The faith of infants

A key Lutheran teaching is that infants can have faith.  This is why Lutherans see no contradiction between infant baptism and justification by faith.  Lutherans see faith not just in terms of intellectual knowledge or conscious volition, but as trust, dependence, and relationship with a Person.  Infants can trust, depend on, and have a relationship with their parents and also with their Heavenly Father.  The faith that begins with baptism then grows and matures, fed by the “milk” of God’s Word, as the child grows into adulthood, and continuing thereafter.  (That faith can also die if it is not nourished, which is why someone can have been baptized as an infant but then reject the faith and become an unbeliever in need of conversion.)

Anyway, a new book explores, from the vantage point of scientific research, the way infants and extremely young children seemed to be wired for religious belief.

Wheaton provost Stanton L. Jones reviews Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief by psychologist Justin L. Barrett:

He summarizes creative, sophisticated research establishing that in infancy, babies understand distinctions between mere objects and agents (human and non-human, visible and invisible) which initiate actions that are not predictable and yet are goal-directed or purposeful. Only agents act to bring order out of disorder.

Children over three begin to discern and attribute purpose to much of what happens around them, which they in turn are inclined to attribute to human and superhuman agents. When children are old enough to actually discuss their intuitive concepts of god(s), they seem normatively disposed to believe in a (or many) divine agent(s) possessing “superknowledge, superperception, creative power, and immortality,” as well as to believe in a purposeful design to creation, in some sort of basic universal morality, and in the persistence of human identity after death.

Roughly the first 40 percent of Born Believers summarizes this research, while the remaining portion fleshes out its implications. Barrett’s view of religious development is that “children are naturally drawn to some basic religious ideas and related practices (natural religion), and then the meat of a religious and theological tradition as taught by parents grows on this skeleton.” He discusses trends in the research that might foster effective religious education.

via Born Believers, Part 1 | Books and Culture.

Voting for a Mormon

Christianity Today has a forum in which three different Christian thinkers discuss whether or not a Christian should vote for a Mormon.  I am happy to say that Lutherans are represented this time.  The estimable Mollie Z. Hemingway applies the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms to the issue and does so in a particularly lucid way.  In light of our discussion about the apocryphal “wise Turk” quotation (which she cites as “apocryphal”), she includes another pertinent quotation from Luther that appears to be better attested.  (I’ll try to track down that source.)  She deals with the nonsense that the president is some kind of national pastor and concludes:

Voters should remember that support for any political candidate is support for the exertion of authority in the earthly realm and not leadership in the spiritual realm.

Luther explained that every Christian is a citizen in two kingdoms—a spiritual realm and an earthly realm—but even non-believers are citizens of the earthly kingdom. In one, God’s Word is preached, the sacraments are administered, and sins are forgiven. God works through other means, such as natural laws, physical causes, and history, in the earthly realm.

Luther said that while reason cannot fathom the mind of God, it’s a tool given by God for managing civic affairs. “Christians are not needed for secular authority. Thus it is not necessary for the emperor to be a saint. It is not necessary for him to be a Christian to rule. It is sufficient for the emperor to possess reason,” he wrote.

In the spiritual realm, the gospel—the free forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus—prevails. By contrast, the earthly kingdom runs on compulsion, law, and force. That contrast between gracious forgiveness and law is the reason that, in Luther’s mind, Christians should not seek to put the church in charge of the temporal government or otherwise work through compulsion.

That’s not to say that the two realms must be or are in conflict. In fact, they should serve each other. The spiritual realm informs and supports the civil realm by preaching the gospel. Secular rulers serve the spiritual realm by preventing chaos.

It is entirely possible that in the next few months, the country will have its first Mormon President. No matter which man wins the office, it’s vitally important that Christians understand that his authority is limited to the secular realm and he should not be viewed as a spiritual leader.

via Is There Anything Wrong With Voting for a Mormon … | Christianity Today.

 

Egopapism

Francis Beckwith discusses the indignation in some circles about catechists in the Roman Catholic Church being required to, you know, agree with the doctrines that they are supposed to be teaching.  In doing so, he employs a useful new word:  egopapism.  I define this as the belief that you yourself are your own infallible religious authority.

