Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Prayer: What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing? Or absolutely everything?

In the wake of the Brussels tragedy, I've seen lots of "Pray for Brussels" responses, along with "Instead of praying, how about *doing* something for Brussels" responses. I could relate to the "there's prayer, and then there's doing something to help others" and "prayer is mostly about God changing believers, not God changing the world" and "God doesn't need to wait on our prayers before He acts - and we don't need to wait on God's intervention before acting, because our acting *is* His intervention" sorts of responses, because that was me up until last year.

I've struggled with prayer for a long time (which is why I gathered up all the books on prayer I could find - books are the answer to all life's problems, right? ;)). I had faith in God's eternal work of salvation, but I had next to zero faith in God's temporal work – figured it all would happen as it was going to happen, and who was I that God would change things just for me :-/. So I prayed for God to continue to save me and not much else, because I didn't think there was anything else to pray for – not anything else that was guaranteed, anyway. Seemed kind of presumptuous to pray for temporal blessings – felt like asking for God to change the course of the universe for my petty benefit. And not surprisingly, when I did pray for temporal blessings, God generally did not see fit to change the course of the universe for me. Which just reinforced that maybe I wasn't supposed to pray for those sorts of things in the first place. Maybe I was just supposed to pray for salvation and for help in navigating the temporal world – not for God to change the temporal world. That never really seemed right, but everything else people claimed for prayer seemed wrong :-/. And so I continued to not really get prayer, not really see the point, and as a result continued to not pray much.

But I found that my struggles with prayer were rooted in my not actually having a clue about how my faith connected to living my life here and now, and my not having a clue about how God works in the temporal realm. Prayer is "talking to God", and what we talk to God about depends on what we believe that God will *do* about what we tell Him. And despite truly wanting and trying to let my faith inform my entire life, I was actually living as a practical atheist - living my this-worldly life just like a secular person, using the very same wisdom and guidance and sources to come to the same decisions - because I didn't believe that God was in the habit of supernaturally intervening in the temporal world. I believed He existed and worked eternal life - but I didn't see how those things impacted the temporal world. While in theory I believed God could supernaturally intervene at any time, in practice I believed it probably wasn't going to happen the vast majority of the time.

I had inadvertently bought into the (incredibly common) religion-belongs-to-the-private-sphere-and-not-the-public-sphere split, where God works supernaturally in me but doesn't really interfere in the working of the natural world outside me except in rare extraordinary matters (God might work miracles, but if there's a timely green light, it's just fooling yourself to credit God for a purely natural coincidence :-/). And faith, in this life, is about helping me *cope* with secular life but it doesn't really change anything about how I *act* in secular matters :-/. I remember a journal entry of mine from a few years ago, where I was struggling with what to expect of God in this life, and I concluded that I maybe I couldn't legitimately expect anything from God in this life other than to be with me, and that really, wasn't that more than enough? Wasn't it selfish and unBiblical to expect any sort of objective this-worldly consideration from God? It's kind of hard to pray when you don't think God does much in this life other than keep you company :( and it's kind of hard to gladly seek out God's Word when you (unconsciously) don't think it has much bearing on "secular" life.

I see something of that split reflected in the separation of "prayer" and "doing something that (actually) helps" - that they are two separate things that in practice don't have anything to do with each other (and in fact often seem to interfere with each other). I know for me I consciously believed that my faith was applicable to all of life - it was certainly what I was taught - yet when I tried to put it into practice I realized I didn't have the first clue how to actually live out all that nice-sounding theology. And it turned out that was because my theology was in fact unlivable. And that was the first sign my theology was *wrong*, or at least very, very incomplete. I was unconsciously interpreting it through a "religion is a private matter" lens - a lens that is so common in the modern world I didn't even realize I was viewing the world that way.

And I've since learned that I had help getting that way - that American Christians of all traditions have been getting cut off from their history and theology and for a good couple generations, at least, have been taught an increasingly vacuous and secularized Christianity by leaders who mostly don't know any better themselves. We use the much of the same language but it's been drained of meaning and significance and scope. And this is happening to confessional Lutherans just as much as anyone – so many key Lutheran theological teachings have changed in meaning between the Reformation and now. (Some key ones: two kingdoms theology, vocation, the nature of God's supernatural work in the temporal realm, and what it means for God to “work through means”.) Lutherans used to use those concepts to explain how God supernaturally works in His creation, but now they are largely used to justify the lack of God's supernatural work in how He governs His (natural) creation.

