Saturday, April 23, 2005

John Mills and Pluck

Obituaries from both sides of the pond for Sir John Mills are here and here. Mills was a wonderful actor. Like most British performers, he wasn't hung-up on always playing "the right part." He just took gig after gig, the good, the bad, and the otherwise.

You see this approach in other British actors like Michael Caine and Emma Thompson. James Garner and Kevin Bacon are the American actors who most display this penchant for taking on the next job even if it isn't Hamlet and even if the part isn't the starring role.

I admire this. None of us can take star turns everyday. But we can tackle the next thing life puts before us and try to make the best of it. I think that the Brits of Mills' generation would have called it pluck and it's a good thing.

Mills displayed this characteristic not only in his acting career, but more importantly in his personal life. He cared for his wife of more than sixty years after the onset of Alzheimer's Disease and his own worsening blindness.

For me, the one true and boundless source of pluck--the capacity to keep on keepin' on--is God, Who through Jesus Christ promises, "I will never leave you or forsake you." When God has your back, you can take on the next thing, whether it's the starring role or being a support to someone who needs you.

Troubling TIME Story of Ann Coulter

I read the TIME magazine cover story on pundit Ann Coulter yesterday. To tell the truth, my only exposure to her previous to that was seeing a few guest appearances she made on Hardball, in which Chris Matthews rightly raked her over the coals for suggesting that liberals are, by definition, unpatriotic.

What I got from the TIME article is that this is a woman who has found a profitable gig. She's a professional provocateur who would rather make people laugh than think. That's fine except that lots of people, whether supporters or detractors, take her schtick more seriously than she apparently does.

She also appears to me to be trapped by the persona she has created and fearful that as she continues to play her part, someone could physically attack her. That must be an awful feeling. Like the moth attracted to and willfully staying in the flame in spite of the risk, Coulter appears to be both lured and repulsed by the fame she has created for herself.

It's sad that we live in a culture that often loves heat more than light and that someone like Coulter is so desperate for prominence that, in spite of her undeniable intellectual gifts and quick wit, she feels compelled to throw in with the purveyors of heat rather than the throwers of light.

Her current prominence probably says something about her and about our country.

In spite of that seemingly negative assessment, I came away from reading the piece liking Coulter...and feeling sorry for her, genuinely sorry for her.

Check Out Marty's Revamped Site!

My talented brother, Marty Daniels, has revamped his web site--including his blog. Check it out. Marty is a very funny comedian, performing in and producing clean shows for corporations and family venues all across the country. Yeah, it's a plug...But he is very good!

Creative Campaign Finance Reform?

Dave Barry links to the story.

Go To Africa with Bolsinger and Son

Tod Bolsinger has a whole bunch of really good posts about a trip that he and his son just took to Africa. Check them out here.

Reasons for Being Fat and Happy

John Tierney's New York Times piece had me laughing out loud!

Friday, April 22, 2005

Do Pols' Approaches to Marriage Vows Tell Us How They'll Approach a Constitutional Oath of Office?

That's the question that Ann Athouse raises here. An interesting discussion in the comments section of her post follows.

Interesting Conversation Incited by Asghar at 'Dimestore Guru'

Spinning off of an editorial that appeared in the Los Angeles Times (a rather poorly-reasoned one, for my money), Rob Asghar has incited a pretty interesting discussion the Church, society, and homosexual unions. You might want to read it and throw in your two-cents.

Could Blair Be a Role Model for US Pols?

New York Times foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman says that while he can't endorse candidates for President in the US, there's nothing preventing him from touting British Prime Minister Tony Blair for re-election on May 5.

A primary reason is that he sees Blair, who has always been accused of having no core political values, as principled. Writes Friedman:
In deciding to throw in Britain's lot with President Bush on the Iraq war, Mr. Blair not only defied the overwhelming antiwar sentiment of his own party, but public opinion in Britain generally. "Blair risked complete self-immolation on a principle," noted Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a pro-Democratic U.S. think tank.

Remember, in the darkest hours of the Iraq drama, when things were looking disastrous (and there have been many such hours), Mr. Bush could always count on the embrace of his own party and the U.S. conservative media machine and think tanks.

Tony Blair, by contrast, dined alone.
Agree with the Bush-Blair policy on Iraq, one must grant Friedman's point. In a country where it was unpopular to support the war, Blair has been Mr. Steadfast. Blair's reward has been that irrespective of their feelings about Iraq, Britons still seem to back Blair and his Labour Party. One reason for this may be that the Conservative Party seems incapable of offering viable policy alternatives to the British electorate. The recent propensity of democratic nations, with aging baby boomer populations, for sticking with incumbents may also be at play. All of this may be true. But Blair took what he saw as a principled stand on foreign policy and is apparently on the brink of reaping electoral rewards for it.

Next, Friedman points out, Blair has managed to lead Britain to not only accept, but to readily participate in "the free market and globalization," two fundamental pillars of the world economy for the forseeable future. He's done this while increasing governmental services--there is, of course, no history of federalism in Britain and the government there functions in some ways, as both federal and state governments do here--and few tax increases.

