Saturday, August 17, 2013

5 Poker-Related Thoughts

5. That was a depressing outcome.

4. Maybe I'm not as good as I thought.

3. [It's just one tournament. Relax.--ed.] Yeah.

2. I can't complain; I robbed that one guy earlier.

1. It's a fun but frustrating hobby. At least it's free.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Monergism vs. Synergism

"Monergism" means "only one working." "Synergism" means, "working with, or working together." "Soteriology" is, at the risk of being overly literal, is "the study or science of being saved." So if one is committed to "soteriological monergism," this means there is only one actor. If that one actor is God, it doesn't matter if that action causes an ontological change in the recipient or not; whatever the man experiences in terms of acting, it's not real, in the sense of participation. It's a sophisticated form of fatalism, because if there's only one actor (God) then God alone is responsible for the outcome. At least the Reformed separating justification and sanctification attempts to give the man freedom in sanctification, even if it ends up being fictitious, being ultimately rooted in the immutable will of God. They (Lutheran and Reformed) both quite unintentionally but truly make God the author of sin, because the only one whose actions are determinative is God. "Monergism" does not refer to God as First Cause, or even as the primary actor; it means God is the only actor. This cannot be, if we want to hold a man responsible for his sins, and for rejecting the Savior's atoning death. Let's be clear on definitions. And be willing to live with their implications.

5 Blurbs

5 Brief Thoughts

5. I don't want to ride the Jake Westbrook Experience anymore; the line is long, and it doesn't pay off.

4. If salvation is "entirely God's business" it is not man's. That's what monergism means. If you say that grace is always necessary, fine. That was never in dispute anyway.

3. I'm not disputing the necessity of sanctification as described by you. I'm inquiring as to the necessary connection between justification and sanctification, given that the first is not a cooperative effort, and the second is.

2. I should have stayed with the Little League game.

1. Bacon.

Justification By Faith Alone And Participation

We hear in recent days that justification by faith alone is really about emphasis rather than exclusion; that is, the co-operative life of sanctification is no less important than the recognition and celebration of Christ's work for us. Once again, I grant without hesitation that most Christian commentators will agree with the Bible and the Catholic Church that a holy life is important and even necessary. My point has always been that it is absent dogmatically and systemically because it has to be. If the damage inflicted by the Fall is so grave that man by nature is depraved in every part of himself, if he is totally unable to do any good for himself spiritually apart from God's unitary intervention, if in fact Fr. Luther's entire contention was that the Catholic theologians of the day had undersold the damage of the Fall, then by definition, any participation by such a being is ancillary at best, and is not necessary. The man's redemption was accomplished in this view utterly outside him by Christ, so much so that he is covered by the righteousness of Christ; it is not poured into him; he is simul justus et peccator, in the famous phrase. How could God threaten consequences against a being so helpless that he has already acquitted him by a boundless irrevocable mercy? We're talking about the soteriological necessity of sanctification and participation within a system of soteriological monergism; there is no need to reaffirm a commitment to holy living; the end result is not in dispute. What is in question is how a God who has declared a man entirely innocent by *faith could even see the corruption that remains, much less require, on pain of punishment up to and including the loss of communion with Him, that the innocent man root it out. Why? He is innocent, his crimes forgotten.
We agree that the Bible says God will judge a man by what he really is, by his fruit. The problem is, your system does not agree. Your system says God pardons a wicked man, whether he changes or not. You may say that the change must necessarily take place; well and good. But if the man was helpless before, why would the pattern change? If the dead faith we decry could not actually exist, why does the Lord say, "Many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord,...' and I will say, "Away from me, workers of iniquity, I never knew you"?
But if agape is the difference between a Christian's faith and the knowledge of demons, if it is a disposition of the will, as much within my power by supernatural assistance as choosing to write this post or not, then it would appear that the Council Fathers at Trent had been correct.
But in fact, this has never been about re-emphasizing the objective redemption of Christ against those who would replace it with self-effort; it's about the authority and the terms by which that redemption is applied.

I Thought It, So Now You Read It

5 Thoughts For Today

5. From the Disability Files: "I haven't fallen, but I can't get up, either."

4. And again: "Can you help me out of bed? I have to go, and I'm not sure what will happen."

3. I reserve the right to use demeaning phrases like "wheelchair kid" to describe myself, or anyone else under the age of 60.

2. No, Carlos Beltran is not a Hall Of Fame-caliber baseball player. That said, there are few as talented.

1. Being a non-Catholic at Mass is a lot like making out when you're not married. It's exciting at first, but then you realize, "Wait, this is stupid (and wrong)." [You sicken me.--ed.]

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Why The Lion King?

