Friday, April 27, 2007

Salvation from Sin

Furthering the conversation on progress or growth in the Christian life, I offer this from George MacDonald:
The Lord never came to deliver men from the consequences of their sins while yet those sins remained: that would be to cast out of window the medicine of cure while yet the man lay sick; to go dead against the very laws of being. Yet men, loving their sins, and feeling nothing of their dread hatefulness, have, consistently with their low condition, constantly taken this word concerning the Lord to mean that he came to save them from the punishment of their sins. The idea-the miserable fancy rather-has terribly corrupted the preaching of the gospel. The message of the good news has not been truly delivered. Unable to believe in the forgiveness of their Father in heaven, imagining him not at liberty to forgive, or incapable of forgiving forthright; not really believing him God our Saviour, but a God bound, either in his own nature or by a law above him and compulsory upon him, to exact some recompense or satisfaction for sin, a multitude of teaching men have taught their fellows that Jesus came to bear our punishment and save us from hell. They have represented a result as the object of his mission-the said result nowise to be desired by true man save as consequent on the gain of his object. The mission of Jesus was from the same source and with the same object as the punishment of our sins. He came to work along with our punishment. He came to side with it, and set us free from our sins. No man is safe from hell until he is free from his sins; but a man to whom his sins, that is the evil things in him, are a burden, while he may indeed sometimes feel as if he were in hell, will soon have forgotten that ever he had any other hell to think of than that of his sinful condition. For to him his sins are hell; he would go to the other hell to be free of them; free of them, hell itself would be endurable to him. For hell is God's and not the devil's. Hell is on the side of God and man, to free the child of God from the corruption of death. Not one soul will ever be redeemed from hell but by being saved from his sins, from the evil in him. If hell be needful to save him, hell will blaze, and the worm will writhe and bite, until he takes refuge in the will of the Father.
The full sermon may be found here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Last week I posted a selection from Gerhard Forde about sanctification, and some good discussion followed. I'm still unsettled on the topic. There was a time when I took everything I read from Dr. Forde as truth. I still admire his work, but I'm not so sure I can fully get on board with him anymore.

The Forde passage I quoted spoke of the dangers of "talk of progress." Brian commented that "progress is exactly the WRONG question." I agree, I think, but as Brian also observed it's hard to get the human mind away from viewing life this way.

Anything I work at, I get better at. If I play a game frequently, I get better at it. Through years of experience, my skill as a software engineer has steadily increased. With discipline, I've been able to improve my eating habits. If I'm not becoming a better Christian, why not?

Now at this point Lutherans are biting their tongues to not shout something about what it means to be a "better" Christian. I once heard it said that the utensils in the Temple weren't holy because they were better utensils that any other utensils but were holy simply because they were in the Temple. And so we turn again, as always, to the question of justification.

But wait a minute. The gift is a call, right? When Christ calls us, he calls us to mission. To be a Christian is to be a disciple of Christ, and surely that is something that we can get better at, isn't it?

Jesus told a parable, "What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, 'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered,'I go, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" (Mt. 21:28-31)

Now perhaps this has nothing to do with salvation. Maybe it doesn't even have anything to do with sanctification. But what does it matter? Shouldn't we be getting better at this?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Yes, Jesus Loves Me

As part of my daily routine, I pray using the PDA version of Sacred Space during lunch. Because the lunch room at work is noisy, I listen to music as background noise to help keep my focus. Generally, I don't notice the music much. Today, I happened to be listening to John Fahey's Return of the Repressed.

The scripture reading for today on Sacred Space was John 3:16-17, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." Generally, it's hard to hear such a familiar verse with fresh ears. Today, what spoke to me were the words "God so loved".

It's far too easy to slip into thinking of Jesus in terms of doctrine or proclamation. It's much harder, for me at least, to actually connect with Jesus in terms of the love of God. I don't mean to see Jesus' life as an expression of God's love, but rather to actually feel loved by God when thinking of Jesus. That is, it's hard for me to connect to it personally.

