October 31st is here—a sacred day for costume stores trying to justify their ongoing existence and dads looking to raid our kids’ plastic pumpkins for a sugar fix. It is also a very special day for those of us who love the Gospel. Why? Because October 31st is Reformation Day.

(You can watch my short video on Reformation Day HERE).

496 years ago on October 31st a young German theology professor carried a hammer and parchment to the door of the Wittenberg Church and hammered his 95 Theses into the wood. They were 95 points at which Martin Luther questioned whether the church of his day was living in synch with the Scriptures. With no Facebook or blog posts to get people thinking about life’s big questions, Luther, like many professors in his day, posted on the next best thing—a church door (Al Gore would not invent the internet for another 471 years!). Rather than opening an app and refreshing their News Feeds, people would congregate around Europe’s church doors to read and discuss the latest posts. Luther’s post got Wittenberg and (with help from the newly invented printing press) most of Europe buzzing with questions about where the 16thcentury church had veered off biblical course. The Reformation was in motion. ... Read More →

The Secret to C.S. Lewis’ Success

Posted on: October 18th, 2013 by Thaddeus Williams 4 Comments

 

Clive StaplesI recently watched a disturbing video. A camera caught the head of a certain political organization; we’ll call him Lucius, attempting to convince a packed auditorium about the reality of moral law. Specifically, Lucius appealed to a real moral law above and beyond culture to argue against a right to homosexual marriage. What struck me most was less of what he said and more how he said it. Lucius taunted the crowd relentlessly, hurling insults like hand grenades. People often argue against moral reality by appealing to moral reality (e.g., there can’t be absolutes because look at out how absolutely wrong the crusades and inquisitions were!). But there is an equal and opposite inconsistency, namely, arguing for moral reality while breaking the very morality we are defending (e.g., real morals like love your neighbor exist, you ignoramus!). In other words, Lucius’ problem was that he did not argue his worldview as if his worldview were actually true. No matter what he said, the way in which he said it made it seem like morals like love and respect were not to be taken seriously after all. The medium refuted the message.

 

A WINSOME RESONANCE

I pray for Lucius and those like him, and I have certainly been guilty of the same self-refuting dissonance between what I say and how I say it. As God moves to mortify the theological bully in my heart and conform me more and more to the image of His Son, I find myself bumping into the same truth: That, as Christians, there ought to be a beautiful consistency, a kind of winsome resonance between what we say and how we say it. In short: we ought to do our theology as if our theology is actually true.

Let me clarify: I believe at my core that Jesus is supremely reasonable, that as “the Truth” and “the Logos” incarnate His intellect is something worth mirroring (See my last Good Book Blog post “The Logic of the Logos” here). I also believe that Jesus is supremely passionate, not like those whom C.S. Lewis described as “men without chests,” but having a sizeable and strong-beating heart, full of what Lewis called “just sentiments,” emotions of joy, outrage, sorrow, and compassion that were in perfect synch with reality. I also believe Jesus to be supremely holy, with a unique moral splendor about Him; and supremely loving, enjoying a constant and intimate connection with His Father and painfully committed to maximizing the joy of others; and full of grace, bestowing undeserved favor on those who despised Him; and the Masterful Artist who thought up poetic parables, pink sunsets, different skin colors, the sublime spectrum of glowing gases in a space nebulae, the marble patterns in a human iris, etc. If I believe theologically that Jesus is all of those things (and more!), then the question is this: Do I do my theology reasonably, passionately, morally, relationally, graciously, and artistically? Is there that winsome resonance between what I believe and how I express those beliefs? Do I do my theology as if my theology is actually true?

 

THE SECRET TO C.S. LEWIS’ SUCCESS

Often times I don’t. I have a hard drive full of theological work that might reflect something of the reasonableness of Jesus, but with all the grace of an inquisitor, the love of a pit bull, and the creativity of a monkey. The extent to which my theology is not reasonably, passionately, morally, relationally, graciously, and artistically expressed is the extent to which, no matter what I’m saying, the way I’m saying it conveys on some primal level that I don’t really appraise those attributes of Jesus with enough worth to imitate them. When there is such dissonance between what is being said and how its being said, we appropriately cringe, like when an off-pitch note turns a beautiful song into a sonic trainwreck.

