Saturday, May 09, 2015

More Thoughts

Following up on some things I said regarding Piper and holiness, let me reiterate that I don't see an outbreak of antinomianism in the Reformed ranks; at least people aren't talking that way. I think most people I know have really good practical theology; I never ran with people who enjoy grieving the Holy Spirit.

That said, the tensions are real, and there will be a manifestation of tendencies--either antinomianism or scrupulosity--precisely because there is no theological necessity to pursue holiness, given the assertion of imputed righteousness. Either your own awareness of continuing sin will cause you to doubt whether the legal transaction has taken place, or, as the obvious consequence of believing the  Protestant dogma concerning the work of Christ, you will in good faith ignore your own subjective awareness of sin. If the Father doesn't see my sin, why should I?

God can't justly punish the same sins twice. He either punished them and cancelled them once for all at the cross of Christ, or he didn't. If he did, then repentance--a turning away from, and renunciation of sin--may be desirable in some way, but it isn't theologically necessary. The innocent have no need to curse themselves. If he didn't, you might as well be Catholic. In fact, repentance is a kind of satisfaction for sin. The Westminster divines had been on to something in the Confession, chapter 15: God does see everything. No one will be tricking God with hidden things.

I never have met any Christian who denied the objective fact of Christ's once-for-all sacrifice. Thus, the debate between the Reformers and the Catholic Church was about how the work of Christ is appropriated and applied to us. The 5 "Solas" of the Protestant Reformation say in effect say one thing: We don't need the Church's ministrations to be right with God. It's a liturgical point, more than anything else. Here's the million-dollar question: Is that really true? (No, it isn't.)

I became free to consider that intellectual question when I became (more) fully convinced of God's love for me. I knew that I could seek the truth--and discern it from error--when I stopped associating my experience of God's love with questionable dogmatic assertions. Quite frankly, I think most people today have as much critical reflection on "Sola Fide" as they do on, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so," which is to say, none at all. You don't think about the latter; you just believe it, and rightly so. That's no way to find the truth, though. Luther and Calvin could be wrong, and my world will not collapse. What a beautiful and terrible moment! When I re-tell the story of what it was like to preach during this time, I get pretty emotional, but saying, "Don't ask me about justification, because I don't know. I only know God loves us" is another way of saying that I had learned not to beg the question. Polemics seems pretty easy, when you turn your opponents into stupid, godless, oppressive trolls. If one choice is beyond the pale because of this, you're not really discerning anything; you are reinforcing a tribal and personal identity.

A few thoughts to ponder.

Friday, May 08, 2015

No, Seriously: I Love Karl Barth

I've only read a little by him. Prayer. But if you do, you'll realize this is the type of non-Catholic you want to run into. He's warm, charitable, innovative, and passionate. This really does leap off the page at you.

Naturally, the grounding for some of his beliefs will not survive challenge. He is on one side of the gateway to biblical liberalism. I get that. He was most likely a universalist. He didn't understand the Catholic Church he rejected.

It's pretty obvious he is at least the most important non-Catholic theologian of the 20th century. You can find him at the heart of what we now know as evangelicalism. Somebody had to reply to the German higher criticism from pretty close to the inside.

I'm going to read his commentary on Romans. I'm justly intrigued. Judge away.

The Day The Regulative Principle Became Meaningless

There I was, minding my own business, reading John Frame. Worship In Spirit And Truth. Enjoyable book, even if unconvincing. Even though I agreed at the time that there's nothing overtly scandalous about contemporary worship. And it's obvious John Frame loves Christ, and the people to whom he ministers. I felt it was pretty easy to make the case that Frame didn't hold the RPW at all. The Regulative Principle of Worship, if you are scoring at home. To wit: If you don't have explicit biblical warrant to do a thing in worship, or it cannot be reasonably inferred from what is there, you can't do whatever it is you want to do.

I'd just left a guest lecture on liturgy from a dude named Mike, who will remain otherwise nameless, to protect the guilty. The Deb definitely knows this guy. He was recapping a great essay he'd just written for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society on the development of Reformed liturgy. Within it, this brother made the most amazing statement, to this effect: "Whether one thinks something is 'biblical' depends on one's hermeneutical grid." Crash. That's just it, man. There's exclusive psalm-singers, their opposite, and everybody in between. All believing that they are both faithfully Reformed, and "biblical." There's that word again. The billion dollar question, no one can really answer: Who decides what "biblical" means?

