Biblical theology is essential if we’re going to feel the Bible’s own pulse and follow its unfolding plot. Without it, systematic theology can easily succumb to a deductivist scheme. Going back to the street-map analogy, it’s easy to deduce where roads must go because of the map even if they don’t! Yet it can never be used as a rival of systematic theology. Christ was not only crucified and raised; he was “crucified for our sins and was raised for our justification.” Doctrine arises from the drama, indicating the significance of God’s acts in creation, redemption, and consummation.
This is the last week to get the “Kick Off” rate for our January 2011 cruise. As I mentioned in the last blog post, the “Kick Off” rates for this cruise are as low as you can find at other websites that specialize in finding budget deals on cruises. So, you’re not just getting a great cruise filled with great content and opportunities for interaction with the White Horse Inn hosts, you’re getting it as cheap as you can probably find it anywhere!
Last week we were at the Ligonier National Conference in Orlando, Florida and got to speak to many of you who are considering coming with us on the cruise. After explaining what we hoped to do while out at sea to one lady, she looked at her husband and said, “we have GOT to be on that boat!” I hope that you share her enthusiasm! Let me share just a little bit more about our plans.
In a day and age like ours when too much inter-personal communication is decidedly NOT personal, we have to make the effort to have face to face interactions. That’s especially true for the work that we do here at White Horse Inn. We love producing a radio program and a magazine, but the interpersonal communication that takes place at events or through notes and phone calls that we receive from you is what really motivates us to continue our work. That’s the great value of this cruise: we’re building lots of opportunities for real interaction to take place while we’re on board the ship.
We want to hear from you, and not just about the impact that White Horse Inn has had on your Reformation pilgrimage. We want to hear from you and partner with you in creating 95 Theses for a Modern Reformation. That’s why the theme for the cruise is “Conversations for a Modern Reformation.” For 20 years we’ve been proud to host that conversation on the airwaves and in the pages of our magazine. Now, we want you to join that conversation: to put pen to paper, to pull up a chair, to think out loud with us about the future of the church.
Some of you have already registered to come with us. Thank you! In a few weeks we’ll be sending some information and materials to you to help prepare you for our time together. If you haven’t yet registered, be sure to take advantage of this last week of low fares. Starting April 1, the fares go up a little bit.
We only have about 150 cabins and when they’re gone, we won’t be able to welcome any more of you onboard. So, please make your decision as soon as possible! You can register here. We’re looking forward to seeing you in January.
I’m so excited to share this news with you: on January 30, 2012, the White Horse Inn is setting sail on our very first conference at sea! This Caribbean cruise will be unlike anything you have ever experienced and now is your chance to join us for what we’re calling “Conversations for a Modern Reformation.”
On October 15, 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany, and started the Protestant Reformation. As we look forward to the 500th anniversary of that great event, we want to present the world with 95 Theses for a Modern Reformation. Will you help us write them?
The cruise will be part vacation and part conference with equal time given to receiving and participating: live White Horse Inn tapings and teaching sessions from our hosts will be paired with some exciting group activities designed to help us think more deeply about the issues facing our churches.
There’s so much to share that we’ve created a special webpage with all the details. I hope that you’ll make plans to join us in January 2012. There’s a special “kick off rate” that is as low a fare as I have seen for this cruise (even on the discount cruise websites). We’d love to have you come along…in fact, we need to have you join this conversation.
Frequent Modern Reformation contributor, Dr. Korey Maas (assistant professor of theology and church history at Concordia University in Irvine, California) has given us permission to post an article he wrote entitled Natural Law, Lutheranism, and the Public Good.
In this article he explains the important connection between natural law and God’s revealed will. Too often in contemporary discussions of the place of natural law, some opponents to natural law assume that natural law is somehow opposed to God’s revealed will. Dr. Maas shows how they are connected.
“Where [Moses] gives the commandments, we are not to follow him except so far as he agrees with the natural law.”~ Martin Luther (AE 35:173)
Martin Luther’s penchant for provocative exclamations is well known. It may nevertheless seem especially shocking that the great champion of “Scripture alone” could appear so blatantly to qualify the authority of the biblical commandments. Perhaps equally puzzling, though, is his qualification’s appeal to “natural law,” a phrase likely unfamiliar to many readers because it has all but disappeared from contemporary Lutheran discourse.
That it is so infrequently discussed, or even mentioned, might give the impression that there is something inherently un-Lutheran about this concept. As even the above quotation suggests, however, neither an acknowledgment of nor appeals to natural law are foreign to Lutheranism. Moreover, the case for embracing natural law, especially in civic life, may be stronger today than it has been throughout the history of Lutheranism, or even most of the history of Christianity.
