Brandon Bennett writes about those who relate human technological prowess to man becoming god. He then makes an interesting application of Luther’s Theology of the Cross. [Read more...]
Brandon Bennett writes about those who relate human technological prowess to man becoming god. He then makes an interesting application of Luther’s Theology of the Cross. [Read more...]
Ethan Richardson at Mockingbird quotes French philosopher Simone Weil on the Cross of Jesus Christ:
“Christ healing the sick, raising the dead, etc–that is the humble, human, almost low part of his mission. The supernatural part is the sweat of blood, the unsatisfied longing for human consolation, the supplication that he might be spared, the sense of being abandoned by God. The abandonment at the supreme moment of the crucifixion, what an abyss of love on both sides! [Read more...]
The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent last week was about Christ’s Triumphal Entry. Rev. William Weedon, the chaplain of the LCMS headquarters in St. Louis, preached about Christ coming on that donkey. He started by quoting G. K. Chesterton’s poem on the subject. He goes on to point out how God seems to prefer working through the humblest and most unimpressive kinds of things. Sample:
Water, bread, wine, hot air from a man’s mouth. Them be the lowly beasties that God STILL chooses to “ride on” to come to us, to be our servant King. They look so ordinary, so utterly unimpressive. I mean, think about it. A man dressed up in an outfit that looks more than a bit like a circus clown pours a handful of water over the head of an oblivious child and that’s the difference between eternal life and eternal death, between heaven and hell? Or certain words are spoken over bread and wine which they are given out into our mouths, and this is the food that if one eats of he does not die, but lives in Christ forevermore? Or a bunch of people sit in pews week in and week out listening to a man jaw on about stuff from a book whose last bit was written 2,000 years ago, and this is what the Church lives from?
Read the rest of the message after the jump. [Read more...]
For Lent I’ve been reading Jürgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God. It’s sophisticated theology, interacting and often agreeing with radical and liberal theologians, and yet there are treasures on virtually every page. Here are some quotations:
“When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.” [Read more...]
Liberal Catholic intellectual Garry Wills has a new book out entitled Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition in which he makes the rather un-Catholic argument that Jesus institute the priesthood. But he goes farther, giving a Catholic version of what many mainline Protestants and even some supposed evangelicals are saying: That Christ was not sacrificed for our sins. [Read more...]
Todd Wilken with an important reminder in light of the uproar over the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod’s stand against our civil religion, with its president disciplining a pastor for participating in an interfaith service for the school shootings in Connecticut:
God is really blessing the LCMS this week.
How do I know? Here’s how.
All I had to do was read some recent comments on the LCMS Facebook page after the story of the Pr. Morris’ apology hit the secular press. [Read more...]
Luther is the acclaimed British crime drama now available to Americans on BBC America. Here is the Wikipedia description of John Luther, played by Golden-Globe winner Idris Elba:
He is obsessive, possessed, and sometimes dangerous in the violence of his fixations. But Luther has paid a heavy price for his dedication; he has never been able to prevent himself from being consumed by the darkness of the crimes with which he deals. For Luther, the job always comes first. His dedication is a curse and a blessing, both for him and those close to him.
Sound like any other Luther you know? Sound like any doctrine you know? Anyway, as we said yesterday, Jordan Ballor has an article in Cardus arguing that the series is, in fact, Lutheran. I’ll let him tell you about a story line:
John Luther’s willingness to suffer, to be despised, and even to be killed for the sake of others is manifest throughout the series. In a line of work that is characterized by the daily risk of life and limb, the risks Luther takes on a regular basis are foolhardy, at best. When Jenny Jones’s mother, with whom Luther has a complicated history, comes calling, Luther finds himself unable to follow his safer judgment and remain uninvolved. He feels responsible in some way for the plight of Jenny, who after her father’s death has become addicted to drugs and a victim (“actress” seems like the wrong word) in the pornography business.
Luther ventures onto the set just as filming is about to begin and (to put it delicately) “removes” Jenny from the situation. He follows through and delivers Jenny to her mother, and the task he had been asked to complete has been finished. But everything is not well. Jenny knows that living with her mother will not be healthy. She knows she needs help and she pleads with John to help her. Again, despite his “better” judgment, Luther cannot resist helping. He cannot bring himself to simply tell her, “Go and sin no more,” and leave it at that. John Luther is thus in a very real way a natural lawman. His innate sense of justice and of obligation is so deep that he simply cannot stand by and leave broken things alone. He has to try to help, even if it means risking his reputation, his livelihood, and indeed his life.
He ends up risking all three in Jenny’s case. Those who run the porn ring have orchestrated the whole arrangement in order to get Luther into a position where he is exposed and compromised. At one point the gangsters nail Luther’s hand to a table: Luther is literally pierced for Jenny’s transgressions. He has put himself in this position willingly, knowing what it might cost. In the process, the gangsters do end up getting some leverage on Luther so that he has to appear to do their bidding, at least for a time.
