Monday, 30 March 2015

Luther Against The Antinomians: They Preach Easter But Not Pentecost

"The apostles at Jerusalem, together with many thousands of the Jews, had been justified by faith alone, i.e., by the grace of Christ; but they had their Nestorius and Eutyches sticking in them and did not see the consequence, namely that the law of Moses did not and could not contribute anything to this, but wanted to give it the idiomata which belong only to the Lamb of God, and said, as we have noted above, that the Gentiles could not be saved, unless they were circumcised and kept the law of Moses. That was the same thing as denying Christ and His grace, as St.Paul says in Galatians 2:21, “If righteousness come by the law, then Christ has died in vain”; and in Romans 11:6, “If it is of grace, then it is not of works.”But those at Jerusalem spoke thus: “It is, indeed, grace alone, but it must also be works alone; for without the law, no one can be saved, though a man must be saved by grace alone, without the law.” In plain German, that is cutting off one’s own nose, and not understanding what one says.
The schools call it, as I have said, antecedens concedere, and consequens negare; or consequens destruere and antecedens affirmare. It is saying Yes and No at the same time about the same thing. This no one must do, unless he is utterly ignorant or a hopeless scoffer.
That is what my Antinomians, too, are doing today. They are preaching finely and (I can think nothing else) with real seriousness about Christ’s grace, the forgiveness of sins, and the other things that can be said concerning redemption. But they flee the consequence of this, as though it were the very devil, and will not speak to the people about the Third Article, which is sanctification, i.e., the new life in Christ. For they think that they ought not to terrify people, or disturb them, but always to preach in a comforting way about grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and utterly avoid such words as these: “Listen! You want to be a Christian and yet remain an adulterer, fornicator, drunken swine, proud, covetous, a usurer, envious, revengeful, malicious!” On the contrary, they say: “Listen! Though you are an adulterer, a fornicator, a miser, or any other kind of sinner, only believe, and you will be saved and need not fear the law; Christ has fulfilled it all!”
Tell me, is that not granting the premise and denying the conclusion? Nay, it is taking away Christ and bringing Him to nought, at the same time that He is most highly preached. It is saying Yes and No to the same thing.
There is no such Christ, Who has died for these sinners who, after forgiveness of sins, do not leave their sins and lead a new life. Thus they finely preach the logic of Nestorious and Eutyches, that Christ is this and is yet not this. They are fine Easter preachers, but shamefully poor Pentecost preachers, for they preach nothing de sanctificatione et vivificatione Spiritus Sancti, i.e., concerning sanctification by the Holy Ghost, but preach only about redemption by Christ, though Christ, Whom they extol so highly (and rightly so!) is Christ, i.e., He has purchased redemption from sin and death, in order that the Holy Ghost shall make new men of us, in place of the old Adam, so that we die unto sin and live unto righteousness, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 6:1, beginning and increasing this life here on earth, and completing it yonder. What Christ has earned for us is not only gratia, “grace,” but also donum, the “gift” of the Holy Ghost, so that we might not only have forgiveness of sin, but also cease from sinning.
Whoever, then, does not cease from sinning, but continues in his former wicked life, must have another Christ from the Antinomians, for the real Christ is not there, even though all the angels were to cry only “Christ! Christ!”; and he must be damned with his new Christ."
Martin Luther, On the Councils and the Church (1539)

A few glosses...

1. The saying, most often levelled as a criticism, that Lutherans "Shout Justification! but whisper sanctification" cannot be applied to Luther. 

2. It is a false interpretation of Luther born of laziness which claims that his famous rejection of Aristotelianism was a rejection of the use of formal logic and not simply a rejection of the Aristotelian ethic of virtue as applied to Christian sanctification by certain medieval scholastic theologians such as Aquinas (virtue as habitus) which distorted Christianity in the way of works righteousness - Luther's main concern. 

Such interpreters delight in Luther's use of paradox to describe truths of Christianity (e.g. simul iustus et peccator), but apparently neglect the place of paradox in Greek logic and rhetoric, where it was already known that paradoxes can promote critical thinking and some can be veridical, i.e. true. Luther's delight in paradoxical statements is not evidence of irrationality in his thought, anticipating post-modern irrationality, but actually rests on his commitment to the law of non-contradiction as classically set forth in Aristotle's Metaphysics.

3. Luther's doctrine of justification did not involve a "legal fiction" because God's declaration of pardon for the sake of Christ is not an empty word but a powerful word which creates a new reality in the life of the sinner through the gift of the Holy Spirit which accompanies it and which equips the believer for the continuing round of death and life through daily repentance and faith. The distinction between justification and sanctification in Luther is notional and theological, but necessary for maintaining the purity of Gospel proclamation over against the perennial human tendency to inject works into the sinner's justification.    

