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Theology

"Jesus Take the Wheel" Is Not Enough

“Jesus Take the Wheel” Is Not Enough

Carrie Underwood has offered many the willy-nilly soul “spinning on a thin black sheet of glass” a sense of relief since her 2005 hit, “Jesus Take the Wheel.” There is an immediate comfort to the notion that when we’re “running low on faith and gasoline,” God might step in as if he were a sub, tagging us out of the game of life; as if to say, “Thanks for keeping us on the right track, soldier! You rest a while. I’ve got it from here.”

Upon closer observation, this is a pretty flimsy picture of a God who “created the heavens…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Eighteen Verses Twenty-One Through Thirty-Five

This morning’s devotion, inspired by yesterday’s Gospel passage, was written by Kris McInnes.

…Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-35, NRSV)

Forgiveness is hard, and the forgiveness God demands is impossible. Jesus tells a story of a man who was forgiven much and then refused to forgive one who owed him little. This unforgiving man was tortured until he paid back all he owed, an amount so staggering that it would have been impossible for him to recover.

We often assume the point of the parable is simple, that we should forgive others and not hold grudges, but that end is impossible to attain. If we walk away from the parable thinking that this is something we can live up to, or worse, something we are living up to, then we are lost. The parable can only help us if through it we hear what we are supposed to do and realize that we are not doing it. And this should come naturally—it won’t take long to think about how unforgiving we are: think about the last time you heard someone sing the national anthem, the last time you watched Access Hollywood, the last time you sized someone up in the grocery store, the latest gossip you heard.

These are our shortcomings before the Law of Forgiveness. We may like that Jesus forgives, we may even like the idea of forgiving others, but we cannot do it ourselves. Like any other, this law can only assist us in illuminating our death before it and our need for an external forgiver. Thankfully, on the other side of this death is the new life in a forgiving and loving God, who sent his son Jesus to show us how it’s done.

From the cross Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and that is exactly what God does. He doesn’t even wait for us to ask. Before we go looking for it or even realize we need help, we are forgiven. Before our mouths can even form the words “I’m sorry,” we are forgiven.

A Fatal Attraction: The Law As Means of Control

A Fatal Attraction: The Law As Means of Control

One of passages from our Law & Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints) that we hear about most often:

If no one fulfills the law, the question naturally arises: Why should we care about it? If it accuses and condemns us—two things that no one likes—why do we pay it such mind? Why does it keep coming back?

Perhaps because the law [of God] is a true and good thing. Just because we are not able to live up to God’s standard does not somehow invalidate it. That is, we may find it impossible to stop worrying about the future, but…

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Rollo May's One Paradox of Courage

Rollo May’s One Paradox of Courage

An important (if not challenging) definition of courage from existential psychologist Rollo May, brother of writer and addiction counselor, Gerald May. This comes from Rollo’s famous book, The Courage to Create—a title dedicated to Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be—and this section is a description of what May calls the paradox of courage. Courage, as he sees it, goes far beyond strong wills and resolution. It comes from the French word “coeur” or heart. It means something akin to being “full-hearted,” and therefore is incomplete without its ugly counterpart, fear or doubt. Replace “courage” with “belief,” and you have a…

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Robert Jenson (1930-2017) on the Proclamation of the Gospel

Scott Jones has already posted an article worth your time on Robert Jenson who died last week. He is, as Scott also pointed out, likely the most brilliant American theologian since Jonathan Edwards. My seminary professor, Piotr Małysz, lent me his Systematic Theology, Volume 1 while I was still in school, and I could tell immediately that I was reading one of the greats. If you have yet to read him, start with “How the World Lost Its Story” or with his latest book, A Theology in Outline. Here is an early writing from Jenson on the mind-blowingly profound, yet simple, Gospel that tells me about Jesus’ future and thus about my future as well:

The word of proclamation narrates what happened with Jesus and asserts that what happened with Jesus will happen to you as your death-certain destiny, that the achievement of love-out-of-death which he enacted will fulfill your lives also. The word of proclamation is the assertion that you go to meet him, and will therefore conclude your lives by total involvement in his. It is the assertion that you have a destiny and that he is it, that his story tells of it.

