Monthly Archives: October 2006

Self-justification?

Derek Thomas expresses what he thinks Calvin would have said. Much of this is simply incapable of interaction because I have no idea where Derek is getting his version of the New Perspective. My wish is that people would respond to Dunn, or Sanders, or Wright, or Garlington, etc. It is simply too hard to pin down what is the target when one hears of the dreaded “New Perspecitve.” Often it sems to be a catch-all for everything that is wrong in the world in the eyes of the critic.

I will address one thing that Derek writes:

As someone who believed medieval Rome taught a piecemeal salvation through a treadmill of sacramental performance, something which he equated in its essence to that of inter-testamental Judaism (aka Pharisaism) as a religion which rung the changes on works-righteousness — seeing both of these as examples of man’s innate tendency to idolatry and self-justification…

This is interesting. Partly, I do think Thomas has a point, not about what would have happened if Calvin had met someone from the twenty-first century, but rather what did happen. Calvin did read Romans and Galatians as mostly a theological treatise on human efforts in salvation over against trusting what God had done in Christ. Calvin’s theology was fine but I don’t think it is as central to Romans and Galatians as Calvin thought it was.

On the other hand, Calvin also viewed Rome and Judaism alike precisely because his view was big enough to permit something that looks quite a bit like “the new perspective” as far as I can see.

Self-justification can just as easily refer to presumption on grace, as the claim to have earned God’s favor.

Three plus infinity cheers for Reformation Day

We celebrate Reformation Day because Reformation Day is important.

But we also celebrate Reformation Day that it may be important. Always important.

What would we be if we did not mention Reformation Day?

If Reformation Day were not kept, then people might not remember that the history of Western Europe is more important than any other history.

If Reformation Day were not kept, then all we would have are teachings from the Bible that any Christian might own as their own, whether they were from China or West Africa.

If Reformation Day were not kept, the memory of Western Civilization might fade, and the Church might be left with the Bible and their own cultural heritages, as if they could ever be as important as Europe in the 1500s.

If Reformation Day were not kept, then people might think that, had Luther not posted his theses, that some other shmoe would have found himself at the center of a similar controversy the next week, or the next day.

If Reformation Day were not kept, how would we know who we are? We would merely be Christians who believed the Bible, not the glorious tribe that we are with our holy founders (all tribes worship their ancestors) our sacred songs and magic places (we don’t make pilgrimages to Rome; we try to go do grad work in Scotland and weep with pleasure to hear a preacher with a brogue).

Being a Reformed believer without Reformation Day would be like being a Presbyterian without ten generations of Presbyterians in our lineage to glory in.

One can never say enough good things about Reformation Day.

The reason why you pay well

The reason why you pay well is to get someone’s undivided attention. People can promise great work, but if they are distracted they simply won’t be able to fulfill that promise.

You pay to get life out of the way of your employee or contractor.

What does “Hell House” mean?

This sort of thing really seems self-destructive. How can someone believe they are doing a good thing through a “Hell House” ministry?

The perennial response seems to be “if one soul is saved…” But that won’t answer. We’re not only told to save souls; we’re told not to damn them. We forget this because we think there is an awful lot of damnation out there already. But who is to say that people who might be open to hearing the Gospel won’t be closed as a result of this rather offensive activity?

In other words, the success of “Hell House,” if there is any, is akin to the “success” of government programs that the politicians will brag about. After hampering the economy with taxation and barriers to free exchange, the government will then use a tiny percentage of the loot to create a token success. (“Look, we got Bass Pro to move into our town after promising them subsidies from the taxes of the nine smaller sports shops they are going to drive out of business. Isn’t it great what can happen when government and business work together?”) And so it is with obnoxious tactics. The Evangelist will, eventually, probably find a convert, and use him to justify all. He never has to account for the way he has sent ninety-nine others fleeing into the wild. Since Christianity expects some amount of opposition and persecution, the resulting offense can all be claimed as a result of faithfulness.

The success, no matter how paltry, is visible; and the damage, no matter how great, is not.

Internet: From Wild West to Al Capone’s Chicago

This is a pretty amazing story about internet war and how the villains can destroy the good guys. Read it.

Crimson Dark

Since I haven’t figured out the sidebar yet, remember to check out Crimson Dark. Here is the latest page (at this time).

(I have to admit I’m getting frustrated with web comics. If someone had told me to only read a page of a comic book every two days, I would have told them to go away. If only I had enough self-control to wait for a chapter to be done and then read it all at once. But I don’t and I never will, not in this life.)

