Easter

resurrectionNext comes the resurrection from the dead. Without this what we have said so far would be incomplete. For since only weakness appears in the cross, death, and burial of Christ, faith must leap over all these things to attain its full strength. We have in his death the complete fulfillment of salvation, for through it we are reconciled to God, his righteous judgment is satisfied, the curse is removed, and the penalty paid in full. Nevertheless, we are said to ‘have been born anew to a living hope’ not through his death but ‘through his resurrection’ [I Peter 1:3]. For as he in rising again, came forth victor over death, so the victory of our faith over death lies in his resurrection alone. Paul better expresses its nature: ‘He was put to death for our sins, and raised for our justification’ [Rom. 4:25]. This is as if he had said: ‘Sin was taken away by his death; righteousness was revived and restored by his resurrection.’ For how could he by dying have freed us from death if he had himself succumbed to death? How could he have acquired victory for us if he had failed in the struggle? Therefore, we divide the substance of our salvation between Christ’s death and resurrection as follows: through his death, sin was wiped out and death extinguished; through his resurrection, righteousness was restored and life raised up, so that–thanks to his resurrection–his death manifested its power and efficacy in us.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.xvi.13.

 

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Good Friday

CB03_1920x1080Lest in the unmeasured abundance of our riches we go wild; lest, puffed up with honours, we become proud; lest, swollen with other good things – either of the soul or of the body, or of fortune – we grow haughty, the Lord himself, according as he sees it expedient, confronts us and subjects and restrains our unrestrained flesh with the remedy of the cross.

John Calvin: Institutes 3.8.5

Happy Thanksgiving

christian-thanksgivingGive Thanks to the Lord!

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands!
     Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

 Know that the Lord is God!
    It is he that made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him, bless his name!

 For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures for ever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100 (RSV)

Mainline Christianity and Progressive Politics (3)

pcusa-bubbleThe Mainline Progressive Bubble

A Revealing Incident

Let me share an experience from the floor of the Presbytery of Chicago.  A large committee had created a draft statement on evangelism that was under review.  At one point we were asked to split into small groups to discuss the draft.  A colleague from my local church and I asked two Commissioners, one younger and the other older, to join us.  They were more than happy to do so, and we started the discussion.

We pointed out that the draft as written seemed to be less about Christian evangelism than it was about multiculturalism.  For, as far as we could tell there were minimal claims to any truth or value for Christianity.  Rather, it appeared to be just about getting along with all other religions and cultures.

This observation elicited an immediate angry reaction from the older Commissioner.  Rather than engaging in debate on this point they walked away while audibly speaking into the air about haters and racists.

The younger Commissioner remained engaged.  However, their response was that dozens of PCUSA elders and clergy of all races, sexual orientations, genders and cultures had come together to generate this text, so, it had to be correct because the creating group was so diverse.  We pointed out that there was also the dimension of philosophical / theological  diversity, which we didn’t see represented in the document.  They responded with the blank stare of one who is hearing something incomprehensible.

The Two Bubbles

Thinking back on this incident years later I realize that the responses of these two Commissioners are representative of the two types of bubbles within which our leadership live.  These bubbles need not be separate, but can be, in effect, two layers that create hermetic isolation.

The Social Bubble

The younger Commissioner was more than happy to continue our discussion to the end of the allowed time.  They showed not the slightest anger about or disapproval of our position.  Rather, they seemed amazed to be speaking with two such strange humans.  We elicited not anger, but rather curiosity.

Surely, even living in Progressive Chicago they must have been aware of people who hold strange, inexplicable beliefs.  However, here were two actual people, on the floor of the Presbytery of Chicago (!?), who were stating these beliefs.  What an unexpected and unique cultural experience!

Thus, we find here the bubble of social isolation, in which a person simply doesn’t interact with anyone who challenges their beliefs.  Everyone, of all races, cultures, sexual orientations and genders, in their wondrous diversity, agrees on the same thing!  It’s not that they aren’t aware that there are strange people who somehow have tragically not been brought into the Progressive fold, it’s that they simply don’t engage with any actual people like that.

