Wednesday, March 31, 2010

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Is Baptism Necessary?


I was recently asked the question: do Lutherans say "one must be baptized in order to be saved." I thought I might share the answer I gave here as well: It comes in response to the perception that Lutherans say "one must be baptized in order to be saved."

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The trouble comes when we start pitting baptism and faith against each other, or pitting them both against Jesus. The only way to be saved is to have Jesus save you. Jesus saves you by atoning for your sins through his death on the cross. He gives you that righteous gift by preaching it to you, by baptizing you into it, and by feeding you with his own body and blood as bread and wine. These gifts are a whole, through which your faith clings to Jesus. They are means of grace - carriers, holders, bringers.

Or, think of it this way: "faith" does not save by itself. Muslims have "faith." Even demons have "faith" of a sort (Ja. 2:19) Faith by itself is merely trust in something. Faith does not enact salvation. Saving faith receives the gift of salvation from Jesus. Saving faith believes in who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, and what Jesus says. This is all to say, faith must have an object of faith. Christian faith has Jesus as our object - Jesus, his person, work and words. And...his words say (paraphrasing) "I want you baptized into my name (Mt. 28,) and this will kill and raise you with me (Rom 6) by giving you the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2), and in this way saving you (1 Pet. 3.)" Faith believes all these words.

The Biblical truth is that the manner in which Jesus told his Church to go and make disciples was by baptizing them into the faith which they would also be taught. Apart from this promise, there is no assurance that anyone anywhere will be saved. (The thief on the cross was saved the exact same way - by a direct promise from Jesus. Baptism is your "today, you will be with me.")

Against faith, doubt always says "what if...." There are many what if's. "What if someone hears the preaching and believes, but is killed before they are baptized. Will they be saved?" To this we should reply with Jesus, "With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible." None who believe in him will be put to shame. But it is precisely because we believe in him that we hold as a great and cherished treasure the blessed assurance of baptism.

Thus, to get very technical, the Bible is very clear that baptism into Christ is the normal way in which Jesus gives people assurance of their election into the free gift of his death and resurrection for forgiveness, life and salvation, and thus, baptism strengthens and sustains their faith. It is not separate from faith. It is for faith. It is to give faith something to believe. "I am baptized."

This is the only way that this particular "choosing of us" has been given from Jesus. There is none other. Many search for their election in fasting, tithing, obedience, fruit of the Spirit, "spiritual" gifts, tongues and the like. But there are no such promises in these things. Yet, the sad fact remains that if one refuses to believe Jesus' promises in baptism, one will need to find some other object for faith. But Jesus has given no other object. In the end, one must then look somewhere other than Jesus. Ultimately, one will turn back to oneself.

Baptism elects. But that hardly means that preaching does not elect also. It does. And the Supper elects as well. These are Jesus' means of giving you grace. They were his ideas. He sent them. They are surely not mere water, bread, wine or vocal gutterals, but the Words of Christ by which the heavens and earth were formed out of nothing. Surely, he who made us with Words has the power to redeem us however he likes. We ought to have a little more faith in him, no?

Saving faith, then, believes what the Savior says. What he says is, "Be baptized, every one of you, and you will receive the forgiveness of your sins. This promise is for you and your children...." (Acts 2). This is the New Testament, the New Covenant, the power of salvation for all who believe. It is one Truth - the Way and the Life. Baptism is Jesus. Once you believe that, it all falls into place. If you don't believe that, then why are you getting baptized at all?

"In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him." Col. 2:11-14

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday - Luke 19








Quicklink

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Amtrak Ignition

Last night in our final evening study of "churches in America," we got into a discussion on the final state of affairs on the American religious landscape. We live in a "buffet religion" society, where people pick and choose what they want to belief, often combining a host of various religions/denominations/philosophies. Ironically, for all the variety involved, studies have also shown that people end up believing very colorful versions of the same thing, and it's not Christianity. One scholar and author who has studied American religious youth culture has called it "Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism."

I also mentioned last night a very bizarre conversation I had several years ago on an Amtrak training speeding across the midwest after spending Christmas with my family in Missouri. The piece has never been published, although I submitted it to several periodicals. After the curiosity last night, I thought I might pass it on for your benefit.

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Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, honor Christ, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you, with gentleness, and respect. ~1 Peter 3:14-16 excerpts

“I worship the God and Goddess,” said the Celtic pagan. (He was Irish by descent.)

He set down his cane and slumped into the booth across from us as the train hurtled through some part of late night Ohio. He was thirty one, on his way home from visiting his six year-old daughter in Chicago. Nice guy.

“And all my tattoos are symbols of my heritage. They express fertility, life, success.” He smiled through his punk rock glasses.

