Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cheap vs. Costly Grace

Cheap grace does not demand anything from us. Costly grace demands everything from us. "Cheap grace," Bonhoeffer writes, "is the grace we bestow on ourselves." (The Cost of Discipleship, 44). Cheap grace remains very common--it is the one error which is common to all the churches I have visited in the town I am currently in. It is a grace which does not save from sin. Bonhoeffer:
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. (ibid., 45)
 Cheap grace is not always accompanied by an attitude which allows everything to remain as it was, though Bonhoeffer seems to focus on that sort. It is sometimes accompanied, instead, by leaving the removal of sin up to the sinner, rather than up to grace.
That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. (ibid., 44)
This is what happens when we leave by grace alone at the entryway into the Christian life, and do not bring it through the whole of life in Christ.
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? (Galatians 3:2-6)
Here we see that we not only enter into Christ, but continue in him by faith. Thus, we are not only justified by faith, but also sanctified by faith. Our good works, which we are called to walk in, are not works according to the law, but according to grace--we do them, now, through the Spirit of God and not by our own power. Thus our good works are not ours, but the result of our union with Christ by faith.

Cheap grace says that we are okay. Costly grace denies this, instead it recognizes that we are sinful and calls us, graciously, to change, and in so calling us God empowers us to change. Preaching cheap grace only recognizes that we have been saved from the guilt of sin, but leaves us to live as if we were still under the power of sin. Costly grace commands us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, since it is no longer our power, but God's which acts in us to renew us into the image of his Son, whose image we truly bear.

Preaching of this kind reminds us who we are, that we are in Christ, and thus motivates us to good works--not by tricks of psychology, not by fear of earthly things, but from the love and fear of God almighty who saved us and is with us to purify us. Preaching of cheap grace leaves us where it found us: in the grip of sin. God's grace costs us our lives. Being a Christian involves the death of oneself. Preaching, therefore, cannot afford to leave us in the comfort of being in charge of our own sanctification, but must demand that God be granted authority--as he already truly has the authority--to work in us.

We like to work at our own sanctification, and we must work, but not as if it were up to us, and thus our failures are not our own. It is God who works in us, and it is therefore in him that we find the power to change. We do not change ourselves, but rather we are changed by gazing upon the lord our God. Our sanctification is accomplished by living before God. And this is not a work, but a joy, because we know that God is good.

Sanctification occurs because God is who he is. Salvation is the beginning of this, where we are made right in God's eyes by faith, that is, by trusting him. Sanctification is the continuation, or expansion of this trust, and the working out of this trust. When we preach as though we had to do good on our own, we deny the power of God, because we do not depend on God to work in us, "both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). We therefore must go to God for sanctification, not only to know what we ought to do, but to be enabled, indeed, impelled, to do it.

My conviction is that our sins are due to a lack of trust in God. We do not trust him because we do not know how good he is. We do not know how good he is because we do not seek him in his word and by prayer. Scripture is beautiful because God is beautiful, and we therefore see the beauty of God in Scripture. We are then moved to praise him and worship in every way: by prayer and by singing, but also by doing his will. And when we know who God is, that he is holy and powerful and righteous and loving and merciful and that he is with us, then we will see that, if God is for us--as he is--then we have nothing to fear. We will then act in the will of God more and more as we trust him more and more to take care of us and our concerns.

So long as we preach a "grace" which does not free people from their sins, we preach Godless works. So long as we preach works without the power of God, we preach guilt, law, death. Can this grace save? Can we depend on Christ for salvation from hell and reject his lordship in this life? And yet this is what this cheap grace does! For it denies the lordship of Christ by trying to sanctify the sinner by the power of the sinner, rather than by dependence on Christ, and it denies the authority of Christ to save from sin by refusing to let him save from the power of sin, and it removes Christ from the life of the sinner, despite what Christ said, "behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) by leaving him out of salvation, as if he were far off. But our salvation, and so our sanctification, is always dependent on Christ's power, acknowledging his authority to work in our lives, and done in the presence of Christ, as we follow him as his disciples. It is necessary to return to Christ, then, for those who have turned to this cheap grace, lest they be rejected at that day and be among those who say to Christ
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Christ crucified means that Jesus Christ died to save us from our sins, and he did not do the job halfway, but when he died cried out, "it is finished!" That is, sin is killed. Not only are we freed from the guilt of sin as it was killed on the cross, but we are also freed from the power of sin, since it is dead and cannot, therefore, do anything. We are in Christ. Therefore, sin is dead to us, and we are dead to sin. This does not mean that we may continue in sin, but that, to us, it is as though sin were not there to be lived in--insofar as we do live in sin, we live in a past which is fading away. We are called out of darkness and into light because we are now children of the light: it is where we belong.

