Monday, March 26, 2012

Hope for those condemned by the law

But the Gospel is properly such a doctrine as teaches what man who has not observed the Law, and therefore is condemned by it, is to believe, namely, that Christ has expiated and made satisfaction for all sins, and has obtained and acquired for him, without any merit of his [no merit of the sinner intervening],  forgiveness of sins, righteousness that avails before God, and eternal life. 

- Formula of Concord, from Article V

Saturday, March 17, 2012

For His Name's sake unfalteringly

"It was not any grace in me, but God who conquereth in me, and He resisted them all, so that I came to the heathen of Ireland to preach the Gospel and to bear insults from unbelievers, to hear the reproach of my going abroad and to endure many persecutions even unto bonds, the while that I was surrendering my liberty as a man of free condition for the profit of others. And if I should be found worthy, I am ready to give even my life for His name's sake unfalteringly and gladly, and there (in Ireland) I desire to spend it until I die, if our Lord should grant it to me."

-St. Patrick (A.D. 387-461), from his Confession

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chronological Snobbery: A rant

Man can only find life among the dead.

When I walk into a Christian bookstore I often feel a mixture of disgust and anger. Whether it's the visual insult of garish "Christian" "art" which usually involves an out-of-context Bible verse or some cheesy statement with no relationship whatsoever to Scripture slapped onto a tacky painting or the mind-numbing vacuity of most of the "literature" present, Christian bookstores are a place I generally try to avoid.  The thing that bothers me the most, though, is that in the great majority of Christian bookstores 99% of the books present were written by authors who are still living. Sure, they'll throw in some C.S. Lewis among the prosperity theologians and the writers of contentless sweet-nothings to tickle the ears but actual theological profundity is something very hard to come by.

The problem, in my opinion, is what has been called "chronological snobbery." C.S. Lewis likely coined the term and it is mentioned in his excellent autobiography, Surprised by Joy. The basic idea of "chronological snobbery" is that ideas and books and art that is made in our own time is somehow better or maybe more applicable than ideas and books and art from ages past. I think that this assumption, that the new is somehow better, is one of the worst and most damaging beliefs commonly held in Evangelical Christianity today - and it is held by nearly everyone.

Some of the best writing on this idea of chronological snobbery comes from G.K. Chesterton, before Lewis had ever coined the term. In his book, What's Wrong with the World, Chesterton wrote of "the modern mind," being "forced towards the future by a certain sense of fatigue, not unmixed with terror, with which it regards the past." He writes profoundly that "the future is a refuge from the fierce competition of our forefathers," and "I can make the future as narrow as myself; the past is obliged to be as broad and turbulent as humanity." Another idea I've seen expressed somewhere and with which I fully agree is that when we listen to the voices of ages past we live in a much more democratic world. This idea would also apply to the Church. Why do we accept the undemocratic idea that only those Christians currently living should have a vote when it comes to the interpretation of Scripture or the order of worship or the Christian life? Perhaps it is because the Church is not a democracy. But this fact does not save the modernist or post-modernist from scrutiny. Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth (John 16:13) and I've often heard this verse used as a rationalization for some novel theology or practice among Christians. But if this promise is true, that the Holy Spirit has been guiding His people into all truth, then He has been doing it for the past 2000 years and not for the past 50 or 100 as most Evangelicals seem to understand it. Therefore when Christians have understood Scripture to say something about a theological issue for many centuries, their understanding should have more weight than whatever fads are currently affecting the Church.

If Christ has not returned in 500 years I am certain that nearly all modern writers will have passed out of the memory of the populace and of the Church. Perhaps C.S. Lewis will still be remembered and read. But I am certain that Athanasius and Augustine and Luther and Calvin will still be read and will still have a profound influence on God's people. So my question is, why do we waste our time on writers who will not stand the test of time when great riches of thought and theology and devotion by saints unquestionably inspired (not as Scripture is inspired) by God are readily available? I think the clear answer is arrogance. We audaciously think we have discovered a better Christianity or a clearer understanding of Scripture than they had. We should spurn that "refuge" of the future and instead keep company with that great communion of saints which has gone before us. We should commune with them in their understandings of Scripture, in the liturgy and in the sacraments which we share.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The waves and winds still know

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.
Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
-Catharina von Schlegel, 1697-?