Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bonhoeffer on Luther and the justification of sinners

I'm rereading The Cost of Discipleship -- for my money one of the best books ever written on the Christian life, especially section one with its discussion of cheap grace vs. costly grace. Cheap grace is "the grace we bestow on ourselves." It's "grace without discipleship, grace without the cross." Costly grace is "costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life." Even if you've never read the book you've probably heard the famous line -- "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." Nachfolge (Discipleship), as it was originally called, may be the high point in Bonhoeffer's struggle to work out what it means for the Christian to be fully in the world, but not of the world. What makes the book so powerful is that it was for the author more than a theoretical struggle. In his case Christ's call led to a martyr's death at age 39. Bonhoeffer's struggle was a central preoccupation for Luther also. In chapter one Bonhoeffer gives an insightful analysis of Luther's breakthroughs on justification and calling, and identifies a misapprehension of those breakthroughs that had led to an epidemic of cheap grace within the Lutheran churches of Germany. Here is some of that.

When the Reformation came, the providence of God raised Martin Luther to restore the gospel of pure, costly grace. Luther passed through the cloister; he was a monk, and all this was part of the divine plan. Luther had left all to follow Christ on the path of absolute obedience. He had renounced the world in order to live the Christian life. He had learnt obedience to Christ and to his Church, because only he who is obedient can believe. The call to the cloister demanded of Luther the complete surrender of his life. But God shattered all his hopes. He showed him through the Scriptures that the following of Christ is not the achievement or merit of a select few, but the divine command to all Christians without distinction. Monasticism had transformed the humble work of discipleship into the meritorious activity of the saints, and the self-renunciation of discipleship into the flagrant spiritual self-assertion of the "religious." The world had crept into the very heart of the monastic life, and was once more making havoc. The monk's attempt to flee from the world turned out to be a subtle form of love for the world. The bottom having thus been knocked out of the religious life. Luther laid hold upon grace. Just as the whole world of monasticism was crashing about him in ruins, he saw God in Christ stretching forth his hand to save. He grasped that hand in faith, believing that "after all, nothing we can do is of any avail, however good a life we live." The grace which gave itself to him was a costly grace, and it shattered his whole existence. Once more he must leave his nets and follow. The first time was when he entered the monastery, when he had left everything behind except his pious self. This time even that was taken from him. He obeyed the call, not through any merit of his own, but simply through the grace of God. Luther did not hear the word: "Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness." No, Luther had to leave the cloister and go back to the world, not because the world in itself was good and holy, but because even the cloister was only a part of the world. (pp. 47-48)

It is a fatal misunderstanding of Luther's action to suppose that his rediscovery of the gospel of pure grace offered a general dispensation from obedience to the command of Jesus, or that it was the great discovery of the Reformation that God's forgiving grace automatically conferred upon the world both righteousness and holiness. On the contrary, for Luther the Christian's worldly calling is sanctified only in so far as that calling registers the final, radical protest against the world. Only in so far as the Christian's secular calling is exercised in the following of Jesus does it receive from the gospel new sanction and justification. It was not the justification of sin, but the justification of the sinner that drove Luther from the cloister back into the world. . . . That was the secret of the gospel of the Reformation—the justification of the sinner. (pp. 48-49, emphasis mine)

Quotes from Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 1995)

Friday, October 30, 2009

From the printing press to Google

Carl Trueman on Luther and mass media:

@ Christ the Center

Remembering Howards End

I came across the following wonderful tribute by LA Times critic Kenneth Turan on my favorite costume drama ever, and one of the films that converted me from a casual moviegoer circa 1992 to passionate film buff.

Who speaks of Howards End these days? Who expounds on the virtues of this magnificent drama, whose traditional style seems almost as distant as its Edwardian setting? Seen today, years past its 1992 release, it strikes one as not only the ultimate accomplishment of the Merchant Ivory team but also the high-water mark of a certain kind of filmmaking, a landmark example of movies of passion, taste, and sensitivity that honestly touch every emotion. Below its exquisitely modulated surface, this film may set off lasting and heartfelt reverberations in the viewer; every time you see it, it moves you in different ways.

Continue reading

By the way I did see a new movie this week -- A Serious Man -- the latest from the brothers Coen. It's definitely worth a post or two when time permits.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The view from Middle World

One last excerpt from The God Delusion. Finishing this book turned out to be a chore, but the last chapter has some good stuff. One doesn't have to accept Richard Dawkins' agenda to be delighted by paragraphs like these.

