1. First off, a little pop theology. Phillip Cary contributed an encouraging review of J.D. Greear’s sensationally titled Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart to the recent issue of Christianity Today, under the header “Anxious About Assurance”. As he does in his book Good News for Anxious Christians, Cary gets straight to the heart of the matter:

Greear is not saying it’s wrong to ask Jesus into your heart. He’s saying it’s not the same thing as believing the gospel. And if we want to be assured of salvation, it’s believing the gospel that actually counts. We are saved by faith alone, not by doing a good enough job praying the Sinner’s Prayer.

sinners-prayer-fail-300x245It was reading Martin Luther that brought the difference into focus for him. Greear speaks in very Lutheran terms when he says, “Saving faith looks outside of itself to what Christ has done, not back onto itself at what it has done.” For the gospel is not about us and the decisions we make—not even our decision to choose Christ—but rather about Christ himself, his finished work on the cross and his sitting on the throne of heaven, where he himself is our all-sufficient righteousness before God…

Greear’s book goes about as far in Luther’s direction as is possible for a committed Calvinist. The price for going all the way with Luther is dropping the notion that you can know in advance that your faith will persevere, and joining Luther (as well as Augustine) in believing that salvation is not complete until our faith actually does persevere to the end. What you get, for that price, is the freedom for faith to continue to “look outside itself” at Christ alone and not “back onto itself,” not even for the sake of telling the difference between temporary and saving faith. What you lose is eternal security, the assurance that you are already saved for eternity.

Every tradition has its distinctive anxieties, the price it pays for its distinctive convictions. For my part, I go all the way with Luther, for I think Christian faith puts faith in Christ alone—and not even a little bit in itself. And I think we should pay any price for such faith.

Speaking of going all the way with Luther, upcoming NYC Conference speaker Tullian Tchividjian’s talk from last month’s Liberate conference, released this week, is a must-watch. The man “killed it” both in the preacher and comedian sense of that phrase (and looked good while doing so, ‘natch):

Liberate 2013 – Tullian Tchividjian from Coral Ridge | LIBERATE on Vimeo.

Oh and speaking of the NYC Conference, our awesome hosts/home-away-from-home Calvary St George’s made The NY Times this past week and in a pretty amusing way (final paragraph is priceless!). If you live in NYC and haven’t checked them out, run don’t walk.

2. The New Statesman’s review of John Gray’s The Silence of Animals grapples at some length with Gray’s views of human nature and purpose, particularly as they relate to Christianity. Despite one rather glaring error (in which the reviewer ascribes to religion an endorsement of “the freedom of will”), the insights abound, and even if we clearly part ways with Gray’s ultimate conclusions (esp the part where the cross is likened to pulling a “metaphysical rabbit out of the hat”), his brand of atheism may be the most respectable I’ve ever come across. One particularly great passage they pulled from Gray himself is:

In comparison with the Genesis myth, the modern myth in which humanity is marching to a better future is mere superstition. As the Genesis story teaches, knowledge cannot save us from ourselves. If we know more than before, it means only that we have greater scope to enact our madness. But – as the Genesis myth also teaches – there is no way we can rid ourselves of what we know . . . The message of Genesis is that in the most vital areas of human life there can be no progress, only an unending struggle with our nature.

3. The Verge reports that “The Age of the Brag Is Over: Why Facebook Might Be Losing Teens”, and while the headline might be a bit premature, some of the soundbites they got are amazing, ht JD:

beachboytumblrWhen Facebook launched, it was cool to expose details about yourself, like what movies you like, what you’re doing right now, and who you’re in a relationship with. It was, dare I say, exhilarating — being able to share freely with the world without having to learn how to code or even how to apply a MySpace theme. At some point, adding these details, like hundreds of photos from a recent vacation and status updates about your new job amounted to bragging — force-feeding Facebook friends information they didn’t ask for. What was once cool was now uncool. Worse yet, it started to feel like work. Maybe the burden of constantly constructing immaculate digital profiles of ourselves is tiring.

Part of Tumblr’s success is no doubt due to that fact that it’s a place where you can cultivate two or more identities, whereas on Facebook you’re stuck with just one: the real you. “It’s a site where you can find people that are like you and you can feel less alone,” Wisniewski said. Tumblr’s simple and binary privacy controls may have also contributed to its success. “As Facebook has become a real-life social network infested with parents, co-workers, ex-friends, and people you barely know,” Rifkin writes, “Tumblr has become the place where young people express themselves.” Bois concurred. “I’m kind of obsessed. [Tumblr is] the new Facebook almost,” she said.

