Jesus + Nothing = Everything

I’ve had some posts about Tullian Tchividjian, Billy Graham’s grandson and the successor to D. James Kennedy at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.  He is a significant evangelical pastor who credits Lutherans (e.g., Bo Giertz; Harold Senkbeil; Rod Rosenbladt) for helping him to understand the full magnitude of the Gospel.  He has written a book about all of this–including how it impacted him as he went through some difficult times in his ministry–entitled  Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

I was asked to write a blurb for it, as were many others, including other evangelicals who resonate with what he has written.  They are all worth reading in themselves.  (Read them on the Amazon site that this post links to.)  I will just quote myself and Dr. Rosenbladt, whose work I also blogged about recently:

“Many Christians today assume that the gospel just has to do with conversion, for way back when they first came to faith. They have lost the sense, well known to Christians of the past, that the gospel is for every moment of their lives. As a result, they often fall into a moralism that can be, as this book shows, just as idolatrous, self-focused, and godless as immorality. This book shows how the good news of free forgiveness in the cross of Jesus Christ is the driving energy that makes the Christian life possible. Pastor Tchividjian tells about how he himself discovered the full magnitude of God’s grace in the midst of difficult times in his own ministry. He does so in a way that will bring relief, exhilaration, and freedom to struggling Christians.”
Gene Edward Veith Jr., provost, professor of Literature, Patrick Henry College; director, Cranach Institute, Concordia Theological Seminary; columnist; author

“In a powerful, concise, and popular style, Tchividjian announces, explicates, defends, and contrasts the gratuitous gospel of Christ’s person and work with the oft-misheld conviction of us sinners that, if we are somehow to be justified, it will have to be a matter of ‘making up for’ our offenses and of inward improvement. Chapter-by-chapter he argues that God’s saving plan is one of grace and not one of improvement. Filled with illustrations from his life as a pastor, this is no unapproachable, academic tome. But neither, thank God, is it today’s ‘Evangelical silly!’ Tchividjian wrestles openly with demons and their central lie in order that we truly ‘get’ what the Bible is really about. From every point on the compass, he contrasts ‘moral renovation’ with a free, one-sided rescue drenched in the blood of Jesus. Good news for everyone—but especially for Christians who are worn out by trying the other way, believing the lie, somehow knowing renovation isn’t working but knowing nowhere else to turn. Tchividjian is out to convince his reader that justification before God really is pure gift, is free, is by grace and through faith in Christ. . . sola!”
Rod Rosenbladt, professor of theology, Concordia University

via Amazon.com: Jesus + Nothing = Everything (9781433507786): Tullian Tchividjian: Books.

Theologians of the Cross

Another non-Lutheran discovers a Lutheran insight.  Carl Trueman, professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, posts about theologians of the cross as opposed to theologians of glory.  He explains it pretty well, I think:

One of the things that is so striking about the current revival of interest in Reformation theology, broadly conceived, is the absence of perhaps the most glorious contribution of Martin Luther to theological discourse: the notion of the theologian of the cross. . . .

At the heart of this new theology was the notion that God reveals himself under his opposite; or, to express this another way, God achieves his intended purposes by doing the exact opposite of that which humans might expect. The supreme example of this is the cross itself: God triumphs over sin and evil by allowing sin and evil to triumph (apparently) over him. His real strength is demonstrated through apparent weakness. This was the way a theologian of the cross thought about God.

The opposite to this was the theologian of glory. In simple terms, the theologian of glory assumed that there was basic continuity between the way the world is and the way God is: if strength is demonstrated through raw power on earth, then God’s strength must be the same, only extended to infinity. To such a theologian, the cross is simply foolishness, a piece of nonsense.

Now, some will respond: But the theology of the cross has not been forgotten; it is often talked about and discussed and even preached. But here’s the rub: in the Heidelberg Disputation Luther actually refers not to a theology of the cross but to theologians of the cross, underscoring the idea that he is not talking about some abstract theological technique or process but rather a personal, existential, real way that real flesh-and-blood theologians thought about, and related to, God. A person’s theology, whether true or false, good or bad, is inseparable from the individual’s personal faith.

