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August 27, 2008

Thought for the Day

"Religion operates on the principle: I obey, therefore I am accepted by God. The gospel operates on the principle: I am accepted through the costly grace of God; therefore I obey."

-- Tim Keller in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World

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Mike Perry

Actually, we should obey God because he's a God of goodness and justice, so what he wants us to do is good and right. Otherwise, you're simply talking of pandering. God, who is rich and powerful, does something for us, so we do things for him in exchange. It's the basic message of the German legends about Faust, except that there the exchange of favors involves the devil. Translated into politics, it means voting for the candidate who says he will do the most for you, even if he's a crook and a liar. There are a lot of people who think that way, but Christians shouldn't be among them.

You see this in Martin Luther, who was quite eager to please a local prince who had done things for him. So eager, in fact, that he privately advised the prince to take a second wife when his first became to sick for much of a sexual life. Contrast that with the fury Luther poured out on starving peasants when they revolted. Those peasants, poor and powerless as they were, could do little for Luther and hence mattered little.

Luther's behavior in those situations illustrates what G. K. Chesterton wrote about the culture in which Luther lived: "It is not true, of course, that all Prussians would insult prisoners or slaughter children. But it is true that all Prussians are brought up with a wrong moral attitude towards such things; and are taught to see something of magnificence in the successful tyrant rather than in the spirited slave."

A pastor close to Tim Keller expressed this attitude toward God as a "successful tyrant" to near perfection when he claimed that sins against God were worst than sins against people because of who God is. After that sermon, I told a friend that what he said was the equivalent of claiming that stealing a pebble from Bill Gates' driveway was worse that beating up a poor, elderly woman to steal her monthly Social Security money.

Ponder for a moment a God so pitiful, so self-centered, and perhaps so insecure, that he is more infuriating by some slight against his great power, glory and majesty than some horror inflicted on a helpless child and you get just how wrong it is to insert pandering into the Gospel. Jesus may have said that deeds done "to the least of these" were done to him. This Lutheran distortion of the Gospel says that only things done to "the greatest of these" really matters.

Only obeying because we get is bad theology. If fact, obeying because we get may be very wrong. If I have a job that pays well, does that mean I should do anything I'm told by my boss? Understand that and you understand why so many Germans followed Hitler. They equating getting, Hitler's ability to end unemployment, with goodness. Goodness is goodness. It has little to do with getting. In fact, kindness may call for us to be good to people who treat us ill.

This is not to say that gratitude doesn't have a place in our spiritual lives. But we should be very sensitive to confusing gratitude toward a God of goodness with the Prussian heresy, pandering to a God who gives us things.

And I might add that obedience and acceptance by God isn't as foreign to the Scriptures as that quote suggests. The good and faithful servant is the one who obeys. But that's getting into another German heresy, their strange tendency to put things that belong together into opposition, to oppose grace to works. It's why Luther wanted to toss the book of James out of the Bible. (See James 2:14f.) He should have straightened up his theology instead.

Jason Taylor

Naziism is not "the Prussian heresy". Naziism is a German heresy and some of the Germans least susceptable to Naziism were Prussians. Hitler was Austrian by birth and Bavarian by adoption. And the chief political strongpoints of Naziism were in Bavaria. It is no accident that the Beer-Hall Putsch was in Munich.
It is a minor peeve of mine, but using Prussian as a near synonym for Nazi is a libel against an entire country-not to mention an extinct one that can't defend itself. Of course German is used in the same way. But Prussia is almost never used except in a negative context and it is that I find objectionable. The Prussians were a warlike people, even a "militaristic" one(I dislike the later term because most people have no idea what it means except that it is "bad"-which is also part of my objection to the misuse of "Prussian), but they were not an intrinsically evil society. Being born on the German-Polish border region, is not the same as being born in Mordor and it should not be implied to be such.

Jason Taylor

"You see this in Martin Luther, who was quite eager to please a local prince who had done things for him. So eager, in fact, that he privately advised the prince to take a second wife when his first became to sick for much of a sexual life. Contrast that with the fury Luther poured out on starving peasants when they revolted. Those peasants, poor and powerless as they were, could do little for Luther and hence mattered little."

Do you know what happens to innocents who get in the way when there is a peasant revolt? There are quite a few practical reasons for objecting.

Jason Taylor

Another dislike I have is the way the word ,"religion" is used. It is dishonest to say that Christianity, "is not a religion, it's a relationship." It certainly fits the dictionary definition of a religion and a lot of perfectly good Christians don't have the blessing of having an emotional affection toward God, which is what the phrase can be taken to imply. The denigration of the word "religion" is also an implication that sound doctrine is optional.
Finnally it carries a whif of dishonor as turning against the word religion because the unbelievers dislike religion is more then a little bit like groveling.


That is special pleading and making up definitions. The first case is not religion, but rather trying to be saved through Law. Christianity *does* have metaphysics, and an over-all worldview, and is thus a religion just like all the others in terms of category. Of course, Atheism, feminism and Marxism are also religions.

Luther repented of his allowing that Elector to marry his already-concubine (and his wife was refusing marital relations). He initially thought that polygamy was valid but undesirable instead of always condemned, because of the Old Testament. The Elector was already having sex with the woman, Luther at that moment thought that it would be better to make "an honest woman" of her. Like I said, he realized his error and repented not too long after.

Luther reacted in equal fury when he saw what the nobles and their soldiers did to the peasants. He was not wise in the ways of the world. His initial fury at the peasant's revolt had something to do with their desecration of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Sinning against God is worse: God is infinite, we are finite. Now, if you reject Christianity because you refuse to bow the knee before your Creator, Judge and rightful King, that is your business. I think it is 'interesting' that you condemn Lutherans and what you call 'Lutheran distortion' what also all the Church believes, Roman, Orthodox, Assyrian, Copt, Armenian, Reformed, Wesleyan, etc.

It is surely not true that Luther or the Book of Concord teach anything like your charge of teaching that it is moral to do anything so long as you get good in return. The fact that one of Luther's marks of the Church is suffering should make that clear to you.

Luther was a Saxon, not a Prussian, FYI.

Jason, my maternal great-grandmother used to swear by associating things or people with the Prussians. She was from one of the Germanies which did not like being occupied by the Prussians under Bismark.

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