The Pope on Luther

Thanks to Paul McCain, who posted a transcript of Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks that he gave at the Augustinian cloister in Erfurt, which was where Luther served as a monk.  You should read the whole speech, but here is a sample:

As the Bishop of Rome, it is deeply moving for me to be meeting representatives of Council of the Lutheran Church of Germany here in the ancient Augustinian convent in Erfurt. This is where Luther studied theology. This is where he was ordained a priest in 1507. Against his father’s wishes, he did not continue the study of Law, but instead he studied theology and set off on the path towards priesthood in the Order of Saint Augustine. On this path, he was not simply concerned with this or that. What constantly exercised him was the question of God, the deep passion and driving force of his whole life’s journey.

“How do I receive the grace of God?”: this question struck him in the heart and lay at the foundation of all his theological searching and inner struggle. For him theology was no mere academic pursuit, but the struggle for oneself, which in turn was a struggle for and with God.“How do I receive the grace of God?” The fact that this question was the driving force of his whole life never ceases to make an impression on me. For who is actually concerned about this today – even among Christians? What does the question of God mean in our lives? In our preaching? Most people today, even Christians, set out from the presupposition that God is not fundamentally interested in our sins and virtues. He knows that we are all mere flesh. Insofar as people today believe in an afterlife and a divine judgement at all, nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately he mercifully overlooks our small failings. But are they really so small, our failings? Is not the world laid waste through the corruption of the great, but also of the small, who think only of their own advantage? Is it not laid waste through the power of drugs, which thrives on the one hand on greed and avarice, and on the other hand on the craving for pleasure of those who become addicted? Is the world not threatened by the growing readiness to use violence, frequently masking itself with claims to religious motivation? Could hunger and poverty so devastate parts of the world if love for God and godly love of neighbour – of his creatures, of men and women – were more alive in us? I could go on. No, evil is no small matter. Were we truly to place God at the centre of our lives, it could not be so powerful. The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – this burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.

Another important point: God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.

Now perhaps you will say: all well and good, but what has this to do with our ecumenical situation? Could this just be an attempt to talk our way past the urgent problems that are still waiting for practical progress, for concrete results? I would respond by saying that the first and most important thing for ecumenism is that we keep in view just how much we have in common, not losing sight of it amid the pressure towards secularization – everything that makes us Christian in the first place and continues to be our gift and our task. It was the error of the Reformation period that for the most part we could only see what divided us and we failed to grasp existentially what we have in common in terms of the great deposit of sacred Scripture and the early Christian creeds. The great ecumenical step forward of recent decades is that we have become aware of all this common ground and that we acknowledge it as we pray and sing together, as we make our joint commitment to the Christian ethos in our dealings with the world, as we bear common witness to the God of Jesus Christ in this world as our undying foundation.

via The Pope’s Remarks at the Augustinian Cloister in Erfurt | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

The pope may hold the office of the antichrist, but he “gets” Luther, including just how Christocentric is his theology.  Read what Rev. McCain has to say about this, including his point that the pope doesn’t minimize our differences–indeed, he stands on clear confession, unlike many ecumenical efforts–while wanting us to stand together against the tides of secularism.

What do we make of this?  (I’d like to hear from Catholics on what they make of this also!)

Raising Cain

The winner of the Republican straw poll in Florida was not Perry and not Romney, but Herman Cain.  The African-American businessman took 37% of the vote, better than the two ostensible front-runners combined.

One could say that the vote is meaningless.  It is cast by Republican activists, not the general public, who have to pay for the privilege.  And yet the Florida straw poll, which has consistently forecast the eventual Republican nominee, does tell us this:  Republican activists do not think much of any of the “leading” candidates.

Virtually everyone likes Cain, but assumes that it would be impossible for the former Baptist minister and Godfather Pizza CEO could win the election.  After all, he has never held elective office before.

But now a public opinion poll, taken before the straw vote, has him ahead of the pack:

A new Zogby poll puts Herman Cain​ at the top of the Republican field, as the top choice of 28% of poll respondents. (IBOPE Zogby International says the polling sample consists of “all likely voters and of likely Republican primary voters.”)

Rounding out the top three are Rick Perry at 18%, and Mitt Romney at 17%. Fourth place goes to Ron Paul at 11%. Paul’s the most solid performer in Zogby’s polling history for the 2012 GOP race – his 11% might as well be chiseled in stone.

Interestingly, this poll was conducted after the Orlando GOP debate, but before Cain won the Florida straw poll. It’s a huge surge for Cain, who was polling at 12% just two weeks previously, and was floating at a campaign low of 8% two weeks before that. Aside from that bitter 8% number, Cain has generally done quite well in the Zogby poll, usually good enough for second or third place.

On the other hand, Rick Perry’s numbers in the Zogby poll have cratered, falling 19% in just two weeks. His debut last month was also his high-water mark thus far, when Zogby had him at 41%.