To preach a grace which addresses only the guilt of sin is therefore to deny that we are united into Christ's death. To try to be perfected "by the flesh" is foolish. We have the Spirit of God who is far more powerful, and is willing--even eager--to perfect us.

Turn, then, churches! Return to Christ and be freed!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Time: A vs B

The B-Theory holds that moments are ordered only by being before and after other moments in time. The A-Theory holds that moments also have temporal properties: pastness, presentness, and futurity. Note, then, that both A-Theory and B-Theory hold that moments are ordered identically, but A-Theory holds that there are temporal properties, i.e., that it makes a difference to the nature of a moment whether it is past, present, or future. Thus, a moment in time moves through time from being future, to being present, to being past. The problem is that for change to happen requires time. So, if A-Theory is true, then a moment in time changes from being future to being present. It does so in time, however, which it partly constitutes. This is a difficult topic to untangle, I think, due to A theorists being in a tangled theory.

Given the A-Theory, for a moment to be future, it must be future to us, now. The idea is that there is only one “now” which changes. It refers to the one moment which has the property of being present. That moment changes every moment, however. So, what happens when a moment loses the property of being future and gains that of being present? Well, just that. When does that happen? Just before that moment becomes now. When is that? What moment is that? There is no moment, except itself. This is the problem with the A-theory: it tries to allow for change in time itself. Time is the medium in which things change, however. This is related to the joke about time passing at the rate of 1 second/second. Time travel is inherently unit-less, since the units of time cancel out.

Okay, let’s back away from this for a moment and consider God. Some people believe that God was once outside of time, atemporal, and then became temporal. This means that he was once omni-present temporally, but no longer is. Thus, once he was at all times, but now he is not. How could this work? In what medium does this change take place? If it takes place in time, then God’s being in the future changes from being true to being false when he changes from being atemporal to being temporal. But he already was in the future. How can he change from being in the future to not being there? If we considered the future it as a location which someone could move in and out of, then it would be fine, but note that a person moves in and out of a room over time. There is nothing to distinguish the future where God is and the one where he is not: he once was in the future, but now is not. This might make sense if we had reached the future, but the premise is that it doesn’t matter when we are, God was still in the future once, but not anymore.

The same problem of change over time exists for moments as for God. When was the moment future? At any prior moment. When was it past? At any moment which comes after it. When was it present? At that very moment. Thus, from any moment, from its perspective it is present, which is what the B-theorist says, but the A-theorist says that moments change from having one temporal property to another. The problem is that moments, by their very nature, are the building blocks of time, and so a change to them is a change to time, or to the timeline. So, suppose there are four moments: A, B, C, and D. We begin at A. A is present, and the rest are future. Then we go on to B. A is now past, B is present, and C and D are both future. What changed? Did time change? Or did our position in time change? The B-theorist will claim the latter, but the A-theorist claims the former: that time changed. A change occurred to time. However, this change must occur timelessly. Since it is a change to time, it cannot also be a change which took place over the course of time. To refute this claim would be required to show that the A-theory is coherent. To prove this claim would prove that the A-theory is incoherent.

For time to change over time requires a time which time can change over. If time changes over a different time, then we will have to explain that time in the same way. If time changes over itself, on the other hand, then it faces the problem which an atemporal God becoming temporal faces: when was it what? That a moment was future, until itself, means that it either is always future--since that is the state of time--or never future--for the same reason. We could not notice a change in time over time, since the change would have to have occurred by that time. To note a change in time--that it is then then, and now now, and now was future then--is simply to notice that time exists, and is ordered in a certain way, completely consistent with the B-Theory--which is not to notice a change in anything.

