...conversations in the Great Hall Sun, 05 Jul 2015 04:01:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer no The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer (The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer) 2006-2009 ...conversations in the Great Hall Sundays with Michael Spencer: July 5, 2015 Sun, 05 Jul 2015 04:01:00 +0000 Still Life with French Novels and a Rose, van Gogh

Still Life with French Novels and a Rose, van Gogh

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,”I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

• 1 Corinthians 1:18-19

• • •

Every so often, someone will say something to me that implies I’m smart.

It might be mildly critical, as in “Spencer thinks he’s really smart. Look at those big words he uses.” Or “You know, if you are so smart, then you should…..” Fill in the blank with agenda of the speaker. I have people try to flatter me. “You’re a very smart person. How did you learn so much?” And so on.

I’ve told myself I’m smart, or at least smart-er than someone else, on more than a few occasions. For example, despite their training and expertise, major league umpires are almost always wrong in comparison to my observation of the same third strike pitch.

Actually, when it comes to claims of intelligence, I’m quite a skeptic. I’ve had professors that were world class and couldn’t stick to a simple syllabus or balance a checkbook. I’ve been around smart people who didn’t know how to bathe, comb their hair or change their shirt.

Intelligence doesn’t follow predictable paths. My dad had an 8th grade education and was one of the smartest people I ever knew, but he didn’t have the usual tools to express his intelligence. I have lots of students who are brilliant, but they don’t care about school or the subjects being taught. Where their interest lies, they are smart. When they are bored, they appear “slow.”

It makes a lot of sense to be modest in claims of intelligence. History is full of examples of science made foolish and fools proven wise. Without questioning the value of intelligence and human wisdom, we can readily admit its limitations, especially in our own cases. In other words, the longer you live, the more examples of should have accumulated of the fragile nature of anyone’s claims to be truly wise, starting with yourself.

I love the passage in 1 Corinthians where Paul says God is out to destroy the “wisdom of the wise.” If that’s not enough to make you think twice about being told you are “smart,” I’m not sure what it would take. Over and over again, scripture says that intelligence as an autonomous foundation isn’t going to get to the real truth. No, scripture has the audacity to say that God is revealing to relative dummies what the world’s wise men won’t ever know.

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:25-27)


Of course, the critics of religion immediately take this sort of post as evidence of the evil of glorifying ignorance. It’s no such thing, of course. I’ll admit that religionists of all types have a mixed record on the subject of the benefits of knowledge, but then it might be the case that someone needs to notice the exponential correlation between how smart we are and what terrible things we do to one another.

By all means, learn all there is to know. Have at it. God gave you the intellect, the curiosity, the senses and the world around you. Read. Study. Research. Think. Experiment. The accumulation of knowledge is part of our human business, dominion and stewardship.

The problem comes when we don’t see our knowledge in relationship to God. If you want to be stupid, the Bible says, then assume that God has become the object of your intellectual abilities and will be cataloged, analyzed and explained by the smart guys. They’ll do their thing, and God will do his.

The Bible is full of experts whom God is refitting with humbled viewpoints. Be they Pharisees, philosophers or realists with no silly thoughts of religion, God is regularly finding ways to shurt them up and turn their conclusions into dust.

Here’s a favorite:

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12: 16-20)


Still Life: Vase with Oleanders and Books, van Gogh

I don’t think God minded at all that this fellow knew a lot about farms, money and buildings. I really don’t. But his announcement that God wasn’t in the picture earned him the name “fool.” In other words, the writer of Ecclesiastes was right to warn us that we fail to remember God at our own peril. Disallowing God from any of our calculations isn’t smart.

The conviction of my own intelligence has a predictable effect: I draw the circle of possible knowledge ever smaller. In other words, what I know for certain is certain because that’s all there is to know.

The skeptic declares there is no God, but hasn’t looked everywhere, perceived everything, received every possible piece of information, considered every possible option. Oh…..she has? Well, excuse me. I’ll just sit down here and be amazed.

The knowledge of God a Christian ought to claim should be the most humble kind of knowledge. Arrogance has no place in the faith of anyone who has received everything as a gift. Our “certainties” are a matter of the assurances of faith. We doubt ourselves. We admit our ignorance. And as Augustine said, we believe in order that we may understand.

So if any of us are actually intelligent, we can demonstrate it by humbling our minds before whatever truth we venerate– the Trinitarian God in my case– and admit that whatever light we have is only a glimmer of the light we can’t see. If the true light shines within us, it won’t register on any of the academic registers. It will be the reflection of the deepest, simplest, most beautiful truths that come to us as a gift, and its greatest evidence will be love, not intelligence.

In the second half of life, I intend to be less impressed with anyone’s intelligence, and more humbled by what I see in the lives of people who really do provide examples of a life well lived.

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Saturday Ramblings, July 4, 2015 Sat, 04 Jul 2015 04:01:47 +0000 Hello, imonks, and welcome to freedom! Ready to Ramble?

Feeling patriotic yet?

Feeling patriotic yet?

Are you having Watermelon at your cookout this weekend? Need some pointers on how to cut that baby up? Here ya go:

Well, this is classy. The Milwaukee Art Museum will display a portrait of Pope Benedict  XVI . . . made of condoms. The museum admitted it was trying to gain some free publicity with the side benefit of pissing off Catholics. Just kidding, of course: they claim it “will ignite a conversation about the AIDS epidemic in Africa and the role art plays in public discussions.” Oh. Yes. I’m sure it will.

Of course, they completely miss the irony. The New York Times this spring refused to run the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. The reason, they say, is that the do not want to offend religious people. The collective snort you heard then was from every honest reader of the Grey Lady. But even then non-snorters are snorting now. For the Times had absolutely zero problem with publishing the condom pope portrait.

Speaking of the Times, they published a long hit piece against Marco Rubio last month, in which they talked about his “luxury speedboat” and implied his house was lavish. Other journalists looked into this. Below is a picture of his “luxury speedboat”. Below that is a comparison of Rubio’s house (on the left) with Hillary Clinton’s. _____boat

Maybe the Times should steal the "fair and balanced" slogan from Fox

Maybe the Times should steal the “fair and balanced” slogan from Fox

Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis web site is not a fan of the TV miniseries A. D., even though it’s about the Bible. “Theologically and historically, the writers of this show have been sloppy at best and calculatingly agenda-driven at the expense of Scripture at worst.” Man, this is like Madonna accusing Lady Gaga of being self-promoting and pretentious.

Gif of the week: “Must resist urge to kill…” must resist

The U.S. election cycle is in full swing. Chris Christie announced he is running this week. And Bernie Sanders is picking up steam in New Hampshire, though he still trails Hillary Clinton 59 percent to 15 percent nationally, and trails her even worse in fund-raising.


