“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

Do Not Forget, Above All Else, It is the *Lord’s* Supper

Christ at the SupperThough almost every doctrine in Christianity has been hotly disputed at some point, the debates concerning the Lord’s Supper, or Communion have been among the most heated. Despite the fact that, at its core, it is about the unity of Christians, it is the issue that kept the Lutherans and the Reformed from coming together in the midst of the Reformation. In the disputes over differing theologies of the Supper can be seen some of the central disputes between Catholics and Protestants; what is the nature of grace and its mediation?; what authority does the Church have in distributing it?; how ought we consider those aspects of Jesus’ work that are final and which are continuing? On and on the questions can go.

And for those tempted to write them off as needless nitpicking, I’d say they’re rightly important debates for they cut to the heart of the gospel. We may rightly lament them, and yet acknowledge they are necessary nonetheless.

For those of us concerned with parsing these issues, studying, arguing, and eventually administering the Supper, Herman Bavinck has an important word of caution that cannot be lost sight of, no matter where we eventually come down on the issue: do not forget that it is a meal of the Lord’s:

But it is a meal of the Lord (δειπνον κυριακον, deipnon kyriakon). Jesus was the inaugurator of it and in this regard also fulfilled his Father’s will, which it was his food to do [John 4:34]. The Lord’s Supper, like baptism, is and has to be of divine origin to be a sacrament, for God alone is the distributor of grace, and he alone can bind its distribution to the means ordained by him. Jesus specifically instituted this Supper in his capacity as mediator. In it he acts as prophet, who proclaims and interprets his death; in it he acts as priest, who gave himself up to the cross on behalf of his own; in it he also acts as king, who freely makes available the grace secured and gives it to his disciples to enjoy under the signs of bread and wine. Besides being the inaugurator of the Supper, he is also its host and administrator. He himself takes the bread and wine, blesses them, and distributes them to his disciples. Nor was he only host and administrator when he physically sat at table with his disciples, but he also is and remains the host and administrator of it always and wherever his meal is celebrated. Every Supper, administered according to his institution, is a Supper of the Lord (δειπνον κυριακον). For Christ is not only its inaugurator as an example but also its inaugurator by precept. It is a meal in remembrance of him (1 Cor. 11:24), to proclaim his death (11:26), as a participation in his body and blood (10:16, 21; 11:27). In the Lord’s Supper Christ comes together with his church, and the church comes together with Christ, thereby testifying to their spiritual communion (cf. Rev. 3:20).

Reformed Dogmatics Volume 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, pg. 562

Yes, we are the ones fed. Yes, ours are the human hands that parcel out the bread and pass the wine. Yes, ours are the mouths the chew, and the souls that are nourished. But Christ is the great Lord of the Banquet. He is the prophet, priest, and king. He is the Son providing a feast for his younger brothers at the behest of his Father through the mediation of the Spirit.

At the center of the Lord’s Supper is the Lord Himself.

Let us not miss his invitation to the table.

Soli Deo Gloria

Mere Fidelity: Theosis and the Warning Passages

On this episode of Mere Fidelity we take up two subjects.

1. The warning passages in Hebrews and elsewhere. Andrew and Alastair have some excellent insights. Actually, Alastair gave the best read of the warning passages in Hebrews, I’ve heard.

2. How about that Eastern Orthodoxy theosis? Is it kosher for Evangelicals? Can Reformed types make any sense of it? Well, maybe. You’ll just have to listen in.

Also, I explain why I sound dumber than everyone else on the podcast.

There you go.

Also, we have links to books and articles over at Mere Orthodoxy for this subject.

Soli Deo Gloria

Christ the King: Kingdom of Power, Kingdom of Grace

christ pantokratorIn a section on church government, Herman Bavinck begins to elaborate the Reformed view in contrast to a number of others by reflecting on the nature of Christ’s kingship and kingdom. Simply put, this is one of the most majestic passages I’ve ever read on the subject.

The Reformed, thanks to their deep sense of the sovereignty of God, understood this. Those who proceed unilaterally from the goodness or the love or the fatherhood of God do not come to this understanding. But those who do not just highlight one of God’s attributes but bring all his attributes to the fore and proceed from God as [the living] God have no choice but to subordinate all creatures to him, in dependence and humility. God is sovereign always and everywhere, in nature and grace, in creation and re-creation, in the world and in the church. His statutes and laws are the rule of our lives, for humans are his creatures, subject to him, and obligated to respond in total obedience.