One example that was *huge* for me: what does it mean that God is the creator and preserver of life, and the source of all good things? I remember reading Luther last year, and noting how he approved of the habit of thanking God for any minor bit of good fortune that comes one's way. It startled me, since in my circles the idea of thanking God for minor bits of good fortune is seen as negative and a bad witness - that you are trivializing God, or are falsely/stupidly/naively seeing supernatural influence in a perfectly natural event, or are somehow being smug in a "see how God loves me more than you/others" way, or are claiming as a blessing something that was good for you but bad for others (such as thanking God that a tornado didn't hit you - it gets interpreted as you claiming that God loves you more than those poor schlubs that got hit, or that you care more about your wellbeing than the welfare of others; oddly enough, if you leave God out of it, and are just thankful you weren't hit, and worry about if that is equivalent to wishing bad things on other people, everyone is quick to assure you that it is perfectly normal and natural to be relieved that you are ok, and that feeling can coexist with feeling bad for those who were hit).

Underlying that is a sense that God's active providence in the natural world either doesn't exist or is a big, honking deal - to claim "God blessed me in some objectively tangible way" is to make a major/impossible claim. And so to pray for that blessing feels selfish or like seeking wish-fulfillment.

But that view - that the default is that natural things happen naturally with no supernatural influence - so that God making something happen in the natural world is either a matter of seeing things that aren't there ("God made it rain" "no, perfectly natural physical processes made it rain - no God necessary") or is claiming that something extraordinary happened, that God supernaturally intervened to make something happen that otherwise wouldn't have happened, that any active work of God in the natural world is effectively a miracle - is a rather recent and novel view, and one that didn't exist much at all until 300-400 years ago. The apostles and church fathers and reformers didn't share that view.

Rather, God is actively and personally responsible for every single good that anyone experiences ever. There is no good too trivial to have been God's work. "God has made me and all creatures; He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me."

I know for the longest time, I understood “God works through means” in giving us our daily bread as “God works through physical processes to give us temporal blessings *instead* of working supernaturally”. But that's not what it meant for Luther. Rather, God working through means is how God works supernaturally to give us temporal blessings. Every good, big or small, mundane or miraculous - it's all the supernaturally-given gift of God to us, to humanity. And that has been a *huge* paradigm shift for me, and has made such a difference in feeling the urge to pray.

Because when you pray to a supernatural God, you're expecting a supernatural response. And when you view creation as "the natural world" - aka creation is drained of the supernatural - then that makes any supernatural work of God in creation inherently *unnatural*. And so either you are claiming that Christians (but not unbelievers) can have special supernatural temporal miracles just for the asking, like the charismatics (with all the theological problems inherent in that view), or you basically rule out the possibility of God's supernatural intervention in the temporal world, which makes praying for that intervention futile. But once you see *every* good gift in the temporal world as God's *supernatural* work - that makes God's supernatural work in the temporal world not just ubiquitous but *normal*. And that makes praying for God's supernatural work normal as well. It's not asking for special consideration, but asking in the usual way for God to continue working good in His usual fashion.

The biggest thing that changed my understanding of prayer was understanding the Catechism's teaching on the immensity and nature of God's First Article gifts - all temporal and all supernaturally given - and this includes *all* the good things - every last one of them, down to the most mundane, is a supernatural gift of God.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Post SCOTUS: What's a Christian to do?

Last week the Supreme Court ruled to overturn laws concerning Same Sex Marriage by requiring all states to recognize the desires of those who wish to marry a person of the same gender.  I know that some of my fellow Bible believing Christians view this as a huge blow.  I have seen your posts and comments.  I have seen emotions running from fear to anger to just plain shock.  And so, I wish to offer this word of encouragement.  Jesus has already overcome the world.  By His death, sin, the devil, and this world have already been conquered.  We are merely experiencing its death throws.  And by the resurrection of Jesus, we have already been given new life and a hope in what is to come.  Jesus has already gone to prepare our places so no matter what happens here we have nothing to fear.  As Paul said nothing the world can bring against us can compare to the glories that await.

Brothers and sisters, if you are worried about what the Supreme Court ruling means for the church and our future turn to Scripture, join with your fellow Christians in fellowship and prayer.  Find your peace at Christ’s table.   Our hope is in Jesus, not in nine judges.

