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Good News: Atheists Can Now Go to Heaven (Says Pope)

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Pope Francis

Bizarre Argument

Pope Francis, in a letter to the founder (Dr. Eugenio Scalfari) of popular Italian newspaper La Repubblica (think USA Today of Italy) wrote the following:

As for the three questions you asked me in  the article of August 7th.  It would seem to me that in the first two, what you are most interested in is understanding the Church’s attitude towards those who do not share faith in Jesus.  First of all, you ask if the God of the Christians forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith.  Given that  –  and this is fundamental  –  God’s mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience.  In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or to be evil.  The goodness or the wickedness of our behavior depends on this decision.  (Full text translated to English by La Repubblica can be found here)

This has to be one of the most bizarre statements every written by a Pope.  In my reading in both the English and the Italian of this letter, Pope Francis seems to be asserting an argument something like this:

1.  God’s mercy has no limits – contingent on the sincere contrition of the heart

2.  Sincere contrition of the heart means obedience to own’s own conscience

3.  Obedience to the conscience involves the perception of good and evil

4.  A sincere contrite heart is the one does what is right in the eye of his own conscience

(Therefore)

5.  Pope Francis cannot judge the atheist (Dr. Scalfari) and by corollary any other person(s) who are obedient to their consciences

I am pretty sure I am not taking the Pope’s comments out of context, nor being uncharitable to the argument.  If taken to the logical conclusion anyone on Earth who feels like they are a good person in their own eyes should (or at least could) be a part of God’s kingdom.  This kind of argument does not square with the Gospel or even Catholic dogma.  In my experiences talking with people about spiritual matters nearly all feel that they are a “good person” and would self-affirm that they are obedient to their own conscience.

 

The Love of God, Liberalism and the book of Judges

Pope Francis’ seems to be attempting to make a case that the central tenet of the Christian faith is the Incarnation of Jesus and that the most important element of the atonement is the love of God:

Christian faith believes in this:  that Jesus is the Son of God who came to give his life to open the way to love for everyone.  Therefore there is a reason, dear Dr. Scalfari, when you see the incarnation of the Son of God as the pivot of Christian faith.  Tertullian wrote “caro cardo salutis”, the flesh (of Christ) is the pivot of salvation. Because the incarnation, that is the fact that the Son of God has come into our flesh and has shared joy and pain, victories and defeat of our existence, up to the cry of the cross, living each event with love and in the faith of Abbà, shows the incredible love that God has for every man, the priceless value that he acknowledges. For this reason, each of us is called to accept the view and the choice of love made by Jesus, become a part of his way of being, thinking and acting.  This is faith, with all the expressions that have been dutifully described in the Encyclical.

* * *

In your editorial of July 7th, you also asked me how to understand the originality of Christian Faith as it is actually based on the incarnation of the Son of God, with respect to other religions that instead pivot on the absolute transcendency of God.

I would say that the originality lies in the fact that faith allows us to participate, in Jesus, in the relationship that He has with God who is Abbà and, because of this, in the relationship that He has with all other men, including enemies, in the sign of love. In other words, the children of Jesus, as Christian faith presents us, are not revealed to mark an inseparable separation between Jesus and all the others:  but to tell us that, in Him, we are all called to be the children of the only Father and brothers with each other. The uniqueness of Jesus is for communication not for exclusion.

In this sense, coupled with the argument above, Pope Francis seems far closer to Unitarianism or liberal Protestantism than he does Catholicism or anything from the New Testament.  This is some kind of vague pure love of God version of Jesus who is the nice Galilean homeless guy who challenged the status quo and broke social norms so we can all sit around the campfire holding hands singing kumbaya.  This is the pure love of God version of Jesus that doesn’t really care about sin… as long as you feel good about obeying your own seared conscience.

There was a time when God’s people did what was right in their own eyes… :

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. – Judges 17:6 ESV

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. – Judges 21:25 ESV

… and it was a total mess.

