Category : Soteriology

A Charles Spurgeon Sermon for Holy Cross Day–The Death of Christ for His People

O heir of heaven, lift now thine eye, and behold the scenes of suffering through which thy Lord passed for thy sake! Come in the moonlight, and stand between those olives; see him sweat great drops of blood. Go from that garden, and follow him to Pilate’s bar. See your Matter subjected to the grossest and filthiest insult; gaze upon the face of spotless beauty defiled with the spittle of soldiers; see his head pierced with thorns; mark his back, all rent, and torn, and scarred, and bruised, and bleeding beneath the terrible lash. And O Christian, see him die! Go and stand where his mother stood, and hear him say to thee, “Man, behold thy Saviour!” Come thou to-night, and stand where John stood; hear him cry, “I thirst,” and find thyself unable either to assuage his griefs or to comprehend their bitterness. Then, when thou hast wept there, lift thine hand, and cry, “Revenge!” Bring out the traitors; where are they? And when your sins are brought forth as the murderers of Christ, let no death be too painful for them; though it should involve the cutting off of right arms, or the quenching of right eyes, and putting out their light for ever; do it! For if these murderers murdered Christ, then let them die. Die terribly they may, but die they must. Oh! that God the Holy Ghost would teach you that first lesson, my brethren, the boundless wickedness of sin, for Christ had to lay down his life before your sin could be wiped away.

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Church History, Preaching / Homiletics, Soteriology

J I Packer on the Gospel in the Liturgy

The gospel is the good news that God is love. ‘In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4:8-10). The background of the gospel is God’s wrath and judgment against us sinners. The heart of the gospel is the double truth of propitiation for sin, and remission of sin – through the cross of Christ, atonement by blood, and justification by faith. ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them…. He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the ighteousness
of God in him’ (2 Cor. 5:19, 21).

The gospel of free forgiveness through Christ crucified appears as the mainspring of worship throughout the whole Prayer Book, and it is noticeable that current discontent with the Prayer Book is strongest among those whose grasp on this gospel is most suspect. A modern prophet, in an article entitled Un-Christian Liturgy, has censured the Prayer Book stress on guilt and pardon as morbid and unhealthy. Our own judgment goes rather with [Charles] Simeon [1759-1836]:

‘I seek to be, not only humbled and thankful, but humbled in thankfulness, before my God and Savior continually. This is the religion that pervades the whole Liturgy, and particularly the Communion Service; and this makes the Liturgy inexpressibly sweet to me. ‘The repeated cries for mercy to each Person of the ever-adorable Trinity for mercy, are not at all too frequent or too fervent for me; nor is the Confession in the Communion service too strong for me; nor the Te Deum, nor the ascriptions of glory after the Lord’s Supper, Glory be to God on high, etc. too exalted for me this shows what men of God the framers of our Liturgy were, and what I pant, and long, and strive to be. ‘This makes the Liturgy as superior to all modern compositions, as the work of a Philosopher on any deep subject is to that of a schoolboy who understands scarcely anything about it.’

The Gospel in the Prayer Book (Marcham Manor Press, 1966)

Posted in --Book of Common Prayer, Church History, Soteriology

(Veritas revisit)–Quite the testimony from Sarah Irving-Stonebraker: How Oxford and Peter Singer drove me from atheism to Jesus

One Sunday, shortly before my 28th birthday, I walked into a church for the first time as someone earnestly seeking God. Before long I found myself overwhelmed. At last I was fully known and seen and, I realised, unconditionally loved – perhaps I had a sense of relief from no longer running from God. A friend gave me C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and one night, after a couple months of attending church, I knelt in my closet in my apartment and asked Jesus to save me, and to become the Lord of my life.

