Thursday, December 29, 2005

Frank Curry on Simeon Zahl's (previously posted) "On Imputation", followed by Simeon's Response:

Before reading this, visit the post entitled: "Simeon Zahl on Imputation" (posted Dec. 22). Enjoy, JZ

From Frank Curry (currently a Doctoral student in Patristics, at Mansfield College, Oxford University):

Hey John, I prepared the below posting in response to Simeon's article on your blog. Thought I should send it to you first for vetting. Post it if you like.
Warmest Christmas Wishes, BFC

Dear JAZ,

Merry Christmas. Glad to see you're back. I was hoping to get a 'John Camp' fix before the holidays. I especially enjoyed the above article. Your brother is quite clever, and his theological opinions are thought provoking, indeed. As much as I would love to join the public display of Zahlian admiration, however, I think it would be a mistake to laud Simeon's article unreflectively. His argument draws an unnecessary dichotomy between the logic of 'imputation' and 'infusion,' which is the result of failing to give the latter a sympathetic reading. A more reasonable representation of the position can be achieved by recognizing, as Simeon seems unwilling to do, that 'imputation' and 'infusion' refer to different moments in the process of salvation and transformation. The forensic metaphor of imputation and the indwelling metaphor of infusion signify different soteriological objects, different aspects of Christ's work which can be conceptually distinguished, and therefore cannot be set in opposition, as Simeon does, in a way that suggests one can only hold to one view or the other. Nor is it possible to suggest that 'infusion' theology is logically incoherent, as Simeon does. It is possible, and indeed necessary, to hold both positions. I will explain.

Simeon nicely outlines that at the heart of 'imputation' theology lies a robust concept of God's justice. We all know the story. Humans contravene God's law and therefore deserve God's just punishment: death (Gn 2.17 ). For our sake and on our behalf God becomes human in order to pay a debt that he did not owe, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21). Clearly stated, the question at issue in 'imputation' soteriology revolves around actions and consequences. It has to do with right and wrong acts and activities. Scripturally, 'imputation' theology makes sense of the strong Pauline themes of penalty, propitiation, consequences and justice. Christ pays our debt, suffers our punishment, etc. Jesus' death fulfills the just requirements of God's law.

Yet, it is important to realize that drawing a straight line from action to essential character (or being) is logically suspect. Morality and ontology are distinguishable sphere of discourse. Consider the case of a criminal. A criminal is someone who has (either accidentally or voluntarily) committed a crime. As a crime committer, that person must suffer the penalty of his or her actions and pay the debt they owe society. Yet, 'criminal' is as accidental term, it is not essential. To call someone a criminal, therefore, does not describe what they are as humans, it describes the nature of their actions. Similarly, paying 'one's debt to society' is freeing. Nothing else is owed. And, if for example, you pay my traffic fines, I am still free. The same sort of thing is being talked about in 'imputation' theology. Being a 'sinner' means having committed sins. Christ pays the penalty - Hallelujah!

Being a sinner, however, is also quite different than being a criminal. Sinfulness and death become the determinative feature of human existence, and shape our whole being qua humanity - all the way down the line, "You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived" (Eph 2:1-2). Thus, there is a second issue that 'imputation' theology, properly speaking, does not, and cannot account for: ontology. Sin is, if you will, inescapably infused into the core of human life, "The human heart is deceitful and wicked above all things; it is perverse— who can understand it?" (Jer 17:9). So there are two problems. One is forensic (legal); it has to do with broken laws and penalties demanded. The other is deeper; it has to do with what we are as humans under the regime of sin and death – it describes what we are ontologically. This is where 'infusion' theology actually can be quite helpful.

[Footnote: the ontological situation I am describing is not created, but is rather a perversion of the original goodness that characterized God's creation of all good things.]

But before going too much further it is necessary to get one important point on the table – a point that ranges beyond the proposal Simeon offers. Soteriologically speaking, it is necessary to see both Christ's death and his resurrection as relevant to our vision of Christian transformation. Why? Because, both Paul and the early church saw the soteriological import of the resurrection. Consider Paul's language of our being baptized into Christ in Romans 6, "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:2-4). Christ's death pays the debt we owe for our wrong doing, yes. But the Easter event is bigger than that. Mysteriously, we are joined to him in his resurrection and can walk in newness of life. It grounds an entirely new mode of human existence. There is ontological transformation.

Simeon calls the 'infusion' position incoherent because "if the imputation of sin to Jesus is true, then the imputation of righteousness to us sinners must also be true. You cannot have the one without the other. Whether by imputation or by infusion, the relationship between our sin and Jesus' righteousness is a reciprocal one. You have to believe either a) that we are infused with his righteousness and he is infused with our sin, or b) that his righteousness is imputed to us and our sin is imputed to him. You cannot mix and match." He goes on to reason that theologically infusing Christ with sin would compromise the incarnate Son's perfection. That is out of bounds. Therefore, the infusion position cannon offer the kind of reciprocal righteousness available in 'imputation' theology – infusion is out q.e.d. But, I think Simeon has missed a deeper point. Recall Athanasius' words, "He became man that we might be made divine." Or Augustine, "But he himself that justifies also deifies, for by justifying he makes sons of God." The incarnation is designed to change the whole human situation. Jesus not only changes our 'status' before God's judgment throne from guilty to forgiven, he changes what we are - from dead in a life of living death, to alive in the God of life. In baptism we are joined to, or incorporated into, the resurrected life of the living Son. In Christ's death, his righteousness is replaced by our sin, and our sin replaced by his righteousness. He pays our penalty. That is the glory that 'imputation' theology attests to. Simeon is right, "we all subscribe to a doctrine of imputed sin in relation to Jesus." In Christ's resurrection, however, his (ontological) life replaces our (ontological) death because he took on what we are so that we could be as he is. That should not be overlooked.

In the hope of receiving unrestrained Zahlian accolades I would like to add two pastoral-ish caveats. First, there is no need to conclude from what I have said that now we are perfect, all the work is done, let's have fun. Right? That was the mistake of the Corinthian church. I think Simeon is unfair to cast the 'infusion' perspective in that way. Rather, transformation is progressive and takes a life-time of graced discipline to be brought to its fullness. We are enabled by God's grace to increasingly depend on him for the mode of life that he has made available to us. It is all grace. So we still struggle with sin, still wrestle to be free to the promise of the new self. But it is a different kind of struggle. We are no longer ontologically slaves to sin and death. We are slaves to Christ who is our life and our newness of life. On the moral level, because we are assumed into him, our good works must always be seen as God's work in us, "It is God who works in us both to will and to do His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). We continue to struggle and sin (i.e. commit wrong acts), however, when we abandon the relationship of dependence that secures our transformation. It is also eschatological. I think the story Paul is telling, and therefore that we must tell, is that in the end we will be like him as he is, because we will see him in his glory. That is our telos.

Second, if we adopt the imputationist-incorporationist perspective I am espousing, we cannot take advantage of the easy moral loop holes afforded by either view on its own. You must have both. The life of the believer is transformed, but is also always in progress. Simul Justus et peccator (committing wrong acts) et being transformed . Or, I am saying that only by adopting both perspectives can you really cut against antinomianism. But like Simeon, I'll leave that is for another time.

Here is the crux: Christ's passion does not dress us up in new clothes that appear righteous from God's perspective, whilst leaving us fundamentally unchanged. God is not fooled when he looks at us. He sees us as forgiven for the wrongs that we have done. He sees us in our graced struggle to depend on his grace. He sees us as graciously set free from the tyranny of death. He sees us as we are, as we are in him, as we are in eternity – baptized into Christ and into his newness of life. There is freedom in that I think.

Simeon has overlooked the distinction between the forensic model of 'imputation' theology, and the ontological model of the 'infusion' theology. That leads him to see things wrongly, as dichotomous, either/or. If you recognize that both models are needed, one is left with a richer view of the Christian life. There is no incoherence. I think this good news is better than the alternative.

Thanks again JAZ.



Simeon Zahl's Response (currently a Doctoral student in Systematic Theology, at Peterhouse, Cambridge University):

Dear Frank,

Thank you for your very thoughtful reply to my little essay on imputation. It feels good for my ideas to be taken seriously by someone as obviously astute and theologically informed as you. And I am grateful for the chance to clarify some points.