And Donald Trump was in the news this week for some stupid and insensitive remarks. But you knew that already, didn’t you? In fact, we may have to make this a weekly feature: “Crazy stuff the Donald said this week”. Several companies are refusing to do business with him after his remarks about Mexican immigrants: “They are not our friend, believe me…They are sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs and they are bringing crime, and they’re rapists.” In defending these remarks in an interview this week, he claimed he was supported by an article in Fusion. The interviewer pointed out the article was actually about female immigrants being raped on the journey from Central America to the United States. Trump’s response: “Well, somebody’s doing the raping, Don! I mean somebody’s doing it! Who’s doing the raping? Who’s doing the raping?”

In related news, I found this helpful chart: crime_f1

Odd headline of the weekBeach closed off after huge hole opens up shooting SNAILS into the sky ‘like a geyser’.

Did you know that a study published in 2000 found that people with light-colored eyes “consumed significantly more alcohol” than their dark-eyed peers? Now a new study from the Univesity of Vermont finds that people with light-colored eyes — which researchers defined as blue, green, gray, or with brown in the center — may have a greater chance of becoming dependent on alcohol. People with blue eyes had the highest rates of alcohol dependence. Scientists controlled for other variables that could influence the result, such as age, sex and genetic ancestry.

On a related note, I came across this graphic this week. Apparently if you have blue eyes and live in Wisconson, you’re going to be pretty smashed this holiday.

Why is Utah so white?

Utah: Always as white as it gets

July 1 was international joke day [also known as Donald Trump’s Birthday]. In honor of this, a British magazine published the most popular jokes from around the world. Some of them definitely prove the adage that humor is cultural. But others were great. My favorite was from Ireland:

A doctor says to his patient, “I have bad news and worse news”.

“Oh dear, what’s the bad news?”

“You only have 24 hours to live.”

“That’s terrible,” said the patient. “How can the news possibly be worse?”.

The doctor replies: “I’ve been trying to contact you since yesterday.”

George Takei is a liberal celebrity who attaches his name to Facebook posts that other people write for him. You may remember him as Mr. Sulu. After the supreme court decision affirming SSM last week, Takei called Clarence Thomas, “a clown in blackface.” He later apologized after taking heat for the racist remark.

America in one picture: 

America in one picture

Bubba Watson is a great golfer and a good ol’ southern boy from central casting. I mean . . . he’s named “Bubba.” He even owns a 1969 Charger that was featured in The Dukes of Hazzard, known as the General Lee. That’s why it raised some eyebrows when he said this week he would paint over the Confederate flag on the roof of his General Lee. This, of course, is part of the wave of disgust at that flag following the shooting in Charleston. Defenders of the flag say it represents “heritage, not hate.” This was rather brilliantly deconstructed by Ta-Nehishi Coates in the Atlantic. To me the issue is clear: That flag should never be flown over any public building in this country. Your thoughts?


Wanna see a squirrel dive bomb the dugout from 40 feet up at a Phillies game? Of course you do:

An Australian woman spent four days in a hospital after the blood supply to her legs was cut off and caused her to collapse. She had spent the day house-cleaning, and as she walked  through a park later that night “her feet became increasingly weak to the point where she fell.” She eventually managed to crawl to the side of the road and hailed a taxi to the hospital. The cause of all this?….Skinny jeans.

My skinny jeans are just my Wrangler relaxed-fit jeans after a heavy meal.

Please take five minutes to watch this video. The footage is spectacular. Be sure to make it full-screen.

Ed Young’s Mega-church is hosting some sort of Patriotic event this weekend. Guest of honor: Glenn Beck. When the church was asked why it was promoting a Mormon talking head, an official spokesman gave this statement: “Glenn Beck is a man who is undoubtedly an American patriot, loves this country, and has shown his love for God in many ways. His knowledge of our history and his understanding of our nation is unmatched, and we’re excited to have him here.” Yes, who could argue with that assessment, especially after reading his wisdom and love for God in quotes like these:

I didn’t think I could hate victims faster than the 9/11 victims… And when I see a 9/11 victim family on television, or whatever, I’m just like, ‘Oh shut up!’ I’m so sick of them because they’re always complaining. And we did our best for them.

The most used phrase in my administration if I were to be President would be ‘What the hell you mean we’re out of missiles?”

You know those fat people who sit in their couch — and I mean really fat. I mean, not like me. I mean the people who, like — their skin grows into the couch. And then, you know, they call the fire department and they cut them out of the wall, and then they have to bring in a truck, and then they take them to the hospital. I say let them die.

I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out — is this wrong? I stopped wearing my What Would Jesus — band — Do, and I’ve lost all sense of right and wrong now. I used to be able to say, “Yeah, I’d kill Michael Moore,” and then I’d see the little band: What Would Jesus Do? And then I’d realize, “Oh, you wouldn’t kill Michael Moore. Or at least you wouldn’t choke him to death.” And you know, well, I’m not sure.

Why, the spokesman was right! This guy sounds just like Saint Paul, doesn’t he? Picture3

Did you know you may be able to drive from New York to London? At least,  if the head of Russian Railways has his way. He is pushing for a major roadway to be constructed alongside the existing Trans-Siberian Railway, along with a tunnel under the Bering Strait for cars, trains and pipelines. “This is an inter-state, inter-civilization, project,” the Siberian Times quoted Vladimir Yakunin. “The project should be turned into a world ‘future zone,’ and it must be based on leading, not catching, technologies.” If built, it would link, for the first time, five continents. So, how long would a road-trip from New York to London take? 12,910 miles, or around 26,000 miles round-trip. Better bring some audio books.

"Are we there, yet?"

“Are we there, yet?”

Finally, let’s end with some “music”. I think you will see why I use the scare quotes. For I give you this morning, in honor of the fourth of July, William Shatner’s AMAZING rendition of Rocket Man. Enjoy.

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Which Way? Religious Conservatism at the Crossroads Fri, 03 Jul 2015 04:01:49 +0000 Last week’s Supreme Court ruling [Obergefell v. Hodges] which found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage surprised few observers. Whether or not such a right can legitimately be derived from the Constitution, it seems impossible that the court would have voted the way it did had this case been brought before it 20 years ago. In other words, religious conservatives find the decision to be so troubling because it does not come out of the blue, but reflects the radically changing mores of our society. Like the trophy presentation after a sports championship game, it announces and formalizes what has already happened on the field of play. At least on issues of sexual morality within public policy, the religious conservatives have lost.

This column is not about the legitimacy of same-sex marriage. Rather, it poses a different question: In light of the defeat over same-sex marriage (which exemplifies defeats in similar areas of social concern), what should religious conservatives do?

One option, of course, is to stand firm and fight back.  Robert P. George writes in First Things:

How shall we respond to a lawless decision in which the Supreme Court by the barest of majorities usurps authority vested by the Constitution in the people and their elected representatives? By letting Abraham Lincoln be our guide. Faced with the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, Lincoln declared the ruling to be illegitimate and vowed that he would treat it as such. He squarely faced Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s claim to judicial supremacy and firmly rejected it. To accept it, he said, would be for the American people “to resign their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.”

