‘”We have only done what was our duty”

The Gospel reading for last Sunday was the parable that makes perfectly clear why we are not saved by our works and why we cannot merit salvation:

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly,and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”  (Luke 17:7-10)

Even if we obeyed God perfectly and never did anything wrong, we wouldn’t deserve a reward.  That would simply be doing the bare minimum of what we are supposed to do.  We would only be doing our duty.  After the jump, see what our pastor, Rev. James Douthwaite did with this text, bringing out both Law and Gospel. [Read more...]

One Way Love

I have had several posts about Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham and pastor of the iconic Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, whose discovery of Luther’s distinction between Law and Gospel has revolutionized his life and his ministry.  He has a new book out, arguably his best, that he is calling his manifesto: One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World.

Though we Lutherans have what he is writing about in our theology–namely, an understanding of the radical grace of God given freely in the cross of Jesus Christ– we too often neglect it, take it for granted, underestimate its magnitude, and fail to apply it in our lives, falling instead into what Rev. Tchividijian calls “performancism” or antinomianism.  After the jump, the blurb that I wrote for it. [Read more...]

Pastors as Unjust Stewards

Our Scripture reading last Sunday included the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-15), which is probably one of the toughest parables to make sense of.  A household manager gets sacked because of his corruption, so before he cleans out his desk he discounts the debts of everyone in debt to his master as a way to get in good with them for when he’s out of a job.  And even though the Unjust Steward is cheating him out of what is his due (telling people who owe 100 measures of oil they only need to pay 50), the Master commends him. [Read more...]

You cannot be be my disciple

We had a powerful sermon last Sunday on one of those “difficult” passages of Scripture, one that reminds us that Christianity is not merely about “family values”:

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. . . .33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.  (Luke 14:26-27, 33)

See what Pastor Douthwaite does with this after the jump. [Read more...]

Evangelizing the Nazis

Chad Bird tells the story of Henry Gerecke,  a pastor of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and a military chaplain assigned to minister to the war criminals at the Nuremberg trials, including walking with ten of them to the gallows.  Many of the Nazis clung to their Nietzschean paganism.  But some of them Pastor Gerecke led to Christ.

That might bother some of us.  Surely, if anyone deserves Hell, these mass-murdering monsters did.  We might think that it’s wrong to extend the Gospel to sinners of this magnitude.  As if Christ, when He bore the sins of the world on the Cross did not carry what these men had done.  That would make the Cross too hideously ugly.  But it is.  And this is what Christianity is all about, or it is nothing.

After the jump, read about Pastor Gerecke.  And follow the link to read him tell his own story, including the names of the Nazis who did and who did not come to Christ. [Read more...]

Christianity without the Atonement

The committee preparing a new hymnal for the Presbyterian Church (USA) has thrown out a popular praise song, “In Christ Alone,” not just because it refers to the “wrath” of God, as originally reported, but because of the word “satisfied.”  That is, because it says the wrath of God was satisfied in the Cross of Jesus Christ.  What was objectionable is the doctrine of the atonement.  (See Abby Stocker, writing for Christianity Today, and follow her links, which show how this bedrock teaching of the Christian faith has become controversial lately, even among many ostensible “evangelicals.”)

What is the point of Christianity without the atonement?  It becomes turned into another religion.  I suppose the attraction is that it gives us another religion of law, which people somehow prefer to a religion that says they are sinners in need of forgiveness and, yes, atonement.  Jesus becomes the example we have to emulate, though surely those who are honest will have to admit that this is an even higher standard that they fail to live up to.

At any rate, after the jump I quote Timothy George on the controversy, who, though he focuses on “wrath” rather than “satisfaction,” makes some excellent points as he puts the controversy in the context of church history.  I also appreciate his account of how hymns have been tinkered with.  See, for example, the Mormon Tabernacle choir version of “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and what the Unitarians have done to “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” [Read more...]

Why there is only one way to salvation

Once again I see on the LCMS website in the “View from Here” feature an article I wrote a long time ago, I think for Lutheran Witness.  It takes up what has been called “the scandal of particularity”; that is, the claim that there is only one way that leads to Heaven, the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Why aren’t other religions equally valid?  How can we credibly  hold to Christ as the only way to Heaven  in our current climate of religious pluralism?  And, as if that isn’t a difficult enough problem, I throw in the question of how a just God could condemn someone for not being a Christian.  Reading the piece long after I have forgotten what I said, I found myself approaching it like any other reader and, in an odd way, learning from myself.  I’ll present the essay in its entirety after the jump.

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How church growth strategies keep missing the point

Rachel Held Evans tells about how churches that want to reach young people keep missing the point, trying to be cooler and hipper and more contemporary instead of attending to the far greater issues of substance.  Yes, she is calling for a measure of liberalism, but notice what else she is calling for.  Read what she says after the jump and then consider my comments. [Read more...]

The Salvation of Unborn Children

What is the eternal destiny of children who die in the womb or who are aborted?  Some have said that their original sin merits eternal condemnation.  Most such a horrible conclusion hasn’t rung true for most Christians.  Roman Catholics have posited the existence of “Limbo,” a place of natural–though not supernatural–happiness for the unbaptized.  The Orthodox see the Fall as giving only the predisposition to sin and not sin itself, so children who die before they are baptized go to Heaven.  Calvinists have recourse to their doctrine of election.  Arminians see no problem for those who never had the opportunity for a decision.  Baptists say no one can be lost before the “age of accountability.”  Lutherans leave it to the Grace of God.

But Martin Chemnitz, the second greatest Lutheran theologian and the man most responsible for the Book of Concord has actually addressed this question in his classic treatment of Christology, The Two Natures in Christ:

“This teaching [the doctrine of the hypostatic union] is not idle sophistry, for it is an article of faith that Mary did not beget a man in whom God dwelt. Rather she bore the only Son of God by receiving His flesh, as Augustine says, “He was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary who for this reason and in this sense is correctly called the God-bearer (Theotochos).” If reverently considered, this act produces the most comforting thoughts. For the Son of God embraced the human race with such great love that He did not shrink from descending to such a humble state that He not only did not assume a man who was already formed and born, but rather He united to Himself personally an individual human body in the very moment of its conception and made it His own. Thus the Son of God in assuming His own flesh, but without sin, also endured those things which commonly befall man in conception, pregnancy, and birth (as the fathers of the Council of Ephesus said), so that from His very beginning, rise, and, as it were, root, He might first restore in Himself our depraved nature and so cleanse and sanctify our contaminated conception and birth that we might know that Christ’s salvation applies even to man’s fetus in conception, gestation, and birth.”  

Chemnitz’s Works: The Two Natures in Christ, (St. Louis:  CPH, 2007), p. 102. [Read more...]

An evangelist to theologians

This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of a theologian I had never heard of but whose Christ-centered approach to theology sounds very promising:  Thomas F. Torrance of the Church of Scotland, described in First Things as “an orthodox, ecumenical, and pastoral theologian”:

He considered his primary calling to be a minister of the Gospel and an evangelist to theologians. Modern western theology, he believed, has been trapped in an obsolete, dualist mindset that detaches Jesus Christ from God, worship and mission from Christ, and biblical and theological study from fellowship and communion with the living God. [Read more...]