canon sense

"every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Month: October, 2013

Helmut Thielicke on Marriage: Beyond Bone of my Bone

From his How the World Began: Sermons on the Creation Story, the 20th century German theologian Helmut Thielicke writes,

I once knew a very old married couple who radiated a tremendous happiness. The wife especially, who was almost unable to move because of old age and illness and in whose kind old face the joys and sufferings of many years had etched a hundred runes, was filled with such gratitude for life that I was touched to the quick. Involuntarily I asked myself what could possibly be the source of this kindly old person’s radiance. Otherwise they were very common people and their room indicated only the most modest comfort. But suddenly I knew where it all came from, for I saw these two speaking to each other and their eyes hanging upon each other. All at once it became clear to me that this woman was dearly loved. And it was as if she were like a stone that has been lying in the sun for years and years, absorbing all its radiant warmth, and now was reflecting back cheerfulness and warmth and serenity.

Let me express it this way. It was not because she was this kind of a cheerful and pleasant person that she was loved by her husband all those years. It was probably the other way around. Because she was so loved, she became the person I now saw before me.

This thought continued to pursue me and the more it pursued me the more it lost all its merely edifying and sentimental features, until finally they were gone altogether. For if this is true, then I surely must come to the following conclusion. If my life partner or my friend or just people generally often seem to be so strange and I ask myself: “Have I made the right marriage, the right friendship; is this particular person really the one who is suited to me?”—then I cannot answer this question in the style of a neutral diagnosis which would list the reasons for and against. For what happens then is that the question turns back upon myself, and then it reads: “Have I perhaps bestowed too little love upon this other person, that he has become so cold and empty? Have I perhaps caused him to become what perhaps he really has become? The other person, whom God has joined to me, is never what he is apart from me. He is not only bone of my bone; he is also boredom of my boredom and lovelessness of my lovelessness.”

HT: Wesley Hill

Oliver O’Donovan and Political Theology

If you are interested in how theology intersects with politics you should avail yourself by listening to the lectures Oliver O’Donovan recently gave near Capitol Hill while our government was shut down.   O’Donovan who is a British moral philosopher is currently Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at the School of Divinity, New College, Edinburgh.  Ken Myers who helped moderate the event writes about it. He says,

Modern theology and modern politics have tended — sometimes vehemently — to insist on a wall of separation between them, a wall O’Donovan insists must be torn down if we are to be true to the Gospel, which is, after all, the good news about God’s Kingdom. “Theology must be political if it is to be evangelical. Rule out the political questions and you cut short the proclamation of God’s saving power; you leave people enslaved where they ought to be set free from sin — their own sin and others’.”

In October 2013, while the U.S. government was shut down over disputes about the federal budget, Oliver O’Donovan made a rare visit to Capitol Hill for a public conversation about the Gospel and public life. The event was held a few blocks from the relatively darkened Capitol building, before a group of about 160 congressional and executive branch staff people, Christian activists, clergy, theologians, and assorted lay-people…

The event was recorded and is available here, in streaming audio or downloadable MP3. (Listeners must sign in to access the audio.)  I realize not everyone has time on their hands to listen to these, but if you tend to be ambivalent about the intersection of faith and politics or if you think the wedding of the two inadvertently sacralizes a political party, I encourage you to listen.

Listening to these, in my opinion, helps reframe the discussion as O’Donovan recaptures and recasts (as in takes it back from liberation theologians)  a politico-theological vision that is fundamentally evangelical and not hitched to a particular party.  For O’Donovan, the church is the community that witnesses to a kingdom that will one day come in full, when the King judges all kings (i.e, Ps. 2).

Our Baptismal Identity

As a Presbyterian I have seen a lot of babies get baptized, and while this sacrament is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace to the one being baptized, it also serves as a means of grace to those who witness.

For the already baptized, our attention is directed back to the font where it all began. Here the water retells the gospel story of God’s uninvited grace. It tells the story of the God who breaks in to reclaim what is his, not our claim upon him.

So every time we see a baby or a convert baptized, we are being taken back to our baptismal identity.  The picture of a baby being baptized is especially fitting for Westerners who are obsessed with being exceptional, pretty, and comfortable with the identities the world confers.  God insults us with a gospel shaped, unearned identity that is conferred upon us by His grace alone.

