Forbidden descriptions

Now pundits are drawing back from their initial claims that Sarah Palin and company were responsible for the Tucson shootings, since it’s evident that the gunman Jared Loughner was simply mentally ill and never paid attention to political rhetoric.  But now they are attacking Palin for describing the way she was blamed for the killings as a “blood libel.”

That phrase specifically refers to the old anti-semitic libel that Jews mix the blood of Christian children in their matzoh balls.  How dare Palin compare criticism of her with the pograms of the Jews, especially in the context of the shooting of a Jewish congresswoman!  Oh, how insensitive!  Oh, how hateful!

The phrase was first used in this context by conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds, aka “Instapundit.”  It has also been used in other contexts and for other meanings without attracting condemnation.

So do you think “blood libel” can only apply to what Jews have been falsely accused of?

Some say that “holocaust” should only refer to what happened to the Jew, though it seems acceptable to speak of “nuclear holocaust.”  Some say the same for  “genocide,” but it is still used for attempts to wipe out other ethnic groups.

Should “inquisition” be off limits, out of sensitivity to Lutherans and Jews, the two main targets of that persecution?

Is “witch hunt” insensitive to Wiccans?

Should we reserve “purge” for the victims of Communism?

Can you think of other potentially problematic terms, if we are going to go this route?

Sarah Palin’s effort to defuse controversy backfires with ‘blood libel’ comment.

Theological bankruptcy

Christianity Today has a thoughtful editorial on the bankruptcy of the Crystal Cathedral and what that means (or should mean) for contemporary Christianity:

This past October, the megachurch prototype of the late 20th century filed for bankruptcy. A 24 percent drop in donations and a $50-$100 million debt owed to more than 550 creditors forced the Crystal Cathedral to file. It was a poignant moment in the history of modern evangelicalism.

Robert H. Schuller’s famous Crystal Cathedral was built on a foundation of self-esteem. In a 1984 interview with Christianity Today, Schuller said that when he came to Garden Grove, California, in 1955, he asked himself, “What human condition exists here that I can have a mission to?” His answer was “emotional hunger.” “Because of that,” he said, “we have developed our present ministry.” . . .

Schuller was tapping into themes of the human potential movement, the rage in the 1960s and ’70s, when Abraham Maslow’s theories deemed self-actualization the highest expression of human life. . . .

It’s like building a state-of-the-art structure. Technology moves at such a rapid pace that as soon as you move into the new building, you immediately find yourself stuck with an architecture that is already technologically dated, if only in small degrees at first. It isn’t long before another developer announces plans for something even more state-of-the-art.

Today both the Crystal Cathedral and the theology that undergird it seem woefully inadequate buildings in which to house the gospel. In an age deeply sensitive to energy conservation, a glass house of worship is a sinful extravagance. In a culture increasingly addicted to the self, the gospel of self-esteem is clearly part of the problem. In short, the Schuller enterprise is filing for bankruptcy on more than one front.

Some are tempted to hit the man while he is down, but this is unwise. Robert Schuller is not the problem—contemporary evangelicalism is. Schuller was only leading the parade of those who believe they are responsible for making the gospel relevant. The lesson is not that Schuller got it wrong or that his theology is out-of-date; it is not that we just need to find a better, more current point of cultural contact. The lesson is that our attempts to find and exploit a point of cultural contact inevitably end in bankruptcy. . . .

We must repress every fearful thought that suggests that making the gospel relevant and meaningful rests on our shoulders. The mystery of why and how people come to faith is just that—ultimately a mystery.  . . .

In fact, it is not only the listener who is deaf and blind to the gospel. The church is equally handicapped, especially regarding what will “work” to achieve genuine conversion. But—God be praised—we have a God who makes the deaf to hear and the blind to see! In every age and every culture, we are wise to trust the God who is rich in mercy and is able to accomplish through his Word that which he intends.

via Cracks in the Crystal Cathedral | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

It’s significant that Christianity Today is saying this, since that magazine has not been all that critical of the various church growth movements–each with their attempt to be culturally relevant–up to now.  Do you think this heralds the end of the megachurch church-marketing concept?

