A Prayer for My Niece, Siena Joy Stewart on the Day of Her Birth

Siena Joy Stewart. My precious niece.

Siena Joy Stewart. My precious niece.

My sister Valerie and her husband Shawn are two of my favorite people on the planet. So far, they have produced another one of my favorite humans, my nephew Jack. At 2:36 pm, after many hours of heroic labor, my sister gave birth to a little girl (20.5 in; 7 lb 11 oz.) who I’m quite convinced I’m going to be a big fan of: Siena Joy Stewart. Yes, she was a week late, but I’m sure that’s just a matter of the extra quality in preparation involved. She’s going to be a very special young woman.

When Jack was born, I wrote him a prayer because I realized, besides smashing cars with him, prayer is probably my main responsibility towards him. I’m going to do the same for Siena. My wife and I have been praying for her daily for some months now and I’m sure there are years of prayer to come, but these are just a few hopes and dreams, blessings and pronouncements on her.

Holy Father, thank you for your many gifts. Thank you specifically for this new blessing of a wonderful little girl, Siena Joy. Thank you for your providence that has brought her to us. Thank you for this grace on the life of Shawn and Val as parents. I anticipate that we will not stop giving thanks to you for her all of our days.

Thank you, gracious God, for the promise contained in her name for who this little girl will be one day. Already she is a deep joy to her family. I do pray that you make that a continuing reality. That Siena Joy would fill the lives of all she knows with that deep, cavernous joy that comes with being in the presence of one graced with the gifts of God. I also pray that she would live into her name, “Siena”, whose character reflects that warm, earthy depth of her mother and father.

Beyond that, I want to pray some specific things for her.

Salvation. As I prayed for Jack, God, you are her maker, I pray that you would become her Father in Christ; adopt her by your grace. Let her come to repent and believe the Gospel early and deeply, be united by faith to Christ, and given the gift of your Spirit. I pray that someday quite soon she could answer Heidelberg’s first question, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” with the proper answer, from the heart:

“That I am not my own, but I belong– body and soul, in life and in death–to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven:  in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

Father, as much as I love having her as a niece, I want her as my little sister in Christ. Let this be the reality that forms the core of who she is.

Courage. It takes courage to follow the call to whole personhood out in a world broken by sin and evil. I pray that Siena Joy would be marked with a fearlessness that is grounded in her assurance that her heavenly Father is for her and keeps watch over all her steps as she seeks to follow you.

Mercy. We live in a graceless culture where judgment consistently triumphs over mercy. I pray that Siena Joy would be a woman of great mercy, whose tender heart towards the broken and afflicted by sin would be a sweet balm that blesses all she meets.

Holiness. Please, Father, set her apart. Set her apart all the days of her life, so that her life may shine with the beauty and glory of holiness. But not a holiness that keeps its distance, but the contagious holiness the draws others in to your arms of grace.

Insight. Give Siena insight by the Spirit–eyes to truly see. Give her vision through the veil of lies and deception that so often clouds the eyes of the heart and stops us from beholding your untamed goodness. May she live with a vision of her God, the whole of her life.

Assurance. May this vision then give her assurance. Both of her salvation, but also of her calling to glorify you in all the particular gifts that you have graced her with. She has been fearfully and wonderfully made, with eternal purposes in mind. May she plant her feet firmly and step forward in confident assurance.

Hope. May this assurance be the substance of a deeply hopeful character. I have no idea what our world holds, but I pray that Siena Joy would look forward and know that her future is determined, not by the powers of the world, but by the mighty, gracious power of her Lord Jesus Christ.

I ask these things with great faith and anticipation, grateful in advance for what you’re going to do, in the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Retrieval–It’s What All The Hip Reformed Catholic Kids Do

reformed catholicityThe theological hills are alive with the sound of “retrieval”–the idea that theology can only go forward if it begins by looking backward to the tradition that maintained and fed the faith that came before it. Whether it’s looking back to the Fathers, or Thomas, or the early Reformed tradition, across the denomination divides, theologians are increasingly explicit about their necessary dependence on the theology of their forebears, whether in the Creed, Counsels, or Confessions. In his section arguing for the importance of recovering traditioned thought in The Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer listed a number of reasons (Biblical, traditional, philosophical, inevitable, and spiritual), but among them was the fact that it was “fashionable” (pg. 158), by which he meant supported by contemporary movements in literary theory.