From there, I started a rigorous diet of theology, reading the Bible and exploring theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Ramsey, and F.D. Maurice. Christianity, it turned out, looked nothing like the caricature I once held. I found the story of Jacob wrestling with God especially compelling: God wants anything but the unthinking faith I had once assumed characterized Christianity. God wants us to wrestle with Him; to struggle through doubt and faith, sorrow and hope. Moreover, God wants broken people, not self-righteous ones. And salvation is not about us earning our way to some place in the clouds through good works. On the contrary; there is nothing we can do to reconcile ourselves to God. As a historian, this made profound sense to me. I was too aware of the cycles of poverty, violence and injustice in human history to think that some utopian design of our own, scientific or otherwise, might save us.

Christianity was also, to my surprise, radical – far more radical than the leftist ideologies with which I had previously been enamored. The love of God was unlike anything which I expected, or of which I could make sense.

Read it all.

Posted in Apologetics, Christology, Soteriology, Theology, Uncategorized

(Mockingbird) Joshua Simpson reviews Fleming Rutledge’s newest book–The Gospel, On Repeat

Rutledge repeats a cycle of sober assessment and hope — a hope that is expressly found in Christ. Readers of The Crucifixion will observe that her magnum opus really was the result of a lifelong, cruciform ministry. She reiterates Paul’s exhortation that all are unrighteous and that we must be saved by a power outside of ourselves.

[Jesus] is willing to die even for such poor specimens as you and me, covering our unrighteousness with his righteousness, offering his life to save us from death, victorious over the old Adam, the Judge judged in our place. He has compensated for our too-short list of good deeds by his one great deed.

The sermons are varied and based upon an array of scripture readings, yet more often than not Rutledge sets our gaze on the crucified and resurrected Christ. As I read through Means of Grace, I realized why I am drawn to the writings of Fleming Rutledge: she can’t stop talking about the core event that changed the history of the cosmos. My soul needs to hear the story of Christ’s death, resurrection, and future coming over and over again. I’m not sure that another self-help sermon will change my life. I am not convinced that a preacher will provide five steps to resolve my anxiety, improve my self-esteem, etc. But the problems I face, and perhaps the problems you face, seem far less daunting when nestled within God’s bigger story.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Christology, Sermons & Teachings, Soteriology, Theology

Kendall Harmon’s Sunday Sermon–The Whole Gospel to the Whole person Throughout the Whole World (Acts 16:11-40)

The sermon starts about 30:10 in.

Listen carefully for an illustration from Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895-1960), pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1927 to 1960.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * By Kendall, * South Carolina, Christology, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Preaching / Homiletics, Soteriology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

John Stott–The Gospel is for Everyone

“It would be hard to imagine a more disparate group than the business woman, the slave girl and the [jailer]. Racially, socially and psychologically they were worlds apart. Yet all three were changed by the same gospel and were welcomed into the same church …It is wonderful to observe in Philippi both the universal appeal of the gospel (that it could reach such a wide diversity of people) and its unifying effect (that it could bind them together in God’s family) … The wealthy business woman, the exploited slave girl and the rough Roman [jailer] had been brought into a brotherly or sisterly relationship with each other and with the rest of the church … We too, who live in an era of social disintegration, need to exhibit the unifying power of the gospel.”

–John Stott, The Spirit the Church and the World: The Message of Acts (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVaristy, 1990),p.270, quoted by yours truly in the morning sermon

Posted in Books, Ecclesiology, Soteriology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

More Karl Barth on Easter–‘the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the great verdict of God’

To sum up, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the great verdict of God, the fulfillment and proclamation of God’s decision concerning the event of the cross. It is its acceptance as the act of the Son of God appointed our representative, an act which fulfilled the divine wrath but did so in the service of the divine grace. It is its acceptance as the act of His obedience which judges the world, but judges it with the aim of saving it. It is its acceptance as the act of His Son whom He has always loved (and us in Him), whom of His sheer goodness He has not rejected but drawn to Himself (and us in Him) (Jer. 31:3). In this the resurrection is the justification of God Himself, of God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth, who has willed and planned and ordered this event. It is the justification of Jesus Christ, His Son, who willed to suffer this event, and suffered it to the very last. And in His person it is the justification of all sinful men, whose death was decided in this event, for whose life there is therefore no more place. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ His life and with it their life has in fact become an event beyond death: “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19).

