Category Archives: Theology

Grace Isn’t Free, Or Cheap

The notion that grace is ‘free’ completely ignores the cost of grace – the death of Christ. It’s free to us, its recipients, but it is clearly not without its cost.

Quote of the Day

As men cherish young plants at first, and fence them about with hedges and other things to keep them from hurt, but when they are grown, they remove them, and then leave them to the wind and weather, so God besets his children first with props of inward comforts, but afterwards he exposes them to storms and winds, because they are better able to bear it. Therefore let no man think himself the better because he is free from troubles. It is because God sees him not fit to bear greater.  — RICHARD SIBBES

Why It’s Important to Understand the FACT That People are Totally Depraved

Jean Vanier is just another reason why it’s not always a good idea to have a mortal hero. People, all of them, are totally depraved. It shouldn’t really surprise anyone any time a person turns out to be a wretch.

Braucht der Mensch Erlösung?

Die Frage, ob der Mensch Erlösung braucht, ist für das Christentum zentral. Dieser diskussionsfreudige Band legt einen Schwerpunkt auf die Klärung der Erlösungsbedürftigkeit im vielfältigen Beziehungsgeflecht des Menschen zu sich selbst, zu seinen Mitmenschen, zur Welt und zu Gott. Weitere Fragen werden aufgeworfen: Wovon genau und durch wen wird der Mensch erlöst? Auf der Suche nach Antworten wird deutlich, dass Erlösung, die das Leben erschließt, konkret werden muss.

Der Band zur 21. Jahrestagung der Rudolf-Bultmann-Gesellschaft für Hermeneutische Theologie dokumentiert aus alt- und neutestamentlicher, kirchenhistorischer, systematisch-theologischer, praktisch-theologischer und jüdischer Perspektive Konzepte zur Beantwortung der aufgeworfenen Fragen.

Mit Beiträgen von Albrecht Grözinger, Lilian Marx-Stölting, Marianne Grohmann, Eckhart Reinmuth, Volker Leppin und Dorothee Schlenke.

Every year the Rudolf-Bultmann-Gesellschaft meets and every year they publish the papers of that meeting.  This year’s collection consists of an Introductory chapter by the editors and six chapters:

  • “… Uns Aus Dem Elend zu Erlösen”, by Albrecht Grözinger
  • Erlösung Durch Genetechnologien, by Lilian Marx-Stölting
  • Zur Erlösungsbedürftigkeit des Menschen in Psalmen, by Marianne Grohmann
  • Erlösung, by Eckhart Reinmuth
  • Erlösung, Verkollkommnung, Rückkehr, by Volker Leppin
  • Differenzerfahrung und Personale Integrität, by Dorothee Schlenke

The little collection concludes with a short biography of each contributor.

The essays tend towards the esoteric end of the intellectual spectrum.  That’s not a bad thing in this instance, though, because each essay is what I would term ‘mind stretching’.  They force readers to think ‘outside the box’ on an issue that, obviously, is central to Christian theology.  As the English description of the book on the publisher’s website puts it (for those for whom the German above is out of reach)

The question of whether a human being needs salvation is central to Christianity. A „no” would mean his or her end. That is why this volume focuses on demonstrating the need for salvation of the individual in his or her entire reality of life. Furthermore, however, this need for salvation requires clarification in the manifold network of relationships of the human person to himself, to his fellow human beings, to the world and to God, and thus calls for further questions: From what exactly and through whom is man redeemed? When searching for answers, it becomes clear that salvation, which reveals life, must become concrete.

132 pages is hardly enough space to solve all of the problems such questions raise, but the essayists do a brilliant job of shedding enough light so that those willing to invest the mental energy in their work will reap a plentiful harvest of understanding.

The volume on the 21st Annual Conference of the Rudolf Bultmann Society for Hermeneutic Theology documents concepts for answering the questions raised from the perspectives of Old and New Testament, Church history, systematic theology, practical theology and Judaism.

Consequently, this volume belongs on the shelves of systematic theologians and in the hearts of those who really, deeply care about theological core issues.  Please do read it.  Even if that means you have to learn German to do it.  Invest in it.  Absorb it.  Ponder it.  Reject those parts you find objectionable and make use of those parts which make eminent sense to you.  No greater honor can be bestowed on such a worthy little volume.

Churches Have all the ‘Members’ They Need

People: ‘we need more church members’.

Me: Why? So we can have more people not participating? We need more disciples, not more members.