Today we are faced with the same challenge. Like the Great Emancipator, we must reject and resist an egregious act of judicial usurpation. We must, above all, tell the truth: Obergefell v. Hodges is an illegitimate decision.

Another option is to turn our focus inwardly, in order to build the kind of church that can best persevere in a post-Christian culture. Rod Dreher wrote a piece for Time in which he laid out “The Benedict Option”:

It is time for what I call the Benedict Option. In his 1982 book After Virtue, the eminent philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre likened the current age to the fall of ancient Rome. He pointed to Benedict of Nursia, a pious young Christian who left the chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray, as an example for us. We who want to live by the traditional virtues, MacIntyre said, have to pioneer new ways of doing so in community. We await, he said “a new — and doubtless very different — St. Benedict.”

Throughout the early Middle Ages, Benedict’s communities formed monasteries, and kept the light of faith burning through the surrounding cultural darkness. Eventually, the Benedictine monks helped refound civilization.

I believe that orthodox Christians today are called to be those new and very different St. Benedicts. How do we take the Benedict Option, and build resilient communities within our condition of internal exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions? I don’t know. But we had better figure this out together, and soon, while there is time.

Dreher wrote a little more expansively about what the Benedict Option means in First Things last February:

In our time, the Benedict Option does not offer a formula (at least not yet), but it does call for a radical shift in perspective among Christians, one in which we see ourselves as living in the ruins (though very comfortable ones!) of Christian civilization, and tasked with preserving the living faith through the coming Dark Ages…

Our Benedict Option will express itself within institutions—churches, schools, para-church organizations, and so forth—whose purpose is to keep orthodox Christianity alive in the hearts and minds of believers living as exiles in an ever more hostile culture.

David Brooks responded with another option in the New York Times. He hopes religious conservatives will quit the battlefield of the current culture war, in order to re-group for a different kind of battle.

I am to the left of the people I have been describing on almost all of these social issues. But I hope they regard me as a friend and admirer. And from that vantage point, I would just ask them to consider a change in course.

Consider putting aside, in the current climate, the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution.

Put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations from any consideration of religion or belief. Put aside an effort that has been a communications disaster, reducing a rich, complex and beautiful faith into a public obsession with sex. Put aside a culture war that, at least over the near term, you are destined to lose.

Consider a different culture war, one just as central to your faith and far more powerful in its persuasive witness.

We live in a society plagued by formlessness and radical flux, in which bonds, social structures and commitments are strained and frayed. Millions of kids live in stressed and fluid living arrangements. Many communities have suffered a loss of social capital. Many young people grow up in a sexual and social environment rendered barbaric because there are no common norms. Many adults hunger for meaning and goodness, but lack a spiritual vocabulary to think things through.

Social conservatives could be the people who help reweave the sinews of society. They already subscribe to a faith built on selfless love. They can serve as examples of commitment. They are equipped with a vocabulary to distinguish right from wrong, what dignifies and what demeans. They already, but in private, tithe to the poor and nurture the lonely.

The defining face of social conservatism could be this: Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spiritual poverty reinforce each other. Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.

This culture war is more Albert Schweitzer and Dorothy Day than Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham; more Salvation Army than Moral Majority. It’s doing purposefully in public what social conservatives already do in private.

Rod Dreher responded to Brooks on Wednesday:

I don’t believe my friend David understands the inseparable connection between Christian sexual morality and the familial and social instability David rightly decries. Family and social breakdown is inextricably linked to the abandonment of Christian sexual ideals — specifically, the idea that sexual passion should be limited to expression within the bounds of marriage. Chastity — which is not “no sex,” but rather the right ordering of the God-given sexual instinct — is a Christian virtue. It is not the most important Christian virtue, but it is not one that can be discarded, either…

Christianity, properly understood, takes a more holistic view of the human person. David rightly causes us to think of how few conservative Christians consider the role that economics and economic policy plays in breaking apart families and communities. But liberals, Christian and otherwise, fail to appreciate the extent to which abandoning sexual restraint results in broken families and broken societies. “Different beliefs about the universe lead to different behavior,” Lewis writes. The Sexual Revolution teaches something different about sex, the body, desire, and identity. Christianity opposes it — and Christian chastity cannot be isolated from the overall Christian conception of what the body is and who we are as incarnated eternal beings.

The point is, there is no way for Christians to undertake the task of nurturing stable families, as David correctly wishes for, without making the teaching of Christian chastity part of the mission. This is the one thing the world cannot accept — and in fact, finds a form of madness, indeed of bigotry…

Dreher also quotes Patrick Deneen on why Brook’s suggestion to quit the field of battle will not work:

The origins of the “war” was arguably launched by Roe v. Wade, which was, for the Christian, less about sexual morality than protecting the life of the unborn. It was a human rights battle, not a battle over sexual propriety… But in recent years, from whence has the aggression come? ..Have Christians threatened to wipe out the livelihood of rural pizza makers who didn’t conform to their views, or even launched boycotts against the likes of Apple, etc.? Or, we might even ask, when is the last time someone heard a sermon about sexual morality from the pew?… But what Brooks simply neglects to talk about is that Christians are not going to be allowed to depart from the battlefield. Once the atomic weapon of “bigotry” has been used, you can’t just contain the radiation. Christians will be occupied for years yet to come defending their institutions – not because that’s what they want to do, but because they will be forced to.

So there are at least three choices laid out: The Status Quo Culture War, The Benedict Option, and the Mother Theresa Plan. Obviously these are not entirely exclusive of each other. But where should our emphasis lie? Or is there a fourth (or fifth) option? What are your thoughts?

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Report from the desert (2): The golden hour Thu, 02 Jul 2015 05:09:16 +0000 image

Photographers and cinematographers love “the golden hour” (sometimes called “the magic hour”). This describes the time of light right after sunrise and right before sunset. During these periods, the sun’s light is more diffuse and softer, bathing the world in a pleasing reddish-golden hue. I took the picture above yesterday at McDowell Mountain Sonoran Desert Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona during the golden hour before sunset, and you can see the effect quite clearly.

In planning for taking pictures, I wanted to make use of the golden hour, especially here in the desert. In this environment the mostly cloudless, sometimes hazy sky casts a harsh bright light over everything during most of the daylight hours, making it difficult to achieve proper contrast and color saturation in one’s photographs. A polarizing filter helps, and one can always adjust pictures when processing them, but no photographer can do as well as what God did when he gave us the golden hour.

The golden hour reminds me that, even in the desert, there are times during the day when nature grants the world respite from the relentless burning sun and the almost colorless landscape its glare creates.

imageAs I was hiking and taking pictures, I found that I eagerly awaited the moment when the sun reached the point in the sky that caused its rays to diffuse and turn the bland desert before me into a portrait of almost luminescent brilliance. And it was worth it. As the sun sank, every plant, rock, and geological feature became transformed into a technicolor wonder. I felt as though I had arrived in Oz. It was every bit as awe-inspiring as the hills of Vermont covered with the fluorescence of maple trees in October. It was like watching van Gogh’s austere early drawings and paintings suddenly burst forth into sunflowers and blossoming trees and parks and wheat fields, exploding with vibrant color and warmth.

