Piers Plowman: An Argument Between Mercy and Truth on Holy Saturday

30 03 2013

Hearing strange noises and bright lights flashing from Hell, two Sisters (Mercy and Truth) have an argument on Holy Saturday questioning what the event might mean.  The argument is eventually resolved by a third sister (Peace), who announces with great joy that because of the victory of Jesus on the cross, Hell has been ruined.  Through Jesus’ victory on the cross, no sinner need fear Hell who puts his trust in Christ.  

The below is taken from Piers Plowman (Passus 18).  Piers Plowman is a theological allegory written by William Langland in the 14th century.  The sisters represent the seven virtues and the below deals with the catholic doctrine of the Harrowing of Hell.  Do be sure to read to the end for a real treat.

There was great noise and great darkness as the day went on.

And a strange light and a gleam lay before hell.

 

“I really have wondered at this strange event,” said Truth.

“And I’m wondering what it means.”

 

“Don’t wonder any longer,” said Mercy.  “It beckons glad tidings.

A maid named Mary, a mother unlike any other,

conceived through a Word from God and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

She became great with child; and without sin

brought him into the world.  That tale is true as God is my witness.

“Since this babe was born thirty winters past, he died and fooled death today, around noon.

And that is the cause of this bright light,

which means that man shall from his darkness be drawn.

This light and this gleam will blind Lucifer.

The Patriarchs and the Prophets have preached of this event often

– That man shall man save through a maiden’s help.

And what was ruined through one tree, another tree shall win back.

And as death is brought down, the pain of death is relieved.”

 

“What you’re saying,” said Truth, “Is nothing but hot air!

For Adam and Even and Abraham with other

Patriarchs and prophets who lie in pain,

Never believe that yonder light will lift them up

Or have them out of hell – hold your tongue, Mercy!

What you’re saying is just trifle; I, Truth, know the truth,

That a thing that’s once in hell never comes out.

Job the perfect patriarch discredits you sayings:

Because there is no redemption in hell.

 

Then Mercy most mildly mouthed these words:

“From experience,” she said, “I hope they’ll be saved;

For venom undoes venom, from which I fetch proof

That Adam and Eve shall have remedy.

Of all devouring venoms the vilest is the scorpion’s;

No medicins may amend the place where it stings

Until it’s dead and applied thereto, and then it destroys

The first poisoning through its own virtue.

And so this death shall undo, I’ll bet my life,

All that Death and the Devil first did to Eve.

And just as the deceiver through deceit deceived men first,

So shall grace, which began all, make a good end

And deceive the deceiver, and that’s a good deception:

It takes a trick to undo a trick

 

“Now let’s just hold it,” said Truth; “it seems to me I see

Out of the nip of the north, not ver far from here,

Righteousness come running.  Let’s take it easy,

For she knows more than we – she was before we both were.”

 

“That’s true,” said Mercy,”and I see her to the south

Where Peace, clothed in patience, comes ready to play;

Love has desired her long – I believe none other

But Love has sent her some letter about what this light means

That hovers over hell thus; she’ll tell us.”

 

When Peace, clothed in patience, approached them both,

Righteousness reverenced Peace in her rich clothing

And prayed Peace tell her to what place she was going

And whom she meant to gladden in her happy garments.

“My wish is to go,” said Peace, “and welcome them all

Who for many a day I could not see for murkiness of sin,

Adam and Eve and many others in hell.

Moses and many more will sing merrily

And I’ll dance to their tune – do the same, sister!





George Herbert: “The Agony”

28 03 2013

Much to dwell on, particularly this time of year.  The final paragraph is a fine thing to keep in head and heart come Thursday evening.

Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of the seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staff to heav’n, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments bloody be.
Sin is that press and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through ev’ry vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach, then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.





Getting Radical: Christianity Today Gives Tough Review of the Radical Movement

21 03 2013

There has been a little bit of buzz on staff regarding the cover story of the latest Christianity Today.  If you have not seen it, the cover story is a theological critique of the so-called “Radical” movement which encompasses books like Radical, Not a Fan, and Crazy Love among others.  Because the authors of the aforementioned books have not been dead for 200 years, I have not read them.  That is, I had not read them until last night.  Seeing as how the article was getting traction, and also seeing as how I got quite a few e-mails yesterday regarding the article, I thought I should finally read these.  I read Radical and Not a Fan last night.  I will offer some additional thoughts in a few days.  In the meantime, I’ve excerpted what I thought was one of the more interesting critiques in the article, namely that the authors of said books feel the need to use superlatives to describe the Christian faith.  It’s worth noting that previous generations used superlatives to describe Christ, not Christians.  Anyway, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the below or the article as a whole.  Be sure to follow the links at the bottom.

