On Reformation: “Blind, staggering drunk”


“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, 200-proof grace – of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.

The word of the Gospel – after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps – suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started…

Grace has to be drunk straight:  no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.”

–Robert Capon

The Beauty of the Battle Song

This year’s Hamlet production brings with it a number of challenges, including staging the climactic duel scene at the very end. Any audience willing to sit through two hours of Elizabethan Englsh deserves either rollicking -good entertainment in Act V or some good killing.

This weekend, the high school guys started their sword training for the play.
“This early?!” you ask.
Well, remember that we’ll have two sizable guys wailing away at each other with heavy-duty broadswords in a complex fight that requires three individual bouts, an exchange of weapons (for the sake of the plot), and two injuries. Our Viking-era stage-design demands broad-swords instead of those sissy French fencing foils. None of that crab-like shuffling here. We’re talking sparks-flying, shield-wielding combat.  Oh yeah, it’s gonna rock….

So on Friday, the two principal actors plus other interested males met in a back yard to beat on one another with plastic light sabers. OK, they didn’t beat on each other…. but those Star Wars light sabers are more dangerous than you might think. Our fight-trainer Phillip is one of those mild-mannered “killing machine” kind of guys: lots of fun to be around … total and complete chivalrous gentleman … probably could cut your arm off in 1.2 seconds if he wanted to (even with a plastic light saber).  With his help, the boys started working on their high, mid, and low attacks and defenses…. and gained more than a few scrapes and bumps in the process. (Anybody got spare gauntlets lying around your house?)

There’s something beautiful about sword fighting. Even in the gory realism of a bloody battle scene, somehow the singing blade is more lovely than our gunpowder and high-powered rifles. The battle-dance lost its art some time ago, replaced by an impersonal mechanization that provoked Tolkien to ascribe such ugly yet efficient killing to the Orcs.

Don’t get me wrong — the horror of war tarnishes the beauty of the sword. A metal blade strong enough to rip a man’s torso from navel to neck. Not pretty. You don’t own swords for hunting. You own them for killing.

But I think there’s an aspect of the image of God that is missing from the education of our boys today. It’s not tied to sword-fighting, of course, but we ought to consider the metaphor.

Why should boys learn to fight and do so with effectiveness and honor?
Why is there something beautiful about a sword handled well?

God describes Himself as a Warrior. (Don’t believe me? Read the OT major/minor prophets… or Revelation.)  He talks about striding onto the battlefield of this sinful planet in all His majestic glory, clad in glorious armor, wielding a giant sword. He mocks His enemies with sarcasm that makes good-mannered folks wince. He hacks them into bits and dances on their broken armies.

Does that bother you?

War is hell. Thus said General Sherman in 1860-something. I’m sure thousands of men echoed his sentiment long before his quotation became famous. Yet war is also redemptive (see Isaiah 59). And I think it is also a powerful parable.

War shows us that salvation costs something.  

How evil is sin? 
Evil enough that people die in the destroying of it.

How costly is our wickedness? 
It wrecks families and good farmland and bodies.

What does it take to untwist our perverted souls? 
It takes a war.  And God is its Battle-General.  He leads the army.  In fact, He already won the decisive victory by destroying the power of death and sin.

Our lives evidence the marks of the mop-up operation.  But our souls somehow sit victorious (even while our flesh yearns for the old ways).  Ah, a paradox.

Men, as God’s image-bearers, stand as the protectors on this earth. They take up the sword (or M-16) to crush evil wherever it appears. Like any other human endeavor, well-intended human wars are twisted by the very sin they try to end. The invasion of Iraq seemed to start with good intentions, but things are rather messy right now. Atrocities occur on both sides. We sinful humans can’t even do good deeds without getting them dirty.

But it is right to fight evil. Even in this, we image God. The sword is a tool of redemption, not oppression.

Boys must learn to fight honorably and for the right reason … and often without their fists (or weapon). Our enemy is not of this world, nor can he be opposed by physical weapons, says Paul in Ephesians 6. A man’s task of seeing sin rooted out of the lives of himself, his wife, children, or friends is not for the fainthearted.  But it is right.