“Right on,” I said in the affirming cliché of my generation. It’s hard for people my age to invalidate other's views, and, usually when you’ve just met a person, it’s not all that bad an idea. To be sure, running through my mind were thoughts of how this well-intentioned chap had a one-way ticket to some place a whole lot warmer than Akron in January. But it was also easy enough to see by his smile that he’d heard all that before, and was slightly daring me to say it again. Clearly, the thought didn’t bother him much. Why should it? He was convinced the Scriptures of the Christian faith are foolish. So, I didn’t lambast my new friend the Irish heathen. Instead, I showed a little interest. I mean, it’s not everyday that people from the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod meet Celtic pagans.

“So, exactly what kind of paganism is it?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” he said. “Do you mean like Wicca or something? No. It’s not like that.”

“No,” I said. I had figured as much. Anyone practicing modern pop-witchcraft would have said as much the same way junior high girls boast about the boy bands they listen to. “I mean, well…I’m not familiar with Celtic lore. Is it related to the druids?”

“No,” he smiled. “Not druids. Just Celtic. I guess the closest thing to it would be Norse paganism. We were influenced by it.”

“Crazy,” I said, which means something more like, “far out,” to us under forty-somethings. Shaking my head, I laughed a little. What else you going to do? “So,” I hesitated, eyeing the others at the table, who had broken impromtu world religions dialog to make room for the new participant, “how do you find other people to practice with? I mean, are you in the phone book?”

Now he laughed. “Oh, no. But there are lots of us around. Just use the internet, and you’ll find someone.”

Google knows, I thought.

The conversation had been rather unexpected to begin with, even before this point, between the nineteen year-old, ex-Presbyterian now new-age-baby-neo-hippy (more than ready to confess herself “one” with the cosmos,) to the ex-Bible-Church-Christian-DCE turned homosexual and free-though relativist, (who kept getting frustrated with me for insisting that facts mean something,) to the ex-Roman Catholic, humanist-philosophical-secular-materialist (who was in the middle of his post-teen-angst-life-crisis as he tried to decide how he might possibly pursue a life of pure hedonism without driving himself into the despair that philosophy had already already taught him his worldview demanded he eventually create,) to the front-man of a Seattle grunge band (who looked to the eye a curious blend of Marilyn Manson and Tom Petty, and whose music produced a similar effect.) There was little doubt that I was immersed in a fantastic thunderstorm of ideas and conversation in the midst of the demographic most evangelism programs are simply incapable of reaching as they go door-to-door in the suburbs on Sunday afternoon.

It had all started when I heard the hippy and the philosopher embroiled in a conversation over how she was kicked out of her Christian congregation for asking too many questions. Myself being ordained clergy but who, for all his thirty years, still looks just over eighteen, I couldn’t refrain from chiming in and offering to answer some of her unanswered “taboo” questions. Before long, we weren’t alone. The evident animation of our conversation had soon become an all-inclusive cattle-call for the lounge car, drawing each of the seven residents straight into a good-natured battle of worldviews (except the passed-out drunk, fifty-year-old lesbian biker with the vocabulary of Calamity Jane – she was...well...passed out).

While everyone was enjoying it, I have to confess that my seminary training was serving me very well – contrary, I must add, to the many brothers in my circuit who seemed to think I still had a lot to learn about the real world and real “ministry”. I felt like a theological Chuck Norris, staving off a torrent of Wikipedia-informed combatants with practiced martial skill, careful never to take the green-belts to the mat with a bone-crushing, one-shot blow to the head, but nonetheless countering their every attack with just enough deftness to keep them coming back for more. Reject(er)s of mega-church society as they mostly were, the last thing they needed was the pat answers they’d already heard. What they needed was to spar, to have a chance to win, to test their streetwise moves and find the value (or lack thereof) of their own disciplines.

This is where “evangelism” as a concept, I believe, so often goes so terribly wrong. Power-point bullet points and Watchtower-style scripted hot-boxing work well enough with older women staying home in the mid-afternoon, but to the post-modern/semi-emerging generation, these approaches not only don’t work so hot, to the contrary, they tend to do more damage than good. Lauding on about your personal relationship with Jesus only further convinces these “unchurched” that Christians really all are the idiots TV portrays them as. These friendly, intelligent, trendy-counter-culture, grown-up “kids” were fed up with the “will you go to heaven” sales pitch. They’d left worries about heaven and hell far behind, with the crayons they’d used to color in Happy Jesus and and his side-kick Alls-Well-as-Ends-Well Job. To them, to us – we the buste(d)rs trapped bewteen X and Millenial – to us hell only exists for people like Adolph Hitler and George W. Bush. My new friend, the nineteen year-old hippy, (a very sweet girl who was returning from having just met her long lost sister, put up for adoption twenty years prior,) was actually looking forward to death. She thought it would be cool. At last she’d be able to become nothing and everything at once, her body dying, but her soul and consciousness living on in the elements of Mother Nature, communing spiritually with flowers and animals and even other people, who would feed on her life essence.

