Monday, October 31, 2016

Pagans, Politicians, Postmoderns, and LUTHER (NRH 10)

Cover adapted from statue in Eisleben

Lord Jesus, You're More Excellent (NRH 10)


"We need Poets!" cried Luther, Reformer and hymn writer. Sola Scriptura Luther believed that God spoke to his people in his Word and that in worship we replied back to him with our singing of hymns. Hence, the church needed able poets who could skillfully compose those vernacular hymns. The Reformation was first and last a recovery of the gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and Luther was a vanguard of that great rediscovery. He also understood that when the church stops singing its theology it will very soon stop believing it. It wasn't just Luther. The power of music in transmitting knowledge, philosophy, and theology was understood even by the pagan ancients.

"I would teach children music, physics and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning." Plato wrote this in the Golden Age of Greece; his student Aristotle would go on the write Poetics, and therein lay the foundation for the poetry of Western Civilization. Pagans though they both were, and deeply flawed in significant areas, they understood the power of music and of poetry. Combine both pagans with the Apostle Paul, celebrating the singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude, and in the name of Jesus Christ, and you have Christian hymnody at its best (I'm still striving, not there yet). 

Okay, this may seem like a stretch to all of us who are campaign-weary and fighting with cynicism about our politicians, but even dubious politicians seem to agree about the power of music, "Simply put, music can heal people." ( Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). We have to forgive Reid his exageration; he is a politician, after all, and also thinks the government can heal us and solve all our problems. Medical doctors, educators, dairy farmers, nurses, caregivers, and moms and dads know that music has a huge effect on all of us (even on cows). And academia has jumped on board too. You can earn a graduate degree in musical therapy, wherein you learn of the amazing power of music to help people recover from surgery, and cope with the effects of cancer, PTSD, and Alzheimer.

This is Reformation Day so I want to return to Luther and then introduce the next New Reformation Hymn (NRH 10). "Music is the art of the prophets," wrote Luther. "It is the only other art which, like theology, can calm the agitations of the soul and put the devil to flight."


Lord Jesus, You're More Excellent (NRH 10) (Long Meter, LM, 8.8.8.8.)

I began notes for this hymn during a sermon I was listening to at church. The preacher's text was in Hebrews. And my mind began ransacking the book, these texts being prominent in the phraseology of the hymn.
--Hebrews 1:3-4 “After making purification for sins, [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
--Hebrews 8:6 “Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.”
 
Lord Jesus, you’re more excellent
Than Moses’ ancient covenant:
God's Law you perfectly obeyed
And on the cross its curse you paid.

My Royal Priest is excellent
Above the dying priests who went
In yearly terror through the veil—
But Jesus once for all prevailed.

Lord Jesus, you’re more excellent
Than all the guardian angels sent
To guide our steps both day and night,
Since Jesus guards with sovereign might.

Great Savior, you’re more excellent
Than all the Devil’s arrows spent
In furious rage against the ones
For whom Christ died to make his sons.

Kind Jesus, you’re more excellent
Than doubts and troubles I invent;
Your life laid down, my victory won—
My Advocate, God’s holy Son.

O Christ, you are most excellent,
By th’new and better covenant:
Redeeming Love who took my part,
Inscribed your Law upon my heart.

O Righteous One, most excellent,
Your cross fulfilled the covenant;
O Worthy One, who took my place,
I long to see you face to face.

Douglas Bond, Copyright, March 28, 2011

Watch for the forthcoming NEW REFORMATION HYMNS album with my hymn lyrics, Greg Wilbur's musical compositions, Nathan Clarke George, and others. Coming (Dv) early 2017

"I HATE GOD!" Reformation Day and Luther in Grace Works

Temporary forgiveness: bilgewater of heresies
Happy Reformation Day! It is a happy day, happy because by grace alone Luther did not continue in his hatred of God. Grace in Christ made a conquest of Luther. Grace is generationally where the battle lines are always drawn. We don't really like grace. We don't like to think we are so depraved that we need it, not entirely. What Luther and the Reformers rediscovered nearly 500 years ago was that we need to keep hearing of Christ and his free and sovereign saving grace in every generation. It must remain the central message of the Christian church. 

This is the premise of my most controversial book GRACE WORKS, And Ways We Think it Doesn't (P&R, 2014). Most controversial, you say? Just as in Luther's day his most virulent opponents were those inside the visible church. But we must remember, the same was true in Jesus' day and the days of the apostles. It should not surprise us that the same remains true today. Hence, we need a reformation every generation--every day ought to be Reformation Day! In celebration of the special day on the calendar, I thought I'd post a few Luther-related excerpts from GRACE WORKS, And Ways We Think it Doesn't.


