Trump and the prosperity gospel

Paula_WhiteGiving the opening prayer at Donald Trump’s inauguration will be Paula White, a megachurch “pastor” and televangelist who is a leading proponent of the “prosperity gospel.”  In fact, prosperity gospel preachers were the leading “evangelicals” who supported Trump from the beginning in an organized way.

Westminster professor and White Horse Inn host Michael Horton has published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post about the prosperity gospel movement and its connections to the president-elect.  He goes into its history and its beliefs, including the teaching that “you are as much the incarnation [of God] as Jesus of Nazareth,” rejection of the Trinity, and that Christ died not for our sins but for our prosperity.

I suspect Trump neither knows nor cares about any of this, though he did attend Norman Vincent Peale’s “power of positive thinking” church as a child and though Paula White claimed to have “led him to Christ.”  Most Christians who voted for Trump surely did so for secular rather than theological reasons.  But giving the “Word of Faith” people another seeming name-it-and-claim-it victory, as well as prominence and possible influence, is not good for American Christianity.

Conservative, orthodox Christians who supported Trump–does this bother you?  Should we give the Trump regime a pass when it comes to condemning false doctrine and heresy?  Do the religious beliefs and alliances of someone in a secular office matter?

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Interfaith service surprise

geograph-3219323-by-Dave-KellyThe Anglican cathedral in Glasgow, in its interfaith zeal, invited a Muslim to read from the Qu’ran in the divine service for Epiphany.  The purpose was to show that Muslims too honor Jesus.  The reader did read the accounts of Jesus’s birth in the Muslim holy book, but then went on to read the passage that specifically denies that Jesus is God’s son.

A controversy has broken out, but the point should be clear:  All religions do NOT teach the same things.  And to pretend otherwise, as interfaith services do, is a failure to respect the integrity of the different religions. [Read more…]

Living under the law

3619878820_a375c3f2ca_mMore from David Zahl., who distinguishes between the big-L “Law” (of God) and the little-l “law” that people today try, futilely, to live by. . . .

The latter too is a sign of how people today are obsessed with justifying themselves, even though they can’t.   We need to point them to the justification they can have, freely, through Christ.

I would add that those of us who have that justification should remember it more and should apply it when we ourselves fall into these syndromes of perfectionism and the busyness that Zahl analyzes.

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Justification and contemporary culture

15692653361_7e7cf1101b_zLuther-influenced Anglican David Zahl has a brilliant article in the latest Christianity Today about Luther’s distinction between Law and Gospel and his understanding of justification by faith.  These teachings, Zahl shows, go to the very heart of what people are most struggling with today in contemporary culture:  perfectionism, the need for approval, and the futility of self-justification.

These are all symptoms of living under the law–if not God’s law, the other laws that we try to replace it with–and the new high-tech information environment only makes the symptoms worse.  (Zahl quotes a friend saying, “The internet is like the real world, only with all the forgiveness vacuumed out.”)

Luther’s breakthrough, that we do not have to justify ourselves–that is, attain perfection, or try to convince ourselves and other people that we are right and good–but that Christ justifies us, is as liberating today as it was 500 years ago.

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Spiritual anguish

grief-927099_640Contrary to the “prosperity gospel” and other theologies of glory, negative experiences can also have a positive spiritual significance.  Many of us go through depression, blue moods, black moods, and other sufferings, whether physical or emotional.  These are not signs that you have lost your faith or that God has abandoned you.

Luther, who knew these states of mind well, considered them important for the Christian life.  In fact, he considered them necessary for anyone who presumed to be a theologian, the three attributes for that office being meditation, prayer, and tentatio–struggle, trial, assault–the closest he could come in Latin to the untranslatable German word Anfechtung.

In looking for a good description of Anfechtung for that Bach post I wrote recently, I came across “A Primer on Anfechtung” by LCMS pastor Paul R. Harris.  It’s worth looking at for its own sake and for what it discloses about a state of anguish that can seem devastating–especially since Christians seldom talk about it today–but which can draw us closer to Christ. [Read more…]

Grappling with Bach’s theology

bach-787703_640Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker has written a fascinating piece on Bach’s theology.  He says that while much research of the past tried to look at Bach in purely secular terms, today’s scholarship is attempting to unpack the musical impact of his Lutheranism.

Ross reviews several recent books on the subject, including one that tries to read into Bach’s music elements of anti-semitism, as if that is what Lutheranism is all about.  (Despite Luther’s senile ravings at the end of his life, Lutheran theology at the very least removed the stigma that Jews are to be blamed as Christ-killers–what the book in question is looking for in Bach’s Passions–since Lutheran theology sees Christ’s death as the result of all human sin, making possible their redemption.)  In reading the review of the books, which touches on the struggles and spiritual dynamism reflected in Bach’s music, I was struck by how little outsiders know about the distinctive, unique  elements of Lutheran spirituality, such as the contrast between Cross and Glory, and the spiritual desolation known as Anfechtung.  These would be highly relevant to Bach’s music, accounting for some of what these scholars otherwise struggle to explain.

But I love Ross’s close readings of Bach’s music, particularly, St. John’s Passion, in which he shows the Biblical and theological meaning of the musical structures the composer employs.  I love this quotation of one the authors:  “Marissen identifies himself as an agnostic, but adds that in the vicinity of Bach’s music he will never be a “comfortable agnostic.”  I love that so much of this research draws on the copy of Bach’s annotated Bible held by Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, which Ross discusses.  And I love the overall question asked by this article and by the books themselves:  How is it that music based on such archaic theological ideas can connect so profoundly with people in our time?  (I would answer that Bach is evidence that Lutheranism itself, properly understood, can connect profoundly with people in our time.)

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