In the meantime, Friedman notes, Blair has managed to "eviscerate" the Conservative Party, forcing it to carp on marginal issues.

All in all, Friedman believes that Blair gives the Democrats here at home something to think about. I think he's right. Blair's future-friendly center-left approach probably could fly in the US. Instead, Democrats sound too much like a party of the past and like Britain's Tories, have often allowed themselves to be marginalized by Republicans. I'm not certain many of them realize this even yet.

Daugherty's Got Me Thinking

Paul Daugherty, who writes about sports (and life) for the Cincinnati Enquirer, is not just a favorite sports of my favorite columnists, period. In his brilliant piece from yesterday, Daugherty discusses one consequence of Monday Night Football moving from ABC to ESPN: He's considering getting a dish.

You see, this fine sports journalist doesn't have cable, just the handful of stations he can pick up with his antenna. Whenever he reveals this to people, Daugherty says, people look at him like he has one eye in the middle of his forehead. (No ESPN!)

In this column, he also reveals that he isn't too high-tech: His computer connection to the Internet is dial-up.

I suppose that I'm just a few steps ahead of Daugherty. Like him, I live in a dial-up household. I don't own a palm pilot or a blackberry, whatever that is, either. When people start talking to me about i-Pods, Tivo, or just downloading music, my head starts spinning.

We have basic cable at our house, mostly because if left to watch the programming our antenna could feed us at our suburban Cincinnati home, we'd miss 99% of the shows we watch. Network fare for us includes 60 Minutes and the now-deceased Everybody Loves Raymond. That's about it.

Otherwise, we pretty well watch the various cable networks.

Our daughter likes to watch Lifetime, or as our son calls it, The I Hate Men Network with occasional stops at various and sundry reality shows. (I refer to them as un-reality shows.)

The son, as a History and Philosophy major, naturally gravitates to The Cartoon Network and The Food Channel. He also loves The National Geographic Channel. Like me, he'll usually watch a baseball game.

When it isn't showing endless "documentaries" on World War Two or the Civil War, The History Channel sometimes interests us.

My wife loves TNT, where she watches re-runs of Law and Order. Last night, we watched a half-hour of the movie, Pleasantville, together. (I still don't get what that movie is supposed to be about. I mean, what is its message, anyway? If you think you know, send a comment.)

I love MSNBC and sometimes look at the first two incarnations of ESPN.

We all love Turner Classic Movies and enjoyed AMC until somebody got the bright idea of ruining it.

The point is that while we do occasionally find TV shows worth watching on the cable, more than we probably would find if we didn't have it, Daugherty's got me thinking that maybe I've moved too far forward in the world of technology. Maybe I should not only trash cable, but TV altogether.

I know. I know. That's a radical statement. But I've noticed that when the TV is off, three things happen more easily: family conversation, reading, and thinking.

Those are three good things, I think.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Is There Ultimate Truth?

A reader left a comment here, asking me to prove my assertion that there is such a thing as ultimate truth.

Since we're talking about truth, let me be honest at the outset: I will be unable to prove ultimate truth satisfactorily under the rules of formal logic.

In the end, this assertion is rooted in faith, which is another word for trust.

But I think it's a logical faith. In Romans 12:2, for example, Paul talks about worshiping God with our whole lives, something I talk about here. One of our English translation, rightly, says that such self-surrender is our "spiritual worship." Literally, the original Greek says, logike latreia, meaning logical service. There is a sense in which, after a consideration of the facts, our experiences, and the well-documented human penchant for worshiping something, that it makes sense that we yield to the greater truth of God.

Let me give you what I consider to be two logical indicators for the existence of ultimate truth.

First: There is the amazing consensus that exists throughout history across varying cultures and belief systems about what is right and wrong. C.S. Lewis writes this:
If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teachings of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks, and Romans, what will really strike him [sic] will be how very like they are to each other and to our own...I need only ask the reader to think what a totally different morality would mean. Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men [sic] have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to--whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired...
It seems that all human beings sense the existence of an ultimate truth toward which it is best to conform one's life, although we all fail.

The Bible says that God's truth is written into our hearts and we sense its call on our lives, although we have the freedom to rebel and with our psyches clouded by the distortion of self that we call sin--a condition before it results in actions, we try to bury it.

Paul, in the New Testament book of Romans, speaks of "the wrath of God," which is not an act of punishment by God, but the consequence of routinely ignoring the ultimate truth we observe in daily life. (Wrath then is, as I tell my Catechism students, like what happens if we stick our fingers in an electrical socket. The socket has nothing against us. But the electrical system is set up so that if we "cross the line" of God's laws for good living, there are consequences. They may not be immediately evident. But there are consequences. More on that presently.)

Paul writes:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God [the Author of truth] is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things He has made...(Romans 1:18-20)
The moral system, founded on twin pillars, which appears inbuilt in the human psyche is one which seems to pervade all human attempts to live good lives or establish virtue. Those twin pillars, summarized not only in the Great Commandment articulated by Jesus, but also in the two tables of the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament and in the two sacraments instituted by Jesus, are these: love God and love neighbor.

Even moral systems not founded on monotheism acknowledge the need to bow to Someone or something greater than self.