It became a devotional moment, or hour, I should say. I couldn’t take pictures fast enough. A deep sense of joy filled me. The liturgy had begun and I became caught up in participating in it. It only lasted a short time, and then the sun began to sink below the horizon, now turning the sky into a vast canvas covered with fiery brushstrokes, as though the very color had lifted up from the earth and found a place of rest in the clouds.

As I drove out of the park, darkness was beginning to fall. I glanced over to my left, and there behind one of the peaks, I saw the hint of a huge full moon. I made a quick u-turn, went back to the park entrance, spotted the moon in perfect position over the mountains, and took several pictures. It was like hearing the choir sing an inspiring, peaceful “amen” to the service.

And then I heard the minister speak the words of dismissal: “In the midst of the desert of your life, there is grace in Jesus Christ. In the midst of the harsh realities of hunger and thirst, sin and death, Jesus has come to bring peace, abundance and life. Thanks be to God. Now we are free to go and bring his light to our world. Go in his grace.”

Thank you, Lord, for the golden hours. Enable me to shine that beautiful light on those around me who need to see it.

Desert Moon 2

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Report from the desert (1) Wed, 01 Jul 2015 05:20:33 +0000 image

I’ve been here in the desert for a couple of days now. The temperature only strays below 100 degrees after the sun goes down, and soon makes its way back up there by around noon the next day. I don’t seem to be bothered much by it; in fact, I rather enjoy it, though I’ve not stayed outside for any considerable length of time.

It has been a time of mundane, daily life with family. We’ve shared meals together and sat around and caught up on what’s been happening in our lives. I’ve been a designated driver, taking my relative to the treatment center for chemotherapy, another to the eye doctor, running errands. I’ve had a few brief outings of my own during appointments and downtime when people needed rest.

Mostly, it feels a lot like what I do every day. My relative with cancer has been doing a tremendous amount of life review, and I’ve been a primary listener. I ask a lot of questions, provide supportive attention, and let him know I care. As is true with most of my daily work, I didn’t come to the desert with an agenda other than to be here and to be available.

Earlier today, he indicated that he wanted to do a few things and run some errands by himself, without my assistance. Fine by me. I didn’t come to take over or insist on being his caretaker. Later on, a few of the other family members gathered around the table after supper and talked. I didn’t feel a need to be there; in fact, I thought it probably would be better if I didn’t insert myself into the conversation at that time. They needed time to share stories with each other, to listen and laugh and reflect on their own experiences without my presence or participation.

I’m thankful for what I’ve learned over these past ten years working in hospice. I don’t have to be the center of attention. I don’t have to contribute something tangible or identifiable every moment. I can let go of thinking I can fix things or even that that is my job. I can listen without feeling I have to pass immediate judgment or give my opinion.

And yet at the same time, it feels like something is happening. Real communication is taking place. Love and concern and appreciation is being shared. Whatever “help” is, it seems to me that we are all experiencing being helped and feeling like we’re helping.

I know very little about desert ecosystems. Somehow, in the midst of all this heat and dryness, plants grow and flourish, animals find hydration and nourishment, and human beings come up with ways to make homes in the wilderness.

There is so much more to the story than the barren, unpromising surface. The quiet, relentless power of life advances, occasionally blossoms, and always wins out in the end.

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Contemplative Prayer and Anfechtung Tue, 30 Jun 2015 04:05:30 +0000 Ocean Greyness, Jackson Pollock

Ocean Greyness, Jackson Pollock

The climate in which monastic prayer flowers is that of the desert, where the comfort of man is absent, where the secure routines of man’s city offer no support, and where prayer must be sustained by God in the purity of faith. Even though he may live in community, the monk is bound to explore the inner waste of his own being as a solitary. The Word of God which is his comfort is also his distress. The liturgy, which is his joy and which reveals to him the glory of God, cannot fill a heart that has not previously been humbled and emptied by dread. Alleluia is the song of the desert.

• Thomas Merton
Contemplative Prayer, p. 1

• • •

Merton’s words about “dread” and “distress” reflect a very lutheran idea; Luther called it “anfechtung.” And this lies at the heart of contemplative prayer.

Merton’s concept of contemplation, at least here in the beginning of his book, is thoroughly evangelical. That is, it involves coming before God at the intersection of death and resurrection. In the prayer of the heart, I face forthrightly the fact and experience of my human exile and death under the power of sin, and then I rise with Christ into the full light of new creation. When Merton says, “Alleluia is the song of the desert,” this is what he means: Christian contemplative prayer involves taking an inward journey from the cross, through the tomb, and emerging into new life under the reign of the risen and ascended Christ.

Before the “Alleluia,” however, comes the “Anfechtung.”

An excellent overview of anfechtung may be found at the blog, Diapsalmata.

For Luther, the context of anfechtung fell nearer the “terrible dread” or “agonizing struggle” whose essence is doubt. This doubt is something fundamentally separate from the skepticism that pervades today. Indeed anfechtung owes its existence not to unbelief, but to faith itself. In other words, the more one believes in the great goodness of God, the more he is dismayed when he sees evidence of that goodness fall away. Had his faith been of a lesser degree, he might have avoided the effects of the questions that assail him. But since he has “left everything to follow” (Luke 18:28) he has nothing on which to fall. Thus the hallmark characteristic of anfechtung is a deep and pervasive sense of helplessness.

Anfechtung represents the dismal space between Law and grace, and the believer caught between them. Here it is that the Christian, freed through faith from the law of sin and death, now looks upon a world in which these elements resurrect with hellish clarity. He feels convicted by God, unapproved, and utterly cast out from His Presence. The prospect of a hopeless future hails before him, and hell itself rises to accuse. The flesh confronts, fellow Christians cajole, and nowhere can he find relief for his soul. The believer finds himself stranded in a place all where he has learned of Christ contradicts what he sees before him. He is lost and undone, and he looks upon a world that is lost and undone. Here he stands at the crossroads of two opposing poles: doubt and doxology.

One soul, one God, and the terrible chasm between them.

Luther himself wrote:

Living, dying, and being damned make the real theologian.

The real contemplative too.

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Random thoughts on a Monday as I fly to Phoenix Mon, 29 Jun 2015 04:01:52 +0000 cr_scottsdale

icon-black-orig-267x300There will be no posts on same-sex marriage this week. Don’t you think we all need a break from talking about it?

By the way, I know what’s going to happen now. You’re going to talk about it. But I really wish you wouldn’t. If I were king, whenever something like this happened, I would impose a moratorium on discussing it until the dust settles and we’ve all had a chance to think, pray, and check ourselves.

icon-black-orig-267x300Here’s the weather forecast for Scottsdale, AZ, where I’ll be all week. Oh boy.

