The Strange Consequence of Luther's Concept of Justification

Bossuet, in his History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, I, 7, gets to the point:

Justification is that grace which, remitting to us our sins, at the same time renders us agreeable to God. Till then, it had been believed that what wrought this effect proceeded indeed from God, but yet necessarily existed in man; and that to be justified,—namely, for a sinner to be made just, it was necessary he should have this justice in him; as to be learned and virtuous, one must have in him learning and virtue. But Luther had not followed so simple an idea. He would have it, that what justifies us and renders us agreeable to God was nothing in us; but we were justified because God imputed to us the justice of Jesus Christ, as if it were our own, and because by faith we could indeed appropriate it to ourselves.

The defect in the Lutheran concept of justification is that it is unnecessary to internalise God’s grace as long as our name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Growing up Episcopalian, I saw too much of the result of that kind of thing: people whose lives had little evidence of alteration by the Gospel, even though the New Testament demands such a transformation.  The Roman Catholic concept of “Christ alive in us” (the concept set to music at the start of this album) is better, although it’s wrapped in a defective ecclesiology and obscured by the Roman Catholic concept of merit.

What we’re really after is to make that internalisation the centrepiece of Christian life, and from that standpoint the Reformation is either the first step or the greatest obstacle.

Justification by Litigation Doesn't Work, Either

Certainly didn’t for the Episcopal Church in their “recovery” of the San Joaquin diocese:

What would you say of a trustee who spent $6.8 million of his trust fund’s money to recover just $1 million? Is that a healthy example of how a fiduciary should carry out his duties?

You probably already guessed before I tell you: the trustee in question is the Episcopal Church (USA); the trust fund is ECUSA’s endowment (some $366 million as of the end of 2016); the $6.8 million was loaned by ECUSA’s Executive Council to the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin to keep it propped up during its ten-year lawsuit to “recover church properties”; and the $1 million is all that the Diocese of San Joaquin is now able to repay after having been handed more than 25 properties by the crazy California courts.

There are several ways of explaining why the Episcopal Church has spent around USD40,000,000 to recover its property in this millennium of struggle that is the Anglican Revolt.

One way is to note that much of TEC’s “pastiche” is rooted in its historic properties (like this one) and that it needed them to “keep up the day” or keep its “brand.” But that puts the lie to a whole generation of social justice warriors such as this who wanted to break the church out of the “phony” suburbs and make it both relevant and reaching out to people beyond TEC’s elevated demographic.  (Face it, though: the course of the left since the 1960’s has been to backtrack from a real economic justice agenda, and we have the income inequality to show for it.)

Another is to say that TEC needed these properties to forward its “evangelistic” efforts.  And it’s true that property on the ground is useful in this endeavour.  But TEC hasn’t had a really good plan for growth since it appealed to the upwardly mobile in the 1950’s, and to say otherwise is to be  in denial, which certainly has motivated many to do foolish things.  The lack of practical growth plan is, from an economic standpoint, the key problem with its scorched earth litigation strategy: we got the property back, now what?  And how do we pay for it?

Yet another is to note the blind hatred that TEC’s left has exhibited towards those who didn’t agree with the pansexual agenda actively promoted in the church.  That was very much in evidence during the years Katherine Jefferts-Schori was Presiding Bishop, and say what you will, she was more up front about that than her male predecessors and successor.  But that kind of hatred doesn’t become people who a) come from a supposedly “nice” religion and b) profess and call themselves Christians.

And this last point goes hand in hand with the American tendency to put way too much confidence in litigation and its successful outcome.  Americans are drilled in the absolute rightness of their legal system and the “rule of law” that supposedly goes with it.  Winning a lawsuit not only brings victory to the issue at hand; it also morally vindicates the successful plaintiff, and moral vindication is what life is all about in these United States.  The best way to describe this mentality is childlike, but that doesn’t stop people from pursuing a lot of stupid litigation.  (That masks much of the élite table tilting that has gone on with Episcopal property litigation, but that’s part of the game too, I suppose.)

It’s not a pretty picture.  The main result will be the sell-off of properties to pay the lawyers and other expenses, and that can bite back, as Jon Bruno will tell you.  As we approach the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, we can argue about justification by faith vs. works (not a really good dichotomy) but we can be sure that litigation doesn’t justify anyone.