Even moral systems that differ on the implications of neighbor love agree that it is an ultimate value, the violation of which is a great wrong.

This leads to the second logical indicator for the existence of ultimate truth. It's quite simple: God has revealed it and has done so ultimately, in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Human beings have a desire to bury the truth that there is ultimate right and wrong and that it has an Author worthy of our surrender. After all, if we can do that, then we have license to be our own gods, accountable only to ourselves.

What child hasn't fantasized about or actually tried, gorging on all the cookies in the jar when Dad or Mom wasn't looking? (After all, they reason, I want those cookies!) What married man or woman hasn't fantasized or actually tried, taking sexual intimacies from outside their marital relationship? (After all, they reason, I want those cookies!) This inclination is really a desire to bury God and, in the words of Genesis, "be like God."

If one is successful in burying God and the ultimate truth around which He says life is good, we erase wrath (the consequences of acting like gods to ourselves), or so we think. (It undoubtedly is why the world killed and buried Jesus. Fortunately for us, Jesus wouldn't stay dead. But I'm jumping ahead of myself.)

God, being gracious and as the Bible puts it, "slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love," is unwilling to see us victimized by our worship of self. God refuses to give us up to wrath without fighting for us. That's why Jesus, the ultimate revelation of God, came into the world. The wages of sin may be death, as Romans 6:23 says, "but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Jesus reveals ultimate truth. He shows us what ultimate truth is by the life that He lived while walking this earth. It's a life of absolute love for God and neighbor. In this life, Jesus accomplished something which no human being, in spite of the sense of right and wrong that courses through the veins of all of us, had previously been able to do and something that nobody since has pulled off either. His is a life so perfect that He was able to act as the sacrifice, the payment, for our sins and so destroy the power of wrath over the lives of those who turn from sin and entrust their existences--past, present, and future--to Him.

"I am the way, the truth, and the life," Jesus tells us. (John 14:6)

Although I believe that these two things--the inbuilt sense of right and wrong and the Person of Jesus--are logical indicators of the existence of ultimate truth, I realize that they don't prove my assertion.

But this is what I know: If you will allow yourself to surrender to Jesus Christ, you will also believe in ultimate truth. I dare you to try that.

It's what I did back in my atheist days. I found my mind, heart, and will stirred by something as I spent time with these Christians, everyday people who never claimed to be better than others, but who found hope, strength, and encouragement in Christ. I was further stirred as I started to read the Bible in a translation that was accessible to me.

Against my will, against my previous derision of faith, of Christians, and of the weakness of those who surrender, I found myself loving Jesus Christ.

I finally said something like, "God, I don't know if You're there and I don't know exactly what's happening to me. But if Jesus is Who You are, I want You in my life. I don't want to the be the ultimate authority of my life because I know that I'll only screw up."

I haven't always obeyed God's ultimate truth. I do things that deserve wrath. (In fact, one of my frequent daily prayers is, "Thank You, God, for not killing me as I deserve.") But I have found God to be just like He reveals Himself to be through Jesus: a Truth of rightness, love, charity, and forgiveness on Whom I can build my life!

I hope that this helps.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI

Because the College of Cardinals had already been, in effect, sequestered for prayer and conversation for a longer period of time than is ordinarily the case before the start of a conclave, I had thought that consensus would develop quickly around a new pope. I predicted to my family yesterday that we would know today or tomorrow.

But I was surprised by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's selection. I had expected a pope from the Third World.

Many of my Roman Catholic friends and acquaintances will be disappointed by the prospect of Benedict XVI's papacy. They will see him as intransigent on issues they believe require change. Like them, I would like to see the Roman Church ordain women and allow priests to marry as a matter of course.

But on the core issues of Christian faith, it seems that Benedict will be a firm, if gentle, rock. In these times when the entire Church catholic, all of us who confess Jesus Christ as Lord, confront what the new pope has called "the dictatorship of relativism," it will be good to have a Bishop of Rome who is firmly committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and who possesses the quality of mind and the sensitivity of spirit to effectively proclaim Christ and God's truth in uncertain times.

My prayers are with the new pope.

Influential Theologian Discusses Future of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

I just received this email from WordAlone, a group working for reform of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). WordAlone's mission is to call the ELCA to once more embracing the foundational belief that the Bible, as the Word of God, is the authoritative source and norm of our life, faith, and practice. The article quotes the informed musings of one of our most eminent leaders, pastor and church historian James Nestingen.

Nestingen addresses crisis in ELCA

by Betsy Carlson, editor

After hearing an inspiring talk by Prof. James Nestingen,
WordAlone Network members heard about its board of
directors’ proposals to look into forming an association of
“confessing” congregations and a house of studies to
prepare individuals for ministry, as an alternative to
present seminaries.

Nestingen told his hearers that now is the time for the
WordAlone to prepare to possibly be forced out of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America because of its stand
to live by the truth of Scripture and the Lutheran

He said a couple of things have occurred that have made
WordAlone’s standing in the ELCA more precarious. For one
thing, the ELCA has not responded to the WordAlone
Theological Board’s Admonition for the Sake of the True
Peace and Unity of the Church; and ELCA bishops have made
it almost impossible for candidates to obtain exceptions to
the requirement of ordination by bishops in Called to
Common Mission, the full communion agreement with The
Episcopal Church USA.

