Justification By Faith

Poking around the Matthias Media website today I came across an outstanding article on justification by faith -- an interview with the Principal of London Theological Seminary, who has written a book on the subject. The entire article is well worth reading, but here are a few choice quotes:

What spiritual effect will the doctrine of justification by faith have in the believer's life?

I think the main effect will be one of tremendous joy. It's a wonderful thing to wake up each day and realize that, although I'm an unworthy sinner, nevertheless, I am accepted in Christ. Further, I don't have to work for my acceptance. Life is not about keeping God happy by performance. It gives me enormous joy to know that the most important person in the universe accepts me as I am because of the merits of Jesus Christ credited to me.

Again, it's an amazing relief to know that God has dealt with all my sins and faults. He's taken my guilt away. I am accepted in Christ. I know that if I was to die tonight, I would go to be with my Lord in heaven.

Furthermore, now that I know that I'm saved through trusting Christ, I don't have to be terrified of the threat of Purgatory. I don't have any worries about whether people will pray for me after I die, or whether they'll light candles for me. Nor do I have to worry about whether my friends and relatives will pay to have masses offered for me after my death. Justification through faith deals with these and many other fears.


What will happen if the church loses the doctrine of justification by faith?

The first thing that will happen is that the Church will no longer have a gospel to declare. There will be no good news.

Second, believers will lose their sense of assurance. We will wonder if we have ever done enough to please God. “Are we good enough?” we will ask. On the other hand, if we believe this doctrine, it will have a significant impact on our lives. First, we will have peace with God. This means that we will be able to approach God as a friend. Second, it also means that we will have a totally different attitude to sin. When I think of all that God has done for me in Christ, I should hate sin with all my heart. When I reflect on what it cost the Son of God—damnation upon the cross, punishment in body, mind and spirit—I should loathe sin with every part of my being. When I know that I have been justified by grace through faith, I should delight in obeying the One who loved me and gave himself for me.


That's a Fact, Jack.

"I have a theory, one which theologians tend to scoff at, but take it for what you will. My theory is that if you can’t find an intellectually compelling reason to do what Christ has commanded, or you have interesting reasons for why you can do quite otherwise than what he has instructed, that still does not negate your responsibility to do what you’re told. The Lord’s word trumps your theology, all the time, every time. [...]

"Every Sunday, I hear his words spoken, 'This is my body broken for you, this is my blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.' Those words are true because they are Christ’s, not because the proper authorities legislated that those words are allowed to be valid in my church. They are as true as the Gospel because they are the Gospel, and God does not need a pope to authorize the Gospel in order for it to be true. If God can make children of Abraham out of stones with his Word, then how much more by that same Word can he make a Church out of us [...]"

-- Josh S.


Ten Things I Noticed While Watching The Oscars.

1. Jon Stewart is a gift to the world. Funny without being either too crass or too cutting. Human, as evidenced by the fact that he brought out that lovely Marketa to finish her acceptance speech. Sort of adorable. Very self-deprecating. Managed to make a political joke or two that everyone could laugh at, from that groan-inducing short-doc winner lady right down to Charlton Heston.

2. I love Irish people. When Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard came out to accept their Oscar for best song, Glen was all teary and verklempt and fabulous, exhorting us all to Make Art! and by golly, I wanted to! I defy to you show me another soul on the planet more plaintive and convincing than a singing Irishman.

3. Jack Nicholson will never die. Seriously. He has been in that same seat at the Oscars for fifteen years and hasn't aged a day. Or changed his sunglasses. Or stopped making completely incoherent yet somehow inappropriate comments during his inevitable speech about... something...

4. Hilary Swank has big teeth.
...and, it would seem, a malfunctioning foundation garment. Ahem.

5. What is David Bowie doing at the Oscars? In a dress?

6. Remember when Colin Farrell used to be hot? When women all over the world were rendered defenseless by his suavitude and devil-may-careosity? In like 2001? Yeah, he hasn't washed his hair since then.