Scottsdale Wthr

icon-black-orig-267x300SN-Summerfest-Review-737x1024That makes me thirsty! I normally don’t care for summer beers too much. Usually a bit too lemony or citrusy for my taste. But I’ve found two that I really like:

  • Sierra Nevada Summerfest. This beer, brewed according to Czech tradition, lives up to its advertising as a “crisp” and refreshing lager.
  • New Belgium Skinny Dip. Another lager, a bit sunnier and fruitier than Summerfest, but still full bodied and invigorating.

What are you enjoying this summer?

And hey, Adam McHugh, feel free to give us your expert wine selections as well!


I’ve also been delighted to find that some of the kinds of music I used to enjoy as a kid in the summertime are still alive and well for me this year. Three great new summery albums that I have on my playlist are:

  • 1415315854617No Pier Pressure, by Brian Wilson. Like everything Brian Wilson has ever done, this album is a lush, bittersweet meditation on young hope, love, and loss. Amazingly, at 73 years old, he can still capture the feelings of sunset on the beach better than anyone in the world. He has a lot of younger artists helping him on this album, which adds a refreshing new twist to these classic-sounding tunes and lyrics.
  • Before This World, by James Taylor. It has been 13 years since JT released an album of original material, and this one is a solid, if mostly unsurprising, addition to his lengthy catalogue. A highlight for me is his inclusion of my favorite concert-closer, the old Scottish song, Wild Mountain Thyme.
  • The Traveling Kind, Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell. Their reunion album of 2012, the Grammy award winning Old Yellow Moon, was about as perfect a duet record as is possible, and this follow-up continues that satisfying partnership with another strong program of songs.

icon-black-orig-267x300You must read the astonishing opinion piece by Nicholas Kristoff in the New York Times about Catholic missionary Dr. Tom Catena. Here’s how it begins:

If you subscribe to the caricature of devout religious believers as mostly sanctimonious hypocrites, the kind who rake in cash and care about human life only when it is unborn, come visit the doctor here.

dr_tom_gidel_2015Dr. Tom Catena, 51, a Catholic missionary from Amsterdam, N.Y., is the only doctor at the 435-bed Mother of Mercy Hospital nestled in the Nuba Mountains in the far south of Sudan. For that matter, he’s the only doctor permanently based in the Nuba Mountains for a population of more than half a million people.

Just about every day, the Sudanese government drops bombs or shells on civilians in the Nuba Mountains, part of a scorched-earth strategy to defeat an armed rebellion here. The United States and other major powers have averted their eyes, so it is left to “Dr. Tom,” as he is universally known here, to pry out shrapnel from women’s flesh and amputate limbs of children, even as he also delivers babies and removes appendixes.

And here is how it ends:

Certainly the Nubans (who include Muslims and Christians alike) seem to revere Dr. Tom.

“People in the Nuba Mountains will never forget his name,” said Lt. Col. Aburass Albino Kuku of the rebel military force. “People are praying that he never dies.”

A Muslim paramount chief named Hussein Nalukuri Cuppi offered an even more unusual tribute.

“He’s Jesus Christ,” he said.

Er, pardon?

The chief explained that Jesus healed the sick, made the blind see and helped the lame walk — and that is what Dr. Tom does every day.

You needn’t be a conservative Catholic or evangelical Christian to celebrate that kind of selflessness. Just human.

And here’s how I am after reading this piece: speechless.

icon-black-orig-267x300Like I said, this week I will be in Scottsdale, basking (or is that baking?) in the beautiful Southwest.

This is more than a pleasure trip, however. One of my relatives is dealing with cancer and treatments right now, and my mom and I are flying out to spend some time with him. The journey may be more for us than for him — I’ve heard he has things pretty well under control — but perhaps we’ll be able to lend a hand and lighten the family’s burden a bit.

I will appreciate your prayers, and look forward to writing from a different location this week.

icon-black-orig-267x300Finally, here is a lovely, prayerful song for you from the Gettys as you start the work week, one of the few Christian hymns to deal with the subject of our daily vocations. Note the lovely incorporation of Bach’s Wachet Auf as a complementary tune throughout.


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Sundays with Michael Spencer: June 28, 2015 Sun, 28 Jun 2015 04:01:59 +0000 A Pair of Leather Clogs, van Gogh

A Pair of Leather Clogs, van Gogh

Paul made a lot of sin lists. You know, lists of sins.

If you’re a preacher or teacher, you’ve probably used Paul’s sin lists a few times as the raw material for a talk or sermon. You’ve walked through the list, one sin at a time and said a little something about each one. It may not have been the most interesting talk you ever did, but it took up some time and sin is always relevant, right?

Those lists can be pretty spectacular.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32)

Comprehensive, that’s for sure.

But if the apostle were writing an epistle for the Christians like me and those I know, it would be good to get to some specifics that are really aren’t going to make the papers for sensational sins. No, the sins we need to be confronted about in my life and community are the sins that Christians have incorporated into their normal lives with unremorseful regularity. They won’t get you in jail. In fact, you can be up to your ears in these sins while you are doing all kinds of church work and professional ministry.

These are the sins we have quietly voted to accept. They’re OK. They have an exemption. They are either compatible with some version of what we think it means to be a Christian, or they are just so essential to the way we’ve decided to operate that we can’t really see them as wrong.

So I’m not an apostle, and I’m not the author of anything close to scripture. But I am a sinner, and I know my sins well enough to recognize them in Christian community, ministries and relationships.

1. Not keeping promises. Also known as a lack of integrity. You say you’ll do something. You promise to show up and do it, but you don’t. You find ways to avoid doing what you promised to do and you eventually find a way to quit. That usually needs a little God-talk to make it go down easier.

What about the promises you made your spouse? Are you keeping them? Your congregation? Your children? What about simple promises made in commerce or employment? In business and friendships? What about promises of service, generosity, support or leadership?

2. Lying. All shapes. All sizes. All kinds. All the time. Christians are exaggerators, prevaricators and simple liars. They lie and they excuse lying. They fault others for not believing the truth and they readily lie as quickly as anyone I’ve ever seen. Because it’s so much a part of the kind of communication that’s acceptable in Christian leadership, its rarely called out from the pulpit.

Lying is self-protection. It is the opposite of faith. We do it naturally and easily, and we are often afraid to do without it. We need others to believe the little lies we live on, and when they do, all is well. When they don’t….we become terrified that we’re going to be accountable, and then some of those spectacular sins in Romans 1 appear far more possible.

3. A lack of integrity. I’ve written on this before. I came to the point as an adult Christian that I couldn’t stand to look at myself on this issue. My moral character had holes in it. I manipulated all sorts of things to keep myself self from conviction. I was about 30% of what I appeared to be. I was miserable in my own skin. I hated to look myself in the eyes.

I repented of this life and I went on a journey to reclaim integrity. It’s not been easy…..mainly because being a person of integrity puts you into conflict with a large section of the Christian community.