Your critique, as I understand it, is this: I have failed to distinguish the areas of morality and ontology, doing and being, which are theologically separate. More specifically, the Cross relates to them in different, complementary ways. I have understood infusion and imputation as mutually incompatible, reducing them to an either/or. You argue that they are not incompatible but complementary, because they are not alternative solutions to a single problem, as I have claimed, but rather are different solutions to two different aspects of our Problem. As you put it, “the forensic metaphor of imputation and the indwelling metaphor of infusion signify different soteriological objects, different aspects of Christ's work which can be conceptually distinguished, and therefore cannot be set in opposition, as Simeon does, in a way that suggests one can only hold to one view or the other.” You describe the first “soteriological object,” or aspect of us that needs to be saved, as having to do with the sins we have committed. Our _actions_ are subject to a penalty, a death penalty, from which we must be saved. You accept the imputation process I describe, but qualify it, saying that it functions as I say but only in the “forensic” sphere, only in the sphere of our actions and the debt we owe for them. According to your analogy, we are criminals in the sense of having committed crimes, crimes for which a penalty has been incurred. Imputation clears the record, so we no longer have to pay for our crimes.

Infusion, on the other hand, deals with your second “soteriological object,” the second aspect of us that needs to be saved. This second aspect is our Being, our “ontology.” It is to be distinguished from our actions, from our doing, from the “moral” sphere. Unlike imputation, which is instantaneous, infusion is the longer process in our lives by which God transforms our very being. And our being _does_ need to be changed, because it is characterized thoroughly by sin, by the fact that we are sinners in our being, not just sinners in our behavior. So are freed from the consequences of our sinful actions by imputation, and then we are freed further, or complementarily, from sinfulness in our very nature by the transformation you say is effected by infusion.

The reason I cannot accept your critique is that I do not buy your distinction between “morality” and “ontology,” between our deeds and our being. There is no need to understand 2 Cor. 5:21, “For our sake God made him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” as relating solely to the realm of action rather than being. He made him to BE sin, so that we might BECOME righteousness. This verse is about ontology, not just enacted consequences of our ontology. Imputation is ontological. Righteous _being_ is imputed to us, not just righteous action.

In fact, I think Jesus went out of his way to argue _against_ the doing/ being distinction. Take the Sermon on the Mount: in each antithesis in Matthew 5, Jesus says that the desire to do a thing is tantamount to doing it, so that, for instance, anger is identical before God to acted out murder. And anger, I would argue, like lust, is not an action, but a reaction over which we have no control until after it has manifested itself (if then). It is our _being_ responding to a situation (in the form of emotional reaction), not our will (in the form of overt behavior). This is why Jesus can summarize his points about lust and anger and swearing in this chapter with an _ontological_ imperative: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

Similarly, in Mark 7:1-23 (also Matthew 15) Jesus criticizes those who think their standing before God is determined merely by what they do instead of by who they are: “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart that evil intentions come” (Mark 7:20-21). And there is no evidence in either of these cases in the Gospels that Jesus sees what he is saying as distinguishing between believer and non-believer.

I agree with you, Frank, that there is a problem of ontological sin that needs to be dealt with—I agree with you 100% on that! But I do not agree that there is an additional, separate, and equally significant area involving our “doing” that also needs to be dealt with. I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that Jesus’ teaching goes out of its way to reduce Torah teaching about action-based righteousness—insofar as that is how the Pharisees were interpreting the Torah-- to ontology. He refutes the Pharisaic idea that action is all there is, and he does so not by saying “hey, ontology is a problem too!” but by saying “the real problem is who we ARE; what we do is totally secondary to that and reducible to it.” He rejects, rather than merely qualifies, the emphasis on doing. What we do follows from who we are, period. When our ontology has been dealt with, our actions will follow (a good tree bears good fruit). As Christians we become those for whom “all things are lawful” (1 Cor. 10:23) even if all things are not beneficial. Doing is secondary to Being, to the point that it is soteriologically irrelevant. Our sin before God, for which forensic (or “legal”) satisfaction is necessary, is the sin of our being. Paul reminds us not that “no one does righteous things” but that no one “IS righteous” (Romans 3:10). Again, our admonition in 1 Peter 1:15-16 (and Leviticus) is to BE holy, not to do holy things.

Ontology is the thing, not morality. You and I agree that it is in our very nature, our being, that we must be saved; our disagreement is that you claim we need to be saved from our actions as well. I think that our actions follow from our being, and are reducible to it. And so there is only one soteriological object, one soteriological moment, not two.

If I am right about this, if I am correct in rejecting your morality/ ontology distinction, then the imputational logic I defended in my essay applies fundamentally to our being, not our actions, and my rejection of infusion stands. Soteriology has only one object, not two; one moment, not two.

A second point: you equate Paul’s descriptions of us as walking “in newness of life” (thanks to the resurrection in which we have in some sense participated) with the view that Christ’s righteousness is infused in us. Why then, I ask, is the ontological “transformation” by infusion not total? If we are to be seen as having joined Christ in his resurrection in a way that has direct positive consequences for our ontology, why theologically are these consequences limited to a slow progressive transformation? Why were we not infused entirely with his righteousness, instead of merely partially? You say: “there is no need to conclude from what I have said that now we are perfect, all the work is done, let's have fun… Rather, transformation is progressive and takes a life-time of graced discipline to be brought to its fullness.” Why must it take a lifetime? What is being achieved during that time that could not be said theologically to have been achieved at the moment we first believed? Do you appeal theologically for this point to personal existential experience—the fact that the infusion is self-evidently incomplete in our lives? I have no problem with that on a methodological level, but I am not sure that is what you were trying to do.

Again, you say, “Mysteriously, we are joined to him in his resurrection and can walk in
newness of life.” Why “mysteriously”? Is the mystery only that the fact of the obviously incomplete (at the very least!) transformation is inexplicable in terms of the mechanics of atonement as described for instance in 2 Corinthians 5:21 and elsewhere? It seems to me that, because of the logic of the Cross, a theologian who understands our righteousness as in any sense infused must appeal to “mystery” to explain the confusingly limited character of that infusion. My view-- that imputation is the whole story, including ontologically—does not require such an appeal.

Finally, you raise the common—and in a lot of ways, I confess, quite reasonable—critique that imputed righteousness is in the character of a deception, a false “clothing” that hides the deeper ontological reality. You say, “God is not fooled when he looks at us.” This critique forgets that it is GOD who put these clothes on us in the first place—no one is trying to fool God except God himself. Even if it seems unfair—or too easy—that this imputation, these “clothes,” should actually work, and should achieve all the things that a sinless life would have achieved, that is a moot point. The Bible tells us that God himself accepts what was done on the Cross. Of course it is unfair! It is unfair to Christ himself most of all! But when God says that a thing is so, then it is so. “Let there be light.” “It is finished.”

In more practical terms, there are two reasons why we know the imputation is “real” and true, even though it is never an infusion. The first is that Christ actually had to die for what was imputed to him. It was so real that it really deserved death, and really did get what it deserved. It was not a “legal fiction” or a loophole or a deceiving set of clothes—he really died because of the sin that was imputed to him. That proves that God saw the imputation as real, not just an “appearance” cloaking a different reality. When God is the one looking, appearance and reality are always the same thing.

The second reason is that the imputed righteousness to us is also true in practice. We are loved by God in real and concrete ways even though we do not deserve it on our own steam. Any moment of providential intervention is done on the basis of imputed, and therefore fully “real” righteousness. God loves us because he thinks we deserve to be loved, and that can only be on the basis of the Cross. When I am a jerk to my wife, and don’t listen to her and am so involved with, say, a blog post I am writing, that I do not notice that she has had a hard day and needs to be listened to, and she then sits down and instead of bringing up her own needs asks me to tell me about what I’m writing and what I’ve been thinking about, she is treating me as if I were being lovable instead of being an insensitive jerk. The love she expresses when she does this is based on imputed righteousness—she is treating me as I deserve to be treated only in Christ, not at all how I should be treated in myself. Even so, her love is still real. I am really treated in a certain way-- not because of what I am but because of what has been imputed to me. Imputation is real, not a convenient fiction that God “sees through.” It is real because the one who determines reality said that it is.

Again, thank you for your stimulating thoughts. I cannot agree with you, above all on the basis of your view of being and action as soteriologically distinct categories, but I do love the opportunity to discuss the issues further. I write so much precisely because I think the points you raise are so formidable! Anyway God bless and do correct me where I have misunderstood or made an error. I understand from both DZ and JZ that you and I are systematic theology brothers-in-arms in the making—I look forward to meeting you!


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Roland Bainton quote and Hebrews 5:1-3

I greatly identify these two passages with (my) calling to the ordained ministry. -- JZ

from "Here I Stand" --

(p. 283) “Those who are predisposed to fall into despondency as well as to rise into the ecstasy may be able to view reality from an angle different from that of ordinary folk. Yet it is a true angle; and when the problem or the religious object has been once so viewed, others less sensitive will be able to look from a new vantage point and testify that the insight is valid.”

"Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people" (Hebrews 5:1-3).

Christmas in the Zahl house (and Bill & Lisa)

and Bill & Lisa:

Monday, December 26, 2005

Leszek Kolakowski quotes:

Note: L. Kolakowski is an extremely educated agnostic/very-very-questioning Roman Catholic (self-confessed), raised in the Roman Catholic tradition. These quotes are taken from his book on Pascal, wherein he covers an extreme breadth of theological/historical material in masterly detail. The excerpts chosen display different aspects of a type of Christian thought that is not currently in vogue, which has to do with the outworkings of Grace in a Fallen world (a.k.a., theology grounded in a "doctrine of total depravity"). The anthropology is low, having implications both upon thinking about the human condition, and also as it applies to Christian believers. In turn, the Christology is high,... and alien/counter-intuitive.

People have accused me of being "crypto-Lutheran" or just plain "overly dark" as though the ideas were something of my own creation. The theology that I espouse is to be found first and foremost in the Bible, and thereafter in Augustine, and further in Lutheran, Jansenist, Cranmerian, and Calvinist traditions. They are not Zahlian in origin, and they are not uniquely Lutheran (i.e., unlike, say, certain theological ideas about the Law and its function to which I also am an adherent).

I couldn't wait to get home to Sewickley to grab this book off the shelf! I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I have/do. -- JAZ

from "God Owes Us Nothing" --

(pp. 46-47) "Reduced to their ideological basics, the clash between the two images of the human condition, and consequently two educational principles, can be thus expressed: is human nature an implacable foe of God, and eternal, contemptible rebel that must be destroyed, or is it a somewhat polluted object which could be tamed, ennobled, and set straight?"

(p. 109) "The standard message of the Catholic Church [and most evangelicals?] to the faithful is: God wants to help you and indeed does help you to be worthy of salvation, but you have to help him, to put forth your will and make an effort if you are to be saved. We are capable, according to this teaching, of spurning divine aid or accepting it by a free act of assent. And since God refuses his assistance to no one, ultimately our salvation depends on us. This is the semi-Pelagian doctrine (at least as far as the so-called "synergy" is concerned, not necessarily in the sense that the first step towards conversion is taken by the human will alone, without the contribution of grace). A Catholic who believes that God gives some people irresistible grace, thus electing them to glory, and refuses aid to others by his sheer will, irrespective of their own merits, is probably a rarity today. And it would be extraordinary to meet a Catholic who is convinced that innocent infants, if they die without baptism, will suffer everlasting torment in hell. In fact, even the hope that ultimately everyone will be saved does not seem to some inconsistent with Christian dogma, the condemnation of Origen notwithstanding; and the theory of apocastasis -- including even the restoration of demons -- was preached, apart from Origen, by a number of fathers, like Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus. Even the fact that the sacrament of penance is usually referred to as the sacrament of reconciliation shows the prevailing belief in 'cooperation,' in the full sense of the free will acting together with divine help in meritorious acts. In spite of all the condemnations of Pelagian and semi-Pelagian teaching, and in spite of the great popularity of Augustine's writings among today's active Catholics, the cornerstone of his theology of predestination seems to have been nearly lost."

(p. 139) “The words ‘even though it is true,’ etc., are both Cartesian and Augustinian. They do not suggest, absurdly, that for some people there is a logically sound way from the sky and the birds to God, whereas it is closed to others. There is no logically sound way. But a believer perceives God everywhere. It is Cartesian to say that there is no reliable reasoning from the sky and birds; it is Augustinian to say that once you have faith you see God in the sky and birds. Since it is a matter of faith, the sky and birds are useless in convincing the skeptics and unbelievers; they won’t be convinced, and rightly so.”

(p. 147) "It is our will that directs our mind toward this or that, depending on the pleasure we find in either. Therefore conversion is a matter of healing the will, not of mending the intellect."

(p. 149). "Pascal displays a sad resignation in the face of the post-Cartesian universe: birds or sky no longer give testimony of God's omnipresence. Pascal's almost obsessive preoccupation with God's absence is well understandable; that is what religion is ultimately about apart from grace."

(ibid) "God's concealment confirms the truth of Christianity, because no other religion says that God is hidden."

(pp. 159-160) "...once we know from the divine word the crucial facts of man's destiny -- the history of the Fall and of redemption -- we can understand all the things that would otherwise seem depressingly unintelligible and revoltingly absurd: all forms of human misery, suffering, the very frailty of reason, the futility of our aspirations, struggles, persecutions, and poverty."

(p. 186) "Pascal's most urgent message to his contemporaries was: if you scratch the surface -- and not very deeply -- you will see that everybody is unhappy. The reasons for human misery are uncountable; but then there is perhaps only one: people have lost their ability to trust God and thereby to trust, to accept, and to absorb their own destiny. This makes them so vulnerable that the slightest failure produces in them a helpless despair. Our insecurity and anxiety are built into our very existence."

(ibid) "Those who seek God will find him, says Pascal, he even says that he who searches for God has already found him."

(p. 211) "It is clear that to Calvin grace is gratuitous, that it has nothing to do with human merit, that it is irresistible, that its distribution was decided eternally, that necessity is not compulsion, and that we may speak of human free will not as an ability to choose between good and evil but only in the sense that we always do evil when our own will is working and always do good when our will is propelled by grace. All this is perfectly Augustinian; all this is Jansenist doctrine."

Merry Christmas!

Here are my favorite material aquisitions of the day:

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christian Apologetic piece

Consider this situation: A married couple with 3 children appear to
be getting a divorce and have separated. The grandmother, a
Christian, writes a brief email, telling of her sadness about the
situation, where the divorce is concerned. She is especially upset
about its implications for the children, and the pain of possibly not
being able to see her grandchildren in the future, plus sad about the
breakdown of her own relationship with the son. In writing about the
terrible situation, she mentions both that "God moves in mysterious
ways", and that she is "thankful for her salvation in Jesus Christ."
The email is written to a cousin, and circulated to other members of
her immediate family, one of whom, while saddened by the news, reacts
negatively to the implicitly "Christian" tone of the grandmother's
reflection upon the situation as contained in the email. Especially
disturbing is the seeming implication that Christians think God, in
light of his "mysteriousness" has a kind of get-out-of-jail free card
from those who believe in him. Thus, Christians illogically thank him
for his faithfulness despite his seemingly unfair allotment of tragedy
upon those who deserve it little. How is the Christian attitude
different from one that would similarly treat criminal behavior as
though it were the product of "mystery"? Are Christians just
inconsistent, or do they simply wish to hold onto an idea of God
despite the evidence to the contrary? Etc. A fairly sensitive,
close-to-the-bone issue of "Why does God allow suffering?", but in the
context of dialogue between family members who simultaneously exist on
opposite sides of the "religious" coin and love each other. These
questions about the seeming peculiarities of Christian belief were not
raised with the writer of the email, but rather, with another
Christian member of the family. The circumstance regarding the
divorce/grandchildren/grandparents serves as a catalyst to bring up
the strong areas of tension that exist between this questioning
non-Christian member of the family and this other believer, areas of
tension that have been simmering for quite some time. The honest
questions about faith in this respect appear to be an important
opportunity for dialogue. Obviously the questions are not being asked
with purely divisive intentions, and the issue is not one of abstract
apologetics. Before entering into the conversation, having heard of
the situation, and the clear and intelligent questions put forth by
the non-believer, the Christian asks you for your opinion/thinking on
the matter. What would you say? Here is my own, off-the-cuff
response. I feel as though I have far from exhausted the matter, and
would welcome any thoughts along these lines from any of you out
there, reading this. What do think? (note: obviously the names are
fictitious, but, Marilyn = the non-believer, Caroline = the Christian
Grandmother, Oswald = the Christian Grandmother's husband, Randolph =
the Christian believer who has appealed to you for your own
reflections upon the situation):

Dear Randolph,

The email from your Marilyn was "heavy", and I didn't want to
write off too cursory a response. She asks some of the toughest
questions out there, and she seems to honestly be asking them of you,
which is pretty cool. So I write to you now, not with any kind of
real response, but instead with some of my own thoughts about the
matter and how I think about suffering in the world and the apparent
tendency of Christians to say the weirdest most incongruous things at
times. These are not my thoughts for this person, by the way, but
rather for you, in that they might help you to further think about the

Anyway, one thing about life is that I don't think we humans
necessarily have a very accurate view of when things are and are not a
"good" and/or "bad". There's the old story about the kid who breaks
his arm and everyone says, "Oh, that's terrible that you broke your
arm", but then, the next day, the draft officer comes to town, and,
because of the boy's broken arm, he does not have to go off to war.
Then everyone says, "Oh, how lucky you are that you broke your arm!"
Often life is full of things like that. The instance with Caroline
and Oswald and their son's family is not one of those though.