You can unfriend me on the Book of Face, you can lament for the soul of your Catholic priest uncle, you can take as much pride in your hermeneutical skill as you want, but the truth is still lurking there: Christianity has to be able to distinguish revelation from human opinion. The only reason "conservative" Protestant communities survive at this moment is that they subsist on Catholic truth, applied in an ad hoc fashion. Private interpretation will eventually undo these links with the historic past. If you want to believe in unchanging, supernaturally revealed Truth, you will eventually be Catholic. I suppose you might die before this happens, but if you acted in good faith, you'll be Catholic in your heart, and you'll know.

I want to find Mr. Lake's friend, who denies the Trinity as a matter of biblical conviction. The mere existence of such people refutes the argument that orthodoxy survives an appeal to the allegedly perspicuous Scriptures alone. Arius never thought he was unbiblical. No one ever does.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Angel Of Music Sings Songs In My Head

I've had "I Still Believe" by Mariah Carey in my head since Spotify e-mailed me to tell me it was available. I don't even like that song.

Thanks. Thanks a lot.

Monday, May 04, 2015


I've now seen the much-hyped fight. And for free, thanks to the hackers who ruined the US providers the night of the fight.

I had the fight 9 rounds to 3, in favor of Mayweather. (I like the "10-point must" scoring system; I just don't feel like doing math.) It was really almost uninterrupted domination by Mayweather; it's hard to hit a guy who moves that fast, even at 38. Manny Pacquiao didn't jab; a double-jab more consistently would have allowed him to get inside Floyd Mayweather's longer reach. It did certainly seem like Manny was concerned about counter right hands, and he ate a few, anyway. I wouldn't mind a rematch; no one will do better than Manny, and plenty have done worse.

I can appreciate the desire not to in any way support Mayweather's violence against women, even indirectly. But alas, I didn't pay anything. I think most of the world was rooting for Manny, also. He seems like a good person.

I can also respect those who might think it's un-Christian to watch boxing itself. In my view, though, boxing is a brotherhood; rare is the fight between two men with true malice. It's a sport of tactics and strategy more than brute force, and we anticipate both men will emerge no worse for wear, in the long run. Each person must weigh the benefits and the risks associated with making a lengthy career of it, but I'm not likely to stop watching football, either. Frankly, however, I would not raise a fuss if professionals began to wear safety helmets common to amateur boxing.

Boxing is still my second favorite sport, behind baseball. There is very little better in sport than a great fight. Most people who say boxing is dead have never loved the sport, truly.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Why PhDs In Theology Commit Adultery

It's not rocket science. People desire sexual pleasure, perhaps more than any other natural thing. Since the Fall, we desire wrong sex even more than the right kind. If they don't know about grace, not only as the favor of God, but as the power of God unto right living, they are easy pickings.

John Piper might even agree with this. The galling part is, he's not being a very good Baptist and Protestant in that agreement. The difference between knowledge and love is participation, the very participation the Reformers took great pains to deny.

A great many people who have this pointed out to them are quite annoyed; they have a lot invested in pretending that "monergism" isn't just how it sounds: God does it all, to the praise of His glorious "grace". (Or justice.)

It's very true that we cannot be saved merely by what we do. It's equally true that we aren't saved merely by what we say. If you agree, welcome to the Catholic Church!

I Don't Know

There are things in theology that definitely qualify as distractions. Oddly enough, the people who know the least are the people most invested in things that don't matter. I should note the kind of "knowing" I'm talking about: it's a heart-knowing. Who is God? What is He about? The people who are invested in this question are doing theology; others are disputing facts and figures, as though this were the NFL Draft.

I am working to cultivate "I don't know" as the proper response to things that don't matter; it has quite a close relation in meaning to, "I don't care" in context.

If you read Genesis 1-3, and you don't say, "I need a Savior," you have missed the boat. There are hundreds of secondary questions related to that theme that deserve investigation, and Heaven help those tasked with those pursuits. Yet it seems like all the heat and light comes from things that don't matter. Let me put it a funny way:

"Exactly how long have we been in this dire, hopeless state, awaiting our salvation? How are we to understand this empirical data, filtered through an atheistic materialist worldview? I'm not sure we can go on doing our most important task, until these Very Important Questions have been answered."

Um, no. This very day, we go to proclaim Him who was sent in the last days as our redemption, who has brought even us near to the household of God. If you can't get excited about that, you need a reset button.