In the word of proclamation, the story of the past Jesus is addressed to me as my future, as my possibility. If then it occurs that as an event in my life I enact this story as and when it is so proclaimed, then what happened with Jesus is not only the past which my action recalls, it is also the future in which my action will eventuate. Then this enacting is the event of my being destined to this destiny. In the context of the proclamation and not otherwise, our speaking and acting-out of the gospel story is, precisely as an enacting which is an occurrence in our lives like any other, our choosing and being chosen to this destiny which is real to us as the story of Jesus. It is, therefore, the event of our having Jesus’ story as our story.

In the context of this proclamation, worship is the effective hearing of the proclamation, by which I am given love-out-of-death as my chosen future. As such it is the being done to me of what Jesus suffered himself and did to his followers. It is when Jesus’ story is enacted as not only past but also future that the enactment and not merely the enacting is a present event in our lives—and it is the word of proclamation that the past can be future.

A Religion Against Itself

Can These Bones Live?

Can These Bones Live?

The greatest American theologian since Jonathan Edwards died this week. His name was Robert Jenson. But to his friends he was “Jens.” Jenson wrote scores of books. His impact on Christian theology will be felt for generations to come. He was a theologian’s theologian with a pastoral heart and a subtle missiological eye. He was one of the great ecumenists of our time, one with deep convictions; we don’t often associate the two. We think of the former as watering down particularity of belief in order to go along to get along. The latter we might admire but don’t invite…

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Villains, Saints, and Queens of the Stone Age

Villains, Saints, and Queens of the Stone Age

This one comes to us from Caleb Stallings.

“Oh villain! Thou art condemned into everlasting redemption.”
William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

My friends always laugh whenever I say, “That’s it! I’m quitting Twitter. I’m quitting social media. I’m quitting smartphones. I’m quitting it all!” I’ve melodramatically announced this countless times in the past few years, and I’ve followed through with it just a few. And, of course, I always end up coming back. It all starts as a desperate measure: the weight of the hoi polloi becomes unbearable, and so I look to cast off the fetters of our moral-outrage-of-the-week culture. The…

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Faith of Thrones

Faith of Thrones

There are already scores of recaps of Game of Thrones season finale readily available online (see this fine one from NPR for starters). I feel no compulsion to add to the already abundant list. But there was something that stuck out to me that is worth a little reflection. It’s something that has characterized the entirety of the series but of late, for me at least, has become more pronounced. The genre of Game of Thrones is of course fantasy, and like most fantasy stories it’s set in a premodern world. The technology, culture, and religion all seem pre-modern through…

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After God’s Own Heart: Life, Death, and the Gospel in the Story of King David ~ Nick Lannon

In this wonderful talk from our recent conference in NYC, Nick Lannon helps us understand the story of King David in relation to our everyday lives.

After God’s Own Heart: Life, Death, and the Gospel in the Story of King David ~ Nick Lannon from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

The Alt-Right Are Zombies. Stay with Me.

The Alt-Right Are Zombies. Stay with Me.

Think about it. They are wandering the streets. They want to destroy those who are not like them. They are screaming for blood. And they are obviously terrifying.

Christians have put out responses all over the map on this one. Tina Fey (a churchgoing Lutheran) has suggested we yell our anger into sheet cakes. Many of my colleagues have taken to the streets to show great love in the face of hate. Also, word on the street is that Beth Moore is pissed at these guys, too.

Believers are rightly upset. Racism is undeniably a sin. And apparently the alt-right missed the…

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Hopelessly Devoted: John Chapter Five Verses Twenty-Two Through Twenty-Seven

Hopelessly Devoted: John Chapter Five Verses Twenty-Two Through Twenty-Seven

This morning’s devotion was written by John Zahl. 

The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice…

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Seeking Freedom from Dieting and Body Shame: Part Three

Seeking Freedom from Dieting and Body Shame: Part Three

One of the comments from this recent article in the New York Times Magazine on diet culture in America says:

As humans I think we are all seeking something more. We all want to be better, and to be different. Some days we love ourselves. Some days we don’t. This Feature went way beyond weight for me, it spoke about the common constant striving of humanity and about shared desires and secrets….of our anxieties, our struggles, our sadness, and our love and hopes.

There is so much awareness in the words above. We all spend so much time and energy to be…

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