People:

Quote of the Day

Those men are brutish who propose to themselves any other felicity than that which arises from drawing near to God.  — John Calvin

Irreligious Government is Illegitimate Government

Rulers who … attempt to eliminate from the sphere of earthly affairs the living God who has called them to their office, and set themselves up in His place, are in Calvin’s opinion no longer legitimate. — Wilhelm Niesel, The Theology of Calvin, 241.

Enabling a Child Molester Because He’s ‘Forgiven’ Only Shows How Little The Concept of ‘Forgiveness’ is Understood

A Texas church pastored by a man who sexually assaulted a child on Tuesday became the first to be removed from the Southern Baptist Convention under new sex abuse reforms.

Phillip Rutledge has been the pastor at Ranchland Heights Baptist Church in Midland for years.

In 2003, Rutledge was convicted of sexual assaulting an 11-year-old girl, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

In 2016, after a local CBS affiliate inquired about his involvement there, church officials reportedly said that they and a “vast majority” of churchgoers were aware of Rutledge’s history before he was hired, and that he was not allowed to be alone with children.

“We believe that God can change people, and we believe that God has forgiven Brother Phillip as well,” a church deacon told the television station.

Church officials in Midland couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

Ranchland Heights Baptist can appeal the decision. But even if it’s reversed, the church will have made history as the first congregation that’s ever been removed from the SBC by its national body for its handling of sexual abuse.

This church doesn’t understand what forgiveness is.  Or means.  Forgiveness is NOT turning a blind eye to sin and ignoring its effects.  Further, forgiveness isn’t something that those who are not directly affected by the sin can grant.  A church can’t forgive its pastor for molestation, the molested alone, the victim alone, has that right.  And even granted forgiveness, such monsters should never serve in the pastorate again.  Forgiveness – even if granted by the victim – doesn’t change the wicked heart.  The pastor is still a child molester and he will always be a child molester.  And no child should have to endure the constant fear of the monster arising from the pit again.  Especially when that monster is their Pastor.

Theology: An Observation

Hipster faddist new age ‘theology’ has abandoned the Logos (scripture) and as a consequence has also abandoned Theos (God).  It serves neither Church nor faith and instead grovels about in the bed of Whore Reason seeking her approval and favors.

“Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.” – Martin Luther

This is not anti-intellectualism it is anti-exaltation of human reasoning above all – as if paltry human minds were all-comprehending.  This is anti-hubris.

Zwingli For Today

cropped-zw45.jpgChrist did not wish to make us idle by His holy offering, but, as St. John the Baptist preached, he wishes us to “bring forth fruits worthy of repentance.”

Jeremiah 14:7-12

7 “Though our iniquities testify against us, act, O LORD, for your name’s sake; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against you. 8 O you hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble, why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night? 9 Why should you be like a man confused, like a mighty warrior who cannot save? Yet you, O LORD, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name; do not leave us.”

10 Thus says the LORD concerning this people: “They have loved to wander thus; they have not restrained their feet; therefore the LORD does not accept them; now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.”

11The LORD said to me: “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. 12Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.”

No comment necessary.

Enacting Measures Against Usury

On the 14th of February, in the year 1568, Heinrich Bullinger stood before the assembled legislators and denounced the extreme poverty resulting in Zurich and the surrounding villages in the Canton because of excessive interest rates being charged the poorest of the poor.

The Massnahmen Gegen den Wucher addressed the pressing issues of high unemployment and high interest rates- and Bullinger demanded that the government do something to reign in the usurers.

Theologians today, incredibly silent on the issues which troubled Bullinger and his colleagues in Zurich, would do well to read this tractate.    It’s perfectly applicable, theologically, to today and to our corrupt bankers and weak, cowering, fearful government.

There’s No Cause for Believers to Be Unduly Fearful of Death

angel of deathThe faithful ought not to torment themselves above measure with unhappy cares and anxieties; and … they should not be so distracted with fear as to cease from performing their duty, nor decline and faint in such a manner as to grasp at vain hopes and deceitful helps, nor give way to fears and alarms; and, in fine, that they should not be afraid of death, which, though it destroys the body, cannot extinguish the soul. — John Calvin

Presidential Budget Proposals and the Bible

Let the reader understand…

The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he arrived, he said to him:

There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had a large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one small ewe lamb that he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up, living with him and his children. It shared his meager food and drank from his cup; it slept in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him.

Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man could not bring himself to take one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for his guest.

