significant that the verse ends with the "in him," so that it reads, "in order that we might become the righteousness of God in him." [that is Christ] All that "reconciling the world to himself" in Christ in v. 19 is intriguingly couched in present-tense (or at least ongoing aspect) type of verbs. Which means, it seems to me, that it's not over, in some sense. Though the mercy of God is always available through the work of Christ, and indeed we enjoy great benefit and blessing now as sons of God, so long as we are not yet what we hope to be, we can't get complacent. We know this, but we (Reformed) are always trying to deny it. This text is about union with Christ. The problem is, if union with Christ is essentially what we want and need now and forever, (and what the Scripture teaches) then imputation cannot be true, because the union would not be real, but only legal. For our lives and actions to matter, for holiness to matter, we must participate. But participation implies the possibility of non-participation. See where this is leading? Sheesh. R. Scott Clark is absolutely right to disavow "union with Christ" as the dominant soteriological motif of the New Testament if we are to remain consistent monergists. The problem is, the Scripture doesn't seem to balk at participation like Reformed systematic theology does. Perhaps I am being unfair. But those middle-ages synergists are looking pretty smart right now. I hate it when that happens.
I need to follow up on what I said yesterday; I thought I covered my bases in terms of my intention not to speak with any binding or wide-ranging authority. In addition, though I was discussing something important, I surely felt some parts would go down easier when leavened with a little humor (the success of which you are free to dispute). And I definitely am not trying to shut down discussion among different groups of people (various groups of women, or men and women); in fact, the opposite is the case. But I definitely needed to say what I said. I'm open to disagreement, correction, and whatever else. That post, however, was my view of things as a relatively young, single, pseudo-evangelical with an admittedly big mouth and a keyboard. My small yet quickly arriving sample size of correspondence on that piece is of two kinds: 1. "How dare you hate on 'Lost'! It's the greatest show ever made/on today/I've ever seen!" And my only comment on that is that you're probably right. I don't care. 2. "Why don't we all wear burkhas then, you fascist!" And I'll get my buns kicked for this, but the only thing wrong with the whole plan is that it covers over (pardon the pun) the second-class nature of being a woman in some places, the abuse of women, and it blames the victim when those abuses occur. "Frumpy" actually has a fairly wide range; it's my shorthand for "modest." It's not a hard and fast rule; all I was saying is that it seemed to me in general that we'd stopped talking about it, and it's reflected in our dress. The wider culture would tell you that you were frumpy or plain if you showed as a woman that you had thought about it. That's generally true. [And why don't you post a link to another country song so AKR vomits her coffee, or at least rolls her eyes?--ed.] It'd be funnier if you hadn't said anything. And besides, I am one of the lost sheep of Israel on this point, and she is resigned to my ignorance. I may well enjoy tons of music of a classical bent in the end, but I can't see ever hating Lionel or Kenny or Martina et al because of a certain simplicity, or late composition, or whatever. On the other hand, Aquinas is probably right that there are infinite grades of beauty, truth, etc. (with God as the end of them all) so there must be some things which are better than other things, though both are not sinful. But it pains me to admit it. I'll probably listen to The Jets as my final act of rebellion. Wow, that side-rant should marked accordingly. Anyway, any offense re: modesty is largely unintentional. ["I Can't Help It, I Must Annoy The Country-Haters" Musical Diatribe/Video: I have always loved this song. I know Patty Loveless got some noise from Christian groups because it could be heard as an ode to adultery or fornication, but I will give her a pass, because I saw a clip of this song where she dedicated it to her husband. Can't argue with that. On the other hand, isn't it funny how when a song says something isn't wrong, it usually is?]