Church Dogmatics (IV.1) [E.T. By Geoffrey Bromiley and Thomas Torrance of the German Original] (London: T and T Clark, 1956), page 309

Posted in Christology, Church History, Easter, Eschatology, Soteriology, The Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Karl Barth for Easter-‘the proclamation of a war already won’

[Easter]…is the proclamation of a war already won. The war is at an end–even though here and there troops are still shooting, because they have not heard anything yet about the capitulation. The game is won, even though the player can still play a few further moves. Actually he is already mated. The clock has run down, even though the pendulum still swings a few times this way and that. It is in this interim space that we are living: the old is past, behold it has all become new. The Easter message tells us that our enemies, sin, the curse and death, are beaten. Ultimately they can no longer start mischief. They still behave as though the game were not decided, the battle not fought; we must still reckon with them, but fundamentally we must cease to fear them anymore. If you have heard the Easter message, you can no longer run around with a tragic face and lead the humourless existence of a man who has no hope. One thing still holds, and only this one thing is really serious, that Jesus is the Victor. A seriousness that would look back past this, like Lot’s wife, is not Christian seriousness. It may be burning behind–and truly it is burning–but we have to look, not at it, but at the other fact, that we are invited and summoned to take seriously the victory of God’s glory in this man Jesus and to be joyful in Him. Then we may live in thankfulness and not in fear.

–Karl Barth Dogmatics in Outline (New York: Harper and Row, 1959), p. 123

Posted in Christology, Church History, Easter, Eschatology, Soteriology, Theology

Kendall Harmon’s Palm Sunday 2021 sermon–Where should we Focus as we begin Holy Week (Mark 11:1-11)?

The sermon starts about 34:20 in.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * By Kendall, * South Carolina, Anthropology, Christology, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Preaching / Homiletics, Sermons & Teachings, Soteriology, Theology: Scripture

Saturday Food for Thought from Martin Luther

That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the »invisible« things of God as though they were clearly »perceptible in those things which have actually happened« (Rom. 1:20; cf. 1 Cor 1:21-25), he deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

Heidelberg Disputation Theses 19,20

Posted in Christology, Church History, Soteriology, Theology: Scripture

Kendall Harmon’s Sunday sermon–Let us be Sure We Know what the Gospel is (Ephesians 2:1-10)

The sermon starts about 13:50 in.

Listen carefully for a story from Los Alamos, New Mexico in the 1940’s.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * By Kendall, * South Carolina, Christology, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Preaching / Homiletics, Sermons & Teachings, Soteriology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(CH) David Mills–The Ecumenical Dog That Doesn’t Bark

I’m all for praying for Christian unity and making a big deal of it for a week. But we should be clearer about what this means than the ecumenically-minded tend to be. They prefer the dog not to bark, but the barking dog warns us of something we need to remember.

Jim Packer remembered it. He wanted me to give in. I wanted him to give in. In our own circles, we both barked, and I think felt that a bond. We each knew what the other wanted and remained friends, with a deep respect for each other as well as affection. We enjoyed a great degree of unity despite our differences.

We should pray for Christian unity. But also offer the old-fashioned prayers that our Protestant friends would convert. And be the kinds of Catholics whose lives encourage people to join us.

Read it all.

Posted in Ecclesiology, Ecumenical Relations, Evangelicals, Roman Catholic, Soteriology

Flannery O’Connor on the idea of the Need for Redemption being Squashed

My own feeling is that writers who see by the light of their Christian faith will have, in these times, the sharpest eyes for the grotesque, for the perverse, and for the unacceptable. In some cases, these writers may be unconsciously infected with the Manichaean spirit of the times and suffer the much-discussed disjunction between sensibility and belief, but I think that more often the reason for this attention to the perverse is the difference between their beliefs and the beliefs of their audience. Redemption is meaningless unless there is case for it in the actual life we live, and for the last few centuries there has been operating in our culture the secular belief that there is no such cause.

