Reaching today’s idolaters of the self

How do you proclaim the forgiveness of sins to someone who doesn’t think he has done anything wrong?  How can you apply the Law to someone who feels no guilt and the Gospel to someone who feels no need for Christ?  Trying to evangelize today’s relativists seems like a futile project.  How can we get through to them?

The Australian pastor and theologian Michael Lockwood has just published a stimulating, paradigm-shifting book entitled The Unholy Trinity:  Martin Luther against the Idol of Me, Myself, and I.

On one level, it is a study of Luther’s view of idolatry.  For Luther, idolatry is not just worshipping graven images, as with Christians who think tangible objects used in worship, such as crucifixes, are idols.  Rather, idolatry is worshipping false gods created by the self.  In his explanation of the First Commandment in the the Large Catechism, Luther asks, “what is it to have a God?”  His answer:  What do you put put your faith in?  That’s your God.  Ultimately, idolatry is the opposite of saving faith in Christ.  It means putting your faith in yourself.

Dr. Lockwood then applies the insights from Luther to today’s spiritual landscape, from “Moralistic-therapeutic-Deism,” through the whole array of false spiritualities, to the pure secularism that sees no need for God at all.  All of these, at their root, are idolaters of the self.  But the self will let you down every time.

Drawing on his experience as a missionary, Dr. Lockwood says that non-believers first need to be “disenchanted” with their idols. He shows how the Law brings a message not only of guilt but of disenchantment.  In times of suffering, failure, and the prospect of death, even the idolaters of the self can find redemption in Christ.

This is a ground-breaking book that brings a distinctly Lutheran perspective on the task of apologetics, evangelism, and pastoral care.  But all Christians will benefit from its fresh approach to cultural criticism and from learning from Dr. Lockwood the art of “spiritual diagnosis.”

Read my review after the jump.  Then buy this book.

[Read more…]

Restoring society by going to Church 

In the course of a review of R. R. Reno’s Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society, Texas A&M professor James R. Rogers (an LCMS Lutheran) observes that most people on every side assume that going to church is a private activity.  Christians are urged to go outside the walls of their churches to change society.

But it’s within the walls of churches that God works and society is changed.  Dr. Rogers quotes St. Ignatius of Antioch:

Take heed to meet together frequently for thanksgiving [eucharis] to God and for his glory. For when you meet together frequently, the powers of Satan are cast down, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith.

[Read more…]

“America needs a religious right”

New York Times Ross Douthat offers a defense of the Religious Right.  In fact, he argues that America needs a religious right in order to save conservatism from its own darker impulses.

[Read more…]

Profile of Muslim converts & their church

The Atlantic has a profile of Muslim converts in Germany, with special emphasis on the congregations they are attending.  The focus is on Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin, a SELK congregation in fellowship with the LCMS. The pastor, Gottfried Martens, studied at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

They have around 1,000 baptized members who are ex-Muslims, with 300 on a waiting list, apparently being catechized.  (The Atlantic reporter doesn’t quite understand Lutheranism.  It’s kind of amusing to see how she describes catechism and her confusion about crossing herself.  But kudos to her and also to her publication for significantly ramping up its religion coverage.)  The story describes Germans and ex-Muslims (who outnumber the former) having tea after service, their children playing together, all taking part in the normal workings of a congregation.
[Read more…]

What about the Christian left?

A listener whose religious beliefs make him a political progressive asked NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben why we always hear about the Christian right, but seldom hear about the Christian left.  Read her answer, after the jump, and then consider the points I make. [Read more…]

Luther and technology

David Gibson of Religious News Service tells about three major exhibitions opening this month on Luther’s Reformation:  at the Morgan Library in New York City; at the Minneapolis Art Institute; and at Emory University in Atlanta. These sound extremely interesting and worth going to.

I was struck by what the Morgan library curator says about Luther’s use of the new information technology of the time (with the assistance of artist and printer Lucas Cranach).  See what he says after the jump.  But read Gibson’s whole article, which includes the point about how Luther became the model for “speaking truth to power.”
[Read more…]