No. These emerging adults didn’t need evangelism exploding in their faces. They didn’t need the message nearly all the denominations of Christianity have learned from Warren and Hybels and Jakes and Oprah (and they from Finney.) Their all-supernal sixth-sense of “feelings” had long ago convinced them such superficial religion couldn’t possibly be real. They wanted to find something more authentic, something completely divorced from the secularized gloom of pop-Christianity. Church growth had more than Church-depleted them. They’d been raised to seek “spirituality,” not “religion,” and it was clear that if anything is religion, (defined by legalism, anti-intellectualism and cheap-feelings) it’s American Christianity.

Most of them had had a devotional relationship with “their” Bible. They had tried “believing” in Jesus. But their contribution to the mass-exodus from American congregations was because this “faith” had proven itself a fraud. It didn’t make them feel better like it promised. They didn't experience more of God every day. And the most appealing purposes in life involved adultery and cigarettes.

What this generation hadn’t heard, what it needs to hear, what they somehow missed hearing despite their many previous connections to the “Church”, was, amazingly, something as simple as the rule of faith held by the once-universal creeds. They did not need a ritualized babbling of the ancient words as the second-most boring part of worship, but the confession of meaning-filled theology that touches mind, heart and will combined. They needed words that martyrs died to keep, whispering them to their children before going to the executioner. They needed to know the purpose, not of themselves, but of Jesus Christ. They needed not the antiquated “doctrine” of memorized lists and bodiless Bible verses, but the antiquous dogma of believing what those ancient words really mean.

Or, put it this way. If we want to find real so-called “missional” thinking for the 21st century, we need to get the heart out of the drivers’ seat where it’s been ever since the boomers enthroned it over the mind. Putting the heart in the back-seat, and letting the good brains our Lord gave us sit shot-gun, the Word of God is more than capable of driving the mission to reach the countless post-modern versions of paganism. These seven heathen didn’t need to hear me talk like Billy Graham. They didn’t need to hear me talk about a “God” or a “Jesus” or a “heaven” that they just had to believe in “because.” If they wanted mysticism, they much preferred Celtic paganism, which holds far more beauty and depth than “faith” in the platonic-buddy Jesus dressed up like a carrot in a manger.

These grown-ups in sketchers actually wanted to hear – couldn’t get enough of hearing – about Christianity spoken of objectively. Historically. They wanted a chance to believe that Christianity really is as stable as Celtic paganism, grounded in a God who shows up in places other than my heart, and trustworthy for more reasons than that the Bible (which fell out of heaven) “says so.” Hearing about a God who once broke into the world physically, tangibly and unavoidably, shattered their defenses against all the “God-things” and “Divine-moments” they’d been told about before, all the more so because, beyond believability, they’d never actually heard of it! They had never heard that the Christianity isn’t about the Ten Commandments being posted in schools or homosexuality being banned from marriage or earth being only six-thousand years old. They had never heard that the reason to be a Christian is actually because there was this man named Jesus, who was real, and who really died on a cross under the Roman Empire, and after three real days, really rose from the dead.

“Dude. That’s gnarly.”

Through all the critical moments that these children of fading Christendom had encountered over a lifetime of expensive measures and props for conversion, they had never been given the real answers of discipleship: they had never heard that “There was this guy in history who beat death….And, oh, by the way, he said a few things that are pretty challenging to hear.” That was why the young Irishman was now a Celtic moon-worshiper and not a Roman Catholic: Celtic pagans have doctrine, and they believe it. That is why the recent ex-Roman philosopher hadn’t bothered to read the New Testament since the eighth grade, but was now looking to Aristotle and Kant for the answers to the world’s questions: Aristotle and Kant never bothered to dumb it down for him. They challenged him to find the answers in well-thought arguments and turns of phrase. That is why the homosexual post-DCE was content to let all truths be true: Woodstock Jesus, who just wanted him to be happy, had no good reasons for preventing him from having sodomy with whomever he desired. If the “Church” had forgotten the real message of Woodstock Jesus, about love and freedom to pursue pleasure, too bad for them.

Every single one of them had been-there/done-that a long, long time ago. And they’d learned from it. They’d learned they're various forms of anti-Christianity from Christians. We had taught them “Jesus makes me happy,” and they had realized we had taught them lies.

So how did it all end on that night train through Ohio, my wife asleep with my two kids in coach and me sitting up “partying” until three am? We covered the gambit, from “why should I believe what the Bible says,” (Answer: because Jesus is risen from the dead, so what he says is probably right,) to “why is abortion wrong?” (Answer: because Jesus is risen from the dead, and he likes babies to stay alive,) to “how is the morality of Christianity any better than the moral teachings of Islam or Buddhism?” (Answer: it isn’t so much, but Jesus is risen from the dead, and that means something far more important than moralism!) And for all the times they’d been told to believe in Jesus so they could be saved, through all the Sunday school and VBS and youth group parties, with all the pressure tactics and emotional manipulation of charismatic worship, amidst the history-channel/Dan-Brown misinformation of the age, not one of them had ever been forced to reckon with the all important claim that the reason to be a Christian is because history is on the side of the empty tomb, and it is that fact alone which creates faith in the one True God.