Clearly it is devastatingly painful for them, and not a "good"
thing for any of those involved. My hunch is that Caroline and
Oswald, despite their "trust in the Lord's plan", are still actively,
and rightly praying for their son and his wife to get back together,
children et all, and for the grandchildren to not remain estranged
from them as grandparents, and for their son's alienated relationships
on so many levels. That is most likely what Marilyn would like to see
as well, right? So I don't
think that Marilyn and Caroline and Oswald are on as different pages
as initially appears to be the case.

The next thing I immediately think of is this. The world, though
created by God, is also fallen. With the Fall things like death and
sin entered into the picture. To understand the outcome of events
simply as being God's plan is not really my view of things. When good
things happen, they, like God's introduction of his son into the
fallen world as reconciler, are reflective of God's active
intervention upon a scene that is so often bound for destruction. The
point is that tragedy is basically the fallen world's default, not its
exception. Think of how hard relationships are to maintain and keep
alive and harmonious. It's as though the battle is always uphill to
some extent. Such is the case apart from grace, which is God's love
in the world as a counteracting reversal of natural tendency. So
that's one thing.

As one training for ministry, I am struck by how little people
here Wycliffe realize just how tattered the fabric of human life often
is. As Sam Shoemaker said, "Everyone either has a problem, is a
problem, or lives with a problem." I think many will be flabbergasted
with the amount of real suffering that goes on in the lives of all
people. Alcoholics Anonymous has taught me a lot about that, and I
personally, both dread and expect it. I do feel that Christianity is
God's word to people in exactly that predicament. So I guess I don't
simply equate the outcome of events as God's will, but rather his
incorporation of the tragedy into a bigger plan of redemption as being
His will. Luther called this God's "Alien Work", that God has to
basically deal with situations that oppose him, rather than that
accept him or exist in some kind of neutral state toward Him. It's a
low anthropology and a high Christology.

Also, with Christianity, usually Jesus is understood to be His
(i.e., God the Father's) only clear expression of himself. Apart from
understanding God through Christ, the waters get murky indeed. Think
of pantheism, where God and Nature are understood to be the same
thing. It's very hard to find something loving in nature, though it
is possible to witness immense power in nature. Sunsets are gorgeous,
but with them come hurricanes and earth quakes and tsunamis. Where is
the God's love for humans to be found in Hurricane Katrina?! With
Christ, God's particular love for individual humans in the context of
rough, rough life on earth is found, and apart from that, it's a
difficult thing to find.

Another thing is that, as Christians, the world and/or human life
is not viewed to be an end point, but rather a kind of journey toward
an end-point. Their is an element of escape in the Christian view,
which is found in death. I know it sounds cryptic, but it's not if
heaven is real, and in light of how difficult life is. Paul writes
that "To live is Christ (i.e., suffering along side and for others),
to die is gain (i.e., heaven/paradise, existence unbroken and
unaffected by death)" (Philippians 1:21). So there are a few
immediate thoughts.

My hunch is that Caroline's comments about her "salvation in
Jesus Christ", while true and touching, also reflect her desire for
her family to convert, and was her attempt at not "forgetting" to be
evangelical. It is true that faith in times of trouble is baffling,
but also extremely profound. Clearly Caroline and Oswald don't view
their lives as simply being about their own personal enjoyment of
things, which says a lot. They view themselves to have a purpose not
of their own creation, which is unselfish of them to say the least.

One last thing: what is the alternative to Caroline and Oswald's
(Christian) position. It seems to me that it has to do with a
different understanding of personal power than the one Marilyn
espouses. Life without God, places a lot of weight upon
individual will power (i.e., that life is what you make it). Holding
that view often implies that failure is always a matter of personal
responsibility and assumes that the secret to success has to do mainly
with how hard you try. It is an intolerable burden and one which
collapses with the experience of suffering, which is usually the
avenue to seeing Christ's significance. He focused his much of his
ministry on those who tried hard and failed, and also taught in such a
way that revealed just how real is human need for God. "It is not the
well that need a doctor, but the ailing" (Mark 2, Luke 5, Matt 9).
The relief of
not having to be in charge of my success and life's outcome is
actually immensely freeing and I do hear some of that in the face of
Caroline's heartache. I found Marilyn's email so touching and her
words so clear and intelligent! They made me think.

Finally, when people say "God moves in mysterious ways", I think
they usually mean two things. One, that God's ways are not our own
ways, and the way he brings about joy (i.e., through suffering) is
very different from our own instinctive ways, which are ones that
would always avoid the suffering element, but, thereby, miss out on
the richness of forgiveness and redemption, ultimately missing out on
love, simply existing in a merit-based reward/justice paradigm ("eye
for an eye"). Two, the phrase "God moves in mysterious ways", is
often actually stated by people who mean: "Life moves in mysterious
(read: crushing) ways", which is true. In that context, they ask
"then what?", but it is a kind of premise, rather than a kind of
conclusion, the idea being that the outcome is not yet fully realized.

Is that helpful? What were your initial thoughts about your
Marilyn's line of questioning? I'm praying for you and your
relationship with her all the time. Remember, the answers are not
really found in logical argument, but rather they shine forth despite
the reality of life's hardship as love, which is a kind of depth that
you exude and is something that I value
about you. It's what some people call maturity or character. Marilyn
can't shake the fact that you are not an idiot, and that she does see
change in you, despite her own beliefs. Nicky Gumbel says that,
"Christianity is the rational, not the irrational, conclusion". I
think he is right.

...John Z

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Shooby sings Johnny Cash

In light of all the current Johnny Cash hype, consider Shooby Taylor's rendition of "Fulsom Prison Blues".
Shooby Sings Johnny Cash - Click Me!

[READ THIS] Simeon Zahl on Imputation:

Simeon Zahl

Some Thoughts on Imputation


One of the most important debates in Christian theology is the debate about what Jesus’ death on the Cross actually achieves for Christians, and how it achieves what it does. The basic question in this debate is, “Does the Cross change our situation by enabling us to be better people, or only by changing the way God sees us?” Or, put another way, “How are Christians any different from non-Christians?” Unfortunately, the debate has become shrouded in rather technical terminology about “infusion” versus “imputation” and the like. In this piece, I want to explain these terms and why the distinction between them is so important. Even more significantly, I want to make an observation that, at least from my point of view, puts the debate to rest. It is an observation that I have never come across elsewhere. I want to argue that the “infusion” position is logically incoherent—that it contradicts the basic logic of the good news that we Christians believe. But before I get to my main argument, let me begin by summarizing—fairly, I hope!-- the two sides of the debate about how exactly the Cross changes our situation as Christians. I believe this issue is at the very heart of the Christian gospel.

The Lay of the Land

Most Christians agree that God, in his Grace, sent his Son to bear our sins for us on the Cross, so that we might have freedom and eternal life, two things that we otherwise do not deserve and would not have. He takes our sins, and gives us his righteousness. All well and good. But then a key disagreement arises. What does it mean that he gives us his righteousness? What does it mean that we are now “justified,” or made righteous, “by his blood” (Romans 5:9)? There are two alternatives. The differences between the two alternatives may seem very subtle and even obscure, but in truth they are not. In fact the differences have huge practical implications for us as Christians, and I will conclude this little piece with a brief discussion of those implications.

The first possible view of what it means that Jesus gives us his righteousness is that we, the recipients of his Grace by faith, are infused with his righteousness. This view is the one most Christians in fact believe, including the vast majority of evangelical Protestants, although historically it is the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. The infusion view means that on the Cross, in addition to atoning for our sin, Christ enabled God to change our very nature for the better. He was able to give us a new, Christ-like ability to act righteously, at least to some degree. In other words, this view is that Christ made us righteous by forgiving our sins, and then by giving us in ourselves a new ability, more or less, not to sin, an ability we did not previously have. Thus we are infused with his righteousness, in our very nature.

Catholics would tend to see the means of this infusion (the tool through which it takes place) in the Mass, whereas Evangelicals would usually locate the means of the infusion in the Gift of the Holy Spirit. In either case, newly filled with Jesus’ Body or with the Holy Spirit, our relationship to sin, specifically in terms of our ability to attain righteousness, is fundamentally improved. Although the means are different in the Evangelical and the Catholic cases, the basic point in terms of the appropriation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer is the same: we are ontologically changed as we are filled with His righteousness. “Infused” means that his righteousnes becomes part of our nature—hence the ontological change in the believer. And when the “infused” individual does sin, that sin can still be forgiven in light of the forgiveness brought about on the Cross—but it should happen less than it did before. Infusion does not mean we don’t sin, just that we should sin less than before, and should always be getting better at being good.

