Thursday, July 17, 2014

John Owen on Forgiveness

In The Forgiveness of Sin: Illustrated in a Practical Exposition of Psalm CXXX John Owen has these words to say about grace and forgiveness.
Gospel-forgiveness, the discovery of which is the sole support of sin-distressed souls, relates to the gracious heart or good-will of the Father, the God of forgiveness; the propitiation made by the blood of the Son; and free pardon according to the covenant of grace. Faith's discovery of forgiveness in God, though it have no present sense of it's own peculiar interest therein, is the great support of the sin-perplexed soul.
I reversed the two paragraphs above to make what is a key observation of Owen's: that faith-found-forgiveness, finding its source in the grace of God the Father, sustains the soul in ways that the soul has yet to discover. What great comfort! I am not required to even know how this mysterious forgiveness works. I have only to trust and say with the blind man of John 9 and John Newton:
Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. ~John 9:25
What great comfort! That forgiveness depends upon nothing but grace. Not on my efforts, not on my understanding, even when when my own conscience and its so-called "evidences" deny it faith, real faith, declares that forgiveness had come. Faith-found-forgiveness is so completely of God and his grace that it remains at work even as the conscience doubts its effectiveness. Owen continues:
Now, whom should a man believe if not his own conscience? which, as it will not flatter him, so it intends not to affright him, but to speak the truth as the matter requireth. Conscience hath two works in reference to sin — one to condemn the acts of sin, another to judge the person of the sinner; both with reference to the judgment of God. When forgiveness comes, it would sever and part these employments, and take one of them out of the hand of conscience; it would divide the spoil with this strong one. It shall condemn the fact, or every sin; but it shall no more condemn the sinner, the person of the sinner, that shall be freed from its sentence. Here conscience labours with all its might to keep its whole dominion, and to keep out the power of forgiveness from being enthroned in the soul.
There is a forgiveness that comes at the historical event of the Cross, but this differs greatly from simply thinking about or feeling or understanding the concept of forgiveness. The blood of Christ is effective. The blood in my gray matter is not effective in bringing me forgiveness, and in fact it so often works against me. Oh to live by grace alone.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Ending Well

Walter White, that nasty anti-hero from AMC's Breaking Bad, certainly had it coming. He was a non-tribal uncaring selfish jerk, and he was so because most of us believe that part of what it means to be human is to have a natural affinity towards  other humans. White? No so much. If anything throughout the show's 5 seasons he only develops a natural affinity towards his own self. What makes you happy? Walter White would and does say "I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it, and I was really, I was really alive."

So why do we love this unloveable jerk? We love him like we loved Archie Bunker before. Where Bunker would say the things from his armchair that we wanted to but couldn't. With White it would've been the end of Meathead. White got up from his armchair, made the choices, did the deeds that deep down Bunker only wished he could.

We love it because it our theology-cosmology-sociology is affirmed by it. That in Breaking Bad we see a social structure that exists which we've been conditioned to believe that if we support it will result in a "good" life. Go to schoo,l graduate get a good job, love your wife, and the result is more than fulfilling.

It's a lie and we know it, but it's the best lie we've got. It's a lie  evil and death and cancer, murder, revenge, all prove that it's a lie. We aren't really happy in the network just waiting for the inevitable Bad. It really isn't satisfying and what's worse is that the social structures we find ourselves in have no response to, no answer for, death and evil. What rings true for us in Breaking Bad is that Walter is ultimately alone, he feels it, and we feel it. His social network is helpless against that which is ultimate, and so is ours. So we hope beyond hope that he can Break out of the trap he's in.

We need a hero. Who shall rescue me from this body and soul of death? Certainly not his friends and relations. Finding no hero. What becomes helpful for White, helpful for his soul, is that he still has a choice. He can rescue himself, but to become a hero Walter White must reject what he has been told… that he is a social being.

Don't we wish for heroes? Even if they only just boldly declare what we feel is true from their armchair, don't we want someone to do that for us? Even if they are full of evil but do it all for "us".

Maybe Breaking Bad is attractive because as a society we feel we are given nothing but pre-determined Calvinist-fatalist choices. Choices forced upon us by our collective societal relations. We feel trapped in this machine, and we cheer for a White who fights, not just shouts but really fights against it. White, who chooses a life of meaning for himself, despite and in spite of the so-called choices he's been given. In the end Walter's death is society's gain, which for us who remain "feels" right, because we hope for one who can find a good life for us in the face of evil and death when we cannot do so ourselves.

Friday, September 06, 2013


Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. ~Miroslav Volf

I love that thought. That forgiveness means treating the other as a human and not a monster, while remembering that I too have been monstrous.

The trick is what to do when we know all too well that what we have done was monstrous and cannot be undone. How to deal with regret?

Simple answer? Let your regrets drive you to Jesus. Sorrow over the past should result in a willingness to change, a want to change. But, to quote Macklemore, we can't change even if we wanted too. We can't change the past, we can't take back the words, we can't really change ourselves. Dwelling on the past only leads to more sorrow. Sorrow that if left untended will lead to death.