4. Lots of Internet-induced laughter this week. First, a couple of lists: 17 Overly Optimistic Book Titles and The 12 Worst Things in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. In the “so-this-exists” department, there’s the incredibly creepy LivesOn. Then, Lutheran Satire’s mean but still undeniably funny “Which Denomination Are You? Flowchart”. And finally, there’s the following, truly out there (in a hilarious way) Japanese ad for Domino’s Pizza, ht TB:

5. Two very fine essays for your weekend reading: First, Alan Jacobs’ wonderful reappraisal for Books and Culture of Walker Percy’s brilliant Lost in the Cosmos (on its 30th anniversary!). Carl Sagan, Soren Kierkegaard and Phil Donahue all feature prominently, one of the key passages being:

We are not encouraged to think about how the structures of mediation work because that would cause us to question them and our relation to them. That is, we might start reflecting on the semiotic construction of the self, and begin to see the formation of our selves as problematic, none of which is good for business. American media culture, Percy believed, involves a lunatic oscillation between absolute indulgence of the self (Donahue) and absolute evasion of it (Sagan). Looked at in one way—in any number of ways—Phil Donahue and Carl Sagan have very little in common; looked at in Percy’s way, they serve an almost identical function as guides who gently distract us from attention to how we’re being formed and how we might be formed differently. Percy’s task, therefore, is to bring the self with all its contradictions into proper focus, to subject it to the harsh light of truth.

But he knows that we do not wish to experience this, so he follows Kierkegaard’s model of ironic and comical “indirect communication.” Percy is to us what Virgil was to Dante, but cannot fulfill that role straightforwardly because of our hostility to anyone who claims moral authority. But maybe a sardonic, foul-mouthed, bourbon-drinking Catholic Virgil is the one we both need and deserve.

Second, Mbird fave John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “My Father, The Smoker” appeared in The Guardian in conjunction with the e-release of Sullivan’s first full-length collection of non-fiction, 2005′s Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter’s Son (from which it is taken). The piece in question is an extremely touching meditation on loss, love, addiction, and fathers. Do yourself a favor.

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6. How can you not love Robert Downey Jr.? Especially when he speaks to Esquire about his most famous role in these terms, ht MG & MS:

I think Iron Man wound up being the first time I screen-tested since Chaplin. As far as I was concerned, it was destiny. Now, I can’t tell you how many people are sitting around with the cold, hard evidence that it wasn’t. I just wasn’t going to let lack of perseverance, lack of preparation, or lack of prayer get in the way. I just went crazy — in a good way. And suddenly it occurred to me, Oh my God, Stan Lee might not know this, but everything he created has all been leading to this moment. It’s me. Then I thought, Hold on a second, dude, is this just some sort of neurotic personality meltdown happening here? And then I thought, Nah, that feels different.

And then there’s the operatic trailer for Iron Man 3 which hit the grid this week. The opening line is one for the ages, “I build neat stuff, I’ve got a great girl, and occasionally save the world. So why can’t I sleep?” (cue sermon writers everywhere), not to mention the Mandarin’s question about empty lives and meaningful deaths. Saddle up and ride:

7. In television, The Walking Dead just aired the best episode it has yet to film, and Enlightened ended on suitably awkward yet redemptive note. I don’t think there’s ever been a character on TV like Amy Jellicoe–mercurial and self-involved and painfully idealistic, too irritating to be likeable yet too much of a doofus to dislike entirely and somehow still dignified and, well, regular. Quite a feat. Next, despite an increasingly incomprehensible (at this point) season-long plot arc, Justified continues to work its way through an extremely awesome fourth season with the best chemistry of any cast on television. Speaking of chemistry, I’m trying my hardest to dig the new season of Community, but with the exception of the Halloween episode it’s getting tough… On the upside, The Americans has officially cemented itself as the best new show of the year. And while it may not have been the masterpiece some have claimed, House of Cards largely followed through on its Wire-lite promise by introducing a bit more mystery into the second half of the season and embracing the cartoon Machiavelli stuff whole hog. Kevin Spacey electrifies, and Robin Wright is certainly no slouch, eh?

8. In film, even if the Iron Man 3 one hadn’t dropped, it would have still been a big week for trailers. Joss Whedon’s spot-the-Buffyverse-player clip for Much Ado About Nothing finally arrived and Noah Baumbach’s new collaboration with Greta Gerwig (black and white!) looks seriously promising:

Also, it was only a matter of time til someone made the following documentary, and thankfully it looks like it was done with an enormous amount of love. It’ll be quite a day when our dear Mr. Watterson finally gives up and humors us superfans. A matter for prayer surely:

Dear Mr. Watterson Teaser Trailer from Dear Mr. Watterson on Vimeo.