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Posts Tagged ‘Reformation’

This is hard to explain and causes me a lot of anxiety, so I ask my readers to be charitable and patient with me.

Once I realized that I had become a Christian, I started reading the Bible seriously. In addition to reading reading, I also bought an audiobook of Johnny Cash reading the New Testament (it’s just amazing and I recommend it most highly) and started listening through it when I went running. I had read the New Testament a number of times before, but always filtered heavily through the lens of Mormonism. This time, I did my best to approach it without so many preconceived notions. I don’t know if that’s ever really possible, but I gave it (and continue to give it) my best shot.

I still remember exactly where I was when I heard Romans 9. It hit hard and then wormed its way into my mind. I spent the next six months, at least, just struggling and grappling with predestination. I read Augustine’s Confessions. The idea of unconditional election was really disturbing to me, and went against everything I had grown up believing (Mormonism has strong Wesleyan roots and has an Arminian-esque belief in “free agency” that is absolutely central to Mormon belief), but I could not shake the idea that it was Biblical.

So early last fall, when I was perusing Jack’s blogroll one day instead of working, I found myself on Parchment and Pen, reading some of their posts on Calvinism. I was intrigued. This was really interesting stuff, and seemed so much more filled with grace than the Calvinist stereotype. Somewhere I saw that they have a podcast, and one of their podcast series was called “An Invitation to Calvinism.” So I downloaded it and listened.

It was great stuff. Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley and Sam Storms seemed warm, earnest, knowledgeable, and authoritative. What they said made sense, and really fit with the mighty wrestlings I had been having with parts of the Bible like Romans 9. It felt like my mind was opening up to a newer and deeper faith in Jesus Christ.

I started following their blog, and then before too long I was reading the Gospel Coalition and Challies.com (which I first heard about from Tim’s blog but wasn’t really interested back then because ew, Calvinism). From there I found Reformedish and the Heidelblog. I bought the Reformation Study Bible. I read Pilgrim’s Progress. I was praying a lot more, and reading the Bible all the more eagerly. This was all so heady.

I became interested in the Westminster Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. I bought a Trinity Hymnal and a Psalter.

And lo and behold, I found myself reading Calvin’s Institutes, and just loving it.

And then I heard about Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Google it if you want, but I wouldn’t bother if I were you. It’s a charismatic/Reformed network of churches that is in the middle of a child sex abuse scandal right now that will make you want to vomit. And the sexual abuse is all tied up in an abusively authoritarian system of church governance that is of obviously Calvinist provenance. Church discipline that is out of control and far worse than the worst stories I have ever heard about Mormon excommunications. “Covenants” held coercively over the heads of members. It’s all just so obviously poisonous.

And then (thanks, Wartburg Watch) I also started reading similar things about Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, and the Acts 29 Network. Not the sexual abuse, but the same kinds of authoritarian spiritual and ecclesiastical abuses. And it’s all just different flavors of the same kind of poison.

So why does that matter? It matters because then I read about how much the people at the Gospel Coalition just have fawned over Sovereign Grace Ministries and it’s founder, C.J. Mahaney. And I read about how they all basically have closed ranks around him. And it matters because Derek Rishmawy posts at the Gospel Coalition. and so does Kevin DeYoung (I’m in the middle of a book about the Heidelberg Catechism by him, and I like it a lot, except every time I pick it up I throw up in my mouth a little bit because the back cover has an endorsement by C.J. Mahaney).

It matters because Michael Patton and Sam Storms are members of an Acts 29 church. And that breaks my heart because these guys seem like just, incredibly good and smart guys who love Jesus and love to teach God’s truth. My wife and I are about 3/4 through their Discipleship Program and we’ve loved it–it’s brought us so much closer to Jesus Christ and to each other. But at the same time, it’s not like I know Michael Patton personally. How am I supposed to trust him, knowing that he’s in bed with Acts 29?

I talked to one of the partners at my firm the other day, he’s an elder in a PCA congregation nearby. I’ve visited his church, and it seems just lovely. But in our conversation he told me how much he looks up to Marc Driscoll and “those Acts 29 guys.” What am I supposed to do with that?

How do I know how far the poison goes? How do I tell the sheep from the wolves? How do I protect my family from abusive churches?

Look, I’m not naive. I was raised Mormon. I went on a mission. I was endowed. I know for a fact that a religion can seem just wonderful and happy and Jesus-centered and Holy Spirit filled but really be rotten to the core. And I don’t think I’m being crazy or alarmist here: Jesus made this stuff absolutely clear. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” The Bible warns us again and again to beware of false prophets and false teachers. And I have four kids and a beautiful wife I have to look out for. So yeah. I’m wary.

What am I supposed to do with all of this? How am I not supposed to feel betrayed and distrustful? And how am I supposed to navigate this as a new Christian?

What am I supposed to do?

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Fall of Adam

I’ve been thinking about original sin a lot over the past few years. Right now my beautiful and sexy wife and I are working through Credo House‘s Discipleship Program, and in Session 2: Mankind, Michael Patton and Tim Kimberley (going back to Augustine and Calvin, of course) break mankind’s sin problem down into three categories:

Particular Sin: This is the easiest one to buy into and, as a Mormon, it’s the only one I grew up believing in. Weirdly, for orthodox Protestants, it’s actually the least important. Our particular sins are the specific sins we commit during our lifetimes. No big stretch at all to imagine that God will hold us accountable for them; even Pelagius agrees. It seems fair.