Web 0.0 and the Reformation

I somehow managed to write this without including the line I thought of that made me want to create a context in order to write it.

Did Luther think of his 95 Theses as specifically “theology” over against other areas of life. I think he did. Why? For only one reason: he wanted an academic disputation. That was all he was expecting–a tempest in a university at most.

But the printing press had been invented.

The bottome line is the reformation happened because the campus intranet wasn’t kept secure from the newly developed Western European internet.

The Reformation was viral marketing. Luther was the first blogger.

Can infant faith be rejected consistently?

Infant faith or infant seed faith (if not, full-blown faith, plainly still enough by which to be justified before God) has a long and unambiguous history in the Reformed heritage. It isn’t even a close call. Nevertheless, since anti-paedocommunionism is now reaching epistemological self-consciousness, we find some Presbyterians arguing that the Westminster Confession and Catechisms define faith as something that is impossible for infants. Thus, they reason, anyone who agrees with the overwhelming majority report in the Reformed heritage, both before and after and in the Westminster Assembly, is denying the correct definition of faith. Thus, they are in serious error, tampering with, revising, and/or redefining (by agreeing with errorists from John Calvin to Francis Turretin) the definition of justifying faith.

Well, aside from the flagrant revisionism, I have a question. A simple one.

Are believers justified while they sleep? If so, how?

What Hath Madonna to do with Geneva? Thoughts for Reformation Day

A lot of this is pure speculation, especially about Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone, of whom I know next to nothing for sure (web research brings both curse and blessing), other than that she is obviously extremely talented and just as obviously extremely anti-Christian.

I suppose the fact that I think there is some continuity between Madonna and the Reformation in Sixteenth-century Europe will bring great satisfaction to any number of Roman Catholics (if there are any who care what I think) who have always known that the heart of Protestantism was nothing more than libertine rebellion. We’ve seen Roman Catholics attempt this interpretation, for example, in E. Michael Jones’ Degenerate Moderns: Modernity As Rationalized Sexual Misbehavior.

Well, I’m not underwriting Ciccone’s entire ethic here. I am wondering out loud, however, to what extent her own background in Roman Catholicism–a Roman Catholicism transmitted from her father, “a strict Italian Catholic who raised his family in an atmosphere of religious observance” might be similar to what inspired a catholic monk to write tracts about the spirituality of changing diapers. Roman Catholic spirituality has surely changed in the last five hundred years, and has different permutations as it is transmitted through various groups in various settings. But it is hard for me to listen to “the material girl” living “in the material world” and not wonder if the same otherworldly ideal that was suffocating life in late medieval Europe was not affecting family life in conservative Catholic families in Michigan in the late 50s.

When we speak of the Reformation today, and this would equally be true of secular historians as well as many Christians, we commonly claim to be speaking about “theology.” But look at the first three theses nailed on that door 489 years ago:

  1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
  2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.
  3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.

So here we have the beginning of the beginning of the Reformation and what do we find? An attack on the mandated practices of society. A denial of the authority over men’s behavior. An attack on any retreat to an inward world. A demand for a new life–not a life for some in the monastery, but a life to be lived by all, everyone who was formerly under the mandates of their village priest.

This new vision of life is based on a new vision of God. This too comes to view right away. Thesis #5: “The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God’s remission.” So there is no one to go to to get God to be forgiving to you. Rather, God is the one who is already abounding in forgiveness and others should assure you of that fact. There is no condemnation that you need to get someone to spare you from. God forgives.

We miss what was going on because we think of church fundraising as such a minor issue in life. It is a minor issue in our lives. But in the sixteenth-century we were talking about the economy of a civil kingdom that had international revenue sources. When Luther wrote [in theses 81-88] that:

This unbridled preaching of pardons [in exchange for money] makes it no easy matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of the laity.To wit: — “Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.”

Again: — “Why are mortuary and anniversary masses for the dead continued, and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?”

Again: — “What is this new piety of God and the pope, that for money they allow a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God, and do not rather, because of that pious and beloved soul’s own need, free it for pure love’s sake?”

Again: — “Why are the penitential canons long since in actual fact and through disuse abrogated and dead, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were still alive and in force?”

Again: — “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?”

Again: — “What is it that the pope remits, and what participation does he grant to those who, by perfect contrition, have a right to full remission and participation?”

Again: — “What greater blessing could come to the Church than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now does once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?”