SCARIEST VERSE IN THE BIBLE
...Another expression of our sinfulness emerges in our resentment at the very fact of it. We're quick to accuse God of being too tough on us, of being too harsh. His standard is too hard. Why doesn't he just lighten up a bit? I’ve long thought that Jesus’ words, “Be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), read in isolation from the good news, constitute the scariest verse in the Bible. Martin Luther came to the place where he admitted that he hated God for his holy requirement of perfection from us. “This word is too high and too hard that anyone should fulfill it,” he wrote.
This is proved, not merely by our Lord's word, but by our own experience and feeling. Take any upright man or woman. He will get along very nicely with those who do not provoke him, but let someone proffer only the slightest irritation and he will flare up in anger, if not against friends, then against enemies. Flesh and blood cannot rise above it.[1]
But that doesn't mean we don't keep trying to win God's favor by our efforts. Luther told of his own desperate labors to appease God's wrath, "I was a good monk, and I kept the rule of my order so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery it was I. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, reading, and other work.”[2]
Only when we, like Luther, come to know how impossible it is for us to keep God's law, how futile it is for us to think we can win God over by our efforts, never mind how sincere or strenuous, will we be ready to hear the good news.
As true as it is that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," Paul hastens to tell us in the next verse that hopelessly unworthy sinners "are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:23, 24)...

LAW CREEP
...The great champion of justification by faith alone, Martin Luther, understood just how essential getting the distinction between law and gospel is: “Whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between Law and Gospel, him place at the head and call a doctor of Holy Scripture.”[1]
Why did Luther have such extravagant praise for preachers who don’t make a mingle-mangle of law and gospel? I think it’s because he understood the enormous damage done to the gospel by law-creep, when men allow the slightest degree of law-keeping conditionality to creep into the message of the gospel...

FULL-SCALE ASSAULT
...Notice that the same words are being used, and it sounds pretty good. But rearranging the order, even slightly, destroys the freedom of the gospel. The operative word is “alone” and nudging the keystone of that word out of place brings down the entire structure. For Luther the doctrine of justification by faith alone was “the issue on which the church stands or falls.” R. C. Sproul warns that there is a “full-scale assault” launched within Protestant evangelicalism against the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Without this doctrine, “the gospel is not merely compromised, it is lost altogether.”[1]


GREATEST FOOLS
...“It is just as impossible to separate faith and works,” wrote Martin Luther, “as it is to separate heat and light from fire!” He called all those who don’t believe and teach this “the greatest of fools!”[1] The instant we begin to separate them, we inevitably make works a requirement, a condition, of faith. Hence, Satan’s strategy is by all means to get us to separate faith and works--and to preen ourselves for the wisdom of our new discovery—but he never wants us to realize that we’ve become the greatest of fools...


TEMPORARY FORGIVENESS?
...I doubt Luther would have thought a doctrine of temporary forgiveness was anything like entering the gates of paradise, as he referred to his conversion. Imagine Luther’s glee at the discovery: “At last, I get it. Whatever else justification is, it is forgiveness, but only temporary forgiveness. O the joy! My burden is lifted—sort of, at least for the moment.” Temporary forgiveness would be more like having your head smashed in the gates of paradise as they clanged shut. 
Or imagine a hymn of praise to God about temporary forgiveness. The cry of the five bleeding wounds of the Savior in Charles Wesley's hymn would have to sound more like this: "Sort of forgive they cry, sort of forgive they cry; maybe not let that sort of ransomed sinner die." I can’t imagine a doctrine of temporary forgiveness warming anyone’s heart to praise. 

Not only does it make for ridiculously bad hymn poetry, such a declaration is devastating to the central doctrine of justification by faith alone; if justification is about forgiveness of sins and the Bible teaches that you can be justified and have forgiveness of sins—and then lose or forfeit it, the entire structure of reformational theology crumbles. It is precisely here where the confessional standards help Christians in every generation to continue to believe what the Bible teaches and...  

