Back to the social gospel

Hillary Clinton cited her commitment to the “social gospel” in a speech to United Methodists.   That goes back to the 19th century when many Protestants said that instead of emphasizing the gospel of eternal salvation in Heaven through Christ, they should emphasize a gospel of building the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

The social gospel, which inspired all kinds of social reforms and progressive political activism,  became the hallmark of liberal theology.   After World War II, even in liberal theological circles, neo-orthodoxy reacted against the utopianism of the social gospel, though in the 1960s it came back with liberation theology.  Conservative theologies, of course, rejected the social gospel, but today there is arguably a social gospel of the right. [Read more…]

Sarah Palin’s blasphemy

Sarah Palin, in a speech to the NRA, said that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”  Lutheran journalist Mollie Hemingway calls that blasphemy.  Her article in the Federalist includes a shoutout to the Cranach Institute, a quote from my daughter, and a critique of civil religion. [Read more…]

You were there

You know that old spiritual that asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?. . .when they nailed Him to the tree?. . .when they laid Him in the tomb?. . . .when God raised Him from the tomb?”  Well, the answer to that question is YES.

According to the Bible, if you were baptized, you died with Him, you were buried with Him, and you rose from the dead with Him. [Read more…]

He descended into Hell

Great reflections on Hell and what it means that Jesus “descended into Hell,” from Dale M. Coulter:

In the Torgau sermon on Christ’s descent, Luther remarks that the paintings depicting this event “show well how powerful and useful this article is, why it took place, why it is to be preached and believed that Christ destroyed hell’s power and took all his power away from the devil. When I have that, then I have the true core and meaning of this article of faith.” Theological precision about the exact conditions under which it occurred, the mode of Christ’s presence, the composition of hell’s gates, etc., distract from the essential point, and to demythologize this part of the church’s teaching is a failure to see the crucial importance of Holy Saturday. [Read more…]

“God suffered, God died”

Some of the deepest waters of Lutheran theology and where it makes some of its greatest contributions are in the realm of Christology.  For Lent I have been reading The Two Natures in Christ by Martin Chemnitz, that master of Biblical, Medieval, and Patristic (not only Latin but also Greek) sources and the principal author of the Formula of Concord.

Studying all of this has given me some new understanding and appreciation for the magnitude of what happened on that first Good Friday.   Article VIII of the Formula of Concord turns an assertion that was highly controversial at the time into a matter of confessional subscription:  That we are to understand the Incarnation and the Atonement in such a way that we can affirm that “God suffered” and “God died.” [Read more…]

A God who doesn’t act like a God

Our pastor on Palm Sunday said that people’s confusion over Jesus–so that they hailed Him with palms and soon thereafter demanded His crucifixion–was because they wondered, “Can a king who doesn’t act like a king be a king?  Can a God who doesn’t act like a God be a God?”

It occurred to me that the same confusions are rampant today, and that this is precisely what the events we commemorate during Passion Week are all about.  God is supposed to be an abstract philosophical proposition; here is a God who made Himself a tangible, material human being.  God is supposed to be  transcendent and glorious; here is a God who descends down into the depths, subjecting Himself to humiliation and suffering.  God is supposed to punish sin; here is a God who forgives sin, atoning for it by taking into Himself the sins of the world and punishing Himself for them.  God demands sacrifices from human beings; here is a God who sacrifices Himself for human beings.  God is supposed to be far above the world of suffering, looking down upon it all; here is a God who bears the world’s evil and the world’s griefs.  God is supposed to either exist or not exist; here is a God who died and rose again.

 


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