The Ideological Bubble

The older Commissioner knew full well that people like us exist.  And, within the hearing of only a few of our words they walked away in utter disgust.  For, in their world, people who were stupid enough to say such things out loud could only be motivated by vile evil motives.  There existed zero intention to engage with such moral and ideological deviants.  So, away they walked, speaking our condemnation into the air as the haters and racists that we surely had to be.

Our Current Sorry State

There may have been a time in our country’s history in which the social Progressive bubble predominated.  I think of that, by current standards, innocent statement by Pauline Kael after the 1972 Presidential election.

“I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”

But, after eight years of being accused of voting for someone who was likely the new Hitler (George W. Bush) into the Presidency and then eight more years of being called a racist, homophobe, Islamophobe, totalitarian, etc. for opposing Progressive policies, be they political or theological, the ideological bubble clearly now dominates.

There are so many examples from which to choose, but one that I consider telling fell from the lips of no other than Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader of the House of Representatives (emphasis added).

“And I say, this will be a little not in keeping with the spirit of the day of unity, but I say they pray in church on Sunday and prey on people the rest of the week, and while we’re doing the Lord’s work by ministering to the needs of God’s creation they are ignoring those needs which is to dishonor the God who made them.”

You see, it takes the rhetorical skills of the highest ranking elected Democratic politican to so seamlessly combine their political and religious bigotry into a single steaming statement of contemptuous hatred.

Of course, former Democratic senator from Wisconsin Russ Feingold (a Progressive favorite!) has made perhaps the most disgusting and definitive statement in this regard (emphasis added).

“The lesson from Charlottesville is not how dangerous the neo-Nazis are, … It is the unmasking of the Republican party leadership. In the wake of last weekend’s horror and tragedy, let us finally, finally rip off the veneer that Trump’s affinity for white supremacy is distinct from the Republican agenda of voter suppression, renewed mass incarceration and the expulsion of immigrants.”

Yes, indeed, “finally, finally” the vile evil motives of all Republicans, hidden for generations, have been revealed for all to see!

Finally, lest you imagine that our PCUSA leadership is not within this same ideological bubble, consider the actions and statements of our current Co-moderators  and the Senior Pastor from one of our largest churches.  I should also point out that most of the cruel name calling referred to above was done in person by members of the PCUSA (see here for one written example).

The consequences of this ideological dominance in Progressive thought have been a major factor that has led to our current sorry state.

Mainline Christianity and Progressive Politics (2)

religion_politics-no-right-turnsConfronting the Absurdity

I’d like to focus on the following question:

What is the likelihood that two organizations, the first driven by the passions and practicalities of contemporary human ideology / politics, and, the second built on Scriptures written by dozens of authors from approximately 1500 B.C. to 100 A.D. concerning the eternal, loving and just God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — would uniformly arrive at virtually identical moral conclusions and policy prescriptions?

The natural answer for most people would likely be “pretty much zero.”  That is, the differences in both the sources and deliberative processes are so vast that it would be absurdly unlikely.  And yet, this is the very absurdity upon which most mainline Protestant denominations are built.

That is, we are supposed to accept that the uniform agreement between a human political movement (i.e., Progressive Leftism) and mainline Christian denominations is a natural and credible outcome.  But, it is actually an incredible outcome, and one that any committed Christian, regardless of their personal political beliefs should find troubling.  Note well that it would be equally incredible and troubling if a Christian denomination uniformly agreed with Conservatism, Libertarianism, or any other secular human movement.

So, if this result didn’t happen by chance, then why did it?  Could it be because the Democratic Party, the practical vehicle of Progressive Leftist politics, is under control of the mainline Protestant denominations?  Given the consistently shrinking membership of mainline denominations and clearly increasing secularism in the Democratic Party, this reason is exceedingly unlikely.

The most likely answer is that, having lost faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and rejected Biblical authority, the mainline leadership grasped the straws of “social justice” and secular political activism as the only means of maintaining any plausible reason for existing as an organization.  That is, having rejected God’s power and purposes they had no choice but to replace these with secular political power and purposes.