7. One of the "Oscar Escorts" (which is satisfyingly alliterative, don't you agree?) -- the girls who escort the winners into the wings -- forgot to put her Spanx on before she took to the stage. As any woman will tell you, no matter how thin you are, shiny gold satin + blinding TV-friendly lighting + the FRICKIN OSCARS, PEOPLE = you must wear something under your dress.

8. Miley Cyrus, alternatively known as Hannah Montana (right? Or is it one of those other ones?), Billy Ray "Achy-Breaky" Cyrus's fifteen-year-old daughter, was inexplicably a presenter last night. WHA? Why? And I hate to ding a teenager, though really the ding falls on her "stylist," but she has got to stop dressing like a former stripper who now wants to make herself seem like a serious actress. She's fifteen! Put her in some sweet, modest pastel thing, not a fire-engine-red gown with bad extensions and too much makeup! And the duck lips? Girl. Whoever told you that sticking your lips out makes you look sultry needs to look up the word "sultry" again. And remember that you are fifteen.

9. I'm with Heather -- Helen Mirren, don't you ever get tired of looking fabulous? Don't you ever want to throw on what Tilda/David/Annie up there has on (several garbage bags, I think, through which she has poked her very orange head, or perhaps a prop from a Vegas magic show) and just forget about the whole thing?

10. I saw a lot of strapless dresses last night, and, lovely as many of them were, they did nothing but rouse a desire to shout, "Hitch! It! Up!" at the screen. Seriously, don't these celebs have stylists or bodyguards or minders or something to whisper discreetly that the gown is heading south? They could even come up with some clever code. "Jessica, I think that's all the time we can give to Ryan Seacrest, and purple monkey dishwasher."

Welp, that's our Oscar roundup for the year, folks. All in all, I was glad it went on, and still don't care a fig about any of the films, and enjoyed laughing at Jon Stewart and rolling my eyes at Jack Nicholson, so a night well spent, I think.


I think it's high time...

...for another waste of time post.

First, Love Actually. Some people hate it -- Christine, for instance, detests Hugh Grant so much that you can hear the gag start before she finishes saying his name -- but I adore it. Quotes:

Billy: Ask me anything you like; I'll tell you the truth.
DJ: Uh, best shag you ever had?
Billy: Britney Spears.
DJ: Wow...
Billy: (Snorts) Only kidding. She was rubbish.

Natalie: He said nobody was going to fancy a girl with thighs the size of big tree trunks. Not a nice guy, actually, in the end.
David: You know, being prime minister, I could just have him murdered.
Natalie: Thank you, sir, I'll think about it.
David: Do. The SAS are absolutely charming. Ruthless, trained killers are just a phone call away.

David: Anyway, I'm not sure that politics and dating go together.
The President: Really? I've never found that.

Karen: Now, which doll shall we give Daisy's little friend Emily? The one that looks like a transvestite, or the one that looks like a dominatrix?

Colin: Stateside, I am Prince William, without the weird family.

Daisy: We've been given our parts in the Nativity play.
Karen: And?
Daisy: I'm the lobster.
Karen: The lobster?
Daisy: Yeah!
Karen: In the nativity play?
Daisy: First lobster!
Karen: There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?
Daisy: Duh...

Second, how great is technology? I just got off the phone with Christine... well, off Skype with Christine. We talked for around an hour and a half for free with perfect clarity, which is way better than sending a letter that might get there six or eight weeks later, or typing an email that will be read whenever, or even chatting on an instant messenger. There's something about hearing a friend's voice. But isn't it strange and wonderful to think of having a real-time conversation with someone who lives on the other side of the world?