Who honestly cares if my church lies about its membership numbers? Who cares if the story I just told came from a Google search? Who cares if I claim to have read a book when actually my assistants read it? Who cares if I do what my job description says I do? Who cares if I actually make those pastoral visits? Who cares if I take home office supplies?

This list can go on and on and on.

4. Cruel speech about those with whom we differ. I’ve say at lunch tables with fellow Christians who suggested we put gays on an island and bomb it. I’ve heard every lie about Obama out there repeated (and forwarded) by Christian people. I’ve heard Democrats called dozens of cruel and ridiculing names.

I’ve heard all of this excused as “Well listen to what they say about us,” as if Jesus explicitly taught us to retaliate when treated unfairly.

And what is the record of this sin as directed toward other believers with whom we have some minor disagreement or conflict? What have we given ourselves permission to say and do?

5. No grace for ordinary failure. Why is it the Christian who will predictably enforce the smallest rule to the nth degree, with no thought of mercy? Why do people who love “Amazing Grace” act as if grace is the opposite of everything we believe in when it comes to dealing with people?

Why do so many of us use guilt and manipulation, and then call it “grace?” It’s not. Why do we believe that Jesus’ stories about servants who were forgiven but refused to forgive don’t apply to us?

Why will it be the Christian kid whose parents expect perfection from him? Why is it the Christian student whose life has been micromanaged to the point of being “cruel and unusual?”

• • •

Yes, it’s a short list. I need to say some other things about other sins, and especially talk to those of us who are leaders. These are common in my life, in many lives and in many Christian communities. They are boring, because they are everywhere.

They are the sins that erode holiness, poison obedience, dilute character, produce phoniness and weaken communty.

If you are a young Christian, consider this: If you can walk away from these sins, you’ll be markedly different from many other Christians, and those who have had typical experiences will know you are different.

Or even better, make up your own list that fits you and your character. Start close to home, and see if you have a list of “sins for exemption” that needs to be thrown away.

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Saturday Ramblings, June 27, 2015 Sat, 27 Jun 2015 04:30:58 +0000 Hello, imonks, and welcome to the weekend. Shall we Ramble?


Really? The hood ornament is optional???

There is some annoyingly serious stuff we need to cover this week. So we will balance it with some weird, medieval paintings thrown in randomly. Not sure weird medieval paintings will lighten things up? They will if we give them some modern captions: NAosugC e1qJ68C

Churchix, a new company, is marketing a face-recognition attendance program for churches. Now churches can keep cultish control no matter how big they get! Yay, technology!

Churchix is a face recognition event attendance desktop application. Churchix identifies event attending members in videos and photos. All you need to do is enrol high quality photos of your members into the software data base, then connect a live video USB camera or upload recorded videos or photos – and Churchix will identify your members!

This doesn't seem creepy at all...

This doesn’t seem creepy at all…

You may have heard. It was mentioned on a few blogs or something, I think. But the Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, and that states cannot ban such marriages. I won’t get into my opinion of the ruling, though you certainly may. But I did gather up some reaction from the more alarmist wing of the conservative camp. I call this collection, Outrage: who wore it better? Who do you think is the most outraged and outrageous?

  • Don Wildman: “We’re not surprised but extremely disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision. I fear for our country, quite frankly, because this is a spiritual 9/11, I believe.”
  • Bill Muehlenberg of BarbWire: “This is just the beginning. This is a declaration of war by five judges who have spat in the face of their Creator, of marriage, of biology, and freedom. Now a major proper response for Christians and others is massive civil disobedience and defiance of this homo-fascist decision.”
  • Mike Huckabee: “This irrational, unconstitutional rejection of the expressed will of the people in over 30 states will prove to be one of the court’s most disastrous decisions, and they have had many.”
  • Concerned Women of America: “In one appalling decision, the Supreme Court has effectively opened the door to the criminalization of Christianity when it comes to the marriage issue … and not just Christianity, but every major religion that supports God’s model for marriage and family.”
  • Author Carl Gallups: “This is the most monumental ruling of any court, by any nation in the history of the world.The spiritual and world-reaching ramifications will be prolific and devastating.”
  • Alan West, in an article titled, “Why the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage could lead to civil war”: “The SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage is not about the issue itself — it is about individual religious freedom and the imposition of the State’s will against faith. After all, it is the original reason why the Pilgrims fled England. And since there is no place for men and women of faith to retreat — they will make a stand. This ain’t first century Rome.” jCWS28eulaqx3e

However, there were also voices of reason on the right:

  • Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family: “In the days to come, we must remember to season our words with salt. It’s time to be a light in these dark times. It is not time to be combative and caustic. Now, more than ever, we must emulate Jesus Christ. We must continue to show that loving kindness as we talk with our neighbors and friends who see this issue differently.”
  • National Association of Evangelicals: “As witnesses to the truth, evangelicals should be gracious and compassionate to those who do not share their views on marriage. Those who continue to embrace biblical teaching on marriage will increasingly appeal to the First Amendment protection not just for abstract belief, but for the practice of their faith. The National Association of Evangelicals calls on Congress to enact laws, on the president to implement policies, and on the courts to render judgments that uphold the freedom and human rights of all Americans.”
  • A statement signed by 100 evangelical luminaries: “Evangelical churches in America now find themselves in a new moral landscape that calls us to minister in a context growing more hostile to a biblical sexual ethic. This is not new in the history of the church…Outrage and panic are not the responses of those confident in the promises of a reigning Christ Jesus.”
  • Mark Galli of CT, as usual, gets it right. Read his full post here. 0HDvalE

One self-professed liberal at Politico is already waving the flag for the next fight: Polygamy.

Polyamory is a fact. People are living in group relationships today. The question is not whether they will continue on in those relationships. The question is whether we will grant to them the same basic recognition we grant to other adults: that love makes marriage, and that the right to marry is exactly that, a right.

Since the SCOTUS ruling, progressives can now be open about the issue:

To advocate for polygamy during the marriage equality fight may have seemed to confirm the socially conservative narrative, that gay marriage augured a wholesale collapse in traditional values. But times have changed; while work remains to be done, the immediate danger to marriage equality has passed. In 2005, a denial of the right to group marriage stemming from political pragmatism made at least some sense. In 2015, after this ruling, it no longer does. download (5)-Lenovo-PC

A Pennsylvania newspaper will now no longer publish letters that do not support same-sex marriage:

As a result of Friday’s ruling, PennLive/The Patriot-News will very strictly limit op-Eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage.

These unions are now the law of the land. And we will not publish such letters and op-Eds any more than we would publish those that are racist, sexist or anti-Semitic.

Hmmm…so let me get this straight….Your reasoning for banning these letters is because same-sex marriage is “now the law of the land.” So, does that mean you refrained from publishing pieces supporting same-sex marriage when it wasn’t the law of the land? download (8)-Lenovo-PC

Don Featherstone died this week. Don’t know Don? I bet you know his invention. They may have even covered your lawn:



A Florida couple arrived home this last April to find police waiting for them.  They were put in handcuffs, strip searched, fingerprinted, and held overnight in jail. Worse, their two children were taken away from them. It would be a month before their sons—the 11-year-old and his 4-year-old brother—were allowed home again.

