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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):

Best Links of the Week

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Forbes, of all places, has a really interesting piece entitled, “The Seminary Bubble,” which points out some real weaknesses to the seminary model of ministerial preparation.

IMF forecast shows Chinese economy eclipsing the U.S. economy in 2016

Cold War era abandoned monuments in Yugoslavia – some pretty incredible photos of some fascinating pieces

Trevin Wax deconstructs a good number of widely promulgated but fictitious/dubious sermon illustrations/factoids – of note:  Gehenna as a burning trash dump outside of Jerusalem, the high priest rope around the ankle bit, NASA accounting for the missing day

Kevin DeYoung has a real nice piece on Business (Profit, Product, People, Principles)

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones weighs in on video preaching (in a way) – there is a certain metaphysics of presence that I think Lloyd-Jones is onto here – it may be empirically difficult to state what is lost, but there is certainly an opportunity cost worth weighing

California has over 100,000 illegal immigrants in it’s prison system at a cost of $34,000 per year per person (Texas spends an average of $12,000 per inmate)

Waiting times at a three year high in England for healthcare – still want a government 14 trillion in debt becoming your health insurance company and provider?  Diseconomy of scale!

Some beginning to call for Uncle Sam to raid your Roth IRAs for more tax revenue

Durham, NC man who sold fake “gluten free” products sentenced to eleven years in prison

David Brooks has a nice op-ed in NYT entitled “Creed or Chaos” giving some nice analysis to Africa

William Buckley interview of Hugh Heffner on Judeo-Christian Sexual Ethics (1966):

(HT: 22 Words)

Pretty intense video of Tuscaloosa tornado as it goes over University Mall:

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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George W. Bush has a few refreshingly rare words for a former president in a recent interview:

I don’t want to go out and campaign for candidates. I don’t want to be viewed as a perpetual money-raiser. I don’t want to be on these talk shows giving my opinion, second-guessing the current president. I think it’s bad for the country, frankly, to have a former president criticize his successor. It’s tough enough to be president as it is without a former president undermining the current president. Plus, I don’t want to do that.

Huge insult during Chinese delegation visit and huge blunder by Obama administration – “A State Insult with Chinese Charateristics.”  This further highlights

Indian government has a $35 tablet computer.

LinkedIn is going public.

Why You Should Always Run Up the Score” – First Things

GOP entertaining privatizing Medicare.

The most sued companies in America.  Surprise, all the usual subprime suspects lead the list…

China keeps ramping up the dollar rhetoric.

 

FCIC Report – Financial Crisis was Avoidable – I am not sure whether this is the case or not.  It is a rather complex question of whether it was avoidable or not.   It leaves me with the question, does human irrationality not necessitate the existence of irrational bubbles?

Over 99% vote for secession in Southern Sudan

Drug smugglers attempt to catapult drugs over U.S./Mexico border.  Nothing like profit driving innovation… I wonder if they came up with their pot trebuchet idea while smoking pot.

Tons of British Anglicans fleeing the Anglican church in favor of Roman Catholicism

Baseball player walks away from $12 million salary because he says he ‘doesn’t deserve it.’

Rafi Eitan recounts the story of their capture of Nazi Holocaust chief architect Adolf Eichmann.

Truly excellent interview with Francis Ford Coppola:

There is something we know that’s connected with beauty and truth. There is something ancient. We know that art is about beauty, and therefore it has to be about truth.

UN spends $288,700 per “green job”

Consumer confidence crashing in the UK

11% of all homes are vacant in U.S. – this amounts to 18 million homes

Florida Judge rules that Obamacare is unconstitutional.  In the same vein, “Tawdry Details of Obamacare

“Greatest Putt-Putt Shot Ever”

Smooth Criminal on Cello

Best Links of the Week

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The Supreme Courts Back Alley Runs Through Philadelphia.”  A story on how Roe v. Wade makes regulating abortion clinics exceedingly difficult and opens the doors for the horrific squalor and infanticide of the clinic in Philadelphia.

Summary of a really interesting survey of evangelicals in the UK.

Billy Graham regrets not steering clear of politics and regrets not spending more time with family.

Mark Sanchez picks his nose and wipes it on his backup QB, video here.  (HT:  Aaron)

Consumer Watchdog and privacy group is raising concerns over close ties between Google, the NSA, and the present federal government.

Christian Astronomy Professor successfully sues the University of Kentucky for religious discrimination against him.

Iran has cleared a major hurdle in the uranium enrichment process.

Solid WSJ report on their murdered reporter Daniel Pearl.

U.S. Taxpayers have footed the $160 million legal bill for the executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Unbelievable and unconscionable.

Government Unions are trying to court the TSA to join their ranks.

Chuck DeGroat continues his series on dealing with difficult people with an excellent piece on dealing with the borderline (passive-aggressive).

Bernanke’s Rally Runs into Headwinds

A fairly thorough dossier on the American mafia.

Check your Munis as a bunch of states are quietly looking at bankruptcy.

Donald Trump has some harsh words on the pomp and show put on for the Chinese president.

Two Italian scientists (with suspect pasts) claim they have successfully found cold fusion.  No offense to my Italian friends, but this is very doubtful.

Double dip in the housing market.

UPDATE:  The appalling story of the Philadelphia abortion doctor who was charged with eight counts of murder, who had squalid conditions and random baby parts in jars… women are coming forward saying that he left them sterile.  Also in this vein, Al Mohler had a good piece on the President’s comments on the Roe v. Wade anniversary speech.

“People are Awesome”:

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