A prominent evangelical discovers Bo Giertz

Remember our recent discussion about “Where are the Lutherans?”, responding to another blog complaining that Lutherans are invisible in the evangelical world?  Well, here is a post from Tullian Tchividjian.  He is a Reformed pastor, the grandson of Billy Graham and the successor to the late D. James Kennedy as pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian church.  He describes reading The Hammer of God  by the Swedish Lutheran bishop and novelist Bo Giertz.  The result?  A  “Copernican revolution” in his ministry:

After sitting on my shelf uncracked for the better part of last year, I finally decided to read Bo Giertz’s classic novel The Hammer of God (first published in 1941). I first heard about this book from my friends Elyse Fitzpatrick and Mike Horton. I’m a third of the way through it and it is simply breathtaking. Giertz was a master storyteller and theologian. Both of these gifts shine brightly on every page of this book. It is the story of three pastors who learn the necessity of relying on God’s grace. It is law/gospel theology in the most captivating narrative form. But, you’ll have to read it for yourself. I just want to share one part. I need to first give some context, though.

Set in Sweden in the early 1800′s, Henrik is a young, remarkably gifted and fiery preacher who very much looks up to Justus Johan Linder, a preacher ten years his senior. Henrik is having a crisis of faith. Bothered by the worldliness all around him, he has become widely known for his passionate pleas and exhortations for people to stop sinning. He’s meticulous in his examination of sinful behavior both in and out of the pulpit. And it is bearing fruit. The church is packed every Sunday and bad behavior is declining in the village. But, much to his surprise, pride and self-righteousness are popping up everywhere. He’s noticed that while drinking and debauchery may be at an all time low, a cold and legalistic hardness of heart has emerged in their place. While on the one hand Henrik is encouraged to see external worldliness dissipating, he’s remarkably discouraged to see a cold, loveless culture developing. Not only that, but now he’s beginning to realize the depth of his own sin. He feels like a hypocrite for preaching so strongly against the external manifestation of sin while ignoring the deeper problem, sin’s root. In despair over his own inability to be as good as he tells other people to be, he breaks down and confesses to Linder that he’s not even sure he’s saved. Linder’s response is pure gold:

Henrik, we must start again from the beginning. We have thundered like the storm [speaking of the way he and Henrik have preached God's Law], we have bombarded with the heaviest mortars of God’s Law in an attempt to break down the walls of sin. And that was surely right. I still load my gun with the best powder when I aim at unrepentance. But we had almost forgotten to let the sunshine of the gospel shine through the clouds. Our method has been to destroy all carnal security by our volley’s, but we have left it to the soul’s to build something new with their own resolutions and their own honest attempts at amending their lives. In that way, Henrik, it is never finished. We have not become finished  ourselves. Now I have instead begun to preach about that which is finished, about that which is built on Calvary and which is a safe fortress to come to when the thunder rolls over our sinful heads. And now I always apportion the Word of God in three directions, not only to the self-satisfied [the bad people] as I did formerly, but also to the awakened [the "good" people] and to the anxious, the heavy laden and to the  poor in spirit. And I find strength each day for my own poor heart at the fount of redemption.

Henrik is captivated by the “new” way in which Linder is preaching and he asks about the results. “Do you note any difference?”

Linder answers:

In the first place, I myself see light where formerly I saw only darkness. There is light in my heart and light over the congregation. Before, I was in despair over my people, at their impenitence. I see now that this was because I kept thinking that everything depended on what we should do, for when I saw so little of true repentance and victory over sin, helplessness crept into my heart. I counted and summed up all that they did  [to clean up their act], and not the smallest percentage of debt was paid. But now I see that which is done, and  I see that the whole debt is paid. Now therefore I go about my duties as might a prison warden who carries in his pocket a letter of pardon for all  his criminals. Do you wonder why I am so happy? Now I see everything in the sun’s light. If God has done so much already, surely there is hope for what remains.

The way Linder describes the transformation that took place in his preaching is almost identical to the transformation that has taken place in mine (and Chuck’s–click here). I  have a long way to go (bad habits die slowly, for sure). But a Copernican revolution of sorts has taken place in my own heart regarding the need to preach the law then the gospel without going back to the law as a means of keeping God’s favor.

via The Whole Debt Is Paid – Tullian Tchividjian.

I would add that I have just reviewed a manuscript by Rev. Tchividjian entitled Jesus + Nothing = Everything, in which he describes his growing understanding of the  Gospel, with the help of writers including Gerhard Forde, C. F. W. Walther, and Harold Senkbeil.  So there are the Lutherans for contemporary evangelicals.

HT:  Larry Wilson

When government embraces religion

A speaker at the National Press Club called for making religion central to our foreign policy. He made a lot of sense at first, but then fell off the deep end:

The best way to address Jihadist terrorism is to make religion a central component of American foreign policy, according to Douglas Johnston, an expert on foreign policy and religion, who spoke at the National Press Club on June 23.

“We’re dealing with symptoms and not the real cause,” Johnston said in a critique of current U.S. policy. “And that’s the problem.”

The International Correspondents Committee hosted the event to coincide with the launch of Johnston’s new book, “Religion, Terror, and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement.”

