Mastering the Flesh Apart from the Law

The Apostle Paul writes in the Epistle to the Colossians:

Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,”  which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?  These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body,but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

~Col. 2:20-23

The way in which Christians are “not under the law” is one of those famous disputes in New Testament studies, but this passage seems to make at least one thing clear, you do not gain mastery over the flesh by adherence to regulations and restrictions concerning temporal things. Neither eating, nor not eating in itself has any bearing on your spirit.

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On Being a Radical Christian

Radical_cvr:Mechanical FileThis David Platt video was going around yesterday, and it gave me a chance to hear his basic message. Some friends had asked me about his latest book Radical, which I haven’t read. Also at about this same time Matthew Lee Anderson’s article “Here Come the Radicals” was posted at Christianity Today. I won’t pretend to have an exhaustive knowledge of these various pastors and writers, but I do think I understand their general message and methodology. They argue that Jesus calls us to a total commitment, not just a pick and choose program, and that we must be willing to sacrifice our lives and lifestyles, being open to the new changes that God will make. We must get comfortable with God making us uncomfortable.

There is certainly a lot of good to be said for this, particularly when you compare Platt with other megachurch pastors. He’s certainly a relief when set against Joel Osteen. At the same time, I’m not sure that Platt is really doing anything all that new. I grew up in a revivalistic Baptist church, and each year we had conferences which sounded a lot like Platt. They weren’t as young of course. Our guys were more polyester with big hair. But still, the message was that you could not rely on your culture, your family, or even your going to church to save you. Instead you must have an intense interior experience and relationship with God, and only this “true,” “real,” and “authentic” sort of faith would qualify as trusting Christ. The intensity and sincerity of your faith was the focal point for personal assurance. One of them’s favorite line was, “Do you know that you know that you know?” There was also the catchy, “99% sure is 100% lost.” Platt and co. strike me as a brainier version of the same thing, and the central objection I have to the “radical” emphasis is that they confuse faith with commitment. Continue reading

12 Days of Christmas Carols- Vom Himmel Hoch

lossy-page1-220px-Martin_Luther_by_Cranach-restoration.tifI think it’s about time for a bona fide Reformation Christmas hymn.  “Vom Himmel Hoch” was written by Martin Luther in 1539 and has been translated into English by Catherine Winkworth under the title “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.”  (The Trinity Hymnal lists Winkworth as the translator but then uses the later modification by Winfred Douglas titled “From Heaven High I Come to You”).  As a general rule, if Catherine Winkworth liked it, it’s good.  Additionally, Luther tunes are always solid, and this one is classic Luther.  The final bar sounds very similar to the end of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” and the whole thing is very easy to pick up.  The tune was made more famous by Johann Sebastian Bach, who wrote five more ornate variations for the organ in his Christmas Oratario and Magnificat.  Bach’s are fantastic listening, but the plainer earlier version is the one for congregational use.

But watch out friends, there are a whopping fifteen stanzas to this song!  That’s far too stout for most Americans these days, and so they tend to shorten it to five or six (which is still more than most can handle).  Of course, the jolliest among the faithful should demand to sing the entire song, but as that other Reformer John Calvin once said, “Good luck.”  It will work best if you play it at a brisk tempo or even split it up. Continue reading

The Actual Culture War

So there definitely is a culture war.  It doesn’t take much reading through academic literature and the press to see that discussions of reason and revelation, faith and science, social freedoms, public morality, and sexual identity all attract attention and all cut to the deepest convictions and principles of American society.  And it doesn’t take long to see that America is unsettled on those convictions and principles.  The problem is that this culture war is often pretty mixed up, with participants shooting themselves in the foot as often as anything else.

They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  This is true.  People learn a couple of talking points and a few intellectual formulas, and suddenly they think they have profound weaponry for social regeneration.  One example is a billboard on Interstate 55 here in Jackson.  It’s advertising a school which, I’m told, actually does do a good job at placing students into colleges and preparing them for high-paying jobs.  Still, the sign’s faux intellectualism is unnerving.  It advertises that the school will “Teach you how to think, not what to think.”  Now that certainly sounds pious.  This school, unique among all others, will avoid brainwashing its students with socio-political bias and will instead impart to them a view-from-nowhere objectivity that will allow these students to discover the best world and life for each of them, as they freely realize it on their own, with no intrusion from the principalities and powers.

Obviously that’s ridiculous.   Continue reading