Whatever you do, do not lash out. 

Often, we humans turn our fear into anger and we begin to lash out.  We respond with angry and sometimes vile words.  I have already seen this happening with fellow Christians responding to those who favor the Supreme Court’s ruling.  We need not be insulting to remain true to the confession of the Biblical faith.  We can speak an unwavering truth without words we know that will hurt, words that hurt not for the truth they speak but the baggage they carry.  The last thing we need is to make it easy for them to lump us together with Westboro Baptist.  As I point out to the addicts I counsel, being honest doesn’t excuse being mean.  We can maintain our confession that certain thoughts and activities are sins without resorting to being mean.  

Instead follow the words of Rev. Matthew Harrison.

As faithful Christians, we shall continue to be obedient to just laws. We affirm the human rights of all individuals and the inherent and equal value of all people. We respect the divinely given dignity of all people, no matter their sexual preference. We recognize that, under the exacting and demanding laws of God, we are indeed sinners in thought, word and deed, just as are all (Romans 3:9ff.). We confess that the “blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all our sins” (1 John 1:7). We confess that God’s divine law of marriage and the entire Ten Commandments apply to all, and that so also the life-giving sacrifice of Christ on the cross is for all. It is a “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:22).

What does that mean?
We need to rethink our political strategy.  I am the first to say the government’s job is to enforce morality.  By this statement, I mean enforce the second table of the Ten Commandments which largely boils down to how we behave towards one another.  However, for too long, many of us have thought we can build and maintain a “Christian” nation via our laws.  We bought into a lie.  We cannot have a Christian nation through laws.  The Christian nation exists not in the form of earthly government, but in the Church united in the body of Christ.  And, Christians only come about through the life changing work of the Gospel and the Gospel falls under the realm of the church not the realm of the government.  And so, we need to rethink how we have been going about things politically speaking.  Honestly speaking, we were never going to win the same sex marriage debate.  Once the world learned God wasn’t about to go and open heaven’s flood gates on it, the world was going to do what the world wanted.  Any attempt right now that we make to overturn the ruling is going to make us look like people trying to grab back the privilege we supposedly just lost.  And in turn, make it easier to paint us as bigots.  I think we can afford to take a long view right now.  Other work needs to be done.  We need to win the hearts of the people and it will not be easy.

We start by becoming a sympathetic figure.  We do what we should have been doing all along.  We treat people as nicely as we possibly can.  Give people respect even when we do not think they deserve respect.  We need to be overwhelmingly generous with our words and deeds.  Centuries ago, the pagan Romans complained about how Christians were making them look bad because we were so generous.  That’s a complaint we need to hear again. Think about it this way.  It is easy to hate the faceless person whom you can label with an evil name.  To quote the Blues Brothers, “Illinois Nazis, I hate Illinois Nazis.”  Illinois Nazis are faceless.  They are easy to hate, because really who likes Nazis.  They are only known for getting in the way of what we want.  The same thing, happens with the word bigot.  In many ways “bigot” has become the new “nazi.”  Who likes a bigot?  They are all haters.  It is very easy to be labeled the bigot when you are the faceless entity who seems to be getting in the way of what people want.  We cannot afford to be the faceless entity.  We shouldn’t have been anyways.  We should have been friend and neighbor.  We will need to do everything we can without compromising our confession so as to not be called the bigot.  The bigot is easy to hate particularly in this world enthralled with the idea of reliving the Selma days.  On the other hand, the neighbor who lives next door and will give you the shirt off his back is really hard to hate.  I’m not saying that being outrageously generous and kind is going to be a magic pill to turn people around. People will still be people and there will be those who scream bigot when they find out you do not support their pet sins whatever they may be.  But, it is still harder to do so to someone you know personally.

We cannot lose our confession or we will cease to be a help to our brother.  We hold to the Law of God ourselves and repent of our failings while continuing to immerse ourselves in the Gospel.  We will not survive if we cave in on our confession.  And if that happens who will be there for our brothers and sisters when sin drives them to rock bottom and they are left with a broken life.  So, we continue on confessing that which we have been given to confess - the revealed will of God given in Law and Gospel.  We must hold fast just as the martyrs did in the face of Roman persecution.