People are often surprised when I tell them it's my favorite movie. They suspect me of some kind of silliness, which I grant, is not a huge leap. But it's legitimately a great movie. When we begin, we are witnesses to either a baptism, or an anointing, and it isn't clear which. We see the ray of sunlight fall upon the boy who would be king, and we are invited to draw the obvious conclusions from what is left of our religious heritage.

We meet King Mufasa, who remains the moral center of the film throughout, and from whom all the good characters derive their authority and example. As I like to say, the morality play is straight up; we identify with the good characters, and are repulsed by the bad ones. When Simba gets in trouble, his father calls to him in the darkness; he steps into the huge footprint left by his father. There's a whole commentary about fathers and sons written into those wordless seconds.

The problem of the film is gut-wrenching; if you have never seen it, it will move you.

Simba finds two funny friends in the desert, and I can't say it better than Simba: "Timon and Pumbaa; you'll learn to love 'em." Simba and his friends learn that we can't stay where we are, even when it's comfortable.

It's funny when it needs to be, and it's serious when it needs to be. Everyone has duties to perform, even when we must face the past to perform them.

It's the Joseph story with lions. You get a little Shakespeare, political intrigue, and great songs. You need to see it, if you haven't.

Haiku For You

Your Son, the first-fruits;
His cross your suffering, too.
Your triumph is ours.

Gospel Meditation

It's from Luke 11:27-28. I found it humorous that the Church gives us these 2 verses on the day we celebrate the Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into Heaven. Then again, even Mary always says it's not about her.

She's all too happy to receive our prayers and songs, because it magnifies Him. Notice how the Lord speaks to the woman who calls out; Mary is nothing; Christ is everything. Like us, everything she has, she received. When God makes a promise, it's done. One day, our souls will be reunited with our bodies in the resurrection. The greatest victory we can have is total triumph over death. And Mary's triumph is a further pledge of our triumph in Him.

Hard to argue with that.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Thanks For The Heads-Up

You're one of those people. Now I know. I probably should have known. I understand a little bit of why you have so much else to do; if you wrote all the time, we we'd be quivering sob-monsters for the rest of our lives.

A fair warning, dear audience: You don't just bounce back from stories like this.

Death is a great teacher, but it gives rise to a lie that Satan likes to use: that we didn't do enough or say enough. It's possible we didn't in any one case, but it's also possible that we did. Friends know; they hear "I love you" in the oddest moments and phrases. Some of us need to hear the words, but some of us hear the words in all the little moments that make us friends.

Mourn, but don't let the pain tell a different story. Remember: There can never be enough words when we're not supposed to die in the first place.

The Haiku Strikes Back

I sat in silence
unaware perhaps that Sleep
demanded a word.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


5 More Thoughts

5. That awkward Republican moment when you read something in Salon and say, "That was pretty good."

4. Slate really is annoyingly liberal now, without Mickey Kaus. Is that ironic, that a former writer for The New Republic and author of The End Of Equality should be appreciated by conservatives?

3. But then, I read The Atlantic, too.

2. Someone bring back Newsweek! I promise, not long ago, it was really good!

1. I used to read, but it has too much of a personal edge. [You're not conservative at all, are you?--ed.] Yes, I am. But I love information. I love it.

Just Win, Baby!

5 Thoughts For Today

5. Behind every great man are scores of gentle mockers.

4. Deal-breaker for seeing someone: "She spells things wrong. A lot."

3. Well, actually, Johnny Irish, I don't think a third pint would be prudent.

2. I don't like it when people profess their love for old music by comparing it positively to something they hate from today. Can't whatever you happen to like just be what it is?

1. Just think, people: When Columbo was always going on about his wife, he was referring to Kate Mulgrew. Well played, Lieutenant, well played.

"Then The Subjects Are Exempt."

This was the verse that stuck out in meditation tonight. I suppose it's ironic, given the fact that much of the criticism of Protestant theology is due to its denial that there is such a thing as meritorious works, but it really can't be stressed enough: We cannot earn our keep with God. It is both necessary and biblical to speak of merit, but it really is like borrowing Dad's wallet to buy the clay to make him an ugly ashtray.

The challenge of what the Church does say to us regarding grace and salvation is that, knowing we have gone from enemies to sons, a son or daughter doesn't punch Daddy in the face just to make him prove his love. On the other hand, we're pretty broken in general; we may continue to need convincing. The reason he adopted us is because that other man hurt us on purpose, and laughed as others beat and battered us, leaving us to die.

So, I tend to think of the treasury of merits in light of that other verse: "And they had everything in common." It's a huge inheritance that will never run out. If you need it, just ask! But only a son or daughter can ask. Where do we really believe that Daddy is not Daddy, who loves us entirely?