In other words, all the cool kids are doing it.

I was reminded of this point as I opened Michael Allen and Scott Swain’s little volume Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation. Part of their project is making the case for a Reformed iteration of this movement that appreciates the traditional shape of even Protestant practices like Sola Scriptura, which commonly is interpreted as precluding this sort of activity. In order to set the stage for their own project, though, they begin by compiling and briefly describing a fascinating list of recent movements in theology that have set the stage, or contributed to the revival of retrieval in theology (pp. 4-12). I thought it might be useful to briefly summarize their summary and comment on their summary list.

  1. Nouvelle Theologie. Earlier in the 20th Century a bunch of Roman Catholic theologians like De Lubac and Congar led the way in trying to reappropriate patristic and biblical theology for systematics, sacramental theology, and liturgical practice. Much of this theology set the stage for the developments of Vatican II.
  2. Karl Barth. Barth’s Church Dogmatics did many things, but one of the big long-term effects it had was reviving the discipline of dogmatics in theology, drawing heavily as it did on patristic and Reformational sources.
  3. Reception History. Plenty of Biblical scholars like working with the historical context of the text, but there’s a big movement to do work on compiling commentaries or studies on the historical reception of texts. In other words, not just asking “how ought we read it?”, but asking “how has it been read in the past?” in order answer the former.
  4. Donald Bloesch and “Consensual Christianity.” Bloesch was a UCC theologian who tried to develop a “consensual” Christianity based on the witness of Holy Scripture and the Church’s tradition as a cross-denominational resource for the Church
  5. Thomas Oden’s “Paleo-Orthodoxy.” Thomas Oden’s conversion from liberal, Protestantism to a sort of “paleo-orthodoxy”, a “pastiche” of patristic and Protestant theology is an approach towards a “consensual Christianity.” He has also headed up the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series in order to facilitate this sort of scholarship and spirituality as well.
  6. Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Christianity. Webber has written various works and developed a number of ministries devoted to helping Evangelicals tap in the Christian past for the sake of engaging postmodern culture in worship and evangelism.
  7. The Modern Hymn Movement. Reformed and Presbyterian churches and ministries like RUF, Indelible Grace, and Keith and Kristyn Getty have been retooling classic hymns and developing new ones for revived congregational worship.
  8. Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson’s Evangelical Catholicism. From within the Lutheran tradition, Braaten and Jenson have been trying to focus the church on classical resources as a way forward for the ecumenical conversation and the strength of the church. To that end, they launched the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology, begin the journal Pro Ecclesia, and published a number of influential volumes in that vein. Allen and Swain note, though, that while Bloesch and Oden’s retrieval ends up looking like pretty standard classical theism, Jenson and others have still engaged in quite a bit of theological reconstruction, showing the retrieval doesn’t only lead to repetition.
  9. Theological Interpretation of Scripture. One big movement afoot is the drive towards theological exegesis”, or reading Scripture to do theology and not just historical or textual criticism. To that end, a lot of theoretical ink has been spilled, but a number of good theological commentary series have begun as well.
  10. Radical Orthodoxy. The movement by theologians like Catherine Pickstock, Graham Ward, and John Milbank, to reappropriate a sort of Christian Platonism in order to combat the decline of the Church, leans heavily on the idea of retrieval, even if it has been often criticized for its idiosyncratic and problematic readings of the history it’s attempting to retrieve.
  11. Evangelical Ressourcement. Evangelicals are getting in on the fun too. D.H. Williams has been arguing for recovering the early church as a theological resource and Hans Boersma has been even more specific in advocating a particular sacramental ontology, mostly drawing on the Nouvelle Theologie of Roman Catholic theologians.
  12. The Emerging or Emergent Church(es). Whatever their problems have been, the emerging or emergent movement did have an emphasis on retrieving the various insights, texts, and practices of the Christian past to meet the postmodern future. Of course, this played out differently for various kinds of emerging or emergent churches.
  13. Ressourcement Thomism. Thomism is the gift that keeps on giving. At least, that’s what a number of recent Roman Catholic theologians like Matthew Levering, Gilles Emery, and Reinhard Hutter have been arguing. Engaging with movements in biblical studies, systematics, and philosophical movements, these theologians have been making the case that Thomas still has something to say to the modern church.