Justification? Atonement? Salvation? These things came up, to be sure. But these meanings which explain the deeper “whys” of the history danced in and out of the conversation only to support the main point: creation is dying and the new creation has already been born in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He changed the rules, and he did it in a way which inevitably leaves the honest critic and historian either completely stumped or converted. Everything else has become a moot point. Being the only man in history to die and not stay dead, Jesus of Nazareth now more or less owns the trump card on what’s true and what’s false. Proving his own claim to the Sonship of God, the impending issue ceases to be whether or not you bother to accept him as your personal Lord and Savior. Instead, the issue is suddenly whether or not he accepts you as one of his sheep.

On the flip side, if Jesus didn’t walk out of that tomb, the game is over. Christianity just can’t win. Karl Barth once tried to fight that losing battle by separating the Christ of history from the Christ of faith, only to create a new Christianity, one which served only to support your preferred personal assumptions – not much of a discipline for spiritual enlightenment. But that is exactly where those seven people on that train had gone! Children of the spirituality of Barth, they had never even heard of the Christ of history from Christians. So what? Their faith was simply not about real things. It was all mythology after all, like Celtic paganism, or nature-love, or mammon. For them the “faith in faith” in which they still believed, was the end goal of all religions after all. Wasn’t it?

Well, it was, at least, until this upstart young pastor walked into their philosophosizing and made the audacious claim that Christianity isn’t about believing in Jesus “so that” you can get into heaven. It’s about Jesus dying on a cross and rising from the grave because creation sucks and he refuses to leave it mired that way.

Christianity is not about “faith.” It’s about Jesus. It’s about what he said about himself. It’s about what he did by himself. And it’s about the reasons and effects of what he said and did: to give you no other choice but to believe that what he said and did is the cornerstone of human history, without which there is no real reason to be alive at all. Or, if you must, to self-admittedly live in a world of ignorance, chance, empty answers and eventual defeat.

If only this solitary fact could be understood by all the strategists and leaders of today’s “missional” congregations! If only the people who are yet in the Christian sub-culture might themselves be forced to wrestle with it. If only how we live, how we worship, and how we evangelize could stop missing the point. Our children tell the story of the results. They’re not abandoning our parishes in droves because the liturgies are out of date or because we’ve spoken too much true doctrine, or because creedal Christianity doesn’t have real answers to real questions. They’re abandoning the ship because they’ve listened to and watched very carefully all that we’ve been saying and doing. And, as if we’d planned it, we’ve convinced them that we either don’t believe what we’re saying ourselves, or we don’t know one wit what we’re actually talking about.

A recent professional poll has shown that most born to Christian families can’t recite the Ten Commandments, much less try to live by them. We can’t recite the Creed without droning, much less explain its significance for the mission field. And if we say the “Our Father” in worship, it’s more often than not the only time in the week that we pray with our families at all, much less pray for food that we don’t already have, for doctrine to be pure among us, or for the end of the world to come as quickly as possible.

It was a small crusade that night on a train from Chicago to Philadelphia, me and that underrepresented under-thirty crowd, all of them more or less committed to abandoning Christianity because of its self-righteous-sounding, heaven-peddling, historically ignorant evangelism – not to mention the mammon-corrupted promotional bureaucracies manipulating the strings for the sake of profit – yes, these kids new the Church is simply “incorporated”. The good news of it? We talked about the resurrection of Jesus Christ so much that eventually the philosopher began being the one to say to the others, “To understand his point about homosexuality or Islam, you have to remember that it’s based on the fact that Jesus is risen from the dead.”

Mission accomplished.

The bad news? Well, there was no mass conversion. To begin with, most of them were baptized once or twice already. That wasn’t going to happen anyway. And at three a.m., when the Irishman got off in Akron, I’m pretty convinced that he was still cheerily undeterred by anything that I’d said.

Then again, anyone who thinks that one night on a train is going to undo two and a half decades of cultural indoctrination, evangelistic blow-back-antagonism and straight up embittered unbelief, she’s got another thing coming.

The good news again? The Great Commission wants us Christians to go and make disciples, not by any means possible, but by teaching the reality of the Gospels. If and when the emerging pagans hear the story, are confronted by the real message, and reject it for the time being, that is the Holy Spirit’s prerogative. We can confess our faith well enough to get an atheist to admit that the historic claim is that Jesus is risen from the dead. But we will never argue him into believing it. The point of this article is that if we don’t learn again how to speak it, the rest of the next neo-normal generation will never even hear it.

