The third use of the Law

Continuing our series on the Law, in which we discussed the civil use (as curb; that is, external righteousness that makes possible the social order) and the theological use (as mirror; that is, to help us to see our sins so that we repent and turn to the Gospel), we  now come to the so-called Third Use (as guide; that is, to help Christians know the kind of life that pleases God).  This third use has been the topic of some contention in Lutheran circles, with controversies over how best to understand the law in the life of Christians.

What do you think of this explanation by Jono Linebaugh, an Anglican teaching at a Reformed seminary?  (Read the whole post at Tullian Tchividjian’s blog.)

God’s words that accuse and kill typically do their work of condemnation in the form of a commandment attached to a condition. So, for example, when Paul sums up the salvation-logic of the Law he quotes Leviticus 18.5b: “the one who does [the commandments] will live by them” (Gal 3.12). Here, there is a promise of life linked to the condition of doing the commandments and a corresponding threat: “cursed is everyone who does not abide in all the things written in the Book of the Law, to do them” (Gal 3.10 citing Deut 27.26). When this conditional word encounters the sinful human, the outcome is inevitable: “the whole world is guilty before God” (Rom 3.19). It is thus the condition that does the work of condemnation. “Ifs” kill!

Compare this to a couple examples of New Testament imperatives. First, consider Galatians 5.1. After four chapters of passionate insistence that justification is by faith apart from works of the Law, Paul issues a couple of strong imperatives: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore stand firm (imperative) and do not be subject (imperative) again to the yoke of slavery.” Are these imperatives instances of God’s accusing and killing words? Are these commandments with conditions? Is Galatians 5.1 an example of Law? No! The command here is precisely to not return to the Law; it is an imperative to stand firm in freedom from the Law. Or take another example, John 8.11. Once the accusers of the adulterous women left, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Depart. From now on, sin no more.” Does this final imperative disqualify the words of mercy? Is this a commandment with a condition? Is this Law following the Gospel? No! This would be Law: “if you go and sin no more, then neither will I condemn you.” But Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” The command is not a condition. “Neither do I condemn you” is categorical and unconditional, it comes with no strings attached. “Neither do I condemn you” creates an unconditional context within which “go and sin no more” is not an “if.” The only “if” the Gospel knows is this: “if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous” (1 John 2.1).

For Luther, it is within this unconditional context created by the gospel, the reality he called “living by faith,” that the Law understood as God’s good commands can be returned to its proper place. Freed from the burden and bondage of attempting to use the Law to establish our righteousness before God, Christians are free to look to commandments, not as conditions, but as descriptions and directions as they seek to serve their neighbor. In other words, once a person is liberated from the commonsense delusion that acting righteously makes us righteous before God, and in faith believes the counter-intuitive reality that being made righteous by God’s forgiving and resurrecting word precedes and produces righteous action, then the justified person is unlocked to love.

For this reason, Luther would insist that the Law only applies to the second question of Christian living: what shall we do? It helps to answer the “what” question, the question about the content of good works. The Law, however, does not answer the more basic question, the question far too few people ask: How do good works occur? What fuels works of love? While the Law demands and directs, what delivers and drives? For Luther, the answer to this question always follows the pattern of 1 John 4.19: “We love because he first loved us.” Works of love flow from prior belovedness. Thus, as Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer has said, the essential question of theological ethics is this: “What has been given?” The answer: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8).

Recognizing this distinction between the conditional and condemning function of the Law and the descriptive and directive statement of God’s will addressed to the unconditional context of faith in the God who justifies the ungodly is essential for understanding the purpose and place of New Testament imperatives, not to mention the Ten Commandments. The proper pattern is always “in view of God’s mercies…” (Rom 12.1), or as Luther pointed out with respect to the Decalogue, the pattern is the opening promise: “I am the Lord your God…” (Exod 20.2). In other words, the ears of faith are free to hear a commandment without a condition because the Christian conscience listens not to the condition and curse of the Law, but to the Christ in whom there is no condemnation (Rom 8.1).

via Tullian Tchividjian.

More bogus divorce statistics

We all have heard that the divorce rate is higher in the so-called Bible Belt states than elsewhere.  Also that the divorce rate in conservative “red” states is higher than in liberal “blue” states.  But now Australian Mark Richardson has taken a closer look at those statistics:

In August of this year, the US Census Bureau released a report on divorce rates in the different states of America. It was widely reported in the media that people were more likely to divorce in the Bible Belt states than in the liberal northeast.