The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock, to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.

Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969) pp. 33-34 [my emphasis]

Posted in Books, Christology, Church History, Soteriology, Theology

The Book of Homilies on the Nativity–‘What greater love could we seely creatures desire or wish to have at God’s hands?’

But, for the better understanding and consideration of this thing, let us behold the end of his coming: so shall we perceive what great commodity and profit his nativity hath brought unto us miserable and sinful creatures. The end of his coming was to save and deliver his people, to fulfil the law for us, to bear witness to the truth, to teach and preach the words of his Father, to give light unto the world, to call sinners to repentance, to refresh them that labour and be heavy laden, to cast out the prince of this world, to reconcile us in the body of his flesh, to dissolve the works of the devil last of all, to become a propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world.[48] These were the chief ends wherefore Christ became man, not for any profit that should come to himself thereby, but only for our sakes ; that we might understand the will of God, be partakers of his heavenly light, be delivered out of the devil’s claws, released from the burden of sin, justified through faith in his blood, and finally received up into everlasting glory, there to reign with him for ever. Was not this a great and singular love of Christ towards mankind, that being the express and lively image of God[49]he would notwithstanding humble himself and take upon him the form of a servant and that only to save and redeem us? O how much are we bound to the goodness of God in this behalf! How many thanks and praises do we owe unto him for this our salvation, wrought by his dear and only Son Christ: who became a pilgrim in earth, to make us citizens in heaven; who became the Son of man, to make us the sons of God; who became obedient to the law, to deliver us from the curse of the law; who became poor to make us rich;[50] vile to make us precious; subject to death to make us live for ever. What greater love could we seely creatures desire or wish to have at God’s hands?

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Christology, Church History, Soteriology

(CT) Bernie Carbo–I Was a World Series Hero on the Brink of Suicide

In 1994, I had one final relapse, which plunged me into a sea of guilt and despair. Then I met Tammy, the woman who would eventually become my wife. She reminded me about Jesus and the atonement for sins that he accomplished through his death on the cross. And I believed once more that his blood was sufficient to cover all my transgressions and that we can depend on him for the grace we need to overcome the strongholds of addiction or any other habitual sin.

This is a truth I would need to relearn again and again as I struggled with different aspects of marriage and family life. When I married Tammy, I also adopted her son, Chris, who was 12 years old at the time. Even though they loved and included me, I was extremely jealous of the relationship Tammy and Chris shared, and I often took my anger out on Chris in the form of verbal abuse. On one occasion, Tammy was on the verge of leaving.

But even as my behavior made everyone miserable, Chris and Tammy showed me the love of Christ. As a teenager, Chris would sit next to me and pray. And Tammy and I learned how to communicate and stay committed to one another. She learned to lean on God for strength and taught me to do the same. We spent hours praying together and seeking God for healing and restoration. We’ve now been married for 26 years, and I’ve been clean the entire time.

Today, I share this story across the nation because I want others to know there is hope! There is a way out of the deadly seduction of abusing drugs. There is a way out of the anger and anguish that life can bring. Not only does Jesus Christ offer the way out, but he also offers the way in to a life more joyful and abundant than anyone could imagine. Truly, our God is an awesome God.

Read it all.

Posted in Soteriology, Sports

Richard Hooker on Richard Hooker’s Feast Day

But I am besides my purpose when I fall to bewail the cold affection which we bear towards that whereby we should be saved, my purpose being only to set down what the ground of salvation is. The doctrine of the Gospel proposeth salvation as the end, and doth it not teach the way of attaining thereunto? Yes, the damsel possessed with a spirit of divination spake the truth: “These men are the servants of the most high God who show unto us the way of salvation” [Acts 16:17] — “a new and living way which Christ hath prepared for us through the veil, that is, his flesh,” [Heb 10:20] salvation purchased by the death of Christ.

