Jesus + Nothing = Everything

I’ve blogged about Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham and the successor to D. James Kennedy as pastor of the influential Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  In the course of some struggles over his ministry, he came to a deeper understanding of the Gospel with the help of some Lutheran writers (e.g., C. F. W. Walther, Bo Giertz, Gerhard Forde, Hal Senkbeil, Rod Rosenbladt).  He has written a book about his experience and his new liberating realization that he does not have to add anything to what Christ has done for him.  The book is entitled Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

No, he doesn’t become a Lutheran.  He remains a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. That’s not the point.  But he demonstrates what I have been contending, that we Lutherans in our theology have some great treasures that other Christians are searching for and yearning for.  We tend to keep to ourselves, though, and mainly just talk to each other, which means that our theological and spiritual heritage is little known in American Christianity, which is split between evangelicals and catholics, Calvinists and Arminians, fundamentalists and mainliners, and other dichotomies which Lutheranism reconciles.  Anyway, Lutherans would do well to see the excitement with which Rev. Tchividjian discovers and seizes upon Biblical insights that are commonplaces among Lutherans, to the point that they sometimes take them for granted.  (The book is resonating with other evangelicals.  Christianity Today named it one of the top books of 2012.)

He approached me–he liked my book Spirituality of the Cross:  The Way of the First Evangelicals–to write a blurb about his book, which I was glad to do.  Here is what I said about it.   I’ll add some other blurbs that capture the book’s flavor and how it’s being received:

“Many Christians today assume that the gospel just has to do with conversion, for way back when they first came to faith. They have lost the sense, well known to Christians of the past, that the gospel is for every moment of their lives. As a result, they often fall into a moralism that can be, as this book shows, just as idolatrous, self-focused, and godless as immorality. This book shows how the good news of free forgiveness in the cross of Jesus Christ is the driving energy that makes the Christian life possible. Pastor Tchividjian tells about how he himself discovered the full magnitude of God’s grace in the midst of difficult times in his own ministry. He does so in a way that will bring relief, exhilaration, and freedom to struggling Christians.”
—Gene Edward Veith Jr., provost, professor of Literature, Patrick Henry College; director, Cranach Institute, Concordia Theological Seminary; columnist; author

“Tullian Tchividjian knows, by biblical study and personal experience, that the greatest dangers to the church exist inside the church not outside and the greatest of these dangers is the subtle, deceptive, and seductive self-reliance and self-sufficiency of legalism. Perhaps the greatest contribution of this book is its page after page plea to the church not to be afraid of the glorious provisions and freedoms of the grace of Jesus.”
—Paul David Tripp, President, Paul Tripp Ministries; author, What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

“In a powerful, concise, and popular style, Tchividjian announces, explicates, defends, and contrasts the gratuitous gospel of Christ’s person and work with the oft-misheld conviction of us sinners that, if we are somehow to be justified, it will have to be a matter of ‘making up for’ our offenses and of inward improvement. Chapter-by-chapter he argues that God’s saving plan is one of grace and not one of improvement. Filled with illustrations from his life as a pastor, this is no unapproachable, academic tome. But neither, thank God, is it today’s ‘Evangelical silly!’ Tchividjian wrestles openly with demons and their central lie in order that we truly ‘get’ what the Bible is really about. From every point on the compass, he contrasts ‘moral renovation’ with a free, one-sided rescue drenched in the blood of Jesus. Good news for everyone—but especially for Christians who are worn out by trying the other way, believing the lie, somehow knowing renovation isn’t working but knowing nowhere else to turn. Tchividjian is out to convince his reader that justification before God really is pure gift, is free, is by grace and through faith in Christ. . . sola!”
—Rod Rosenbladt, professor of theology, Concordia University

“Brace yourself for a gospel tornado! Tullian speaks from the heart to the heart, reclaiming the ‘good’ part of the good news in a bold and liberating fashion. To those suffering under the gravitational pull of internal as well as external legalism (a/k/a everyone), Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything represents the only lifeline there is—the mind-blowing, present-tense freedom of God’s justifying grace. No ‘if’s, ‘and’s or ‘but’s here, just the enlivening and relieving Word in all its profundity, with powerful illustrations to spare. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll read it over and over and over again (of course, you don’t have to)!”
—David Zahl, Director, Mockingbird Ministries; editor of The Mockingbird Blog www.mbird.com

Legal issues in overturning the insurance mandate

The Obamacare abortion pill/contraceptive mandate is so obviously a government assault on religious liberty that the courts are sure to overrule it.  Right?  I’ve been hearing that.  Eight lawsuits have already been filed.  But the legal issues get complicated, with a precedent that might let the Obama administration have its way.  There is, however, a way to trump that precedent, depending on how the issue is construed.  Journalist N. C. Aizenman gives a useful overview of how the cases will be argued:

The plaintiffs will argue, among other claims, that the rule, which takes effect Aug. 1, interferes with their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion by effectively compelling them to provide a form of coverage that conflicts with their beliefs.