What was their crime? Well, they were supposed to meet the 11 year old at home and let him in after school. They got caught in rain and traffic, and arrived 90 minutes late. The boy didn’t have a key, so he played basketball in his own yard. A neighbor called the cops, and when the parents arrived they were arrested for negligence. live

Our good friends at World News Daily are again showing themselves unafraid to publish the real news, the news the other sites ignore: “JUMPIN’ BEELZEBUB! OBAMA BUZZED BY FLY … AGAIN.” Yes, the whole article is about how several times now bees or flies have landed on our commander in chief in an … unnatural… way. “He has had flies land on his face numerous times, with the president sometimes not even swatting them off his face.”   Even Glen Beck gets quoted: “How many times have rodents crossed your path, flies landed on your face, or bees strangely swarmed in your presence? But our president, at one of the most meticulously maintained houses, it seems to be happening all the time. Why? I don’t know, but someone does…” WND then related the following haunting incident:

In a June 2009 CNBC interview, Obama killed a fly on camera.

“Get out of here,” the president said with his eyes on the fly before the interview began.

When the fly persisted, he killed it with a single blow.

“That was pretty impressive, wasn’t it?” said Obama of his feat. “I got the sucker.”

Did you get that? He looked at his fly minion right in the face and commanded it to leave. When the fly did not obey, he was immediately killed. What kind of monster is this???? download (7)-Lenovo-PC

Joel Osteen is popular with Muslims. At least that’s what he claims:

“I have Muslims that attend our church and my books sell a lot in Muslim countries as well. You know, I don’t know, I don’t get too deep in those kinds of things, but our ministry is about reaching out to everybody, and so I do and I do have those conversations. I had a whole group of probably about 50 Muslims here at the service about two weeks ago, sitting right on the front row. They came, and we have good, good relations.

Osteen has also told Larry King that  many atheists like his message:

“I think what they like, Larry, the principles that we teach is from the Scripture but they can help anybody you know, to reach dreams or to forgive or to have a good self-image,” Osteen said. “I know that I’m not a traditional pastor in terms of I’m just going down teaching scripture by scripture, because a lot of what I would teach is just how to live a great life.” rxcIRlr

Odd headline of the week: ‘Testicle Eating Fish’ With Human-Like Teeth Caught In New Jersey.

As if I needed another reason to stay out of New Jersey...

As if I needed another reason to stay out of New Jersey…

Finally, for our music selection of the week, how about some Bohemian Rhapsody? But let’s listen to it on a 111 year-old fairground organ. It starts a little weak, but wait for it, cuz it builds.

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Levi Nunnink: A Lutheran layman’s perspective on the Tullian Tchividjian scandal & Liberate Fri, 26 Jun 2015 04:01:17 +0000 LutherSunglassesNote from CM: One of the interesting characteristics of evangelicalism is its Disney-like ability to take classic traditions and turn them into palatable fast-food for contemporary audiences. A smart evangelical pastor might be just one good J.I. Packer book away from planting a new “reformed” megachurch.

Tullian Tchividjian, of whom we wrote yesterday, who just resigned the pastorate of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, was becoming known as the “Lutheran” evangelical.

What do real Lutherans think about that?

Well, I found out by reading a wonderfully written, down-to-earth, funny and self-deprecating take on how the Tullian phenomenon and fall looks through Lutheran eyes that we’re happy to share with you today.

Levi Nunnink has penned “A Lutheran layman’s perspective on the Tullian Tchividjian scandal & Liberate.” [Note: “Liberate” is Tullian’s web resource and conference ministry, now shut down in light of recent events.] Levi graciously gave permission for us to re-post it here at Internet Monk, and I hope you’ll enjoy and learn from it as much as I did.

The news broke yesterday that Tullian Tchividjian was resigning as pastor of Coral Ridge because of adultery. I’m very sad to hear this. The repercussions will be far-reaching and long lasting for him, his family, and his flock. Now is not the time to gloat or point fingers. We are all equally condemned in sin and but for the grace of God, we would all be lost. The small silver lining to this sad story is that everyone appears to be doing the proper thing at the moment: the elders notifying the congregation, Tullian resigning from ministry, etc. It’s not my place to comment much further on that. However, I do have a few tangental thoughts on this.

Here’s the deal: I’m a Lutheran, currently a member of a church in the Missouri Synod (sexy name, eh? Branding, baby.). Let me give you a bit of a thumbnail sketch of “ecclesiastical life” in the Missouri Synod:

It’s German. Very German.

Now don’t get me wrong, Germans are awesome in a great many ways. But they are not the most dynamic bunch to spend a Sunday morning with. The sermons are short; twenty minutes is pushing it; get to the point, Pastor! The church buildings (at least on the west coast) are plain and have none of the grandeur of the neighboring Roman Catholic or Episcopalian parishes. The vestments are plain too and sometimes look like they haven’t been updated since 1970.

Worshipping in a typical Missouri Synod church, you get the feeling that Rome is doing stuff on a Hollywood-level production budget and we’ve got a Lifetime special.

And please don’t ask about our contemporary services. Just don’t. Leave us in our shame. Our deep, deep shame.

Now what about Lutheran celebrities? Matt Harrison? You’ve heard of him, right?


The closest thing we have to a celebrity pastor

The closest thing we have to a celebrity pastor

I guess it’s not surprising since Pr. Harrison looks like a retired lumberjack, doesn’t go on speaking tours, hasn’t written any popular books, doesn’t have an Instagram account where he posts selfies with his tats prominently displayed. But as far as well-known pastors in my synod, he’s probably at the top. But I suspect the office of presiding bishop keeps him busy enough that he doesn’t have time to work on his personal brand. In fact the only time you’ll probably hear people talk about Matt Harrison is when they’re complaining about him. Here’s hoping the glory doesn’t go to his head.

That being said…

I’m sure some Lutherans would love to change this.

I’m sure some Lutherans would love to have a club like The Gospel Coalition, where they host annual conferences, promote each other’s books, and film themselves pontificating on any and every subject; a theological rat pack if you will. I’m sure some Lutherans would love to share the ridiculous level of attention that John Piper gets. (Although a video series named “Ask Pastor Siegmund” doesn’t have the same same ring as “Ask Pastor John”.) I’m sure some Lutherans would love to go on speaking tours where they go around the country, preaching to packed churches.

Where does that leave ambitious Lutherans?

What are Lutherans to do when we catch a glimpse of the potent marketing engine that reformed Christianity in America has built for itself? Rod Rosenbladt’s supporting role on the White Horse Inn just ain’t cutting it. So many huge conferences… So many hip books… So many gorgeous blogs… And not a crumb for us.

Enter Tullian Tchividjian: Grandson of Billy Graham; dynamic personality; bestselling author; huge church; gangster-hip; GQ-good-looks; and what’s this? He kinda sounds Lutheran!