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Who's Afraid of Friedrich Nietzsche?

When I was in high school I read Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols (I now remember it was paired with The Anti-Christ in a Penguin books edition)It was heady stuff, and not only because I was only 16 and finding my way in philosophy untutored, but also because the 'trans-valuation of values' that Nietzsche proposed - the rejection of Christianity, and with it the 'concept' of guilt and conscience, in favour of an amoral vitalism - was a direct challenge to the still very conventional world in which I lived. My family and upbringing was culturally Christian though not church going. I kept the book hidden lest my mother should find it! Now, older and wiser, I know that Nietzsche's attack barely touched the sides of Christianity properly conceived (which is strange, given that Nietzsche was a son of the manse; perhaps the relationship of father and son needs to be looked into more?). In short, Christians have little to fear from Nietzsche, who is somewhat "out there" as far as critics go.

But it seems that these days Nietzsche does not trouble Christians so much as the so-called 'new atheists', the popular philosophers de jour who, despite their nomenclature, actually propose little that is new, but merely recycle the atheistic arguments of the last two hundred years for a largely middle brow audience that has, to borrow C.S. Lewis's phrase, just enough familiarity with Christianity to innocculate it against the real thing. These folk are the contemporary representatives of the bourgeois, liberal European culture (transposed to a new world setting in the case of Australia, Canada & the US) that Nietzsche despised. Nietzsche is an unwelcome presence in their thought because of his fundamental contention that, contrary to their deepest convictions, morality is dependent on theology for its justification. 

This is the contention of English agnostic philosopher, John Gray, who writes in the Guardian...

"The new atheists rarely mention Friedrich Nietzsche, and when they do it is usually to dismiss him. This can’t be because Nietzsche’s ideas are said to have inspired the Nazi cult of racial inequality – an unlikely tale, given that the Nazis claimed their racism was based in science. The reason Nietzsche has been excluded from the mainstream of contemporary atheist thinking is that he exposed the problem atheism has with morality. It’s not that atheists can’t be moral – the subject of so many mawkish debates. The question is which morality an atheist should serve.
 It’s a familiar question in continental Europe, where a number of thinkers have explored the prospects of a “difficult atheism” that doesn’t take liberal values for granted. It can’t be said that anything much has come from this effort. Georges Bataille’s postmodern project of “atheology” didn’t produce the godless religion he originally intended, or any coherent type of moral thinking. But at least Bataille, and other thinkers like him, understood that when monotheism has been left behind morality can’t go on as before. Among other things, the universal claims of liberal morality become highly questionable."

          Read it all here

Monday, 23 February 2015

A Tip for Commonplace Notetakers

Being an inveterate note taker, list maker and keeper of commonplace thoughts (locus communis) I have an almost insatiable need for notebooks. Imagine my delight, then, when upon being sent on an errand to Kmart by the domestic authority I unexpectedly came upon a supply of stylish yet understated notebooks like the one pictured (sans the pen holder).

Aficionados will recognise it from the black cover, ribbon place marker and elastic holder as a faux Moleskine, an approximation of a sought after journal marketed by an Italian company and purportedly based on notebooks used by famous authors and artists in the late 19th and early 20th century Europe, including Vincent van Gogh and Ernest Hemingway. Considerations of style and provenance aside, these are eminently functional objects.

In the hand, the difference between the faux and a real example is indiscernible apart from the finer points of the finishing, which are of no great import to me. Perhaps that ought not to surprise, though, as both this notebook and Moleskines are made in China, probably at the same factory!

The biggest difference, though, is price. When I last looked at a large bookshop in Brisbane I balked at buying a black covered Moleskine journal for $30.00; this one set me back the princely sum of $3.00. Given that Kmart are still making a profit at this modest price, the mark-up on Moleskines must be something incredible!

Commonplace note takers, check out your local Kmart (if you dare!) ;-)

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

New Online Lutheran Resource: 1517 The Legacy Project

Even with the revolution of late modern communications that is the inter web Australia is still a long, long way from the rest of the world and somewhat out of the loop. Thus it was only through a heads up from American reader (and sometime intrepid Australian explorer) Dr S. Mark Poler that I have become aware of a new project spearheaded by Lutheran theologian Dr Rod Rosenbladt: 1517. The Legacy Project. 

Just getting off the ground, 1517 promises to forge an increased web presence for confessional Lutheranism and to that end has acquired the publishing rights to the works of renowned Lutheran apologist John Warwick Montgomery (surprisingly, Montgomery is still largely unknown in Australia, even in Lutheran circles).