As I read Allen and Swain’s list, I was fascinated to note how many of the movement and theologians had their effects on my own journey. When I was young in theology, the emergent conversation was in full swing and so the talk of appealing to tradition was definitely in the air. Thankfully reading some Pelikan and Vanhoozer showed me early that it could be done while keeping your Orthodox and Evangelical wits about you. In philosophy, MacIntyre’s work in After Virtue and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? had its effect as well. Oden and Bloesch are sitting on my shelf, duly marked up, as well as some Barth, Boersma, and Jenson. I suppose my early classes in the history of philosophy had their effect as well. It’s hard to take a whole class on Augustine’s thought and believe him irrelevant to any theological conversation. This is also largely the impulse behind my big reading projects.

Beyond this personal reflection, though, a few things are worth noting about this list.

First, retrieval is an ecumenical endeavor. Theologians across the major traditions, both Catholic and Protestant, are well-represented. Although, one important absence ought to be noted and that is the names of any Eastern Orthodox theologians. The burgeoning awareness of Eastern Orthodox theology has definitely spurred on the movement towards engagement with the Fathers on the part of Western theologians.

Second, retrieval is not a monolith. As already noted with the case of Jenson and someone like Oden, two theologians may be committed to the project and yet their engagement may yield wildly diverging judgments on something like the doctrine of God. What’s more, since it is an ecumenical endeavor with a catholic spirit, it will inevitably bear diverse fruits as theologians approach the catholic tradition from within their own ecclesiastic locations.

Third, and connected to the second, retrieval theology need not yield theological sterility. Some of the most creative theological minds of the 20th Century are included in that brief summary. Indeed, when think of some of the work being done in the Theological Interpretation of Scripture, some of the brightest of our own very young century are those looking back to the wisdom of yesteryear through figural and typological readings. Many have ended up breaking the modern, interpretive mold in the process.

Finally, retrieval can be quite practical. Indeed, most of the movements and theologians mentioned are quite heavily involved with the cause of church renewal within their respective communions. Looking to the past is not simply done for the sake of dry antiquarianism, but for the life of the Church in the world today. In other words, it’s not only done to preserve the memory of the victories of church triumphant, but for the battles the church militant is currently embroiled in.

Now the question is, what exactly will Allen and Swain contribute to the discussion? I suppose I’ll just have to keep reading to find out. I’d suggest that many of you consider doing the same. You can purchase the book here.

Soli Deo Gloria

Christmas: Thus God and Man are United in Christ. Thus, in Christ, we Possess God.

christ childThe heart of the Christmas message is that there, lying in the manger, lies God in human flesh. In a word, then, Christmas is about the Chalcedonian Definition (451 A.D), or rather, the other way round. If you’ve never read it, here it is:

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

As technically precise as it is, many have questioned and wondered whether in defining, or at least laying down some boundaries for how to think about Christ, the Fathers have departed from the simpler, or clearer language of Scripture. The worry is that in the process of parsing of things metaphysically, through the conceptualities of Greek philosophy and terminology, the Biblical Gospel has been lost.