The other event is the recent actions of the ELCA Church
Council, by a nearly unanimous vote, to propose the
creation of a process for granting exceptions to ELCA
ordination qualifications requiring celibacy of gay and
lesbians seeking ordination or consecration or
commissioning to ministry. This exception, if okayed by the
ELCA Churchwide Assembly next August in Florida, would
allow gays and lesbians in same-sex relationships to be
ordained and rostered as ministers at the discretion of the
Conference of Bishops.

"I never thought I’d ask this,” Nestingen stated, “but what
do we do now?”

He said now is the time to look into creating alliances
with other ELCA members who “have been pushed to the
margins. “This church is leaving us, stripping us of
standing in the body which we have cherished,” he

Now is the time to take provisional steps for the sake of
WordAlone’s witness and for the sake of its congregations,
he said. “Jesus has always loved sinners and is always at
his best when there is no human hope. He may turn this
around and bring us from this long crucifixion we have
endured in this church to resurrection.”

As he finished, the 450 to 500 persons gathered rose to
give him a long, standing ovation.

Board members Dr. Dennis Bielfeldt, a professor of religion
at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D., and
Pastor Randy Freund of Faith Lutheran Church in Hutchinson,
Minn., then presented resolutions to look into creating a
house of studies and an association of confessing churches.

Along with WordAlone president Jaynan Clark Egland, they
answered questions from WordAlone members, such as: “Will
members of the new association be required to join
WordAlone?” The answer was, “No.” The board members
suggested that much of what the house of studies and new
association will look like is still to be determined. They
acknowledged they don’t know if the association ultimately
will leave the ELCA or not.

Further discussion of the proposals and votes on the
resolutions are expected Tuesday.

WordAlone is meeting in convention at St. Andrew’s Lutheran
Church in Mahtomedi, Minn. Keynote speakers are discussing
the authority of Scripture in teaching sessions.

How Not To Win Friends and Influence People

Taking a break from preparations for tonight's Forty Days of Purpose small group, I checked out the always interesting blog site of Ann Althouse and was of course, rewarded. Althouse has a short post on the explanation of a person who recently confronted Supreme Court Justice in a rude way. A really fine post!

I felt moved to respond:
...We do have freedom of speech in this country. So, to an extent I suppose, we have the right to be rude to others, irrespective of their stations.

But I wonder how politic it is.

Incidentally, while I personally regard the practice of homosexuality as a sin, I favor moves toward securing full civil rights for gays and lesbians, including an openness to the establishment of some sort of civil recognition of marriage-like relationships. (This I deem no threat to marriage or the Church. I regard "marriage" under state laws to be a different, though often coterminous, institution from the relationship we recognize within the Church.)

I say all this by way of explaining that my rejection of rudeness has nothing to do with a bias.

Interesting post!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Reflections on Cardinal Ratzinger's Identification of 'Dictatorship of Relativism'

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, preaching today at the mass for his fellow cardinals as they prepared to enter the conclave at which they will elect the next Roman Catholic pope, said some things that may raise eyebrows. In particular, he spoke of the "dictatorship of relativism."

His words met with thunderous approval from his fellow clerics, but were likely greeted with chagrin by those, especially in America and Europe, hoping that the Church will turn from many of its traditional teachings.

As a Lutheran Christian, I admit that I am not in agreement with some official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

I believe in the ordination of women, for example.

I don't believe that the use of contraceptives by married couples is sinful.

I can see no reason for insisting that clergy be celibate.

I don't buy traditional Roman understandings of sainthood or of Mary.

While I resonate more closely with the Catholic Church's teachings on Holy Communion than with those of say, the Methodist Church in which I grew up, I still have my differences with Rome on this important subject.

My belief that the Bible, as God's Word, is the ultimate authority for the life, faith, and practice of the Church and of individual Christians, finds me casting a wary eye on the Roman Church's seeming overreliance on extra-biblical writings and traditions.

But as I hope readers of this blog can attest, I also gladly and unreservedly affirm that Roman Catholic Christians are my sisters and brothers in Christ. A Roman Catholic priest preached at my service of ordination and participated in the laying on of hands there. (I suppose that, for those who believe in such things, this puts me in apostolic succession. Lutheran and Nazarene pastors also placed their hands on me then.) I enjoy warm personal friendships with deeply committed Roman Catholics and have since adolescence. I have had the honor of preaching in several Roman Catholic parishes.

I mention all this by way of saying that I care about the Roman Church without agreeing with it on every particular of doctrine. There are many Catholic notions which Ratzinger, the Church's chief enforcer of doctrine, holds to be core elements of Christian belief that I see as mere cultural accretions or traditions with scant Biblical support. (Luther would call these adiaphora, non-salvific beliefs without eternal consequence. I would agree with him.)

But I also think that Ratzinger was dead-on at some points in his homily. A CBC account tells us:
"Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labelled today as a fundamentalism, whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and swept along by every wind of teaching, looks like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards," the 78-year-old Ratzinger said during the homily.