We live near the centre of a cavernous museum of magnitudes, viewing the world with sense organs and nervous systems that are equipped to perceive and understand only a small middle range of sizes, moving at a middle range of speeds. We are at home with objects ranging in size from a few kilometres (the view from a mountaintop) to about a tenth of a millimetre (the point of a pin). Outside this range even our imagination is handicapped, and we need the help of instruments and of mathematics — which, fortunately, we can learn to deploy. The range of sizes, distances or speeds with which our imaginations are comfortable is a tiny band, set in the midst of a gigantic range of the possible, from the scale of quantum strangeness at the smaller end to the scale of Einsteinian cosmology at the larger.

Our imaginations are forlornly under-equipped to cope with distances outside the narrow middle range of the ancestrally familiar. We try to visualize an electron as a tiny ball, in orbit around a larger cluster of balls representing protons and neutrons. That isn't what it is like at all. Electrons are not like little balls. They are not like anything we recognize. It isn't clear that 'like' even means anything when we try to fly too close to reality's further horizons. Our imaginations are not yet tooled-up to penetrate the neighborhood of the quantum. (p. 363)

Dawkins means to demonstrate in passages like this that we don't need God to inspire a sense of wonder. He wants his readers to be content with the power of science to "open the mind and satisfy the psyche." (p. 362) He quotes the biologist J.B.S. Haldane: "Now, my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose . . . I suspect that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of, or can be dreamed of, in any philosophy." (p. 364) I agree! Dawkins looks at this queerness and sees only impersonal processes with science as the ground and end of all things, I look at that same universe and see God. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." 1 Corinthians 2:9 (KJV)

All quotes from Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

Exposing the Baby Einstein racket

@ Movie Mom

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Berkhof on dogma (part 2)

After defining dogma and defending its necessity for the Christian faith and the church ("a Church without dogmas would be a silent Church") Louis Berkhof goes on to describe in the prolegomenon to his Systematic Theology three elements that go into the making of dogma -- the social element, the traditional element, and the element of authority. Protestants and Catholics are united when it comes to the first two, but part ways on the third.

The social element reminds us that the truths we confess as Christians are not solely the product of private reflection (the Bible and me) but of the church as a whole (the Bible and we). Berkhof writes, "Though the appropriation of the truth revealed in the Bible is first of all personal, it gradually assumes a communal and corporate aspect. . . . Personal opinions, however true and valuable they may be, do not constitute Christian dogmas." (p. 31)

The social element leads into the traditional element. It's worth quoting at length from this section because the tendencies Berkhof takes aim at are still alive and well.

Christianity rests on historical facts which come to our knowledge through a revelation given and completed more than nineteen centuries ago. And the correct understanding and interpretation of these facts can only result from the continual prayers and meditation, from the study and struggles, of the Church of all ages. No one Christian can ever hope to succeed in assimilating and reproducing properly the whole content of the divine revelation. Neither is one generation ever able to accomplish the task. The formation of dogmas is the task of the Church of all ages, a task which requires great spiritual energy on the part of successive generations. And history teaches us that, in spite of differences of opinion and protracted struggles, and even in spite of temporary retrogressions, the Church's insight into the truth gradually gained in clarity and profundity. One truth after another became, the center of attention, and was brought to ever greater development. And the historical Creeds of the Churches now embody in concentrated form the best results of the reflection and study of past centuries. It is at once the duty and the privilege of the Church of our day to enter into that heritage of bygone years, and to continue to build on the foundation that was laid.

There is a manifest tendency, however, on the part of modern liberal theology to break with the past. Many of its representatives are often rather loud in their praises of the Creeds of the Church as historical documents, but refuse to acknowledge their doctrinal value for the present. And, sad to say, the so-called Fundamentalists of our day join hands with the liberals on this point with their well-known slogan, "No Creed but the Bible." They do not seem to realize that this really involves a break with the historical past of the Church, a refusal to profit by the lessons which the Churches of the Reformation passed on as a precious heritage to following generations in their great Creeds and Confessions, and a virtual denial of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the past history of the Church. (pp. 32-33, bold emphasis mine)