Really. If there’s a word that sums up the radical movement, that’s it. Platt’s Radical opens with it, by describing what “radical abandonment to Jesus really means.” Idleman says he’s going to tell us “what it really means to follow Jesus.” Furtick says that “if we really believe God is an abundant God … we ought to be digging all kinds of ditches [for when he sends the rain, as Elisha did in 2 Kings 3:16-20].” Do those who lead mediocre, nonradical lives for Jesus really believe at all?

The question has ample biblical warrant, of course. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to test themselves to see whether they are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). Chan draws on this verse explicitly, calling for “a serious self-inventory.” Idleman draws on it implicitly as he calls readers to have a “define the relationship” talk with Jesus to “determine the level of commitment.” (Idleman draws on Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.”) In his latest work, Follow Me, Platt makes his warning explicit: “There are a whole lot of people who think that they’ve been born again, but they’ve been dangerously deceived.” It’s really hard to read these books, one after another, and confidently declare yourself a Christian at the end…..

(a few paragraphs later the author picks up the thread again)

These teachers want us to see that following Christ genuinely, truly, really, radically, sacrificially, inconveniently, and uncomfortably will cost us. Platt wants to safeguard the distinctness of God’s saving work over and against our effort. But his primary concern is for the “outflow of the gospel.” This means “putting everything in our lives on the table before God” and being “willing to sacrifice good things in the church in order to experience the great things of God.”

The reliance on intensifiers demonstrates the emptiness of American Christianity’s language. Previous generations were content singing “trust and obey, for there’s no other way.” Today we have to reallytrust and truly obey. The inflated rhetoric is a sign of how divorced our churches’ vocabulary is from the simple language of Scripture.

You can join the conversation at Steve’s blog here.  You can read the original article at Christianity Today here.





Emotion and Emotionalism

20 03 2013

I remember watching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s film Commando when I was about five years old.  The news that I had seen that film at such a young age (or seen it at all!) horrified my Christian neighbors, which looking back upon it gives me a little bit of a chuckle.  One of my take home points from that is that Arnold somehow made it through the whole film without crying.  His daughter got kidnapped.  Arnold didn’t cry.  He got thrown out of a plane.  He didn’t cry.  He got flung from a car.  He didn’t even wince.  He was stabbed in the ribs, blown from a building, and shot (multiple times!) and Arnold never shed a tear.  I have high value for all of these things.

I have low value for group hugs, sitting in drum circles, tight jeans, and men crying (there seems to be a link between these things).  This of course is not a biblical conviction.  I just find these things distasteful, kind of like ketchup based BBQ.  I just don’t like it and have suspicions that such things somehow undo the moral fabric of the universe.  Nevertheless, I do have a high value for the emotional life of the Christian.  When I say this, I want to differentiate between emotionalism and the emotional life.  One is bad.  One is vital.  Let’s talk about them briefly.

Emotionalism:  

By “emotionalism,” I mean a characteristic which places highest value upon emotions, or how we feel, and interprets the world through our own emotions.  I want to say that this is bad in general and downright destructive to the Christian.  Let’s talk first about why it’s bad in general.  Consider the following from David Brooks, commenting on the moral compass of young adults:

When asked about wrong or evil, they (young adults) could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” is how one interviewee put it.  Rejecting blind deference to authority, many of the young people have gone off to the other extreme: “I would do what I thought made me happy or how I felt. I have no other way of knowing what to do but how I internally feel.”

­–David Brooks, “If it Feels Right” NYT

I suppose the above works in some circumstances but in others it is woefully inadequate.  For example, I have never felt like getting up at 3 a.m. to be with a crying baby, but I’ve had to because it was my duty as a parent.  Emotionalism disconnects our emotions from our obligations.  I take this to be the reason why so many young adults felt it was o.k. to document their poverty outside of wall street with their $500 Iphones.  It is hard to take seriously the oppression of someone while they’re in designer clothes and carrying smart phones.  But the objective reality makes little difference.  They felt it.

That’s why emotionalism is bad in general.  Why’s it specifically bad for the Christian?  Let me give you one real world example.  I met a young man who came back from school and informed me that he had lost his faith.  I asked him why.  He told that that in Biology 101 he learned that there is no such thing as God.  Now indulge with me a brief segue.  Biology 101 has no standard by which to evaluate whether or not there is a God or not.  Methinks the professor was feeling his oats that day.  My first question to this young man was “Why did you believe in Jesus Christ?”  He replied, “I felt it.”  If you base your faith on how you feel, when the feeling goes away so does your faith.  Whoops!

Emotion:

Faith was never meant to be based upon our feelings, rather it is meant to be based upon fact.  Consider the words of the Apostle Paul:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
(1 Corinthians 15:3-6 ESV)

The core of the Christian message is the proclamation of an event.  Christianity does not first call us to feel, or to hope, or to even place our faith in something.  The first thing that Christianity does is it calls us to the consideration of an event.  The event is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Because it is said that this event happened in time and space, it can be investigated, discovered, found out, or even disproved.  The critical thing to apply at this point is that Christianity is not dependent upon how you feel.  The resurrection either happened or it didn’t.  How you feel about the resurrection has no real direct bearing on whether or not Christ died, was buried, and then on the third day was raised.