However, when that beautiful harmony hangs between our medium and our message it can trigger not our gag reflex but our tear ducts. I think of Dr. Philip Johnson debating God’s existence with a famous atheist. Every time Dr. Johnson made a point of contention, the atheist pushed a button pulling up a PowerPoint slide of a giant cartoon bull, informing the audience that Dr. Johnson’s point was bull. Did Dr. Johnson return insult for insult? No. Right in the middle of the debate Dr. Johnson paused to pray publically and passionately for his atheist opponent’s sad battle with cancer. Dr. Johnson was not only saying that a God of grace, forgiveness, love, and power exists, he was saying it in a way that was beautifully compatible with that God’s existence.  We can hear the same compelling harmony in much of the Puritan literature that is all at once poetic and persuasively reasoned. This harmony between what is said and how it’s said, explains much of the profound and enduring impact of C.S. Lewis. The way Lewis wrote reflected consistently the reason, passion, love, creativity, and grace of the God Lewis was writing about. Lewis’ message shaped his medium, and hence his momentous impact.

 

YOU’RE WORTH IT!

Like these great theologians we must let the truth of what we’re saying infuse how we say it. Perhaps Johnson, the great Puritans, and Lewis thought very consciously about harmonizing what they said with how they said it. But I think there is something deeper going on too. The harmony of WHAT was being said and HOW it was being said was in large part reached because of WHO was saying it. In other words, there was something irrefutably Christlike in the characters of Johnson, the great Puritans, and Lewis that perhaps even subconsciously permeated how they said what they said. The WHO will, for better or worse, shape the HOW of WHAT we say. This means that character formation and doing good theology cannot be compartmentalized. The more and more we are conformed to the image of Jesus, in whom we find the most praiseworthy integration of reason, passion, holiness, love, grace, and creativity, the better and better we will become in expressing a theology worthy of Him. Putting the cart before the horse, however, seeking first and foremost to write good theology papers, preach good sermons, do good ministry, etc. we quickly become living contradictions to our own theology. The cultivation of Christlike character becomes the essential premise of writing, preaching, and modeling good theology. And, oh, don’t we all need more grace and character-shaping Spirit-power in that department!

Would you join me in praying: Sovereign God, make us more like Jesus in WHO we are so that a beautiful harmony can be heard between WHAT we say and HOW we say it. Make us the kind of theologians who express what we believe about You as if it’s actually true, because it is, and You’re worth it!

 

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YOU ARE SOOOO GOOD LOOKIN’

In our last post, The Clash, we examined the common argument against real morals from apparent clashes between cultures about good and evil. In this post we examine another common argument people cite to reject the universality of morals, what I call the Nurture Argument. The big idea here is that morality has to be taught or nurtured into us, and must, therefore, be an artificial byproduct of our parents, churches, schools, etc. For example, some of us learn commandments like “Thou shalt wear clothes in public,” “Thou shalt not burp at the dinner table,” and “Thou shalt say ‘bless you’ (or ‘gesundeit’) when someone sneezes.’ Because we learn these commandments, there’s nothing transcendent or objective or universal about them. We might have just as well grown up in a nudist colony where burping is a gesture of thanks to the chef and we all say ‘You are soooo good lookin’ when someone sneezes. Unlike the Clash Argument, however, the focus on the Nurture Argument is not apparent moral differences between cultures, but the fact that we have to learn our morals, which, as the argument goes, proves that we invent rather than discover morality. ... Read More →

 

morality1In my last post, 'Did Disney Help Kill a Goddess?' I argued for the existence of Venus, a metaphor borrowed from a Titian canvas, for the reality of universal morals, that goodness is not something we invent but something we discover (or as I’ll argue in a future post, Someone we discover). In this post, I briefly engage a very popular argument posed against the existence of universal moral reality. Let us call it “The Clash Argument.”... Read More →

Did Disney Help Kill a Goddess?