Historically Protestants have also accepted the element of ecclesiastical authority in defining right doctrine. "When the Churches of the Reformation officially define their doctrines and thereby turn them into dogmas, they also implicitly declare them to rest on divine authority and to be expressions of the truth." (p. 33) The difference with Rome, and where the Reformation cry sola Scriptura comes in, is in the Protestant denial of an infallible Church. "The Roman Catholic Church claims absolute infallibility for its dogmas, partly because they are revealed truths, but especially because they are proposed for the faith of the faithful by an infallible Church. . . . This absolutism is not shared by the Protestant Churches. While they expect acceptance of their dogmas, because they regard them as correct formulations of Scripture truth, they admit the possibility that the Church may have been in error in defining the truth. And if dogmas are found to be contrary to the Word of God, they cease to be authoritative." (p. 33)

Between the claim of Rome to infallibly interpret the Bible for me, and the opposite extreme that invites me to read the Bible as if it dropped out of the sky into my lap, I find the historic Protestantism articulated by Berkhof to be a good place to stand.

All quotes from Berkhof, Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1932 & 1996)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Berkhof on dogma (part 1)

I've been reading the prolegomenon to Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology, which I obtained at this bargain price from Though it's almost 80 years old I'd say this hefty volume is still the English-language Reformed dogmatics to have on your bookshelf. It's worth having just for the section on dogma—a bracing tonic against the negative connotation we moderns associate with that word. Here are some snippets.

Systematic Theology or Dogmatics deals with the dogmata, the accepted doctrines of the Church. . . . The word 'dogma' is derived from the Greek verb dokein. In classical Greek the expression dokein moi meant not only, it seems to me, or, I am of the opinion, but also, I have come to the conclusion, I am certain, it is my conviction. And it is especially this idea of certainty that finds expression in the word 'dogma'. (p. 18)

It may be said that religious dogmas have three characteristics, namely: their subject-matter is derived from Scripture; they are the fruit of the reflection of the Church on the truth, as it is revealed in the Bible; and they are officially adopted by some competent ecclesiastical body. (p. 21)

The present age is an undogmatic age. There is a manifest aversion, not only to dogmas, but even to doctrines, and to a systematic presentation of doctrinal truth. During the last half a century very few dogmatical works made their appearance, while the market was flooded with works on the History of Religions, the Philosophy of Religion, and the Psychology of Religion. The assertion is often heard that Christianity is not a doctrine but a life, and that it makes very little difference what we believe, if we but share the life of Christ. There is an insistent cry, especially in our own country, for a Christianity without dogmas. Dogmatical preaching is not in favor and is therefore avoided in many circles. Many conservative Christians clamour for purely experiential preaching, while others of a more liberal type greatly prefer ethical or social preaching. (p. 26)

Sound familiar? Change a few descriptors and Berkhof could have been writing in 2009 instead of 1932. He goes on to lay much of the blame for the opposition to dogmas at the feet of Kantian philosophical tendencies and Ritschlian theology (one need not be familiar with Kant or Ritschl to be influenced by their ideas). Further, any effort to dispense with dogma is itself a kind of dogma.

Every Church has its dogmas. Even the Churches that are constantly decrying dogmas have them in effect. When they say that they want a Christianity without dogma, they are by that very statement declaring a dogma. They all have certain definite convictions in religious matters, and also ascribe to them a certain authority, though they do not always formulate them officially and acknowledge them candidly. . . . A Church without dogmas would be a silent Church, and this is a contradiction in terms. A silent witness would be no witness at all, and would never convince anyone. (p. 31)

All quotes from Berkhof, Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1932 & 1996)

To be continued . . .

Leaving Canterbury for Rome

I'm not an expert in Anglo-Catholic affairs, but this news seems quite amazing. The wreckage of the Anglican Communion brought about by theological liberalism is sad to see. Cranmer must be rolling in his grave.

UPDATE: More reaction here from my friend Jason Miller.

Swine flu vs. the Eucharist

Russell Moore wonders if concerns about hygiene are leading us toward cleanliness -- but away from Christ.

@ The Gospel Coalition blog

It's cool to see a Southern Baptist saying these things!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Imagining God

J.I. Packer known best as the author of Knowing God draws out the second commandment's prohibition against imagining God.

How should we form thoughts of God? Not only can we not imagine him adequately, since he is at every point greater than we can grasp; we dare not trust anything our imagination suggests about him, for the built-in habit of fallen minds is to scale God down. Sin began as a response to the temptation, "You will be like God" (Genesis 3:5), and the effect of our wanting to be on God's level is that we bring him down to ours. This is unrealistic, not to say irreverent, but it is what we all do when imagination is in the saddle.