The Tasteless Suburbs Were the Creation of the Government

Well, somewhat:

What image springs to mind when you picture “federally subsidized housing”? Most people imagine a low-income public housing tower, a homeless shelter, or a shoddy apartment building.

Nope—suburban homeowners are the single biggest recipient of housing subsidies. As a result, suburbs dominate housing in the United States. For decades, federal finance regulations incentivized single-family homes through three key mechanisms:

  1. Insurance

  2. National mortgage markets

  3. New standards for debt structuring

I’ve discussed the left’s hatred for suburbia more than once, most recently in my discussion of the offshore oil industry.  But this piece shows that their hatred may be misplaced: it should be directed to policies which are part and parcel with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Without the credit controlling mechanisms and incentives that began with the creation of the FHA, American suburbs would not be what they are (and the housing bubble that crashed the economy in 2008 would not have taken place.)

I strongly urge my readers to go back to the original piece and look at the FHA’s mortgage evaluation list; that explains a great deal of why American suburbs are what they are today.

Inside of Intersectionality is an Intersection Where Collisions Take Place

That’s what’s going on in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighbourhood:

If “the revolution devours its own,” as the saying has it, then anti-gentrification activists in Boyle Heights, a heavily Latino district just east of downtown Los Angeles, have been feasting. They have greeted liberal artists and hipsters with racial taunts, vandalism, boycotts, and mask-wearing demonstrators. In several cases, they have succeeded in forcing events and establishments to move their activities elsewhere.

One of the pipe dreams the left tells us that, “if we could get rid of these conservatives, we’d have harmony and comity.”  No where is that disproven more consistently than in California.  We’ve seen the slugfest over single-payer healthcare and this is yet another example.

The thing the left forgot which engenders debacles such as this is the class struggle.  For all of their talk about being the champions of the oppressed, liberals have forgotten about the importance of class differences.  Gentrification, for all the improvement it can develop, runs up already high housing and other living costs, dispossessing people of limited means.  It’s little wonder the current residents fight back.

As someone who sees first hand gentrification taking place in my community, I have mixed feelings about the process.  On the one hand, it does make for a spiffier looking neighbourhood.  On the other hand, the pushing out of the existing residents is clear.  In the South, that generally means mostly black neighbourhoods, and these, with their churches, were the place where the civil rights movement was born.  And, of course, it’s hard to take when we turn over parts of town to the people whose main claim to greatness is getting laid, high or drunk, no matter what their income level is.

What neighbourhoods like Boyle Heights need are community organisers with a vision to make the place better with existing residents and self-sufficient economics.  Instead we have too many which use their community prominence to move to higher office; Barack Obama is the outsized example of that.

If this trend continues, what we’ll end up with is the same thing we see in Europe, where the prosperous city centre is surrounded by suburbs ranging from good to hopeless.  Not only will our elites have to go over flyover country, but they’ll have to speed through ungentrified places to get to the airport.

Was Augustine Really the Worst for Christian Theology?

One of the real shockers of recent American Christianity was the conversion of Hank Hannegraff, the “Bible Answer Man,” to Greek Orthodoxy.  That was upsetting to many who had followed his Bible answers for many years, but it was especially upsetting to the Reformed types, who basically acted like he had left Christianity.  (That sounds like what Sunni Muslims sound like when describing Shi’a Islam, but I digress…)  I thought that violent of a reaction strange.  Didn’t the Greeks work out the divinity of Christ against the Arians while the West basically watched?  Didn’t they define the two natures of Christ at Chalcedon?  Aren’t the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds of Eastern origin?

Some light on that kind of panic comes from Alexander Viet Griswold Allen’s book The Continuity of Christian Thought: A Study of Modern Theology in Light of its History.  (I’ll bet that Frank Griswold, Sufi Rumi’s disciple and former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, is a relative, but I haven’t checked it out.)  Allen is today mostly forgotten, but the Anglican world would do well to remember him, both for his good points and his bad ones.