I’m certainly not alone in this position.  For example, here’s an excerpt from  Edward R. Norman’a Christianity and the World Order.

Christianity today is, in this sense, bing reinterpreted as a scheme of social and political action, dependent, it is true, upon supernatural authority for its ultimate claims to attention, but rendered in categories that are derived from the political theories and practices of contemporary society. . .

Also, my research into and analysis of the recent PCUSA decision to allow same-gender marriage confirms: hijacking of Jesus Christ and His Gospel for political purposes, rejection of Biblical authority, and embrace of Progressive secular sociopolitical causes.  More recently, I have documented (and refuted) the complete alignment between the PCUSA’s and Progressive Democrat position on immigration policy.

I suppose that a committed Christian who is also a committed Progressive Leftist might be able to square this circle.  However, even for them, doesn’t the subjugation of Jesus Christ and His Gospel under the authority of a secular, partisan political movement seem theologically and morally untenable?  For the rest of us, are we willing to ceed our faith in Jesus Christ and the interpretation of His purposes in the world to the Democrat Party?

I certainly do not ceed these things to the Republican Party.  Yes, I am a registered Republican and usually (but not always) vote Republican.  But this isn’t because I believe that this party has a monopoly on morality, let alone Christian truth.  Nor do I find anything close to uniform alignment between the Republican Party Platform and my Christian beliefs.  No, in a two-party Republic I usually vote (often holding my nose) for the candidate that I believe will do the least damage.

Every citizen is entitled to their own political beliefs.  However, no-one is entitled to avoid criticism if they are so absurd so as to claim that their secular political party and Christian derived policy prescriptions are always and forever in near perfect alignment.  That is precisely the implicit claim of our mainline denominational leadership.  And, it is long past time that we confronted the absurdity of this situation.

 

 

 

 

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (35)

King-David-at-Prayer-Pieter de GrebberClosing Thoughts (2)

The causes, nature and consequences of this “prison of guilt” were brilliantly summarized in an essay titled “The Strange Persistence of Guilt,” by Dr. Wilfred M. McClay in The Hedgehog Review.

 

What makes the situation dangerous for us, as Fredriksen observes, is not only the fact that we have lost the ability to make conscious use of the concept of sin but that we have also lost any semblance of a “coherent idea of redemption,” the idea that has always been required to accompany the concept of sin in the past and tame its harsh and punitive potential. The presence of vast amounts of unacknowledged sin in a culture, a culture full to the brim with its own hubristic sense of world-conquering power and agency but lacking any effectual means of achieving redemption for all the unacknowledged sin that accompanies such power: This is surely a moral crisis in the making—a kind of moral-transactional analogue to the debt crisis that threatens the world’s fiscal and monetary health. The rituals of scapegoating, of public humiliation and shaming, of multiplying morally impermissible utterances and sentiments and punishing them with disproportionate severity, are visibly on the increase in our public life. They are not merely signs of intolerance or incivility, but of a deeper moral disorder, an Unbehagen that cannot be willed away by the psychoanalytic trick of pretending that it does not exist.

This is the description of a culture in which the affected members feel guilt-ridden about every possible ill that exists in this fallen world because they have been convinced that it all can somehow be traced back to them as the prime cause.

Dr. McClay also discusses the means by which the post-Christian world has employed to deal with this overwhelming sense of guilt.

But victimhood at its most potent promises not only release from responsibility, but an ability to displace that responsibility onto others. As a victim, one can project onto another person, the victimizer or oppressor, any feelings of guilt he might harbor, and in projecting that guilt lift it from his own shoulders. The result is an astonishing reversal, in which the designated victimizer plays the role of the scapegoat, upon whose head the sin comes to rest, and who pays the price for it. By contrast, in appropriating the status of victim, or identifying oneself with victims, the victimized can experience a profound sense of moral release, of recovered innocence. It is no wonder that this has become so common a gambit in our time, so effectively does it deal with the problem of guilt—at least individually, and in the short run, though at the price of social pathologies in the larger society that will likely prove unsustainable.