Our view of God is warped when we force boys into a pacifist, submissive, passive view of their place in this world.

The Vikings used to talk of the “battle-joy,” a euphoria that overtook some warriors in the midst of pitched battle.

Rejoice in God the Warrior. 
Praise Him for His redeeming Sword.
And teach your young men to fight.

“Shouldn’t he tone that down a little?”

David preached from Galatians 5 yesterday morning. Great text. Good sermon.

Paul spends nearly two chapters in that book smashing people who think sanctification is possible via rules and personal works.

See, I was never a salvific legalist — I knew the way to heaven was through Christ and the blood.  But sanctification by Phariseeism — aye, there’s the rub. That’s a fun wheel to try to ride. “Saved by grace”–yes. But somehow we think we’re then made holy by our own attempts to BE holy.

I might be a new creature, but the power to do right in my life NOW must be just as much Christ-given as the power to enter the Kingdom in the first place.

In Galatia, people were teaching those folks that they would never please God as Christians until they let their men be circumcised (notice: the outward keeping of a very biblical law). Paul says in 5:12 he wishes their knife would slip so they would castrate themselves.     haha — I am amused that even David’s very discrete discussion of that verse made people in the congregation very uncomfortable — parents were scrambling to brush over that point so their kids wouldn’t ask too many questions. *raises eyebrow*  Dare we imply that Paul is going to far with his imagery?

The Gospel preached in its fullness should make us very uncomfortable because it constantly reminds us that we cannot add anything to our salvation or its outworking in our lives. Thank God, we will see growth and change in our lives over time, but it will come as we repent and believe —  not as we set out to “toe the line.”

Line toe-ing sucks.
Because it doesn’t work.

You’d think I would remember that — I’ve certainly spent enough time trying.

Birthing Pains

Labor pains.

I hear women talk about them. Having never been there myself, I mostly rely on borrowed experiences. The common denominators seem to be 1) long; 2) painful; 3) tiring. So when David Rountree was preaching through Galatians 4, verse 19 arrested my attention. Paul talks about experiencing the pangs of childbirth as he waited for “Christ to be formed in [the Galatians].”

Salvation is begun in an instant but worked out in time and space. Very few of us grow to maturity in Christ without the help of one or more spiritual “parents” who shepherd us along the pathway of grace. Christ is “formed in us” as we are transformed by the Holy Spirit into the image of our Older Brother and Co-Heir.

I work primarily with covenant children who are in a later stage of a multi-year process of sanctification. I never know where any particular kid is on that pathway. At any given time, some may be unregenerate (but experiencing God’s grace as He works through their families and churches to draw them to Himself). Still others exhibit an amazing relationship with their Father at an early age.
Some know Him only as an acquaintance. If left alone in a room with their God, they would sit in an uncomfortable silence and stare at their shoes, at a loss for anything to talk about. I often see those kids wrestling to understand why the God at work in their lives (poking around and rattling their cages) doesn’t seem to match the picture of God they expected to see.

The process of shepherding brings with it difficulties akin to childbirth. I can see Paul’s point. It’s not like the means of grace work instantaneously. In fact, God rarely untangles situations or people very quickly. He works patiently … while we wait. The outcome often seems uncertain. Will this person continue in faith? Will the covenant promises hold true? I see a life-shattering tragedy shake someone to the core — will s/he survive the onslaught?

In the four years I’ve spent at NCS, I have wept.
I have rejoiced.
I have cried out to God in prayers that I couldn’t even begin to find words for.

And I’ve seen “Christ formed” in my kids.

Joy unspeakable

Education. We’ve all got opinions. Here are a few of mine.


Everybody talks about it. Everybody’s got an opinion.

So, lest I miss out on all the fun of opinion-giving, here are a couple thoughts that were stirred up in my head after talking to a friend of mine who’s an English teacher in Southern New Jersey. She teaches primarily “special needs” students who come from a mixture of backgrouns (inner-city kids, immigrant kids, blue collar workers’ kids).

Many of her students are functionally illiterate and/or perform very poorly on standardized tests or any “school”ish tasks. They don’t write well; they don’t read well; they fail at math. Unfortunately, by the time she gets them as high scholers, they believe that they’re idiots, incapable of ever measuring up to the standards set by society and the school system.

Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” Act is a travesty. It requires 100% of public education students, including special ed students, to pass their states’ exit exams by 2014. (Why have “special ed” then?) Districts must attain unreachable statistical goals in order to remain on the “good” list. Teachers are terrified into spending every classroom moment on the skills necessary to pass the exam. Money for the arts, vo-tech, or other vital parts of education (if you believe that humans are more than reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic) has evaporated now that high-stakes testing is all anyone has time for. Music … theater … art … carpentry — the exit exams don’t care about those.

Instead of recognizing a child’s unique gifts and crafting an educational experience that allows each person to both enter society as a functioning member (basic life skills) as well as a contributing member (by helping them unwrap those gifts and talents), public education is forced to shove each child through a particular mold (determined by the test).

As a result, states will end up lowering the bar to “pass” students who otherwise would fail (since federal money rides on these scores). And states are moving toward frighteningly draconian measures to tie teachers’ salaries, jobs, and advancement to the kids’ test scores. Is that *really* a good idea? … Would YOU put your salary, retirement, or job security on the line to teach the classroom of “struggling learners,” knowing that you will be blamed if they cannot pass the test? (Never mind the fact that you have no control over the kids’ home lives, parental involvement, or even whether they had anything in the house to eat for breakfast…..)

I’m not here to argue the morality of the current system (as in “should Christians send their kids to public schools?”). But I *do* know that there is a biblically normative way to structure education–ways that take into account the image of God stamped upon all humans–and those norms apply to the public school system (whether the system acknowledges them or not).

This is a good example of how a well-meaning reform movement (“teachers don’t have enough accountability!”) was based on faulty information and blanket statements (“The schools are all failing!!”) and chose a flawed solution (high-stakes testing) without considering the consequences.

Picky? Yes. Because it matters. [DaVinci Code – review]

DaVinciCodeSo we finally got around to watching the Da Vinci Code tonight at the Astro. Gotta love the $2 theater.

promise me you’ll read everything I write before giving up or posting a comment. 

It seems like Christians tend to embarrass ourselves with over-the-top knee-jerk reactions to pop culture. A book or film comes out that we disagree with, and everyone wants to burn it, crucify the author/director, and preach hellfire sermons against anyone associated with it. “Don’t go see it!!” This, in turn, makes Christians look to the world like we’re either
1) afraid of the “big truth” we don’t want anyone to find out about (why else would we be so intent on censoring a film?), or
2) wound so tight that we can’t handle anyone disagreeing with us (“look at those intolerant Christians!”).

Either way, our reactions can make the Truth look like it’s fighting from a defensive, weak position instead of a strong one. (It is Truth after all — and God can handle any question thrown at Him.)

The number of books, articles, sermons, TV talk show programs, and other Da Vinci Code material is daunting. Walk into any bookstore and you’ll see the battlefield right in front of you:  thinkers on “both sides” arrayed against one another, leading the average bookstore shopper to assume the truth is probably “somewhere in the middle.”

There are a lot of bad reasons for condemning the Da Vinci Code outright. It’s not the most atrocious attack on Christianity ever penned/filmed. It’s not singlehandedly able to dismantle the Church overnight. It’s not baldfaced deception so beautifully crafted that it’ll suck in anyone who reads it.  Nor can it leap tall buildings in a single bound.  *coughs*

By the way, the point of the book (a feminist diatribe about how wonderful goddess worship was before the Church screwed it up) and the thrust of the movie (Jesus was human not divine and the Church is hiding that) are quite different … but both are, at the core, an attack on the Divinity of Jesus Christ.

Brown’s historical inaccuracies are so blatant and so awful that they ought to strike people as either hilarious or illogical.  Unfortunately, even most Christians don’t know their church history well enough to refute what he suggests about the history of the Church, how we got our Bible, the purpose of the Church councils, or the fact that pagan religion did NOT venerate women. Hmph. Heck no. If anything, women were more abused in pre-Christian societies.