Herman Bavinck answers this sort of charge at length, beautifully summarizing his findings in this brief passage:

Thus God and man are united in Christ. While Scripture does not speak the language of the later theology, materially it contains what the Christian church confesses in its doctrine of the two natures…For according to Scripture, the Word that was with God and was himself God became flesh (John 1:14). He who was the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being has become partaker in our flesh and blood and like us in all things (Heb. 1:3; 2:14). God sent his own Son into the world, who was born of a woman (Gal. 4:4). Though existing in “the form of God,” he “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” (Phil. 2:7). From the fathers, according to the flesh (κατα σαρκα), comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever (Rom. 9:5). Though the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, he is nevertheless also the firstborn from the dead (Col. 1:13–18); though son of David, he is simultaneously David’s Lord (Matt. 22:43); even though walking about on earth, he still continues to be “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18), “the one who is in heaven” (John 3:13), and existed before Abraham was (John 8:58); in a word, the fullness of deity dwells in him bodily (σωματικως, Col. 2:9). Every moment in Scripture, divine as well as human predicates are attributed to the same personal subject: divine and human existence, omnipresence and [geographical] limitation, eternity and time, creative omnipotence and creaturely weakness. What else is this but the church’s doctrine of the two natures united in one person?

-Reformed Dogmatics Volume 3: Sin and Salvation, pg. 298-299

It must not be lost to sight that all of this theologizing is done to preserve the crucial Gospel truth: it is God who is with us, to save us in Christ. Calvin comments on Matthew 1:23:

The phrase, God is with us, is no doubt frequently employed in Scripture to denote, that he is present with us by his assistance and grace, and displays the power of his hand in our defense. But here we are instructed as to the manner in which God communicates with men. For out of Christ we are alienated from him; but through Christ we are not only received into his favor, but are made one with him. When Paul says, that the Jews under the law were nigh to God, (Ephesians 2:17,) and that a deadly enmity (Ephesians 2:15) subsisted between him and the Gentiles, he means only that, by shadows and figures, God then gave to the people whom he had adopted the tokens of his presence. That promise was still in force, “The Lord thy God is among you,” (Deuteronomy 7:21,) and, “This is my rest for ever,” (Psalm 132:14.) But while the familiar intercourse between God and the people depended on a Mediator, what had not yet fully taken place was shadowed out by symbols. His seat and residence is placed “between the Cherubim,” (Psalm 80:1,) because the ark was the figure and visible pledge of his glory.

But in Christ the actual presence of God with his people, and not, as before, his shadowy presence, has been exhibited. This is the reason, why Paul says, that “in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily,” (Colossians 2:9.) And certainly he would not be a properly qualified Mediator, if he did not unite both natures in his person, and thus bring men into an alliance with God…

For it cannot be denied, that this name, Immanuel, contains an implied contrast between the presence of God, as exhibited in Christ, with every other kind of presence, which was manifested to the ancient people before his coming. If the reason of this name began to be actually true, when Christ appeared in the flesh, it follows that it was not completely, but only in part, that God was formerly united with the Fathers.

Hence arises another proof, that Christ is God manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:16.) He discharged, indeed, the office of Mediator from the beginning of the world; but as this depended wholly on the latest revelation, he is justly called Immanuel at that time, when clothed, as it were, with a new character, he appears in public as a Priest, to atone for the sins of men by the sacrifice of his body, to reconcile them to the Father by the price of his blood, and, in a word, to fulfill every part of the salvation of men. The first thing which we ought to consider in this name is the divine majesty of Christ, so as to yield to him the reverence which is due to the only and eternal God. But we must not, at the same time, forget the fruit which God intended that we should collect and receive from this name. For whenever we contemplate the one person of Christ as God-man, we ought to hold it for certain that, if we are united to Christ by faith, we possess God.

This is a staggering and astonishing reality. If we are united to Christ, “by faith, we possess God.” This is the mystery, the miracle, and the grace of Christmas: in Christ, God truly gives himself to sinners for their salvation and joy.

Soli Deo Gloria 

Top #Reformedish Posts of 2014

2014This was a big year for me in terms of writing. Or, at least it felt that way. Though I slowed down a bit this fall, I still think I had an overall average of about three pieces per week, most of the time pushing into the four- or five-per-week range. While most of this was for my own personal blog, a fair amount went to other sites. What I’d like to do here is simply list out my top articles of the year on my own site, the articles I think did best on others, as well as some of my own favorite to write. Sound good? Alright. (In any case, it wouldn’t matter because this is my blog and I’m going to do it anyways.)