Third, I love Anthony Bourdain. Love. Love, love, love. I may, in fact, be IN love with him. I adore his shows, though sadly I never get to watch them, being cable-less as I am. He is a genius with both a pan and a pen. I love him for the same reason I love Dr. House -- he's perfectly, often brutally, honest in every situation, and yet has these moments where he's so human and tender and open. The mental censor works both ways, you see, so people who never filter what comes out of their mouths can't filter what those around them have access to. And I couldn't possibly agree more with his assessment of the Drunken Madam of the Brothel of Food-Adjacent Terrors, Sandra "COCKTAIL TIME!!!" Lee:

Pure evil. This frightening Hell Spawn of Kathie Lee and Betty Crocker seems on a mission to kill her fans, one meal at a time. She Must Be Stopped. Her death-dealing can-opening ways will cut a swath of destruction through the world if not contained. I would likely be arrested if I suggested on television that any children watching should promptly go to a wooded area with a gun and harm themselves. What’s the difference between that and Sandra suggesting we fill our mouths with Ritz Crackers, jam a can of Cheez Wiz in after and press hard? None that I can see. This is simply irresponsible programming. Its only possible use might be as a psychological warfare strategy against the resurgent Taliban--or dangerous insurgent groups. A large-racked blonde repeatedly urging Afghans and angry Iraqis to stuff themseles with fatty, processed American foods might be just the weapon we need to win the war on terror.

Honestly, people, in what universe is (pre-made angel food cake + canned frosting + only the white gum drops from 10 packages of gumdrops + approximately 7000 toothpicks) FOOD? Or (1 package white chocolate chips + 1/2 gallon whole milk + 1 pint heavy cream + 1 cup sugar + 1 bottle white chocolate liqueur + 2 cups peppermint schnapps) a DRINK? Her concoctions are stomach-turningly vile.

Judging from the processed sugar content of her... uh, let's call them "recipes" just for the heck of it, she is either A) a meth addict; B) trying to buy her way to the top of C&H's board of directors (which, combined with her penchant for extremely tv-inappropriate tops, makes me think she's got her sights set on a CEO's fortune, which would make her the Anna Nicole of the Food Network); C) suffering from the most severe case of hypoglycemia ever known to man; or D) an "Air-tarian," meaning she has never consumed a single mouthful of the slop she throws together. Or possibly all of the above.

What the Food Network programmers seem not to understand is that their shows are meant to be aspirational -- people are supposed to watch lovely Nigella or no-nonsense Alton or homey, friendly Ina and sigh fondly, dreaming of the day when they'll be able to whip up lemony linguine or crisp fried chicken or juicy roast for their families. Rachael Ray, with her quick, decidedly un-gourmet family suppers, ought to be the lowest on this aspirational totem pole. But instead they dredge up Sandra Lee, who pimps out brand-name processed garbage and calls it "semi-homemade." Microwaving Velveeta and taco seasoning inside a tortilla for 20 seconds hardly counts as dorm food, much less as semi-home-anything.

I could seriously go on and on about Stupid Sandra and her Domain of Processed Darkness, but I won't...

Anyway, that's about enough for one night. I've got another one in the hopper about food choices, stewardship of creation, and being an unrepentant omnivore, but it's long enough that it's going to have to wait. Movie quotes, technology, and Anthony Bourdain... I think that earns this post the label of "Random."


I Know I'm Late To This Party

It's a little pathetic that up until recently, I knew more about Amy Winehouse's personal struggles (Possibly abusive, certainly codependent jailbird husband! Tatty, ever-present ballet flats! Frequent bender-induced bruises! Mysteriously absent right incisor! Terrifying Morticia Addams beehive! Protruding clavicles!) than I did about her music. Well, the night of the (totally lame-o) Grammys, I kept hearing Amy Winehouse this and Amy Winehouse that, and then the next morning saw an article on Slate.com about why Amy isn't just a whacked-out pop star, but an actually talented, unique voice in popular music.

So I finally decided to give her Back to Black album a listen, and now, even though I'm extremely tardy in jumping on the old Wino bandwagon, I'm a pretty big fan. It's no coincidence that, in her (HUGE, ubiquitous) single, "Rehab," she name-drops Ray Charles, a well-known junkie, on an album that gives much more than a hat-tip to classic Motown R&B. Besides which, the very fact that a 24-year-old faintly chavvy Jewish Brit (like, l'chaim, innit?) can sing like a world-weary 60's Motown black woman is pretty remarkable. Ch-ch-check it out.


Wow. Wow. Wow.