Michelle Bachmann has also been slipping steadily, chugging in at 4%. That puts her just below Jon Huntsman, which is the same way she finished the Florida straw poll. Bachmann was actually the leading candidate in Zogby’s polling from June 21 through July 25… then she plunged to 9% in the next poll and continued sliding down from there.

Romney’s been holding fairly steady in the Zogby poll. He bounces a few points up and down, but seems to hover in the 15-17% range.

Zogby’s also got President Obama’s approval rating at 42%, with 57% disapproval. That’s actually a bit better than his September 5 low of 39-61. His poor approval numbers seem to hold fairly steady, while his disapproval bounces around.

via Herman Cain Leads Republican Field In Zogby Poll – HUMAN EVENTS.

Could Herman Cain, the African-American businessman, become the Republican presidential nominee?  And the next President?

 

Deny Christ or die

A Christian in Iran is being given that choice:  recant your faith in Christ or be executed.  He has refused to deny Christ three times.  This is from Wesley Smith at First Things.  Go there for several relevant links.

An Iranian pastor may soon be executed for apostasy because he refuses to recant his Christian faith. Here’s the story from the Get Religion blog, by the eminently responsible Terry Mattingly. Here’s the press release from Christian Solidarity, which states in part:

“Pastor Nadarkhani was tried and found guilty of apostasy (abandoning Islam) in September 2010 by the court of appeals in Rasht. The verdict was delivered verbally in court, while written confirmation of the death sentence was received nearly two months later. At the appeal in June 2011, the Supreme Court of Iran upheld Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s sentence, but asked the court in Rasht, which issued the initial sentence, to re-examine whether or not he had been a practicing Muslim adult prior to converting to Christianity. The written verdict of the Supreme Court’s decision included provision for annulment of the death sentence if Pastor Nadarkhani recanted his faith.”

According to Nina Shea at The Corner, Pastor Nadarkhani has now refused for a third time to recant.

via Iranian Pastor May Soon Be Executed for Refusing to Deny Christ » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

The third use of the Law

Continuing our series on the Law, in which we discussed the civil use (as curb; that is, external righteousness that makes possible the social order) and the theological use (as mirror; that is, to help us to see our sins so that we repent and turn to the Gospel), we  now come to the so-called Third Use (as guide; that is, to help Christians know the kind of life that pleases God).  This third use has been the topic of some contention in Lutheran circles, with controversies over how best to understand the law in the life of Christians.

What do you think of this explanation by Jono Linebaugh, an Anglican teaching at a Reformed seminary?  (Read the whole post at Tullian Tchividjian’s blog.)

God’s words that accuse and kill typically do their work of condemnation in the form of a commandment attached to a condition. So, for example, when Paul sums up the salvation-logic of the Law he quotes Leviticus 18.5b: “the one who does [the commandments] will live by them” (Gal 3.12). Here, there is a promise of life linked to the condition of doing the commandments and a corresponding threat: “cursed is everyone who does not abide in all the things written in the Book of the Law, to do them” (Gal 3.10 citing Deut 27.26). When this conditional word encounters the sinful human, the outcome is inevitable: “the whole world is guilty before God” (Rom 3.19). It is thus the condition that does the work of condemnation. “Ifs” kill!

Compare this to a couple examples of New Testament imperatives. First, consider Galatians 5.1. After four chapters of passionate insistence that justification is by faith apart from works of the Law, Paul issues a couple of strong imperatives: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore stand firm (imperative) and do not be subject (imperative) again to the yoke of slavery.” Are these imperatives instances of God’s accusing and killing words? Are these commandments with conditions? Is Galatians 5.1 an example of Law? No! The command here is precisely to not return to the Law; it is an imperative to stand firm in freedom from the Law. Or take another example, John 8.11. Once the accusers of the adulterous women left, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Depart. From now on, sin no more.” Does this final imperative disqualify the words of mercy? Is this a commandment with a condition? Is this Law following the Gospel? No! This would be Law: “if you go and sin no more, then neither will I condemn you.” But Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” The command is not a condition. “Neither do I condemn you” is categorical and unconditional, it comes with no strings attached. “Neither do I condemn you” creates an unconditional context within which “go and sin no more” is not an “if.” The only “if” the Gospel knows is this: “if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous” (1 John 2.1).

For Luther, it is within this unconditional context created by the gospel, the reality he called “living by faith,” that the Law understood as God’s good commands can be returned to its proper place. Freed from the burden and bondage of attempting to use the Law to establish our righteousness before God, Christians are free to look to commandments, not as conditions, but as descriptions and directions as they seek to serve their neighbor. In other words, once a person is liberated from the commonsense delusion that acting righteously makes us righteous before God, and in faith believes the counter-intuitive reality that being made righteous by God’s forgiving and resurrecting word precedes and produces righteous action, then the justified person is unlocked to love.

