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Theology

Jennifer Lawrence, the Irony of Normalcy, and the Righteousness of Faith

Jennifer Lawrence, the Irony of Normalcy, and the Righteousness of Faith

This piece was written by our friend Brad J. Gray.

She caught our eye in 2007 on a short-lived network comedy. Then, she broke through with an independent drama in 2010 that earned her national acclaim and attention. She flew into the stratosphere and became the mega-star we know and love with a summer blockbuster in 2012, the success of which she’s likely still riding the coattails. If you didn’t already catch it, I’m referring to Jennifer Lawrence. “J-Law,” as she’s lovingly known on the “Interwebz,” made a name for herself on The Bill Engvall Show during its brief run on…

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Am I My Brother's Keeper?

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

When I was a kid attending Sunday School in a very traditional Baptist church in the Midwest, we learned Bible stories… I became familiar with the regular cast of characters like Adam and Eve, Noah, David, Moses, etc. I could tell you that Moses parted the Red Sea; Adam and Eve ate an apple; David slew a giant (thanks to a relative who gifted me one Christmas with 12-inch David and Goliath action figures!). As a teen, I would learn that the book of Leviticus was all about how family members in the same house should not undress in the…

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Pobody’s Nerfect: On Performance Anxiety and (Not) Giving Advice from the Pulpit

With both the Reformation’s quincentennial kickoff and our DC conference mere weeks away, we’ve put our feelers out for all things smacking of the reason for the season, that “harsh doctor,” Martin Luther. Today we were pleased to find just that from our friend Phillip Cary, who is featured in the latest issue of First Things. Below I’ve re-posted a handful of memorable excerpts from his piece “Luther at 500” (ht RS):

The great pastoral aim of Luther’s doctrine of justification is to free us from the kind of performance anxiety that arises whenever our salvation depends in any way on us, our hearts, our will, or our doings. For anything we do is something about which we can ask, “Am I doing it well enough?” And for Luther the answer is always “not well enough to save you from damnation.” No act of our free will, and hence no decision of ours, is an exception to this rule…

How we have always been justified by faith alone is best seen in light of Luther’s distinction between law and Gospel. Both the law of God and the Gospel of Christ are God’s word, but the former only gives us instructions while the latter gives us Christ. For the law tells us what to do, but the Gospel tells us what Christ does. The distinction grows out of Augustine’s insistence, in his great treatise On the Spirit and the Letter, that telling us to obey the law of love does not help us do it from the depths of our hearts; only the grace of Christ can give us such a heart. Luther merely adds: The place to find the grace of Christ is in the Gospel of Christ.

A great many preachers, Protestant as well as Catholic, overlook the distinction between law and Gospel, thinking they can change people’s lives by giving them practical advice—as if telling them how to be inwardly transformed could help them do it. Augustine already knew better. Luther’s addition to Augustine’s insight is merely the glad recognition that there is indeed something preachers can do to help us be transformed: Instead of advice, they can give us Christ.

Catch more of this gospel-centered good news with Mocking-friends from all over on October 27-29 in Washington, DC. You can register for the conference here—hope to see you soon!

Thomas Merton on Hate, Love, and Worth

From New Seeds of Contemplation, emphasis in the original, ht MM:

Strong hate, the hate that takes joy in hating, is strong because it does not believe itself to be unworthy and alone. It feels the support of a justifying God, of an idol of war, an avenging and destroying spirit. From such blood-drinking gods the human race was once liberated, with great toil and terrible sorrow, by the death of a God Who delivered Himself to the Cross and suffered the pathological cruelty of His own creatures out of pity for them. In conquering death He opened their eyes to the reality of a love which asks no questions about worthiness, a love which overcomes hatred and destroys death.

But men have now come to reject this divine revelation of pardon, and they are consequently returning to the old war gods, the gods that insatiably drink blood and eat the flesh of men. It is easier to serve the hate-gods because they thrive on the worship of collective fanaticism. To serve the hate-gods, one has only to be blinded by collective passion. To serve the God of Love one must be free, one must face the terrible responsibility of the decision to love in spite of all unworthiness whether in oneself or in one’s neighbor. (pgs 73-74)

Idealistic Hackers and My Personal "Change the World" Project

Idealistic Hackers and My Personal “Change the World” Project

In preparation for Mr. Robot’s third season (premiering tonight), here’s a fantastic piece by Rebecca Florence Miller.