Hence the second commandment, "You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything." This forbids, not worshipping many gods (the first commandment covered that), but imagining the true God as like yourself or something lower. God's real attack is on mental images, of which metal images are more truly the consequence than the cause. When Israelites worshipped God under the form of a golden bull-calf, they were using their imagination to conceive him in terms of power without purity; this was their basic sin. And if imagination leads our thoughts about God, we too shall go astray. No statement starting, "This is how I like to think of God" should ever be trusted. An imagined God will always be more or less imaginary and unreal.

Growing in Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 1994), pp. 243-244 [bold emphasis mine]

Packer goes on to remind us that the only trustworthy images of God are to be found in his revealed Word—the written Word of scripture and the incarnate Word of Jesus. Also, by accepting the presentation of God in scripture as a unity we'll avoid the error of imagining, in Packer's words, "a clash between the presentations of God in different parts of the Old Testament . . . and what we imagine Jesus to have been." (p. 244) I think a lot of contemporary Christian art, music and literature would do well to remember the second commandment when fashioning presentations of the triune God. Books like The Shack might be helpful in some respects, but they also risk introducing ideas about God based more on man's fallen imagination than God's self-disclosure.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Evangelizing like Paul

Good stuff from Mark Shea:

Many Catholics wonder if there is some sort of technique they need to master in order to bear witness to their faith. They fear that if they have not taken some sort of course in evangelization, or studied theology for a decade, or otherwise jumped through various hoops, they cannot evangelize. For such folk, the Holy Father has liberating news. In his announcement of the Year of Paul on June 28, 2007, Benedict XVI said that Paul’s success was not due to some "refined strategy" of salesmanship or philosophical wrangling. Instead, the Holy Father essentially said that Paul’s achievement was due to his extraordinary personal involvement springing from his total dedication to Christ, despite all obstacles.

In short, Paul really believed this stuff. He acted exactly like a man who really had met the Risen Christ on the Road to Damascus and was now perfectly convinced that Jesus had conquered death, forgiven his sins, and laid upon him the charge to tell the world. Because he really believed, he was willing to "pay personally for [his] faith in Christ, in every situation."

Benedict knows this because he’s read Paul, who bluntly states: “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Paul no more felt equal to the task of evangelism than you or I do. His secret was not a technique or a philosophy or theory. It was that Paul believed that if he trusted in the Spirit of Jesus to provide the power and the wisdom, the Spirit would come through.

Shea also writes: "Not a theological brainiac when somebody asks you what Catholics believe? You don’t have to be clever. Go find a catechism." Well, telling people what Catholics believe isn't quite the same thing as sharing the message of "Jesus Christ and him crucified" but I know what he means. We Presbyterians have been known to appreciate the value of a catechism!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Warfield on Christian self-sacrifice

From a sermon on Philippians 2:5-8:

It is not to mere self-denial that Christ calls us, but specifically to self-sacrifice: not to unselfing ourselves, but to unselfishing ourselves. Self-denial for its own sake is in its very nature ascetic, monkish. It concentrates our whole attention on self—self-knowledge, self-control—and can therefore eventuate in nothing other than the very apotheosis of selfishness. . . . It is not to this that Christ's example calls us. He did not cultivate self, even His divine self: He took no account of self. He was not led by His divine impulse out of the world, driven back into the recesses of His own soul to brood morbidly over His own needs, until to gain His own seemed worth all sacrifice to Him. He was led by His love for others into the world, to forget Himself in the needs of others, to sacrifice self once for all upon the altar of sympathy. Self-sacrifice brought Christ into the world. And self-sacrifice will lead us, His followers, not away from but into the midst of men. Wherever men suffer, there will we be to comfort. Wherever men strive, there will we be to help. Wherever men fail, there will be we to uplift. Wherever men succeed, there will we be to rejoice. Self-sacrifice means not indifference to our times and our fellows: it means absorption in them. It means forgetfulness of self in others. It means entering into every man's hopes and fears, longings and despairs: it means manysidedness of spirit, multiform activity, multiplicity of sympathies. It means richness of development. It means not that we should live one life, but a thousand lives—binding ourselves to a thousand souls by the filaments of so loving a sympathy that their lives become ours. It means that all the experiences of men shall smite our souls and shall beat and batter these stubborn hearts of ours into fitness for their heavenly home. It is, after all, then, the path to the highest possible development, by which alone we can be made truly men.