For this reason, Luther would insist that the Law only applies to the second question of Christian living: what shall we do? It helps to answer the “what” question, the question about the content of good works. The Law, however, does not answer the more basic question, the question far too few people ask: How do good works occur? What fuels works of love? While the Law demands and directs, what delivers and drives? For Luther, the answer to this question always follows the pattern of 1 John 4.19: “We love because he first loved us.” Works of love flow from prior belovedness. Thus, as Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer has said, the essential question of theological ethics is this: “What has been given?” The answer: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8).

Recognizing this distinction between the conditional and condemning function of the Law and the descriptive and directive statement of God’s will addressed to the unconditional context of faith in the God who justifies the ungodly is essential for understanding the purpose and place of New Testament imperatives, not to mention the Ten Commandments. The proper pattern is always “in view of God’s mercies…” (Rom 12.1), or as Luther pointed out with respect to the Decalogue, the pattern is the opening promise: “I am the Lord your God…” (Exod 20.2). In other words, the ears of faith are free to hear a commandment without a condition because the Christian conscience listens not to the condition and curse of the Law, but to the Christ in whom there is no condemnation (Rom 8.1).

via Tullian Tchividjian.

More bogus divorce statistics

We all have heard that the divorce rate is higher in the so-called Bible Belt states than elsewhere.  Also that the divorce rate in conservative “red” states is higher than in liberal “blue” states.  But now Australian Mark Richardson has taken a closer look at those statistics:

In August of this year, the US Census Bureau released a report on divorce rates in the different states of America. It was widely reported in the media that people were more likely to divorce in the Bible Belt states than in the liberal northeast.

At the time I accepted the statistics. I believed that people in the northeast were less likely to marry as teenagers and more likely to have higher incomes and higher education and that this explained the difference. . . .

But then I came across another statistic, namely that 28% of those divorced identified as conservative, 33% as moderate and 37% as liberal. It didn’t make sense. If those in the liberal states have the lowest rate of divorce, then why do those who identify as liberal have a much higher rate of divorce?

So I went back to the original source. And to my surprise I found that the divorce statistics had been misrepresented in most of the mainstream media. It turns out that what was being compared was the number of divorces per 1000 people in each state rather than the number of divorces per 1000 married couples:

Rates throughout this report count the marital events reported in the past 12 months per 1,000 men or women in the population 15 and older. (p.2)

That wouldn’t be significant if roughly the same number of people got married in each US state. But that’s not the case. There is a much lower rate of marriage in the liberal north-east of the US:

…the states with the lowest marriage rates for men in 2009 tended to be in the Northeast. Maine and New Jersey were among the states with low marriage rates with 13.5 and 14.8 marriages per 1,000 men. Maine and New Jersey also had low marriage rates per 1,000 women, with 12.2 and 13.3 marriages, respectively. (p.4)

…Twelve of the thirteen states where men had marriage rates below the U.S. average were located east of the Mississippi River. (p.5)

In comparison, a state like Wyoming had a marriage rate of 28.7 – that’s more than double the rate in Maine.

So you might expect states with a higher rate of marriage to also have a higher rate of divorce. And that’s how a representative of the Census Bureau explained the statistics:

Divorce rates tend to be higher in the South because marriage rates are also higher in the South,” said Diana Elliott, a family demographer at the Census Bureau. “In contrast, in the Northeast, first marriages tend to be delayed and the marriage rates are lower, meaning there are also fewer divorces.”

That is the key quote. The demographer responsible for the statistics is explaining in the plainest of English why the divorce rate is lower in the north-east. It is because in the liberal north-east people are less likely to be married in the first place.

via Oz Conservative: Do liberal states in the US really have lower divorce rates?.

HT: Joe Carter

Obamacare headed for the Supreme Court

It looks like the Supremes will rule on whether or not Obamacare is constitutional:

The Obama administration chose not to ask the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to re-hear a pivotal health reform case Monday, signaling that it’s going to ask the Supreme Court to decide whether President Barack Obama’s health reform law is constitutional.

The move puts the Supreme Court in the difficult position of having to decide whether to take the highly politically charged case in the middle of the presidential election.

The Justice Department is expected to ask the court to overturn an August decision by a panel of three judges in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that found the law’s requirement to buy insurance is unconstitutional. The suit was brought by 26 states, the National Federation of Independent Business, and several individuals. . . .

The issue of the constitutionality of the individual mandate has been widely expected to be decided by the Supreme Court. The key question has been the timing. The Justice Department’s apparent decision to ask the Supreme Court to review the case greatly increases the chances the issue will be heard in the 2011-12 term, which begins Monday.

The Supreme Court now has several strong reasons to accept the case. The court rarely declines requests from the government to take a case, especially in situations in which a circuit court has struck down a piece of a high-profile law.

There is also a split between the appeals courts. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the mandate, the 11th Circuit has ruled it unconstitutional, and the 4th Circuit has ruled that a tax law prevents it from issuing a decision on the mandate until at least 2014.

“The odds are pretty significant the court will take the case now,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, which has filed briefs in support of the law.

via Health reform lawsuit appears headed for Supreme Court – Jennifer Haberkorn – POLITICO.com.

Assuming the Supremes take the case, how do you think they will rule?


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