Friday, July 20, 2007

MITHras BUSTERS

This is me being dorky in the British Museum. I saw this Mithraic tauroctony and had an idea that could only make punsters grimace, my Latin and NT teachers grin, and my apologist friends clap.



(Full size here.)

Somebody should tell the bull to watch out for his gonads.

And yes...that is a poorly Photoshopped Irish crozier I'm using for the attack! Watch out, or I just might turn into a mitred smiter!

Let there be light!

Or at least fiber optic cable.

Just culled from the web, septuagenarian Segbritt Löthberg has the fastest internet connection installed in a residence in the world. At 40 gigabits per second, she can download a typical 90 minute movie in roughly two seconds.

And at 75, I'd say she doesn't need to spend her time waiting for something to load!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Insufficient reflection on Sola Fide

Some people argue that while Christians are fussing over doctrine, they are ignoring the work that Christ left for us to do. I retort that that those who don't understand the work Christ did while he was on earth are hardly capable of continuing it in any meaningful way! So talk of Christianity that is separated from truth claims on the nature of Christ's work is not particularly defensible. Further, I think that history would show how Christianity is, historically, uniquely tied to its truth claims (both dogma and pragma) in a way that other faiths (often being more practice-driven) are not. This is merely a matter of history, not of theology. And secular thinkers have said as much in recent days.

A colleague's recent thoughts on justification and faith brought to mind Luther's famous statement, that "the doctrine of justification is the article by which the church stands or falls." He was referring to its articulation in the fourth article of the Augsburg Confession that justification is by faith alone in Christ alone (Melancthon's commentary on which may be found here). Similarly, Calvin said that justification by faith is "the principle hinge by which religion is supported." To be a Protestant means that you understand salvation, however you parse that (salvation from Hell and God's wrath, restoration to right relationship with God and others, etc.) is accomplished by Jesus Christ's work plus nothing! The recent Cambridge Declaration reiterated the belief, calling sola fide the "chief article" of Protestant Christianity.

I think that we lose perspective on this belief when we aren't anchored in understanding the history surrounding it. The Roman Catholic Church, for all its errors and excesses, was doing a decent job of urging charity and contributing to social cohesion. It had hospitals, schools, diplomats, amnesty workers, etc. And when the Reformers got off the ground, they had similar organizations. Their belief in this doctrine of justification by faith was obviously a matter of great intellectual and pietistic reflection, as is evidenced by the amount of ink spilled on the topic in the following four centuries. (Turretin's work on this is massive!) But it also had a very practical outworking in the building of schools, hospitals, charitable organizations, etc... all of which flourished in Reformed countries (despite the current mischaracterization that concern for doctrine diminishes "living out the kingdom of God").

What Protestants have always affirmed is that saving faith is God's work in us. It is an abandonment of faith in ourselves and a reliance upon the work of Christ as the sole means by which we have joyful fellowship with God and (ultimately) with ourselves and with others. If we look at any thing we do as somehow changing God's mind about communing with us, we fail to trust in Christ. If we think our good deeds make God like us more, we flubbed it. If we think God will love us less if we misbehave, we've fallen into error.

For legalists, this often takes the form of a "don't" list. Don't murder. Don't fornicate. Don't steal. Don't drink. Don't smoke. Don't XXXX. People that think God loves us or thinks better of us because we don't do these things are taking glory away from the sufficient righteousness that is ours in Jesus Christ.

For others - often (and inaccurately) labeled as "liberals" - this takes the form of a "do" list. Do feed the hungry. Do clothe the poor. Do justice for the orphan, widow, and alien. Do recycle. Do activism. Do XXXX. People that think God loves us or thinks better of us because we do these things are taking glory away from the sufficient righteousness that is ours in Jesus Christ.

Both of these forms of autosoterism are detestable and are unreformed. Reformed people eschew sin (some of which is found in the "don't list") and act righteously (some of which is found in the "do list") because God has revealed that his glory is manifested in us in those ways. Our life is one of thankful response whereby we "glorify God and enjoy him forever."

Every time we move away from the doctrine - the belief - that the work of reconciliation is complete in Christ and manifested in time by its application to us through the Holy Spirit, we err in one extreme or the other. We may say that we're just trying to live right (whether that's "good, clean livin'" or "ethical, green livin'"). But if we don't trust in Jesus for all of salvation (setting us right with the Godhead, each other, and the created order), then we'll fall into the trap of autosoterism (Pelagianism, Romanism, or whatever stripe it wears). Then, the God we worship is an idol who exists to rubber stamp our failures or successes in "doing justice" or "acting righteously."