–Learned Discourse on Justification (my emphasis)

Posted in Christology, Church History, Church of England (CoE), Soteriology, Theology

(DG) Stephen Nichols:John Wycliffe–The Morning Star of the Reformation

In On the Truth of Sacred Scripture, Wycliffe called for the Bible to be translated into English. According to Roman Catholic law, translating the Bible into a vulgar, common language was a heresy punishable by death. It is almost impossible to imagine why a church would want to keep God’s word from people, unless that church wanted to hold power over the people. Wycliffe was more convinced of the power of the word of God than the power wielded by the papal office. Consequently, he and a group of colleagues committed themselves to making the word of God available.

Not only did the Bible need to be translated; it also had to be copied and distributed. This was before the printing press (invented in 1440), so copies had to be made painstakingly by hand. Despite the challenges, hundreds of the Bibles were produced and distributed to Wycliffe’s troop of pastors, who preached across England as the word of God made its way to the people. Wycliffe’s followers came to be called Lollards. They were enclaves of reform not only in England, but across Europe.

These efforts in translating, copying, and proclaiming the Bible in English were driven by a singular motive, expressed by Wycliffe this way: “It helps Christian men to study the Gospel in that tongue which they know best.” In his final years, Wycliffe endured falling out of favor with the church and nobility in England. Of course, he had long ago fallen out of favor with the pope. Yet, Wycliffe declared, “I am ready to defend my convictions even unto death.” He remained convinced of the authority and centrality of Scripture and devoted to his life’s calling to help Christians study the Bible. Having suffered two strokes, John Wycliffe died on December 30, 1384.

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Soteriology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Kendall Harmon’s Sunday Sermon–What is Real Christian Ministry (1 Thesalonians 1)?

The sermon starts about 18:30 in.

Posted in * By Kendall, * South Carolina, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Soteriology, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Theology: Scripture

A Theological Conversation with Retired South Carolina Bishop C FitzSimons Allison

It covers topics such as grace, justification, guilt and the gospel–Listen to it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * South Carolina, Anthropology, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Soteriology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

A Prayer for Holy Cross Day

O God, who by the passion of thy blessed Son didst make an instrument of shameful death to be unto us the means of life and peace: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Posted in Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Soteriology, Spirituality/Prayer

Scot McKnight–The Gospel and its Benefits

You may now see what I’m doing there: those who turn the gospel into its benefits and then construct the gospel for the sake of personal benefits (salvation, redemption, justification, transformation, meaning in life, going to heaven) are glory-makers like the selfish athlete. As sport is about the city and its team, so the gospel is about God and his Son Jesus. Yes, for sure, the gospel brings benefits but it is first about Jesus – the gospel story is the story of Israel that finds its climax in the story of Jesus – and then about us. (See King Jesus Gospel)

Look at the gospel summary passages in the New Testament and you will see the point (1 Cor 15:1-28). Where’s the focus?

“What’s in it for us?,” is the question asked by the one who turns the gospel around into a benefit-package. Benefits themselves can be distorted and benefits can distort the gospel.

Evangelism that focuses on Jesus and tells people about Jesus and draws people to the glory who is Jesus have it right; those who entice people into the benefits that come from the gospel are turning it around. Robert Jenson in his Systematic Theology, says this: “gospel messengers,” are ones who say “We are not here to entice you into our religion by benefits allegedly found only in it. We are here to introduce you to the true god, for whatever he can do with you – which may well be suffering and oppression” (1.51). That’s right.

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Soteriology, Theology: Scripture

Albert Mohler–The Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Reality of the Gospel

As the disciples preached in the earliest Christian sermons, “This Jesus God has raised up, of whom we are all witnesses . . . . Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” [Acts 2:32,36].