The book argues that what is required today is a longer-term strategy of cultural and religious interaction, backed by a deeper understanding of how others, especially the Muslims, view the world and what is important to them.

As a first step, the State Department must immediately appoint religion officers at its embassies overseas, just like the military attaches, according to Johnston. They must be given a prominent role with clear-cut policy directives based on the fundamental American principle of tolerance and accommodation with other religions.

In this context, he suggested the experiment should begin at home with American Muslims. He lamented the fact that they feel alienated and shunned.

“It’s a shame that we’ve failed to embrace them wholeheartedly,” Johnston said.

As a first step, he said efforts should be made to arrange for Imams of mosques in America to deliver sermons at churches, and pastors should go to mosques to talk about their religion.

Johnston, who runs the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in Washington, added that the whole approach should demonstrate the essence of what he called “organic suasion,” meaning “change and healing from within.”

He also advocated spreading Madrassa education with emphasis on critical thinking.

“We’ve got very positive results through our projects in Pakistan and how it can change the attitude of Madrassa students,” said Johnston, a former Naval officer and veteran of the intelligence community who holds a Ph.D. in political Science from Harvard.

Most of the panelists essentially agreed with Johnston’s premise, saying religion should take center stage, rather than a back seat, in the formulation of American foreign policy.

Arrange for Muslims to preach in Christian churches, and vice versa?  The government would arrange that, as a “first step”?  Surely it would be better for the government to keep religion in the back seat–or even persecute it–than to give it “center stage” in an inevitably syncretistic civil religion.

via Johnston: To counter Jihadists, put religion at center of foreign policy | The National Press Club.

HT:  Aaron Lewis

Iranian president’s theological troubles

Theology may be bringing down Iran’s President Ahmadinejad.  So says Karim Sadjadpour, writing in the Washington Post:

While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s demagoguery and Holocaust revisionism on the world stage have earned him alarmist comparisons to Adolf Hitler, his recent, ignoble fall from grace reveals the Iranian president for what he really is: the dispensable sword of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The marriage of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad should be understood in the context of Iran’s internal rivalries. Since the death in 1989 of the revolution’s father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — whose austere nature and anti-Americanism set the tenor for Iran’s post-monarchic order — Tehran’s political elite has been broadly divided into two schools.

Reformists and pragmatists argued that ensuring the Islamic Republic’s survival required easing political and social restrictions and prioritizing economic expediency over ideology. Hard-liners, led by Khamenei, believed that compromising on revolutionary ideals could unravel the system, just as perestroika did the Soviet Union. . . .

Ahmadinejad’s pious populism resonated among Iran’s working classes, and his revolutionary zeal and willingness to attack Khamenei’s adversaries endeared him to the supreme leader, whose backing of Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election proved decisive. The balance of power between the two was exhibited during Ahmadinejad’s inauguration, when the new president prostrated himself before Khamenei and kissed his hand.

Under the supreme leader’s approving gaze, Ahmadinejad’s first term as president was spent bludgeoning Khamenei’s domestic opponents, taking a hard line on the nuclear issue and taunting the United States. Ahmadinejad’s newfound fame abroad, however, confused his true position at home.

What Khamenei failed to realize was that Ahmadinejad and his cohorts had greater ambitions than simply being his minions.

They spoke of their direct connection to the hidden imam — Shiite Islam’s Messiah equivalent — in an attempt to render the clergy obsolete. In “private” meetings — which were bugged by intelligence forces loyal to Khamenei — Ahmadinejad’s closest adviser, Rahim Mashaei, spoke openly of designs to supplant the clergy. The last straw came earlier this year, when Ahmadinejad tried to take over the Ministry of Intelligence, whose vast files on the financial and moral corruption of Iran’s political elite are powerful tools of political persuasion and blackmail.

The supreme leader was publicly nonchalant about Ahmadinejad’s insubordination; privately, however, he unleashed jackals that had long been salivating for the president’s comeuppance. The powerful Revolutionary Guards — who helped engineer Ahmadinejad’s contested 2009 reelection — swiftly declared their devotion to Khamenei, and several of the president’s advisers were arrested.

One former Guard and current member of parliament, Mohammad Karamirad, sent Ahmadinejad a message last weekin the form of a macabre Persian proverb: “If [Khamenei] asks us to bring him a hat, we know what to bring him,” i.e., the head of the person wearing the hat.In addition to proving the primacy of Iran’s supreme leader, the rise and fall of Ahmadinejad exemplifies the contempt that Tehran’s ruling cartel has for the intelligence of its citizenry.

Ahmadinejad’s tainted reelection — which spurred millions to take to the streets — was hailed by Khamenei as a “divine assessment” and the people’s will. Two years later, Ahmadinejad and his cronies are accused by former supporters of being “deviant Zionist agents” and “possessed by the devil.”

Khamenei’s desire to project a unified front to the world is likely to keep Ahmadinejad in office until his term expires in 2013. Khamenei seeks to wield power without accountability; this requires a president who has accountability without power. A disgraced Ahmadinejad can conveniently absorb blame for the country’s endemic economic, political and social disaffection.

via The rise and fall of Iran’s Ahmadinejad – The Washington Post.