Anger at God leads to atheism

Joe Carter reports on a study that shows that atheists are angry at a God they don’t believe exists.  Or, rather, their anger at God motivated them not to believe in Him:

A new set of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that atheists and agnostics report anger toward God either in the past or anger focused on a hypothetical image of what they imagine God must be like. Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University and the lead author of this recent study, has examined other data on this subject with identical results. Exline explains that her interest was first piqued when an early study of anger toward God revealed a counterintuitive finding: Those who reported no belief in God reported more grudges toward him than believers.

At first glance, this finding seemed to reflect an error. How could people be angry with God if they did not believe in God? Reanalyses of a second dataset revealed similar patterns: Those who endorsed their religious beliefs as “atheist/agnostic” or “none/unsure” reported more anger toward God than those who reported a religious affiliation.

Exline notes that the findings raised questions of whether anger might actually affect belief in God’s existence, an idea consistent with social science’s previous clinical findings on “emotional atheism.”

Studies in traumatic events suggest a possible link between suffering, anger toward God, and doubts about God’s existence. According to Cook and Wimberly (1983), 33% of parents who suffered the death of a child reported doubts about God in the first year of bereavement. In another study, 90% of mothers who had given birth to a profoundly retarded child voiced doubts about the existence of God (Childs, 1985). Our survey research with undergraduates has focused directly on the association between anger at God and self-reported drops in belief (Exline et al., 2004). In the wake of a negative life event, anger toward God predicted decreased belief in God’s existence.

The most striking finding was that when Exline looked only at subjects who reported a drop in religious belief, their faith was least likely to recover if anger toward God was the cause of their loss of belief. In other words, anger toward God may not only lead people to atheism but give them a reason to cling to their disbelief. . . .

I’ve sometimes mistakenly assumed it to be a purely intellectual failing—a matter of the head, not the heart. Only recently have I begun to appreciate how much the emotional response to pain and suffering can push a person to an atheistic worldview.

Most pastors and priests would find my epiphany to be both obvious and overdue. But I suspect I’m not the only amateur apologist who has been blinded to this truth. As a general rule, those of us engaged in Christian apologists tend to prefer the philosophical to the pastoral, the crisp structure of logical argument to the messiness of human emotion. We often favor the quick-witted response that dismisses the problem of evil rather than patient empathy, which consoles atheists that we too are perplexed by suffering.

Many atheists do, of course, proceed to their denial of God based solely on rational justifications. That is why evidentialist and philosophical approaches to apologetics will always be necessary. But I’m beginning to suspect that emotional atheism is far more common than many realize. We need a new apologetic approach that takes into account that the ordinary pain and sufferings of life leads more people away from God than a library full of anti-theist books. Focusing solely on the irate sputterings of the imperfectly intellectual New Atheists may blind us to the anger and suffering that is adding new nonbelievers to their ranks.

via When Atheists Are Angry at God | First Things.

To be angry at something you don’t believe exists is, of course, illogical.  To not believe in God as a way of rejecting Him makes an emotional sense, though that is illogical too.

The expectation that God is and must be benevolent derives from Christianity.  Zeus and the other pagan deities were certainly not benevolent.  Hindus have the evil creation deity Kali.  Muslims, I suspect, do not hold Allah to these high moral standards, since he is above them all.

And yet, as I have complained, so many Christian projections of God leave out the distinctly Christian understanding of God, that He is incarnate and that He is crucified.

I think an apologetic to this emotional atheism–which I suspect underlies much of the rational atheism as well–must center around the God who suffers, the God who dies (phrases some Christians cannot abide, though such language is affirmed against them in the Lutheran confessions).  We must emphasize not just a transcendent deity looking down on the suffering of the world, but a God who enters that evil and suffering world and takes it into Himself and bears it for us.  That is, Christ on the Cross.

Frodo & Vocation

The Lord of the Rings is another tale about vocation, as John Ortberg realizes:

My daughter and I were re-watching Lord of the Rings before Christmas. At one point, on the last part of the journey through Mordor, Frodo turns to Sam and tells him how badly he wishes he did not have to be the one to carry the Ring. Being the Ring-Bearer was a difficult and dangerous role. He took it up voluntarily; he knew it was a worthy task; he understood in some dim way that he was suited for it—even his weakness was part of his gifting, and yet the cost of it wore him down. . . .