"We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."
An account from The Australian quotes Ratzinger as contrasting immature faith, susceptible to the shifting winds of personal preference and of cultural fads, with mature faith, which follows Jesus Christ as its True North by Whom one is called to live, no matter what opposition or derision is faced:
"'Grown-up' is not a faith that follows every wave of fashion and the latest news," he told the pre-election mass celebrated just hours before cardinals were sequestered in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel.

"'Adult and mature' is a faith profoundly rooted in the friendship of Christ.

"How many winds of doctrine have we known in these past decades; how many ideological currents; how many ways of thinking?

"The little boat of thought for many Christians has quite often been thrown from one extreme to the other, from Marxism to liberalism, right through to libertinism, from collectivism to radical individualism, from atheism to a vague religious mysticism, from agnosticism to syncretism."
[Syncretism, by way of explanation, is the combination of faith in Christ with other religions, traditions, and isms in a faithless effort to make oneself more palatable and unexceptionable to those who might reject a clear, faithful allegiance to Christ as Lord and God. This is alluring for a coward like me. But Jesus tells us that if we are unwilling to acknowledge Him and His Lordship here on earth, He cannot acknowledge as His own in eternity.]

This evening on Hugh Hewitt's radio show, Hugh asked listeners if we thought that Ratzinger were onto something. Is there a "dictatorship of relativism" which does not recognize anything as certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires?

Is it possible in today's culture for anyone to assert that, "This is timelessly true and anything that is opposed to this truth is false" without being dismissed as intolerant by the PC-police?

Sadly, my observation and recent experiences lead me to believe that there is a dictatorship such as that described by Ratzinger. More than a few of my pastoral colleagues and I have seen this close-up in our own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

For about a decade now, there has been a movement within our church body that has two goals: to allow for the ordination of practicing homosexuals and to allow for the church sanctioning of homosexual unions.

Those advocating both or one of these two positions have grabbed the reins of influence within our Church and have framed the entire discussion of these two issues as being about tolerance. From their perspective, those who agree with their positions are tolerant and those who disagree are intolerant.

(Of course, this framing of theological discussion ignores the fact that the Bible doesn't see tolerance as an ultimate value. Indeed, Christians are called to be tolerant of all people and completely intolerant of sin, especially in ourselves. The worst thing that Christians can do is take a tolerant attitude toward overt rebellion against God. In John 20:23, Jesus gives His followers the responsibility of proclaiming forgiveness to those who turn from sin and turn toward Christ and of announcing to those unwilling to make such a turn--what the Bible calls repentance--that their sins are unforgiven and that they are therefore separated from God.)

Questions about what is right and wrong have been swept aside by these advocates of the law of relativism that tolerates anything, even if it's wrong. Several years ago, a colleague served on a national board of our denomination which was considering a paper embodying the movement goal of sanctioning homosexual unions. A lay member of the board spoke up and asked, "Doesn't the Bible indicate that marriage is between men and women?" Hearing this, another member became agitated. "Why?" this second person wondered, "Do people always bring up the Bible in these discussions?"

This sentiment is apparently shared by more than those uninformed of the traditional Lutheran view that the Bible is the ultimate arbiter of Christians' beliefs and practices. Readers of this blog will know that in January, a "study" of sexuality sponsored by the ELCA and conducted by a church-appointed commission was released. In the run-up to that, documentation was given to our congregations designed to frame their consideration of the commission's work. In the documentation, the commission suggested that there were three authoritative voices to which the Church should heed in the discussion: (1) The Bible; (2) Science; (3) Societal views.

Lutherans have always been at home with the life of the mind. The movement was, after all, born in a university. The tradition includes people like Schweitzer, Kierkegaard, and Bach. So, unlike some Christian traditions perhaps, Lutheranism has never reacted with reflexive negativity to intellectual inquisitiveness, creative adventurism, or scientific inquiry.

Lutherans have always tried to be sensitive to what's going on in the world, sometimes being overly accommodating to prevailing world views. (That was our sin in Nazi Germany. That was also the wrong committed by many leading Lutheran theologians in the US who defended slavery before our Civil War. But Lutherans have also been quick to acknowledge the Biblical call to be transformed people who strive to do things God's way rather than following the selfish customs of the human race.) (Romans 12:1-2; Philippians 2:4-11)

The commission's elevation of three seemingly co-equal authorities for the Church's discussion represented a stunning departure from Lutheran insistence that the Bible contains God's truth. The reason we refer to the Bible as canon, a word for a form of measurement, is that we deem the Scriptures to be the expression of God's truth against which we measure all other truth claims.

There is room in this view for varying perspectives of the meaning of specific Biblical teachings, of course. But there certainly can be no wiggle room for those wishing to designate as right what the Bible clearly calls wrong.

Yet, the PC police in our body have been able to manipulate this discussion so as to make opponents of Biblical revisionism afraid to speak up. They accuse those who disagree with them, either overtly or by implication, of being intolerant.

Being intolerant, in this view, is to hold that there are absolutes.

