Speaking of Transformationalizationism

Ken Myers once upon a time took instruction from Meredith Kline about why the idea of Christian culture is wrongheaded:

The experience of human culture in all its diversity is the way we enjoy being human. And enjoy it we must. Being human is the most profound aspect of the creation for which we ought to give thanks. If we can enjoy the beauty of all else in creation, how foolish to resent or ignore the image of the Creator, the pinnacle of creation. It is being human, not being saved — it is the image of God in us, not regeneration — that established the capacity to recognize the distinctions between the beautiful and the ubly, between order and chaos, between the creative and the stultifying.

We were created beings before we were redeemed beings. God’s benediction on creation has not been entirely erased by the Fall. Jesus Himself is not only divine, He is human. Does he enjoy it, or simply endure it? Until our bodies are made new, like the body Jesus now enjoys, our calling is not to escape fleshly existence, nor to sanctify culture (since it is “common,” shared by believer and unbeliever, and cannot be made holy), but to so influence our culture as to make it more consistent with the created nature of man, and to sanctify our own lives, because we are also living in the Spirit, with our minds set on the things that are above.

We acknowledge this distinction between the holy and the common each time we partake of the Lord’s Supper. Every meal I eat, I eat to the glory of God, under the Lordship of Christ. But not every meal I heat has the significance and the power to transform that the Lord’s Supper has. It is a holy meal in a way last week’s visit to Burger King is not. Not everyone is allowed to eat this holy meal, but everyone is allowed to eat at Burger King. If there are deficiencies within the culture that have produced Burger King, the deficiencies are not due to the fact that it is not a holy place, but because it violates or compromises aspects of our experience as human beings. If we believe that to be the case, our goal as Christians would not be to sanctify the Whopper, to make it into a sacrament, but to attempt to influence our culture to make it more fitting for human beings bearing the image of God.

While our culture may not be holy, it should not be inhuman. (All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, 50-51)

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Transformationalize This

Michael Oakeshott on culture (from Alan Jacobs):

A culture, particularly one such as ours, is a continuity of feelings, perceptions, ideas, engagements, attitudes and so forth, pulling in different directions, often critical of one another and contingently related to one another so as to compose not a doctrine, but what I shall call a conversational encounter. Ours, for example, accommodates not only the lyre of Apollo but also the pipes of Pan, the call of the wild; not only the poet but also the physicist; not only the majestic metropolis of Augustinian theology but also the “greenwood“ of Franciscan Christianity. A culture comprises unfinished intellectual and emotional journeyings, expeditions now abandoned but known to us in the tattered maps left behind by the explorers; it is composed of light-hearted adventures, of relationships invented and explored in exploit or in drama, of myths and stories and poems expressing fragments of human self-understanding, of gods worshipped, of responses to the mutability of the world and of encounters with death. And it reaches us, as it reached generations before ours, neither as long-ago terminated specimens of human adventure, nor as an accumulation of human achievements we are called upon to accept, but as a manifold of invitations to look, to listen and to reflect.

And the holy urbanists actually think they are up to taking every thought captive? They may have bought that bridge in Brooklyn.

Why Did Jesus Even Need to Die?

The incarnation accomplished what can only a cosmic Mack Truck could do:

“The Word became flesh.” By his Incarnation Jesus restored in himself God’s creation of man and woman at the beginning of human history in his own image. Jesus is the perfect image of the Father and thus becomes the source of restoring all of humanity as the image of God. Jesus renews the original dignity of the human being, indeed now raising it to a still higher status. Recall what the priest prays during the Preparation of the Gifts at Mass when he pours a little water into the chalice of wine: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Humanity is called now to deeper share in the life of God and this intensifies the regard that men and women have for one another. Because of the Incarnation all human beings are connected to Christ and destined to find eternal fulfillment in him. In his Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio St. John Paul II wrote: “Jesus came to bring integral salvation, one which embraces the whole person and all mankind, and opens up the wondrous prospect of divine filiation.”