Douglas Bond is author of many books, including forthcoming LUTHER IN LOVE (forthcoming, 2017). He is also leading a LUTHER 500 REFORMATION TOUR, June 15-25, 2017. Space is limited so register (what better day to register than REFORMATION DAY!). You can purchase a signed copy of GRACE WORKS at www.bondbooks.net 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

REFORMATION ROMANCE: Mistress of the Pig Market, Part 3, by Douglas Bond


LUTHER IN LOVE coming 2017

REFORMATION ROMANCE: Mistress of the Pig Market, Part 3, by Douglas Bond (Part 1, Part 2)

After Martin Luther’s marriage in June, 1525, it would be more than “pigtails on the pillow” that would change for Luther. Theirs was nothing like a modern-world, grindingly protracted engagement; it was happening on the fly. “While I was thinking of other things,” wrote Luther, inviting a friend, “God has suddenly brought me to marriage with Katherine." After a two-week betrothal! To his cohort in the nuns’ escape, Leonard Kopp, he wrote, "I am going to get married. God likes to work miracles and to make a fool of the world. You must come to the wedding." Some accounts attach a postscript demanding that Kopp bring a keg of Torgau beer, and it better be good.

When the hoopla settled down, and the guests had all gone home, Luther, now a husband, was confronted with the real business of being married. And the school of character would immediately expose many of his relational weaknesses. For starters, he had become, almost overnight, the celebrity preacher and writer of his day. With his popularity came mounds of fan mail along with a legion of other responsibilities.

I could use two secretaries,” wrote Luther to a friend. “I do almost nothing during the day but write letters. I am a conventual preacher, reader at meals, parochial preacher, director of studies, overseer of eleven monasteries, superintendent of the fish pond at Litzkau, referee of the squabble at Torgau, lecturer on Paul, collector of material for a commentary on the Psalms, and then, as I said, I am overwhelmed with letters. I rarely have full time for the canonical hours and for saying mass, not to mention my own temptations with the world, the flesh, and the Devil. You see how lazy I am.”

Add to all that, husband to Katie, and soon to be father of her children. His new bride came to the marriage as an adoring admirer of the man who had been the instrument of her spiritual emancipation. She had even contributed a letter to the pile of fan mail. Imagine the twinges of remorse, however, as she came to the realization that the theological giant from afar was an intensely earthy man up close and personal. Forget his hygiene challenges. Luther was given to moodiness and depression, suffered from insomnia, had rumbling bowel disorders, and worked best when he was in a full rowling rage. “I find nothing that promotes work better than angry fervor. For when I wish to compose, write, pray and preach well, I must be angry. It refreshes my entire system, my mind is sharpened, and all unpleasant thoughts and depression fade away.”

We have names for this. Imagine a husband with such anger issues. Meanwhile, Katharina had the household to look after—without rotisserie chickens from Costco. Their cloister home would eventually be filled with six of their own children, an aunt and several nieces, four adopted children, as well as a number of student borders. And “my lord Katie,” as Luther came affectionately to call her, had to feed them all.  With wonder in his tone, he extolled his wife to a friend, “She plants our fields, pastures and sells cows...” He went on to explain that this included slaughtering their pigs, chickens, even the cows, making sausages, cheese, and even brewing her own special beer, custom crafted to be gentle on her husband’s bowels. What is more, their son Paul who would become a physician, swore by his mother’s mastery of natural cures for every ailment, even massage.

When did the woman sleep? On top of all, Luther had given her a challenge to read through the whole Bible. “I have promised her fifty gulden if she finishes by Easter. She is hard at it and is at the end of the fifth book of Moses.” Her copy of the Bible when she first took it up must have fallen open on Proverbs 31.

These were two busy people, both of whom together accomplished a great deal. From giddy first love, they grew into true marriage love, seen in many specific ways, including the titles with which Luther referred to his wife. “To my beloved wife, Katherine, Mrs. Doctor Luther, mistress of the pig market, lady of Zulsdorf, and whatsoever other titles may befit thy Grace.”
While Luther was rediscovering and proclaiming the doctrine of grace—justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone—he was also rediscovering the sanctity of all of life and all walks of life. Perhaps it was Katie’s wholehearted application of herself to married life that helped Luther see that pig farmer or preacher, in God’s economy, both were sacred vocations to be done by his grace and for his glory alone.
But will Martin Luther, when God gives them children, help Katie with the diapers?
Part 4 REFORMATION ROMANCE: Let the Neighbors Laugh, Part 4, coming later this Reformation-tide 
Douglas Bond is author of a number of successful books, with LUTHER IN LOVE, forthcoming Winter, 2017, a biographical novel on Martin and Katharina Luther. Bond speaks at churches and conferences, and leads Church history tours, including the LUTHER 500 TOUR, June 15-25, 2017.

INKBLOTS, Small Apprentices Under the Supreme Master

Solzhenitsyn wrote what he knew
Inkblots--cool autumn evening, maple leaves carpeting the ground, and three women and three men this evening, several regulars absent--and missed. We tried not to have too much fun.