Poor pastors on the look out for helpful, free resources will be sure to find them aplenty at 1517, for example: What can Monty Python teach us about worship? provides plenty of ideas for a talk about the centrality of Christ in the Divine Service with a youth group or Christian Studies class in high                                                                   school.  

                                                           Bookmark and enjoy!

Monday, 2 February 2015

Noted, 02.02.AD2015

If, like me, you read Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner as a school student, you may enjoy the following piece, which suggests an approach to its interpretation that probably wasn't profferred by your teacher: 
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner as neo-Platonic Christian Redemptive Drama.
"More than a tale of seamanship and the hazards of ocean voyages, the poem is a work of Christian redemption. A warning to the reader of the poem’s metaphysical orientation appears in the epigraph, a quote taken from Archaeologiae Philosophicae, a 1692 work of theologian Thomas Burnet: “I readily believe that there are more invisible Natures in the universe than visible ones. Yet who shall explain to us this numerous company, their grades, their relationships, their distinguishing features, and the functions of each of them?”

Forced Conversions to Hinduism in India?
"A series of attempts by rightwing Hindu groups to hold mass conversion ceremonies have caused controversy in recent months. Conversion is illegal if there is any element of compulsion or bribery. “The worry is that some kind of coercion is involved. The communities [involved in the recent incidents] are already vulnerable and the campaign seems quite aggressive and the combination is concerning,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch."
A Year Old But Worth Revisiting: Archbishop Chaput's Sermon on Occasion of the March for Life, AD2014.  "People sometimes ask me if we can be optimistic, as believers, about the future of our country.  My answer is always the same.  Optimism and pessimism are equally dangerous for Christians because both God and the devil are full of surprises.  But the virtue of hope is another matter.  The Church tells us we must live in hope, and hope is a very different creature from optimism.  The great French Catholic writer Georges Bernanos defined hope as “despair overcome.”  Hope is the conviction that the sovereignty, the beauty and the glory of God remain despite all of our weaknesses and all of our failures.  Hope is the grace to trust that God is who he claims to be, and that in serving him, we do something fertile and precious for the renewal of the world."
Post-Modern, Post-Liberal, Post-Evangelical, now Post Secular, (and probably not what you think) : "When the authors looked at views on the authority of the Bible and how strongly people said they were affiliated with their religion, Post-Seculars put the most faith in Scripture and were much more inclined to say they were strongly religious. And where science and faith conflict on hot-button issues, they side with the religious perspective."

LCMS President Matthew Harrison Draws a Line"When a public teacher on the roster of Synod can without consequence publicly advocate the ordination of women (even participate vested in the installation of an ELCA clergy person), homosexuality, the errancy of the Bible, the historical critical method, open communion, communion with the reformed, evolution, and more, then the public confession of the synod is meaningless." 

Monday, 26 January 2015

A Short Sketch of the Earliest Australian Christianity

I was recently able to enjoy a brief visit to Parramatta in connection with a family wedding which also afforded me the opportunity to visit some of the most historic sites in Australia connected with the establishment and growth of the British penal colonial originally begun on the nearby coast at Sydney Cove on 26th January, 1788 (incidentally, Capt (later Admiral) Arthur Phillip R.N., who founded the colony, was of German, probably Lutheran, ancestry on his father's side, though as we shall see his own nominal Anglican Christianity was adulterated by Enlightenment principles). These sites included St John's Anglican Cathedral, the oldest continuing place of Christian worship in Australia (which still thrives,  hosting several immigrant congregations as well as holding numerous services every Sunday for traditional evangelical Anglicans), and its cemetery, the oldest Christian burial ground in Australia, old Government House,  Lennox Bridge, Experimental Farm, etc.. For the historically aware, the Parramatta CBD teems with colonial associations, although you have to look beyond and sometimes beneath the grotty commercial overlay to detect it (which reminds me of Russian poet Yevtushenko's remark on Australia - "a cafeteria built on a graveyard").

The pure Gospel was yet to reach these hitherto benighted shores but God's purposes can be worked even through imperfect instruments, and we can be thankful that the newly founded colony was provided with an evangelical Church of England minister, Richard Johnson, who preached a faith based on the great doctrinal truths of the Trinity, the authority and sufficiency of Holy Scripture, original sin, the redemptive sufficiency of Christ's life and work and justification by faith in Him, as outlined in the Church of England's Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith (drafted with reference to the Augsburg Confession, albeit not in complete agreement with the latter, largely due to political concerns).