At this Reformation season, we should not reduce the insights of Luther simply to justification by grace through faith. In fact, this insight is itself inseparable from the notion of that of the theologians of the cross. Sad to say, it is often hard to discern where these theologians of the cross are to be found. Yes, many talk about the cross, but the cultural norms of many churches seem no different to the cultural norms of — well, the culture. They often indicate an attitude to power and influence that sees these things as directly related to size, market share, consumerist packaging, aesthetics, youth culture, media appearances, swagger and the all-round noise and pyrotechnics we associate with modern cinema rather than New Testament Christianity. These are surely more akin to what Luther would have regarded as symptomatic of the presence and influence of theologians of glory rather than the cross. An abstract theology of the cross can quite easily be packaged and marketed by a theologian of glory. And this is not to point the finger at `them’: in fact, if we are honest, most if not all of us feel the attraction of being theologians of glory. Not surprising, given that being a theologian of glory is the default position for fallen human nature.

The way to move from being a theologian of glory to a theologian of the cross is not an easy one, not simply a question of mastering techniques, reading books or learning a new vocabulary. It is repentance.

via The Forgotten Insight – Reformation21 Blog.

What are some other applications?  If there is no “basic continuity between the way the world is and the way God is,” what happens to natural law?  natural theology?  How would this factor into various theological controversies today?

HT:  Joe Carter

Reformation Day as Halloween

I think it’s wonderful that Reformation Day is now the most popular holiday after Christmas.  We scare ourselves as a reminder of death and damnation.   Children go around receiving unmerited candy, which symbolize the gift and the sweetness of salvation.   We wear masks to symbolize the doctrine of vocation. We carve pumpkins. . . .uh, I don’t know why we do that.   Someone help me in my crusade to co-opt Halloween for Reformation Day.

 

Anglican worship wars

One of my former students, Bart Gingerich, who sometimes comments on this blog, has gotten a job writing for the Institute for Religion and Democracy.   He covered a recent meeting by the Prayer Book Society, a group of Anglicans who have been calling for the restoration of the 1926 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, the last modernization faithful to Cranmer’s Reformation-era version of the English liturgy (which has also shaped the language and the collects used in Lutheran worship).

Bart comments that  “During the split of the Episcopal Church in the 2000s, PBS [the Prayer Book Society] was strangely ostracized during the formation of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). It was a quiet scandal that the supposedly conservative ACNA spurned the stalwart organization from its proceedings.”

Here are some of the points made at the conference:

Executive director Rev. Patterson opened by observing that the Anglican way of being a Christian is governed not by a systematic theology but by a theology of worship. Unfortunately, since the 1960s at least, varied theologies have vied for control over the Book of Common Prayer to influence church stances on issues ranging from Christology to homosexuality. Ever since the Episcopal Church’s adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer with its multiple rites to please everyone, rectors now “begin with an empty 3-ring binder” to choose and create their own liturgy for their parish. Patterson outlined 5 different approaches to focusing congregational worship. He first presented entertainment, where the congregation listens passively to what is on stage; second, education, where the pulpit and sermon dominate the service; third, encounter with God, which emphasizes a personal experience in music; fourth, evangelism, which avoids being too “churchy” and emphasizes the sinner’s prayer; fifth, Eucharist, which Patterson believed to be the traditional and proper heart of the church service. Many modern approaches “worship styles of worship” when in fact “we need to be taught how to worship God rightly.”

Patterson continued: “One grows into the Prayer Book. He never grows out of it.” A proper church service need not focus on “what comes out of the heart in the moment but to put in what needs to be there.” Praising the richness, truth, and beauty of the 1928 prayer book, he claimed, “It is never right to buy simplicity at the cost of shallowness.”

PBS president Rev. Dunbar pointed to the traditional prayer book as the “most effective tool for world evangelism in the English-speaking world.” He then commenced with an in-depth investigation of the 1928 service for Holy Communion. The service both uplifts the souls of congregants and focuses on the person of Christ, Who reconciles heaven and earth in His Incarnation. Dunbar pointed out that modern prayer books make self-conscious attempts to get away from sacrificial language, “but it is the only time…that we begin to speak of the atonement between man and God.” For centuries, Christian liturgy noted how Christ is a propitiating sacrifice for sin while the church offers up a sacrifice of praise. In the Eucharist, the participants are then caught up with Christ for fellowship with the Trinity. “We know we know we are Christians at that moment,” Dunbar stated. It is here that the Christian finds the endless end, where the restless heart finds rest, and the troubled spirit finds peace.