Top Post of the Year

Far and away my most popular post of the year was a quick one I wrote for TGC:

Dating Advice You Actually Need.” At last count, it had been shared something like 19,000 times and my editor told me it passed 100,000 views a little bit ago. I tell you, it’s always the marriage and dating ones.

Top Posts on My Blog. These were the most popular things published on my blog.

1. “23 Things To Do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23″ and Other Myths. This was response to that viral piece that went around earlier this year. Again, it took almost no time to write, but it was about dating and relationships, so it spread quickly.

2. A Few Words About Driscoll, William Wallace II, and Advice For Young Pastors. I wrote this after a couple of the Driscoll scandals, but before some of the later stuff came out and the implosion.

3. If Jesus is the Word of God, Can We Call the Bible the Word of God? This was a fun piece responding to a very annoying charge made against evangelical views of Scripture. I also found the creepiest image for it.

4. A Few Follow-Up Thoughts on Sneering Calvinists. I wrote a piece for TGC which will be linked below, and then I had to write this clarifying follow-up.

5. The Beauty of the Cross: 19 Objections and Answers to Penal Substitutionary Atonement. This is easily my favorite article of the year. It’s not really an article, but more of an essay. It’s probably the longest thing I’ve written since grad school and I love it.

Top Posts Elsewhere. These were the pieces I think were most popular written not on my blog. Also, my guesses here are just that: guesses. So the ranking does not matter.

1. Recovering an Engaging Doctrine of God. This was definitely not a top post in terms of page-views, but it’s probably the finest thing I’ve written all year. I kind of love this piece. It’s at the heart of what I care about most.

2. The Progressive Evangelical Package. I wrote this a few months back outlining what I took to be the “progressive Evangelical package” of positions and their underlying values. Needless to say, this proved controversial.

3. Sneering Calvinists. Lest it be said I merely troll the other side, this was a piece telling my Reformed brothers and sisters to calm down with their sneering and engage others with grace.

4. Should Evangelicals Care About Gungor’s Doubts? Michael Gungor said some things about doubt and faith and people reported on it. It was a controversy.

5. The Danger of ‘What This Really Means”. I don’t know if this is actually one of my most popular, but I think it was important on the danger interpretive suspicion in our current debates.

6.  Making the Case For Make-up: In Which Calvin Defends Lip-Gloss. Can’t be explained. Only read.

Random Favorites. And here are a few randoms I enjoyed writing that were also fairly popular.

A (Very) Brief, Gospel-Centered Defense Against the Problem of Evil

‘Plain Readings’ of Scripture, Job, and Other Assorted Thoughts on the #CalvinismDebate

Love, Hate, and A Counter-Intuitive God

Abraham, Cultural Distance, and Offering Up Our Moral Conscience

Sabbath Sticks, OT Morality, and the Jesus Tea Strainer

A Crash-Course in Revelation (Or, Reformedish Thoughts on Scripture According to Westminster)

Alright, that’s about it for now. Thanks for reading and making it a fun year, folks!

Soli Deo Gloria

“God Is My Hobby” Or, Salinger, Osteen, and Bonhoeffer Walk Into a Bar

osteenMy Franny and Zooey gleanings have been numerous. One fantastic paragraph comes in the middle of a conversation between Zooey and his mother Mrs. Glass with regards to his younger sister Franny. Mrs. Glass is worried over the apparent spiritual meltdown Franny’s having consisting of mumbling, crying, and losing appetite and sleep. After much badgering and antagonism, Zooey sets himself to enlighten his mother as to the problem with his sister and it’s connection to a little book she’s been carrying around with her. It’s a little book about the Jesus Prayer and the contemplative spiritual practice surrounding it, involving repeating the prayer “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me” over and over until it becomes a part of your heart, your breath, your very being.

The brilliant part comes in Zooey’s final response in this exchange:

Mrs. Glass took a deep drag on her cigarette, watching him, then crossed her legs
and asked, demanded, “Is that what Franny’s supposed to be doing? I mean is that what
she’s doing and all?”

“So I gather. Don’t ask me, ask her.”

There was a short pause, and a dubious one. Then Mrs. Glass abruptly and rather
pluckily asked, “How long do you have to do it?”