Johnson (pictured), a Yorkshireman and a Cambridge graduate, not only held to an evangelical confession of faith, he was animated by his convictions to minister to the neglected urban poor in London (who, in the 18th C., were often the rural poor displaced), with a sincere desire to work for their salvation and the improvement of their mean circumstances, the latter largely through the outworking of sanctification. It was his work in London which attracted the attention of two great names among English evangelicals at the time, the reforming politician William Wilberforce and the reformed slave trader John Newton, who were both instrumental in recommending Johnson for the post of chaplain to the proposed antipodean penal colony.

And so it was that on 3rd February, 1788 , Johnson preached the first known sermon during the first known Christian service in the history of the continent of Australia, taking as his text Psalm 116:12-23: What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.

As far as I know a manuscript copy of Johnson's sermon does not survive, but we can probably glean its content from a pamphlet he had published in London some four years later in 1792 for distribution back in the colony, An Address to the European Inhabitants of the Colonies Established in New South Wales and Norfolk Island by the Rev. Richard Johnson A.B., Chaplain to the Colonies. This address is earnest in tone and evangelical in spirit (although no doubt too strong in its emphasis on observing the Sabbath and perhaps displaying an overemphasis on sanctification, although we must be careful to place this aspect in the theological, historical and social context of Johnson's time and place) but it also undoubtedly gives hints - more than hints, complaints at times - that reveal that Johnson was ploughing hard ground. He also encountered opposition Governor Phillip, who, as a representative of the Enlightenment then in contention with orthodox Christianity, insisted that Johnson preach on exclusively 'moral subjects'. 

Perhaps overcome by a sense of defeat, Johnson returned to England in late 1800 to eventually be appointed to a parish in London, leaving a second, recently arrived clergyman, the Rev. Samuel Marsden (a fellow Yorkshireman; a.k.a "the flogging parson" and by all accounts a more robust personality than Johnson) in charge of the chaplaincy. Johnson continued his interest in the nascent colony, reporting to a parliamentary committee on one occasion and recommending suitable clergy. A memorial (pictured) today stands in Richard Johnson Square in Sydney's CBD at the corner of Bligh and Hunter Streets, marking the spot where Australia's first sermon was preached by Richard Johnson in 1788. Now, as then, Sydneysiders seem to be oblivious to its significance.  

Happy Australia Day to local readers!   

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Pope in Joint Prayer with Grand Mufti

It's a topic that keeps on giving: do Roman Catholics and Muslims worship the same God? [See previous posts.] 

Following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, Pope Francis has visited the famed Blue Mosque in Istanbul on his visit to Turkey, where he initiated  public prayer with the Grand Mufti:
 Vatican City, Nov 29, 2014 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During Pope Francis’ visit to Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, he paused for a moment of prayer alongside Ankara’s Grand Mufti – a moment of “inter-religious dialogue” which mirrored that of his predecessor.  “When they were under the Dome, the Pope insisted: ‘not only must we praise and glorify him, but we must adore him,’” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. told journalists Nov. 29. “Therefore it is reasonable to qualify this moment of silence a moment of silent adoration.”  “(It was) a beautiful moment of inter-religious dialogue, and it the exact same thing happened in 2006 with Pope Benedict, it was exactly the same.” Pope Francis’ visit to the historic Sultan Ahmet Mosque, known as the “Blue Mosque” due to the blue tiles covering the inside, marks the third time a Pope has ever gone inside, the first being St. John Paul II in 1979.
In John's Gospel, our Lord is recorded as saying, "Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). In Christian prayer this truth is enacted by praying to the Father in the name of the Son, concluding with the Trinitarian doxology "through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen." 

We can only assume that the doxology, which would have been offensive to the Grand Mufti and the Muslims present, was ommitted on this occasion. Thus the Pope, the self-declared spiritual head and teacher of all Christians, dissembled in his duty to profess Christ before the world and gave credence to religious syncretism. 

It is a pity the old Roman Catechism is no longer in favour - for all its errors it at least taught the doctrine of God with a clarity that does not appear to survive in post Vatican II Catholicism, for example:   
"The pastor should also teach that he who says, I believe, besides declaring the inward assent of the mind, which is an internal act of faith, should also openly profess and with alacrity acknowledge and proclaim what he inwardly and in his heart believes. For the faithful should be animated by the same spirit that spoke by the lips of the Prophet when he said: I believe; and therefore did I speak, and should follow the example of the Apostles who replied to the princes of the people: We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. They should be encouraged by these noble words of St. Paul: I am not ashamed of the gospel. For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; and likewise by those other words; in which the truth of this doctrine is expressly confirmed: With the heart we believe unto justice; but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."
 "What heart so cold as not to be inflamed with love by the kindness and good will exercised toward us by so great a Lord, who, though holding us in His power and dominion as slaves ransomed by His blood, yet embraces us with such ardent love as to call us not servants, but friends and brethren? This, assuredly, supplies the most just, and perhaps the strongest, claim to induce us always to acknowledge, venerate, and adore Him as our Lord."