If anything, the Da Vinci Code left me angry and grieved — the same way I’d feel if someone attacked the character of my husband or my pastor or my best friend.  Because that’s what it is — an attack on who Jesus is … and, by extension, an attack on His Bride. (The book/film targets the Catholic church but make no effort to separate Protestants out of the mix … all us Christians are lumped together as “hiding the truth.”)

The Church should respond with grace, not with a sputting kind of outrage that just plays into the hands of people who’d like to chip away at Truth. Censorship would be foolish. At least people are talking about who Jesus is/was. He’s certainly not a marginal issue at the moment.

But Christians should be ashamed that the Da Vinci Code, even riddled with so many historical errors that it can hardly stand up for itself, catches most of us flat-footed.

  • Can you explain how the Bible got here and what “inspriation” actually means (and doesn’t mean)?
  • Do you understand why it’s wrong to think that the Council of Nicea “decided” which books are inspired and which aren’t?
  • Can you explain to someone else why it’s not accurate to say that the Council “decided” that Jesus is divine?
  • Do you know why we defend both Jesus’ divinity and His humanity?

… and those are just the theological issues … I’m not even asking the Church History questions or about the pagan / goddess worship stuff he throws in there. 

heh. If I were a seminary professor teaching Apologetics this year, I’d spring this essay question on my students:
“Given [such and such] passage from The Da Vinci Code, point out the logical fallacies and historical inaccuracies in Brown’s argument, note any areas of truth, and state the orthodox response.”

… and with that, I should probably take my own advice and read up on some of this stuff…

No Greys

I am someone who believes firmly in “the gray area” when it comes to most of the sticky issues that come up in life. Due to our human limitations (and compounded by the twisting of our sin nature), we rarely see an issue clearly enough to slam down a black & white judgment. Even if the question is clear (like “adultery is wrong”), somehow humans can get things so twisted that seeing the end from the beginning in a particular case is no easy task. Motives are nearly impossible to judge; assigning “blame” is usually a vain pursuit. Sometimes the moral course of action is hard to define.
I rest in the confidence that God sees all things clearly.

We humans are not so privileged.

But I think I’ve found a situation in which the “gray area” attitude might not apply.

Why are we so afraid to live within biblical definitions? We read the Word, see the definitions of sin and grace, and then go out to build our own fences.

Hypothetical examples:

Condemning people who smoke or drink because you think it’s unwise, even if you don’t think it’s “wrong” per se. There’s a legit argument to make about not trashing your body…and drunkenness is explicitly put off-limits by the Bible… but many people want to draw another fence around that to say that people are safer if they never drink or smoke at all.

A youth worker hides what he watches on TV or listens to (music) from the teens in his youth group.  (He listens to the music / watches the TV program with a clear conscience.)  It’s even good music. But hiding is easier than confronting other people’s opinions which have placed categories of music or TV “off-limits” to “wise” or “mature” Christians.

Or this hypothetical conversation:
“Sin comes from your heart, not from what goes into you through your eyes, ears, or mouth.”
“Dad, can I watch this war movie?”
“Maybe. What’s it rated?”
“R for violence and language.”
“Oh, no — you know we don’t let you watch movies with profanity in them. We don’t want you listening to that kind of stuff.”

In each case, the authority has created a “gray area” where an action is neither sinful nor righteous. But it’s somehow *tainted* and therefore morally unsuitable or unwise.

Everyone knows enough about legalism to recoil from actively pursuing it, so rarely do I hear people try to argue that a particular kind of music or using profanity or watching violence on TV (etc) is actually wrong.  But they make it clear that they’re uncomfortable with it… and want their kids to stay away from it.

Drawing our own lines of safety/righteousness seems to reassure us that we can take a controlling grip on this life and our loved ones…. but it’s a false sense of security. Worse, I think it confuses kids / young Christians. If something *isn’t* sin, how is it still “dirty”?

I’m not saying families shouldn’t set standards for behavior, music, or movies for their kids. Not saying that at all.

But I’m confused about the differences between legitimate fences (the teen equivalent of protecting a 1 year old from touching a hot stove until he’s old enough to obey) and creating a false “gray area” of “not sin-but not OK either.”
The latter action is very dangerous. I’d call it deadly.

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