All seven of those young busters left that train with the choice to either decide that this kid-pastor was certifiably insane (and my sanity was a part of the discussion at one point!) or, to wrestle with the fact that every thing they had ever thought about “God” before needed to be questioned again, because, apparently, he was bigger and more challenging then they’d ever imagined.

More than likely, they walked away with a little of both. Like I said, mission accomplished.


You can read it at the St. John Website by clicking this link.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lent 5 - Luke 20







Quicklink

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chapter 6: Orientation


Of late my schedule has been quite the obstacle course, with extra lessons to plan for our Lenten series on "Churches in America," trying to work in a routine for weekly preparations for the Mainline Church Project (including scanning, digital editing and dressing up Luther's sermons in powerpoint,) with the PLU Young Adults group meeting in the UPenn area again and seeing some new membership and growth as we march through St. John's Apocalypse, experiencing the joy of engaging a young pastor-to-be (an Ethiopian named Tesfaye) with the fullness of our Lutheran confession, trying to stay on top of reading such books as "Your Jesus is too Safe" and "At Home in the House of My Fathers," (without neglecting daily time in the Greek NT and the Book of Concord,) prepping bulletins for Holy Week. being a guest on Issues, Etc twice (and winning sound byte of the week,).......So many good things (and there are more of them, believe you me!)

Amazingly, in the middle of it all, I also was able to polish off what I think is a decent chapter of "The Wisdom of Foolishness," the practical book on Christian systematics which I was sharing with you this past fall and winter. I say "amazing" because most of the time writing is tremendously painful work. It requires a great deal of energy to plod out all the right words in all the right order, and then to go back and read and edit them again, and then again, and then again - purging the places that fail to communicate clearly, striving to bring understanding and meaning to the forefront. But this chapter felt like it flew out of the pen (figuratively, that is, ...I typed it.)

Of course, my seminary mentor Dr. Jeff Gibbs once quipped that, "Any time you feel like that, it means its probably worthless." True enough. I can't say the number of times I've "caught the muse" and flourished off pages of "great stuff" - you know, world-shattering, epic-level writing that is both entertaining and deep - only to go back later to read it and exclaim, "What on earth does that mean?"

That being said, I hope this weeks chapter fits the special bill of those times when the gears really did just click. Focused on "Orientation" we finish up our imbibing of the Biblical theology of Election and Predestination, letting the reality of original sin rise to the surface in order that the reality of our Lord's crucifying of that sin in himself also comes to the fore.

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The perilous danger of evil is that once it exists, it is it's very nature to never be good again. Evil hates good. That's what it does best. When Scripture teaches us that Adam decided to be evil by going against God's Words to him, he changed the very ethos of what it means to be human. It's not that once he jumped into evil, neither he or I or you “could” ever choose to be truly good again. It's that we never would choose to be truly good again.1




This is
Sin as the Bible teaches it. It is much bigger than the little rights or wrongs we might or might not choose every day. Sin is your bound commitment to your own will, your inbred affection for yourself, your standard deviation of all things back to you.2 You never once in your entire life have sinned “against your will.”3 It is your will that is always the problem.4 You inherited an orientation towards “not good,” which bends your every thought, word and deed.5 This is the fundamental root of every problem, not just in your life, but in the history of the entire world.6




Originality



While the entire world runs around in a kind of sick madness, either trying to escape the jaws of death or affecting that it does not mind death, (but all the while trying to make some kind of goodness capable of overcoming the obvious threat of death,) all we ever actually manage to do is compound our error over and over again.7 We are deceived (and work hard at deceiving ourselves) into thinking that if we just try hard enough, we can make some kind of actual “goodness.” To be a sinful human is to believe that somewhere deep within still lingers the innate ability to become good in the most unique way, to reach enlightenment or holiness, to become capable of fixing all of our own problems.8




But this
is the problem. The original sin which Adam created was crafted in his own image, an attempt to divine a private, personalized, one-of-a-kind, like-god “goodness.” What he achieved was truly something new, something uncreated by God, but it was hardly worth the trouble. For all the effort, all that he did was conjure up the terribly useless attribute of doubt. Doubting that God is the only source of real goodness is the only original thing humans have been able to manufacture by our private, spiritual efforts. Unbelief in the Godness of God is our one creative legacy.9



The devil once convinced Adam that he would be “free” to do a new “good” which was completely independent from God. This ingenious ploy not only worked on him. It works on us. Every day. The greatest proof is our own warrior-like insistence on keeping some toe-hold at all costs in the exercise of our wills.10 The best of us, even Christians, daily succumb to this ambush. Every time you are hurt, every time something makes you angry – when you get cut-off in traffic or spill a glass of milk – that boiling rage that wells up so naturally from within you does so because
your will has not been done. For a brief moment, it is clear that you are a slave to some power beyond yourself, the universe, another driver, chance circumstance, and there is almost nothing worse than this in the entire world than that. Nothing matters so much as that your will be done. You are bound to this. It doesn't matter what the difference between good and evil is. It doesn't matter who gets hurt, or what stands in the way. You want to be the one who gets to decide that difference. You want to be the one who chooses what is and is not the right way to respond. Depending on what you choose to do, in all natural normalness, you will defend and justify your choices till you are blue in the face.