Allen’s basic premise is that Augustine and his theology, with is focus on original sin and depravity, predestination, the eternal state of the blessed and damned, and the role the church in all of this was the finishing touch in making Latin Christianity what it was, which was much different from Greek Christianity.  Today, of course, Reformed types back pedal Augustine’s role in the formation of their idea. But such is somewhere between ignorant and duplicitous, and most of then know it: as this blog points out:

I actually believe that the contrary is true; what Augustine actually taught is being ignored and with the resurgence of Calvinism (an offshoot of Augustinianism) needs to be studied carefully. If you don’t think that’s true I invite you to look for books critical of Augustine. The only ones I have found were originally published no later than 1914.

Allen himself outlines the difference between Greek and Latin Christianity as follows:

The Greek theology was based upon that tradition or interpretation of the life and teaching of Christ which at a very early date had found its highest expression in the Fourth Gospel; while the Latin theology followed another tradition preserved by what are called the synoptical writers in the first three gospels.  The fundamental principle in Greek theology, underlying every position which it assumed, was the doctrine of the divine immanence–the presence of God in nature, in humanity, in the process of human history; in Latin thought may be everywhere discerned the working of another principle, sometimes known as Deism, according to which God is conceived as apart from the world, localized at a vast distance in the infinitude of space.  By Greek thinkers the incarnation was regarded as the completion and the crown of a spiritual process in the history of man, dating from the creation; and by Latin writers as the remedy for a catastrophe, by which humanity had been severed from its affiliation with God.

The last point is crucial, because in converting to Orthodoxy Hannegraff had (whether he realised it or not) inverted his whole idea of man’s relationship with God from the Augustinian/Reformed concept.  Little wonder the latter thought he had left the faith.

Allen’s solution to this problem was to shift back to a more Greek (sometimes called Athanasian) idea, and the road he chose was through Schliermacher.  Unfortunately for Allen and those who thought like him, this sunny concept of life and Christianity received a cruel blow in the trenches of World War I.  Also, its open endedness is a setup for passing outside of Christianity of any kind, something that liberal Episcopalians were blind to and which facilitated another catastrophe, namely the crisis of the 1960’s and beyond and the exodus from the church that followed.

Allen himself admits that Augustinian/Reformed types put a lot of starch in their shirts:

Once more in the history of Christianity, in our own age, an ecclesiastical reaction has been and still is in progress, which is based on the same principle that inspired Augustine and Loyola.  To the mind of a writer like De Maistre, seeking to impose again on the modern world the authority of an infallible pope as the highest expression of the will of God, the theology of Aquinas, even though illustrated with the brilliancy of Bossuet’s genius, seemed like shuffling, vacillating weakness.  Carlyle, who at heart remained as he had been born, a sturdy Calvinist, presents in literature the spectacle of one who finds no institution that responds to his ideal: everywhere appears weakness, disorder and confusion, accompanied with shallow talk about liberty; he bewails the absence of the “strong man” upon whose portrait in history he gazed with fascinated vision, whose coming he invoked as the one crying need of the time.

We see such attitudes coming back into fashion in #straightouttairondale Catholicism and the resurgence of the Reformed types.  But is this dichotomy which Allen describes all we have to choose from?  The answer is no.

Allen suggests an old antithesis, namely that God is either imminent or transcendent.  That was put in front of me growing up Episcopalian.  But it’s a false dichotomy, especially for someone who was converted in this way.  The simple truth–one I discovered in Aquinas–is that the omnipresent God is not created and we are.  That, in turn set up the compelling reason that God himself should enter his creation as a man and win our salvation, because his uncreated goodness is enough and our created goodness isn’t.  We don’t need total depravity for us to need God, we just need to lack the resources to get to God, which we do.

Allen rightly observes that, with the Augustinian/Reformed idea of absolute predestination, Jesus Christ is in many ways unnecessary, as long as God wills it.  (If that sounds Islāmic, it should.)  Some people who inherited the separation of the Reformation have tried to fix that problem, most prominently John Wesley, starting as he did with Anglicanism’s loophole, to say nothing of this.

To answer the original question, “Was Augustine the worst for Christian theology,” the answer is no.  He has his faults but he has his strong points as well.  In the same vein, as we commemorate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing the 95 Theses on the door, we need to recognise that the Reformation is in itself not a completed work.  It was not the end of making the Church right but only the beginning.