Posted on: July 9th, 2013 by Thaddeus Williams 3 Comments

 

 5523026213_347c0495ec_z

Take a look at the old painting above. Titian’s canvas from the mid-16th century has something massively important to say to us today about the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. The artist has painted another artist, a musician in the creative process, writing a song on his lute. The young musician peers over his right shoulder to behold a reclining woman, wearing jewelry and nearly nothing else. ... Read More →

Hume’s Inferno: The Fiery Judgment of Secular Exclusivism

Posted on: June 28th, 2013 by Thaddeus Williams 2 Comments

 

Fire

Religion has long been criticized for making one way of seeing things the only way of seeing things. Sadly, some religious exclusivity has led to some indefensible gnarliness throughout history (the kind of things that made Jesus' guts turn and ought to have the same effect on us).  Yet as a certain brand of secularism points this finger at religion, it finds three fingers pointing back at itself. There is such a thing as secular exclusivism.

For example, one way of seeing a flower is through the botanist’s microscope, to see the chlorophyll that colors its leaves, the photosynthesis that fuels its growth, the pollen that powers its reproduction, and so on. Some would have us believe that once we’ve seen the flower in this one way we’ve seen all there is to see of the flower. Romantic poet, William Wordsworth, famously said that, “There’s more to the flower than the botanist can study.” To disagree with Wordsworth, secularism must claim for itself an exclusive access to reality in which science is not a way, but the only way of knowing anything about anything.... Read More →

The Anti-Trinity

Posted on: May 1st, 2013 by Thaddeus Williams No Comments

 

antitrinityImmanuel Kant thought that, ”Taken literally, absolutely nothing worthwhile for the practical life can be made out of the doctrine of the Trinity” (The Conflict of the Faculties, 1798). I am convinced by Scripture and experience that the great German philosopher could not have been more wrong on this point. The one God who exists as three inter-loving Persons has everything to do with “the practical life.” The Trinity is a precious and practical doctrine, one that touches all of life—how we break anti-loving cycles in our hearts, how we pray, how we worship, how we do church, how we build relationships, etc.... Read More →

The Cure for Insomnia

Posted on: April 25th, 2013 by Thaddeus Williams No Comments

 

learning-while-sleeping

Can't sleep? Insomnia got you down? Announcing the cure: ReReform.com has added a brand new sermons page featuring a compilation of free streaming audio sermons. Simply click on "Sermons" on the menu bar and start listening. Where's God when life hurts? What is biblical meditation? What's the role of the church in redemption history? How do we help our utopian neighbors? How do we kill sin in our lives? How does the Trinity change everything?

Happy listening.

What Does Nicea Have to Do With Geneva?

Posted on: April 25th, 2013 by Thaddeus Williams No Comments

 

heartmetasThe Connection Between Biblical Trinitarianism and Relational Calvinism

When it comes to the debate about God’s sovereignty, there is a common caricature that goes something like this: Calvinists are all about God’s power while non-Calvinists are all about God’s love. Some scholars have even branded their non-Calvinism “relational theism” to set their loving God apart from the relationally challenged power-God of Calvinism. Sure Calvinists will also talk about God’s love, and non-Calvinists about God’s power. But wedged between them seems to be the question of which attribute of God is more ultimate—power or love? Must we side with either the power-God of Calvinism or the love-God of non-Calvinism? ... Read More →

Don’t Settle For Us (FREE Download)

Posted on: December 30th, 2012 by Thaddeus Williams No Comments

 

Clouds-over-Wailea-BeachI went out to meet you in the clouds at the beach. Each one held a sermon and the currents rose to preach. Clashing and inspired against the buzzing of the streets. They said, 'Our beauty's not from us. Our beauty's not from you. Don't confuse the windows for the wall you can't see through. And if you think we're humbling, majestic, and sublime, what if there's a finger painting every moving line?

Don't settle for us, don't settle for us, don't settle.

With His medium the spectrum and the molecules and time, follow every brushstroke 'til you reach the Painter's Mind. We're but a canvas who can't love you or stretch our arms and die. Our beauty's not from us. Our beauty's not from you. Don't confuse the window for a wall you can't see through. If you think we're humbling, majestic, and sublime, what if there's a finger painting every moving line?

Don't settle for us, don't settle for us, don't settle.'