Friday, October 30, 2009

A Change of Heart

I just came across an interview with Dr. Ashley Null on Thomas Cranmer (ht Aaron Z). For those of you who don't know, Cranmer is the architect of the English Reformation, and is one of the key figures in the formation of the Anglican church. Dr Null is the foremost expert on Abp Cranmer.

I used to think of myself as an Anglican because of an accident of birth (i.e. being born in the home of an Anglican vicar) but I now consider myself one out of conviction. The chief reason for this is what Dr Null pointed out in his interview:
"According to Cranmer’s anthropology, what the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies. The mind doesn’t direct the will. The mind is actually captive to what the will wants, and the will itself, in turn, is captive to what the heart wants.
The trouble with human nature is that we are born with a heart that loves ourselves over and above everything else in this world, including God. In short, we are born slaves to the lust for self-gratification, i.e., concupiscence. That’s why, if left to ourselves, we will always love those things that make us feel good about ourselves, even as we depart more and more from God and his ways.
Therefore, God must intervene in our lives in order to bring salvation. Working through Scripture, the Holy Spirit first brings a conviction of sin in a believer’s heart, then he births a living faith by which the believer lays hold of the extrinsic righteousness of Christ. Of course, the perfect justifying righteousness by which we are made right with God must be outside of us, for the ongoing presence of sinful concupiscence in our mortal bodies renders it impossible for us ever to be truly holy in this life. Indeed, the glory of God is his love for the unworthy, that although we are sinners, he makes us his own."

This insight into the human condition and God's work in our lives has revolutionised my own life, ministry and preaching. This understanding also permeates the liturgy of the Anglican church, especially since Cranmer's single greatest contribution is the Book of Common Prayer. I have really come to appreciate and value the depth of the prayers, and how it points us time and time again to God's sovereign work in us, and how we desperately need a "change of heart". As Cranmer prayed:
Cambridge BCP 2O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A 2009 Ranking of Graduate Programs in Theology in First Things

I was alerted to this article from the Christian Journal, First Things by a fellow student at Wycliffe, where I am currently a doctoral candidate in Theology. It is a ranking of graduate theology programs in North America, done by the features editor of this publication. He also happens to be a professor of theology at Creighton University, and is well versed with the academic world in North America. What I was pleasantly surprised about was the fact that he ranked Wycliffe 4th in the North American continent!

When I applied to Wycliffe, it was not because I had an eye on the rankings, but because of what they had to offer in terms of the professors, and the way the system was set up within the larger Toronto School of Theology at the University of Toronto. So I was really pleased to learn that someone else (who is far more well-versed in academia) also thought highly of my choice!
However this is but one person's opinion and he admits that he has a personal bias, but as I learnt from Gadamer in my readings this week, prejudice is not necessarily a bad thing!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Can You Do It?

I have recently gone back to school and one of the courses I am taking this semester is centred around the theology of the reformers, specifically that of Luther and Calvin. In class this past week, we were discussing the bound will from Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, and of course the topic of semi-Pelagianism came up. One of my classmates used an illustration to explain this heresy that is too good not to share with you on on this blog.
He pointed out that a semi-Pelagian sees God like the Home Depot store whose tagline is “You can do it, we can help”. That set off a discussion about how pernicious this kind of thinking can be. It is actually fatal because it hides what the real problem is, and prevents us from fully embracing the gospel.
To use the Home Depot illustration again, it is like a person who thinks that all they need to make their home presentable is to get a fresh coat of paint, and maybe some new molding, to fix the problems they have with the house. When in reality the root of the problem is that the foundations of the house have rotted away, and it will collapse at any moment (ala Tom Hanks in “The Money Pit”). What is really needed is for the home to be torn down, and a new one erected in its place. That is why the Christian gospel is about death and resurrection—not “you can do it, we can help”!
So many times we don’t like to hear this kind of news. Someone in my class observed that Luther sounds so pessimistic and depressing in his disputation. Yet Luther himself points out how important it is to get the diagnosis of our problem right. In the proof for Thesis 17 of the Heidelberg Disputation, he says:
Sin is recognized only through the law. It is apparent that not despair, but rather hope, is preached when we are told that we are sinners. Such preaching concerning sin is a preparation for grace, or it is rather the recognition of sin and faith in such preaching. Yearning for grace wells up when recognition of sin has arisen. A sick person seeks the physician when he recognizes the seriousness of his illness. Therefore one does not give cause for despair or death by telling a sick person about the danger of his illness, but, in effect, one urges him to seek a medical cure. To say that we are nothing and constantly sin when we do the best we can does not mean that we cause people to despair (unless they are fools); rather, we make them concerned about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.