 

Mainline liberal Protestants look for a new name

It isn’t just [some] Southern Baptists–or [some] Missouri Synod Lutherans–who are looking for a new name.  So are mainline liberal Protestants.   From Amy Frykholm:

In a recent interview with the Century, historian David Hollinger talks about his preference for the phrase “ecumenical Protestants” to describe non-evangelical mid-20th-century American Protestants, instead of the more frequently used terms “liberal” and “mainline.”

“Ecumenical” refers to a specific, vital and largely defining impulse within the groups I am describing. It also provides a more specific and appropriate contrast to evangelical. The term evangelical comes into currency in the mid-century to refer to a combination of fundamentalists and Holiness, Pentecostals and others; ecumenical refers to the consolidation of the ecumenical point of view in the big conferences of 1942 and 1945.

I appreciated this shift in vocabulary because I have long disliked both the terms “liberal” and “mainline” to refer to whatever-kind-of-Protestant it is that I am.

“Mainline” emerged as a label in the early part of the twentieth-century to distinguish a certain kind of Protestant from a fundamentalist. Some have speculated that the name comes from the Philadelphia Main Line, a suburban rail line that passed by one denominational church after another. But its two parts, “main” and “line” are both utterly unhelpful in describing the people, theology, social commitments or religious identities contained under that category today.

If anything, so-called mainline Protestants are less “main” and less “line” than they’ve ever been.

“Liberal” likewise is useless. At our particular moment, it is primarily a political term. While it can apply to theology and abstractly to philosophy, that isn’t its main rhetorical purpose now, and it lumps people from a broad spectrum under a term that is awkward and uncomfortable for most of them. Many people in this category would not consider themselves “liberal” in theology, but they might in politics. Or they might be liberal in theology, but decidedly not so in politics. Or they might claim neither or both, or have no idea why it matters.

But “ecumenical” has its problems too. For one thing, is ecumenism still the defining impulse of the group of Christians in questions? What’s more, the word may no longer helpfully distinguish us from evangelicals, who are a whole lot more ecumenical than they used to be.

It isn’t that we must have a term that everyone can agree on, one that suits us all perfectly. But it would be nice to have something, as Hollinger says, that “refers to a specific, vital and largely defining impulse.” We know—at least I think we do—who we are talking about. Why can’t we put a name to it or to ourselves? Is it because of an identity crisis? An awkward transition toward a less central cultural role?

Evangelicals are just as “ecumenical” in the sense of accepting different churches as these other guys.  And isn’t defining today’s churches by their attendance at a conference in 1945 rather retrograde?  I’m not sure what’s wrong with “liberal” as a descriptor for those denominations that aren’t constrained by Biblical authority, that think the beliefs of the church should change to conform to the dominant culture, or, rather, the dominant cultural and intellectual elite.  While it’s true that many people who are conservative theologically are liberal politically, I’m not aware of anyone who is liberal theologically who isn’t also liberal politically.  But help these folks out.  What is a good name for them?  What is their “identity” today?

Changes in the Orthodox church

Metropolitan Jonah, the evangelical convert who became the head of the Orthodox Church of America (one of several Eastern Orthodox denominations in the U.S.), has been ousted from his office.  The reason, reportedly, is his aggressive public stands against abortion, homosexuality, and other controversial moral issues.  (Metropolitan Jonah was one of the signatories of LCMS president Matt Harrison’s open letter opposing the Obamacare contraceptive/abortifacient mandate.)

I realize that Eastern Christianity is more quiescent on cultural issues than that of the West.  Metropolitian Jonah is being accused of being political, but I suspect that’s more on the other side, since far more Orthodox are Democrats than Republicans.  But then I read that part of the conflict has to do with a movement within the Orthodox Church, including some bishops, to change the teaching about sexual morality, including accepting same-sex marriage.

Now wait a minute.  One of the major arguments I keep hearing from advocates of swimming the Bosporus is that Orthodoxy never changes.  Has never changed.  Can’t change.  Has an uninterrupted universal doctrinal agreement among its members that goes back to the early church.  Can it be that Orthodox Christians have theological liberals among them just like other traditions?