In the church this view naturally led to the confession of the kingship of Christ. For just as in civil life God instituted the government on account of sin, so he anointed his Son to be king of Zion, the mountain of his holiness, and appointed him to be head over all things for the church (Ps. 2:6; Eph. 1:20; Phil. 2:9–11). Christ is not only a prophet who teaches by his word and example, not only a priest who atones by his sacrifice, but also the king who preserves and protects his own and to that end has been clothed with power in heaven and earth. He is king in a much more authentic sense than any secular ruler. He is that not only according to his divine nature but also according to his human nature. The human Christ Jesus has been exalted to sit at his Father’s right hand. He was all this not just from eternity and in the days of the Old Testament and during his sojourn on earth, but is still all this today and will be to the end of the ages. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Indeed, he is this now in the state of exaltation in a much richer sense than he was in the state of humiliation and in the time that preceded it. Granted, he had from eternity been anointed king and exercised this office, along with that of prophet and priest, immediately after the fall and up until his death on the cross; but on account of his humiliation God highly exalted him and gave him a name above every name. By his resurrection he was declared with power to be the Son of God, became Lord, received all power in heaven and on earth, and now reigns until he has completed the kingdom and put all his enemies under his feet.

This kingship of Christ is twofold. On the one hand, it is a kingship of power (Pss. 2:8–9; 72:8; 110:1–3; Matt. 28:18; 1 Cor. 15:27; Eph. 1:21–22; Phil. 2:9–11; Heb. 1:6; 1 Pet. 3:22; Rev. 17:14). In order that Christ may truly be king over his people, the king who redeems, protects, and preserves them, he must have power in heaven and on earth, over Satan and the world. It is a kingship of power, subordinate to, and a means for, his kingship of grace. It does not mean that the Father has ceased to govern the world and that now all authority in the creation comes down from Christ and is exercised in his name. But, based on Christ’s perfect obedience, God has granted the Mediator the right and the power to gather his people together out of the world, to protect them against all their enemies, and to completely subdue those enemies themselves. God so rules the world that Christ may ask for the Gentile nations as his inheritance and the ends of the earth as his possession [Ps. 2:8]. In the event of Christ’s exaltation, the Father recognized his Son and appointed him as the heir of all things (Heb. 1:2).

On the other hand, the kingship of Christ is a kingship of grace (Ps. 2:6; Isa. 9:5–6; Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 37:24; Luke 1:33; John 18:33ff.; Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2:19). Inasmuch as this kingship is totally different from that of the kings of the earth, the New Testament much more frequently calls Christ “the head” than the king of the church. For it is a kingdom of grace in which Christ rules by his word and Spirit. His word comes to us from the past, binds us to the historical person of Christ and to the work he accomplished in time, and asks of us faith in the sense of assent and acknowledgment. But he who descended is the same as he who also ascended far above all the heavens [Eph. 4:10], is seated at God’s right hand, and dwells in us “with his divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit and never again departs from us” [Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 47]. It is the living Christ exalted to sit at the right hand of God who consciously and endowed with all power gathers his church, defeats his enemies, and guides the history of the world to the day of his parousia. As our Mediator, he is still always active in heaven and present by his Spirit on earth in church and in the offices, in Word and sacrament.

-Reformed Dogmatics Volume 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation. pp. 370-372

Three points I want to highlight:

  • Christ is king according to both his divine and his human nature. Jesus is the resurrected and ascended human Lord of all things who fulfills God’s intention for Adam’s race.
  • Christ is a king with power who subdues his enemies for the sake of his people.
  • Christ is a king with grace who rules by word and Spirit. It is a gospel-kingship.

May these truths fill you with love and adoration for our glorious king. Marvel before him and offer up your lives as a faithful service to the King who served us.

Soli Deo Gloria

Deep Church Rising by Andrew Walker and Robin Parry (Christianity Today Review)

deep church risingHistorically, schisms have been rather public, bloody things. This was clearly the case when the church split between East and West. Even though some hope of reconciliation was on the table at various points, excommunications had been traded, Crusades had happened, and everybody knew the two or three theological disputes that needed settling. Roughly the same thing could be said of the split between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Following a number of bloody wars, mutual persecutions, and martyrdoms, the results were different communions, confessional documents, and other marks of separation.

In their recent book Deep Church Rising: The Third Schism and the Recovery of Christian Orthodoxy, Andrew Walker and Robin Parry argue that, unbeknownst to many, the Western church is in the midst of a third great schism. Unlike the last two, though, the split hasn’t resulted in a clear line between new denominations and old ones, but runs right through the various churches of the West. On one side stand those who affirm a broadly supernaturalist Christian orthodoxy embodied in the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds. And on the other, you find those who can at best recite the creeds with their fingers crossed. Having embraced the various presuppositions of Enlightenment and postmodern thinking, they are skeptical of supernatural claims and often doubt the very idea of objective truth.

Set against the backdrop of Western consumerism, our “secular age,” and evangelical tendencies toward thinner understandings of the church, Walker and Parry are worried about a widespread loss of the gospel within the Christian community. Taking a cue from C. S. Lewis, the authors propose a vision for recovering what they call “Deep Church,” meaning a thick orthodoxy of belief and practice woven together from the wisdom of our past. They want to help us recuperate from a bad case of “gospel amnesia” by renewing interest in the church’s historical journey.

You can read the rest of my review at Christianity Today.

Soli Deo Gloria