Here we recognize that class of people who, by identification with the world’s certified victims, claim a moral purity (and thus moral authority) that places them above other mere mortals.  And, it is clear that in order to maintain this status they cannot support war, since it by definition is the act of a victimizer.  It is by these bizarre moral gymnastics that millions of people in the West have convinced themselves that support of civilizational suicide is the only moral path available by which their guilt can be assuaged.

The obvious issues are that:

  1. They actually are all just frail, fallible mortals, under the same curse of sin as are all the rest of us, and,
  2. They are proposing to sacrifice not just themselves, but all of the other human beings who find themselves to be members of Western Civilization, to the idol of their supposed moral perfection.

I am not here denying or diminishing the fact that there are victims in this world who are to be affirmed and assisted.  What I am opposing is the creation of a post-Christian (in and outside of the Christian church) moral economy in which the currency of moral authority is fraudulently credited only to those who most loudly claim victimhood or identification with the same.  Everyone else is thus arbitrarily condemned to the outer darkness of moral poverty, including any member of a certified victim group who won’t play by the established rules.

This post-Christian moral economy is irreconcilable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  For, whereas this fraudulent economy separates humanity into saints and sinners via victim status (by gender, race, civilization, orientation, class, etc.), the Gospel unequivocally unites all of humanity in our common fallenness, our uniform need for a Savior.

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. …

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.  (Romans 3:21-25a, 27, 28)

Here we finally see the ultimate consequence of having succumbed to pacifistic, narcissistic and perfectionistic modes of thought.  For, we have turned our backs on the Gospel in order to obtain counterfeit moral currency. The fact that this ideology exists in general society is understandable. The fact that it exists in any church calling itself Christian is inexcusable. It is long past time for those of us who reject this moral con game to speak up, particularly those of us who claim allegiance to Christ’s Gospel.


bouguereau-david-the-shepherd-1895-210x300x72Thus, I return to King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart.  In this series I have attempted to reestablish the connection between King David and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I have also attempted to show how this flesh and blood man who lived within the challenges and joys of his era became, through God’s grace alone, the greatest king in all history.

David obtained this position not because he was a great man, but rather because God filled him with a great faith that no evil in this world could overcome.  By that faith he fought for his life and that of his civilization.  By that faith he was inspired to compose Psalms and prayers of wonderous beauty.  By that faith his reign served as a foreshadow of Christ’s eternal kingdom.

And, by this same faith our civilization can be renewed and defended.

Amen.

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (28)

ps60-05David’s Song of Praise (2)

2 Samuel 22:17-20

In the previous passage David describes God’s wrath and its consequence on his enemies.  David now describes God’s purpose.

17 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
18 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
19 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
20 He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me.

Thus, God’s acts were in support of His sovereign choice to make David king.  However, by the combination of David’s (God-given) character and David’s (God-ordained) experience, the resulting nature of this king was unlike any other.  That is, God has seen to it that David’s kingship would be the seed from which would grow the church of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  John Calvin brilliantly describes this act of God thus.

Here there is briefly shown the drift of the sublime and magnificent narrative which has now passed under our review, namely, to teach us that David at length emerged from the profound abyss of his troubles, neither by his own skill, nor by the aid of men, but that he was drawn out of them by the hand of God. When God defends and preserves us wonderfully and by extraordinary means, he is said in Scripture language to send down succor from above; and this sending is set in opposition to human and earthly aids, on which we usually place a mistaken and an undue confidence.

John Calvin’s Commentary on Psalm 18

Thus, David’s experience of God’s grace was so clear, so profound that he could not possibly conclude that it originated from “human and earthly aids.”

Finally, when David says that God “delighted in me” he is speaking from the position of divine election.  We in this life cannot claim a shred of justification for why God should have “delighted in me.”  However, how can one so redeemed, protected and justified discuss such an ultimate salvation without reference to the personal nature of this mysterious, blessed gift from God?