At the time I accepted the statistics. I believed that people in the northeast were less likely to marry as teenagers and more likely to have higher incomes and higher education and that this explained the difference. . . .

But then I came across another statistic, namely that 28% of those divorced identified as conservative, 33% as moderate and 37% as liberal. It didn’t make sense. If those in the liberal states have the lowest rate of divorce, then why do those who identify as liberal have a much higher rate of divorce?

So I went back to the original source. And to my surprise I found that the divorce statistics had been misrepresented in most of the mainstream media. It turns out that what was being compared was the number of divorces per 1000 people in each state rather than the number of divorces per 1000 married couples:

Rates throughout this report count the marital events reported in the past 12 months per 1,000 men or women in the population 15 and older. (p.2)

That wouldn’t be significant if roughly the same number of people got married in each US state. But that’s not the case. There is a much lower rate of marriage in the liberal north-east of the US:

…the states with the lowest marriage rates for men in 2009 tended to be in the Northeast. Maine and New Jersey were among the states with low marriage rates with 13.5 and 14.8 marriages per 1,000 men. Maine and New Jersey also had low marriage rates per 1,000 women, with 12.2 and 13.3 marriages, respectively. (p.4)

…Twelve of the thirteen states where men had marriage rates below the U.S. average were located east of the Mississippi River. (p.5)

In comparison, a state like Wyoming had a marriage rate of 28.7 – that’s more than double the rate in Maine.

So you might expect states with a higher rate of marriage to also have a higher rate of divorce. And that’s how a representative of the Census Bureau explained the statistics:

Divorce rates tend to be higher in the South because marriage rates are also higher in the South,” said Diana Elliott, a family demographer at the Census Bureau. “In contrast, in the Northeast, first marriages tend to be delayed and the marriage rates are lower, meaning there are also fewer divorces.”

That is the key quote. The demographer responsible for the statistics is explaining in the plainest of English why the divorce rate is lower in the north-east. It is because in the liberal north-east people are less likely to be married in the first place.

via Oz Conservative: Do liberal states in the US really have lower divorce rates?.

HT: Joe Carter

Obamacare headed for the Supreme Court

It looks like the Supremes will rule on whether or not Obamacare is constitutional:

The Obama administration chose not to ask the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to re-hear a pivotal health reform case Monday, signaling that it’s going to ask the Supreme Court to decide whether President Barack Obama’s health reform law is constitutional.

The move puts the Supreme Court in the difficult position of having to decide whether to take the highly politically charged case in the middle of the presidential election.

The Justice Department is expected to ask the court to overturn an August decision by a panel of three judges in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that found the law’s requirement to buy insurance is unconstitutional. The suit was brought by 26 states, the National Federation of Independent Business, and several individuals. . . .

The issue of the constitutionality of the individual mandate has been widely expected to be decided by the Supreme Court. The key question has been the timing. The Justice Department’s apparent decision to ask the Supreme Court to review the case greatly increases the chances the issue will be heard in the 2011-12 term, which begins Monday.

The Supreme Court now has several strong reasons to accept the case. The court rarely declines requests from the government to take a case, especially in situations in which a circuit court has struck down a piece of a high-profile law.

There is also a split between the appeals courts. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the mandate, the 11th Circuit has ruled it unconstitutional, and the 4th Circuit has ruled that a tax law prevents it from issuing a decision on the mandate until at least 2014.

“The odds are pretty significant the court will take the case now,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, which has filed briefs in support of the law.

via Health reform lawsuit appears headed for Supreme Court – Jennifer Haberkorn – POLITICO.com.

Assuming the Supremes take the case, how do you think they will rule?

The second use of the Law

Let’s do a series on God’s Law. . . .Last time we discussed the first use of the Law, the civil use.  The second is the theological use, the confrontation with God’s demands that makes us realize our sinfulness and our desperate need for the Gospel.

When we read a book, we might consider how we situate ourselves as readers.  That is, in the case of a novel, whom do we identify with?  What side of the conflict do we see ourselves on?  Who is the good guy, who is the bad guy, and which are we?