Recommended reading:

One Faith: The Evangelical Consensus, by Alister McGrath and Thomas Oden. They've both written on the topic for academic audiences (
vide infra). More importantly, they show how Protestants who identify themselves as Reformed and as Arminian have a common ground of belief. In terms of bang-for-your-buck, this is the tops!

Iustitia Dei, by Alister McGrath. This is a historical overview of the doctrine, solid and interesting but a little dry and
very, very expensive.

Dr. Sproul does a better job at detailing this within the Reformed family, but his work has a more narrow appeal than the McGrath/Oden piece. Still, if you are Reformed, his book is a better representation of our mindset on the issue. (There's an interesting critique of Sproul's handling of Luther here.)

Faith Alone, by Martin Luther. Last but not least, this is the exposition of his stance from the Smalcald Articles. I also recommend this examination of his position on how living justification by grace through faith results in our sanctification and wholeness.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pagan Panties in a Wad

The Cerne Abbas giant, a paleolithic fertility carving, is taking a good ribbing from a sex symbol of our own age: Homer Simpson.


This is a publicity stunt to promote the release of the Simpsons Movie, but it's riled some pagans. They've promised to perform some "rain magic" so that the painted image will be washed away for its sacrilege. Hmm...making it rain in jolly old England? IT MUST BE MAGIC! (excuse me...magick or majik or however the fluffbunnies are spelling it now)

They've also demanded that it be removed. Aren't these the same folks that cry "theocracy" every time a Christian complains about the latest NEA-funded masterpiece? Gads...what will they do with this?

(My favorite tagline for this has to be from the Guardian's blogger!)

Vatican's Product Recall

Defects found in Protestant and Eastern Orthodox sects.


ROME—Pope Benedict XVI restated Tuesday what he said were the "defects" of Christian faiths other than Roman Catholicism, prompting anger from Protestants who question the Vatican's respect for other beliefs.
Ian Fisher, New York Times, July 11, 2007

NEWS FROM THE HOLY SEE
Office of Information and Public Affairs
Vatican City, Rome

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Vatican Recall Hotline: (800) ASK-RATZ
July 10, 2007

VATICAN CITY—Pope Benedict XVI today announced a voluntary recall of the following consumer products. Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless otherwise instructed.

Name of Products: African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.), Amish, Anabaptist, Anglican, Baptist, Calvinist, Christian Science, Congregationalist, Episcopalian, Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Huguenot, Jehovah's Witness, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Moravian, Mormon, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Puritan, Quaker, Seventh-Day Adventist, Shaker, and Zwinglian Christian sects (frequently labeled "Protestant").

Name of Products: Albanian Orthodox, Bulgarian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Czech Orthodox, Cypriot Orthodox, Estonian Orthodox, Finnish Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Latvian Orthodox, Macedonian Orthodox, Montenegrin Orthodox, Polish Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Slovak Orthodox, and Ukranian Orthodox sects (frequently labeled "Eastern" or "Oriental" Orthodox).

Manufacturer: The devil (listed on the New York Stock Exchange as "Angel of the Bottomless Pit," "Beelzebub," "Belial," "Dark Prince," "Evil One," "Fallen Angel," "Foul Fiend," "His Infernal Majesty," "Lucifer," "Mephistopheles," "Mr. Applegate," "Mr. Scratch," "Prince of Darkness," "Satan," and "Tempter").

Hazard: Can fail to achieve salvation on contact.

Incidents/Injuries: Widespread reports of salvific malfunction and consequent exclusion from the Kingdom of Heaven. Users complain of being rerouted to Purgatory and in a few instances to the Fiery Pit.

Cause: Because Jesus Christ subsists only in the Catholic Church of Rome™, adherents to other faiths that self-advertise as Christian must rely on infrequent guest appearances. Although He is omnipresent, He can't be everywhere at once.

Sold at: A complete list of retail outlets has been unavailable to the Church for the past five centuries. We continue our efforts to compile one and will post it online when we can.

Manufactured in: Wittenberg, Germany; Istanbul, Turkey; Alexandria, Egypt; Geneva, Switzerland; London, England; Boston, Mass.; Palmyra, New York.

Remedy: Consumers should desist adherence to the abovementioned sects, now proven unreliable, and transmit their souls to the Catholic Church of Rome™. United States residents may use this Catholic Church locator. For those who are already deceased, and therefore ineligible for salvation, the Church has commenced discussions about reopening Limbo, which the Vatican decommissioned in April.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Money Changers and Baptized Capitalism?