–when he wrote these things he was attacking international trade. These statements are more like, today, destroying federal currency or spreading claims that a bank is insolvent (both of which are totally illegal in the US, the First Amendment notwithstanding).

But perhaps by mentioning such great public issues, I’m digressing from the personal liberation that got me thinking about Madonna and Geneva. Well, perhaps I am, but given the facts of household budgeting, I can’t help but think that discussions of whether or not to liberate Grandma from a thousand years of flaming torments or put food on the table might not have some personal ramifications. It was an international issue for the Pope and cardinals and kings and princes, but I imagine Luther as a pastor might have witnessed the issue from a more personal level.

In any case, Luther’s “theological writings” are stuffed with direct this-worldy concerns about personal liberation from crippling ideals that were, in fact, inhuman slaveries.

Thus it is true, as men say, that parents, although they had nothing else to do, could attain salvation by training their own children; if they rightly train them to God’s service, they will indeed have both hands full of good works to do. For what else are here the hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, sick, strangers, than the souls of your own children? with whom God makes of your house a hospital, and sets you over them as chief nurse, to wait on them, to give them good words and works as meat and drink, that they may learn to trust, believe and fear God, and to place their hope on Him, to honor His Name, not to swear nor curse, to mortify themselves by praying, fasting, watching, working, to attend worship and to hear God’s Word, and to keep the Sabbath, that they may learn to despise temporal things, to bear misfortune calmly, and not to fear death nor to love this life.See, what great lessons are these, how many good works you have before you in your home, with your child, that needs all these things like a hungry, thirsty, naked, poor, imprisoned, sick soul. O what a blessed marriage and home were that where such parents were to be found! Truly it would be a real Church, a chosen cloister, yea, a paradise. Of such says Psalm cxxviii:

“Blessed are they that fear God, and walk in His Commandments; thou shalt eat of the labor of thine hands; therefore thou shalt be happy, and it shall be well with thee. Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine in thine house, and thy children shall be as the young scions of laden olive trees about thy table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed, that feareth the Lord,” etc.

Where are such parents? Where are they that ask after good works? Here none wishes to come. Why? God has commanded it; the devil, flesh and blood pull away from it; it makes no show, therefore it counts for nothing. Here this husband runs to St. James, that wife vows a pilgrimage to Our Lady; no one vows that he will properly govern and teach himself and his child to the honor of God; he leaves behind those whom God has commanded him to keep in body and soul, and would serve God in some other place, which has not been commanded him. Such perversity no bishop forbids, no preacher corrects; nay, for covetousness’ sake they confirm it and daily only invent more pilgrimages, elevations of saints, indulgence-fairs. God have pity on such blindness.

So what is the life God loves? What is the life that is just in his sight? The life of the monastary? The life of celibacy and self-abnegation? No. The life of Christian normalcy–the life of husbands, wives, parents children. A life without the oppresive guilt felt because one resists being celibate and single and poor and alone.

This is no rare thing in the writings of the Reformation. And even the more theoretical issues have behind them these basic issues. One should never think of the debates over the presence of Christ in the Lord’s supper without thinking of the power of a ruler to put God in a processional under his own control and watch his people bow to him/it.

So while I don’t think it is a just response, when someone goes by the name “Madonna” and occasionally makes a point of including her confirmation name (“Veronica”) as part of her identity, and makes a point blasphemously liberating a priest from a confessional or doing projects with names like “sex,” I wonder if there isn’t a connection.

It is intriguing to me that Madonna was also her mother’s name. She died when our Madonna was only five. Madonna ascended in importance in the late medieval age precisely because God was so cold and distant and angry people were looking for an iintermediary who was more sympathetc. Even if devoid of sex, at least everyone could still admit that she was a mother in a family. That’s as close to real life as anyone was going to get among the saints.

Of course, Madonna’s response is not really an affirmation of any world beyond that of Hollywood/media-financed fantasy. In the real world, not many people can expose themselves in erotica and have any sort of life they want. Luther’s ideal was, by any account, pagan or Christian, more attainable and helpful for more people.

Be that as it may, while the Church will always have to respond to pansexual ideals that can be presented more attractively than any sermon, we should probably be careful in how we react. Pagan hedonism is not the only form of paganism. There is a pagan asceticism as well that when, mixed with Christian ideals, can produce a world in which people believe they are second class, and due for a few centuries in Purgatory at least, all for the crime of falling in love and getting married.

New blog!

Suddenly blogger refuses to let me update my template. I don’t have time to do anything with it, but I am forced to move here. Congratulations on finding me.