I Understand The Wire, but The Crown?

What should we stream on Netflix or Amazon Prime? Should we do what the Puritans did (even though they didn’t have wifi)?

Here’s one piece of advice on what to watch:

Does this [movie] increase my love to the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come?

Remember that this world is not our home. The fact that we are forgiven sinners, purchased by Christ and bound for heaven should impact every aspect of our lives.

Additionally, we know from Scripture that we have an adversary who is determined to take Christ’s soldiers out of the fight. What soldier would spend time in activities that weaken his armor?

Be critical of the choices you have when deciding what to watch. Does this movie help you to better appreciate the truths expressed in Scripture, or is it void of redemptive elements? Does this show encourage you to snuff out sin in your life, or does it entice you to see how close you can get to the flame without getting burned? Does this film make you long for God’s kingdom, or does it merely increase your desire for the things of earth?

Okay. I can understand (and always have) why some people won’t watch The Wire. As much as I appreciate the show, I don’t recommend it to all Christians. It’s like meat offered to idols. Some people can’t handle it (and those who can aren’t superior, just different).

But The Crown? Why not watch a series that is highly suggestive about the English monarchy and its responsibilities, recent British history, the nature of British politics and the decline of Britain’s empire, not to mention very revealing about human nature (nor to mention exquisitely accomplished). None of this is particularly edifying or redemptive. The Crown doesn’t make me a better Christian.

But God is not merely a redeemer. He’s also the creator and that means — doesn’t it? — he’s also involved with and oversees the non-redemptive parts of human history. In that case, watching The Wire and The Crown makes me a better human being because they help me understand God’s creation and providence.

If you only take spiritual cues from the Puritans, you’ll have Christian duties figured out (perhaps) but you’ll still need to get a life.

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Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong

Didn’t the Reformation start with objections to the cash nexus between grace and financial contributions? So how much did the Council of Trent reform ecclesiastical abuses in the light of recent announcements about new criteria for becoming a saint?

To approve a miracle, at least 5 out of the 7 members of the body of medical experts within the congregation must approve, or 4 out of 6, depending on the size of the group, as opposed to a simple majority.

In case a miracle report is rejected on the first go-around, it may only be reexamined a total of three times.

In order to reexamine a miracle claim, new members must be named to the consulting body.

The president of the consulting body may only be confirmed to one additional five-year term after the original mandate expires.

While in the past payments to experts could be made in person by cash or check, now the experts must be paid exclusively through a bank transfer.

I don’t know about you, but my impression of the miraculous is that if part of a group of believers thinks an unusual event was not miraculous, then it probably was not. Generally speaking, the works of God are pretty straight forward to those with eyes of faith (questions about ongoing miracles notwithstanding). And do we really need science to tell validate a miracle? Isn’t faith sufficient?

But the kicker is the financial aspect to these policy changes:

In his book “Merchants in the Temple,” Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi charged the congregation was among the most reluctant Vatican offices to cooperate with new transparency measures imposed as part of Francis’s project of Vatican reform, and asserted that the average cost of a sainthood cause was about $550,000.

U.S. Catholic officials traditionally have used $250,000 as a benchmark for the cost of a cause from the initial investigation on a diocesan level, to a canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, though that cost can increase depending in part of how many people take part in the canonization ceremony and the logistics of organizing the event.

In March, Pope Francis had already approved a new set of financial procedures for the congregation, outlining procedures for handling contributions and specifying which authorities are charged with overseeing the flow of money.

Also notice that even though the path to sainthood has become more — let’s say — complicated, those already saints stay saints:

The new rules are not retroactive, and hence they do not invalidate any beatifications or canonizations performed under earlier procedures.

Fulton Sheen’s advocates are no doubt disappointed.

For any apologist out there, this is the sort of thing that makes no sense to a Protestant (and is truly audacious). We do concede that sainthood can be bought. The price that Jesus paid with his precious blood is worth more than all the silver and gold you can put in a Vatican bank safe. So yes, there is a payment for sanctity. But it is entirely beyond the economic calculations of this world.

One might think that after five hundred years, Roman Catholic bishops might have learned that lesson.

Is Creation for Evangelicals and Neo-Reformed what Donuts Are for Homer Simpson?