 

The Good News

To be crystal clear, Jesus’ death on the cross makes no sense for anything but the paying for the sin of His people and the transfer of His perfect life in return.  

The Good News is that Jesus was perfect so that you the imperfect might have your law-breaking wiped clean and Jesus’ perfection deposited into your account.  His death is what wipes away the penalty of law-breaking and His perfect life is what makes His people Holy in the eyes of God.

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Written by Michael Graham

September 12, 2013 at 10:21 am

Best Links of the Week

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The End of Church Planting?  Interesting article that isn’t as provocative as the title.  Definitely worth a read and a place at the table for missiological theory of church planting, challenging the dominant paradigm of the entrepreneurial paid pastor/planter.

How to use rewards/frequent-flyer credit cards to create a self-fulfilling profit loop (buy certain gold coins, get rewards/miles, deposit gold in bank, pay off credit card with gold deposited into bank).

Third Millennium Ministries has its own iPhone and Android apps.  The content of ThirdMill is truly top shelf.  I am of the opinion that Third Mill is probably one of the most important ministries of our time and all on a shoestring budget.  If you care at all about the Gospel and the future of the church you ought to donate to them.  I am thankful that there are actually some forward thinking strategists that are creating excellent scalable content capable of penetrating that glaring lack of theological training of pastors worldwide.

The Decline of the Nuclear Family.  Some pretty staggering statistics and commentary on the status of family in the U.S.

Mayim Bialik (Blossom, Amy Farrah Fowler) of Big Bang Theory is actually a PhD and published in Neuroscience (HT: BL)

Mortgage companies are still ‘robo-signing’

Centrist Tom Coburn has an interesting debt proposal – I was definitely not expecting a proposal from one of the ‘Gang of Six’

77 year old Congressman confronts gun wielding intruder

An interesting piece giving some provocative thoughts regarding the Cosmological Argument

There are several layers of awesome to this Pepsi ad (coming from a staunch Coca-Cola fan):

When “Believing the Gospel” Doesn’t Work

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I wanted to re-post something that Chuck DeGroat wrote earlier this week on his blog, The New Exodus.  I think this is a pretty important discussion that needs to happen amongst the New Calvinism.  Reductionism is dangerous and it hurts people.  Legalism is dangerous and it enslaves people.

When “Believing the Gospel” Doesn’t Work

Maybe you’re like the many men and women who I’ve talked to.  Having been through Sonship (a fairly well-known discipleship program in conservative Reformed circles) or having digested the writings of Keller or Powlison or Tripp, your still struggling.  Or, maybe your version of “believing the Gospel” came from a preacher who told you that the answer to your lifetime of guilt was greater “Gospel depth” or deeper “Gospel transformation.”  And so, you searched high and low for that newer and better way, the Gospel way, only to try to believe better and repent better and be less guilty.  And that, too, didn’t amount to much.

Just recently, I was talking to yet another person whose digested all the writings and listened to all the sermons and read all the tweets, and ‘Gospel repenting and believing’ isn’t working.  He went through Sonship.  And each time he talked to his Gospel phone coach, he’d confess his latest idol.  “I’m justifying myself through my attempts to repent better, and repentance is now my idol.  So, I’m repenting of my repentance, but I’m still neck deep in feelings of guilt.  What’s wrong with me?”

“Gospel Tweeting” is the latest phenomenon.  The answer to all our problems is this:  Just believe the Gospel!  If it was that easy. This seems to me to be the newest quick fix, the most recent Christian cliche, and I’m growing weary of it.  I’ve counseled people who’ve done the full Sonship workout only to be more racked with guilt than ever.  They are repenting of their failed repenting and repenting of their failed attempt to confess their failed repenting.  They’re more twisted in guilt than ever.  And the ‘Gospel Twittersphere’ isn’t helping.