The Resurrection was not a dawning awareness of Christ’s continuing presence among the disciples, it was the literal, physical raising of Jesus’ body from the dead. The Church is founded upon the resurrected Lord, who appeared among His disciples and was seen by hundreds of others.

The Church does not have mere permission to celebrate the Resurrection, it has a mandate to proclaim the truth that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. The resurrected Lord gave the Church a sacred commission to take the gospel throughout the world. As Paul made clear, the resurrection of Christ also comes as a comfort to the believer, for His defeat of death is a foretaste and promise of our own resurrection by His power. “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” [1 Corinthians 15:53].

So, as the Church gathers to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we should look backward in thankfulness to that empty tomb and forward to the fulfillment of Christ’s promises in us. For Resurrection Day is not merely a celebration”“it is truly preparation as well. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the promise of our resurrection from the dead, and of Christ’s total victory over sin and death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the very center of the Christian gospel. The empty tomb is full of power.

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Easter, Eschatology, Evangelicals, Soteriology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

His Damnation our Liberation, His Defeat our Victory

It so happened that in this man Jesus God himself came into the world, which he had created and against all odds still loved. He took human nature upon himself and became man, like the rest of us, in order to put an end to the world’s fight against him and also against itself, and to replace man’s disorder by God’s design. In Jesus God hallowed his name, made his kingdom come, his will done on earth as it is in heaven, as we say in the Lord’s Prayer. In him he made manifest his glory and, amazingly enough, he made it manifest for our salvation. To accomplish this, he not only bandaged, but healed the wounds of the world he helped mankind not only in part and temporarily but radically and for good in the person of his beloved Son; he delivered us from evil and took us to his heart as his children Thereby we are all permitted to live, and to live eternally.

It happened through this man on the cross that God cancelled out and swept away all our human wickedness, our pride, our anxiety, our greed and our false pretences, whereby we had continually offended him and made life difficult, if not impossible, for ourselves and for others. He crossed out what had made our life fundamentally terrifying, dark and distressing – the life of health and of sickness, of happiness and of unhappiness, of the highborn and of the lowborn, of the rich and of the poor, of the free and of the captive. He did away with it. It is no longer part of us, it is behind us. In Jesus God made the day break after the long night and spring come after the long winter.
All these things happened in that one man. In Jesus, God took upon himself the full load of evil; he made our wickedness his own; he gave himself in his dear Son to be defamed as a criminal, to be accused, condemned, delivered from life unto death, as though he himself, the Holy God, had done all the evil we human beings did and do. In giving himself in Jesus Christ, he reconciled the world unto himself; he saved us and made us free to live in his everlasting kingdom; he removed the burden and took it upon himself He the innocent took the place of us the guilty. He the mighty took the place of us the weak. He the living One took the place of us the dying.

This, my dear friends, is the invisible event that took place in the suffering and death of the man hanging on the middle cross on Golgotha. This is reconciliation: his damnation our liberation, his defeat our victory, his mortal pain the beginning of our joy, his death the birth of our life. We do well to remember that this is what those who put him to death really accomplished. They did not know what they did. These deluded men and women accomplished by their evil will and deed that good which God had willed and done with the world and for the world, including the crowd of Jerusalem.

–Karl Barth (1886-1968) from a sermon in 1957

Posted in Christology, Church History, Holy Week, Soteriology

(9 Marks) Colton Corter–4 Reflections after Listening to 18 Hours of Sermons in America’s Biggest Churches

1. The gospel at best assumed; most of the time, it’s entirely absent.

Let me begin with the most important observation: in 36 sermons, the good news of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was unclear 36 times. Often, some or all of these facets of the Christian gospel were left out. “No gospel” became a common note. (Here’s an answer to the question you’re probably asking: What content is necessary in order to communicate the gospel?)