To win that argument, they will need to clear a major legal hurdle: A landmark 1990 decision in a case called Employment Division v. Smith, in which the Supreme Court found that if a law is “neutral and generally applicable” — meaning that it is not specifically targeted against any religious group — individuals must comply with it even when doing so imposes a burden on their free exercise of religion.

Writing for the majority in that case, Justice Antonin Scalia — a conservative justice known for his strong identification with the Catholic Church — found that to allow otherwise “would be courting anarchy” by making “the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

In the last decade, the highest state courts of both New York and California cited the Smith decision in blocking First Amendment challenges to state contraceptive-coverage laws virtually identical to the federal rule.

In both instances, the state courts found that their state’s laws met the “neutral and generally applicable” standard set out in Smith. And in both cases, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the lower court’s decision. . . .

In addition to their constitutional challenges, the plaintiffs will try to convince judges that the federal rule violates a 1993 law adopted by Congress in response to the Supreme Court’s Smith decision.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton, essentially replaces the “neutral and generally applicable” standard set by Smith with one that is far more stringent. It states that even a generally applicable federal law cannot “substantially burden” a person’s exercise of religion unless the law furthers a “compelling government interest” and does so by the “least restrictive means.”

The plaintiffs argue that because the vast majority of health plans in America already offer contraceptive coverage, the government’s aim to make that coverage virtually universal is not compelling. And they contend the administration could achieve its goal through other means — for example by having the government directly provide contraceptives to women who work for religious organizations that don’t offer it.

via New front in birth control rule battle: the courts – The Washington Post.

Of course the best case scenario would be for the Supreme Court to throw out the whole health care law, which could happen.  It could also NOT happen.

In the meantime, though the issue at first seemed to be a loser for the Obama administration–threatening to cost Democrats the Catholic vote–now the Democrats, with the help of the media, have successfully cast the controversy as a Republican attempt to do away with birth control and thus a Republican war against women!  That means that the administration is likely to insist that the mandate be enforced.

 

In defense of politics

“Politics” has become a dirty word.  As in: “It’s just politics.”  “They are just playing politics.”  “He’s just another politician.”  This is understandable, but also dangerous.  So says Alec MacGillis, an editor at the New Republic,  who examines a number of recent decisions derided as “political” by liberals and conservatives, showing that it was a good thing that lawmakers had to take the political process–that is to say, voters–into account.  Some of his comments:

It’s not surprising that “political” is an insult. Congress is gridlocked, with a 10 percent approval rating, and the 2012 campaign ads are doing their best to turn voters off.

But there is something troubling about the extent to which our leaders have made politics their bogeyman. Most important issues, from reproductive health to clean-energy investment, are riddled with politics — as they should be. They involve serious questions about what the country values and where it wants to invest its resources. To suggest that one’s own side is free of politics is not only sanctimonious, it’s also destructive. Demonizing politics leads Americans to disengage further from the sphere where big decisions are made, ceding the political realm to the very people who denigrate it at every opportunity.

Politics in its highest form has noble roots, going back to the Greeks — it is the art of government, of ordering life among a people. . . . .

Whatever one thinks about the wisdom of that decision, it was rightfully a political one. Who would we rather have making these decisions — our elected representatives, acting with the input of experts such as FDA scientists but also with an ear to their constituents, or the experts alone? The experts often have their own biases, such as industry ties. Elected officials are at least somewhat accountable to all of us. . . .

Our tendency to view the “political” as something separate from, rather than intrinsic to, the public sphere has side effects. For one thing, it contributes to the laughable distinction in our campaign finance laws between political action committees, which must disclose their donors, and affiliated nonprofit groups, which do not have to, as long as their attacks on candidates revolve around “issues,” not elections. But of course, the nonprofits’ issue ads are no less “political” than the PACs’ explicitly campaign-oriented ones.

But the biggest cost of our indiscriminate disparagement of all things “political” is its potential to further alienate Americans from a process they already have all too much reason to abandon. My time on the campaign trail this season has reminded me that there are few things more disheartening than meeting some of the countless people who have given up on politics — more often than not, people who have a major stake in the outcome. They spit the words out — “It’s all just politics” — with a disgusted wave, as if there were no connections between what they see happening in Washington and their lives, when there are in fact so many. And who can blame them, when they hear the word spoken with the same disgust by the practitioners in the field?

via From Solyndra to birth control, everything’s political. And that’s okay. – The Washington Post.

The UN & NATO authorize our wars, not Congress

So says our Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs:

The Obama administration and Defense Secretary Panetta are contending that when offensive military action is needed, it does not have to go to Congress first for permission but that international agreements, the UN or NATO can override Congressional acts of authorization of war or use of force.