But there are two kinds of sorrow: 2 Corinthians 7:10 reminds us that "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." Good sorrow, godly sorrow, leads us to repent, that is it makes us turn from our monstrous ways and turn to Jesus. To ask Jesus to do a miracle and forgive us when we cannot forgive ourselves. To ask Jesus to turn death into life again, just as he did at the cross. That's wheat our regrets should drive us to, and when they do, Jesus promises to save us from them.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Last thing Calvin Says

The opening words to Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion are well known.
"Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves."
What is not as well known are the Institutes' final thought. And before I go on I think these final thoughts are both connected to and serve to indicate the purpose of its first words. For what purpose is there in gaining any knowledge of God or of ourselves that will not simply puff up pride in ourselves? Why study God at all?
Calvin's Institutes comes in four books. The first two books follow the "knowledge of God" portion of Calvin's famous opening statement; How we know God the Father, and how God the Son reveals the Father. The last two books speak to the second portion of the opening statement, namely how the Holy Spirit brings us into knowledge of ourselves through union with Christ and how the Church is to live in light of this new knowledge of God and self as revealed in the scriptures.
All this culminates in a not-so-famous but no less important closing word:
"Let us comfort ourselves with the thought… That we have been have been redeemed by Christ at so great a price as our redemption cost him, so that we should not enslave ourselves to the wicked desires of men—much less be subject to their impiety."
Not as lyrical as his opening couplet but just as poignant. The logical conclusion that knowledge of God leads is to is that we are not our own, but that we belong and have been purchased by another who not so much demands our obedience as he deserves our obedience before and in stead of any impious desire. Why seek knowledge of God at all? Because, according Calvin's last word, in knowing God a comfort is found that allows us to stand up to and overcome any wicked scheme of man.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Yesterday's Doodle

Last Sunday, Google unveiled a doodle honoring Cesar Chavez. It was his birthday, after all, but this apparently was unknown to the millions of Christians celebrating Easter on the same day. While honoring Chavez aligns with Google's mission of "don't be evil" doing so over and against the context of Easter (unintentionally) came across as an anti-Christian statement.

Who is a greater liberator than Jesus? Cesar Chavez! Can't you just hear the crowds chanting? "We have no king but Caesar!"

Someone posted in the comments of the RedLetterChristians blog... "What if Google had posted colored eggs and bunnies instead?"

It's a good question, but not the best question. Google has a long history of ignoring religious holidays, no problem there, but they also have a history of (purposely) honoring personas in lieu of religious holidays, which does raise the question of why, to Google, is religion off-limits? At best they are being all-inclusive (Google: "Kangaroo Christmas Doodle"). But I wonder if underlying the fact that they have refused (since 2000) to acknowledge Easter, Ramadan, or Passover, they aren't also relegating religion and religious interaction right out of the public arena. "We find all other and eclectic celebrations acceptable, but holy-days we specifically do not."

The RedLetter article referenced takes some well placed jabs at the evangelical knee-jerk (the author obviously doesn't like Al Mohler), but it doesn't move the parties any closer together. It simply tells evangelicals to shut up and chill. Now that I've chilled, tell me then, when is it appropriate to talk about Jesus in public? To paraphrase the article, "How dare you to ask me, once again, NOT talk about Jesus."

What's really missing in the piece is a healthier understanding of Jesus. To say that Jesus, "took the focus off of God and put it on the people who were being ignored and left out," is not only not true, it's idolatry and the blasphemy Jesus was being accused of.

Both the withered-hand healing the article references and the Sabbath healing of the lame man are exactly the opposite of focusing on someone other than God. Both headings are about who has lordship over the Sabbath. The miracles clearly answer, Jesus, the Son of Man is Lord over all He has created. Access to the Father, and the liberation he brings the captives and oppressed comes only through his resurrection life.

Liberation doesn't always bring freedom, it often only substitutes one oppression for another. Or it leaves the blind, lame, and imprisoned still captive in their sins. Like Jesus, Chavez was a liberator, and a socialist in the best terms… a socialist that poignantly attempted to keep political power socialized. Neither Chavez nor Christians need the Googles of the earth to represent the meek. Chavez like Jesus teaches us that the Google's Earth belongs to the meek. But to be continuously ignorant of such a huge segment of the public shows poor taste and smacks of the oppression Chavez fought against. It's irony.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mormons at Liberty

As a regular Glenn Beck listener I am always surprised by how often he fuzzes the lines between "faith" and "politics". I am not sure whether he does with intention but he certainly does so with conviction. I sense the same conviction in Romney, but with more political tact.

Neither are intellectual slouches so I also must believe that whether their convictions stem from a vibrant Mormon faith or a nominal one both must at least be familiar with what both Evangelicals and the LDS teach. Unfortunately there is little that hallmarks between the two in popular culture. All Evangelicals have been shaking off distinctives as fast as any First Baptist Church re-naming committee. Yet we do share this common social-conservative conviction.

If anything, we Evangelicals, have certainly been complacently church-growthing our congregations over the last few decades. And while we have acheived numerical and socio-political sucess, we have failed to credit God for them resorting instead to writing books and organizing seminars. We have side-stepped the Christian narrative of "Christ is worth dying for" and replaced it with "Christ is worth living for." The latter promotes a gritty, fist-clenching faith. The former promotes an open-handed and other-worldly faith. The latter creates followers  passionate about conviction. The former followers passionate about grace.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Happy Monday

This passage could possibly sacntify Mondays...

According to Ecclesiastes 3:9-13, What is the best way to see beauty or touch eternity? Work!

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. Ecclesiastes 3:11

God, because we are mortal, gifts us with the gift of work. So that for mortals there is nothing better than joining with God in the joyfully endless and good work of beautifying all things

There is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil--this is God's gift to man. 3:11-12

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