We cannot lose our confession of the Law because without the Law the Gospel is empty words.  We ourselves need the humbling words of God’s command.  We need to see our sin for what it is.  One, because we ourselves need to repent.  Thus, we need to see ourselves for the broken people we are.  If we compromise on the Law in the name of being liked and we only end up losing sight of who we are.  And in the end we will reject the Gospel itself.
Neither can we lose our confession of the Gospel.  Without the Gospel all is lost.  There is no hope and there certainly is no compassion.  During these troubling times we are going to need the hope of our victorious resurrected Savior more than ever.  And there are people, having been given over to their sins, who are going to need the life renewing gift of the Gospel.

In short, keep calm and proclaim the Law and Gospel

Lastly, we may need to rethink our role in society.  There may be roles we as Christians can no longer take.  This is nothing new for us Christians.  A Christian could not engage in prostitution or filming pornography and remain true to the faith.  Similarly, we may need to rethink taking positions were we would be involved in officiating or licensing immoral acts of any kind.  We may even have to rethink being in the catering business, simply because it may not be worth the fight.  At the same time, we need to work on strengthening our sense of community as a church and limit our involvement outside the community.  I am not advocating a complete withdrawal from the outside community a la the Amish.  Rather, we need to limit the outside world’s influence over our community.  The things in the outside community that are good should be acknowledged, but at the same time, we should limit the exposure our children have to the bad parts of the outside community.  We may need to see to educating our children ourselves, either through parochial schools or home education. I am not sure how much longer we can safely rely on public schooling, as it is simply too prone to following the predominant culture and our kids need a better foundation before facing the false views of the world. We may also need to cut ourselves off from much of what passes for entertainment in our world,  while at the same time encouraging high art amongst our more artistically inclined Christian community members.  

 In the days of Rome, our own predecessors in the faith also had to rethink their role in society.  The Apostles counseled them through this process.  Paul writes extensively on this idea. He encouraged slave owners to, if possible, free their brothers in Christ or, if not possible, to treat them as a free man.  Christians ceased participating in things that linked them to the pagan religions such as eating meat sacrificed to idols and no longer participating the in municipal festivals to pagan deities.  The ancient Christians created their own art, extended charity to the surrounding community, continued to serve in helpful vocations, and served the population as a whole.  All the while, they maintained a degree of separation and accepted the consequences of the separation.

It is not an easy road we face.  However, the One we follow down the road has already overcome it.  We continue to be the church.  We live, breathe and proclaim Law and Gospel.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Hashtags, Mom's Basement and Twitter Theology Fails

The last couple of days I have been following the tweets coming from the wiki14 conference by Five2.  It has been an interesting experience.  I am not going to talk about the content of the conference, I wasn't there and don't have copies of the presentations so it wouldn't be right.  However, I am going to comment on the Twitter Feed for #wiki14(I am not posting any of the tweet pics because I don't want it to become about the people - only the ideas).

I found it very concerning.  What ever the content was of the conference people's take homes were Law.  Almost ever tweet from the conference minus the fun "hanging with my peeps" type tweets was some form of Law.  And that frightens me.  The Law is important and the Law teaches but missions is about the Gospel.  The Gospel is the one thing that sets us free and it should have been the focus to such a point that the take home money quotes people were tweeting should have been over flowing with the Gospel.  Instead, I saw Law and the few times I saw Gospel it made me wonder if the speaker knew the meaning of the word.  And that scares me more than anything.  It makes me think we are inheriting all of the crap that is destroying American Evangelicalism and the Reformed Churches.  To see my fellow Lutherans lapping up the foul poison of positive legalism that The Gospel Coalition and Liberate have taken a stance against saddens me greatly.  I pray we learn before it's too late.  I hope the wiki conference folks rethink their speakers and bring folks who rightly let the Gospel predominate their speech.

I also found it semi-amusing to watch those who were not thrilled with conference hijacking the #wiki14 and attendees then tweeting how awesome is it to see the hashtag trending.  But it was only a minor amusement that gave way to minor annoyance as I was trying to sift through all of it to find the tweets by attendees.  And this brings me to my next point.  I wish people who tweet theology material would be willing to engage the folks who make honest points.  I don't blame people for ignoring the angry and mean tweets, but when people bring up honest questions or counterpoints be willing to engage.  Do not see the every questioning tweet as a personal attack some tweeted because of genuine concern and well some of the wiki tweets were pretty much heretical.  Let's get this straight now, we are not the Gospel ("We don't go in preaching the gospel because we are the gospel"#wiki14).  Jesus alone is the Gospel.  His perfect compassionate life, death and resurrection is the Gospel.  We can love people as ourselves to our dying day but we will never be the Gospel.  Leave the Gospeling to Jesus and just love people by giving them Jesus.  And while you are at it please for the love of all that is holy be clear and don't leave people confused ("Leave the congregation hanging and confused so they r forced to engage Jesus" #wiki14).  Clearly give them Jesus and He will do the engaging.  Seriously, do we want people to be confused about whether or not Jesus cares for them?  Ugh, I gave that tweet to my congregation and they all looked at me funny and said give us Jesus.