The second view about how Jesus gives us his righteousness (and the minority position these days) agrees that the first half of the event in which the believer is made righteous is through the forgiveness of sins on the basis of Christ’s death on the Cross. The disagreement, rather, arises in the second half of the equation: this view holds that the appropriation, or giving over, to us of Christ’s righteousness takes place through an event of imputation, not infusion. Imputation means that the believer is “reckoned” as righteous before God on the basis of the reciprocal transfer of our sin to Christ and, most importantly for our purposes here, of Christ’s righteousness to us. Under imputation, we are “covered” by his righteousness, just as he is “covered” by our sin. You could say that his righteousness, his perfection, is “assigned” to us, and our sin is “assigned” to him by God. Although our actual day-to-day relationship to righteousness is not fundamentally altered—our basic nature is not affected, and we are in ourselves (i.e. ontologically) therefore no better at acting righteously than before—nevertheless according to the imputation view God sees us at all times as if we were righteous, as if we were the sinless Christ himself, and we are granted freedom and eternal life on that basis. The righteousness is like a clothing that is put over our nature when God in his judgment looks upon us, rather than being an actual change in the nature of the person on this side of the Jordan. But, because it is God himself who accepts this clothing, it is “actually” true in every ultimate sense. When God looks at us, he actually does not see what is underneath the covering. The righteousness we are given through Christ’s finished work on the Cross is therefore really imputed to us, but we are not infused with it.

The advantage of the infusion position, to put it crudely, is that it makes sense in light of all those verses in the New Testament about us being freed from sin and us being expected to live differently as Christians than we did before we believed. The New Testament seems to see us as truly different—a new creation, born again, etc.—and it makes the most sense to the way we think that this difference is more in the character of an infusion than a “theoretical” or “abstract” imputation. We “feel” different, like a whole new creation, so we feel we must “be” different in our nature. This makes sense to anyone who has for a time felt the freedom of the Holy Spirit. It is hard to believe that that wonderful freedom we sometimes feel has nothing to do with us in our own nature, but is only from Jesus in us.

Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, the imputation position would seem to have a major flaw. It appears to imply something seriously problematic: because our righteousness comes from outside ourselves, that according to the imputation view we should therefore be free to do whatever we want in the here and now. The critics of imputation point out that we Christians would be free to act unrighteously (i.e. to sin) without consequence today because our goodness in God’s eyes is unaffected by anything we do. In other words, imputation would seem to imply that Christians can do whatever they want. Put yet another way, imputation sees Christians as not fundamentally different in this life from non-Christians. Christians get very uncomfortable with this possibility. The infusion position, on the other hand, safeguards us from the problem of apparent moral license, because we are expected in our own nature to be able in a new way to act righteously, and therefore are not free to sin without some sort of consequence (even if the consequence is merely needing again to repent and confess and ask for forgiveness). And infusion affirms that Christians are fundamentally different from non-Christians, in this life instead of just in the next.

There is a problem with the infusion position, too. Well, many problems. For example, one could one argue that 2 Corinthians 5:21 is very clear on the explicit issue of imputed righteousness: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Equally clear, it would seem, are Romans 3:21-31 (“Now… the righteousness of God has been disclosed, …the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe…” etc.) and Galatians 3:13 (“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us”). Or, alternatively, we could say that Paul refutes the “freedom to sin” (or moral license) protest directly and at length in Romans 6 without qualifying his position on Grace the tiniest bit.

For our purposes, however, I would like to focus on a different problem with the infusion position. It is one I have never come across elsewhere, but which I cannot see any way around. It is that a simple logical fallacy exists in any explanation of what happens on the Cross other than one that entails a strict imputational view, in terms both of our sin and of his righteousness. This fallacy is why I think we must reject the infusion position, for all its apparent merits, as fundamentally out of keeping with the Christian gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.

The Argument

In order to understand the fallacy, the major inconsistency which I will explain in a moment, we must be clear on one point. As we have seen, virtually all Christians, including those who take the infusion view, believe that their sin is imputed to Jesus. He really takes our sin from us, so we can be forgiven. No one, for example, would take issue with the claim that “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1:7) or that “the Son of Man came… to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). In dying, Jesus “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). All these verses mean that Christ, who was sinless, took our sin from us and made it as if that sin were his, and then died for it as God’s justice demands. Thus he died in our place. This is what we mean when we say that “Jesus died for you.” His death is the source of our forgiveness, the means by which it is possible for God to forgive our sins. Furthermore, it is clear that Christ himself was not a sinner: he was the one who “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21; see also Hebrews 7:26). And he was also God, who by definition is perfect. So for him to have taken our sins upon himself, even though he was himself no sinner, those sins must have been imputed to him—he must have been “covered” with them, like a garment. He could not have been infused with sin—i.e. changed in his nature to become more sinful—or else he would not have been sinless. On this, then, we all agree: Christ took our sin from us, in order to forgive us our sin, by means of imputation, not infusion. Evangelical faith and orthodox Christianity rest on this point, and it is easily demonstrated from any number of biblical sources.

[Footnote: I should note here that there are a few people out there, particularly among those in the Roman Catholic camp, who, in a very legitimate concern to preserve the sinlessness of Christ, try to argue that Jesus “took our sins” only in the sense of expressing profound solidarity with us sinners (by becoming flesh and by dying instead of us), but not in the sense of actually taking our sin upon himself in any more literal way. But this view, in addition to being very difficult to square with the verses above and many others, fundamentally fails to recognize the real difference between infusion and imputation. It is unnecessary to take the radical step of reducing Jesus’ relationship to our sin to one of “solidarity” in order to preserve his sinlessness. We all agree that Jesus must have been sinless, or else he could not have been the one perfect sacrifice for our sins. And he if he were not without sin he could not have been very God of very God! But the view that our sins were imputed to him—not infused in him—safeguards his sinlessness adequately, and squares far better with the New Testament record of his relationhip to our sin. And in any case, the “solidarity” view is a minority one—the vast majority of Christians hold the correct and wonderful view that our sins were imputed to him, and that is how he was able to take them away from us once and for all in God’s sight.]

And now (drum roll) my main argument. It is this: the logical fallacy of the infused righteousness position is that it claims that our sin was imputed to Christ, but then simultaneously holds that his righteousness was not imputed to us. This position is logically incoherent. It is incoherent because, if the imputation of sin to Jesus is true, then the imputation of righteousness to us sinners must also be true. You cannot have the one without the other. Whether by imputation or by infusion, the relationship between our sin and Jesus’ righteousness is a reciprocal one. You have to believe either a) that we are infused with his righteousness and he is infused with our sin, or b) that his righteousness is imputed to us and our sin is imputed to him. You cannot mix and match. To put it simply: his righteousness, replaced by our sin, had to go somewhere when it was replaced by our sin, or else he would have remained only perfectly righteous, and his death would have achieved nothing for us. It would only have been some weird tragedy. And we are told in the New Testament that his righteousness was in fact given to us, as the reciprocal logic would have it: “For our sake [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 again). As we have seen, all of us agree that his righteousness was given to us in some sense, in a profound reciprocation, or tit-for-tat. Therefore, as I have demonstrated, it cannot have been given to us by infusion, for then our sin could not have been imputed to him, and we would still be in our sins.

Here’s my point: if we believe that Jesus died for our sins, and that that actually means something, then we must also believe that our righteousness is imputed. There is no other option. To say otherwise would be like saying that in a photograph negative the dark shades become light but the light shades do not become dark. If you have one reversal, you have to have the other. And yet, so many Christians are uncomfortable with the idea of imputed righteousness, even as they subscribe fully (as all Christians really must) to the idea that Jesus is considered by God to have borne our sins!

I repeat: we all subscribe to a doctrine of imputed sin in relation to Jesus. The whole Old Testament tradition of animal sacrifice for our sins, on which the Christ as “Lamb of God” tradition depends, is based on a concept of imputed sin. The logical fallacy is to believe in the imputation of sin while rejecting the imputation of righteousness. Not only scripture—which should be enough on its own—but the logic of the gospel itself confirms undeniably that imputed righteousness is the true and orthodox doctrine. Any view that we are infused with righteousness on the basis of Christ’s righteousness—whether by means of the Mass or by being filled with the Holy Spirit--must be rejected as contrary to logic of the Cross.