Perhaps I will make another attempt later at making this comprehensible. As it stands, this post is hard for me to understand. The entire question of A-Theory vs. B-Theory, it seems to me, must rest on some kind of misunderstanding, but I do not know what that misunderstanding is.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Foreknowledge and Libertarian Freedom: The Self-Reference Problem

I have held a certain argument against the compatibility of libertarian free will and exhaustive divine foreknowledge which I thought I saw a way out of recently, but in writing this post discovered that the “way out” was susceptible to a modified version of the same argument.

The argument is as follows: if God has complete divine foreknowledge, then for God to do otherwise than he does would involve God causing his beliefs about the future to have been false (and thus, not knowledge). Thus, God could not choose to do otherwise than he does while retaining his complete foreknowledge. To put it another way: God’s complete foreknowledge includes foreknowledge of things which God does. Given that God knows what he will do, he must do that which he knows he will do, and so does not have libertarian free will.

The above argument works as is, however, only if God acts temporally. That is, if God’s actions follow each other in time, and are done in response to other temporal events, as is the case with our actions. If, on the other hand, God acts once, or all at one moment from his perspective, then it is possible for him to have libertarian free will with respect to his actions.

If God’s actions are temporal, then when God acts he already has the knowledge of what he is about to choose to do. He cannot, therefore, act otherwise. If God’s actions are done all at once, along with his knowing the future, then his actions may be libertarianly free. This requires more than just God’s acting in a moment, however. If God acts all in a moment, but foreknows in a prior moment, then the problem remains. If God acts without foreknowledge, then he effectively acts blindly. It is necessary, therefore, if we are to retain both God’s libertarian freedom and his foreknowledge, that God act in light of his foreknowledge of what will happen under certain circumstances. He then acts all in a moment choosing what he will do. Having done so, he may as well have complete divine foreknowledge, but it cannot affect what he does, since he has already acted. He may, in his actions, know what set of actions he is choosing and thus what the future will be, and may therefore perform each action in light of all the other actions which he is performing, and this, it seems to me, is as close to complete divine foreknowledge as we can get while retaining God’s libertarian free will—and is close enough for me (not that I endorse the position, given that I don’t actually believe that God has libertarian free will).

This counter, which I believe is a variety of Molinism, is supposed to allow for God having libertarian free will, but it is unclear as of yet whether it falls to the same argument as I started with if we modify the argument a little.

The problem is that Molinism requires God to have knowledge of what people will freely choose under certain conditions. If this includes God, then he has knowledge of what he will, in fact, do, and so is no longer libertarianly free. If it does not include God, then the question is why not? It cannot be due to the fact that his circumstances do not exist, or are unknown, since God, at least, could rigorously specify his circumstances which we have vaguely specified as choosing between various actions. If there is some fact as to what God will do in these circumstances, then, having complete foreknowledge of what would happen in various circumstances, i.e., knowledge about all facts about what will happen or be done under any possible circumstance, God will know what God will do under the circumstance at hand. Thus, even if God’s foreknowledge is limited to what will happen under various circumstances, God is still caught in his foreknowledge such that he cannot have libertarian freedom.

The point of arguing against God’s libertarian freedom is that if God does not have it, we do not need it in order to be morally responsible, or for any other purpose. If God is good and not libertarianly free, then moral agency does not require libertarian free will, else God would need it in order to be good. At this point, I believe I have shown that the options for belief regarding libertarian freedom are:
  1. Open theist: deny divine foreknowledge, affirm libertarian freedom. 
  2. Determinist: affirm divine foreknowledge, deny libertarian freedom.
The question is which we should choose. The choice is unproblematic for me, since I do not see libertarian freedom as logically possible. Likewise, do not think that the A-theory of time, which open theism relies on, is logically coherent either (more on that in a later post).

