Click here to listen to this week’s episode of The Mockingcast, which features an interview with author/theologian John Newton.
1. Let’s start with this weird and beautiful story from The Washington Post: “The key to these ancient riddles may lie in a father’s love for his dead son.” For a hundred years, archaeologists have been trying to make sense of an extensive series of ancient Swedish runes which bear the dedication: “In memory of Vämod stand these runes. And Varinn wrote them, the father, in memory of his dead son.” Although many of the riddles that follow seem completely unrelated to this mysterious father/son…
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Last week one of our very dearest and oldest friends killed himself. And so we are going through all of the motions that such an event brings on. We’ve spent most nights in the kitchen weeping and talking. We’ve made gin and tonics. I’ve watched sad internet videos and cried more. We have prayed.
My favorite memory of our friend is from years ago. He was running an auction at my husband’s first church. And there were some very expensive pearls on the block. My husband, then boyfriend, was bidding against a parishioner, and our friend stopped the parishioner and said,…
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A few weeks ago, my husband turned to me from our calendar. “Want to hear how we did this year?” he asked half-jokingly, citing the list we had made at the beginning of the year: goals, wishes, resolutions. I’ve talked here about my movement away from lists, but God help me if I can get away from them altogether, their bullet-point succinctness taunting me away from the narrative-driven unpredictability of grace and tempting me back to performancism.
I told him to read me the list.
This was at the beginning of December. The goals were laudable (eat better, read more)…
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Thesis 3. Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins. – Luther
I think it’s safe to assume that most of American Horror Story’s viewership is not, strictly speaking, Christian, and I wouldn’t make a motion to change that. The show features a ton of sex, drugs, and victims skinned alive, but, by what would seem to be the mark of my kind, I cannot practice what I preach and am currently up to my neck in season five. (So the first piece of evidence supporting the theory of the “bound…
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Click here to listen to the accompanying episode of The Mockingcast.
1) On the heels of “identity” being Dictionary.com’s word of 2015, Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill discusses a theme that we have spoken about quite a bit ourselves this year, namely, the increasingly fluid cultural understanding of identity politics. O’Neill takes on the phrase “I identify as…” as a telling move from what we used to say about ourselves: “I am…” And with this new movement of self-identification comes the emphasis on subjectivity, the need for one’s identity to be transient, temporal—rather than objective, fixed, given.
O’Neill describes that this rampant interest…
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Another couple paragraphs from Ted Peters’ wonderful Sin Boldly!: Justifying Faith for Fragile and Broken Souls. This comes from the chapter on “Consciousness and Conscience”, in which he explores the ways we conflate conscience with justice, and God with conscience; or rather, how we instinctually restrict our image of God to that of lawgiver.
The conscience is tricky. It projects an image of God as judge, God as enforcer of the moral universe. Our functional image of God becomes the conscience writ large. To be sure, the true God is not fooled by our intra-psychic manipulations. In contrast to our image of God, the true God is self-defining. The true God challenges and even judges our image of God as judge… What we get from the divine Word, says Luther, is the announcement that God is gracious. Without this revelation through the Word, the deity we imagine will look like a dispenser of justice, judgment, and condemnation… But according to Luther, this risks idolatry. (pg. 157-158)
The comprehensive way in which the conscience spreads the horizon of our moral universe hides a truth, a truth about God. God is not co-extensive with our moral universe or even co-terminus with metaphysical justice. God is gracious. God is present to us in ways that cannot be accounted for by a justice calculus. (pg 153)
Some years ago I had a simple plan for my life. Step 1: head to grad school to learn a bit of theology. Step 2: acquire degrees. Step 3: teach for a living. Forgive my youthful naivete regarding the academic job market. My plan failed, but not for that reason. Neither was I derailed by the process of earning degrees; I proved an able student, did earn one degree, and may yet grab another. But that didn’t matter very much. No, I failed at Step 1, because I presumed it possible to learn something of God by devoting myself to that project, as if I were studying…
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“We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.”
Human reason can think only in terms of the Law. It mumbles: “This I have done, this I have not done.” But faith looks to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, given into death for the sins of the whole world. To turn one’s eyes away from Jesus means to turn them to the Law…
On the question of justification we must remain adamant, or else we shall lose the truth of the Gospel. It is a matter of life and death. It involves the death of the Son of God, who died for the sins of the world. If we surrender faith in Christ, as the only thing that can justify us, the death and resurrection of Jesus are without meaning; that Christ is the Savior of the world would be a myth. God would be a liar, because He would not have fulfilled His promises. Our stubbornness is right, because we want to preserve the liberty which we have in Christ. Only by preserving our liberty shall we be able to retain the truth of the Gospel inviolate.
Some will object that the Law is divine and holy. Let it be divine and holy. The Law has no right to tell me that I must be justified by it. The Law has the right to tell me that I should love God and my neighbor, that I should live in chastity, temperance, patience, etc. The Law has no right to tell me how I may be delivered from sin, death, and hell. It is the Gospel’s business to tell me that. I must listen to the Gospel. It tells me, not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has done for me.
This cracked me up, though who knows if it’s the equivalent of 16th century hearsay/urban legend. It’s a story that Martin Luther tells (Luthers Schriften, herausg. von Walch. XV, 446) about Johann Tetzel, the Dominican friar who served as the Grand Commissioner of Indulgences at the turn of the 16th Century in Germany, the man most often cast as the villain in the Luther story:
After [Johann] Tetzel had received a substantial amount of money at Leipzig, a nobleman asked him if it were possible to receive a letter of indulgence for a future sin. Tetzel quickly answered in the affirmative, insisting, however, that the payment had to made at once. This the nobleman did, receiving thereupon letter and seal from Tetzel. When Tetzel left Leipzig the nobleman attacked him along the way, gave him a thorough beating, and sent him back empty-handed to Leipzig with the comment that this was the future sin which he had in mind. Duke George at first was quite furious about this incident, but when he heard the whole story he let it go without punishing the nobleman.
From Oswald Bayer’s interpretation of Martin Luther’s Theology, pages 228-9:
“The effect that the law creates is not surprising. One has no trouble understanding what it means to rely on oneself and on one’s own deeds; the action-consequences relationship has its own logic. But the gospel is absolutely, completely incomprehensible. That God rescues one from, and brings one safely through, the deserved judgment is a miracle. Law and gospel cannot be plausibly intertwined together; their existence is hard and fast in opposition to each other. The gospel is literally a paradox: it stands against that which the sinner can reasonably expect; it stands against damnation.
It is thus not surprising that the communion between the sinning human being and the God who justifies through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit is incomprehensible; it is stupefying – astonishing – which does not lead one to be calm and at peace. Rather, it is described by Luther as a ‘stupendumduellum‘ – as a duel that arouses astonishment, as a duel like the one Jacob engaged in at Jabbok (Gen. 32). That this deadly confrontation between God and humanity is a ‘happy exchange,’ is a miracle. The one who has escaped from judgment and death cannot be sufficiently astounded about this.
‘The love of God does not find one worthy of its love to be present already, but [first] creates it.’ In this sense God is ‘God and no mortal’ (Hos. 11:9). For: ‘human love comes for the one who holds another worthy of love [already].’ (Luther, WA 1:354.35f). By contrast, the justification of the ungodly (Rom 4:5) is nothing less than the resurrection of the dead and the creation out of nothing (4:17).”