Our true identity is son or daughter of the one God who is Father of all.  Through water he calls us to share in his Son’s life, death and resurrection by the Holy Spirit.

This event reminds us that grace comes to us, interrupts our life, causes us to cry (which happens at most baptisms for babies), and safely locates us within a new family; the divine family of Father, Son and Holy Spirit that is visibly expressed through Christ’s body, the church.

To borrow from the Westminster divines, remembering this is what it means to improve upon our baptism.  It is growing into what we already are by grace. So every time you see a baby get wet and cry, just remember, that is the gospel being preached to you again, and again, in order to remind you that grace comes to you, unilaterally and uninvited.

The Vicarious Humanity of Jesus and Fear

Most of my life I have been gripped by the fear of man.

The fear of man makes you vulnerable to the opinions of others. It makes you defenseless in the presence of a watching world. It can lead to paralysis for some, or overworking and perfectionism for others.

The remedy is knowing the vicarious humanity of Jesus.  Gregory of Nazianzus defines this in his argument against the ancient Apollinarian heresy when he said, “That which is unassumed is unhealed.” Thus, if there is some aspect of our humanity that is not assumed by the Son in his incarnation, then that part of our nature cannot be healed.

The vicarious humanity of Jesus means that he furnishes the strength and comfort I need when I am most afraid.  From his heavenly session, he does not rule as a distant Lord, but rather, in our human nature by the Spirit, he rules as an apocalyptically invading presence.  Coming to my rescue when I need him.  He knows my frame is but dust.

A practical implication to the vicarious humanity of Jesus is that it teaches us the great spiritual practice of crying out.

“Save me, O Lord.”

Most of us are good at intellectualizing the gospel to the point where we only have a conversation with ourselves, so we don’t cry out.  The repeated mantra, “preach the gospel to yourself” has its limits.  Too often salvation is intellectualized to the point where we become functional semi-pelagians.  So we intellectualize our way through the wilderness of life and Christianity gets reduced to a philosophy or a method.

But salvation according to Scripture is our participating by the Spirit in the Son’s life with the Father.  In this communal-love, we share in Jesus’ cry and learn to cry “Abba, Father.”

When I read the Psalms, there is a lot of crying out from the King of Israel.  When I read the gospels I see men and women crying out to Jesus often.

If you are looking for an evidence of grace in someones life, ask them if they cry out to their divine brother Jesus.

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” (Ps. 34:4).

Reformed and Catholic

Philip Schaff, writes, “The Reformation is… the greatest act of the Catholic Church.” Thus the Reformation was not a break with church tradition, but with the church’s abuse of tradition.  The Reformers, properly understood, should be seen as having a deep catholic sensibility, who though respectful of the tradition that preceded them, were also willing to subject the tradition to the Scriptures. So in keeping with the spirit of catholicity, the Reformation gave birth to confessions (codified tradition).  These Reformed confessions were unique because they both challenged the tradition of the church while also seeking to maintain continuity with it.  The Reformed confessions have been rightly understood as well thought-out corporate church documents, which testify to their underlying moderating tone (i.e., people came together to agree on them). These confessions were designed to function ministerially (i.e., servant), not magisterially (i.e., master).

Important to remember, is that up till the time of the Reformation, most people perceived the bible to be a fundamentally obscure book.  Because it was not in their language and they were not encouraged to read it, the laity were absolutely dependent on the authoritative interpretation of the church.  The Reformation turned the tide and began to translate and educate the laity so that they might be dependent on God’s word alone.  Thus the Reformation was an echo of Jesus’ response to Satan in the wilderness, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

So why this reflection? Mainly because my own personal journey has led me to believe that being connected and concerned for the church catholic is what Jesus prayed for in John 17. So to be a Reformed Catholic is simply to be Christian in full integrity, confidently laying claim to what is true and good in the whole length and breadth of Christian history.

Ron Mueck

Several years ago I saw the work of Ron Muek at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The Atlantic is currently showcasing some of it right now, which includes pieces I have never seen.  If you ever get to see it in person, it will cast a spell on you, as you enter a world where you encounter giants and get to be a giant.

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