To Luther’s colleagues, Luther seems to have been compromised. When DS Erin Gray asks Luther’s friend and protégë Justin Ripley about Luther’s suspicious actions, Justin expresses full, even perhaps credulous, faith in Luther’s fidelity. “There’s loyalty, and there’s naivety,” says Gray. Justin responds, “There’s a difference between getting your hands dirty and being dirty.” Justin knows Luther, and he knows that Luther will risk getting his hands dirty in order to do what he feels morally obligated to do. Likewise Justin doesn’t hesitate to get his own hands dirty to protect Luther. Luther’s brand of responsible action is contagious, it seems.
In this difference between “getting your hands dirty and being dirty,” we have a seminal expression of Bonhoeffer’s idea of vicarious representative action and Luther’s idea of moral ambiguity. We don’t always know when the line is crossed and we become dirty. But getting dirty, and even being dirty, is a risk we are bound to take, a risk we are bound to take in trust that it is not on the basis of our clean hands but rather on the redemptive work of Jesus that we might be justified. Jesus, in fact, is the exemplar of this vicarious representative action, the scapegoat of the Old Testament, who takes on the sins of others. As the Apostle Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV). Because of Christ’s atoning work, we are free to risk getting our hands dirty.
John Luther is a deeply troubled man. We get no real insight into his spiritual life, and he begins the second series of episodes on the verge of suicide. There is likewise little overt religiosity in Luther. But in the vicarious representative action of the natural lawman DCI John Luther on behalf of others, we see a broken and fragmentary expression of common grace, God’s preserving work in the world.
The series is on Netflix–instant play! So I’ve seen the first couple of episodes. Just as crime drama–in the genre of police procedural–the show is excellent. It has everything you might like in Law & Order, NCIS, etc.–action, suspense, intriguing mysteries, ingenious police work–but it’s grittier, more textured, and better written.
I had assumed that the theology Jordan Ballor sees in the series is unintentional, as when an honest work of art finds truth, which by its nature is going to be consistent with the truth of Scripture. But the show is full of explicit Christian–yea, Lutheran–language: talk about evil, (sinful) human nature, nothingness, Bible quotations (“why do the wicked prosper?”), the devil, guilt, “your calling.” Then there is the character’s name and business such as nailing his hand to the wall. The creator of the show knows some theology.
The character of John Luther is complex and compelling. He’s something of a rogue cop (think the protagonist of The Shield but more sympathetic), brilliant but tormented. His estranged wife who left him for another man, which tortures Luther, defends his preoccupations with “life and love.” This is not romantic love or the kind of love that solves all your problems. This is love that multiplies your problems and makes them worse. But love is absolutely necessary. At one point, Luther identifies who the murderer is because when everyone else yawns, but she doesn’t. Being able to resist the contagious yawn, he says, means this person has no empathy, the sign of someone who could kill without mercy. (And that woman, Alice, what a piece of work! Though the unwillingness to yawn is not evidence that will stand up in court, he knows she did it, and she knows he knows. They get together to torment each other and discuss medieval philosophy. The shows’ villains are as complicated as they are chilling.) John Luther, struggles with the conflict between his compassion and his own lawlessness (when a serial killer is hanging on for dear life, he is not above stomping his fingers). He is simultaneously a saint and a sinner, but he doesn’t understand that yet. He is Brother Martin before his conversion. Sherlock Holmes is characterized by logical deductions; Adrian Monk by obsessive compulsive disorder. John Luther is characterized by Anfechtungen.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (who has announced that he is stepping down) has some perceptive comments about Luther, the Reformation, and the Theology of the Cross:
“The Reformation put a question of the utmost gravity to all Christians, a question about the continuity and dependability of human response to God. It affirmed that the Church was capable of error; that no amount of scholastic tidiness could guarantee fidelity to God; that there was in the Church no secure locus of unquestionable authority. It pointed eloquently to human brokenness, the failure of reason and order. But it did so only to claim triumphantly that the Church’s security lay in this very failure, in the insecurity and un-rootedness which drove it always back to its spring in the Word made broken flesh. Against the self-sufficiency of Christendom is set – rightly and decisively – the cross. To Christians looking for a sign, an assurance, it offered only the ‘sign of the Son of Man’, God hidden in the death of Christ… Luther is a reminder to Catholic and Protestant alike that the strength of Christianity is its refusal to turn away from the central and unpalatable facts of human self-destructiveness; that it is there, in the bitterest places of alienation, that the depth and scope of Christ’s victory can be tasted, and the secret joy which transforms all experience from within can come to birth, the hidden but all-pervading liberation.” (p. 160-61)
The quotation is from his book Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to St. John of the Cross.
You know that viral video from the guy who says he hates religion but loves Jesus? Well, Anthony Sacramone kind of agrees with him:
I like to say that I’m neither religious nor spiritual — I’m a Lutheran. It’s more than just left of pithy; it’s true. I have zero interest in religion. I had plenty of it as a kid. Sunday school; religion classes in my Lutheran parochial schools; confirmation classes. I was an acolyte and a winner of some religion-essay contest at the tender age of 9. And then there was church. And the inevitable Monday morning role call. Every Monday, our home room teacher would ask whether we had gone to church, Sunday school, both, or neither. After about age 11 I was racking up an impressive list of neithers. I would do anything to get out of going. To this day, I cannot remember a single word any pastor ever preached on any text. Church was something to endure. And among many of the Lutherans of my childhood, it didn’t seem to matter. They subscribed to Woody Allen’s shallow philosophy: just showing up was good enough.