Dunbar outlined the 3-fold triad of the older Anglican services (before Dix’s “shape” theory and Hippolytus of Rome became the authoritative vogue for liturgists). The old services function according to “guilt, grace, and gratitude,” or rather repentance, faith, and good works. In the 1979 edition, much of the penitential elements were thrown out, allowing the service to be more celebratory. Dunbar condemned modern liturgists’ slavery to innovation

Pulling from the prayer book, Dunbar believed that “agreement of the truth in Thy Holy Word [Christ being the Word made flesh]” is the basis for Christian unity. In a communion suffering a crisis in sexual ethics and biblical faith, perhaps it would be best to return to a deeper liturgy in harmony with the past habits of prayer. Maybe it is time for Anglicans to turn to the insights and principles of this beleaguered but faithful fellowship.

via Prayer Book Society Meets at Truro – Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD).

I am astonished that the newly-formed conservative Anglican church body is not conservative when it comes to worship, though I assume that the congregations that do use the Book of Common Prayer (1926) are also joining ACNA.

I would venture to say that it is difficult to sustain a theology of worship without a systematic theology.

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!)

The latest on confession and indulgences

Todd alerted me to this story from Reuters:

The Vatican has granted priests the right to forgive the sin of abortion when hearing the confessions of hundreds of thousands of young people attending a Roman Catholic youth festival in Spain this week.

The termination of pregnancy is a sin punishable by excommunication under Church law. The World Youth Day (WYD) pilgrims will attend a mass confession in the presence of Pope Benedict on Saturday in a central Madrid park.

“This (concession) is to make it easier for the faithful who attend the World Youth Day celebrations to obtain the fruits of divine grace,” the Madrid archdiocese said in a statement on its website.

Two hundred white portable confessional cabins have been erected in Madrid’s Retiro Park where hundreds of priests will take confessions in different languages from the pilgrims who have travelled to Spain from around the world.

The pontiff will sit in one of the booths on Saturday morning to hear confessions from three visitors, ahead of a mass with up to 6,000 seminarians.

The Vatican already announced on August 11 that it had authorized a plenary, or full indulgence, to all the young people attending the celebrations.

An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven and is traditionally granted to WYD pilgrims.

via Priests to forgive abortion in Pope youth festival – Yahoo! News.

First of all, could this be one of those many cases in which the reporter completely misunderstands a religious teaching?  Can it be true that in the Roman Catholic Church a woman who has had an abortion cannot normally repent, confess, and be absolved of that sin?  (Please, may a Catholic reader clear this up for us.)  If this is true, we see again the difficulty of finding full forgiveness under the Roman Catholic penitential system.  More certain, I suppose, is getting an indulgence.  Rome doesn’t sell them anymore, but gives them away for the good work of attending a youth rally!

If this is a correct account, it shows how Lutherans actually have a higher view of confession than Rome does. We also have a higher view of Baptism, which deals with all sin throughout one’s life, not just original sin, and the Lord’s Supper, which we receive for forgiveness, not having to already be pure in order to take it.

UPDATE:  Mollie Hemingway has confirmed with canon lawyers that priests cannot forgive the sin of abortion without special arrangement.  She gave me this quotation linked from a comment in her own discussion of World Youth Day:

“Elaine, I am a canon lawyer. The article is correct. Not all priests have the faculty to absolve the sin of abortion with its attendant automatic excommunication. If a person goes to Confession and confesses abortion, and the  priest does not have the faculty to absolve it, he will request the person come  back a few days later. In the meantime, he will notify the bishop and ask for  the faculty to absolve the sin and lift the excommunication. When the person comes back, then the confession is completed and absolution is given. Many dioceses (such as the one where I work) have granted all priests in the
diocese this faculty.”

So forgiveness comes from the bishop rather than the Word and the promises of the Gospel.

 

 


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