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Being Special

                We currently live in a time when everyone thinks themselves, and wishes to prove themselves to be, special. Whether the particular individual desires to be smart, athletic, attractive, or whatever, the desire is to be unique in such a way that one is recognized as unique. We are no longer satisfied with quiet accomplishment, with local achievements. There was a day when being successful meant that one could take care of one’s family, but now that seems too little, too mundane. Being successful, now, is being above average or making a global—or historical—impact. This is not special. It is simply another kind of wanting to be God, one of many ways our idolatry has expressed itself and will express itself. The problem is twofold: on the one hand, we are wrong about what it is to be special, on the other hand, we value this form of specialness disproportionately highly.
                It is not that we are not each special, but that our sense of what it is to be special has been distorted. We believe that being special is behavioral. To be special, then, one must do something special, or behave specially. One’s life must appear special, or one is not special. And if being special is behavioral, then it is recognizable, and so we expect to be recognized. Fame, then, is a necessary concurrent to being special. If one is special, then one will become famous to the same degree. Some will seek more fame, then, because they believe themselves to be more special.
Some may acknowledge that they are not the kind of special that most recognize as special, but they will very often simply be seeking fame in a different group. One might seek to be a famous pop star, or a famous academic, or a famous public speaker, writer, technologist, physicist, or any of a number of different lifestyles and jobs. This desire to be special is not, therefore, limited to those who have particular talents in storytelling, public speaking, or music. It is, at least in theory, a realizable desire for anyone. Blogs, YouTube, Twitter, etc., make fame a possibility for anyone who is good enough at what they do. Every industry has their best people, who are famous within that industry.
For others, the desire to be special expresses itself as a desire to be merely different. To be special is to stand out, and those who are different stand out. Further, one can claim that one’s being different is a result of some other special quality—artistic sensitivity, genius, or what have you. This opens the possibility of specialness to anyone who is willing to break the norm. This is complemented by the generation’s general condescension towards along with the crowd, where it is assumed to always be a problematic instance of groupthink. This allows those who are different to claim superiority over those who are perceived as “same” rather than “other”.
One might be willing to let the term special simply change its meaning to match how it is being used in our generation. This is often how I am inclined to handle words, but I think it would be problematic here on account of the connotations that the word ‘special’ has retained. To say that something is special is to say that it is to be regarded in a certain way. If something is special, it is given a special place, on the mantle, in the center of the table—or a special person is given a special seat, near the head of the table, perhaps. If something is special, it is set apart. It is interesting to note that this is often how the term ‘holy’ is explained. To be holy is to be set apart for a particular calling. A holy cup is not to be used for just anything, but only for the service it has been set apart for (even if one does not think of cups being holy, this example gets at how the word works). To be special is equivalent to being holy, or sacred, then, but is available for secular use, that is, it is conceptually free from anything supernatural. This is why I am not inclined to simply give up the term ‘special’, because what is desired in desiring to be special is not merely fame or excelling at some activity. The desire is to be set apart from others.
That the desire for fame, or the desire to be proven special, is a desire arising out of our idolatry does not entail that fame is, in itself, bad. As with most forms of idolatry, the desire for fame, or the desire to excel in an industry or other area of life, are not bad desires. It is when those things are valued disproportionately to their worth that they become bad, and it is when the objects of those desires displace God that they become idols. The question of this section of this post is as to what is good and what is bad in striving for excellence and fame.
Fame is being known about and paid attention to by relatively many people. There is nothing bad about being famous—some people probably need to be, and Jesus was in his day. The problem is the desire for fame for fame’s sake. It would not necessarily be better to be fame averse than to seek fame. Fame can be used for the glory of God—human fame may be put to the task of spreading God’s fame. There is no need to hide from the media; however, we ought not seek to please the media either. Instead, our desire should be, first and foremost, to glorify God. When we seek fame over and against seeking the glory of God—when we seek our own fame over and against God’s fame—that is idolatry. It is God alone who deserves to be listened to, who deserves to be known, and who is worthy to be praised. We merely carry the message of the Gospel. When we are praised for whatever worldly greatness we have, we should remember that we serve a king who died on a cross, reviled and rejected by those who should have praised him. He was not great as the world counts greatness, people were excited about him because they thought he would save them from the Romans—and he did, in a way—but they did not realize that he was greater than they had ever imagined their messiah might be. Likewise, we are not to seek greatness as the world counts greatness, but we are to, instead, seek to serve others in humility and to spread the Gospel before the lost.
Excellence, likewise, is not an end in itself. Even good preaching, however it is measured, is a means to the glory of God. Excellence at any activity is good, but it is not good to seek excellence at the cost of seeking God. Rather, we should seek excellence in order to show the glory of God. We should do well at our tasks because we work as for the Lord. We should seek riches that they might be Christ’s riches, to spend as he would spend them, and we should accept poverty that we might better show our reliance on God’s provision. To be good at anything apart from God is worthless. We may stand out, but we will die. We should seek to be good at what we do because it is what we have been called to by our Lord, not because we hope to be praised by mere humans. What good is human praise if the God of creation rejects you?
It is all well and good to point out what is wrong with a way of thinking and living, but we must not leave the issue without asking what the Gospel has to do with it. Why do we live like this? How does the Gospel of Jesus Christ, how does Christ’s death, free us from this way of living? Let us begin by noting that this way of living is rooted in the desire to be separate, to be unique. Whether by means of excellence, or merely by being different, the end is to stand apart from the rest of the world. In Christ, we have already been made holy, and are called to be holy. This means that we have been set apart by Christ’s death to live set apart lives unto God. We are unworldly. We are, thus, the other to the world. Further, we are known in our uniqueness by God. We are known by name, that is, personally, as the unique person we are. God knows us as he made us. He recognizes our weakness, and so sent his son. He also recognizes our strengths—he gave them to us—and calls us to use them. Even if we do not recognize that God is calling us to use those strengths, we know that God knows our strengths better than we do—further, the very place where we are weak, God’s glory shines through all the more, and so our weakness is strength. We can, therefore, trust God to guide us into the good works which he set apart for us to do, and which we have been set apart to do. In the world’s eyes, we may waste ourselves, but the alternative is to waste ourselves in God’s eyes. In the world’s eyes we may appear dull, boring, invisible against the backdrop of those around us, or we may appear different in all the wrong ways, but that is the cost of fitting into the kingdom of God: we won’t fit into the kingdom of this present age, we will rub it the wrong way, we will be in pain simply because we see the evil in it—but one day we will see the kingdom of God in all its glory, and then all things will be made right, and then we will shout and sing and dance the glory and majesty and goodness of God.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