At a hearing that was held in Washington on March 7, 2012, Sen. Sessions of the Senate Armed Services Committee questioned not only Defense Secretary Leon Panetta but also of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey about offensive military action and the permissions that are needed.

Both Panetta and General Dempsey indicated that “international permission,” rather than Congressional approval, provided a ‘legal basis’ for military action by the United States.

In other words, they explained that they didn’t need permission by the Congress and can pursue offensive military action without Congress’ involvement and that the UN would dictate when and how the hostilities would occur, therefore bypassing the War Powers Act.

via Panetta: ‘Use of military force can be granted by UN or NATO, not Congress’ – Atlanta Paulding County Republican | Examiner.com.

Nevermind the Constitution, which as a War Powers Clause that specifically invests the power to make war with Congress:

[Congress shall have Power...] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 11

That’s Congress and not the Executive branch–even though presidents have been running roughshod over this Constitutional requirement for our last several wars–and certainly not international agencies!

Foreclosing on churches

The housing market woes are having a big impact also on houses of worship, as banks are increasingly foreclosing on churches:

(Reuters) – Banks are foreclosing on America’s churches in record numbers as lenders increasingly lose patience with religious facilities that have defaulted on their mortgages, according to new data.

The surge in church foreclosures represents a new wave of distressed property seizures triggered by the 2008 financial crash, analysts say, with many banks no longer willing to grant struggling religious organizations forbearance.

Since 2010, 270 churches have been sold after defaulting on their loans, with 90 percent of those sales coming after a lender-triggered foreclosure, according to the real estate information company CoStar Group.

In 2011, 138 churches were sold by banks, an annual record, with no sign that these religious foreclosures are abating, according to CoStar. That compares to just 24 sales in 2008 and only a handful in the decade before.

The church foreclosures have hit all denominations across America, black and white, but with small to medium size houses of worship the worst. Most of these institutions have ended up being purchased by other churches.

The highest percentage have occurred in some of the states hardest hit by the home foreclosure crisis: California, Georgia, Florida and Michigan.

“Churches are among the final institutions to get foreclosed upon because banks have not wanted to look like they are being heavy handed with the churches,” said Scott Rolfs, managing director of Religious and Education finance at the investment bank Ziegler.

Church defaults differ from residential foreclosures. Most of the loans in question are not 30-year mortgages but rather commercial loans that typically mature after just five years when the full balance becomes due immediately.

Its common practice for banks to refinance such loans when they come due. But banks have become increasingly reluctant to do that because of pressure from regulators to clean up their balance sheets, said Rolfs.

“A lot of these loans were given when the properties were evaluated at a certain level in 2005 or 2006,” Rolfs said. “Banks have had to reappraise the value of these properties, whether it’s a church or a commercial office building. Values have gone down, so the loans cannot continue in the same form.” . . .

Solid Rock Christian Church near Memphis, Tennessee, took out a $2.9 million loan with the Evangelical Christian Credit Union at the beginning of 2008, to construct a new, 2,000 seat, 34,000 square-foot building to house its growing congregation.

In the middle of construction, the economy crashed. The church raided its savings to finish the project, but ended up defaulting on the loan.

The ECCU foreclosed and put the church up for auction.

“We are still fighting this,” a church spokesman told Reuters. “We have filed for bankruptcy to stop this foreclosure and to restructure our debt.”

via Banks foreclosing on churches in record numbers | Reuters.

Though the article says that small and medium size churches are most affected–there are more of those–the example is of a megachurch.  My impression is that lots of big congregations may have become over-extended in building their big “campuses.”  Again, the problem is not so much failure to make payments on  a conventional mortgage but having to make a “balloon payment” after a few years, only to find the decrease in the value of the property makes refinancing impossible.  I didn’t realize that churches could go bankrupt.

Have any of your churches had problems like these?

Oklahoma Democrats

I blogged earlier about the  political beliefs that characterize my beloved natal state of Oklahoma.   On Super Tuesday, Oklahoma also held its Democratic primary.  And Barack Obama only received 57% of the vote.  His main competitor for Oklahoma Democrats?  Anti-abortion militant Randall Terry!

See this, with its rather questionable analysis:   Why Oklahoma is so anti-Obama – The Washington Post.  The article begs the question of why Oklahoma urban areas don’t go for Obama the way other urban areas do.  Why does he lose in Oklahoma City while winning in Salt Lake City?  It isn’t because of race, as the article suggests.  Salt Lake City is 79.2% white, with only 1.9% black.  Oklahoma City is only 58.7% white, with 14.6% black.  The article also admits that Oklahoma is far from the most conservative state in the union, according to a recent study not even being in the top 10.  And lots of Democrats are getting elected to state offices, including a recent governor and a current Congressman.  For some reason, Oklahoma is extremely pro-life, including among Democrats.  But why Oklahoma is this way while other similar states are not remains a mystery.

 


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