I don’t mean to say various elements of the gospel weren’t occasionally mentioned; they were. Todd Mullins (Christ Fellowship Church) mentions in his sermon series, “What Do You See Next?, that faith is believing in what Jesus did for you—carrying the cross, rising from the dead, etc. But none of those elements are articulated or explained. It’s unclear exactly why we need Jesus to do anything for us. Furthermore, it’s unclear exactly what he did by doing the things Mullins mentions. Isolated phrases here and there without much reference to how the Bible puts them together was the norm.

In his sermon, “The Robe of Righteousness,” Robert Morris (Gateway Church) provides a happy exception. He mentions the doctrine of imputation, stating that we aren’t worthy of God and are in need of a “balancing (of our) . . . account.” Morris goes on to say that in the gospel we get Jesus’ assets while Jesus receives our debts. That’s as close to the gospel that any of these sermons gets—and even in this instance, the true things Morris mentions are isolated from the rest of the truths that make up the gospel message. (Neither God’s holy judgment, sin, nor repentance is mentioned.)

But here’s what’s even more disheartening: in his next sermon, Morris says the Jesus who accomplished all this for us “lays down all his divinity” (“The Ring of Authority). Conspicuously missing from Morris’ explanation of what he calls “substitutionary, propitiatory, blood-bought salvation” is the response one must have to this message in order to be saved, which leads us to our next observation.

2. Repentance rarely comes across as something urgent and necessary; instead, it’s either optional or not worth mentioning at all.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Christology, Preaching / Homiletics, Religion & Culture, Soteriology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Flannery O’Connor on the idea of the Need for Redemption being Squashed

My own feeling is that writers who see by the light of their Christian faith will have, in these times, the sharpest eyes for the grotesque, for the perverse, and for the unacceptable. In some cases, these writers may be unconsciously infected with the Manichaean spirit of the times and suffer the much-discussed disjunction between sensibility and belief, but I think that more often the reason for this attention to the perverse is the difference between their beliefs and the beliefs of their audience. Redemption is meaningless unless there is case for it in the actual life we live, and for the last few centuries there has been operating in our culture the secular belief that there is no such cause.

The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock, to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.

Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969) pp. 33-34 [my emphasis]

Posted in Christmas, Church History, Soteriology

(CC) Bruce Modahl–When a father and husband walked out, grace called him home

One Sunday, though, he stayed through the final hymn and came through the line to introduce himself. He was Don—just Don. That was the Sunday he heard me say in my sermon on Luke 3:7–18 that we need to die. I didn’t tell them they needed to change. I told them, “The old sinner we are, the old Adam and Eve, needs to die.” But the Holy Spirit filtered out the qualifiers. All Don heard was “You need to die.” And he knew it was the truth.

Some months before, Don had walked out on his wife of more than 20 years. He stretched thin the bonds of their marriage with a string of affairs. He had two daughters—one in high school, the other just finishing college. He walked out on them, too.

His older daughter was planning her wedding, and she called him. She wanted him to walk her down the aisle. She ­didn’t ask for money. She only wanted him to be part of the wedding. She wanted him in her life. That brought him back in proximity to the church. Not a physical proximity to the church to which he be­longed. He couldn’t walk back into that place. But picturing the wedding in the church where he and his family had worshiped all those years got him thinking about the songs and words and the kind of man he had hoped to be. His daughter’s call and her wedding brought him back in conversation with his wife.

In one of those conversations, she said to him, “Come home, Don. Just come home.”

The effect this had on him—his daughter’s kindness and his wife’s invitation—forced him to look at the kind of man he had become. He was disgusted with what he saw. That disgust was the means the Holy Spirit used to get him to cross town to hear this comfortably middle-class pastor (who didn’t even know he was impersonating John the Baptist that day). Don was already in the wilderness. When he heard me say “You need to die,” he knew it was the truth. And so, he died with Christ.

That offer was in my next breath. After saying “You need to die,” I said, “Come die with Christ and rise with him forgiven and changed.”