“But you have been chosen,” Gandalf says to Frodo. “And you must therefore use such strength and hearts and wits as you have.”

You have been chosen. I don’t know if you (or I) am in exactly the perfect fitting job. But that’s not the issue.

You have been chosen.

And this sense of having been called—the worthiness of it, the glorious goodness of a life lived beyond an individual’s agenda—is a precious thing. It is sometimes subverted into grandiosity. It is perhaps more often lost in the ministry of the mundane. It needs to be guarded.

Sometimes, in the quest, we get to visit the House of Elrond; the Fellowship is united and strong, the plans are glorious, hope is fierce, and hearts beat fast.

But you don’t get to spend every day there.

All ministry involves slogging through Mordor.

via Guard Your Calling, Frodo | LeadershipJournal.net.

Rev. Ortberg is discussing specifically the pastoral ministry.  But doesn’t the example of Frodo apply to all vocations (marriage, parenthood, one’s job, citizenship, life in the church,etc.)?

Vocation gone wild

This is from a couple of years ago, but Carl Vehse just found it and brought it to my attention.  It’s from Pastor Petersen at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Ft. Wayne, IN.  It’s an account of vocation gone wild:

I recently had a mild encounter with a German friend of mine. I wanted him to turn down the heat in a public building, of which he is a member. I didnt feel quite right doing it, since I was a guest, and because I didnt know where the thermostat was. It had to be 80 degrees in there. He became offended. He said Germans have a word for this. It means “reaching into someone elses office.” They simply dont do such things. Turning down the heat belongs to the office of the janitor and he was home and not return until the next day. In the meantime, nothing could be done and it was rude to suggest that something be done. My German friend would not dare to presume to do something that wasnt given to him. He then told me this was Luther’s doctrine of vocation. He is a friend. We were bantering. But I may have said something along the lines of: “That is what is wrong with Germans. Stand by and do nothing and claim it is piety.” To which he was quick to respond, “You are a nation of rebels.”

via The Royal Custodianship of all Believers.

Does anyone know what that German word is?  What is the mistake in this view of vocation?  What is the kernel of tru

Two meanings of “faith”

Thanks to FWS who pointed us to this post from LCMS president Matthew Harrison quoting the German theologian and enemy of Nazism Hermann Sasse (who quotes Werner Elert):

Werner Elert repeatedly drew our attention to the fundamental difference between the Roman Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran understandings about ecclesiastical confessions of doctrine. It consists in this, that the Roman doctrinal confession has the form of an imperative, while the Lutheran has the form of an indicative. Roman dogma is a command of faith; the Lutheran an expression of faith. There, a credendum [something which must be believed] is presented with a command to accept it. Here is expressed, what the church [already] believes: “We believe, teach, and confess.” The difference is deeply-rooted in the concept of faith. Faith, in the Catholic sense, is the supernatural virtue, by the power of which I hold for true that which the church presents to be as the content of revelation. . . .

Thus the objectum fidei, the object of faith, is defined. Corresponding to the concept of faith as “holding something to be true,” the object of faith is, for a Catholic, always dogma, for example the dogma about Christ. Corresponding to the evangelical concept of faith as fiducia, as trusting the divine promise of grace in the gospel, is the fact that, for the Lutheran, the objectum fidei is not the dogma about Christ, but rather Christ Himself; not the dogma about the Trinity, but rather the Triune God; not the Bible as such, but rather God, Who speaks to us in each word of the Scripture.

This important distinction was mis-used, by Ritschl and his school in his time, but then by the entirety of modern liberalism, in order to get rid of dogma in general.

via Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison: “How far does the validity of the confession go?” Sasse.

Faith isn’t just believing that God exists.  It means trusting God.  Of course, God has to exist if we are going to trust Him–and the quotation goes on to show why “dogma” remains important–but just the truth claims are not sufficient.  This explains why atheists keep missing the point and have little impact on evangelical believers.   They keep belaboring the truth claims–”But there isn’t enough evidence!”  “We can never know for sure!”–while being oblivious to what faith actually is to those who have it.


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