Zooey’s face lit up with pleasure. He turned to her. “How long?” he said. “Oh, not
long. Till the painters want to get in your room. Then a procession of saints and
bodhisattvas march in, carrying bowls of chicken broth. The Hall Johnson Choir starts up
in the background, and the cameras move in on a nice old gentleman in a loincloth
standing against a background of mountains and blue skies and white clouds, and a look
of peace comes over everybody’s—”

“All right, just stop that,” Mrs. Glass said.

“Well, Jesus. I’m only trying to help. Mercy. I don’t want you to go away with the impression that there’re any—you know—any incon-veniences involved in the religious life. I mean a lot of people don’t take it up just because they think it’s going to involve a certain amount of nasty application and perseverance—you know what I mean.” It was clear that the speaker, with patent relish, was now reaching the high point of his address. He wagged his orange stick solemnly at his mother. “As soon as we get out of the chapel here, I hope you’ll accept from me a little volume I’ve always admired. I believe it touches on some of the fine points we’ve discussed this morning. ‘God Is My Hobby.’ By Dr. Homer Vincent Claude Pierson, Jr. In this little book, I think you’ll find, Dr. Pierson tells us very clearly how when he was twenty-one years of age he started putting aside a little time each day—two minutes in the morning and two minutes at night, if I remember correctly—and at the end of the first year, just by these little informal visits with God, he increased his annual income seventy-four per cent. I believe I have an extra copy, and if you’ll be good enough—”

In the context of the broader story there’s much more going on. Still, in one paragraph, Zooey Glass’ amusingly damning little conceit about “God Is My Hobby” gets you a far better snapshot portrait of so much wrong with contemporary, American religion than any lengthy jeremiad about the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism of the Gospel of Osteenism. Here you have it in nuce: the self-satisfied, oh-so-comfortable, non-transformative commercialism of it all. And this was written in 1955, pre-TBN in all of its gold-throne glory.

I am not sure I have “gospel” application here. I wish I could even say “See, even thoughtful unbelievers see through this, so who do you think you’re fooling? Who are you drawing in by lowering the asking price on the gospel for cut-rate prices?” Because while it’s true that thoughtful  non-believers will see through it, that’s not the problem here, now is it?

I suppose it’s another excuse to exhort preachers once again to heed the words of Bonhoeffer on cheap and costly grace.

“Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?…

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

I suppose what I’m saying is that if Osteen, Bonhoeffer walked into a bar, I know which one would have Zooey’s, or rather, Salinger’s attention.

Soli Deo Gloria

Mere Fidelity: Atonement

A few weeks ago Matt Anderson and I invited on Adam Johnson and Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry to talk about atonement. Our qualifications? Well, on our end, Anderson runs the Mere Orthodoxy site and I wrote this super-long post about penal substitutionary atonement. Adam Johnson has actually written a couple of books on the subject and teaches at Biola’s Torrey Honors program. So he’s kind of an expert. Now, Pascal, well, he’s my favorite French Catholic writer/twitter-fiend/troll on the internet right now. We debate stuff like this all the time, so we figured why not on the podcast?

So, here it is:

For more show links that I don’t feel like hassling with, go to MereOrthodoxy. They’re actually very helpful.

Soli Deo Gloria

Jane Austen, Tim Keller, and the Happiness of Holiness

pride and prejudiceAfter many long, inexcusable years, I finally sat down to read a Jane Austen novel; Pride and Prejudice, to be exact. I suppose I had avoided them in my youth because they were the type of thing my sister–a girl, mind you–read. Also, I’d been subjected to the film Sense and Sensibility as a young boy and I’m still not sure what effect that’s had on my disposition ever since. In any case, inspired by my English acquaintances and a sense of nostalgia for literature, I picked up the copy off the shelf last week and got to work.

It was delightful, of course. Singing Austen’s praises is a bit absurd at this point; the humor, lively characters, dialogue, and so forth, was a wonderful change of pace from all the theology and biblical studies. (And ladies, I get it. That Mr. Darcy. What gallantry.)