This is oversimplified Calvinism.  Period.  It doesn’t take the complexity of sin seriously enough, though it claims to in every way.  It doesn’t take it seriously because it oversimplifies the remedy, leaving troubled and struggling people feeling even worse.  Gospel counselors tell people that their troubles amount to a failure to believe the Gospel.  Freedom is available, we’re told.  Just repent and believe! Over and over, preachers are trying to boil this down to 140 characters on Twitter.  And I think it’s Gospel arrogance.

The problem is that we’re far more complex and psychologically broken that we’re often aware of.  It’s not just “unbelief” that bears down on us.  It’s a whole host of things – neural pathways grooved by years of living a certain way, a “divided heart” that thrives on its habitual polarities, weakness of will, and the extraordinary brokenness manifesting in the systems we inhabit, whether in our families or workplaces or churches.  And if I’m not being pessimistic enough, consider John Calvin’s words:

“But no one in this earthly prison of the body has sufficient strength to press on with due eagerness, and weakness so weighs down the greater number that, with wavering and limping and even creeping along the ground, they move at a feeble rate. Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun. No one shall set out so inauspiciously as not daily to make some headway, though it be slight. Therefore, let us not cease so to act that we may make some unceasing progress in the way of the Lord. And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost. Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly flattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end: that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself. It is this, indeed, which through the whole course of life we seek and follow. But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him” (Institutes, 3.6.5 or pp. 1:689)

But the problem extends beyond understanding the complexity.  It’s the cure that is far more difficult.  Having counseled too many men and women who beat themselves up for not growing fast enough by repenting and believing, I’m convinced we do many people a disservice (and harm!) by oversimplifying both the problem and the cure.  Those fearful of modern psychology need to begin listening at this point, because what we’ve found is that growth and maturity isn’t found in a method or a discipline or a repentance exercise.  In fact, growth is harder, longer, more painful, and more puzzling than many of us care to admit.  People who we serve in the church would like microwavable strategies, but the fact is that growth and maturity isn’t microwavable.  It defies programs and methods.  It frustrates the most competent pastor or therapist or spiritual director.  And, it can’t be captured in a tweet, even a well-formed Gospel tweet.

I admire the hearts of my friends out there who attempt to tweet Gospel cures.  They mean well.  Most are pastors, and you know who you are.  And I really do like you a lot.  But, hear me when I say that people are suckers for your 140 word fixes.  Why do you think you get re-tweeted so much?  We’re suckers for remedies and methods.  We love a sound byte.  But I’m asking you to step back and consider the complexity.  Do you really see people growing that quickly in your churches?  Do you really see ‘Gospel transformation’ happening in a “repent and believe” moment?  I’m prone to think that this is where we need a good dose of those old stories, like Pilgrim’s Progress, that highlight the long and difficult journey.  Because most people I know don’t find that the methods work.  Most people I talk to struggle day to day just to believe, just to utter a one word prayer, just to avoid another outburst of anger or another deluge of cynicism. Most people find that it takes a lifetime to believe that they are the prodigal who is lavished with a Father’s prodigious love.

Gospel tweeters:  Relax.  You are far more screwed up than you think.  And your cure is far too simplistic to help.  This journey requires more than a 140 characters of Gospel happy juice.  A big and good God requires a long and difficult Exodus journey for real change to happen.

Best Links of the Week

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Best Links of the Week

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Salon.com founder Laura Miller has a scathing, yet sadly true, piece on the status of the Bible amongst evangelicals:  “The Rise and Fall of the Bible

American Christians buy millions of Bibles they seldom read and don’t understand.

Mubarak evidently fell into a coma after leaving Cairo.  Does this mark anyone else as strange?

2010 Income Statement for the U.S. Government (58% of budget for entitlement programs [SS, Medicare/Medicaid/Unemployoment; 20% defense spending]).

Radio program claims they have revealed Coco-Cola’s secret formula.  Apparently, the secret ingredient “Merchandise 7x” consists of alcohol, orange oil, lemon oil, nutmeg oil, coriander, neroli and cinnamon.

Doug Wilson has a nice piece on collective bargaining.

