Theology

Zen and the Art of Law and Gospel: A Conference Breakout with Jim McNeely

Zen and the Art of Law and Gospel: A Conference Breakout with Jim McNeely

I am very excited about the upcoming Mockingbird Conference! First, and possibly most importantly, I have been asked to do a few magic tricks at the conference. If you come, you will be one of the few humans ever to witness a one-time demonstration of the power of the amazing Cords of Shastri, which have been lost for over 600 years, but which have recently come into my possession. I will bring these to New York City for this one event. I repeat, this is a feat of legerdemain which has not been performed for over 600 years! I swear its…

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James, an “Epistle of Straw”? Not So Fast!

James, an “Epistle of Straw”? Not So Fast!

Whenever I read the letters of Paul and his great doctrine of justification by faith, there is always lurking in the background the problem posed by the Epistle of James and its not-so-apparent direct refutation of Paul. And in any discussion of justification by faith there always lurks the specter of James, always calling into question whether Paul was really correct in his understanding. Admittedly, for the longest time I never quite knew what to make of James 2, and its contradiction of Paul’s thesis that Abraham the ungodly was justified by faith, without works (Romans 4). It was Martin…

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The Danger of Rolling Suffering Into Evil (According to Gerhard Forde)

A helpful and ever-timely distinction from pages 84-85 of On Being a Theologian of the Cross:

luther-preaching

“Contemporary theologians talk much about the problem of evil. Some think it is the most difficult problem for theology today and one of the most persistent causes of unbelief. … Since suffering is itself classified as evil, it is of course simply lumped together with disaster, crime, misfortune of every sort, abuse, holocaust, and all manner of notorious wrong as one and the same problem. So it is almost universally the case that theologians and philosophers include suffering without further qualification among those things they call evil. … Evil does cause suffering — but not always. Indeed, the usual complaint is that the evil don’t seem to suffer. However, the causes of suffering may not always be evil — perhaps not even most of the time. Love can cause suffering. Beauty can be the occasion for suffering. Children with their demands and impetuous cries can cause suffering. Just the toil and trouble of daily life can cause suffering, and so on. Yet these are surely not to be termed evil. The problem of suffering should not just be rolled up with the problem of evil…”

“Identification of suffering with evil has the further result that God must be absolved from all blame. Thus, the theologian of glory adds to the perfidy of false speech by trying to assure us that God, of course, has nothing to do with suffering and evil. God is “good,” the rewarder of all our “good” works, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of merit. …Meanwhile, suffering goes on unabated. If God has nothing to do with suffering, what is he involved with? Whoever does not know God hidden in suffering, Luther asserts in his proof, does not know God at all.”

And speaking of God hidden in suffering, today’s bonus track would have to be JAZ’s new mix, “For the Heads and the Heart”, which was selected as Dream Chimney’s current mix of the week:

The (Beginning and) End of Scorekeeping

Here’s my presentation at last month’s Liberate Conference, which is much indebted to Paul Walker’s talk on the same subject back in 2011. Those who came to the Fall conference in Houston (or have read the new issue of The Mockingbird) may be tempted to subtract points for the overlap:

LIBERATE 2015 | David Zahl from Coral Ridge | LIBERATE on Vimeo.

Hopelessly Devoted: Radars, Gift Certificates and Three-Eyed Cats

In lieu of our regular devotional, here are the two that JAZ gave at Liberate last month. Memorable is an understatement:

My Relationship With God Is Better Than Ever

My Relationship With God Is Better Than Ever

(This essay was originally published in issue 3 of The Mockingbird. All issues and subscriptions, including issue 4 which ships tomorrow, are available available here).

“We can permit ourselves to be more romantic than the romanticists and more humanistic than the humanists. But we must be more precise.” —Karl Barth, “The Christian’s Place in Society”

image courtesy of Lutheran Satire

Every recess for eight years, I was picked last on the team for two-hand-touch football. The turning point came in the ninth grade, when recess was replaced by study hall.

But, before that, there was another turning point I had blundered right past: the opportunity…

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Two Notes, Not One

Another quote from Steven Paulson’s Luther for Armchair Theologians:

“When a tone-deaf person sings, it can be painful to hear. But if you have to listen to theologians who know only the one note of the law, it is not only painful but deadly. They like to describe the big picture of God’s plan as a test to see whether you will pass. They explain God’s mind or the order of God’s plan for salvation and how you can fit in if you follow the rules of the game that God plays. Then the church and its leaders act as referees deciding who is in and who is out of salvation by passing some test. Thinking this way makes it impossible to grasp what Luther is saying when he distinguishes law and gospel as what is old and done for and what is newly arriving with Jesus Christ…[Law and Gospel are] two notes, not one.”