But this puts the dictaors of relativism at odds with the Scriptures. Jesus, for example, calls Himself "the way, the truth, and the life" and says that no one can know God apart from Him. (John 14:6)

The Bible warns us from putting too much stock in our own judgments of right and wrong, relying on God's judgment as being our ultimate guide: "There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way of death." (Proverbs 14:12)

The Bible also claims to authoritatively speak for God: "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness..." (Second Timothy 3:16)

The dictatorship of relativism wants to deny the existence of absolute truth founded in an absolutely good God Who speaks to us authoritatively through the Bible because such denial allows human beings to evade responsibility for our sin, giving us license to do what we want to do.

When Adam was confronted for his sin, he blamed his wife. She in turn, blamed the serpent who beguiled her. When God confronted their son, Cain, for murdering his brother, Abel, Cain tried to shrug the whole thing off by asking God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" We've been trying to shrug off the existence of right and wrong ever since. But we can't do it.

As Paul notes in his opening salvo in the extraordinary New Testament book of Romans:
"...the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them, Ever since the creation of the world His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things He has made. So they are without excuse; for they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools..." (Romans 1:18-23)
Paul is saying here that we all know that there is ultimate truth and it resides in God. This knowledge is knit into our very DNA. But to acknowledge these things forces us to subordinate ourselves to God and to turn to Him for merciful forgiveness for our violations of His will for us.

This is why the Bible is so unrelenting in its call for us to be truthful with ourselves and with God. It's only by an honest accounting of our wrongs that we become open to receiving the forgiveness and new life God offers through Jesus Christ:
"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He Who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar..." (First John 1:8-10)

"The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:17)
The ultimate reason that Jesus, God in the flesh, was crucifed by the human race and the reason that we would prefer not following Christ today is that we are what the Bible calls, idolaters. We choose to worship things rather than God, lying to ourselves about Who is really in charge and really our Boss, because things can be manipulated and God can't be. We choose to worship ourselves because, like Eve in the garden, lured to rebel against God's commands, we want an easy life in which nobody finds us objectionable for suggesting that we individual human beings ought to be the ultimate authorities over our lives.

A friend of ours went through a divorce. Her husband had an affair, which she had been willing to forgive provided they got counseling and he exhibited a genuine effort to rebuild their marriage. But the man left.

As he walked out the door of the house, leaving our friend and their child, the woman said, "How can you be so selfish? Don't you know how wrong this is?"

In patronizing tones, the husband replied, "There's no such thing as right and wrong."

Some months later, the two were locked in a custody dispute. The husband who'd left the relationship almost exactly, though unconsciously, aped his estranged wife's words when he asked her, "Don't you know how wrong this is?"

Our friend, actually trying to do right by both their child and her one-time husband, replied, "I thought you said that there was no such thing as right and wrong."

The fact is, that no matter how hard we try to bury it, there is such a thing as ultimate truth. The dictators of relativism cannot change that.

These days, I'm praying that neither the Roman Catholic Church or my own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America cave in to the fads of the times, but always strive to make their decisions in prayerful consideration of the witness of Scripture, God's authoritative truth source. We, in our respective church bodies, won't always get it right. We will sin. But if we keep the God we meet on the Bible's sacred pages as our True North, we'll never veer far off course or for very long.

UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt has produced a transcript of Ratzinger's entire homily on his blog. In it, I note, Ratzinger speaks of "cheap grace." So far as I know, this term was coined by the martyred German Lutheran theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It appears in Bonhoeffer's classic book, The Cost of Discipleship. In it, Bonhoeffer contrasts "cheap grace" with "costly grace."

Grace, is literally God's charitable decision to forgive sin and offer new life through Jesus Christ as a gift to all with faith in Him. (John 3:16) It is utterly free and cannot be earned, only appropriated by those who dare to entrust their lives and eternal destinies to Christ.

Bonhoeffer says that while God's grace is free, it isn't cheap. This is so, first of all, because it cost Christ His suffering and death on the cross. It's also not cheap because new life through Christ and Christ Himself are such valuable and precious commodities. "Lord, you are more precious than silver...more costly than gold," the Bible says.

Finally, God's grace is costly because in order for us to receive it, it will cost us our lives. You can't hold onto the dying trophies of this life and still grasp Christ's outstretched hand. Jesus had this abandonment of self-seeking ways in mind when He said:
"If any want to become My followers. let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for My sake will save it." (Luke 9:23-24)
I believe that Ratzinger is saying that the Church must not fall prey to the temptation of making itself temporarily acceptable to the dictatorship of relativism and thereby divest itself of its connection to Christ.

Cheap grace is the sort of grace we winkingly give to one another, allowing ourselves license for sin, deliberately rebelling against God and daring to call it holy.

Costly grace is the sort that comes to those who are absolutely honest about the pervasiveness of our sin and our need of God, who surrender and open themselves to the invasion of Christ into every department of their lives, who admit their unholiness, and hungrily feed on Christ's forgiveness and goodness.

ANOTHER UPDATE: John Schroeder has linked to this post on his site, Blogotional. Thanks, John! By the way, I haven't expressed any opinion on the filibuster issue to which John connects this post and have no plans for doing so.