This is
your ongoing original sin. This is your orientation. You want to be the one who makes justice. You want to define it from your gut, with your own heart smack in the center. This native doubt in the Godness of God is a reality that breeds from the core of your soul, a natural belief in self which is a supernatural unbelief in God. And, it is the root of all evil. It is original sin.

Turned Around



Our desire to be the source of goodness is a pipe dream. A false hope. The root of all evil is trying to make anything but God the source of goodness. Being the source of goodness is what God does. It's his day job. It's his self-definition. Our belief that we can change this, while perhaps never confessed with the mouth, is lived out with the heart and hands through the annals of the catastrophe that is human history. Leaving behind the passive gift of original goodness that comes from God alone in search of our own actively-created original goodness, we have become actively and originally evil. Our compasses are all messed up. Our orientation is unnatural twisted about. We are poor, miserable sinners.



It is really quite amazing. We are so infatuated with being capable of creating our own goodness that we've developed countless religions and spiritualities to try to help us do this. Even within Christendom, the grand bulk of teachings have tended toward setting up yet one more system for working our a way into pleasing God with some internal goodness born from the power of the human will. The superfantastic irony is that, anything but actually good, this is a double sin.11 It's an attempt to out-God God right under God's own nose, an expecting God to be happy about it. A man says, “I want to please God,” and then he goes about trying to “be good,” as if this could created the goodness that only God has and that God himself wants to give.



The deep reality is that man does not want to please God.12 He wants to be pleasing to God by means of his own self-defined, self-willed “goodness.” He says, “I want to please God,” and then he sets about trying to please himself. He doesn't want God's will to be done – not if it gets in his will's way. He doesn't want to be saved – not if it means being saved from himself. He doesn't want to be fixed – not if it means being fixed means he won't be able to improve himself any more, and doubly so if being fixed means getting killed so that God can start and finish the project with his own blueprints once and for all.



Because of what the Bible describes in Genesis chapter 3, it is a high and central teaching of all real Christianity that ever since the fall, “free will” has only existed as an empty concept, like an old bone for junkyard dogs to fight over. What really matters to humanity is “your will,” and this orientation has bound the you into self-separation from God. It's not that you “cannot” unite your will back to God's. You will not. It would be “free will” suicide.13



All of this, audacious as it may seem, horrible as it is (and has proven itself to be in the actions of our race,) remains a high and central truth of authentic Christianity because it is the dark prelude to the epic Answer. Man can only choose evil. So, God is faced with saving man against man's own will. We're so bad that even in this we still think we would be better off if he left us a choice in the matter. But that didn't dissuade God. Before we could think to pray (and we never would have prayed for the right things anyway) the answer was already on God's lips. He elected it upon himself to save mankind, even if it meant getting his hands a little dirty in the process. Even if it meant becoming one of us and taking the punishment we had chosen for ouselves.

Original Salvation



In Jesus Christ, God elected to save mankind, every man, woman and child.14 He chose his creation, picked it up again, and bound it to his own will in himself, in a new Man to be its Head, in a new will to be its source of re-orientation.15 He decided to save the world, (and that includes you,) and neither you nor I nor any one else really has any choice in the matter.16 It's already done.17 If we had had a choice, we would have turned the offer down.18 Either we would have killed him before he could do what needed to be done, or we would have prevented him from dying (which is what needed to be done) as if our life depended on it!19



Ignoring our own wills in the matter, Jesus came and saved the world.20 He didn't just come to give us information about God, or to show us a way to work out a goodness that was worth having. He came to take mankind into his own Godness in order to do what needed to be done with it: kill it, and raise it anew. Take the breath out. Let the sin die. Force the devil's laws to release their hold. And then, breath the life back in, leaving the sin in the grave and the devil powerless.21



Salvation means being born again, and Jesus did it first, for all of us, because none of us could have managed it coming out of the womb a second time. Before you were even born the first time, before you had done either good or evil, before any of your decisions, actions, thoughts, words or deeds, God chose to save you, and he sent Jesus Christ to get it done.22 This is election. It is your pre-destination. It is the saving of the ones who would never have allowed salvation to happen if God hadn't simply decided to do it first. It is your own death and resurrection in the person and work of Jesus the Christ. Not just all men, not just all women and children, but mankind himself has become a blessed elite, a chosen people, an atoned for creation, saved.