Monday, August 12, 2013

How "Union with Christ" made me a Catholic

It's one of the most popular buzzwords in evangelical theology today, and for good reason. One cannot help but notice how tightly intertwined God's work in redemption is with man's expected response in the life of sanctification. We have to credit the good commentators in the evangelical world with this: not many are explicitly antinomian, or intend to say that the justified sinner has no need to pursue holiness. That would be a strawman.

But the problem with the bifurcation between justification and sanctification is a theological one. There is a reason why the debate in the 16th century turned on imputation versus infusion, and it is not because the reformers restored the priority of grace, as much as evangelical pastors and theologians would like it to be so. The debate turned not on grace, but on the freedom of the will or the lack of it in the life of grace.

The very heart of the Reformation is the contention that by grace alone through faith alone, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer. He is justified not by works he does, but by the freedom that comes from knowing that he is completely acquitted before God because of the righteousness of Christ. As the Westminster Confession of Faith states, "He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

II. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness..." (WCF, chapter XI, paragraphs I-IIa) The Augsburg Confession, the historic statement of faith for Lutherans, says it this way: "Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4." (Article 4) It cannot be made more plain, but in case it is necessary, we will go to the Smalcald Articles, wherein Dr. Luther himself says, "What I have hitherto and constantly taught concerning this I know not how to change in the least, namely, that by faith, as St. Peter says, we acquire a new and clean heart, and God will and does account us entirely righteous and holy for the sake of Christ, our Mediator. And although sin in the flesh has not yet been altogether removed or become dead, yet He will not punish or remember it."

So, it is not the fault of certain un-ecumenical agitators like R. Scott Clark that a certain "hyper-forensic" notion of justification became synonymous with the Reformation; in fact, this notion of justification is the heart of the Reformation. I will readily grant that studies in biblical theology, and reflections on covenant theology in the light of the biblical data is causing many to reformulate their understandings of justification "in Christ" and to soften the edges of the polemical boundaries that emerged in the 16th century between Catholics and Protestants. Frankly, it is causing the children of that Reformation to forget what the dispute is really about. As such, their movement towards a more synergistic and participatory soteriology does not carry the automatic implication of returning to the Catholic Church, but it should. For my part, as I have said before, it was never about denying the goodness of the progressive pursuit of holiness as such; it was rather a question of its necessity, given that we were righteous in God's sight for the sake of Christ. That is, there is no soteriological necessity for the pursuit of holiness, at least as a participatory effort between God and man. Yet the Westminster Confession of Faith states quite plainly, "yet it is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it" after the necessary noises about it not being a cause of satisfaction for sin. If it is not an occasion for the satisfaction of sin, why is it necessary? If I'm justified in the sight of God by the obedience and satisfaction of Christ, God cannot see my numerous failures, let alone require repentance for them.

But let's tell the truth: "justification by faith alone" has a connotation that has nothing to do with its precise meaning on either side. In practical life for the Christian, it means "God loves me, and I don't have to earn his favor." As such, it remains for the theologians of the Church to emphasize that we cannot in our own power please God. It has never been a teaching of the Catholic Church that man is capable of pleasing God by his own efforts. This is Pelagianism, and if I may, we were anti-Pelagian before it was cool.

The debate between Catholics and Protestants then and now is about the nature of the faith which justifies. It is inappropriate to credit Protestantism in its use of the phrase "faith alone" as obviously referring to living faith, because the Church's rejection of the phrase is based upon the failure to make the distinction between living faith and dead faith in the first place. This love as a theological virtue is an act of the will, the very same will that the reformers took great pains to deny, at least with respect to its agency in justification. We are told over and over that the reformers never meant faith alone to equal the intellectual assent to certain propositions. But, absent the love, unformed faith is exactly that. If true faith is assent to what God has revealed, fired by love, then the Council of Trent was right all along. If it is within the power of a man to recognize the difference between merely assenting to the truth, and being set on fire by the Holy Spirit to live a life worthy of Christ, then he was never so unable as the reformers seem to suggest, and it is long past time to return home.

Leithart, Again

"The Reformation was not a triumph of word over sacrament; it was a triumph of sacraments." --Peter Leithart

5 Snarky Thoughts About That

5. Going from 7 to 2 hardly sounds like a triumph.

4. The Apostles are gratified to know that they died so you could believe the same thing as the patriarchs of the Old Covenant about the sacraments.

3. Zwingli called; he says you're wrong.

2. As does Menno Simons, and every other "reformer" who is not invested emotionally in being a pretend Catholic.

1. Your compatriots celebrate the triumph of sacraments by observing the Supper every quarter.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Show Me 5

5 Thoughts For Today

5. Could we win today please, Cardinals?

4. I'm going to see West Side Story!

3. Pop standards. The end.

2. I probably will buy popcorn, because I have no self-control.

1. "Small world, isn't it?"