THANKS to Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice for linking to this post in his extensive round-up of reactions to Cardinal Ratzinger's elevation to the papacy.

More on Keeping Politics Out of the Pulpit, Worship, Local Church

Aaron of two or three [.net] has posted on why keeping politics out of the pulpit, worship, and the local church is important for the integrity of the Church. Check out his post here.

I responded with a comment on his site:
Aaron: I obviously agree with you here.

The politicized Church is in danger of eliminating Christ from its

Furthermore, this politicized Church endangers all Christians striving to
share the Good News of Jesus. Instead of trying to persuade people of Christ's
Lordship with the "gentleness and reverence" that Peter commends in the New
Testament, these political Christians thump enemies, perceived and real, with
condemnation and an air of moral superiority.

The possibility of backlash against Christianity, already somewhat
apparent, grows as the politicized Church strays further and further away from

The cause of Christ-centered living is tarred by the sub-Christian
Pharisaism touted in the politicized Church, right and left. I hope that the
upcoming TV program gets few viewers and that Senator Frist gets the message
that this is a really bad idea.

More importantly, I hope that the Church understands how horrible it is
when we allow the Church and our proclamation of Christ to become subordinated
agents of partisan politics, instead of ambassadors for Christ!

Thanks for your post!

Blessings in Christ,
Mark Daniels

Patron Saint of Blogging?

Mark D. Roberts, among the most prolific bloggers and certainly one of the most productive blogging pastors on the web, is writing a whimsical series on who should be designated as the patron saint of blogging. It's fun, but manages to make some serious points as well.

Mark's series reminds me of my short post on who the "godfather of blogging" might be, here.

Of course, the Roman Catholic conception of sainthood is different from that held by either the New Testament or by Protestants. In Roman tradition, a person is designated as a saint only after they have died, been deemed to have lived a particularly exemplary Christian life, and are usually thought to have played a role in miracles.

But in the New Testament portion of the Bible, a saint is simply a sinner whose sins have been forgiven by virtue of Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection and the sinner's faith in Christ. Through their repentant acceptance of Christ, they're not only sinners, but saints. Saints then, are just forgiven sinners.

Several months ago, I wrote another post on the question of "praying to saints." You can find that post here.

Let's Talk About Sex

Ann Althouse links today to a New York Times profile of some Princeton University students who want to talk about sex, although some of their fellow students may wish they'd keep quiet. It's an intriguing read.

A Good Conclave Read

Malachi Martin, a former Vatican-insider, once wrote a fantastic novel which may be of particular interest as the College of Cardinals meets in conclave to select a new pope. It's called The Final Conclave. Although it's been several decades since I read it, the book, along with its themes and story line, have stuck with me all these years. If you find a copy and read it, let me know your reactions.

Why Separation of Church and State is Best for the Church and Its Cause

Also at Stones Cry Out, the web log to which Mark Sides contributes, Jim Jewell, has posted a piece triggered by an upcoming TV program that puts some local Christian churches in the thick of partisan politics. Jewell is opposed to such mixing of local churches in political affairs. I agree with him as far as he goes. But, as you'll see from the comments I posted on Stones Cry Out, I would go much further than he. Here's what I wrote:

Amen! Amen! Amen!

But I would go even further than you in my criticism of these political activities in churches.

I too am interested in political affairs and deem it the responsibility of every Christian to care about political issues. I have even run for political office myself.

But I would never push a partisan political position from the pulpit.

I would never allow a candidate or any slate of candidates to speak or distribute materials promoting their candidacies or views.

I would never allow "parachurch" organizations to come pushing political agendas, even in the name of "being prophetic."

I refuse to allow the Lord of the universe or the Gospel to be held hostage to any puny human political philosophy, no matter how "right" its adherents may deem it. And the Lord and the Gospel are held hostage and rendered subordinate whenever the Church decides to push a particular politics. Believers become enamored of power and financial clout and so, lose the power that the Carpenter from Galilee gives to all who live in simple submission to Him!

God is not a Republican. God is not a conservative.

God is not a Democrat. God is not a liberal.

Jim Wallis, James Dobson, and others all may have things to say. But God forbid them from ever daring to say, "My politics is God's politics!" That is nothing less than blasphemy!

It's time to call these politicizers of the Gospel by their proper names:

  • Some are idolaters, worshiping their philosophical gods or philosophically-tinged caricatures of the real God, attempting to make God over in their own personal, pliant images.
  • Some are political opportunists, playing on the inclinations, sensibilities, and predispositions of Christians in order to gain power and in some cases, cold hard cash.
  • Some are Pharisees, nothing more than proof-texting ayatollahs and mullahs, bent on imposing their own particular views of Christian morality and ethics on the whole society.

Some are conservative and some are liberal and I wish that they all would just shut up because I am sure that they do not represent God.

And I wish that Jesus would, as He did to the money-changers at the temple who used faith for their own purposes, chase these cancerous leeches out of our churches!