So today I was ruminating on these things, and I prayed for God to give me the grace to make this kind of personal connection. About that time, I noticed the song playing in my earplugs. It was "The Sea of Love." Now, the Fahey album is instrumental, but this song has just the right mix of familiarity and simplicity so that the lyrics flow in my mind when I hear the music.

Call me sappy, if you must. Say I'm reading to much into a coincidence, if you must. But I was touched. And so I just sat silently and listening, imagining Jesus was sitting there with me playing this song for me (and perhaps laughing at me just a bit).

And then when the song was over I said a concluding prayer as the next song started, like the music accompanying the credits after a movie. The next song? "Yes, Jesus Loves Me"!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Forde on Sanctification

In the comments on an earlier post, the question of sanctification was raised. I recalled some remarks by Gerhard Forde questioning the possibility, even, of progress in the Christian life. I found the remarks I was thinking of in the book Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Santification in which Forde offered the Lutheran position.

His central thesis is that sanctification is nothing more and nothing less than "the art of getting used to unconditional justification." He concludes the essay as follows:
In many ways, this essay has been an appeal for more truthfulness in our talk about the Christian life and sanctification. I think that should be the mark of sanctification as well. As Paul put it, we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought (Rom. 12:3).

The talk of progress and growth we usually indulge in leads us all too often to do just that. But if we are saved and sanctified only by the unconditional grace of God, we ought to be able to become more truthful and lucid about the way things really are with us. Amd I making progress? If I am really honest, it seems to me that the question is odd, even a little ridiculous. As I get older and death draws nearer, it doesn't seem to get any easier. I get a little more impatient, a little more anxious about having perhaps missed what this life has to offer, a litter slower, harder to move, a little more sedentary and set in my ways. ... Well, maybe it seems as though I sin less, but that may only be because I'm getting tired! It's just too hard to keep indulging the lusts of youth. Is that sanctification? I wouldn't think so! One should not, I expect, mistake encroaching senility for sanctification!

But can it be, perhaps, that it is precisely the unconditional gift of grace that helps me to see and admit all that? I hope so. The grace of God should lead us to see the truth about ourselves, and to gain a certain lucidity, a certain sense of humor, a certain down-to-earthness. When we come to realize that if are going to be saved, it shall have to be absolutely by grace alone, then we shall be sanctified. God will have his way with us at last.
Comments anyone?

Friday, April 13, 2007

As Heard on "Here and Now"

"Any time you have gone to a place where Snoop Dog does not want to be associated with you because you are so deeply immoral, that is a good moment for self-reflection."
-Melissa Harris Lacewell, reflecting on the Don Imus controversy

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Life and the Cross

In discussing the transformative nature of prayer, Hans Urs von Balthasar discusses "the great danger of ironing out the immense drama which lies between the 'world's end' and 'heaven's beginning' and rendering it...flat and 'harmless'."

It seems to me that this is one of the decisively unique aspects of von Balthasar's theology. I have not found in any other theologian such a profound appreciation for the significance of Holy Saturday -- both in the life of Christ and, by extension, in the life of the Christian.

It seems to me that most Christians would be happy to skip directly from Palm Sunday to Easter, with the Cross as little more than a support that props up the bridge between these two triumphs. Good Friday (even the name says this) is something experienced by Christ, not by his followers. He died in our place, so we live the triumphant life. He died, so we don't have to.

But notice: we're going to die.

Our typical de facto theology doesn't match up well with experience -- certainly not in the long run and usually not in the short run either.

And this is what von Balthasar calls us to notice. The Christian life involves death. The servant is not greater than the master. We can't get to Easter any other way than through the Cross. And so we should expect to experience darkness, even the darkness and God forsakeness of the Cross. It's a sobering thought.

Paul says, "if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him." Look at the verb tenses. We have died. We will live.

It seems to me that the whole Christian life is lived between Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday. Easter exists for us only in faith.


If you've stopped by more than once, you've probably noticed that I haven't been blogging much lately. One possibility is that I've had other things on my mind. To investigate this possibility, I've started a new blog, this one about baseball. If you like baseball, check it out -- A Swing And A Miss.

So far I've just whined about MLB Mosaic and unveiled a really bad fantasy baseball strategy.