In the reading the Bible, we tend to identify with the “good guys” and scorn the villains.  We can also situate ourselves as external observers, learning various truths from the text and gleaning useful lessons for our lives.  That’s well and good.  But to gain the most benefit from God’s Word we might situate ourselves differently.  Read the text so that it accuses you.  So that you recognize that you are the bad guy.  That the judgments against sinners apply to you.

When I read the Old Testament, with its seemingly odd prohibitions and harsh punishments, I see that all of the death penalties recorded in the old and superceded covenant are for things I have committed!  I have disobeyed my parents and so, by these standards, deserve to be stoned.  I have committed idolatry and so deserve to die the death.  I am Abihu, presuming to come into God’s holy presence on my own terms rather than His.  I am the wicked Canaanites.  I am the rebellious children of Israel.  I deserve the death penalty that I will eventually receive.

When I read the New Testament, I do not just learn about Jesus so that I can emulate Him and answer the question “what would Jesus do?”   I know I should do that, but in all honesty I find that His is a standard that staggers my best efforts.  When I read the Beatitudes, I realize that I am not poor in spirit or pure in heart or a peacemaker and that I am not blessed.

The Bible, read in this way, terrifies me.  But then in the Old Testament, my horror gives way to God’s constant and unmerited deliverance of His people, to the bloody charnel house that was the Temple with its sacrifices for sin, to the promises that God will send a Savior who will bear my iniquity and heal me with His stripes.  And then in the New Testament, my dismay at Christ’s example gives way to marveling at His work of Redemption and free forgiveness in His Cross and Resurrection. And I realize that He is poor in spirit and pure in heart and a peacemaker and that I am blessed after all in Him.

Sometimes I read the Bible–or hear it preached–in other ways, as information or as a learner, but I am always in need of repentance and of depending on Christ more and more.  So I am always in need of the second use of the Law.

(Any other insights or applications regarding the Second Use of the Law?)

 

America’s decline and China’s rise?

Robert Kaplan sees President Obama’s refusal to sell the latest F-16s to Taiwan as a sign of America’s decline and China’s rise:

By 2020, the United States will not be able to defend Taiwan from a Chinese air attack, a 2009 Rand study found, even with America’s F-22s, two carrier strike groups in the region and continued access to the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. Moreover, China is at the point of deploying anti-ship ballistic missiles that threaten U.S. surface warships, even as Taiwan’s F-16s, with or without upgrades, are outmatched by China’s 300 to 400 Russian-designed Su-27 and Su-30 fighters. Given that Taiwan is only 100 miles from China and the U.S. Navy and Air Force must deploy to the Pacific from half a world away, the idea that Washington could permanently guarantee Taipei’s de facto sovereignty has always been a diminishing proposition. Vice President Biden’s recent extensive talks with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping (who is poised to succeed President Hu Jintao), may have reinforced the notion inside the administration that Taiwan is better defended by a closer American-Chinese diplomatic understanding than by an arms race.

Notice what is happening, though. The administration is not acting unreasonably. It is not altogether selling out to Beijing. Rather, it is adjusting its sails as the gusts of Chinese power, both economic and military, strengthen. Thus the decision to help Taiwan — but not too much — illustrates how decline itself is an overrated concept.

Decline is rarely sudden: Rather, it transpires quietly over decades, even as officialdom denies its existence and any contribution to it. The Royal Navy began its decline in the 1890s, Princeton University professor Aaron L. Friedberg writes in “The Weary Titan,” even as Britain went on to win two world wars over the next half-century. And so, China is gradually enveloping Taiwan as part of a transition toward military multipolarity in the western Pacific — away from the veritable American naval lake that the Pacific has constituted since the end of World War II. At the same time, however, the United States pushes back against this trend: This month, Obama administration officials — with China uppermost in their minds — updated a defense pact with Australia,giving the United States greater access to Australian military bases and ports near the confluence of the Pacific and Indian oceans. The United States is making room in Asian waters for the Chinese navy and air force, but only grudgingly.

Decline is also relative. So to talk of American decline without knowing the destiny of a power like China is rash. What if China were to have a political and economic upheaval with adverse repercussions for its defense budget? Then history would turn out a lot more complicated than a simple Chinese rise and an American fall.