Now, I’ve known for a while that reading literature is more than simple entertainment. Reading thick literature is a soul-expanding experience, especially with novelists possessing as keen an eye for the richly textured diversity of human experience and character as Austen. Indeed, it’s not simply that Austen was a keen observer, but she was also a moralist in the best sense of the word, whose portraits of virtue and vice not only amuse, but enlighten, shape, and form us. I remember one of the liveliest sections of Alasdair MacIntyre’s magisterial After Virtue was dedicated to examining the shape of Austen’s moral thought. I’m sadly only now in a position to begin appreciating it.

(BTW, spoiler alert on a 200-year-old novel). While there were multiple passages throughout the novel that caught my eye, one encounter between our protagonist Elizabeth Bennet and her sister Jane in particular drew my attention. It is towards the close of the novel, when the amiable, wealthy, generous, and all-around perfect match, Mr. Bingley has finally proposed to Jane and their happiness is secured. Jane and Elizabeth are rejoicing at her good fortune and we find this little nugget of moral wisdom:

Jane: “Oh Lizzy, why am I this singled from my family, and blessed above them all! If I could but see you as happy! I there were such another man for you!”

Elizabeth: “If you were to give me forty such men, I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness.”  pg. 331

Elizabeth’s response to Jane ought to be memorized by our particularly discontented and unhappy age. Jane looked at her sister in the rapture of her own delight in her impending marriage to such a good man and wished that Elizabeth might too share in that same kind of joy. For Jane, the cause of her joy and happiness was Bingley and she supposed that if Elizabeth could also have a Bingley, she would be just as happy.

Elizabeth knows better, though. While not writing off the truth that Bingley is a good man and that the situation that goes along with him is a favorable one, she knows that the another significant difference in separates the two young women: their “goodness” and “dispositions.” In other words, their characters. All throughout the novel we are keenly aware that Jane is far more humble, less critical, a bit too trusting, but much more easily contented, and, in a word, more virtuous than Elizabeth. (Though I’m sure some Austen fan could correct me here.) The point is that Elizabeth knows happiness is not only an issue of having favorable external circumstances, or even the possession of a great good, but one of having the right character.

You see, it would not matter if even the most advantageous situation were cooked up, a woman with the wrong character would be unable to enjoy a good husband. The woman lacking in wisdom would be unable to recognize the good man for who he is. The woman lacking humility would suppose the good man is deserved and so would be unable to receive him with the delight of a gift or with gratitude; also, should there be some understandable, human defect, she would be tempted to take it as a greater affront and be less likely to forgive, be contented, or patient. I could go on listing any number of virtues and vices and you’ll the problem. It doesn’t matter how good the situation is, if the virtue is missing, there can be no long-term joy, only short-term pleasures. Of course, this applies equally to men.

I’m reminded of a section in Tim and Kathy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage where they speak of the happiness of holiness. Many think that marriage is about making you happy, being pleased by and pleasing your spouse. The Kellers show disastrous fruit of pursuing that impossible approach at length. Instead, Paul teaches us that the end-goal of marriage is the holiness of your spouse. Marriage is about sanctification and one day seeing your husband and wife looking radiant, with the beauty of Christlike character. In that setting, the struggles, the pains, trials, as well as the pleasures, joys, and celebrations can take their place as part of a grander whole.

Now, at this point some may get the impression that marriage isn’t about happiness at all. But that would be a mistake. In fact, what we’ve seen with Austen is that happiness and goodness, or happiness and holiness go hand in hand. The Kellers write:

Does this mean “marriage is not about being happy; it’s about being holy”? Yes and no. As we have seen, that is too stark a contrast. If you understand what holiness is, you come to see that real happiness is on the far side of holiness, not the near side. Holiness gives us new desires and brings old desires into line with one another. So if we want to be happy in marriage, we will accept that marriage is designed to make us holy.

-Timothy and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (pp. 124-125).

While being so much more than this, Austen’s novel, in many ways, is parable about that suitability of character in marriage, and the happiness that attends holiness. I’d commend you, then, to pick it up, make yourself some tea, plop yourself down into a couch, and prepare to be entertained and maybe even edified at the same time.

Soli Deo Gloria