For awhile there, I stayed away from Boundless.org, but it has gained my favor increasingly in the last few weeks with article after article that doesn't just address "singleness" like it once did, but the church, sin, depression, discipleship, and other issues that are incredibly important to all Christians. Today's article is especially interesting. Check out this excerpt:

One of my best friends in high school, who was of course a girl, had to tell me we couldn't hang out anymore. When I asked why, she bitterly let me know that her parents told her I was a pig who was only interested in her for her body. I thought that was cute, being stereotyped in the completely wrong direction. But isn't that what so many Christians think is all they need to know about young males?

I would say that about 95 percent of the guy-specific ministry I experienced from the teen years on up had to do with managing lust. A vital topic, to be sure, but I often wondered if anyone saw anything else in me, or if anyone could answer my deeper questions about life, relationships, real manhood — which is more than just white-knuckling our way to our wedding night.

My secret struggle with my sexual identity underscored how little was taught to me and my peers about building a godly masculine identity in the first place. I'm sure someone touched on it in a sermon somewhere along the way, but preaching never has a lasting impact on such core, complex parts of a person's being.

And if anyone was going to help me respond healthily to my feelings, they needed to at least acknowledge their reality and validate my experience, not just tell me that sin is sin and feelings don't matter. That's where the self-named "progressives" are one step ahead of Christians; they take time to listen, and they take young people seriously.

Pretty good, right? Head on over to Boundless.org and check it out.


Abraham Lincoln: February 12, 1809 - April 15, 1865

From Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address
March 4, 1865

It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

(ht: Craig)

The Blessings of the Trenches

Timmy Brister is always writing things that I wish I had written. Check out this excerpt from a recent post in his Blue-Collar Theology series:

Given our heavy reliance on theological education (resumes, degrees, etc.) for ministers today, of the long list of positive and negative marks seen above, how many can be discerned and approved in the seminary context? I think that we can determined whether they can “be able to teach” and “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught,” yet is it not clear that the majority of the qualifications which are those intangible, character-driven qualifications can only be discovered in a local church context? Could it be that we have created a system that can turn out “countless guides” but fail to produce spiritual “fathers”? I would argue that the best place to look for ministers of Paul’s conviction is in the local church. How else can we discern whether a man is hospitable, gentle, sober-minded, self-controlled, upright, holy, well thought of by outsiders, etc.?

In summary, if we are going to look for ministers based on a biblically-prescribed criteria, then we must look for God-called men not merely based on resumes or theological acumen discovered in ivory towers but also God-besot men whose proof text are found in the purity of their heart, obedience of their children, love of their neighbor, openness of their home, treatment of their enemies, and reputation of others. These men may have the benefit of the ivory tower, but they define themselves by the blessings of muddy trenches.


Congratulations and In Memory

Well, boys and girls, it was a good news/bad news day.

The good news came when my phone buzzed and told me that I had a voicemail from my sister-in-law. My brother's voice actually came over the line, and he sounded so excited and said, "Call us back, call us back... we have some news..." I knew, of course, that they must be calling to let me know that they had found out the sex of the baby. I called and he told me after no small amount of stalling and teasing, that they are expecting a little girl!!

The bad news came a few hours later when my mom called to tell me that Ms. Dowlin, my 6th grade English teacher, died this morning of complications from kidney failure.

It's a sad moment for me. Ms. Dowlin was a quirky woman: she had her moody moments, she was never married as long as I knew her, she was absolutely addicted to coloring her hair, which naturally would have been pure white even 14 years ago (!!!) when I was in sixth grade, and she was a genius at the piano and regularly played the organ at her church. But when mom told me a couple of days ago that she wasn't expected to live much longer, I got to thinking, as one does in those moments, about what I would miss about her. Here's what I settled on: Ms. Dowlin was the first teacher who "got" me.

Now, this is not to say that I didn't have other wonderful teachers before then -- I was blessed with a whole series of loving, devoted teachers, some of whom kept up with me throughout high school. My kindergarten teacher even came to my high school graduation party! And even now, a couple of my elementary school teachers attend my dad's church, and are just the sweetest women, whose contribution to my education I cherish.