The Implications

Let me explain the practical implications of what might seem to be a relatively obscure point. The practical implication is that, because Christ became our sin, we become, in God’s sight, every bit as righteous as Christ, always. This is extremely good news for those of us who continue to fail at being “good” Christians. Those of us who keep sinning, who are still ambitious, still selfish, still spend our time fantasizing about how great we will be one day in this life; those of us who still cannot stop our eating disorder or pornography addiction, who continue to doubt that God really likes us, that he has our best interests at heart, even in our romantic needs, and those of us who have a hard time praying and reading the Bible regularly, much less staying excited about Jesus week after week; those of us who secretly dread going to our small group, and who are afraid the pastor or a fellow Christian will ask us that uncomfortable question about last weekend or about our boyfriend or girlfriend; those of us who still feel we have some great secret to hide. It is for the sake of these people—most of us, maybe all of us, I suspect, certainly me anyway!—that it is such very GOOD news that our righteousness before God is imputed from Christ. Otherwise, we who are still so bad at being good would seem to have missed our “infusion” injection. And that is a very scary prospect. Thank God that the righteousness Jesus procured for us is so much greater and more complete than any mere booster shot!

At this point some people may say, “Surely you are not saying that we never change at all, that God does not do any good works through us whatsoever?” And you would be right, I am not saying that. Imputed righteousness does not mean that there are no good works, or that Spirit-led freedom to desire the good and the righteous never occurs. All it means is that whenever we are given to do a genuinely good work, whenever we are given true selfless love for another, whenever we desire God’s way ofdoing things over and against our way of doing things, this “good work” is NOT the result of a change in our nature. It is simply Jesus, through his Spirit, acting through us. It is him, not us, who is acting. Just as when we sin it is us, not him, who is acting. When Christ gives us his righteousness, it is really his righteousness that he gives us, not just a booster shot for our righteousness. Thanks be to God!

Finally, as a sort of postscript: it is only on the basis of the unshakeable theological (and personal!) foundation of the imputed righteousness of Christ that covers all who believe that we can then proceed to discuss the charge of antinomianism, which is the theological name for the apparent problem of moral license raised earlier. We cannot say, “imputed righteousness would seem theoretically to lead to total moral license, therefore we must reject it.” Rather, we must say, with Paul, “imputed righteousness is not only a biblical given, but is inherent in the logic of the gospel itself (2 Corinthians 5:21). Therefore we must figure out how, in practice, it is not antinomian after all.” A la Romans 6. But that is a subject for another piece.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I like my coffee black, without milk, sugar, or Luther.


I find it interesting that so many of the people posting on my blog are not Lutherans. Did you know that?

Most of my fellow postulants at Wycliffe Hall would say, "John Zahl is a Lutheran". But they are wrong. I am an Episcopalian, if anything. It's not cool or impressive.

Tom Becker raised the question: "Why aren't you guys Lutherans?" Well, the answer has to do with the fact that the Gospel is not bound to Luther (at all!). He just got it, and expressed it clearly, which most Christians do not. So we appeal to him as a kind of ally, a pal, a guy who understood the main thrust of Bible's emphasis on Jesus and how that plays out.

Here's the thing: Luther did not discover or invent the Gospel. He just read Paul, and realized that ecclesiology is always trumped by anthropology. If you read Paul's letters as dealing predominantly with ecclesiological issues, then, naturally, you posit ecclesiological solutions to life problems. Those of us who don't do that, but are still "conservative" come out sounding very "Lutheran" by those standards, but don't kid yourselves.

A perfect example of this is found in my friend Art VonLehe's comments in on the earlier post, "Some Thoughts on Action/Consequence". Read them. Art sounds like a Lutheran, but he is not. I asked him point-blank: "How much Luther have you ever read, Art?" His answer: "Well, I read the Introduction to Bondage of the Will -- I don't know if that counts -- and I read about the first 10 pages of that book, ...and that's it." I asked him if he realized how Lutheran he sounded in his post and he said, "I thought what I said was just Paul?" I knew it!

For those of you who don't know, and have been reading my blog comment-threads of recent, please note: only two of the people posting are/were actual Lutherans: Tom Becker, and Mattie. Most of the people you've been reading (including me, JZ) dig heavily on the enabling word of the Gospel as summarized in the teaching of Justification by Faith, in light of their rather dark earthly estimations of human character as tinged thoroughly with sin, but, importantly, would also consider ourselves to have charismatic leanings. Many of my readers actually pray in tongues!

Do keep this in mind.

Best (In Him), JAZ Psalm 34:6

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

James 4: 13-15

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."

The Serenity Prayer (of AA fame) in its original entirety:

GOD, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change,
Courage to change the things I can
Wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as a the pathway to peace.
Taking as He did, this sinful world as it is,

not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to his will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.

Friday, December 09, 2005

(another) Westerholm quote:

(pp. 257-258) Cut to the quickest of the quick, then, the issue that divides the "Lutheran" Paul from his contemporary critics is whether "justification by faith, not by works of the law" means "sinners find God's approval by grace, through faith, not by anything they do," or whether its thrust is that "Gentiles are included in the people of God by faith without the bother of becoming Jews." In the one case justification is directly connected to the Pauline gospel summed up in the words "Christ died for our sins" (1 Cor. 15:3) and "Be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20). It promises deliverance from sin. In the other case the good news of justification is found in the best-of-both-worlds scenario that it paints for Gentiles: "You people want to become Jews, but you are afraid of the knife. Have I got an offer for you!" It promises deliverance from a good deal of hassle. For readers whose attention has (understandably) lapsed but who want to know what is essential,...the former is the position of the "Lutheran" Paul and the latter isn't.

Ziesler quote:

from "Pauline Christianity" --

"At all events, for a couple of centuries either side of Paul, there was a concentration of Jewish thought on Adam in some circles, which focused on his perfections before the Fall and the restoration of those perfections in the age to come. He was not merely the first man, but Man, a representative figure...Paul appears to differ from this tradition in two important ways. First, unlike it on the whole, he emphasizes the sin and not the original perfection of Adam. Secondly, again unlike it so far as we know, he conceives of humanity as being in Adam" (p. 56).

Gene Vieth on N.T. Wright

The new attack on justification

N. T. Wright is an Anglican bishop in England. Evangelicals and other theological conservatives like him because, among other things, he wrote a stirring scholarly defense of the historicity of the resurrection of Christ. But he believed that Luther had it wrong with this justification by grace through faith stuff. This is because Luther misunderstood the writings of St. Paul, who, according to Wright, was just talking about freedom from the Jewish ceremonial law, not the moral law. Actually, according to Wright, we are saved by good works after all.

Though this is being called the "new perspective on Paul," this is not particularly new. This is basically the Roman Catholic take on what Paul says. Anglicans have never been particularly strong on justification. But what is remarkable to me is how so many evangelicals are seizing on this. Both liberal evangelicals and conservative evangelicals (including some otherwise hard-core Calvinists).

The Wall Street Journal has a column praising Wright from John Wilson, editor of "Books and Culture." (Click "continue reading" for the article.) I think many evangelicals have been wanting to make salvation a function of good works for a long time, and this gives them a good excuse. Salvation comes from living like Jesus did. That usually gets translated into either conservative or liberal politics, or trivial lifestyle choices like not driving SUVs, recycling, affirming gays, or--on the complementary side--not drinking, smoking, or going to movies. I have yet to see the person who lives with the moral purity of Christ. But go ahead and try. And then when you fail, perhaps you will appreciate how Jesus really chose to live His life. By dying for you.

click for more

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Mark Seifrid quote:

from "Christ, Our Righteousness" --

“This confession of sin does not exist in isolation, but in conjunction with the knowledge of Christ. Paul’s shout of joy immediately follows his lament: ‘Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ (7:25). The deliverance God has accomplished in Christ becomes manifest only where the full reality of sin and guilt are also manifest, and vice versa. Freedom from the law is present only where the law arrives at its divine purpose of effecting our acknowledgement of guilt. Paul’s final statement on the matter in Romans 7, which has seemed to many interpreters to be strangely anticlimactic, in reality summarizes the main point: ‘so then, I myself with my mind serve the law of God, but with my flesh the law of sin’ (7:25). This final confession is no retreat. Just the opposite: in manifesting the reality of sin and the nature of redemption, it exposes the battle in which believers are engaged. Anything less is self-deception” (pp. 118-119) .

German Protestant youth group do what?

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German Protestant youth group has put together a 2006 calendar with 12 staged photos depicting erotic scenes from the Bible, including a bare-breasted Delilah cutting Samson's hair and a nude Eve offering an apple.

"There's a whole range of biblical scriptures simply bursting with eroticism," said Stefan Wiest, the 32-year-old photographer who took the titillating pictures.

Anne Rohmer, 21, poses on a doorstep in garters and stockings as the prostitute Rahab, who is mentioned in both New and Old Testaments. "We wanted to represent the Bible in a different way and to interest young people," she told Reuters.