On the Possibility of Determinist Arminians

Okay, I am not an Arminian. The point of this is to show that, even if everyone were to agree to determinism, it would not necessarily remove the arguments between Calvinists and Arminians, and thus things like the Wesleyan denomination would still have a reason to exist beyond adding to the total number of denominations.

I take the relevant difference in this debate to be, not that of whether or not we have free will, but that of who the active agent in salvation is. I also believe that this question an be separated from the free will debate. I am not planning on saying much else in this post.

A Calvinist will say that God is the active agent, causing us to have faith. An Arminian will say that God initiates, enabling us to have faith by prevenient grace, but that we must each finally choose to have faith in Christ.

The hard part is separating the agent question from the free will debate. Given determinism, God knows the future. He knows what will happen given any original state of the universe he might create, and, given his nature, what he will do in that universe and how that will affect things. Thus, God knows who will be saved and has a certain amount of control over who is saved. However, this is a different kind of control than the Calvinist ascribes to God. The Calvinist holds that God chooses each individual. What determinism entails is just that God can choose from a certain number of, likely restricted, sets of possible saved people, which set to actualize.

So, given determinism, an Arminian needs to hold that God chooses from a set of possible worlds, and in each possible world, a certain set of people are saved--which God knows even while choosing which world to actualize. God's choice is therefore limited by the nature of the individual persons. He may choose, again to a limited extent, which set of persons to actualize, but which of those persons comes to faith would then be reliant on the natures of those people and their circumstances.

I think this leaves a meaningful distinction between the God as active agent and the person as active agent in salvation. I also think that this is actually where the difference is problematic--even given determinism. I therefore also think that the free will debate is not really all that important to theology.

Monday, October 27, 2014

On Helping

There are three motives for helping others. Enjoyment, Pity, and Compassion. I think these are exhaustive. Enjoyment is the motive for the sake of oneself. Pity is the motive for the sake of the other with regard to their difference. Compassion is the motive for the sake of the other with regard to their similarity. Let these stand as definitions of those three terms, rather than arguing over whether I have rightly described Pity etc.