I warmed over some of my address from last weekend's Fiction Festival on Solzhenitsyn. "It is the artist who realizes that there is a supreme force above him and works gladly away as a small apprentice under God's heaven" (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn). I want, more and more, to see myself as a small apprentice, giddy with delight to serve the Supreme Master Artist.
It is the artist who realizes that there is a supreme force above him and works gladly away as a small apprentice under God's heaven.
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/aleksandr_solzhenitsyn.html
It is the artist who realizes that there is a supreme force above him and works gladly away as a small apprentice under God's heaven.
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/aleksandr_solzhenitsyn.html
It is the artist who realizes that there is a supreme force above him and works gladly away as a small apprentice under God's heaven.
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/aleksandr_solzhenitsyn.html

Sophia led off on her first fiction story since high school. She warned us it was gritty but purposefully so, to show the beauty that change and transformation bring. There is tension and ugliness in the altercation between the husband and wife. I feel it. Sounds, car horn. Delilah undergoing a crushing comeuppance. Opening chapter, then backstory. What are the senses she uses? Descriptive narration is a bit too heavy but could be spread out more, integrated into the dialogue and the rising action, even adding it as descriptors to your attributions. Great reentry into fiction writing.

We talked about swearing in our writing. Should Christian writers ever have characters swear in their writing? Solzhenitsyn uses pretty coarse language in One Day, but then we should never justify doing something using an anecdote in place of hard evidence. I try to be guided by how the Bible depicts evil in speech and action. Do you think Cain swore at Abel as he was killing him, or Peter as he betrayed the Lord, or the coarse Roman soldiers driving the nails in Christ's hands? How does the Bible show me this? Never in a gratuitous fashion, never in a way that titillates, never in a way that glorifies the violence, or the cursing, or the betrayal. I don't want any word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph I ever write to serve as a stumbling block to readers, that nudges open the gateway and provides a conduit to sinning. For me, I don't want to write anything that sets me up to be fitted for new neck wear.

We discussed the tendency to put everything but the kitchen sink in our stories, a bad idea. John reads a later chapter of Saving Grace. Just like we used to... It's been a long time since we had a talk like this... Is this the best way to say this? Actually including the words in the dialogue is a set up for sentimentalism. It can feel sappy, inauthentic. We all know the feeling that comes over us when we hear it, a feeling that makes us want to divert our eyes, avoid eye contact with others in the room, that disjointed lurching inside of us that says, "Something is not working here."

How to fix it? Have her think this, not speak it. Saying it feels contrived. Her thinking it will seem perfectly natural. Grace has found Jesus and hopes that her boyfriend will too. Her lovely green eyes shone... Who is seeing this? When you move from your protagonist to someone seeing her eyes you derail the reader from the point of view you want him to see the world from. Next we are hit with a stunning revelation. Her mother had suffered the violation of a monster and aborted the child conceived by that violation. You have to change the name so that it does not violate the privacy of someone. Alisa said that you can use hard events from the past to inform the present, but here the mom's backstory overpowers Grace's story. Astute observation. I agree (though I don't think I could have put it that well). The mom's emotions are too raw for her to mentor her daughter. Sophia suggests that the mother be more veiled in her revelation with Grace filling in the gaps as she listens. Have the mom be more mature in her revelation. 

Alisa shared a bit of what is going on with the final editing and revision work on Swiftwater, her 1930s historical fiction novel, slated to release early 2017. There comes a point where it begins to feel over worked, too many cooks in the kitchen, to use a worn out metaphor, and how do you know if the editors are trustworthy? I always try to ask myself what is the kernel here? There must be some issue that needs my final attention in revision. Sorting out exactly what it is can be a challenge. We also talked about how there is no single author who does everything perfectly or even well. We need critics who go beyond simply stroking us for our strengths. Inkblots can helps us discover our strengths and hone them, and it can help us discover where the lead breaks on our pencil, our clunks, our default weaknesses that must be overcome.

Same pose as Solzhenitsyn...
On that note, I read two chapters from LUTHER IN LOVE, where I switch from first to third person, intentionally, when Katharina (first person) sets her pen to her memoir in third person. Why am I doing this? The climactic episode of the book is when the third person account meets Katie and Luther in their marriage. Up to that point in Luther's life she wasn't there. From then on it will continue from her primary point of view. Thanks Sophia for suggesting that Katharina needs more fleshing out in chapter 16. I will work on that.

I invite you to follow the sketches of Luther and Katharina's life I am writing in a series of blog posts around Reformation week called REFORMATION ROMANCE.

Next 'Blots meeting, November 8