"Anyway, it doesn't say anywhere in the Bible that you are forbidden to show yourself nude."

Bernd Grasser, pastor of the church in Nuremberg where the calendar is being sold, was enthusiastic about the project which is explained online at

"It's just wonderful when teenagers commit themselves with their hair and their skin to the bible," he said.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

PZ quote (plus two songs echoing a similar sentiment)

"You will recall that earlier in the 'Primer', I discussed the comparison of a theology of the Crost and a theology of glory -- that glory in life is realized first through suffering and innocent affliction. But God raises the dead. He brings into existence things that do not yet exist. He spins out of straw, as in the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin or, more metaphorically, as in the Disney classic movie Dumbo, in which the source of affliction (the poor elephant's enormous ears) becomes his source of escape because they allow him to fly" (p. 55).

This song features the lyric that also served as album title: "Misery is a Butterfly". Blonde Redhead are so, so good!!! Blonde Redhead - Misery Is A Butterfly (Click Me!)

Similarly, this song reminds me of Paul's "Now we see through a glass darkly" sentiment. Roxy Music (my favorite band of the moment, which is a little sad because their sound is very 30-something-ish) do it again. Also, they relate to the quote above in that Bryan Ferry was born and raised in Milton Keynes (i.e., Nazareth)! Roxy Music - Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (Click Me!)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Cranfield quotes:

Cranfield on Romans 7:7-25: “The verses which follow depict vividly the inner conflict characteristic of the true Christian, a conflict such as is possible only in the man, in whom the Holy Spirit is active and whose mind is being renewed under the discipline of the gospel. In the man who understands the law not legalistically but in the light of Christ and so recognizeds the real seriousness of its requirement, and who truly and sincerely wills to obey it, to do what is good and to avoid the evil, the man in whom the power of sin is really being seriously and resolutely challenged, in him the power of sin is clearly seen. The more he is renewed by God’s Spirit, the more sensitive he becomes to the continuing power of sin over his life and the fact that even his very best activities are marred by the egotism still entrenched within him” (p. 155).

“The acceptance of i. (=Paul’s autobiographical experience as a Christian described in Romans 7) and vii. (=the experience of Christians generally, including the very best and most mature, described in Romans 7), which has been felt by very many from early days on, is of course that the acceptance of either of them has seemed to involve altogether too dark a view of the Christian life and, in particular, to be incompatible with what is said of the believer’s liberation from sin in 6:6, 14, 17f, and 8.2. And this objection to both (i) and (vii) has seemed to a great many interpreters completely conclusive…
“With regard to the objection that it is incredible that Paul should speak of a Christian as ‘a slave under sin’s power’, we ought to ask ourselves whether our inability to accept this expression as descriptive of a Christian is not perhaps the result of failure on our part to realize the full seriousness of the ethical demands of God’s law (or of the gospel). Are we not all of us too prone still to understand them legalistically, as did the young man who could say: ‘master, all these things have I observed from my youth’? And is it not true that the more the Christian is set free from legalistic ways of thinking about God’s law and so sees more and more clearly the full splendor of the perfection towards which he is being summoned, the more conscious he becomes of his own continuing sinfulness, his stubborn all-pervasive egotism? …we may assume that Paul’s use of the first person singular throughout vv. 14-25 reflects not only his desire to state in a forceful and vivid manner what is generally true – in this case, of Christians – but also his sense of his own deep personal involvement in what he is saying” (pp. 157-159).

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Offense of the Gospel described perfectly; Narnia touches a sore spot (i.e., the Pelagian wiring that is pure rebellion).

Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion'

Children won't get the Christian subtext, but unbelievers should keep a sickbag handy during Disney's new epic, writes Polly Toynbee

Monday December 5, 2005
The Guardian

Aslan the lion shakes his mighty mane and roars out across Narnia and eternity. Christ is risen! However, not many British children these days will get the message. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe opens this week to take up the mantle left by The Lord of the Rings. CS Lewis's seven children's books, The Chronicles of Narnia, will be with us now and for many Christmases to come. Only Harry Potter has outsold these well-loved books' 85 million copies.

How suitable that one fantasy saga should follow on from the other, despite the immense difference between the writings and magic worlds of these two old Oxford dons. It was JRR Tolkien who converted CS Lewis to Christianity during one long all-night walk that ended in dawn and revelation. Narnia is a strange blend of magic, myth and Christianity, some of it brilliantly fantastical and richly imaginative, some (the clunking allegory) toe-curlingly, cringingly awful.
This new Disney film is a remarkably faithful rendition of the book - faithful in both senses. It is beautiful to look at and wonderfully acted. The four English children and their world are all authentically CS Lewis olde England. But from its opening scenes of the bombing of their Finchley home in the blitz and the tear-jerking evacuation from their mother in a (spotlessly clean) steam train, there is an emotional undertow to this film that tugs on the heart-strings from the first frames. By the end, it feels profoundly manipulative, as Disney usually does. But then, that is also deeply faithful to the book's own arm-twisting emotional call to believers.

Disney is deliberately promoting this film to the religious - it has appointed Outreach, an evangelical publisher, to promote the Christian message behind the movie in British churches. The Christian radio station Premier is urging churches to hold services on the theme of The Gospel According to Narnia. Even the Methodists have written a special Narnia-themed service. And a Kent parish is giving away £10,000 worth of film tickets to single-parent families. (Are the children of single mothers in special need of the word?)

US born-agains are using the movie. The Mission America Coalition is "inviting church leaders around the country to consider the fantastic ministry opportunity presented by the release of this film". The president's brother, Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida, is organising a scheme for every child in his state to read the book. Walden Media, co-producer of the movie, offers a "17-week Narnia Bible study for children". The owner of Walden Media is both a big Republican donor and a donor to the Florida governor's book promotion - a neat synergy of politics, religion and product placement. It has aroused protests from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which complains that "a governmental endorsement of the book's religious message is in violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution".

Disney may come to regret this alliance with Christians, at least on this side of the Atlantic. For all the enthusiasm of the churches, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ bombed in Britain and warehouses are stuffed with unsold DVDs of that stomach-churner. There are too few practising Christians in the empty pews of this most secular nation to pack cinemas. So there has been a queasy ambivalence about how to sell the Narnia film here. Its director, Andrew Adamson (of Shrek fame), says the movie's Christian themes are "open to the audience to interpret". One soundtrack album of the film has been released with religious music, the other with secular pop.

Most British children will be utterly clueless about any message beyond the age-old mythic battle between good and evil. Most of the fairy story works as well as any Norse saga, pagan legend or modern fantasy, so only the minority who are familiar with Christian iconography will see Jesus in the lion. After all, 43% of people in Britain in a recent poll couldn't say what Easter celebrated. Among the young - apart from those in faith schools - that number must be considerably higher. Ask art galleries: they now have to write the story of every religious painting on the label as people no longer know what "agony in the garden", "deposition", "transfiguration" or "ascension" mean. This may be regrettable cultural ignorance, but it means Aslan will stay just a lion to most movie-goers.

All the same, children may puzzle over the lion and ask embarrassing questions. For non-CS Lewis aficionados, here is a recap. The four children enter Narnia through a wardrobe and find themselves in a land frozen into "always winter, never Christmas" by the white witch, (played with elemental force by Tilda Swinton). Unhappy middle child Edmund, resentful of being bossed about by his older brother, broods with meanness and misery. The devil, in the shape of the witch, tempts him: for the price of several chunks of turkish delight, rather than 30 pieces of silver, Edmund betrays his siblings and their Narnian friends.

The sins of this "son of Adam" can only be redeemed by the supreme sacrifice of Aslan. This Christ-lion willingly lays down his life, submitting himself to be bound, thrashed and humiliated by the white witch, allowing his golden mane to be cut and himself to be slaughtered on the sacrificial stone table: it cracks in sympathetic agony and his body goes missing. The two girls lay down their heads and weep, Magdalene and Mary-like. Be warned, the film lingers long and lovingly over all this.

But so far, so good. The story makes sense. The lion exchanging his life for Edmund's is the sort of thing Arthurian legends are made of. Parfait knights and heroes in prisoner-of-war camps do it all the time. But what's this? After a long, dark night of the soul and women's weeping, the lion is suddenly alive again. Why? How?, my children used to ask. Well, it is hard to say why. It does not make any more sense in CS Lewis's tale than in the gospels. Ah, Aslan explains, it is the "deep magic", where pure sacrifice alone vanquishes death.

Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to? Poor child Edmund, to blame for everything, must bear the full weight of a guilt only Christians know how to inflict, with a twisted knife to the heart. Every one of those thorns, the nuns used to tell my mother, is hammered into Jesus's holy head every day that you don't eat your greens or say your prayers when you are told. So the resurrected Aslan gives Edmund a long, life-changing talking-to high up on the rocks out of our earshot. When the poor boy comes back down with the sacred lion's breath upon him he is transformed unrecognisably into a Stepford brother, well and truly purged.

Tolkien hated Narnia: the two dons may have shared the same love of unquestioning feudal power, with worlds of obedient plebs and inferior folk eager to bend at the knee to any passing superior white persons - even children; both their fantasy worlds and their Christianity assumes that rigid hierarchy of power - lord of lords, king of kings, prince of peace to be worshipped and adored. But Tolkien disliked Lewis's bully-pulpit.

Over the years, others have had uneasy doubts about the Narnian brand of Christianity. Christ should surely be no lion (let alone with the orotund voice of Liam Neeson). He was the lamb, representing the meek of the earth, weak, poor and refusing to fight. Philip Pullman - he of the marvellously secular trilogy His Dark Materials - has called Narnia "one of the most ugly, poisonous things I have ever read".

Why? Because here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America - that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right. I once heard the famous preacher Norman Vincent Peel in New York expound a sermon that reassured his wealthy congregation that they were made rich by God because they deserved it. The godly will reap earthly reward because God is on the side of the strong. This appears to be CS Lewis's view, too. In the battle at the end of the film, visually a great epic treat, the child crusaders are crowned kings and queens for no particular reason. Intellectually, the poor do not inherit Lewis's earth.

Does any of this matter? Not really. Most children will never notice. But adults who wince at the worst elements of Christian belief may need a sickbag handy for the most religiose scenes. The Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw gives the film five stars and says, "There is no need for anyone to get into a PC huff about its Christian allegory." Well, here's my huff.

Lewis said he hoped the book would soften-up religious reflexes and "make it easier for children to accept Christianity when they met it later in life". Holiness drenches the Chronicles. When, in the book, the children first hear someone say, mysteriously, "Aslan is on the move", he writes: "Now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don't understand but in the dream it feels as if it had enormous meaning ..." So Lewis weaves his dreams to invade children's minds with Christian iconography that is part fairytale wonder and joy - but heavily laden with guilt, blame, sacrifice and a suffering that is dark with emotional sadism.

Children are supposed to fall in love with the hypnotic Aslan, though he is not a character: he is pure, raw, awesome power. He is an emblem for everything an atheist objects to in religion. His divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility for everything here and now on earth, where no one is watching, no one is guiding, no one is judging and there is no other place yet to come. Without an Aslan, there is no one here but ourselves to suffer for our sins, no one to redeem us but ourselves: we are obliged to settle our own disputes and do what we can. We need no holy guide books, only a very human moral compass. Everyone needs ghosts, spirits, marvels and poetic imaginings, but we can do well without an Aslan.

Worth mentioning: I live in Oxford just a few miles from where Mr. Lewis first got the idea for H. G. Wells' "The Time Machine",...and even closer to where he first drafted letter 17 from "A Severe Mercy" (the one that deals with Islam). -JAZ

Eastern Religions: Which One What?

p.s., On a side note, I actually used to lead the Kenyon College Zen Meditation Group.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Incredible One-Arm Bassist:

Click Me!

p.s., Make sure you click on the button that says: "Click Here For Video".

Friday, December 02, 2005

(more) Karl Holl quotes:

"Overly minute attention to the petty necessarily leads to failure in the face of the great and important."

"Whoever worries about a possible sin will surely fall victim to it."

"(Luther) could only verify the fact that evil is never conquered through direct combat but only indirectly, through strengthening the opposite good."

"The very idea of a duty to oneself seemed to put him on guard: it looked too much like the complacency and egotism he wanted torn out by the roots."

"For domestic life he gave the advice sober people have always given: in case of doubt choose what is contrary to your natural inclinations. By training oneself in this way, one may eventurally come to the point where even in an extraordinary deed one may regard oneself as an instrument of God. This means nothing other than that for Luther moral action is at its highest level inevitably creative..."

"The Spirit propels people so that they cannot do otherwise."

"If it was true that even the believer sins in every good work, then how could inner certitude be attained? Every moment there was the possibility that one had sinned or was at least on the verge of sinning, and this possibility gave occasion to a restless self-analysis and a casuistic anxiety (--Tell me about it! DZ? SMZ?--) similar to that of the more sensitive members of the Catholic church (read: Jantzenists). From personal experience Luther knew this mood full well (phew!). However, he also encountered it among those who had learned from him, even in his closest circle, in men like Melanchthon and Weller. Whenever he saw others suffering from this problem, he always -- and for good reason -- put considerable (underline) humor into his advice to them. But jesting concealed a deep earnestness and a well-considered purpose. Luther showed how to conquer the difficulty by advising that the anxious thoughts be courageously thought through to the end. There is not only the possibility that one is sinning or has sinned but this possibility is an actual reality. Yet it is even more of a reality that God nevertheless approaches the sinner, whome he wants to use in his service, even though guilty of killing a thousand in one day. For this reason it is correct to regard oneself unreservedly as the sinner one really is, but just as unreservedly to find courage to live and act in the mercy of God and in the strength Christ gives to the Christian. The apprehension of reality is what saves us. (underline) The apprehension of reality is what saves us. Whoever batles only with possibility has not yet become fully honest -- despite all apparent earnestness (i.e., doubts their justification, assuming it in some sense to be based upon their own performance). Some arrogance is still there, since one is unwilling to admit that as a human being one is always in the process of becoming -- and that means always a sinner."

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Music memories from Noise (Birmingham, AL):

In the year 2000 I worked at The Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, AL. During that time, most of my mornings/loose cash were spent at a record store in Homewood, AL called 'NOISE'. The owner, Greg, introduced me to an enormous amount of quality music during that year, and, to this day, I find that many of my musical interests still point back to a hand-full of artists that Greg introduced me to, there in Alabama. I am extremely grateful for his influence. It all began when I walked into his store for the first time and told him that I liked the post-rock stuff on Thrill Jockey Records, and the retro pop of Elephant 6 (i.e., chicago and athens). He told me frankly, "Oh, I hate that stuff!" I responded (hurt, but intrigued), "Well, what to you like?" He put on the song "Harlem" by Toshack Highway, and it blew me away, for it was indeed better, or at least way more beautiful and intelligent than anything to be found on the labels I had mentioned. It was a pivotal moment for me, in terms of musical taste. This guy had uncompromisingly high standards and I've always appreciated that (probably too much!). Here is "Harlem" by Toshack Highway: Click Me!

If memory serves me correctly, here are some the Albums introduced to me by Greg at Noise:

Quasimoto: The Unseen
Jimi Tenor: Organism
Serge Gainsbourg: L’Histoire de Melody Nelson
Toshack Highway: Toshack Highway
Joe Meek: I Hear a New World
Various Artists: Shake Sauvage
The 6ths: Hyacynths and Thistles
Tarwater: Silur
Daft Punk: Discovery
Peter Thomas: Raumpatrouille
Nino Nardini and Roger Roger: Tropical
Gary Numan: The Pleasure Principle
Gary Wilson: You Think You Really Know Me
Deltron 3030: 3030
Ennio Morricone: (everything).
Flanger: Templates
Goldfrapp: Felt Mountain
The Zombies:Odysee and Oracle
Money Mark: Mark’s Keyboard Repair
Mouse On Mars: Niun Ngung
The Notwist: The Notwist
Console: Rocket in the Pocket
Phoenix: United
Kreidler: Kreidler
The Gentle People: Simply Faboo (song: Superstar)
RJD2: Dead Ringer
Skip Spence: Oar
Bertrand Burgalat: The Sssound of Mmmusic
Wire: Pink Flag
Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant: The Flaming Guitars of…

Films/TV he introduced to me:

Cleopatra Jones
The 5000 fingers of Dr. T.
Orpheus (Cocteau's, with the incredible mirror sequence)
The Brothers Quay
The Prisoner

After five years, Noise closed, and Greg found he could no longer listen to music other than the Rolling Stones and Stravinsky.

(excerpt from a recent conversation in Mansfield, Ohio):

Daughter asks: "Mommy, I want to make a cake shaped like a van!"
Mother answers: "Okay hun, just pull out the van-shaped cake pan from under the sink."

Dad's Christianity Primer now available online from Paladium Press:

Link -- Click Me!

(After visiting the link, ask yourself this question about the upper left-hand corner quotation from Lord Carey). Do you think Lord Carey helped them choose the font? If yes, do you think it was before, or after Betty Crocker stole it for her recipe titles in 1963?