First, enjoyment seems to be a straightforwardly selfish motive. I do not think helping others should not be enjoyable, as if there was something wrong with enjoying helping another person. Rather, I think it is a terrible motive. We should enjoy it because it is good; not think it good because we enjoy it.

Second, pity seems to be a less straightforwardly bad motive. For one, I do not think it actually motivates real help. I suspect that pity leads us to try to satisfy our guilt. It is the dominant motive advertised for helping others. "We have so much, they have so little, let's help them!" There you go, feel guilty for having stuff, dump enough to assuage your conscience on the poor people, and run off without considering their actual concrete situation. Moreover, if you were in their shoes, would you want to be pitied? Isn't pity annoying? Pity accentuates the difference, creating distance, loneliness. I have, I am okay. You don't have, I can help you. Others thereby become projects, objects to be raised out of poverty.

Note, however, that there are real differences between people which need to be taken into account when helping others. I am not saying that we ought not account for difference. We are different and that is, prima facie, good (depending, of course, on the difference). What I am arguing against is being motivated with respect to that difference primarily.

Rather, compassion seems to me to be the proper motive for helping. We help, not because we have, but because we might not have. We are utterly dependent  on others and might become further dependent on others at any moment. We need help, and thus we see in others situations, not some instance where I have and they have not, but where there is a person who might have been me, and I act with respect to them as I would act with respect to me if I were in their situation. I take their need as one which might've been mine. I see that their need might one day actually be mine. We no longer feel particularly good about helping another, but rather see it as the done thing--if I hadn't, who would've? What if it had been me?

This is my thesis: we help best out of a sense of our own need. We give most out of a sense of our own lack. We forgive most out of a sense of our own depravity. Yes, this is paradoxical. Look around and see, though: it is kinda how it works.
Not a study, but... http://themetapicture.com/what-this-man-does-with/

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Capitalism and Advertizing

Laissez-faire capitalism can be founded on various beliefs.

It may be based on a view of humanity as basically rational. In that view, humans will pay more for something which meats their needs and wants better, and the mass of humans purchasing on that basis will result in a kind of democratic price setting. If this is the basis, it is faulty due to the fact that humans are immensely affective and can therefore be affected in non-rational ways.

It may be believed that humans are not rational, but that the various ways in which they are non-rational will even out when they are taken in mass. The problem here, again, has to do with advertizing: advertizements are produced in order to get people to buy the product and, thus, to be willing to pay more for it. If advertizements did not affect people generally to buy the product, then advertizements would not exist.

There is therefore an affective component to purchases. Thus when we purchase, we do not purchase purely rationally. Instead, in buying an item, a person is buying the product itself as well as the values and such associated with the product via the advertizing, but what they leave the store with is just the product (and some good feelings).

It may be that it is believed that the advertizing will even out between competitors. That is, that the advertizing for one product will not be significantly better than advertizing for its competitor product. Nevertheless, the competition is often largely in the realm of advertizing, rather than product quality, since at some point the difference in quality becomes nearly, if not entirely, indistinguishable, and since better advertizing can be easier and cheaper than better quality.

So, the questions:
Is there a better way of handling this stuff?
If not, what would be requisite to making this work better?

Any regulation by the government requires that the government be rational. This might, possibly, be more likely than individuals doing so. It would require an understanding of the costs involved, as well as what factors into the quality of the product, and it would require this understanding for basically every kind of product. The problem we would have is that people would vote companies out of business out of a lack of this understanding--basically: the risks of regulation are higher, probably too high, and what is requisite to making it work is beyond what can be expected within anything resembling the current system.

It might be possible to regulate some areas, but not others. Entertainment, for instance, seems perfect for laissez-faire capitalism, since the affective is part of the product anyway. I suspect that employment is another area, since employers do need employees. The only question there is whether it would come out in such a way that employees could survive (of times to try, now, the age of advertizing by being ethical and giving to charities, would probably be among the best times to do so). Sporting goods would be an edge case, insofar as most people don't know how to judge the quality of a helmet, but the design on the helmet may be part of the product.