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Luther in 1527, 10 Years After the Reformation Began

"The [Reformation] represents the outpouring of Christianity unshackled and blossoming. Like Hilkiah finding the Book of the Law, the thirty-four year old Luther began to re-proclaim the doctrinal “solas” to the world: scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and the recognition that all of life is lived to the glory of God alone. ...But a closer look at Luther in 1527 shows some surprising details. Scholars mark this as the year Luther’s health increasingly began to deteriorate. It is recorded that he had several fainting spells, even fainting during a sermon. Luther, a man who loved to preach, had to stop preaching for a while. He also complained of intense pain in his chest, accompanied by painful buzzing in the ears. It had become so severe that it was thought he was about to die. News of this spread quickly, and fear gripped the people of Wittenberg. An entire deathbed scene of “Luther’s last words” was recorded in which Luther, surrounded in bed by his closest companions, voiced a deep concern for his pregnant wife and infant son: “Lord God, I thank Thee for having allowed me to be a poor beggar on earth. I leave no house, property, or money. But you gave me a wife and children, I commend them unto Thee. Feed, instruct, and preserve them as Thou hast preserved me, O Thou Father of children and widows...Luther recovered, but his physical condition continued only to become worse from this point. This physical weakness brought on serious bouts of depression. This melancholy would accompany Luther throughout his life...In all these trials, Luther clung to that Word, and its promise that it would see believers through the difficulties of life, and that it alone showed us Christ and our salvation, the only really important thing. Luther best expressed this at the end of the troubled year 1527, by penning, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Luther expresses that in our trials, God will be victorious, and so will we: 

And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim? We tremble not for him.
His rage we can endure, for lo! His doom is sure. One little word shall fell him..” 

Read the entire, edifying post here, at James Swan's blog. 

James is Reformed, but has a deep interest in and respect for Luther. His blog, which largely focuses on Luther is well worth following...although we at the old manse don't always agree with every view James expresses.  

Monday, 6 October 2014

To An Unknown God, Roman Catholic Style?

Thanks to reader Paul for alerting me to this - the coat of arms of the new Roman Catholic archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, being installed today. One wonders what the apostle Paul would have made of this - the point of interest, in light of our recent discussions about Roman Catholicism and Islam, is the tree in the bottom-right panel, bedecked with symbols of the various religions, including the cross.

Let it be said straight away that contemporary Christians, at least, have no problem co-existing socially with devotees of the world's religions, especially in pluralistic Western societies... although we note that Islam is certainly less tolerant where ever it has the upper hand, not least in the archbishop's own country of Malaysia.

What is potentially scandalous about the Christian use of this symbol - by an archbishop, no less - is the implied equality of  the Christian revelation with the world's religions and the philosophical relativism which lies behind such a notion. Perhaps that is not the message the archbishop intended to convey, in which case concerned Roman Catholics might like to enlighten him as to how it could be perceived. However, in light of the joint prayers in June in the Vatican in which Roman Catholics, Jews and Muslims were invited to pray together, an act which, as I noted in a previous post, would seem to be consistent with the attitude to Islam and Allah set forth in Lumen Gentium, I would need some persuading that this is not another example of a profound confusion in Rome as to the exclusivity of worship in the name of the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This confusion, I might add, has been amply illustrated by Catholic commenters on this question here at the old manse.

I have a theory as to why Rome so easily tends towards this error, of which more anon, D.v.  

Monday, 29 September 2014

The Church's Role in the Present Crisis

As an ex-Anglican I keep a weather eye on my former communion. The present Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC), Justin Welby, who recently visited Australia in order to fulfill his promise to visit every province of the Anglican Communion, has at times impressed me but at other times left me non-plussed. It remains to be seen whether he can rescue the Anglican Communion from its course of self-destruction - I think probably not, given the direction of his leadership so far.