What, though, is this natural law? While details differ among its theorists—diversely represented not only by two millennia of Christian theologians, but even by pre-Christian pagans and modern agnostics—certain commonalities emerge. The natural law consists of an objective and universal moral code, the fundamental precepts of which are embedded in human nature, and which are discernible by the natural reason common to humanity.
Kim Riddlebarger, cohost of the White Horse Inn broadcast, recently sat down with Westminster Seminary California’s podcast, Office Hours, to talk about eschatology and the identity of the anti-Christ.
Not having read Rob Bell’s book yet (it’s on the way), I can only respond to what I have seen and heard: his own statements in interviews and the quotes from pre-publication copies carefully and thoughtfully reviewed by Tim Challies and Kevin DeYoung. [UPDATE: Mike has received his copy of Love Wins and has written a more in depth review here].
On the merits of the case so far (as much as I’ve heard), I’m inclined to dismiss this latest critique of hell as warmed-over liberalism. I’m not being mean and sweepingly judgmental here. Seriously, read Schleiermacher’s The Christian Faith, Albrecht Ritschl’s The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation, not to mention other works by Wilhelm Herrmann, Adolf Harnack, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Bishop John Spong, or Brian McLaren, and you have the basic gist.
That basic scheme goes like this: God’s only attribute is love; his holiness, righteousness, and justice have to be adjusted to this central dogma. Human beings are not deserving of God’s wrath, but only of his encouragement and empowerment to improve. Jesus Christ is primarily a moral teacher, who invites us to share in his vision of creating “a kingdom of ethical righteousness” (Ritschl’s phrase, basically from Immanuel Kant). Since there is no divine justice to satisfy or wrath to propitiate, the cross cannot be represented as a vicarious substitution of “the Lamb of God” for sinners. Since there is no objective condemnation, there can be no objective justification. Since everyone is a child of God, there can be no adoption. The church is merely the community of volunteers for the kingdom-building enterprise. Heaven and hell are as subjective as sin and redemption: it all depends on what you make of your life right now. Yale’s H.Richard Niebuhr captured the essence of liberal religion in this fine description: “A God without wrath brought people without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross.”
However, the initial impulse to pass over Rob Bell’s book is thwarted by the fact that he is a professing evangelical and his views are indicative of a growing trend. He is not a professor at Harvard Divinity School, but senior pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church. No doubt, he’s reacting to popular images of heaven and hell that have little connection or analogy to our world as we know it. Where Jesus and Paul speak of “two ages”: “this age” (under the reign of sin and death) versus “the age to come” (under the reign of righteousness and life), the popular imagination of many Christians for over a millennium has been closer to Plato’s “two worlds”: the upper realm of disembodied souls and the lower realm of embodied and historical existence. In this view, salvation is ultimately the release of the soul from the prison-house of the body, while in the biblical view salvation is completed when we are raised bodily unto everlasting life. In that day, the vertical boundaries between heaven and earth disappear, as is evident in the Apocalypse. There are many issues that conservative evangelicals need to address in order to weed the garden of low-grade paganism, but they are far less serious than the high-grade paganism that drives moderns to fashion a deity who is other than the one we actually encounter in the pages of Scripture. The biggest issue that the latest controversy reveals is not really whether hell exists. To be sure, we need to challenge the latest examples of Scripture-twisting with respect to the clear teaching of Jesus himself on hell. However, there are even larger questions that denials of hell such as Bell’s raise. Who is God? Who are we? What is our relationship to God? For what can we hope? What do words like “sin,” “redemption,” “Jesus Christ,” “kingdom” mean in the biblical drama? It’s not just a matter of tinkering with a traditional doctrine, but with the very meaning of God’s grace and justice in the cross of Christ. Everything is at stake in this question, especially given the underlying dogmas that Rob Bell, from what I’ve already seen, allows to control his thinking on this subject.
Listen to a special BONUS edition of the White Horse Inn featuring a discussion of the Rob Bell controversy and featuring special guest Kevin DeYoung:
Comedic web blog, Cracked.com, posted an interesting piece on the limitations of web for religion.
It’s safe to say that God doesn’t live on the Internet. Where cathedrals, temples, and houses of worship succeed in providing the sensation that God might feasibly hang out there, websites fail miserably. The translation from stone and stained glass to ones and zeros is clumsy at best, partially because so many of the websites are built by volunteer designers and partially because those designers insist on building websites as though no website has ever existed in the history of the Internet. To their credit, most of them seem to grasp importance of holding on to the short attention spans of accidental visitors, but they don’t have a really solid plan for applying that information.