B.B. Warfield, "Imitating the Incarnation" from The Saviour of the World: Sermons preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary (New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1913)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Say what?!

That seems to be the consensus reaction from commentators on the right and the left (after making sure it wasn't a story from The Onion) to the news that President Obama has been awarded the Nobel peace prize after less than a year in office, e.g. Mark Halperin: "It isn't quite as inexplicable as Marisa Tomei's Best Supporting Actress Oscar, but it seems pretty close."

Reaction from Rod Dreher and Andrew Sullivan

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

"A text doesn't exist until it can be read."

Of the many memorable lines and images that fill Julian Schnabel's brilliant The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le scaphandre et le papillon) that's the one that for me sums up the essence of the movie. It's a story about one unimaginably arduous creation of a text. Metaphors for the writing process tend to focus on the difficulty of it. Like giving birth some have said. Faulkner compared it to being chased by demons. For all but the most gifted, writing is not only hard work it requires time and solitude (which is why original content at this blog has been sparse of late). But time and solitude were things that Jean-Dominique Bauby had plenty of. In that way, at least, he was fortunate.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly opens on a hyper-subjective note, literally in the head of its protagonist. We learn with him that he's been struck down by a massive stroke "a cerebrovascular accident" in the prime of his charmed life as editor of Elle magazine. Previously Bauby (Jean-Do to his friends) would have been DOA, but medicine has advanced, and he's slowly brought back to consciousness in a picturesque rehab hospital on the French coast. Consciousness in this case is truly a mixed blessing. Jean-Do is encased in a metaphorical diving suit called locked-in syndrome. It sounds like something out of a novel, which it is—remember de Villefort in The Count of Monte Cristo?—but it's real. Basically he's a vegetable, except that his brain, and crucial for us, left eye work just fine. The useless right eye is stitched shut by a glib doctor early on, a procedure the filmmakers force the viewer to experience by sewing a piece of latex over the camera lens creating an excruciating POV shot. Ah, what exquisite torture!

The way Schnabel and DP extraordinaire Janusz Kaminski make Bauby's subjective experience real to the viewer is, as I said before, brilliant filmmaking. I don't get to see many movies these days, so it's good to be reminded of cinema's power to surprise, to prime the pump of my ability to see the world in new ways. But back to that text. Slowly Jean-Do is drawn out of his despair largely through the dogged efforts of an attractive and idealistic speech therapist. A system is fashioned whereby Bauby can communicate using that most reflexive of actions—the blink of the eye. The tormenting memories and regrets continue to rush in unbidden, but imagination (the metaphorical butterfly) brings respite and the inspiration to give life to a text. What follows is heroic, even if the life that preceded it was not.

Given the subject matter Ronald Harwood's script and Schnabel's direction could easily have wandered into maudlin and/or depressing territory. They don't. There are some deeply sad sucker punches along the way, but I was left thankfully contemplative as Tom Waits sang over the closing credits "And if the sky falls, mark my words we'll catch mocking birds." I sit here typing at my computer. I can talk to my wife, pick up my son, scratch my ear, get up and go to the refrigerator. Amazing, really.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dawkins on Darwin's miserly unseen hand

Knowing that we are products of Darwinian evolution, we should ask what pressure or pressures exerted by natural selection originally favoured the impulse to religion. The question gains urgency from standard Darwinian considerations of economy. Religion is so wasteful, so extravagant; and Darwinian selection habitually targets and eliminates waste. Nature is a miserly accountant, grudging the pennies, watching the clock, punishing the smallest extravagance. Unrelentingly and unceasingly, as Darwin explained, 'natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being'.* If a wild animal habitually performs some useless activity, natural selection will favour rival individuals who devote the time and energy, instead, to surviving and reproducing. Nature cannot afford frivolous jeux d'esprit. Ruthless utilitarianism trumps, even if it doesn't always seem that way.