Our emotions have no bearing on the event, but the event should be brought to bear on our emotions.   Perhaps an analogy will serve the purpose.  If my wife announces that she is pregnant she has proclaimed an event.  The news of this event might make me happy, anxious, scared, or even angry.  If I heard such news and did not have an emotional response, people might rightly conclude that not all the gears were properly spinning upstairs.  The same is true of the Christian Gospel.  It is the proclamation of an event and this proclamation should elicit an emotional response.  If it doesn’t, then you have not heard it correctly.  Confessing Christians who do not have an emotional response to the proclamation that Christ died for sinners probably have something wrong with their Christianity.  It should do something to the heart.

Maintaining the Christian Emotional Life

Here is the great difference between emotionalism and rightly ordered Christian emotions.  Under the former, our emotions interpret reality.  Under the latter, reality is the basis for our emotional response.  Christians do not base their faith on how they feel.  Christians base their faith on the event of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  More than that, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus should be the basis not only for the Christian’s faith, but also for the Christian’s emotional life.  Principally, the Gospel of Jesus should make Christians (to quote William Tyndale) “happy to the low bottom of their soul.”

The importance in this is that the Christian’s emotional life is not based upon their behavior (righteous or sinful?), their faith (faithful or faithless?), or their feelings (happy or sad?), rather the Christian’s emotional life is based upon the unchanging and objective Gospel event of Jesus giving himself over for sinners and being raised from the dead for the same.  Christian’s don’t always “feel it.”  Sometimes we open the Bible and it is an empty word.  Sometimes we go to Sunday worship and just don’t feel like singing.  Other times prayer feels like a labor rather than a love.  So what happens when we don’t feel it?  What should we do?  The hymnist Edward Mote  “On Christ the Solid Rock” gave invaluable advice when he wrote:

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

Mote expresses the feeling of darkness.  Rather than rest on his feelings, he fell back on the event.  “I rest on his unchanging grace,” that is the objective reality of Christ’s life, death and resurrection for sinners.  Mote knew that the way to recalibrate the heart was not to try to drum up extra emotion, but rather to fall back on the event upon which every Christian emotion should be based.

Here’s a little confession.  I’m a reasonably emotional Christian.  If I talk about Jesus and the Gospel for too long, I will probably end up getting a little teary eyed because it has that effect on me.  On occasion, I will have people say “I wish I could feel it like you!”  What I would say to them is counterintuitive.  If you want to feel happy about your faith, quit focusing on your feelings and start focusing on the Gospel.  Think long and often about the event, who accomplished it and what it means for you, and I think you’ll find that a rich emotional life will follow from there.

The value of a Christianity that bases emotions upon Christ, rather than validating Christ by emotions, is that it brings the emotions into service of Christ because it finds him as the root of all joy, comfort, peace, and happiness.  This is the value of an emotional Christianity.





Richard Baxter on Suffering and Death

19 03 2013

Lord, it belongs not to my care
Whether I die or live;
To love and serve Thee is my share,
And this Thy grace must give.

If life be long, I will be glad,
That I may long obey;
If short, yet why should I be sad
To welcome endless day?

Christ leads me through no darker rooms
Than He went through before;
He that unto God’s kingdom comes
Must enter by this door.

Come, Lord, when grace hath made me meet
Thy blessèd face to see;
For if Thy work on earth be sweet
What will Thy glory be!

Then I shall end my sad complaints
And weary sinful days,
And join with the triumphant saints
That sing my Savior’s praise.

My knowledge of that life is small,
The eye of faith is dim;
But ’tis enough that Christ knows all,
And I shall be with Him.

 





Martin Luther: Good works flow from love and joy

18 03 2013

For where the Gospel is truly in the heart, it creates a new man who does not wait until the law comes, but, being so full of joy in Christ, and of desire and love for that which is good, he gladly helps and doe good to every one wherever he can, from a free heart, before he ver once thinks of law.  He wholly risks his body and life, without asking what he must suffer on account of it, and thus abounds in good works which flow forth of themselves.

-Martin Luther, Church Postil 2.2 76





Martin Luther: The Great Work of the Christian

14 03 2013

Challenging words from the good doctor:

A truly Christian work is it that we descend and get mixed up in the mire of the sinner as deeply as he sticks there himself, taking his sin upon ourselves and floundering out of it with him, not acting otherwise than as if his sin were our own.  We should rebuke and deal with him in earnest; yet we are not to despise but sincerely love him.  If you are proud toward the sinner and despise him, you are utterly damned.

-Martin Luther, Church Postil 2.261