Thursday, December 18, 2008

Six Billion Monotheists?

The Unitarians tell us:

“One God, Many Names.”
The power to name is the power to control. If I call my god “Ned” after my favorite rich uncle, who gave me a Porsche when I was 16, my deity is very very different from the God of the Jews and Christians. That God is a Holy God, and loves me too much to indulge my every whim, then or now. If I'm really a monotheist, I have to decide which God is “The One.”
Perhaps the Jewish/Christian deity is a figment of our collective imagination, and the one true deity really is rightly called Ned. Or perhaps s/he has so many faces that we have no idea which if any is the real one. But that starts to look like polytheism. H_LL, it IS Polytheism! The Unitarians and their liberal Protestant fellow travelers are NOT monotheists! They think the world contains a different god for each human!
Now, each of us looks at God in a slightly different way.
Of course: each individual is unique, and uniquely loved by the Jewish/Christian God. [We'll call him YHWH since he revealed himself with those four Hebrew letters in the Jewish Scriptures. It's unpronounceable without adding some vowels, I'm told by those who know, or ought to.] This God's self revelation has brought meaning to a large proportion of those 6 billion, and to billions before them across many different cultures. But those who believe look at ONE God from many viewpoints, not an infinite number of gods from infinite viewpoints. Some see more clearly than others, just as individuals differ in other ways. We can know which viewpoints are helpful, and true, by comparing each vision to God's self revelation, and thus learn a lot about ourselves, and about the God who LOVES US ENOUGH TO REVEAL HIMSELF! Finite humans could never handle a complete self revelation, but we have a remarkably coherent library of 66 books about Him, AND we can see what He was like when He walked this earth. (Hint: think of a Palestinian Jew named Jesus. John 14:6)

So, Unitarians and theological liberals can't believe in grace, because they don't believe in sin [see post below] and they are not monotheists because that would require a specific, self-revealed God—their worst nightmare! An outta control god! Ten Commandments—soon they'll be thousands, they cry—misunderstanding the Commandments, which are actually part of God's self revelation. (Which ones are binding today requires some study of the NEW Covenant. Most Christians and Jews say “all Ten” although Jesus himself relaxed the 4th Commandment a wee bit, while tightening up the rest a lot [Lust=Adultery, Anger=Murder from Matthew 5-7].) Thank God, I believe in grace. I confess my total inability to obey any of them—I cast myself upon his mercy and—here's the good part—not only do I know this one God in a personal way, but sometimes I actually want to obey His commands! I'm still tempted, but God empowers me to resist—I'm not alone with Uncle Ned. In case you're wondering: Ned—the god, the uncle—neither exists. I didn't get a Porsche, I got a Schwinn 10-speed, for which I am very grateful. Thanks Mom, thanks Dad! And thank God.
More on self revelation: I use “He” for God because that's the pronoun exclusively used in both Jewish and Christians Scriptures. From the very beginning, God has declared that BOTH male and female reflect his image, which (I think) is why there are two genders, and why marriage is a picture of the persons in the Godhead. And I sometimes capitalize the pronouns because it's a bad habit I picked up from the King James Bible. It also helps me sort out my antecedents, but of course the Greek and Hebrew texts don't use capitals in that way—they aren't even punctuated!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

IS THERE GRACE WITHOUT SIN? Thoughts on Modernism and Sojourners Magazine

Kudos to Brian McLaren for his prediction of an Obama win and difficulties among his friends in holding the new President accountable. Here's one reason why this will be nearly impossible: it actually goes back to the Modernist controversy of the 1920's in American Protestantism (rather than the more recent Postmodernist debate). Let me define modernists as Secularists, plus their counterparts within the Catholic and Protestant traditions. But it's the same conflict as Martin Luther faced in the Middle Ages: Grace v. Works. The works of the priest, the transubstantiation of the Mass were religious works, at least as the Reformers understood them, and probably as many if not most practitioners did. Today's liberals, whether secular or “Christian” are also legalists! What? They are anti-Ten Commandments, so they are anti-legalism, right? NO! There is NO GRACE without sin. Modernists do not believe in sin, so they CANNOT believe in grace. Grace , though entirely opposed to legalism, is not its mirrored opposite. Grace is not “no laws” as opposed to “lots of laws.” Grace is God's gift to those who heed His call to repentance from SIN. Through the Law we become conscious of sin. But if we deny the law, that is, IGNORE it, there is no consciousness of sin. Modernists fervently believe, like good legalists, that sin is “what those bad, bad guys do.” George Bush, Jim Dobson and the waterboarding crowd are BAD because of what they do. They are judged by modernists, both secular and religious, using a different, "up-to-date" law. This “New Law” is nothing like grace. Its function is identical to Old Testament law even if most or every law is radically different. It differentiates the good guys from the bad guys, us versus them. The Modernists are the new Pharisees. Now, I am painfully aware that a conservative Protestant such as myself is sorely temped by legalism and Phariseeism. I acknowledge this temptation and my frequent failures. But that doesn't mean that my theological opposites have an opposite temptation—you have the SAME temptation, and your failure is to judge by your new, more “Reason”able standard. Many times, the Wallis/MacLaren crowd is simply judging by a new law. They cannot be recipients or advocates of grace because they do not acknowledge sin as an offense against a Holy God. In liberalism's eye, God's standards are outmoded, and God has been reduced to their favorite uncle in a tweed jacket. (Or some feminist hero for the more radical crowd). This judging is ANYTHING but Grace. “God is dead” proclaimed the most honest liberals of the 1960's. The sentiment was never contradicted by the mainline liberals; only the words were changed. IF this is indeed what you have done, you have created a god in your own image, violating the first and second commandments. While a kinder word would be to describe some of this would be “modernist/Christian syncretists,” it would also be accurate to describe those who believe this way as idolaters. Now, there are many good people posting at SojoNet; I only offer these thoughts as a warning, and as a “If the shoe fits” challenge. Some of these thoughts are from J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism” He acknowledged that Christianity and Modernism would've also been an accurate title, and today it would be much more accurate since this is only vaguely related to politics. It's
Grace v. works. Some of the Confessions have embarrassing condemnations of Catholicism, necessitating explanations and qualifications in the Introductions that the PC(USA) uses to annotate their consititution. This sort of updating is good, because practicing Catholics (as opposed to “We Are the Church” de-facto protestants) have more in common with biblical religion than do modernists. Modernists include Secularists, and their counterparts within the Catholic and Protestant traditions. But it's the same conflict: Grace v. Works. The works of the priest, the transubstantiation of the Mass were religious works, at least as the Reformers understood them, and probably as many if not most practitioners