Here’s a funny thing about Lutherans that you probably wouldn’t guess from the outside: you know who we really can’t stand? No, it’s not Rome, although you would think so. It’s The Reformed! Maybe that seems weird but historically we’ve had a way harder time distancing ourselves from the Calvinists than the Papists. To the point that Martin Luther at the end of his life said that he’d rather “drink blood with a Papist than mere wine with a Zwinglian”. (If that doesn’t make sense to you, than you’re probably a Zwinglian.)

But Tullian was different. He quoted Luther and Lutheran theologians ad nauseam. He wrote blog posts on The Gospel Coalition website, that hotbed of Neo-Calvinism, on why Lutheran theology was awesome. Then when puritanical loose screws like Mark Jones and John MaCarthur would attack him as overemphasizing grace, that just confirmed everything that we always suspected about reformed theology. I personally got a kick when Mark Jones wrote his “Brothers, we are not Lutherans” post, where he insisted that our personal good works were actually efficacious for our salvation. When Grace To You made the ludicrous attempt to coin the term “hypergrace” (which sounds like something out of Star Wars) and basically said that grace was better in limited doses, well, that only fed the feeling of Lutheran vindication.

And the only reason these crytpo-Papists were coming out of the woodwork to expose themselves was because of Tullian Tchividjian.

Things came to a head when The Gospel Coalition kicked Tullian out. Tullian immediately announced the creation of a new coalition called “Liberate” and this time Lutherans and our unqualified message of grace were going to be first-class citizens. And this thing was every bit as sexy as The Gospel Coalition: it had a slick design; big conference; marketing power. It seemed that maybe our day in the spotlight had come.


Question: Could Lutherans pull something like this off? Answer: No.

But here’s the problem: no matter how much Tullian emphasized that blessed Lutheran distinctive of Law and Gospel, he was not Lutheran. Not even close. I’m not really sure if Tullian realized this himself but there is far more to our theology than simply Law and Gospel. In fact our understanding of Law and Gospel can only exist in the larger universe of our orders of worship, doctrines of the sacraments, ecclesiology, soteriology, and ultimately and most importantly our Christology. Tullian shared none of this with us. His understanding of Law and Gospel, while correct in some areas was highly insufficient. Ultimately he was not a good representation of either the Reformed or Lutheran tradition. Rather than the exciting new champion of Lutheran theology in a reformed world, he was either a confused Presbyterian or a heterodox Lutheran. He should’ve picked one tradition and stuck with it.

Even worse, many of the “Lutherans” who signed up for his Liberate gig were those who had a highly warped theology that had much more to do with 20th century liberal ideas than anything by Martin Luther. And as things progressed, it appeared that Tullian’s notions of Law and Gospel seemed to be in conflict with St. Paul’s. Especially when it came to things like the effects that Law and Gospel should have in the life of the believer, the qualifications for ministry, and the Christian’s relation to sin. I honestly don’t know enough to say if it was or wasn’t technically antinomian but it certainly wasn’t good or Lutheran. Many of the people that Tullian chose to get involved in his ministry were not just theologically “off” but dangerous. It seems like a lot of standards got thrown out the window on this one.

Let’s make this clear: Contrary to popular rumor, Lutherans believe in things like church discipline, preaching good works, growth in holiness, resisting sin, etc. If you think you can escape these things in Confessional Lutheranism, we’ll, sorry ya can’t. Just read Luther’s Small Catechism for a dose of reality. Moreover, those things are all over the New Testament, we can’t ignore them. The good news (no pun intended) is that they don’t qualify or confuse The Gospel. But they are necessary for a healthy understanding of The Gospel and how we should live under grace.

Don’t read this as me saying “I told ya so” or gloating over a minister’s tragic fall. It seems like the sanity that comes from things like denominations, synods, and presbyteries has kicked in and everything is proceeding correctly now. Also, don’t read this as somehow saying that being an orthodox Lutheran or Presbyterian means that you won’t fall into horrendous sin. That is absolutely not true. By definition, the church is full of sinners from top to bottom. St. Paul himself said, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” The danger is always there. The only man who had true victory over sin was the Lord Jesus Christ.

That being said, here are a few final thoughts:

Lutheran Pastors: your sheep do not need you to have a bigger platform; they need faithful shepherds. We don’t need our own Gospel Coalition, bigger and better conferences, or speaking tours; we need the word and sacrament given to us in purity. We need the discipline, authority, and communion of our synod to be respected, not set aside so we can have a wider audience. Please don’t be tempted by these things; don’t be suckered into playing this silly game. It goes nowhere and gives nothing in return. But I’m pretty sure you already know this. So thank you!


No Twitter followers. No tattoos. Still awesome.

Bummed Layperson: Maybe you are truly broken by what happened with Tullian. Maybe you heard his clear proclamation of the free grace of Jesus Christ and it did liberate your soul from the crushing burden of works righteousness. You read Jesus + Nothing = Everything and it gave you a new lease on life. But now you’re wondering where to go and what to do. Don’t give up! The Gospel really is as wonderful as you hoped.

Here’s my best advice for you: turn off the podcasts, close the browser, and go to a confessional Lutheran church (haha! pretty lame, huh).

Here’s what to expect:

  • The minister will probably not be very dynamic. He won’t have a Twitter feed full of pithy quotes about radical grace. He won’t be the best preacher since George Whitfield. He won’t have a personal trainer and look like his last gig was touring with the Jonas Brothers. He won’t have a book deal and vanish for months to go on speaking tours. But he will have been called and ordered to teach the word faithfully and he will have taken solemn vows to keep these orders and respect this call. He will have years of theological and pastoral training. He will have oversight so if he begins to break his vows, you will not be alone. He will know your name. He will baptize and instruct your children in the essentials of the Christian faith. He will visit you when you are too sick to come to the altar. He will hear your confession of sin and give you absolution. He will know how to apply the Law and Gospel to your life and not to some abstract audience on the web.
  • The worship will feel weird, foreign, catholic, and maybe even a bit boring once the novelty wears off. This is a good thing. These rituals are all here to protect and preserve the purity of the church and your soul, not to entertain you. Like good medicine, it may not taste great but it’s what you need. Over time you’ll discover the deep beauty that they contain. (And here’s a neat little secret, Lutherans have the best music out of all the Christian churches. Hands down. Martin Luther loved music and if a Lutheran liturgy is done right, it should be mostly chanting, and singing. And it’s good stuff, composed by musicians who know what they’re doing. Y’know Bach was Lutheran, right?)
  • Here’s the thing that you absolutely must show up for. You won’t get the gospel in a Tweet, blog post, podcast, or sermon; you will receive the gospel in the true body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins. Come for that, if nothing else. That is The Gospel that Tullian and Liberate could never give you even if this whole awful business never transpired in the first place.

If you’re having trouble finding a church that gives you these things, please get in touch. Seriously. Reach out to me on Twitter or email and I’ll do my best to help. I’ve been through this before and I know that it can be hard.

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