The Problem of the Cross



But not all men (and women and children) will be saved. Scripture speaks this way as well. Because of the great binding of the human will, some will resist God's grace even to the point of perdition. Worse yet, some will believe in the Christ only to throw it all away. Some will trample on their Lord and deny the Savior who bought them. Some will crucify the Son of God all over again.



Much ink has been spilt over this Biblically unanswerable question, the “why some, not others,” dilemma that bubbles to the surface whenever God's predestination runs into man's interminable will. When we see what the Bible says about how God desires all men to be saved, and compare it with what the Bible says about how not all men will be saved, we run into a profound mystery over which even the Apostles themselves could only marvel, and, eventually, ignore in faith. “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all. Oh! The depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.23

After eleven chapters written to Rome, detailing God's plan of salvation in the one man Jesus Christ, and after two chapters wrestling with this paradox of “why some, not others,” eventually the Apostle can only throw up his hands and say. “Jesus is risen! Praise God and believe it!”24



It is like one has who found a coin with one side heads and the other tails. No matter how hard you try, you can never look at both sides of the coin at once. Taken separately, they are utterly contradictory. They don't paint the same picture. They are different faces. But they are the same coin. If you were to find a mirror, you might be able to hold it up and “see” both sides of the coin, but at that moment it would not be the same coin. It would be a false construction used to help you understand something which is beyond your nature to achieve.



In the history of theology on this point, this mirror is what the two great camps have used to draw their lines around the Scriptures. Whether we call it “Calvinism vs Arminianism,” or “decision theology vs. predestination,” it doesn't matter. Both systems ways of thinking about God are fabrications that use a mirror to avoid the full mystery of simply holding the coin in your hand. The coin is what happens when a God presdestined by himself to have mercy, save and give goodness comes upon an irredeemable man who is self-destined to have enmity, die and make evil. The real answer can only be believed on in the literal body of the redeeming man Jesus Christ, in the Words about him and from him sent to be preached in the nations, and in the mysterious rituals he has left as hallmarks of what he has done for the sake of the life of the entire world.



If we let ourselves get trapped in the mirror, one way or another our theology will get trapped in the image we see – not the real coin, but our own face looking intently at the coin. Our own nature will distract us again, pull us away from the fact that we are actually holding the coin in our hands to begin with. He is ours! He is risen! It is done!



If we begin trying to dissect what this means beyond what has been clearly revealed, we are bound to start asking the wrong questions all over again: we are bound to start doubting. “But who then can be saved?” we will say. If, as Scripture teaches, we are bound to resist God's grace and actually have the power to do so, what is left for us to do in ourselves to make certain we are saved after all? The answer to that is the entire point.



Nothing



You deserve to be damned and should be. There is nothing you can do about it. But Jesus can and has done something about it.25 Period. Believe it. You are freed to do so by the very promise he worked by achieving it on the cross. There is no question. There is no “how do I know” or “are you certain” or “but don't I have to.” There is only God who has elected you in Jesus.26 God is preaching this to you right now.27 These Words are the Holy Spirit.28 The promises of God remain steadfast even when we are unfaithful.29 “Baptism saves” even when an entire world drowns because they refuse to believe it.30



In upcoming chapters we will spend more time letting Scripture speak where it has long been silent on the assurance of election we have received in the instituted rituals of God Almighty. For now, just enjoy the Gospel side of the coin: even thought your stubborn will could and would reject salvation (tails), Jesus isn't going to let that happen (heads). God has already
justified you.31 He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all. How will he not also give us all things?32 He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus.33 That's his purpose.34 That's his point. That's his job. He's God.



So rejoice and be glad.35 You're still reading. You're ears have heard. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, even when we are not. His steadfast love endures forever.36 It wasn't even a small step, but it is the greatest step in all of mankind. God has oriented himself toward you in the insurmountable person and work of his only Son, and in that Christ, crucified for your sins and the sins of the entire world, he has re-affixed your orientation to himself with a promise that's purer than gold.37



The greatest beauty, the freedom in it all, is that thanks to Jesus you never even had to have a choice.38

An Endnote on the Lonely Way39

An Endnote Brief Review40



1 Genesis 8:21 “The intention of man's heart is evil from his youth.

2 Titus 3:3 “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”

3 James 1:14 “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

4 Matthew 23:37 “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

5 Romans 1:22 “Claiming to be wise, they became fools.

6 Romans 1:21,24 “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. … Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.

7 Revelation 18:7-8 “Since in her heart she says, I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.”

8 Isaiah 14:13 “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God.

9 Hosea 6:7 “Like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.

10 Acts 7:51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.

11 Romans 8:8 “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

12 Romans 8:7 “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.

13 Matthew 13:15 “For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.

14 Whether or not every man, woman and child will believe this salvation is a different question, and a difficult one. First, it is important to recognize the central promise: Jesus came to save you.