What is more is that the tweets poisoned the well.  Any decent ideas that could have come from the wiki conference that non fans would have listened to are going to be summarily rejected.  I have already seen it happen with one of the few wiki articles I read.  The author had a great point about the importance of tightly written sermon (btw his sermon outline sucked) but his point was pretty good.  But because the tweets had already made people leery most just didn't even bother to read the article and many of those who did focused on the horrible proposed sermon outline (Oh yeah, it was horrible because there wasn't any GOSPEL!  If I wanted do more - try harder, I'd go listen to a Joel Osteen sermon.)  A few of us, including yours truly, did point out that the author had a good point.  But that well was thoroughly poisoned.  If you are thinking well they wouldn't have liked it anyways, maybe this might get through.  I have many sympathies with the wiki folks, I share their concern for reaching the lost and I was completely turned off by the tweets.

One last thing, when people question your theology don't respond childishly with comments about people living in their mom's basement. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Buzzwords, buzzwords, and more buzzwords

The title pretty much sums up my impression of pastoral discussions anymore.  Nobody actually talks in real language anymore.  Now it is nothing but buzzwords.  Just the other day, I came across a new one from some "missional" group called FiveTwo (I spelt it out lest you be confused with real numerical language - even the name of their group is a buzzword) they were talking about "sacramental entrepreneurs"  WTH, the sacraments are a business?  Meanwhile, my "confessional" brothers keep talking about "historic liturgy".  I keep wanting to ask them which one, the one that included the blessing of the beer or the one where we repeat "Lord, have mercy" more times than a praise song chorus? Now, we could probably produce an entire series on the stupid buzzwords the church keeps developing that could run from now until Jesus comes back and believe there are things wrong with the a fore mentioned examples.  But that is not why I am writing today.  I want to know why we are wasting our time on buzzwords when the world is dying.    It seems we are more content to develop a buzzword than we are to actually do something about the problems at hand.  But then maybe that is the point.

I am no longer content.  I am done with the buzzwords.  It's time to upset the status quo because the status is not quo.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Two Kinds of Righteousness: the bosom buddy of Law and Gospel

It seems that once again the world has conspired against me to drag me out of retirement.  Alas, it was so nice and peaceful.  OK, who am I kidding.  I was pretty dog-gone busy.  But, here I am back again - maybe for good? Who knows...

So it seems that the hot topic du jour is the theological concept of the Two Kinds of Righteousness (2KR).  At the heart of the controversy is the title of a presentation on 2KR: "Two Kinds of Righteousness: Better than Law and Gospel".

(On that note,  I am not writing to defend said statement, made by another person - though I may offer clarification later, as I am contacting Dr. Biermann to see if I can get a hold of his notes and/or paper that he used for the presentation.  I think, but I am not 100% sure, that the title of the presentation is simply a means of generating interest and doesn't reflect his actual conclusion.  I will post an update as soon as I can.)

Anyhow, I am not here to defend what another person may or may not have claimed concerning which is more awesome; rather, I am here to defend the idea of the Two Kinds of Righteousness and hopefully show how 2KR and Law & Gospel are inseparable bosom buddies.

So, what is this 2KR?

Simply put, there exists two kinds of righteousnesses - the righteousness of man before God and the righteousness of man before his neighbor.  They have fancy Latin names (coram deo - before God, coram hominibus - before man), but for simplicity's sake we will refer to them as vertical (before God) and horizontal (before man).

