Friday, September 28, 2007

Faith, Works, and the Blades of the Scissors

I'm reading James 2:14-26, which starts with this provocative statement--which frankly challenges my Reformation conviction that we are saved by "faith alone": "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?"

As is often the case, I turn to C.S. Lewis, the 20th century Christian writer, who offered a winning analogy: He replies that it’s like asking which blades of a pair of scissors is more necessary. Or, to quote another great Christian writer, Martin Luther, who struggled mightily with the theology, saving faith always includes good works: "O it is a living, busy active mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good things incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done this, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many good words, about faith and good works."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Spending Some Time with St. Paul

I've been teaching the past five weeks on the Apostle Paul, especially focusing on Romans, Philippians, Galatians, and 1 & 2 Corinthians. I've struggled with any concluding remark that might do him some measure of justice.

Well, I failed at that task, but there is one aspect of his life that struck me--that he loved to be in "partnership (Greek, koinonia) in the gospel" (Philippians 1:5) with all kinds of people--Timothy, Lydia, Epaphroditus, Luke, etc., etc. As the great New Testament commentator, F.F Bruce, put it: Paul loved the "syn" prefix in Greek, which means "with" or "co." So Paul spoke of "co-workers" and "fellow-soldiers."

I wonder: Are we, as Christians in the United States--who prize our individualism--apt to do the same?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Following After Jesus

Sometimes other languages just say it better. When the outstanding 20th century theologian and Christian witness, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote his famous book that we translate “The Cost of Discipleship,” he employed one simple word Nachfolge, which simply means “following after.” In other words, the German language title—and Bonhoeffer’s subsequent words—helped me to see that being a disciple is simply hearing Jesus’s voice and following after him. Following after Jesus… I’ve been pondering those unusual scenes in the Gospels—like Matthew 4—where the Simon and Andrew drop their fishing nets and hear Jesus call them to a new way. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” So often the puzzle to me has been this: Why did it happen so quickly, and how could they possibly have made that kind of decision so abruptly? Though I suspect the character of Jesus had a lot to do with it, I now think I may be missing the central affirmation: They decided to follow after Jesus. That’s what it means to hear his call and to be his disciple. I’m not sure things have really changed much...