But Ms. Dowlin was different. She saw a slightly spacey, none-too-popular girl who read voraciously to the point that she neglected her other work, and she understood me. She took extra time to talk with my folks about how best to address my "issues;" she worked hard to help me succeed. She laughed that I was the only student she'd ever had to forbid bringing a book to class. She challenged me to write well, to be creative, to work hard at things I was passionate about and get through the rest. She encouraged me, even in her gruff way, to keep reading as widely and deeply as I could, asking me questions about the books I was interested in and suggesting others I might enjoy.

So today's post is in honor of little Katie Roberts, to be born sometime this summer, and in loving memory of Ms. Trudy Dowlin, my sixth grade English teacher.


Just to Clarify

I still think Obama is going to be the next president (...which, I guess isn't all that bad. I like the guy's earnestness and vision. Better than four more years of Billary, the Power Couple President. Ugh. And I told mom yesterday or the day before that I think he would be this generation's JFK -- a traditional democrat, and handsome, charismatic, earnest, personable -- with all the "issues" that would raise) but I think the odds took a major turn with yesterday's announcement. Before yesterday I would have laid 5-to-1 against McCain, or any Republican, getting elected. Now, I would say probably 2-to-1.

And now I have this stuck in my head.



OK, so I usually don't get too into politics on this blog... or, well, at all, really. But when I heard this on NPR, I almost had to pull over, I was so flabbergasted. Dig it:

Mitt Romney suspended his faltering presidential campaign on Thursday, effectively sealing the Republican presidential nomination for John McCain. "I must now stand aside, for our party and our country," Romney told conservatives.

"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror," Romney told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

Romney's decision leaves McCain as the top man standing in the GOP race...


Pretty wild times in American politics, y'all. I wonder what had to have happened behind the scenes to precipitate such a radical decision? What sort of maneuverings and conversations took place amongst the Republican candidates that led the strong second-place candidate to drop out so suddenly?

Now, let me look into my crystal ball. Here are my predictions for the events of the next few weeks:

McCain will release a statement about the unity of the party, and declare Huckabee as his running mate, thereby securing the Southern Republicans and social conservatives he's had a hard time courting so far (and simultaneously consummating their heretofore only hinted-at relationship). Once Huckabee is on the McCain ticket, Romney will formally endorse them, and go into hiding for awhile to let the spotlight be on "McCain/Huckabee for President!" which will consolidate and strengthen their position and put pressure on Clinton and Obama to present a united Democratic front while still competing against each other (uhh... don't hold your breath for that one). The big Republican line for this upcoming election will then be one of the unity, cooperation, and like-mindedness of conservatives contrasted with the divisiveness and infighting of liberals.

Oh, and look for Romney to get a pretty cushy position somewhere in the McCain/Huckabee staff if they end up moving their digs to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave in early 2009.

The more I think about this move of Romney's, the more I think he (or somebody!) is crazy like a fox to do this. This party consolidation and momentum is absolutely the only thing that gives the Republicans a snowball's chance in Gehenna to get their man in the White House. Just think how a unified McCain/Huckabee ticket this early in the race puts the Dems on the defensive. This is a strategic move that was brokered by some incredibly savvy politicos.

...even though for a time it may appear very small, as though it were snuffed out...

We believe and confess one universal church— a holy congregation and gathering of true Christian believers, awaiting their entire salvation in Jesus Christ, being washed by his blood and sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit. This church has existed from the beginning of the world and will last until the end, as appears from the fact that Christ is eternal King who cannot be without subjects. And this holy church is preserved by God against the rage of the whole world, even though for a time it may appear very small, as though it were snuffed out. For example, during the very dangerous time of Ahab the Lord preserved for himself seven thousand men who did not bend their knees to Baal. And so this holy church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or certain persons. But it is spread and dispersed throughout the entire world, though still joined and united in heart and will, in one and the same Spirit, by the power of faith.

—from Belgic Confession, Art. 27