I’ve always wanted to change the world. As a child and young woman, I longed to serve as a missionary, perhaps translating the Bible for those who had never heard of Jesus. I dreamed of traveling to other countries and teaching English as a Second Language. As a teen, I longed to convert people to all kinds of different things, like being pro-life or Republican or just to being a Christian. Now, I live in a constant state of trying to engage in civil…

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Dog Is My Copilot

Dog Is My Copilot

’Tis the season for pet blessings! Churches everywhere are celebrating the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4), that famed lover of animals, by blessing their congregants’ furry friends. Our family are dog people, and we always bring a dog or two to the pet blessing at our church. My husband and I had dogs before we had human children, and I hope to take the advice that someone gave me to get a puppy when our children are teenagers, so that someone will be happy to see us at the end of the day. We currently have two…

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Gospel Moshing: Adventures at Metal Shows with a Spooky Friend

Gospel Moshing: Adventures at Metal Shows with a Spooky Friend

Maybe we, why don’t we
Sit right here for half an hour?
We’ll speak of what a waste I am
And how we missed your beat again

I swear we need to find some comfort in this run down place
To bridge the gap of this conscious state that we live in
And I’m short on time

– “Writing on the Walls,” Underoath

Nearly all of my best memories from college center on my close-yet-mysterious best friend named Tyler, who became mythical in our friend group because of his penchant for mischief and his unerring tendency to seek out and bask in all of the absurd things of…

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Nothing More Characteristic (or Foundational)

Another of the countless “mic-drop” moments in Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion. Italics in the original, ht RS:

“There is nothing more characteristic of humanity than the universal tendency of one portion of that humanity to justify itself as deserving and some other portion as undeserving. Nothing is more foundational in Christian faith than the recognition that we can never be justified in that way. To speak of “deserving” is to divide up the world in a fashion that is utterly alien to the gospel. Christ came to die expressly for sinners, for the undeserving, for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6). Calvin, with his characteristic concern for pastoral consolation, writes, “The promise of salvation is willingly and freely offered to us by the Lord in consideration of our misery rather than our deserving.” The great Holy Week hymn “Ah, Holy Jesus” concludes with a prayer to the crucified Lord: “Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving, not our deserving.”

We are arguing here that drawing a line between between those who participate in horrors and those who do not is a dubious enterprise; all of us in one way or another are either potential perpetrators, potential participants, or (most likely) passive enablers of horrors. W. H. Auden embedded this conviction in his poem: “We shan’t, not since Stalin and Hitler, trust ourselves ever again.” If this is true, then the gospel has to be good news not only for the victims but also for the perpetrators. If we say that Jesus Christ descended into hell, perhaps we mean most of all the hell of the perpetrators.” (pp. 451-53)

Is There Any Comfort? Remembering the Reformation 500 Years Later

Is There Any Comfort? Remembering the Reformation 500 Years Later

We are now less than a month out from our upcoming conference in D.C.! Come celebrate 500 years of grace with us, October 27-29—you can register here.

With the Reformation on the brain, here is a fantastic piece written by our friend, Jonathan A. Linebaugh.

In 1519, Thomas Bilney sat in a small Cambridge college with a book in his hands. It had been two years since a German monk named Martin Luther was said to have nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg—hammer blows that were later remembered as the start of the Reformation and were rumored to have shaken…

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How to Have (Just) One God ~ Adam Morton

Don’t miss this talk from our favorite polytheist (in that amazing Cthulhu 2016 t-shirt). From our conference in NYC this past April:

How to Have (Just) One God ~ Adam Morton from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

What Made Paul Tillich a Conscious Protestant

A timely dose of the controversial theologian doing what he did best, i.e. taking the theology of the cross to its existential limits. Via the introduction to The Protestant Era:

“You cannot reach God by the work of right thinking or by a sacrifice of the intellect or by a submission to strange authorities, [ed: religious or not]… You cannot, and you are not even asked to try it. Neither works of piety nor works of morality nor works of the intellect establish unity with God. They follow from this unity, but they do not make it. They even prevent it if you try to reach it through them. But just as you are justified as a sinner (though unjust, you are just), so in the status of doubt you are in the status of truth. And if all this comes together and you are desperate about the meaning of life, the seriousness of your despair is the expression of the meaning in which you still are living. This unconditional seriousness is the expression of the presence of the divine in the expression of utter separation from it. It is this radical and universal interpretation of the doctrine of justification through faith which has made me a conscious Protestant.” (pg XV)

All Alone in a Disenchanted Universe

All Alone in a Disenchanted Universe

Did anyone actually see Miss Sloane in theaters? I remember seeing a trailer for it some moon cycles ago, but never did hear much buzz about it. That is, until last weekend, when, after some coaxing from my sister, I watched it on Amazon.

In any case, you don’t have to see the movie to know, essentially, who Miss Sloane is. You’ve likely encountered her “type” before, whether in movies or daily life. She’s a ruthless fast-talker, wicked-smart, but terribly lonely. The kind of person some would call a strong, independent woman and others would call an obsessive-compulsive conniver. A notorious…

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