What arises from this kind of thinking is an answer to the second question: what would be requisite to making laissez-faire capitalism work better? That people, generally, be able to understand what goes into the products they buy. This is part of what is supposed to be going into reviews of products. It might also be wise to teach kids advertizing (and, while we're at it, statistics) in schools for the sake of giving them the capacity to reverse-engineer what is going on in advertizements, and thus make it more necessary for there to be content (and verifiability) to the advertizements. This analysis will give people distance from the affects of advertizing, thus protecting them from merely affective purchases (at least, insofar as the affect comes from the advertizing).

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pretty Church

"For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles," 1 Corinthians 1:22-23

I have been to churches which managed to appeal to both Jews and Greeks by this standard, yet preached Christ as a mere example, not as savior.

The Church needs to preach Christ crucified. Christ who died for our sins, who died to save us and redeem us. Christ apart from whom we would be lost in the world, apart from God. Christ by whom alone we can have fellowship with God. Christ who has died so that the hideousness of our sinful selves need no longer separate us from God or humans.

But we give the world signs: good music, beautiful pictures--as the world judges, but to us it is ugly insofar as it lacks the beauty of Christ crucified.

And we give the world wisdom, we preach the proverbs as mere wisdom for humans to live. Things to do, ways to be: law. There is wisdom enough in the world. The world does not need the Bible to know this kind of wisdom. The Bible is not "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth." It is, rather, God's self-revelation to us that we might be saved and joined in relationship with him. It is for our salvation and sanctification. It is for God's glory.

Human beings are hungry to hear of Christ crucified. So long as we tell them things to do, or give them spiritual highs, or show them the quality of our handiwork, we hide God behind our human skill and wisdom. We give them what they already have.

We have got to extend the hope of the Gospel, that Christ died so that our sins need no longer bind us, and so we need no longer be bound in our sins. We may, because we have Christ's righteousness--because it is about Jesus's finished work on the cross, not our incomplete, inadequate work on earth--we may live free of our unrighteousness which Jesus Christ took and died for so that we might live both now and forever.

And how shall we do this? How have we not been doing this?! They are hungry people. Like we were. Like we are. I write this because I am hungry for it! I am now keenly aware of the lack, and thus hungry for it, and thus eager to feed others so that I may express the excellency of the Gospel. How can we keep silent when we have this treasure?

Yet God's grace exceeds beyond making us eager to do what we ought. We have failed--I have failed. Christ died even for this. Christ died so that we could speak of him, and so that we might not be ashamed of him--because it is not about us. It is not even about our telling of the Gospel. It is about Christ, and our lives are now made to be about Christ. It is not really up to us to do this. Christ will be known. You will not, finally, fail. God will give you grace, and words, to speak. Apart from him we can say nothing--at least, nothing helpful. It is God who calls--through men. We are blessed to participate in God's work. And we are being formed still, to be ready to tell others of Christ's death for us. Are you not ready? Rely on the Spirit to make you ready, through discipleship, reading Scripture, prayer, and communion. Christ died even for our failure to glorify him now. He died for all our sins. May God make us burn with a passion for the Gospel too great to contain.

Expositional Preaching: A Grace to Preachers

The Gospel frees us to live in Christ, not in our own strength. Therefore preachers should be able to preach by the grace of God. This could easily be left as an amorphous reliance on God in sermon preparation, but I think that it can be made concrete in expositional preaching.

Consider: a preacher may rely on himself as he crafts his sermon. He may work out his own structure and his own topic for what he says, and find texts from Scripture on his own. He may choose his own tone, his own words, his own conclusion. Or a preacher may rely on God, by taking a text and preaching its structure, which is the structure of the Word of God and so God's structure. He may preach the topic of that text, the tone of that text, the keywords and phrases of that text, and the conclusion of that text. He may look and see what God has already given him to preach. "Here is what God says" the preacher may then say, "I will tell my congregation about it." He then locates the text in the way God's word is organized around the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and then preaches what this text says, as it says it, to the end for which it says it.

This is why I am amazed by how little expositional preaching I find, as I look for a church. expositional preaching is, to me, the obviously best way to preach from Scripture, as well as the easiest. God has already done the work. Why try to reinvent the wheel? Why not preach off of what God--who is way better at this stuff than any of us--has already done? Why make things harder for yourself than you have to, especially when it is likely to have worse results?