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (p. 163)

*Oddly enough this citation from Darwin immediately reminded me of 2 Chronicles 16:9.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Veith vents

Gene Veith on some upcoming "Christian" movies:

OK, I’m glad the filmmakers are focusing on better quality. I salute you. But take some lessons from the past. I am currently teaching a course entitled “Major Christian Authors,” covering such authors as Dante, Spenser, Herbert, Bunyan, Hopkins, Chesterton, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Graham Greene, Flannery O’Connor. NONE of them wrote about people’s personal problems. There is not one terminally ill orphan in the whole lot. No scenes about broken marriages or friends dying or sports teams winning the big game. These classic Christian authors–who actually did influence their cultures–saw Christianity as being rather more than a means of solving life’s problems, and none of them lapsed into the deadly aesthetic sin of SENTIMENTALITY.

HT: Justin Taylor

Sunday, October 4, 2009

God is the gospel

John Piper being clear and to the point on 1 Peter 3:18:

When all is said and done, God is the gospel. Gospel means "good news." Christianity is not first theology, but news. It is like prisoners of war hearing by hidden radio that the allies have landed and rescue is only a matter of time. The guards wonder why all the rejoicing.

But what is the ultimate good in good news? It all ends in one thing: God himself. All the words of the gospel lead to him, or they are not gospel. For example, salvation is not good news if it only saves from hell and not for God. Forgiveness is not good news if it only gives relief from guilt and doesn't open the way to God. Justification is not good news if it only makes us legally acceptable to God but doesn't bring fellowship with God. Redemption is not good news if it only liberates us from bondage but doesn't bring us to God. Adoption is not good news if it only puts us in the Father's family but not in his arms.

This is crucial. Many people seem to embrace the good news without embracing God. There is no sure evidence that we have a new heart just because we want to escape hell. . . [Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, p. 62]

Friday, October 2, 2009

Job 37 in HD

He loads the thick cloud with moisture;
the clouds scatter his lightning.
They turn around and around by his guidance,
to accomplish all that he commands them
on the face of the habitable world.

This is a timelapse video of the remnants of Typhoon Nangka over Victoria Harbour, 7am to 9pm.

The Coen Brothers -- asking the right questions

In Christianity Today Josh Hurst has a short essay on the work of two of my favorite filmmakers, and says what I've long argued:

Some might argue that the Coens' world is amoral, but a discerning look reveals morality aplenty. . .

Read the whole thing

On a related note check out the debate that broke out at The Heidelblog on whether Christians should watch this stuff.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Over there?

Today's horrifying news from Indonesia reminded me of the following story told by Mark Labberton in his book The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God's Call to Justice (see also here and here).

I recently chatted with a stranger in a grocery store checkout line. He lamented how tired he was and how hard he had been working. He told me about the constant travel involved in his job and how it made things difficult for him. Then, a little self-conscious of his complaining, he said, "Oh well, I guess things could be worse." An enormous earthquake in Pakistan was all over the headlines of the newspapers around us at the checkout counter, so I said, "Yes—we could be living in Pakistan right now." The man's instant retort was, "Oh, I would never be that stupid!"

The comment was shocking yet revealing. Since I didn't know the man at all, I can't know exactly what he meant. But what struck me on the surface was the range of his apparent assumptions: (a) where people live is a matter of choice; (b) everyone is free to make "smart" choices about where we live; (c) it would be stupid to choose to live in a place of suffering. This man's comments capture the warp of woof of how many in America see themselves in relation to a staggeringly needy world: "They live over there. I don't. Their reality is not my reality. I don't want to know or share their reality. I am blessed. I would think they would want to be blessed too. I guess they are just stupid or stuck in their circumstances. Too bad. That's why they suffer, I guess. I sure wouldn't choose that." (pp. 78-79)

What's Labberton's point? That disciples of Christ are to have a radically different mindset.

The gospel recontextualizes where we live. Knowing that where we live matters, God provides the good news of Jesus Christ to change our address. We didn't choose it; we were chosen. We didn't love God, but he loved us. Once we were strangers; now we are friends. Once we were far off; now we have been brought near. Once we had not received mercy; now we have received mercy (see 1 Peter 2). Everything is different. (pp. 79-80)

FYI Mark Labberton will be speaking about this book at Memorial Presbyterian Church this Sunday at 9:45am. He will also be preaching at 11:00am and 4:00pm. If you're in the West Palm Beach area please consider joining us.

Keller @ Willow Creek

JR Kerr asks "What does the Gospel have to do with popular leadership/management theory?"


Tim Keller uses the prophet, priest and king model to analyze contemporary evangelicalism.