Be that as it may, as the Church of England remains the established church in that country, the ABC is one of the Lord's Spiritual, which means he sits in the House of Lords at Westminster and has a say on political matters (in Australian or American terms he is the equivalent to a senator, with less political power, however strange that notion may seem to us). Last week in the Lords Archbishop Welby spoke in support of UK participation in the strategic bombing of the IS in Iraq with the aim of curtailing the group's advance and providing the opportunity for humanitarian aid to be provided to those innocents suffering on the ground. For what it's worth, I applaud the Archbishop's stance on this matter, but what I want to draw attention to here is the wisdom with which he concluded his speech in the House of Lords,

"The action proposed today is right, but we must not rely on a short-term solution on a narrow front to a global, ideological, religious, holistic and trans-generational challenge. We must demonstrate that there is a positive vision far greater and more compelling than the evil of ISIL and its global clones. Such a vision offers us and the world hope, an assurance of success in this struggle, not the endless threat of darkness."
Pope Francis has already remarked that we are in World War III; a retired Australian general and adviser to the government on international affairs has suggested the struggle against Islamism will continue for 100 years. Their voices and that of Welby are not voices that can be easily dismissed as shrill and alarmist. In the language of post-modernism, what the Archbishop is saying is that in order to prevail over Islamism the West needs more than military might - it needs an alternative narrative that offers hope and light, both to sustain us in this struggle and to dissuade and convert those drawn to the nihilistic darkness of Islamism. That is, as I see it, a challenge to the West to recover the Biblical narrative as its own story with Christ as its Alpha and Omega, and that is, in the first instance, a challenge to the churches (not least Welby's own Anglican Communion) to recover belief in that narrative and proclaim it with conviction.

Are the churches of the West up to the challenge?

Pray that they may be.    

The Archbishop's speech is here in full (usual caveat - linking to it does not imply agreement with all its content).

As a postscript, let me add that I am not advocating a utilitarian view of Christianity - that it should be recovered because it will be helpful in the fight against Islamism, in the way Stalin revived the Russian Church in the struggle against Nazism. What I am suggesting is that this is a kairos moment -  an opportunity which the churches should grasp in the service of the missio Dei in the time and particular places in which God has placed us. Or, more properly, the time when God will act through us.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Do Roman Catholics and Muslims Worship the Same God Part II

This is not the second part of this series that I was intending to publish, but as I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth...
“In the name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate,” [Roman Catholic Cardinal] McCarrick said as he introduced himself to the audience at a meeting arranged by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. That praise of the Islamic deity is an important phrase in Islam, is found more than 100 times in the Koran, and is akin to the Catholic prayer, ”In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  McCarrick next claimed that “Catholic social teaching is based on the dignity of the human person… [and] as you study the holy Koran, as you study Islam, basically, this is what Muhammad the prophet, peace be upon him, has been teaching.”

One can only wonder what the Chaldean Catholic Christians of northern Iraq would say in response? 

More here:

The third part in the series will follow soon, Deo volente.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Do Roman Catholics and Muslims Worship the Same God? Does It Matter?

Pope Francis hosts an inter-faith prayer meeting for peace between Israel and Palestinians in the (consecrated?) grounds of the Vatican, 8th June, 2014. Representatives of Judaism, Islam and Roman Catholicism participated.
Do Roman Catholics and Muslims worship the same God? 

Apparently so, according to the official Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992): 

841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day." [italics mine].
The catechism is quoting the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church; LG 16). While the authority of the Catechism has been the subject of some debate among Catholics, with even some bishops averring that it mixes theological opinion alongside authoritative doctrine, the doctrine taught by a Council in communion with the Pope is infallible and calls for the full assent of faith from the loyal Catholic. Therefore, one must conclude that the Roman Catholic Magisterium teaches its adherents that they and Muslims do adore (i.e. worship) "the one merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day." 

Having answered our first question in the affirmative (according to the Roman Catholic understanding, that is), we now move on to our second question: Does it matter? 

Yes, it does. 

Firstly, Roman Catholic teaching on this subject misrepresents the teaching of the Quran, but that does not concern us nearly as much as how this misrepresentation impinges upon the Christian doctrinal of God: Allah is not "the one merciful God who will be mankind's judge on the last day". To make this assertion is to veil with error the light of the Gospel which God has given to the church as the means to salvation for all people. 

The first error in the assertion that Catholics and Muslims adore the same merciful God who will be our judge on the last day is that it misrepresents Islamic doctrine. This misrepresentation is no doubt prompted by the overly optimistic view that since Judaism, Christianity and Islam are historically the three so-called "Abrahamic faiths" they share the same basic conception of God as Father and Creator. This position is intellectually lazy and religiously dissembling in that, presumably for the sake of cultivating good relations with Muslims, it feigns agnosticism in regard to the question posed by the advent of Jesus, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" (Matthew 16:13-16), the proper answer to which leads to the confession of the divinity of the man Jesus Christ, "the way, the truth and the life" through whom alone is God the Father known (John 14:6). In fact, in accordance with the teaching of the Quran, Muslims disavow the view that Allah is to be identified with any Person of the Holy Trinity and while they acknowledge Jesus to be a prophet and messiah of the Jews they deny the Godhood of the One whom Christians confess will be our judge on the last day (when Isa returns, according to Islam, one of his duties will be to correct the errors of Christians!). The Quran declares such assertions as the Roman Magisterium makes to be blasphemous and disbelieving:

 "They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their blasphemy, truly a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them" (Quran 5:73)  
"They indeed have disbelieved who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. (Quran 5:17)     
The second and more serious error in the assertion that Catholics and Muslims adore the same merciful God who will judge us on the last day is a misrepresentation of the Christian doctrine of God. The Christian God is a communion of three Persons whose nature is Love, who, in the Person of the Son, condescended to take on human flesh in order to redeem fallen humankind from the powers of sin, death and the devil, graciously leading us back into the Divine communion of love. The Allah of the Muslims is al-Jabaar, the supreme potentate of the universe who commands that all creatures submit to his will, even at the point of the sword. To identify these two theologies does not give glory to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit but leads to the syncretism of multi-faith services. 

Why does Roman Catholicism so glibly fall into the error of identifying Allah with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Comments welcome. Part II to follow, D.v..   

Friday, 4 July 2014

Lutherans Do Not Believe in Consubstantiation, OK?

Lutherans do not subscribe to the theory of the 'how' of the 'real presence' called consubstantiation. But if you received your orientation to Lutheran doctrine only from evangelical Reformed dogmaticians, you might be excused for thinking so, for in my experience that is how they almost unanimously represent the Lutheran doctrine of the 'real presence' of our Lord's body and blood in the Lord's Supper (even the Anglican scholar Alister McGrath, who wrote a decent study of Luther's theology of the cross, did so in his Christian Theology).

The latest example of this egregious misrepresentation comes from Australian Anglican theologian, Michael L. Bird, who holds a PhD from the University of Queensland in my home city of Brisbane and teaches at Ridley Theological College in Melbourne. In his systematics text, Evangelical Theology (Zondervan, 2013; pictured),  after correctly describing the Lutheran doctrine as a reaction against the Roman Catholic doctrine of sacrifice, Bird also correctly notes that Lutherans still hold to a 'real presence' in the sacrament of the altar, a position which he says is called consubstantiation. No reference to the primary literature of the Lutheran Confessions is made to justify this terminology; in fact, if Dr. Bird had checked, he would have found the term is never used in them!  

Bird then goes on to compound his error by suggesting an illustration for the Lutheran doctrine: Lutheran teaching regards our Lord's body and blood as present "within" the bread and wine like a "nut is within a cookie". Now, I realise theologians writing text books for the American college and seminary market need to dumb things down a bit, but really...a nut in a cookie!? No Lutheran would ever use such an illustration because it leads so easily to the false representation of the Lutheran doctrine as Capernaitic. And that is the real nub of the issue, I think: even Reformed scholars who propose to write objectively about the Lutheran doctrine cannot get around their unfounded prejudice that the Lutheran doctrine involves something akin to cannibalism. The Lutheran Confessions addressed this charge in this manner:
"...we hereby utterly condemn the Capernaitic eating of the body of Christ, as though [we taught that] His flesh were rent with the teeth, and digested like other food, which the Sacramentarians, against the testimony of their conscience, after all our frequent protests, wilfully force upon us, and in this way make our doctrine odious to their hearers; and on the other hand, we maintain and believe, according to the simple words of the testament of Christ, the true, yet supernatural eating of the body of Christ, as also the drinking of His blood, which human senses and reason do not comprehend, but as in all other articles of faith our reason is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and this mystery is not apprehended otherwise than by faith alone, and revealed in the Word alone." [[Formula of Concord, Epitome, VII The Lord's Supper, Negative Theses]
The Lutheran doctrine is properly characterised not as 'consubstantiation', a philosophical doctrine which uses Aristotelian categories to teach a mixture of substances in the sacrament, but as a 'sacramental union' between the heavenly and earthly elements effected by our Lord's Word. The justification for this belief is not philosophy - unlike the Reformed, Lutherans do not use philosophy to authorise doctrine but merely as a handmaiden to theology - but Holy Scripture:
"We believe, teach, and confess that the body and blood of Christ are received with the bread and wine, not only spiritually by faith, but also orally; yet not in a Capernaitic, but in a supernatural, heavenly mode, because of the sacramental union; as the words of Christ clearly show, when Christ gives direction to take, eat, and drink, as was also done by the apostles; for it is written Mark 14:23: And they all drank of it. St. Paul likewise says, 1 Cor. 10:16: The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? that is: He who eats this bread eats the body of Christ, which also the chief ancient teachers of the Church, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Leo I, Gregory, Ambrose, Augustine, unanimously testify." [Formula of Concord, Epitome, VII The Lord's Supper, Affirmative Theses]
Disagree with the Lutheran teaching if you must, Reformed theologians, but please, if you write about it, at least take the trouble to represent it correctly.