There are various possibilities as to why preachers don't preach this way. Perhaps some don't preach this way out of ignorance: it may just never have occurred to them that they can, and no one has told them. Some may have worse reasons. Expositional preaching requires that the preacher submit himself to the word of God, and that requires humility. We are proud and want to do things for ourselves, but you know what? Christ died so that it is no longer about what we do, but what Christ has already done. You don't need to run around making your very own pretty sermon. God has already given his message, you don't need to make one up for him, or try to find some secret message. Maybe there is fear. Of what? That it will be boring? Because it is a new way of preaching? God's word is not boring--the Gospel of Christ is the most exciting story in the world, the one all other good stories image, the one we are all hungry for. It is new, though. But of all kinds of preaching to try for the first time, expositional preaching is the best to mess up. Pick a book; work through it. Even if it is the crappiest sermon you have ever preached, God's word lies behind it. God still speaks, and he speaks even in our weakness, even in if the weakness is in the area of preaching.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

What I Want in a Church

1. Preach Christ and him crucified. If Christ's death for me is unimportant to the sermon, it is a bad sermon. Premiss: the whole of Scripture forms a unity at the center of which is Christ's death and resurrection. Conclusion: If you are preaching Scripture, you are preaching something organized around Christ's death and resurrection. It should sound like it. You can give a great talk using cool screens/music/gimmicks/etc., (Jews demand signs) and using Scripture like a book of wisdom (Greeks demand wisdom), but that's not what I come to hear (we preach Christ and him crucified).
 Christ's death means that it is not about what we do, but about what Christ has already done on our behalf.
 Christ's death frees us to live righteously. You know those commands? They are fulfilled in Christ, and in Christ we are freed to walk in them. Yes, it's hard, but if we understand them right, and trust God, we will want to struggle for it. (This is the essential one for me)

2. Preach what the text says, not what you think about what the text says. Yes, you might not know exactly what the text is trying to communicate, but at least make it possible for me to see how you got what you are saying from the words on the page.

3. Don't ignore the context. And by context I don't just mean the verses in the general vicinity. I will probably notice if there is stuff being ignored which is in the chapters around the text at hand. Pay attention to the general flow of the book too. Basically: preach the part like it is a part of a greater whole.

4. Keep your tone aligned with the text. I actually think this is a repeat of 2., but it bears saying separately. If we are trying to give people what someone said, we try not to change the tone of the message (right?) so, same when the person is God. Especially since I am betting he knew what he was doing when he used that tone.

5. Be able and willing to suffer. Weep with those who weep. Don't be mono-emotive, that is, allow for the display of the whole spectrum of human emotion. This is the one thing on this list that can look like a taste issue. It is not (the churches I avoid for this reason are usually described by members as being full of members who are joyful or excited about Jesus or something). Mourning is a declaration of the value of the human person, echoing Christ's redemption of humanity and motivated by a hope in the resurrection of the dead. I tend to take the unwillingness to mourn or suffer as a sign that the fear of death remains and has not been displaced by hope in the promise that Christ is making all things new, that death and suffering will not get the last word. I will admit that my sensitivity to this issue may be a matter of temperament, but the issue itself is important.

6. I'm a credobaptist, so I'm looking for a credobaptist church (credobaptist: doesn't baptize babies, usually dunks).

And... that is it for points a church must at least get close on before I consider attending regularly. I doubt a church that gets the first three will miss the fifth one, but it is there. Inessentials (which I pessimistically don't expect to need to look at):

7. Have deep, dense theology in your music. I want the gospel getting stuck in my head.

8. Don't let the music be too loud, or the lights too bright. This is mostly just a quirk of my biology, but those stress me out. The fastest way to make me mad is to make me listen to a bad, loud preacher.

9. Screens are not a plus. they stir up brain activity in a way that can cause trouble for light-sensitive epileptics (my fiancee) and those with sensory processing disorders (autism, etc.,).

10. 5-point Calvinism is a plus, since otherwise people say things that I don't hear the way they mean them (sovereignty, for one).

Conclusion: I fully expect to end up in a small baptist church where the average age is in the fifties or so. I am also quite alright with that.