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Preaching / Homiletics, Soteriology, Theology: Scripture

Kendall Harmon’s Sunday Sermon–John the Baptist, the standard of God for humanity, and where the standard takes us (Isaiah 11:2-3)

You can listen directly there and download the mp3 there.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * By Kendall, * South Carolina, Preaching / Homiletics, Sermons & Teachings, Soteriology, Theology: Scripture

CS Lewis on CS Lewis Day (I)–His description of his own Conversion

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words “compelle intrare,” compel them to come in, have been so abused be wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.

–C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (Harcourt Brace, 1956), p.228

Posted in Church History, Soteriology

(CC) Jason Micheli reviews David Zahl’s new book: Politics, parenting, and other secular things we put our faith in

Seculosity shines its light upon on the conditional “if/then” construction of the promises seculosities make. If you eat organic and sustainably sourced food, then you will be enough. In the language of the apostle Paul and Martin Luther, the oughts and shoulds of seculosities pledge the very same promise that is at the heart of any religion based only on law. The promise is predicated entirely on our performance. Seculosities ultimately lead to exhaustion because we can never measure up to their ever-shifting standard of performance. They also lead to judgmentalism: the fact that we ourselves fall short of the standard doesn’t stop us from pointing out how others fall short.

By the conclusion of the book, readers are in on the joke of the subtitle “and What to Do about It.” Doing is exactly our problem. We’re busy producing, earning, climbing, proving, striving, and performing. We’re chasing our enoughness “into every corner of our lives, driving everyone around us—and ourselves—crazy.” The law is inscribed, Paul says, not just on tablets of stone but on every heart.

The remedy is to be found not in another exhortation about something we must do but in the proclamation of something that has been done for us. The conclusion of Seculosity is a contemporary companion to Luther’s thesis in the Heidelberg Disputation: “The law says, ‘do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘believe in this,’ and everything is already done.”

In other words, relief from all our replacement religions just might be found in the opposite of religion—the promise of the gospel. Unlike religions of law, Zahl argues, Christianity does not instruct us in how to construct our enoughness. The language of earning is antithetical to the gospel. Christianity rather invites us to receive our enoughness, which is Christ’s own enoughness, as sheer gift. Our Christian activities are the organic fruit of our enoughness, not the stuff by which we earn it.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Christology, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Soteriology, Theology

(TLC Covenant) Jonathan Turtle–Love, but not like That

For example, a few years ago I attended a workshop for Anglicans. At one point in our conversation we were sharing our images of God: how we understand who God is and what he is like. As people chimed in I was struck by one thing in particular: a lack of appeal to Scripture. People were happy to suggest that we can come to know God as we embrace our grandchildren or take a walk by the lake. No one seemed to think, however, that it was important to begin with the Bible—God’s own self-revelation—if we’re going to talk about God.

We hear Saint John say something like, “God is love,” and we assume that God’s love is like whatever our experience of love is. Or, worse yet, we might believe that whatever our experience of love is, is God. That is what I mean by sentimentality — when it comes to a truthful knowledge of God, things like Scripture, reason, and tradition take a back seat to my own feelings and experience.

Stanley Hauerwas, never one for mincing words, once said that the greatest enemy of the Christian religion is not atheism but sentimentality: “You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend.” Part of his, no doubt overstated, point here is that bad liturgy leads to bad ethics. Liturgy matters. The hymns we sing, the prayers we pray, the sermons we preach, the language we use, the reverence with which we come to Holy Communion, it all matters. You wouldn’t want to end up murdering your best friend, would you?

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” As I said, we hear a passage like this from Saint John and we are prone to both sentimentality and moralism. Sentimentality because we think we know what love is from our own experience and moralism because we think loving one another comes naturally to us and that we’re already off to a good start.

Both of these ditches lead to our peril. But Saint John makes a way through for us and that way is the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Soteriology, Theology, Theology: Scripture