Biblical Texts: Acts 17:16-31, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21
I gave myself a bit more freedom today. It is hard to describe exactly what I mean. The best I can do is compare proclamation and application. Proclamation is the announcement of what God has to say to sinners. Application is then the “what shall be do” question. I tend to be much more on the proclamation side. That proclamation includes the law – the 10 commandments. My application tends to be big broad strokes or examples. I hope that the Spirit is working in my listeners to bring the seeds planted to fruitfulness. Today though, I felt compelled to talk a bit more about an application. The proclamation is the resurrection life in Christ. The application is how we as Christians approach suffering and risk of suffering in this world. I think we are taking too many of our cues from the world. And we should change that.
Job 15:1-23, 30-35
Revelation and Reason, The necessary smallness of reason’s limits, why revelation can feel like resignation, the difficulty of discerning the difference between deep faith and lack of faith (why the lament of Job and the confrontation of Jesus are so often unacceptable)
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public life has a new survey out (this is the full pdf.) If you have read any of Prothero (this book is the closest on topic), the survey seems to be made to beat one of his drums – the desperate need for religious education. Of course that would help him as a religious studies professor. In one sense I completely agree with him, “Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion…It is time to address our national epidemic of religious illiteracy. I have called in the past for mandatory public school courses on the Bible and the world’s religions to remedy this problem. The time for such courses is now.” But I also have a severe disagreement with the idea of public school taught religion.
Why I have a severe problem with that is told by the pull line from the Pew Study – “Atheists and Mormons know more about Christianity than Christians.” (Here is a good round-up of links.) The ha-ha is of course they do, because the smarter and the more you know, the more atheist you become. Ha-ha, aren’t we so smart. My problem is not people knowing more. I’d love it if this data wasn’t true. My problem is that teaching the Bible or religion in a public school means it must be taught as comparative religion. The very act of doing that places the learner above or superior to what is being mastered. Placing yourself superior is never the act of a disciple. There is theological distinction called magisterial vs. ministerial and it is usually applied to reason. In the public sphere, reason is magisterial. That means that reason is the ultimate arbitrator of everything. What that means is that in teaching the Bible in a modern public school, the student’s reason is magisterial over the Bible. The student and teacher are superior to the Word of God. The ministerial sense of reason is more in line with the old Catholic phrase – “reason seeking understanding.” Or Biblically “I believe, help my unbelief”. The assumption is that the rule of faith – the bible is correct. Reason is a servant or a minister in helping understand how that is true. A magisterial reason, the only type allowed in a public school, is corrosive to faith. A ministerial reason is a help to faith, but it is not possible to teach that way in a public school.
Now for the graphs I promised. The first graph either says a lot about the quality of preaching, invincible ignorance, or I just don’t know what. What it says is that the level of knowledge on the religion questions Pew asked was completely invariable with worship attendance. Now maybe its just that the people attending weekly know a whole bunch about their religion and nothing at all about anything else. Its good that as a Lutheran preacher I take worship as being a spiritual activity of the Word of God. If preachers were being graded on “knowledge acquired” we’d all be flunked based on this.
The second graph takes a look at St. Mark’s attendance. I’ve got 140 names that have been to at least 1 service in the past year. Of those 140, 44 or 31% have attended less than 10% of the Sundays this calendar year. After carving out that group, the attendance is a little more normal distributed. Roughly 12 that attend monthly, 27 that attend almost twice a month, 26 that attend a little over twice a month, 17 that are present 3 out of 4 Sundays, and 14 that are present almost every Sunday. If the Pew survey is true, the 44 know more facts about Christianity than the others, and the rest all know about the same.
Also, to those 44, you’re on my list. I want to see you next week. Its good for your soul.
Although I think it was said shorter in a couple of places like: Luke 12:23-25 (“who can add a single hour to his span of life?) or Philippians 1:21-23 or Luke 17:33 or Matt 6:11 (daily bread) or Exod 16:18-20 (the manna only lasts one day) or a whole bunch of others.
With great effort, pure reason can get us enough truth to despair or at best a stoic acceptance. What it can’t do is provide the complete picture. That requires revelation. And revelation requires faith. It is not a faith grounded in nothing – the resurrection is not nothing. But it is still faith. Faith that while we do not own our future (or our past, or even our present), there is one who does. And he has promised good to us. Are you not worth more than the grass of the field that is here today and tomorrow tossed into the fire?
That title was Luther at Worms. He would not recant (what he as being commanded to do) unless someone could show him from the Scriptures and simple reason why he was wrong or where he had made error.
The thought comes up as Reformation Day is coming up and I was reading something out of the normal way by C. S. Lewis from Christian Reflections.
The authority of many wise men in many different times and places forbids me to regard the spiritual world as an illusion. My reason, showing me the apparently isoluable difficulties of materialism and proving that the hypothesis of a spiritual world covers far more of the fact with far fewer assumptions, forbids me again. My experience even of such feeble attempts as I have meade to live the spiritual life…forbid me again.
A mid-20th century Oxford Don well schooled in logic and reason concludes that reason has shown him “the isoluable difficulties of materialism” and employs Occam’s Razor to rule in a spiritual world. How different than today!
His central argument is that our fight, the struggle of the Christian life, is not between faith and reason, but between faith and sight.
When once passion take part in the game, human reason, unassisted by Grace, has about as much chance of retaining its hold on truths already gains as a snowflake has of retaining its consistency in the mouth of a blast furnace.
Reason has its starting points. It is always a minister and never the master. The question moves to what do you see as real. Are the passions or dis-passions of this world what are real, or the revelation of Jesus Christ. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Heb 11:1) We do not get reasoned out of faith. We get scared by what it means if our religion is actually real – if we saw the reality in all its glory.