2KR - The Basics
According to the teaching of 2KR, man's vertical righteousness is completely passive.  We do absolutely nothing.  In fact we don't even have the ability to do anything - we are deader than the road kill I passed on the way home from church.  The righteousness of the vertical realm is purely a gift of God.  It is only by the grace of God in Christ Jesus that we can be counted as righteous.  So, the vertical or first kind of righteousness is a passive righteousness.  God is active - while we lay squished on the road of life, like the dead road kill we are - and He gives us new life.  In the vertical realm the only action going on is on God's part: God crucifying us, God burying us, and God raising us to new life in Christ Jesus.  God makes us completely perfect in the righteousness of Jesus. This vertical righteousness is actively maintained by God, through His word spoken in the Gospel and through the Body and Blood of our precious savior.  The only role we play in this is as recipient.  God gives and we receive in the faith He so lovingly creates in water and word.

Note: in the picture I drew (I am a great artist, right?) the vertical righteousness is marked by the down arrow.  This signifies the truth that it is God's gift alone.  We do nothing to rise up to God.  We aren't Catholics ascending their ladder.  We are Lutherans and we revel in the giftedness of God.

Now this vertical righteousness has an affect beyond our justification.  It restores us to the creation God intended us to be.  And part of the original creation was our position as stewards of creation.  It is here that the second righteousness comes into play.  The vertical righteousness (Article IV of the Augsburg Confession) creates the horizontal righteousness (A.C. Article VI).  This second righteousness is before man alone.  While doing good is something God wants, we will never earn brownie points before God with our horizontal righteousness.  As one Lutheran pastor put it "our neighbor needs us to suck less," and the horizontal righteousness is the result of the vertical relationship making us suck less.  It is this reality that Paul points us to when He tells us that we have no excuse to continue in sin, and that we should live our lives as slaves to righteousness.  See, the horizontal righteousness is about serving our neighbor, it's about being a good citizen, it's about...well, it's about vocation.  We no longer walk in the flesh, but instead in the Spirit, so we avoid adultery, stealing, killing, lying, coveting - everything contrary to the righteousness of God.  Or, at least, that's what we are supposed to do (but we will discuss our failure to do so later).  The horizontal righteousness is what James is encouraging in his letter as he writes, "You're saved? Great, show it to the poor guy who is freezing by giving him a cloak."

Now as the vertical righteousness is passive on our part, the horizontal righteousness is active.  We are doing stuff in the horizontal realm.  Our activeness here is a direct result of the gift coming to us through God's vertical activity, but it is nevertheless our activity - or, more accurately, the activity that comes from the Holy Spirit working in and through us.  HOWEVER, we should never see this active righteousness as either righteousness before God or as affecting the vertical righteousness.  The vertical affects the horizontal, but not the other way around.  And it is good that the vertical is not dependent on the horizontal - because we are going to mess up the horizontal something fierce.

Law & Gospel and 2KR: Bosom Buddies

First, I want to make it clear that I do not think 2KR is better than Law and Gospel.  Instead, I want to make it clear that you can't have one without the other.  They are too interrelated to separate.  To be perfectly frank, I suspect many of my brothers who reject 2KR have in fact been teaching 2KR
without even realizing it.

Here is why: 2KR is article IV and VI of the Augsburg Confession played out.  Those two articles are all about Law and Gospel, but they cannot be explained without talking about 2KR.

Let's start with the vertical:  In my discussion of the vertical righteousness, I mentioned that it was passive.  Why is it passive?  Because we were dead and God actively makes us alive.  We did - and we do - nothing.  We know this because the Law shot us dead before we breathed our first breath.  The Law prevents us from ascending the vertical by showing us our sin and the fact we are stone cold
dead.  Law is a part of the vertical righteousness, killing us and stripping us of all pretense.  It is God's word of Law that makes it very clear the good person we try to be for our neighbors does absolutely nothing to establish our righteousness before God. 

But wait, there's more.  Because in comes the Gospel!  Yay!  God makes us alive by giving us His awesome gifts of Word and Sacrament.  The Gospel is pure gift, always to be gifted giftedly.  (Thank you, Dr. Nagel - you're the best!)  Righteousness flows from God to us through the Gospel, enfleshing these old dry bones, breathing life into rock hard lungs, jump starting the ticker, creating faith and delivering us from death in one fell swoop.  Woo-hoo!  See how this all plays together?  Our vertical righteousness is established through the Law making us dead and the Gospel giving us life.  Notice that God's two words are completely entwined with the vertical?  It is inseparable - if you have one you will have the other.

I realize that some may respond: But isn't that just Law and Gospel???  Well, this is why I posited that people were already teaching Two Kinds of Righteousness without realizing it.