The Church’s defense and protection of all human beings and human rights flows not simply from a philosophical principle, or from the natural law, but even more profoundly from its belief in the connection of all human beings to Christ and their destiny in him because of the Incarnation. This connectedness and destiny of all humanity to and in Christ is also the foundation of the Church’s solidarity with all peoples. Respect for the dignity and rights of others entails more than just the observance of the Ten Commandments. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus commands the cultivation of virtues which ennoble not only one’s own self but, even more, enhance the well-being of others. Thus, for example, we are commanded not only not to kill another, but also not to be angry at someone or call a person a “fool” (cf. Mt. 5:21-22).

You’d never know that Jesus condemned the Pharisees, wasn’t particularly concerned to see Judas restored, or prophesied doom on Jerusalem. That’s okay. We can find a text in the Bible to support whatever virtue we like.

By the way, those Reformed Protestants inclined to the cosmic significance of the gospel should pay attention and make better arguments.

Red Ribbon

Just removing the cake from the Bundt pan was victory enough for we theologians of the cross. But when the cake entered at the The Most Popular Fair on Earth won second place in the Bundt cake division, the red ribbon was icing on the cake.

Here is the recipe for Mississippi Mud Cake:

Into a bowl sift together 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and a pinch of salt.

In the top of a double boiler set over simmering water heat 1-3/4 cups coffee and 1/4 cup bourbon for 5 minutes. Add 5 ounces unsweetened chocolate and 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, all cut into pieces, and heat the mixture, stirring, until the chocolate and butter are melted and the mixture is smooth.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 2 cups sugar. Let the mixture cool for 3 minutes and transfer it to the bowl of an.electric mixer.

Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, beating at medium speed, and continue to beat the mixture for 1 minute.

Add 2 eggs, lightly beaten, and 1 teaspoon vanilla and beat the batter until it is smooth.

Butter a 9-inch tube pan, 3-1/2 inches deep, and dust it with cocoa. Pour in the batter and bake the cake in a pre- heated very slow oven (275° F.) for 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool completely in the pan on a rack and turn it out onto a serving plate. Dust the top with powdered sugar or serve with whipped cream.

The recipe comes from a celebrated blue ribbon winner at Wisconsin county fairs who lives in Chicago and has edited and published a couple of my books.

Fine print: the one time I used butter and cocoa on the pan, the results were not great. The better strategy is to use what works best for your Bundt pan.

We Got This Not

An academic institution where Protestants and Roman Catholics teach together sponsoring a conference about the Reformation is one thing, but a Presbyterian seminary holding a series of lectures on the Reformation that includes Roman Catholics and Protestants? That’s what’s happening at Covenant Theological Seminary this fall. The explanations do not add up:

“Though significant differences still divide Protestants and Catholics, there are real reasons to listen to each other, even learn from each other, so that we might give better testimony to Christ by loving one another across our differences,” said Ryan, professor of religion and culture at CTS and director of the seminary’s Francis A. Schaeffer Institute. “Our goal is to somehow get past lingering caricatures of each other’s positions to find the common ground we share as we seek to bear a more credible witness for the Lord before the watching world.”

Jerram Barrs, CTS professor of Christian studies and contemporary culture and one of the speakers at the lecture series, agrees. “It is important that we do not merely endlessly rehearse the reasons as to why the Reformation took place as if neither we nor the Roman Catholic Church have learned any more or changed in any manner since the 1500s.”

The lecture series will feature five speakers — two of them Catholic — discussing topics ranging from why the Reformation still matters today, to the pastoral legacy of the Reformation, to an evangelical and Catholic and Reformed view of faith and culture.

The part that stuck out to mmmeeeeEEEE was about “endlessly rehearsing the reasons as to why the Reformation took place.” Last time iiiiiIII checked, Protestants and Roman Catholics in the United States are seriously in need of learning the reasons for Luther’s original complaints and Rome’s rejection of Protestant proposals. Consider the following:

nearly half of U.S. Protestants today (46%) say faith alone is needed to attain salvation (a belief held by Protestant reformers in the 16th century, known in Latin as sola fide). But about half (52%) say both good deeds and faith are needed to get into heaven, a historically Catholic belief.

U.S. Protestants also are split on another issue that played a key role in the Reformation: 46% say the Bible is the sole source of religious authority for Christians – a traditionally Protestant belief known as sola scriptura. Meanwhile, 52% say Christians should look both to the Bible and to the church’s official teachings and tradition for guidance, the position held by the Catholic Church during the time of the Reformation and today.