Some people convert to Catholicism because of the glories of Medieval theology only to find in their local parish feminist nuns, leftist priests, and treacly guitar masses.  Or to Lutheranism only to find that the local congregation has sold out to the worst excesses of the church growth movement.  Such disillusioning experiences do not invalidate the conversion.  Inconsistencies, misbehavior, and doctrinal indifference do not mean that the underlying theology is necessarily wrong.   It does, though, perhaps prove the Lutheran distinction between the visible and the hidden church.  Though attacking that doctrine in favor of the notion that the church must be fully manifested in the visible institution is another major argument of both Catholics and Orthodox.

Covering warfare in a Byzantine maze — literally » GetReligion.

Exodus president now doubts cure for being gay

Exodus International has been the preeminent Christian ministry to gays.  A major emphasis of that group has been that homosexuals, through prayer and therapy, can lose their same-sex attraction and become heterosexual.  Now the president of that organization is saying something different:

The ex-gay movement has been convulsed as the leader of Exodus, in a series of public statements and a speech to the group’s annual meeting last week, renounced some of the movement’s core beliefs. Alan Chambers, 40, the president, declared that there was no cure for homosexuality and that “reparative therapy” offered false hopes to gays and could even be harmful. His statements have led to charges of heresy and a growing schism within the network. . . .

In a phone interview Thursday from Orlando, Fla., where Exodus has its headquarters, Mr. Chambers amplified on the views that have stirred so much controversy. He said that virtually every “ex-gay” he has ever met still harbors homosexual cravings, himself included. Mr. Chambers, who left the gay life to marry and have two children, said that gay Christians like himself faced a lifelong spiritual struggle to avoid sin and should not be afraid to admit it.

He said Exodus could no longer condone reparative therapy, which blames homosexuality on emotional scars in childhood and claims to reshape the psyche. And in a theological departure that has caused the sharpest reaction from conservative pastors, Mr. Chambers said he believed that those who persist in homosexual behavior could still be saved by Christ and go to heaven. . . .

“I believe that any sexual expression outside of heterosexual, monogamous marriage is sinful according tothe Bible,” Mr. Chambers emphasized. “But we’ve been asking people with same-sex attractions to overcome something in a way that we don’t ask of anyone else,” he said, noting that Christians with other sins, whether heterosexual lust, pornography, pride or gluttony, do not receive the same blanket condemnations. . . .

Mr. Chambers said he was simply trying to restore Exodus to its original purpose when it was founded in 1976: providing spiritual support for Christians who are struggling with homosexual attraction.

He said that he was happy in his marriage, with a “love and devotion much deeper than anything I experienced in gay life,” but that he knew this was not feasible for everyone. Many Christians with homosexual urges may have to strive for lives of celibacy.

But those who fail should not be severely judged, he said, adding, “We all struggle or fall in some way.”

 

via Rift Forms in Movement as Belief in Gay ‘Cure’ Is Renounced – NYTimes.com.

As one might expect, Chambers’ announcement has sparked a huge controversy, which the NY Times article goes into.   Some people who have gone through Exodus International are insisting they have too been changed and no longer struggle with same-sex attraction.   Others, like Chambers himself, are now happily married ( to women), have children and a heterosexual sex life, while also still feeling and battling same sex attractions.  Most gay Christians, though, don’t lose their attraction to the same sex.

Are we perhaps making a mistake by “privileging” homosexuality as a special category of sin?   Theologically, given the “bondage of the will,” can we say that sin is ever just a matter of “choice”?  Aren’t all sins deeply ingrained, even “genetic,” in that we inherit our fallen nature from Adam and Eve?  Don’t we all have to struggle against our own personal besetting sins?  And, certainly, isn’t it precisely sinners who are saved?  Or do you think our salvation rests on being “victorious” over our particular sins?

The problem on the other side, it seems to me, is with those who deny that they are sinners.  That would include both religious legalists and those who insist that when it comes to their particular sin (whether homosexuality, pornography, selfishness, cruelty) “there is nothing wrong with it.”  Such an attitude precludes repentance and denies their need for the gospel.  Not that repentance in itself saves, but that it can drive a person to the Cross, where Jesus bore even those sins in His body, so as to atone for them and win free forgiveness.

We’ve talked about homosexuality a lot on this blog, so could we set that aside for now?  Could we discuss the more general issue of “besetting sins” (the ones each individual is prone to), repentance, failure, and the Christian life?

HT:  Todd


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