And now on to the horizontal:  The horizontal righteousness begins with the Gospel.  Without the Gospel we wouldn't even be alive to do the good works our neighbor needs.  The Gospel makes us alive, and as we confess in Article VI, "faith is bound to bring forth good fruits."  It's the Gospel that brings forth the good works of our horizontal righteousness.  So, in a sense, we can see our good works as a gift from God - just as our faith and redemption are gifts (but don't look to them as proof of having faith and redemption).  The Gospel gives birth to our horizontal righteousness, and this horizontal righteousness is then informed by the Holy Spirit, via the Third Use of the Law.  (There is a most excellent treatise here.)  The short of it is that, this side of Jesus coming again, we are still dealing with our old nature.   Or as Paul says it, "for now we see as in a mirror dimly..." (1 Cor 13:12).  

Anyhow, the Law informs us and trains our flesh on how to behave as God wishes us to behave.  So our horizontal righteousness is us living our lives honoring our authorities, striving to remain chaste, helping our neighbor in all his needs, speaking well of our neighbor - and not thinking how I'd love to have my neighbor's Alienware gaming rig with twin 30 inch monitors. Our active horizontal righteousness is all about serving our neighbor.

Earlier, I mentioned that we should not see our active righteousness as an indication of how we are before God.  I should clarify a bit.  We do not look to our active righteousness for hope, because hope comes solely from the vertical righteousness.  Our horizontal righteousness is hopelessly flawed.  The Law tells us this fact.  If you are doing as you should, examining yourself prior to the Divine Service, you should see in your life how the vertical truth of the Law plays out in the horizontal. (These were written for a reason.)  We see how we have jumped over the gutter bumpers and knocked over our neighbor's pins; we see how dead we are in our sin.  This is, in fact, the only role our horizontal righteousness plays in the vertical righteousness:  it proves that we are dead.  If anything, our horizontal righteousness viewed through the Law should drive us back to vertical - seeking those gifted gifts of Word and Sacrament, where God feeds us good wholesome food.

Hopefully, you can see now how the Law and the Gospel are linked in our horizontal righteousness.
The horizontal relationship is the Christian living out his vocations guided by the Law.  The second use is also involved, as it acts like the bumpers in the gutters when I bowl, bouncing my ball back and forth.  Remember, even as we are dead in sin the Law is still imprinted upon our hearts, and it will effect how we behave in our horizontal righteousness.

I really think it isn't a case of which is better.  Rather, it is a case of, "you can't have one without the other".  They are like peanut butter and chocolate: meant to be together forever.

I do not blame guys for freaking out about the title "Two Kinds of Righteousness: Better than Law and Gospel."  Law and Gospel is near and dear to us Missouri Synod types.  We think that Walther's "The Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel" is an incredibly valuable work.  So for us to hear someone claim that something is better than Law and Gospel, well, that is going to hit hard enough to be reminiscent of the fight for the Word of God in the mid 20th century.

As such, I will say I think the title is an overstatement.   I took all but one of my required systematics classes from Drs. Arand and Biermann, and that's where I learned the above. I also attended a pastor's conference where Biermann presented on the Two Kinds of Righteousness, and I am reasonably sure he said it was not that 2KR is better, full stop, but it helps us to better understand Law and Gospel.  Hence my point that the two concepts are inseparable.

It is also largely the point of Dr Arand's article, "Two Kinds of Righteousness as a Framework for Law and Gospel in the Apology"  Arand contends that it isn't that Law and Gospel are inadequate in themselves but that we use them inadequately in our understanding.  As he writes,
Part of the reason that this distinction of law and gospel does not characterize the entire Apology is because the way in which the law and gospel are often construed turns the distinction into an antithesis. At that point, the distinction between law and gospel turns into an opposition in which the gospel triumphs over the law itself, and not only the wrath of God. Any talk about good works is automatically understood to be talk about works righteousness. (see link above for source document)
Arand's point is quite valid.  If you have had discussions with some of our conservative ELCA brethren you may have encountered this phenomenon.  They deny the Third Use of the Law and effectively strip any meaning from the Horizontal Righteousness, thus seeing any talks of exhorting to good works as preaching works righteousness.