And when I was finally confirmed, I was not just an adult in the eyes of the church; I was also free. Free never to have to endure the brain-sapping banality that was my religion. And we’re not talking about a denomination exactly given to legalism. In fact, it had very few rules. Really, it had just one: show up. Just show up. And that was enough to make my religion unbearable. Because I wanted to be anywhere but there.
If only someone had told me to read Luther. Real Luther, not Sunday school Luther. The Luther who killed religion. . . .
What exactly did the religious folk want of Jesus? They wanted a king. And Jesus gave them one “in the form of a slave.” They wanted relief from oppression, and they got parables. They wanted a kingdom, and they got the cross — a young Jewish man of dubious parentage apparently crushed by the collision of church and state but in reality bearing the iniquity of us all to reconcile us to a holy God, to inoculate us against sin, death, and the devil, to bury us alongside him, so he could raise us to eternal life. Their prayers were answered in the most startlingly appalling way: they received not power but promises.
Christianity isn’t a religion. It’s a conundrum. And no one has ever wrestled with and wrung the truth out of that conundrum better than Martin Luther. And it took a class at NYU to introduce me to his inimitable voice.
Luther hated that God who demanded perfect righteousness from an original sinner but who had already rigged the game with election. How could this possibly be good news? Where was hope of being a saint when you were still a sinner? How could a perfect God understand the weight of guilt, the pain of betrayal, the agony of a broken body? Luther had failed to bridge the chasm between a wrathful God and lowly, raging, libidinous man with his fastings and law keeping. How could he possibly get from despair to hope?
It was in the communication of properties — the dual nature of Christ understood such that we can speak of the death of the Son of God and the true union of God and man — that Luther saw a way out and was able slowly to forge the key to the Christian conundrum: Jesus takes my sin and gives me his righteousness. His righteousness. There is real union, but it is predicated on faith, trust in the promises, not an ascent on our part, but a condescension on his. We are passive recipients of a gift, which is Christ’s own flesh. He really took our sin into his own flesh on Calvary and he really communicates his favor and forgiveness by feeding us that same flesh. Because life is in the blood. The worst crime in history — he who called heaven and earth into being with his Word fixed immobile to two cross beams — is the only hope anyone has of true freedom.
The church should be the place where you hear the promises of God, and embrace them as your own. The Father’s wrath at his broken law should terrify you such that you run from him to Jesus, from the Just Judge to the Righteous Redeemer, who delivers not a sentence but his own self. If what you get instead is therapy or law or even encouragement to try harder, climb higher, or even to just show up, then you have religion, and you are doomed.
Read it all.
This, of course, is the “theology of the cross” as compared to “the theology of glory.”
Do you see what he is saying? I’m touched by the account of his childhood post-confirmation alienation from the church. If we could teach the radical nature of the gospel and the theology of the cross more consistently, as opposed to just memorizing answers and “just showing up,” would that make a difference? Or are young people at that particular age more interested in a “theology of glory,” being oblivious to the grace that is hidden in an ordinary, boring church service? Whereas, perhaps, after failing and suffering and becoming cynical for awhile, they are ready to come back?
Our church was not one of the 10% of American churches that cancelled Sunday services on Christmas day, I’m happy to say. We had a wonderful service. Pastor Douthwaite’s sermon was on the “great reversal” of the Fall of Adam and Eve that God worked through the gift of His Son. Especially striking was something that I had never thought about: Our fall took place when mankind ate the fruit of the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil. So the reversal of this curse also involves eating. We eat the fruit of the Tree of Life; namely, the body and blood of Christ crucified.
The Word who became flesh is flesh still and comes to you, for you, in that same body and blood today on this altar. And that final, dreadful part of the sentence once spoken to Adam has been reversed – and now the fruit of the Tree of Life is ours again! And so while Adam ate and died, for you and me it has been proclaimed: the day you eat of this, you shall surely live! This is My Body, this is My Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin. And we feast upon the Lamb of God. The flesh and blood of our Lord is truly the first – and best – Christmas gift.
And so the darkness of our sin is enlightened by His glory. The glory of the Creator dying for his creatures. The glory of the strong become weak. The glory of God in the manger. The glory of Jesus. The glory of the Word made flesh. The glory of God who gives Himself to us. Is this not a marvel?
But perhaps there’s even one more marvel for us this happy morning . . . that your Saviour didn’t just redeem you from your sin that you may serve God as a slave, or be an indentured servant, or to be on parole to see if you’ll live up to it – the Son of God came to make you a son of God. A full son! With all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto! For that’s what His forgiveness does. It doesn’t just restore part of the way, but all of the way. . . .
Today, marvel at that. Rejoice with the angels. Kneel with the shepherds. And take the body and blood of Jesus not in your arms, like Mary, but in your mouth, and depart in peace. Your sins are forgiven, dear child of God; your exodus complete.