Clarifying the cosmological argument

Philosopher Edward Feser clears us misconceptions about the cosmological argument for the existence of God:

1. The argument does NOT rest on the premise that “Everything has a cause.”

Lots of people – probably most people who have an opinion on the matter – think that the cosmological argument goes like this: Everything has a cause; so the universe has a cause; so God exists. They then have no trouble at all poking holes in it. If everything has a cause, then what caused God? Why assume in the first place that everything has to have a cause? Why assume the cause is God? Etc.

Here’s the funny thing, though. People who attack this argument never tell you where they got it from. They never quote anyone defending it. There’s a reason for that. The reason is that none of the best-known proponents of the cosmological argument in the history of philosophy and theology ever gave this stupid argument. Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne. And not anyone else either, as far as I know. . . .
What defenders of the cosmological argument do say is that what comes into existence has a cause, or that what is contingent has a cause.  These claims are as different from “Everything has a cause” as “Whatever has color is extended” is different from “Everything is extended.”  Defenders of the cosmological argument also provide arguments for these claims about causation.  You may disagree with the claims – though if you think they are falsified by modern physics, you are sorely mistaken– but you cannot justly accuse the defender of the cosmological argument either of saying something manifestly silly or of contradicting himself when he goes on to say that God is uncaused. . . .

“What caused God?” is not a serious objection to the argument.

Part of the reason this is not a serious objection is that it usually rests on the assumption that the cosmological argument is committed to the premise that “Everything has a cause,” and as I’ve just said, this is simply not the case.  But there is another and perhaps deeper reason.The cosmological argument in its historically most influential versions is not concerned to show that there is a cause of things which just happens not to have a cause.  It is not interested in “brute facts” – if it were, then yes, positing the world as the ultimate brute fact might arguably be as defensible as taking God to be.  On the contrary, the cosmological argument – again, at least as its most prominent defenders (Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al.) present it – is concerned with trying to show that not everything can be a “brute fact.”  What it seeks to show is that if there is to be an ultimate explanation of things, then there must be a cause of everything else which not only happens to exist, but which could not even in principle have failed to exist.  And that is why it is said to be uncaused – not because it is an arbitrary exception to a general rule, not because it merely happens to be uncaused, but rather because it is not the sort of thing that can even in principle be said to have had a cause, precisely because it could not even in principle have failed to exist in the first place.  And the argument doesn’t merely assume or stipulate that the first cause is like this; on the contrary, the whole point of the argument is to try to show that there must be something like this.

via Edward Feser: So you think you understand the cosmological argument?.

He goes on, in some fascinating and lucid philosophizing.

HT:  Joe Carter

Journalists gone wild

Are you following the scandal swirling around media magnate Rupert Murdoch’s empire, which includes The Wall Street Journal and Fox News, just to name two of his American holdings?  It seems reporters from his British tabloid News of the World have been caught hacking into voice mails of celebrities, crime victims, members of the Royal family, and even families of 9/11 victims.  Now investigators have uncovered evidence that reporters have bribed police officers for story tips–leading to the resignation of the head of Scotland Yard, no less–as well as questionable connections to leading politicians, including Prime Minister Cameron.

Murdoch has shut down News of the World, whose editor has been arrested.  Here is the best overview I have found of the whole tangled story:  News International phone hacking scandal – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

And of course some people are hoping that the scandal might pull down Murdoch and his conservative-leaning news outlets, including Fox News, though there seems to be no obvious connections.

First, does anyone know how a reporter could hack into someone else’s phone or voice mail?

Second, does this scandal teach us anything about contemporary journalism?

Prosecuting Roger Clemens

The great pitcher Roger Clemens testified before a Congressional hearing that he had not used steroids.  But then came evidence that he had.   So he was brought to trial for perjury.   The prosecution used hearsay evidence that the judge told them not to use, resulting in a mistrial.   So do you think Clemons should be retried?

Notice that steroid use was not illegal, nor was it then a violation of the rules of baseball.   I don’t see why steroid use back then should keep a Mark McGwire, a Sammy Sosa, or a Barry Bonds out of the record books, even with an asterisk.  It wasn’t cheating, since it didn’t violate any rules.  Now it does, so it’s a different story.  As my cousin Mark observed, there have been different eras in baseball–such as the dead ball era and the juiced ball era–so we just need to realize there was a steroid era.  Perhaps we should ban all of the vitamins players take these days.  Other sports such as cycling are outlawing “doping,” including practices such as injecting one’s own blood, so as to increase stamina by increasing the number of red blood cells.  And yet our whole Olympic team trains in Mark’s home of Colorado Springs at an altitude that increases red blood cells.  Yet one is OK, because labeled “natural,” and the other is banned because labeled artificial, even though the effect is the same.

Clemens was hauled before a court for lying to Congress, not for using steroids.  He was speaking out against steroids, probably also trying to protect his reputation so he could get into the Hall of Fame.  Once again, it isn’t the action but the lying, or, better yet, the hypocrisy, that gets people into trouble.

Is it worth the expense and the time of our court system to once again try to convict a baseball player?


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