So, what I believe is that the teaching of 2KR helps gives Law and Gospel its full reign.  It allows us to speak it fully.  In the end, I believe that a true understanding of 2KR is infinitely better than a false understanding of Law and Gospel.  And hopefully it will help prevent us from falling into the reductionism that led to things such as the rejection of the Third Use of the Law.

Law & Gospel and 2KR: bosom buddies to the end!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Are children capable of sinning?

Alternately, if "choosing" Christ is so all-fired important, why is it impossible for children to do?

I mean, it's so very lovely that God gives children a free pass because their poor little immature brains are incapable of the cognition required to have a *real* relationship with Him. Kind of a nice consolation prize - sure, you're incapable of making a meaningful, fully actualized choice, but, hey, at least you aren't penalized for it.

But that's kind of bass-ackwards, isn't it? *Salvation* being the consolation prize, while the ability to meaningful choose Christ is what determines whether someone has a "real" relationship with God.

And on top of that, that oh-so-kind exemption of children from the effects of having a sin nature - oh, yes, they are born with a *propensity* to sin, but they are incapable of *actively* sinning - the kind that counts - until they are cognitively capable of choosing to sin - has a dark side. Children are "saved" from sin - but the price is part of their humanity.

We are proclaiming them to be fundamentally *different* from adults, simultaneously less than human (inability to comprehend right/wrong, inability to meaningfully choose - that their experience of the world is so circumscribed as to cut them off from a huge swath of the human experience) and greater than human (that same lack renders them purer and above the fray of human fallenness), but in any case, not *fully* human.

Children might not be able to "really" sin, but that means they can't "really" do much of anything worth doing. They just exist in their little children's world, watching the goings-on of the "real world", but incapable of experiencing it themselves. They cannot do or think anything that *really* matters. Until that wonderful, terrible day of moral awakening, they are consigned to the ghetto of their immature minds.

And I just don't agree. Human development is a continuum, with children becoming more and more aware of the wider world, more able to deal with it as they grow, but they are still fundamentally themselves, fundamentally *human* from day one. They are lacking *no* essential quality of the human experience - the scope of their experience increases as the scope of their world increases, but the essential human nature, all its good and bad, is fully present and active from the start.

I look at my baby J, watch him explore his world with such intent, so seriously about his business of learning what's out here, and I can't see that he lacks *anything* of the human experience. We adults might look at the comparative simplicity of children's concerns and think the the simplicity of the object of their focus reflects the simplicity of their minds, but I do not believe that to be true at all. I remember being a child - everything was of the upmost importance, the upmost seriousness. I felt fully and deeply and I experienced the same range of human emotions and frailties and strengths then as I do now. All that has changed is the scope of my world.

I can remember back to age 4, and I knew right and wrong then . And it *mattered*. And my concept of right and wrong has matured as I have matured, but it fundamentally operates in the same way it ever has. And I look at my dc, and I can tell from how they react to the injustices they see that they, too, are aware of right and wrong, and it matters to them, too . From day 1 they have been *themselves*, they have fully experienced the core of what it is to be human, they lack *nothing*. The scope of their world might be small, their ability to communicate limited, but that is no cause to marginalize their experience.

People are people from the start. And have access to the complete human experience from the start, with all the good and bad that implies.

(And, food for thought, the lack of ability to make meaningful choices was *exactly* the criteria used to justify, theoretically (for now), "after-birth abortions" in an ethics journal. That lack rendered the infant less human in a way that justified parents choosing to kill them for the fully-human parents' benefit.

Not to mention the general idea behind abortion - that, despite being genetically a distinct human being, a fetus isn't *really* human until they *also* reach "x" level of development. How is this any different?)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Experimenting with Slip Stitch Crochet, cont.

So I've been doing some swatching, and I've learned why people do F/iB (and iF/B) instead of F/iF (or B/iB) ;) - it keeps the lines from the loops not being working in on just one side of the fabric, instead of both (not a problem working in the round, though). It can be a nice look, but the horizontal lines kill a vertical pattern. Going through both loops, alternating regular and inverse (call it SS/iSS), also solves the problem, but makes for a bit bulkier fabric.

Anyway, the front (non-lined) side of F/iB (and SS/iSS) has a nice vertical pattern that would serve well as the slip stitch stockinette equivalent. The back side has a horizontal pattern that could work ok for reverse stockinette, but I think I like the look of the non-lined side of B/iF better. Might depend on the application which works better.

I'll eventually get pics up - right now my swatches are especially rough ;).