At a time when some evangelical leaders are talking about ditching the local church altogether in favor of on-line spirituality, it’s refreshing. Ironically, it’s people like Sherry Turkle, a professor at no less than MIT, who warn about how the Internet is changing the way we exist as human beings—even throwing out the term “Gnostic.” By contrast, in The New Christians, Emergent leader Tony Jones relates how his best friend is an “uber-blogger” he’s never actually met in person.
Some Christians surf the net not only for vitamin supplements but for their meals. All of this makes sense in an evangelicalism that is already disposed toward treating the physical aspects of reality as merely “external” (like a coat you can put on or take off) in contrast to the inner realm of the Spirit. But as Christians we believe that the Word became flesh. We aren’t looking for out-of-body experiences, but for the God who still descends to us, binding us to his Son through such mundane matter as preaching, water, bread and wine. And like these means of grace, the communion of saints is also a tangible, earthly, embodied reality. They are my brothers and sisters: not ideas, resources, or bloggers. It’s a family dinner, not a drive-thru meal.
But does that mean that there’s no place for the web? Not at all, as long as we know its limits. I’m glad there are highways when I want to get downtown, but I don’t take Sunday strolls along it.
Imagine concentric circles. At the widest, you have the rapid exchange of ideas and information. Of course, there’s nothing better than the Internet for that one. I often go to Wikipedia for quick data on a person or date in history, but I’d never allow my students to cite Wikipedia as a source in their research papers. That’s because a research paper is more than information. The next ring in on my concentric circles is for informal get-togethers with brothers and sisters in Christ, including conferences. But the bulls-eye is the Lord’s Day gathering of the covenant family, beneath the pulpit, at the font, and at the table.
All of this reminds me of that stanza in T. S. Eliot’s “The Rock”: “Where is all the wisdom we have lost in knowledge and all the knowledge we have lost in information?” Information is good. Resources can set us on a wonderfully new track. But what we’ll always need most—in spiritual as well as domestic terms—is a good bath, a good meal, and a good word from our Father, in his Son, by his Spirit. Nothing beats that.
[Correction: the title of Tony Jones' book in this post was corrected at 11:30 a.m. on March 9th]
Continuing on with the preaching theme this week, here is a great YouTube clip featuring Taylor Mali from Def Poetry Season 2 on our being “the most aggressively inarticulate generation to come along since, you know, a long time ago!”
Sadly, the “tragically cool and totally hip interogative tone” that he mocks here occupies too many of our pulpits and public speech about God.
(ht Jason Stellman’s Creed, Code, Cult)
UPDATE: Another great meditation on the connection between The King’s Speech and the act of preaching from our friend William Willimon over at The Christian Century. What a gift Willimon is!
As is often the case, Martin Luther explains it best: “If we hold the Word of God in high regard, then we would be glad to go to church, to listen to the sermon and to pay attention. But if you look more at the pastor than at God; if you do not see God’s person but merely gape to see whether the pastor is learned and skilled, whether the pastor has good diction, then you do not have eyes to see the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…. For a poor speaker may speak the Word of God just as well as he who is endowed with eloquence.” Of course, this recognition does not excuse pastors from their duty to become better preachers, trained in the art of rhetoric and public speaking. But Luther does well to remind us where a congregation’s focus should be in the midst of preaching: on God and not the pastor.
God speaks to us through pastors. “Would to God,” Luther writes, “that we could gradually train our hearts to believe that the preacher’s words are God’s Word and that the man addressing us is a scholar and a king.” For it truly is the “King’s speech” a pastor is trying to communicate. And we, clergy and laypeople alike, must listen attentively to hear what He says.
In light of the recent controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s recent book on hell, The Gospel Coalition has posted a nice article from Tim Keller on the importance of hell. The conclusion is outstanding:
The doctrine of hell is crucial-without it we can’t understand our complete dependence on God, the character and danger of even the smallest sins, and the true scope of the costly love of Jesus. Nevertheless, it is possible to stress the doctrine of hell in unwise ways. Many, for fear of doctrinal compromise, want to put all the emphasis on God’s active judgment, and none on the self-chosen character of hell. Ironically, as we have seen, this unBiblical imbalance often makes it less of a deterrent to non-believers rather than more of one. And some can preach hell in such a way that people reform their lives only out of a self-interested fear of avoiding consequences, not out of love and loyalty to the one who embraced and experienced hell in our place. The distinction between those two motives is all-important. The first creates a moralist, the second a born-again believer.
We must come to grips with the fact that Jesus said more about hell than Daniel, Isaiah, Paul, John, Peter put together. Before we dismiss this, we have to realize we are saying to Jesus, the pre-eminent teacher of love and grace in history, “I am less barbaric than you, Jesus–I am more compassionate and wiser than you.” Surely that should give us pause! Indeed, upon reflection, it is because of the doctrine of judgment and hell that Jesus’ proclamations of grace and love are so astounding.
Read the rest here.