15 Colossians 1:18, 20 “He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent ... and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

16 Luke 9:53 “The people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.

17 John 19:30 “He said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

18 John 1:11 “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

19 Mark 15:31-32 “The scribes mocked him to one another, saying, 'He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.'”

20 Matthew 16:23 “He turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.'”

21 Romans 7:1 “Do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?”

22 Romans 9:9, 11 “This is what the promise said: ...though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls.

23 Romans 11:32-36

24 Romans 12:1

25 Matthew 19:25-26 “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, 'Who then can be saved?' But Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'”

26 2 Corinthians 1:19 “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes.”

27 1 Corinthians 1:21 “In the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

28 John 6:63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

29 2 Timothy 2:13 “If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.

30 1 Peter 3:18, 20-21 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, … because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

31 Titus 3:7 “Being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

32 Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

33 Philippians 1:6 “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

34 Ephesians 1:5 “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.

35 Matthew 5:12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

36 Jeremiah 33:11 “The voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord: “‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”

37 Numbers 6:23-27 “Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, 'The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.' So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

38 John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

39 Rare, indeed, has been the theological system or movement that has attempted to walk the lonely way between these two factions. Some sections of Lutheranism, particularly as confessed in the Book of Concord of 1580, have made the effort, although we have used the mirror in our own way. So long as one wants to talk “about” election, predestination and salvation, rather than experience it through the pure hearing of the Word of God that comes only when Scripture left to do its organic and whole work, our systems will usually serve to remove the offense, whether it is predestination, the resistibility of irresistible grace, the ability of the root of faith to starve to death or the simple fact that a dead man on a cross is the salvation of all mankind. The strength of the Lutheran tradition, for all its own failings, has been its insistence that whatever Scripture says, it is best to believe it, even if, at the moment, it leaves some questions unanswered.

40 Both/And – a Brief Review of the Doctrine of Election

The last two chapters have dealt largely with the difficult paradox of salvation that is at the center of the Christian faith. For millenia theologians have disputed it. For centuries it has been called the crux telegorum, or, “the Problem of the Cross.” “Why some, not others?”

It is a matter which cannot be simply resolved in the human mind without denying large portions of Scripture. The human will is depraved (Genesis 6:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 7:18, etc.) Only God can save us (Isaiah 45:21, Hosea 13:4, Luke 1:47, 1 Timothy 2:5, etc.) God saves those he elects/chooses to save (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 8:29-30, 9:10-18, etc.) But those men and women who will receive damnation receive it because they have elected that destiny for themselves (Matthew 16:27, 25:31-46, Romans 2:6-16, 2 Corinthians 5:10, 1 Peter 1:17, Revelation 20:12, 22:12.)

God saves by grace alone (John 3:16.) Man damns by unbelief alone (1 Corinthians 16:22.) God is transcendent. Man has a will. This is the Word of the Lord revealed to his elect in Holy Writ. To try to resolve the crux he has given us, to make the cross go away, to hide the scandal in terms which our minds can understand only eventually serves to keep the resurrected man buried from our sight. It is to try, once again, to assert our will over God's, to limit the infinte wisdom of God to our finite reason, to say that we can make a good which is better than his.

True Christianity is always in accordance with the entire revelation of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 4:12, Proverbs 5:30, Psalm 18:30.) False teaching will arise and has always arisen, but it will never prevail (Proverbs 21:8, 2 Peter 2:1.) Salvation by grace through faith in the work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, will go forward through its confession/preaching, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it any more than the gates of hades prevailed against the body of our Lord (Matthew 16:16-18.) It is good to tremble in humility before this reality, both our utter inability to be saved, and in the goodness of Jesus who promises that he has saved us anyway (James 4:10, Acts 2:37-38, 16:30.) the Lord is good, and his steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 106.) So good and so forever that he didn't even ruin your chances by leaving you even a hint of a choice in the matter.



Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lent 4 - Luke 15






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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Lent 3 - More Luke 13





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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A Little Unexpected (and Apocalyptic) Joy

Just a few notes about the goings on in the world this past week. Along with having the privilege of being a guest on the radio show Issues, Etc. last week, and, being nominated for "Sound Byte of the Week" and winning Sound Byte of the Week by popular vote of the listeners, I was also privileged to be asked back this week to spend an hour talking about the structure of the Book of Revelation (which I have been teaching in depth to the young adults on Thursday nights for the last 8 months or so.) It's great to get the chance to be on a nationally listened-to radio show.

What a blessing!

Oh...and if you're a regular follower of this blog and you haven't yet checked out my new weeklyish podcat, then hop over to Worldview Everlasting (or look for it in the itunes store) and give it a try. Only one caveat: if you're over 40, you might not like the music. Fair warning given!

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