Inherited Sin: By inherited sin I mean a sinful nature, and this is more than just being born into an environment where people sin and we learn by example (Pelagius again), but an inherent sinful nature that we are born with. Not just nurture, but actual nature: an inherent propensity to sin that we can’t overcome on our own. This I did not grow up believing in (as Mormons are pretty Pelagian), but I have grown convinced of it since coming back to Christianity. I even wrote what I consider to be one of my better blog posts about it back in 2012. I really hope that you will go back and read it, but to briefly summarize in case you don’t, I believe that the idea that we are subject to inherited sin is actually a far more just doctrine than the Mormon/Pelagian idea that we are guilty for our own sins only, because it acknowledges the reality that we really do lack the power to obey God’s law:

You didn’t choose original sin; you inherited it. You didn’t choose darkness, you were born into it. And that is why the atonement makes original sin also a just doctrine. Injustice would be if God expected you to overcome your broken nature through self-discipline, which is impossible precisely because of your broken nature. Instead, God came into the world to free you from your broken nature: you didn’t break yourself, and you are not responsible for fixing yourself.

So far, so good. Original Sin: I’m on board. But then we get to the idea of imputed sin, and that’s a sticky wicket.

Imputed Sin: The doctrine of imputed sin holds that we are not only guilty of our own particular sins and guilty of having a broken and sinful nature, but that we are actually each individually and personally guilty of Adam’s sin. That absolutely flies in the face of our contemporary cultural ideas about individual responsibility, justice and fairness. Why should we be guilty for someone else’s particular sin? How is that fair? And I don’t know if I’m one hundred percent sold on it, but I am starting to lean towards it based on Romans 5 (and a drift towards believing in Biblical infallibility). The idea that one person can be held responsible for another person’s particular sin sounds ridiculous at first, but then, hang on, because it turns out that’s precisely how the Atonement works. If imputation of sin is not possible, then Jesus can’t die for our sins. And that sure sounds like what Paul is saying in Romans 5, if you read him carefullly and allow him to communicate to you with the precision that he intended (I think that Mormons are able to gloss over Paul by treating his wrigint in the sort of broad narrative sense that you can treat most of the rest of the Bible, but that doesn’t do Paul justice because unlike, say, the Evangelists, Paul was writing precisely and theologically, so we need to do our best to read him that way).

So I’m grappling with the doctrine of imputed sin, and I am coming around to the idea that it may in fact be a Biblically sound doctrine, even though it’s hard to swallow. The fact that it sticks in my craw a bit shouldn’t be a good reason to just discard it–if I do that then really I’m just giving authority to some other influence (my culture, my upbringing, popular culture, my political values) that I have less reason to trust than the Bible. And Jesus’s disciples were constantly telling him that his sayings were hard to accept–having to deal with “hard sayings” is a part of Christianity and means exercising faith when things might not make sense (and I think we need to avoid the kind of easy and arrogant read of Jesus that tames him to our modern cultural values and then assumes that the disciples just thought his sayings were hard because they were primitive and backward and didn’t want to forgive people or love one another like we are totally cool with doing).

So then that brings us to evolution.

I’m not really sure about how the Biblical account of creation and scientific models of the origin of life are reconciled. I don’t really think that my salvation depends on it one way or another, and I am comforted in openness by the fact that we know that some of the church fathers, including Ambrose of Milan and no less than Augustine, didn’t believe in a literal reading of Genesis. But if Paul actually described imputed sin in Romans 5, how does that work if there was no historical Adam?

I think that it’s a bigger issue than just creation vs. evolution, because if (1) there was no real Adam, (2) you can’t have imputed sin without a real Adam and (3) Paul preached imputed sin in Romans 5, then I think we have a problem. Because that means Paul preached something impossible in the middle of the logical argument of the book of the New Testament that constitutes pretty much the theological bedrock foundation of the Protestant Reformation. If Romans goes, a whole lot goes with it.

The issue is in my head right now because it has come up on Tim’s blog (in the comments to the post that I vote “Sounds Most Like A Death Metal Band”). I admit that I haven’t done all of my homework on what people are saying about a historical Adam in light of scientific theories of the origin of humanity and its theological ramifications, so I’m sort of asking the internet to fill me in. So, internet, tell me: can you have imputed sin and no historical Adam?

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I had an interesting conversation on the subway ride home the other day (actually it wasn’t on the way home; it was on the way to have dinner and see Rent with my beautiful wife for our seventh wedding anniversary, which is another story). A colleague of mine was on the same train–he’s an interesting guy and we’ve had a few brief but stimulating conversations about politics, society, culture, etc. Anyway, this guy is Greek Orthodox, and for some reason or another the fact that I’m an ex-Mormon came up in the conversation.

The interesting thing is, we didn’t really talk about Mormonism or ex-Mormonism for very long before we transitioned, and we started talking instead about Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism, and some of the issues that the two churches face. The big deal about this conversation was that my point of view in the exchange was Anglican. I was speaking not as a Mormon, or an ex-Mormon, but as an Anglican.

It was kind of awesome. We talked about the Reformation, about creeds and schisms, about theology, and about church and culture and the challenges that come from the interplay between the two. But instead of talking from the perspective of an ex-Mormon floundering about on a spiritual quest, I was talking from the perspective of a committed Anglican.

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