When these two questions are combined, the survey shows that just three-in-ten U.S. Protestants believe in both sola fide and sola scriptura. One third of Protestants (35%) affirm one but not the other, and 36% do not believe in either sola fide or sola scriptura.

Pew’s findings corroborate Ligonier’s survey. (And Redeemer NYC’s outreach to skeptics isn’t doing much to put the sola in the Reformation.)

The thing is, works righteousness comes naturally to human beings. That’s why whenever you have the chance to bang the gong for the sufficiency of Christ and the insufficiency of human virtue (not to mention the sin of pride that virtue sometimes encourages), you take it.

Now, That’s Audacious

Ross Douthat takes the temperature of Roman Catholicism in the era of Francis:

In fact the conflicting inquisitions, liberal and conservative, are the all-but-inevitable result of the pope’s decisions to stir the church’s tensions into civil war again, and then to fight for the liberal side using ambiguous statements and unofficial interventions rather than the explicit powers of his office. Indeed, when Professor Faggioli complains about a “Catholic social media that has completely bypassed” the way the “Catholic Church has worked for centuries,” he might just as easily be describing Pope Francis, whose personalized style has made the lines of authority within the church maddeningly unclear.

On issues large and small, Francis has decentralized authority informally while retaining all the formal powers of his office and encouraged theological envelope-pushing without changing the official boundaries of what counts as Catholic teaching and what does not. This has effectively created two different versions of that teaching — the one on the books versus the one that the pope offers in his winks and nods — to which different Catholics can appeal.

In this environment, anyone who wishes to know what the pope really thinks is better off ignoring official Vatican offices and instead listening to the coterie of papal advisers who take to Twitter to snipe against his critics.

But even that kind of Kremlinology doesn’t completely clarify the pope’s intentions, which is why Francis’s liberalizing allies are frequently impatient with him and sometimes get out ahead of his intentions and find themselves reined in.

As a result the only Catholic certainty now is uncertainty.

What does that kind of uncertainty do to the narrative of so many converts that you go to Rome for the authority and certainty of timeless truth? Part of what it does is expose that unity and certainty are good in theory, and then comes a specific pope with all the authority and charism of the theory (they did not go away when Francis became pope — they inhere in the office). Protestants at least are honest about our disagreements. Roman Catholics cannot be:

This is a situation calculated to make everyone feel self-righteous and self-justified, to complain about toxic rhetoric while flinging insults frequently themselves.

It also places Catholic institutions — schools and parishes and universities and diocesan shops — in a very difficult position. The temptation, already evident, will be to shy away from conflict, to self-segregate theologically (liberal speakers to liberal campuses and parishes, vice versa for conservatives) and avoid even acknowledging the conflict.

But this approach is foolish. When the Supreme Pontiff is allowing argument to flourish and public division to increase, it does no good for institutions to pretend that none of this is happening — as though the average Catholic will somehow not notice that the leaders of the church are increasingly opposed to one another. (The poison of online debate is itself partially a reaction to this public pretense of tranquillity.)

All the more reason for my contention that Roman Catholicism would be better off without the papacy.

How History Makes the World a Better Place

Sometimes even boomers know the score. Take Camille Paglia (via Rod Dreher):

Paglia believes there is a causal connection between young Americans’ ignorance of history and their dim view of present conditions. At a conference in Oxford, Paglia stated again, in response to a student who criticized her and others for telling youths not to be so sensitive and snowflaky, “There is much too much focus on the present.”

Or try Rod Dreher:

Imagine that the US was involved in a major overseas war in which over 11,000 American soldiers died in one year alone (1967). For a point of comparison, fewer than 7,000 US troops have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 14 years of combat there.

Imagine that 17,000 US soldiers would die in 1968, and 12,000 in 1969 fighting that war

Imagine that you might be drafted to go fight there.

Imagine what it would be like if you were convinced the war was profoundly immoral, and you had to choose between deserting the country and bearing arms in that war.

Imagine that many college campuses had become hotbeds not of snowflakey sit-ins, but of serious violence.

Imagine that domestic bombings by left-wing radicals had become a routine part of American life (e.g., five per day in an 18-month period in the early 1970s).

Imagine that two of the nation’s most prominent political leaders (MLK and RFK) Bobby were gunned down three months apart.