One Little Girl's Significant Life

Read Mark Sides' simple yet moving story of Jessica, daughter of friends.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Forty Days of Purpose: Worshiping God, The First Purpose of Our Lives

Romans 12:1-2
Mark 12:28-30
(shared with the people of Friendship Church, April 17, 2005)

You’ve probably heard the story of the young guy, trying hard to impress his girlfriend, who decided to write a tribute and send it to her in an email. “For my love,” he wrote, “I’d scale the highest mountain. I’d cross the deepest ocean. I’d brave combat with the fiercest enemy. I’d give my very life just to be with you.” He signed it, “Love, Joe” and then appended this PS: “I’ll be over tonight unless there’s a ball game on TV.”

When you love someone, you want to be with them, to spend time with them, to hear their voice, and to do what’s best for them. Love is rarely measured in words alone. Even liars can come up with nice words that sound loving. Love is seen in what we do for the ones we love.

This is a lesson I learned early in our marriage. Ann would come home from work and I, still a student with one year of college left, would sit there amid dishes I hadn't cleaned and messes I hadn't cleared. "Why is this place such a mess?" she'd ask. And I'd reply, "I don't know. But I love you." If you love me, Ann was saying, then clear away this squalor!

Jesus once was asked what the greatest commandment is. He gave a two-part answer. In the first part, He said that we are to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. Giving love to God is the appropriate response for us to make to the God Who loves us completely and Who accepts us in spite of all our faults and flaws.

Loving God is really what the Bible calls worship. Our worship is to happen not just on one morning of one day of the week. Worship is meant to be our life style. God loves us. He wants to spend every moment of every day with us. And He is desperate for us to spend time getting to know Him better. This then, is the first purpose of every human life: to completely love and offer our whole selves to the God Who completely loves us and Who, through Jesus Christ, has already given Himself completely to us!

How do we do that? The first century preacher and evangelist, Paul, tells us how in one of our Bible lessons for this morning, taken from the New Testament book of Romans. Paul writes:
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect."
In these few words, Paul shows us how to love God completely, how to intimately worship God twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.

First: We need to remind ourselves often of how much God loves us. When we remember that, we’ll want to love and please God and be with Him all the time. Paul appeals to us to pay heed to the words he writes to the Romans because of “the mercies of God.”

It’s interesting to me that as he lay dying in his Vatican apartment a few weeks ago, Pope John Paul II asked that someone read aloud to him. He didn’t ask to be read some fairy tale, something to "take his mind off his troubles." He asked instead, that the story of Jesus’ crucifixion be read to him. There is nothing more consoling to us as we face the sometimes grim realities of life than a God Who has refused to remain standoffish in heaven while we go through the pains of earth, but has instead entered into our troubles with us. God became human. God suffered. God died. God rose again. He did this all for the love of us. When we remember this, we want to give ourselves to God!

Next, we worship God when we offer our bodies as our living sacrifices to God. We offer our bodies because, as Rick Warren points out in his book, The Purpose Driven Life, if we offer our bodies to God, everything else--our minds, our spirits, our wills--wil come along for the ride.

Living sacrifices don’t hold anything back from God. I once heard a man named Robert Coleman, a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, tell the story of a little boy whose twin brother was very sick. I’ve shared it with you before. Without a transfusion, the brother would die. The situation was explained to the little guy and he readily volunteered to have his blood drawn. Laying on a hospital bed some moments after the IV had been put in his arm, the boy turned to the doctor and asked softly, “Doctor, how much longer before I die?” It was then that the doctor realized that the boy thought that giving life to his twin brother would cause his own death. The doctor asked him, “If you thought that you were going to die, why did you say it was okay for us to draw your blood?” The boy said, “Because he’s my brother and I love him.”

Jesus Christ gave His blood–and His body–to give us life. He did it because He loves us. And in the face of such overwhelming, sacrificial love, it’s fitting that we should make ourselves living sacrifices to Him, committing ourselves to the self-giving service like His.

We also worship when we refuse to be conformed to this world and let Christ renew our minds. We need to let the God we know through Jesus Christ step into our minds and change the ways we think.

I confess that God still has a long way to go in transforming my mind. Too many of my thoughts are occupied with selfishness and sin. That’s why I keep asking God to make war on my ego and to give me a holy lobotomy so that my mind is no longer captive to wrong, but free to live as human beings were created to live. I hope to one day be like the boy from whom Jesus cast out demons, in my right mind, my God mind.

For this to happen, we need to submit to the God we know through Jesus Christ. The disciplines we’re undertaking during this Forty Days of Purpose campaign of spiritual renewal--prayer, study of God’s Word, small group discussions, opportunities for service in Jesus’ Name which will come our ways in a few weeks--all can be the means by which the renewal of our minds and lives can happen.

The first purpose of our lives is to worship God. And worship is more than just what we offer on Sunday mornings. Worship is the offering of our whole selves to God through all the moments of our lives. Worship is our response to the God Who loves us and gives new life to all who follow Jesus Christ. Worship, is how we use our lives to declare God’s greatness and goodness.

Does a Mustachioed Philtrum Render One 'Mean Looking'?

Ann Althouse thinks so. Not everyone agrees.

My two cents would be that only women with mustachioed philtrums look mean.

By the way, another question is addressed in the comments to Althouse's post: Is John Major's philtrum weird?