The Law Always Accuses

everybody-is-guilty

A killer, seasonally appropriate quote from Werner Elert’s classic pamphlet “Law and Gospel”:

“Obviously the words of Christ [from the Sermon on the Mount] cannot be twisted in order to say that by heightening the demands of the law he sought only to demonstrate the impossibility of fulfilling it, and thus from the very outset to induce his hearers to capitulate. The law is and remains a demand. It is inviolably valid. Not an iota will pass from it. It ought to be and must be fulfilled (Matt. 5:18).

“It is another question, however, whether with this heightened interpretation Christ intended to say that his hearers actually had fulfilled the law. If he really did intend to say that, then there would be a contradiction between him and Paul. But that would be an even worse twisting of his words than the previous one. Exactly the opposite is correct. The proof is found precisely in his treatment of the decalogue commandments. For when he transposes the criteria for fulfillment from the external to the internal, he presupposes his hearers know what feelings of hatred and evil lusts are. Here we already have the lex semper accusat. What murder and adultery are, in the sense of acts that transgress the commandments, one can also learn merely by being told. However, what hatred and evil lusts are we could not even imagine if we had not experienced them ourselves. Accordingly, for the man who receives the heightened interpretation of the decalogue as validly directed toward himself, it exposes his own inner nature, and demonstrates to him that his opposition to God’s law is not only possible, but actual. At that point no further self-examination is necessary. The man who understands what Christ means by hatred and impure desires testifies by the mere fact of this understanding that he is already guilty of this transgression.

“The law always accuses. Christ exempted no one from this verdict. Proof of this can be seen in his call, directed to everyone, for repentance from the heart (Makr 1:15 in conjunction with Luke 13:3-5). The “Our Father”, designed for all to pray, presupposes also that all are guilty (Matt. 6:12). Therefore also in the interpretation which the law receives from Christ it always exposes man’s sin. There is no situation imaginable, so long as the law reigns over us, where it would not exercise this accusatory function.”

The Gift (Certificate) Which Never Expires: A Sermon by John Zahl

The Gift (Certificate) Which Never Expires: A Sermon by John Zahl

This selection of a sermon comes from John Zahl’s collection, Sermons of Grace, available here. For those who made it to Liberate this year, the moving illustration towards the end should sound familiar:

My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.

-John 14:27

Unlike the peace of the world, the peace of God lasts. The forgiveness of God is not a bait-and-switch trap. It does not expire. When Jesus uttered those fateful words on the cross, “It is finished,” he meant what he said. The heavenly parking meter is not ticking.

Imagine, if you will, a cup of…

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Incurvatus In Se according to The New Yorker

CV1_TNY_02_23_15Goodrich.indd

“Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin being so deeply curved in on itself (incurvatus in se) that it not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them, as is plain in the works-righteous and hypocrites, or rather even uses God himself in order to attain these gifts, but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake.” —Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans

What Would Jesus Do (for Lent)?

What Would Jesus Do (for Lent)?

It is hard to believe that Ash Wednesday is upon us, with Lent coming in its wake. This season always stirs up some theological anxiety for me. I think it does for many of us. Each year, we hear the incredible story of Jesus heading into the desert. Here from the Gospel of Luke:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.

There is a widely preached theology which tells us that we can somehow identify with Jesus. This lens is…

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Introduction to Theology Lectures (BRAND NEW)

Last night saw the completion of a five-week series here at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, VA of a five-week Introduction to Christian Theology class, taught by our own Will McDavid. Recordings of the lectures (about 70 min each) are linked below to entries on our Resources page. Each entry also contains the recommended readings that are discussed during that class. Enjoy:

Week 1: Theology and Bible – What’s the Bible? What’s it do?

Week 2: Creation, Fall, and Sin – Sinful why? Sinful how?

Week 3: Christology – Why is Chalcedon so wordy? Atonement how?

Week 4: Soteriology/Christian Life – Sanctification? Really?

Week 5: Trinity and (Brief) Eschatology – To the inner mysteries of things like spiration