Imagine that your government and military were lying to Congress and to the American people about the war, and had been for years (as was revealed with the 1972 publication of the Pentagon Papers).

Imagine that major American cities were burning in race riots.

Imagine that cops in a major American city staged what was later called “a police riot” outside a political party’s national convention, and beat the hell out of protesters.

Could it be that Rod Dreher had it rougher than Ta-Nehisi Coates?

The mind reels.

Conversations Fifty Years Ago

You think having them today is rough, consider Wendell Berry’s experience:

While at Stanford, Berry witnessed several outdoor meetings called by black students for the purpose of establishing a Black Studies program on campus. In Berry’s recollection, the meetings were what historian Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn has called a “harangue-flagellation” ritual in which the black students condemned the white students and faculty for their racism and the whites in attendance nodded in agreement mixed with occasional applause.[30] In another situation on campus, Berry found himself in the middle of a civil rights protest. When a student in the protest heard Berry ask his companion a question in his Kentucky drawl what was going on, his accent prompted the response, “You damned well better find out!”

Berry thought there was no way for him to speak meaningfully in that context, and so The Hidden Wound is what he would have said had the moment allowed it. He wrote it during the winter break in the Bender Room at Stanford University’s Green Library. The essay was motivated by the feeling that the civil rights milieu at the time was at a stalemate and would stay there if the focus on power eclipsed other possible ends. Though Berry agreed that racism was a moral evil and political problem, he thought the most visible sentiments guiding these events were dangerous. Just as in his writing about agriculture, nature, and land—and in his, “A Statement Against the War in Vietnam,” delivered at the University of Kentucky the winter before—he fought abstractions and the separations that oversimplify: of means and ends, of thought and emotion, intentions and actions.

He wrote that the “speakers and hearers seemed to be in perfect agreement that the whites were absolutely guilty of racism, and that the blacks where absolutely innocent of it. They were thus absolutely divided by their agreement.” In his interview with hooks he said more simply: “I thought guilt and anger were the wrong motives for a conversation about race.” People can be more “dependably motivated by a sense of what would be desirable than by a sense of what has been deplorable.” By arguing that power is a necessary part of the discussion, but no more necessary than love, Berry refused the false dichotomy between structure and personal responsibility. During the demonstrations, in contrast, “one felt the possibility of an agreement of sorts, but nowhere the possibility of the mutual recognition of a common humanity, or the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation, or the possibility of love.”

So why is it that adding Jesus to discussions of racism only heightens a sense of what is deplorable?

Yet, even some activists are willing to listen to Berry:

The Hidden Wound, an extended essay in which Berry traced the grim legacy of slavery and racism in Kentucky, and his family’s role in the perpetuation of these evils, was the result. The book was not widely read on publication in 1970, but it has been granted a second life through republication and the sustained admiration of poet, essayist, and activist bell hooks, another Kentuckian who went to Stanford a decade after Berry and later, partly due to Berry’s influence, returned to Kentucky. Since she returned to Kentucky to teach at Berea College in 2004, hooks has been teaching from The Hidden Wound and wrote a sustained reflection on it in Belonging: A Culture of Place. An interview with Berry follows the reflection.

The Connection between Baptists and Revivals

Charles Hodge explained that Christianity rooted in the covenant favors Presbyterianism and rejects credo-Baptism as well as revival:

. . . what we think is plainly taught in Scripture, what is reasonable in itself, and confirmed by the experience of the church, is, that early, assiduous, and faithful religious culture of the young, especially by believing parents, is the great means of their salvation. A child is born in a Christian family, its parents recognize it as belonging to God and included in his covenant. In full faith that the promise extends to their children as well as to themselves, they dedicate their child to him in baptism. From its earliest infancy it is the object of tender solicitude, and the subject of many believing prayers. The spirit which reigns around it is the spirit, not of the world, but of true religion. The truth concerning God and Christ, the way of salvation and of duty, is inculcated from the beginning, and as fast as it can be comprehended. . . . He is constantly taught that he stands in a peculiar relation to God, as being included in his covenant and baptized in his name; that he has in virtue of that relation a right to claim God as hi Father, Christ as his saviour, and the Holy Ghost as his sanctifier; and assured that God will recognize that claim and receive him as his child, if he is faithful to his baptismal vows. The child thus trained grows up in the fear of God; his earliest experiences are more or less religious; he keeps aloof from open sins; strives to keep his conscience clear in the sight of God, and to make the divine will the guide of his conduct. . . . This is no fancy sketch. Such an experience is not uncommon in actual life.