I am noticing a trend, trend-spotters that historians are, and it does not appear to be promising.

Over at Christianity Today, Scott Sabin, author of Tending to Eden, connects the dots among – hold on to your baseball cap – evangelism, “compassionate justice ministry,” and earth care.

On a global scale, restoration is a monumental task. We are unlikely to achieve it this side of Christ’s return, any more than we are likely to bring about world peace by turning the other cheek. However, kingdom thinking can serve to guide our planning and our individual choices. At Plant with Purpose, we have seen restoration happen. Rivers and streams that had withered have begun to flow again due to upstream solutions. They have become powerful illustrations of God’s ability to redeem and restore, both for us and for the farmers with whom we are striving to share Christ’s love. . . .

Much of the world is either directly suffering as a result of environmental degradation or reacting in numb despair to gloomy predictions. Both groups desperately need the hope of Jesus Christ. It is the hope they long for, a hope that speaks directly to the redemption of all creation and reminds them that God loves the cosmos.

The gospel is for everyone—from dirt farmers to environmental activists. It is good news that God cares about all that he has created.

Pete Enns picks up on those same connections between creation and redemption in a piece for Biologos.

Psalm 136:1-9 is similar. The psalmist praises Yahweh for creating the cosmos using language reminiscent of Genesis 1. But in v. 10, without missing a beat, this “creation psalm,” brings up the exodus. Then in v. 13 we read that Yahweh “divided the Red Sea asunder.” Again, this calls to mind Genesis 1:6-8, where, in creating the world, God divided the water above from the water below (see also Psalm 74:12-17 where God “split open the sea”). “Dividing” the sea is a theme the Old Testament shares with other ancient creation texts, as can be seen in the link above.

Creation and exodus are intertwined. The creator was active again in delivering Israel from Egypt. . . .

What we see in the Old Testament is raised to a higher level in the New. God’s redemptive act in Christ is so thoroughly transformative that creation language is needed to describe it.

John’s Gospel famously begins “In the beginning was the Word….” The echo of Genesis 1:1 is intentional and unmistakable. Jesus’ entire redemptive ministry means there is now a new beginning, a starting over—a new creation. This Jesus, who is the Word, who was with God at the very beginning, through whom all things were made, is now walking among us as redeemer (John 1:1-5). Those who believe in him are no longer born of earthly parents but “born of God” (vv. 12-13). They start over. The language of “born again” later in John (3:3) points in the same direction. . . .

Redemption is not simply for people; Jesus’ redemptive program is cosmic, as we can see in Romans 8:19-21. Creation itself awaits its chance to start over, its “liberation from bondage.” Cosmic re-creation finds its final expression in Revelation 22:1-5. In the beautifully symbolic language that characterizes the entire book, we read that the cosmos has become the new Garden, complete with not one but two trees of life, where there is no longer any curse.

The Bible ends where it begins, at creation. The goal of redemption all along has been to get us back to the Garden, back to the original plan of the created order. To be redeemed means to take part in the creative work of God. The hints are there in the Old Testament, and the final reality of it is ultimately accomplished through the resurrection of the Son of God.

To round out the redeeming creation line-up, David Koyzis yields the especially helpful service not only of connecting creation and redemption but also neo-Calvinism and Roman Catholicism.

Perhaps readers of Evangel also read On the Square, but if not, permit me to direct your attention to a wonderful article by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, which, but for a few sentences here and there, could easily have been written by an evangelical Christian of the Reformed persuasion: Fire On The Earth: God’s New Creation and the Meaning of Our Lives. I am struck by his redemptive-historical reading of scripture, which many of us may tend to think is the exclusive preserve of the Reformed tradition. Archbishop Chaput is to be commended for disabusing us of this misconception. Here’s an excerpt:

A simple way of understanding God’s Word is to see that the beginning, middle and end of Scripture correspond to man’s creation, fall, and redemption. Creation opens Scripture, followed by the sin of Adam and the infidelity of Israel. This drama takes up the bulk of the biblical story until we reach a climax in the birth of Jesus and the redemption he brings. Thus, creation, fall, and redemption make up the three key acts of Scripture’s story, and they embody God’s plan for each of us.