Because we cannot know the future, all we can do is note the trend line. The trend line suggests that China will annex Taiwan by, in effect, going around it: by adjusting the correlation of forces in its favor so that China will never have to fight for what it will soon possess. Not only does China have some more than 1,500 short-range ballistic missiles focused on Taiwan, but there are 270 commercial flights per week between Taiwan and the mainland, even as close to a third of Taiwan’s exports go to China. Such is independence melting away. And as China’s strategic planners need to concentrate less on capturing Taiwan, they will be free to focus on projecting power into the energy-rich South China Sea and, later, into the adjoining Indian Ocean — hence America’s heightened interest in its Australian allies.

This is a power shift. Subtle and indirect though it may be, it is a clearer story line than what is occurring in the chaotic Middle East, a region less prosperous and less dynamic than East Asia in economic and military terms, and therefore less important. Taiwan tells us where we are, and very likely where we’re going.

via A power shift in Asia – The Washington Post.

I would say that it is absurd to speak of America’s military decline in relation to China or anyone else.   It isn’t simply that America’s military has a huge technological advantage.  That alone is significant.  But America’s military also has something that is priceless when it comes to an advantage over an enemy:  combat experience.  Our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have given us that, at least.

Still, decline is not just a matter of military prowess.  Certainly our nation is weakened economically and culturally.  Also politically and in our national mood.  Does anyone think we would defend Taiwan even if we could?  China is resurgent and energetic, with its particular hybrid of communism and capitalism seemingly carrying the day.  Do you think Kaplan is right?  If so, should anything be done, or should Americans just get used to a second-tier status?

Breaking the speed limit

Scientists have found neutrinos that seem to be traveling faster than the speed of light, which, according to the laws of physics since Einstein, is supposed to be impossible:

Puzzling results from Cern, home of the LHC, have confounded physicists – because it appears subatomic particles have exceeded the speed of light.

Neutrinos sent through the ground from Cern toward the Gran Sasso laboratory 732km away seemed to show up a tiny fraction of a second early.

The result – which threatens to upend a century of physics – will be put online for scrutiny by other scientists.

In the meantime, the group says it is being very cautious about its claims.

“We tried to find all possible explanations for this,” said report author Antonio Ereditato of the Opera collaboration.

“We wanted to find a mistake – trivial mistakes, more complicated mistakes, or nasty effects – and we didn’t,” he told BBC News.

“When you don’t find anything, then you say ‘Well, now I’m forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinise this.’”

The speed of light is the Universe’s ultimate speed limit, and much of modern physics – as laid out in part by Albert Einstein in his special theory of relativity – depends on the idea that nothing can exceed it.

Thousands of experiments have been undertaken to measure it ever more precisely, and no result has ever spotted a particle breaking the limit.

But Dr Ereditato and his colleagues have been carrying out an experiment for the last three years that seems to suggest neutrinos have done just that.

Neutrinos come in a number of types, and have recently been seen to switch spontaneously from one type to another.

The team prepares a beam of just one type, muon neutrinos, sending them from Cern to an underground laboratory at Gran Sasso in Italy to see how many show up as a different type, tau neutrinos.

In the course of doing the experiments, the researchers noticed that the particles showed up a few billionths of a second sooner than light would over the same distance.

The team measured the travel times of neutrino bunches some 15,000 times, and have reached a level of statistical significance that in scientific circles would count as a formal discovery.

But the group understands that what are known as “systematic errors” could easily make an erroneous result look like a breaking of the ultimate speed limit, and that has motivated them to publish their measurements.

“My dream would be that another, independent experiment finds the same thing – then I would be relieved,” Dr Ereditato said.

But for now, he explained, “we are not claiming things, we want just to be helped by the community in understanding our crazy result – because it is crazy”.

“And of course the consequences can be very serious.”

via BBC News – Speed-of-light experiments give baffling result at Cern.

I know exactly what our readers Webmonk and tODD will say:  The journalists have it all wrong and this is not that big a deal.  Surely a mistake, something that has another explanation.  (I know:  Maybe the neutrinos have just jumped into the future.)  Fine, fine.  I hope they will give us their explanation.  I hope they and other of you science types will allow for a mental experiment and instruct us about what difference this would make if it were, in fact, true that some things can go faster than light.


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