Let ma also say that any theology which permits philosophy to be a guiding principle cannot be truly evangelical.

Friday, 27 June 2014

A Shot Heard Around the World: How WWI Shaped Our World

Princip's arrest after Franz Ferdinand's assassination, Sarajevo, 28th June, 1914
Apologies for the rather cliched title, but being a modern history buff I can't allow this most significant of anniversaries to go unremarked at the old manse. 

June 28th, 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir apparent to the Hapsburg throne which ruled over the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This event triggered a series of events which, by late July, had led to the beginning of World War I.   

Of the five great royal houses which entered into conflict in 1914, ruling over the British, German, Hapsburg, Russian and Ottoman imperial houses, only one was to remain in power after the war, and the course of the world - not just Europe, but the world - was irrevocable and profoundly altered by changes which ring down to our own day.

The royal house which survived was, of course, the British House of Windsor, formerly Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

The German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, was forced to abdicate his throne in November 1918 and Germany subsequently lost its colonial territories (including German New Guinea, which passed to Australia, opening up a successful sphere of Lutheran missionary work, as it happens) leaving a power vacuum in the tumultuous 1920s which eventually brought forth Hitler and Nazism in the early 1930s. 

The Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, lost his throne in Russia, being replaced by Bolshevik Communists after a very brief interlude of social democratic government (led by Alexander Kerensky, who later married an Australian, Nell Tritton, and spent time in my home town of Brisbane where the local Russian emigre community was less than enthused by his presence), which led eventually to the Cold War with the West following WWII, which was itself the direct result of WWI. 

The war was triggered by the assassination of the heir to the Hapsburg throne, Franz Ferdinand, (who had spent time as a young man hunting kangaroos and emus in Australia!) by a Serbian Yugoslav nationalist, Gavrilo Princip. After the war the Hapsburg empire collapsed, leading to chronic instability in its eastern regions, especially after the later collapse of the Soviet Union. One of the Hapsburg empire's former constituent parts, western Ukraine, is asserting its pro-Western identity today, leading to armed conflict with Russia.    

The Ottoman empire dissolved, its middle eastern territories being divided up by Britain and France, an unhappy legacy we are still living with today not only in the Arab-Israeli conflict but as we survey Iraq, which has really only ever existed as a united nation on maps, becoming the scene of terrible sectarian and ethnic conflict and violence (already in the 1920s the British were fighting Islamic extremists in Iraq).

Muslim Turkey, the head of the Ottoman Empire, after the war came under the secularising rule of Kemal Ataturk, who, incidentally, had commanded the Turkish troops against the Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli. In 1924 Ataturk abolished the Muslim Caliphate which had been held by the Ottoman royal house, leaving the Sunni Muslim world without a figurehead leader. This led to a conference in Cairo in 1926 seeking to re-establish the Caliphate there; when that effort failed the Muslim Brotherhood was established in 1928, the first of several Sunni Islamic groups who spearheaded the Islamic resurgence of the 20th century which in the early 21st century presents as the greatest challenge to Western hegemony in the world. Their goal of restoring the Caliphate based in the Middle East and uniting Sunni Muslims around a strict interpretation of the Koran makes Kemal's abolition of the Caliphate look like a very unwise political move indeed.  

All this from a gun shot fired in an assassination attempt on a Hapsburg royal in Sarajevo, an obscure corner of the Hapsburg empire, an attempt which only came about because Franz Ferdinand's security chief had forgotten to tell his driver that he had changed the route as a precaution. That's right, the archduke wasn't even meant to be on Franz Jozef Street, where the assassin, fleeing an earlier attempt on Franz Ferdinand's life in which he was involved that day, took advantage of the car stalling as it attempted to reverse to change routes, to fire his fatal shot from 1.5 metres away. It was a shot heard around the world, and which still echoes down to our time. 

Why? Why was this event permitted to open the abyss? History teaches us that Europe's leaders wanted it open because, as Solzhenitsyn said in his 1983 Templeton Address, they had cast aside the claims of God upon their consciences and so they led their people into that abyss of suffering, destruction and international disorder from which we are still struggling to emerge.    

"...inquire now of your ancestors, and consider what your fathers have learned, for we are but of yesterday, and we know nothing. Our days on earth are but a shadow; will they not teach you and tell you, uttering words out of their understanding?" Job 8:8-9

Hitler in the crowd in the Odeonsplatz, Munich, August 2nd, 1914, celebrating the outbreak of war.