So You are Thinking of Going to Seminary?”  A brief and well-written piece by Kevin DeYoung weighing in on those considering seminary.  Certainly some golden advice here that could help you from wasting a lot of time, money, and energy OR help you maximize the most of your opportunity.

Interesting piece on Sarah Palin and feminism.

Bernie Madoff accuses federal government of being a Ponzi Scheme (and I can’t say I really disagree with him).

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are going away and the PIMCO CEO wants to raise rates on 30 year mortgages by 3% across the board.

How you can be praying for Christians in Egypt.

How Much Information Did God Put in Your DNA?”  (HT:  Justin Taylor and Joe Carter)

U.S. debt is now equal to value of the U.S. economy.

Excellent brief biography by Tim Challies on Eric Liddell – part one and part two.

The fallacy of green job creation.

Denny Burk points out some interesting inconsistencies between fetal abortion and fetal surgery.  It does become a bit absurd that doctors will both fight to save and fight to end babies in the same stage of pregnancy.

Paradigm shift coming in domain name suffixes.

Every now and then I read a really interesting Wikipedia article, this is one such article:  “Voynich Manuscript

Some really fascinating art:  The Book Surgeon

Anyone who surfs knows this is unbelievable – Surfing Kickflip:

Best Links of the Week

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I think some PAC published this video… worth watching

How to use Zotero to organize your personal library.  Zotero has personally saved me literally dozens of hours on a single project I worked on recently.  Any person in graduate school writing papers should use this tool.  The simple firefox/Office plugin will format your footnotes and create your Bibliography and/or Works Cited for you.  Hours saved.  I can’t believe more people don’t use this already.

The French are funny.  They are rioting because their version of Social Security got moved from age 60 to age 62.  I remember them getting all fussy when Sarkozy changed the work week from 35 hours to 40 hours.

Capitalism Saved the Miners

WSJ on the status of the mortgage mess in the U.S.

Spot on TIME Magazine piece on why young Italian professionals are leaving Italy in droves.  For once, an American journalistic enterprise hits a home run on understanding the many layers of Italian culture and economics.  Here is a bonus piece on the trash crisis in Naples, Italy.  I remember the citizens of Avellino getting so upset at their trash crisis that they started dumping trash on the city courthouse steps and lighting it on fire.  Awesome.

Inflation

Know Your Heretics

An interesting opinion piece on UGA’s new engineering school and the state of education in the state of Georgia.

 

 

Best Links of the Week

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Adding a third dimension to the debate over video venue churches is hologram technology.  The technology now exists and is being marketed to the 3000+ video venue churches so that the Pastor can preach at other venues in 3D.  Your thoughts?

John Wooden TED Talk.

New Military underwear to monitor heart rate/vitals and administer drugs/pain meds.

A 52  year old California construction worker was arrested in Northern Pakistan on one man mission to kill Osama bin Laden.  He had a 40″ sword, night vision goggles, and a pistol.  He was confident of the success of his mission because, “God is with him.”

Rent a White Guy in China.

The Church of Football.

Some interesting scenarios of the coming mega-conferences in NCAA sports.

Here are some wordles for common church names in the U.S.

The U.S. finds $1,000,000,000,000 worth of metals in Afghanistan.  This substantially complicates the future of Afghanistan.

The Euro to reach parity with the Dollar in 2011.

Some interesting thoughts on the impact of technology on missions.

Some thoughts on God and Soccer.

Nice interview with Stephen Prothero on Religion and Pluralism.

WSJ analysis of economic pitfalls in 2011.

Saudi Arabia gives green light to Israel to use airspace in strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Publishing company places disclaimer on the U.S. Constitution saying, “might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.”

Is the internet making us impatient and compulsive?

Lego re-creations of famous photographs.

114,000 Apple iPads compromised by AT&T.  (HT: Greg)

USA Today:  “Protestant Pastor in the Job Hunt?  Good Luck in this Market

Some amazing photos of baby animals inside the womb.

Please don’t ever do this at your church:

HT:  A Little Leaven

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