That kind of covenant religion makes revivals not only superfluous, but a threat to Christian nurture. Revival, in other words, is antithetical to rearing children in the faith:

Does not a theory of religion extensively prevail which leads believing parents to expect their children to grow up very much like other children, unconverted, out of the church, out of covenant with God, and to rely far less on the peculiar promise of God to them and to his blessings on their religious culture, than on other means for their salvation. . . . They look upon conversion as something that can only be effected in a sudden and sensible manner; a work necessarily distinct to the consciousness of its subject and apparent to those around him. This conviction modifies their expectations, their conduct, their language, and their prayers. It affect to a very serious degree both parents and children, and it arises from false, or at least imperfect views of the nature of religion, it of course tends to produce and perpetuate them. We see evidence of this mistake all around us, in every part of the country, and in every denomination of Christians. We see it in the disproportionate reliance placed on the proclamation of the gospel from the pulpit, as almost the only means of conversion; and in the disposition to look upon revivals as the only hope of the church. (Hodge, Bushnell on Christian Nurture)

Diversity

I do wonder what it is like to be in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome. It cannot be easy.

First you have the challenge of interpreting Vatican II (and lots of different interpretations):

Sammons and Mosebach see three standard interpretations of Vatican II:

The “liberal” or “progressive” interpretation sees the Council as a decisive break with Catholic tradition, and welcomes it. Citing the “spirit of Vatican II,” proponents of this interpretation have implemented radical changes in the Church, and push for more.

The “official” interpretation sees Vatican II as a great success, and denies that any serious problems arose in the Council’s aftermath. There was some understandable friction as changes were implemented, the partisans of this theory will concede. But ultimately the changes are proving successful and all is well.

The “conservative” or “orthodox” interpretation cherishes the documents of Vatican II, but believes the implementation of the Council was generally hijacked by the “progressive” party within the Church. If only we would adhere to the true teachings of the Council, this party says, the Church would thrive once again.

According to this “conservative” or “orthodox” interpretation, the hijacking of the Council created the incorrect impression that the Church had repudiated past teachings. My favorite quick exposition of this view was made by Philip Trower in his excellent book, Turmoil and Truth, in which he formed a vivid image to explain what happened:

Six men are pushing a heavily loaded car which has run out of fuel. Three of them, who have been riding in the car, want to push it 20 yards to get it into a lay-by. The other three, who have offered to help, mean to push the car 50 yards and shove it over a cliff followed by the car owner and his two friends. Once the pushing begins and the car starts moving it is probable the car is going to come to rest more than 20 yards from the starting point even if it does not end up at the cliff’s foot.

Now let us imagine what a group of people watching from a nearby hilltop will make of the incident. They will start by assuming that all six men have the same intentions. The car is moving steadily forward. Then they see three of the men detach themselves from the back of the car, run around to the front and try to stop it. Which are the troublemakers? Those surely who are now opposing the process that has been started.

Once you get your mind around the magisterium since 1960, try calculating your afterlife:

But “temporary” can mean a long, long time. Based on reports from visions of saints (see the quotation from St. Francis of Rome in this more recent vision), it has been widely taught that each sin must be punished by seven years of purgatorial fire. This is what Tetzel refers to, below, but I recall hearing it from Mother Angelica of EWTN and other conservative Catholics today. The Church has never officially specified a set time, as far as I know. I have heard contemporary Catholics say that since we will be outside of time after death, the experience of Purgatory will seem as if it is over in an instant. But the theology of Purgatory requires a temporal punishment. Some conservative Catholics say it might be more like an hour for each sin, but they agree that this will amount to many years, even centuries in the fire. (See this and this.)

So if Tetzel and St. Francis of Rome are right–as many if not most Christians believed in the medieval church–let’s do the math. Assume that seven years in purgatory are required for each sin. Say you are a very good person and only commit one sin per day. That comes to 2,555 years in purgatory for one year of sinning. If you live to be 70, you would be facing 178,850 years of suffering.

This would be for sins that are forgiven!

Protestantism has its problems. It also has its advantages.