How Martin Luther Would Solve Karl Barth's Mistress Problem

As a follow-up to my earlier post, an interesting parallel to Barth’s situation, with Luther’s solution, from The Reformation: A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants:

None the less the Lutheran territories suffered an incisive setback, foreshadowing worse things to come.  In 1540 the political bulwark of Protestantism, Langrave Philipp of Hesse, became involved in a public scandal in which the theological bulwark of Protestantism, Martin Luther, was more than an innocent bystander.  The cause célèbre was Philipp’s bigamy and the fact that Luther had counselled him into it.  Philipp, like many other crowned head, was dynastically married to a woman he did not love, which did not prevent him, however, from having ten children by her.  The woman he loved made marriage the prerequisite of other considerations.  Divorce seemed out of the question, but not, surprisingly enough, bigamy.  Martin Luther, approached in the matter, discovered that in the Old Testament polygamy evidently had been practised without divine disapproval and counselled Philipp into a second, albeit secret, marriage.  Before long the secret was out–one might suggest that too many women were in on it!  Luther counselled ‘a good, strong lie for the good of the Christian Church’ in order to clear the air, but Philipp now decided that lying was a sin.  He was furthermore concerned about losing the good grace of the Emperor.  After all, he had broken the accepted moral and criminal code, for which the Emperor could hold him responsible.  Charles assured him of his benevolence and Philipp agreed, in turn,to prevent the inclusion of European powers in the League of Schmalkald. (p. 377)

Wonder if Barth thought about this…

What Karl Barth and Karl Marx Had in Common

A live-in mistress with their family, Barth first:

I just read a disturbing, I mean for me personally, earth-shatteringly disturbing essay by Christiane Tietz about Karl Barth entitled: Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum. As most of us know, who have spent any amount of time with Barth’s theology, his “secretary”, Kirschbaum was rumored to be more than a secretary; that she was a mistress…What they reveal is that Kirschbaum and Barth loved each other; more than that, they were lovers; more than that, Barth brought her to live in his own home with his wife and five kids.

And Marx, from Fritz Raddatz’ Karl Marx: A political biography:

Karl Marx had a son by Helene Demuth, his housekeeper; as a result of the most recent Karl Marx research this is now accepted as a proven fact.  For disciples and idol-worshippers the thought is not a pleasing one and there is no consolation to be had from emotional references to the prerogrative of genius, to Beethoven’s illegitimate daughters or the double love-life of the respectable bourgeois Dickens.  If Henry Frederick Demuth was Karl Marx’s son, the new mankind’s Preacher lived an almost lifelong lie, scorned, humiliated, and disowned by his only surviving son.  The spectacle of the Sunday order of march over Hamstead Heath with Helene Demuth trailing behind carrying the provisions basket is not merely humiliating but disgraceful. (p. 134)

Personally, from the standpoint of Barth I don’t have much of a “dog in the hunt,” as I don’t have much interest in Barth.  It’s fair to say that Marx has had more impact on my life and thinking, something that Christians on both ends of the spectrum find exasperating.  But the similarities in the two situations is strange, to say the least.

Depending on whether Barth and Kirschbaum sexualised their relationship–not a given like it is now–Barth’s greatest mistake was being on the wrong side of the Reformation.  Roman Catholicism would probably not be as condemnatory of Barth had he not consummated the relationship as his fellow Protestants are, especially if the Jesuits got into the act.  After all, people who marry with a divorce behind them can live together and receive the “sacred pledge of the Eucharist” as long as they live “as brother and sister.”  OTOH, given the irreversibility of election in Reformed thought, any result of Barth’s actions (assuming he was elect) in a logically consistent sense is doubtful.

For all of his wish to overthrow the bourgeois order, Marx was very bourgeois himself in many ways, from his preferred mode of living to his attitude towards homosexuality.  After the triumph of Marx’s disciples and their initial liberating moves (like Women’s Day) things got pretty bourgeois in the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”  They left the real work of breaking “bourgeois” sexual mores to the likes of Margaret Sanger and her disciples, and the effect of that is very clear today.

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