To be sure, the God who creates is the deity who redeems. But to miss the difference between creation and redemption, and to rush to identify them with a Homeric blessing – “mmmmmmmm redeemed creationnnnnn” – is to miss the import of this little thing we call sin. The creation was and is good. It did not fall. It does not need to be redeemed. Only fallen creatures need redemption. In which case, to miss the ways that creation and redemption differ is to repeat the same collapsing of categories that Protestant progressives effected one hundred years ago when they threw out the distinctions between natural and supernatural, divine and human, sacred and secular, to brew an ideology that would save the world.

For that reason, two-kingdom and spirituality of the church advocates are eager to either warn evangelicals and progressive Reformed types about the danger of their view, not only because confusing the creational and redemptive functions of Christ blurs a category that has been crucial to the Reformed tradition. It is also because such confusion inevitably mistakes improvements in standard of living for the fruit of the Spirit.

Has President Obama Been Reading the Baylys?

Sometime ago, to ridicule two-kingdom theology even more, the Baylys ran a post on whether the resurrection has any public policy implications. Apparently, Obama took the bait and issued remarks at the White House Easter prayer breakfast that outlined the implications of the resurrection for civil society. (By the way, how do you spot the difference between a religious and a political prayer meeting? Depends on whether they are serving eggs.)

Obama said (thanks to Touchstone):

I can’t shed light on centuries of scriptural interpretation or bring any new understandings to those of you who reflect on Easter’s meaning each and every year and each and every day. But what I can do is tell you what draws me to this holy day and what lesson I take from Christ’s sacrifice and what inspires me about the story of the resurrection.

For even after the passage of 2,000 years, we can still picture the moment in our mind’s eye. The young man from Nazareth marched through Jerusalem; object of scorn and derision and abuse and torture by an empire. The agony of crucifixion amid the cries of thieves. The discovery, just three days later, that would forever alter our world — that the Son of Man was not to be found in His tomb and that Jesus Christ had risen.

We are awed by the grace He showed even to those who would have killed Him. We are thankful for the sacrifice He gave for the sins of humanity. And we glory in the promise of redemption in the resurrection.

And such a promise is one of life’s great blessings, because, as I am continually learning, we are, each of us, imperfect. Each of us errs — by accident or by design. Each of us falls short of how we ought to live. And selfishness and pride are vices that afflict us all.

It’s not easy to purge these afflictions, to achieve redemption. But as Christians, we believe that redemption can be delivered — by faith in Jesus Christ. And the possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character; make whole the incompleteness of a soul. Redemption makes life, however fleeting here on Earth, resound with eternal hope.

Of all the stories passed down through the gospels, this one in particular speaks to me during this season. And I think of hanging — watching Christ hang from the cross, enduring the final seconds of His passion. He summoned what remained of His strength to utter a few last words before He breathed His last breath.

“Father,” He said, “into your hands I commit my spirit.” Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. These words were spoken by our Lord and Savior, but they can just as truly be spoken by every one of us here today. Their meaning can just as truly be lived out by all of God’s children.

So, on this day, let us commit our spirit to the pursuit of a life that is true, to act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord. And when we falter, as we will, let redemption — through commitment and through perseverance and through faith — be our abiding hope and fervent prayer.

To borrow a line from Tonto, who is this “we” and “us” to whom President Obama refers? Does it include Jews, Buddhists, and non-Christians, does it merge Mormons into generic Christianity, and does it speak for Roman Catholics and Protestants? This is the sort of universalism in which civil religion always traffics if Christianity is going to serve a religiously plural society.

And what of the theology behind these remarks. As much as I like the priority of the forensic, when Obama says that redemption makes for virtuous character, for the president grace simply seems to be the door prize for contestants who don’t live up to be good and decent folks. People rightly faulted President Bush for trivializing Christianity when he used it in public speeches. Obama may be more eloquent but he is just as guilty of taking something that is sublime and holy and reducing it to having us all get along. Getting a long is a good thing. Christianity is profounder than that.

And yet, if Obama were on the right side of gay marriage and abortion, I suspect readers of the Baylys would be happy to see such policy implications of the resurrection.