Jim Ketchum, a writer for the Times Herald of Port Huron, MI said this:

Remember the Bible story about Jesus driving the moneychangers and other first-century capitalists from the temple in Jerusalem?

They were selling animals for sacrifices and padding their pockets doing currency exchanges.

Guess what: They're back.

Only this time they're in the United States.

There's no denying you can transform a product's desirability by slapping the adjective "Christian" on it - Christian books, Christian music, Christian clothing lines - as opposed to "pagan" or "heathen" books, music and clothing lines, I guess.

The word implies that buying the product in question somehow will help extend the kingdom of God and propagate the faith. What it really does is help pave someone's personal financial streets with gold.

Now while I agree with him on some parts of his article, I took umbrage with his mischaracterization of Jesus' temple thrashing, so I wrote him the following letter.

Jim,

I had to smile after reading your recent article on the sort of baptized commercialism in the market these days. Baptized inflation, you could call it! However, I'm not so quick to lampoon it seeing as similar things could be said of Jewish and Muslim markets. (Ever noticed the Kosher mark on foods, Jewish dating sites, or the recent increase of Halal markets?) Regardless, I do want to challenge you on one aspect of your criticism. You said that Jesus was attacking 1st century capitalists. While there was probably some up-market pricing, I don't think you have a good view of what was happening.

Jewish pilgrims from across the Greco-Roman and Persian world came to Jerusalem at the Passover to worship in the land of their ancestors (much as Muslims still go on hajj today). While the Torah instructed them to bring animals from their own flocks, many of these urban dwellers were no longer directly involved in herding and farming. Even if they had been, it would be quite impractical to drag an animal from home all the way across the desert sands or the Mediterranean Sea just to sacrifice it in Jerusalem. (What would happen if it died on the way?) Therefore, providing a service to their fellow Jews, certain people set up places where people could buy animals when they got to Jerusalem. Were the prices higher than what you would get elsewhere? Yes. But having recently returned from holiday in London, I can tell you that umbrellas, film, and batteries were more expensive near the major attractions than they were at the local pharmacy. That just makes sense - the space to rent is more expensive.

As for the money changers, they also provided a service. Coins from across the realm were carried by these pilgrims. While the precious metals in the coins were easy to value, the image of Caesar (or some other divine image) on the coin made it sacrilegious to use in paying the Temple Tax. Thus, the money changers exchanged the currency so that it was suitable to use in the Holy City. Again, we do the same thing today. There's a "cut" taken by the money changers at airports, and the same was true back then. Maybe it was exorbitant...we can't be sure.


One thing we can be sure of is that part of Jesus' ire was stoked at the place where the money changers were setting up shop.* The gospel accounts note that a bazaar had been set up in the Court of the Gentiles - the only place where non-Jews (commonly called god-fearers) could worship the true God on the Temple Mount. The court in which all this noise and hustling (literal and metaphorical) occurred was the only court of access for Gentiles when they wished to pray or meditate in the temple. They ought to have been able to worship in peace. Perhaps we could go so far as to say that they had the right to worship in peace. Instead they found themselves in the midst of a noisy bazaar. That's why Jesus specifically says that the Temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations.

*"It is erroneous to suppose that Jesus' action is an attack on the whole sacrificial system. His motive was one of reverence for my Father's house, and of deep concern that the spirit of worship should thus be dissipated at its very door...A place that should have stood as a symbol for the freedom of access of all nations in prayer to God, had become a place associated with sordid pecuniary interests" Wright, quoted in Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971) p. 195, fn. 68.

Killer Bees invade Palestine!

Yet another salvo from the religion of peace. This time, they're training their children to become jihadist martyrs through television programming.

Here's a transcript, if you can't open the viewer:

Saraa, child host: Who are you, and where did you come from?

Nahoul the Bee: I am Nahoul.

Saraa: Nahoul who?

Nahoul: I’m Nahoul, Farfour’s cousin.

Saraa: What do you want?

Nahoul: I want to continue the path of my cousin Farfour.

Saraa: How do you want to do this?

Nahoul: I want to be in every episode with you on the Pioneers of Tomorrow show, just like Farfour. I want to continue in the path of Farfour – the path of Islam, of heroism, of martyrdom, and of the mujahideen. Me and my friends will follow in the footsteps of Farfour. We will take revenge upon the enemies of Allah, the killer of the prophets and of the innocent children, until we liberate Al-Aqsa from their impurity. We place our trust in Allah.

Saraa: Welcome, Nahoul...