David was infuriated with the man and said to Nathan: “As the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die!  Because he has done this thing and shown no pity, he must pay four lambs for that lamb.”  Nathan replied to David, “You are the man! (2 Sam. 12:1-7)

There’s Too Much ‘Hot Take’ Bad, and Dishonest, Theology

Dislike Calvin if you must, but be honest with what he says, and doesn’t say.

The Papers from the 2018 International Barth Conference are Online

The Barth Center tweets-

The conference papers from the 2018 International Barth Conference at the University of Stellenbosch have been published in the Stellenbosch Theological Journal and are open access. To read these rich and insightful papers, visit this link.

Born Again: The Evangelical Theology of Conversion in John Wesley and George Whitefield

The gospel message is simple but not simplistic. Learning the gospel and its implications is a lifelong process, but modern evangelicals are often too focused on the moment of conversion while ignoring the ongoing work of sanctification. For John Wesley and George Whitefield, justification and sanctification were inseparable.

In Born Again, Sean McGever maps Wesley’s and Whitefield’s theologies of conversion, reclaiming the connection between justification and sanctification. This study helps evangelicals reassess their thin understanding of conversion, leading to a rich and full picture of the ongoing work new Christians face.

A review copy from Lexham, without any expectations for the outcome of any review, arrived some weeks ago.

First, right out of the blocks, I’ll confess that I am not a Methodist nor am I a Weslyan and, frankly, nor am I a fan of the semi-Pelagianism of Armiananism.  But I LOVED this book!

It’s fantastically and engagingly written and it is so well organized and has such a clear methodological procedure that there is simply nothing to dislike about it.  The author carefully and yet not in a boring or tedious or ‘preachy’ way walks readers, step by step, in a non-patronizing fashion, to a deeper understanding of how both Wesley and Whitefield, both towering figures in English and American theological history, saw the central doctrine of conversion.

The author of this study should hold a professorial chair in Modern Christian Theological Studies somewhere.  Following the introduction, McGever discusses Wesley’s theology of conversion and its themes.  Naturally, then, in the following two chapters he does the same for Whitefield.  His observations regarding these matters are cogent and insight-filled.  If readers aren’t familiar with the intricacies of the variety of viewpoints regarding conversion, these four chapters are an excellent primer.  Not only regarding the views of Whitefield and Wesley, but because he so plainly explains these topics so very well.

It’s been said that if a person truly understands a subject, they can explain it in terms that the normally educated can follow them and come to a better understanding of that topic.  Some theologians are completely bereft of that skill and, quite frankly, shouldn’t be allowed to teach anyone anything because they don’t understand the topic themselves.  But McGever belongs to the tribe of those who understand well enough to explain clearly.

The sixth chapter, then, compares the views of Wesley and Whitefield.  And the seventh and final chapter, which M. titles ‘Conversion as Inaugurated Teleology for Wesley and Whitefield’, draws the whole to a close and intriguingly offers a comparison between the views of Wesley and Whitefield on one side and modern Evangelicals on the other, and that comparison is a highlight of the work.

The book ends, as all these scholarly things do, with a bibliography (which is quite thorough) and a subject index followed by a one page scripture index.  Calvin appears in the bibliography (or rather, his Institutes do) but there is no mention of Zwingli or Luther.  And I guess that’s ok.  One can’t cover everything, can one?

The volume at hand is superb.  Get a copy and read it.  You’ll leave the experience having a better understanding of Revivalism and Conversion as those appear in the thought of two of the most formative thinkers of American Christianity.

Very Timely. Always Timely. Barth’s Last Words to Thurneysen

Via @TheBarthCenter on the twitter — The last words Karl Barth spoke to his friend Eduard Thurneysen on the telephone on December 9, 1968, the evening that Barth died.

On Those Unfit For Pastoral Ministry

Any pastor that makes theological decisions based on whether or not people will like or dislike those decisions is not fit to be a pastor. Pastors must keep their eyes on Scripture and their hearts in God, or get out of ministry immediately.   They care only for the opinion of the crowd and not the opinion of God.

How To Know If You’re Attending a Corporation or a Congregation

You can always spot the churches that aspire to be corporations and not congregations.  They use terms like ‘lead pastor’ and ‘pastor of children’s ministries’ and the like- because in corporations it’s titles that matter and in congregations they don’t at all.

If the place you go to worship has a lot of people with a lot of titles, you’re attending a corporation, not a congregation.