Thursday, December 10, 2015

At Advent May We Never Fail To Be Thankful

Trafalgar Square Tree

While preparing for Advent this week I ran across this beautiful story I had never heard before. Every year Norway sends a tree - a huge tree often groomed for years - to England to say thank you for their role in preserving and liberating their nation during WWII. For years they waited under tyranny for their freedom to come, and once it did they have never failed to say thank you.

During Advent we are reminded that we wait in the now and not-yet. Our world is broken and full of sin, but the Messiah has come. Abundant life and freedom have been given to whosoever believes in him for this life now. Jesus the King was born. And yet we still wait for the complete coming of his kingdom when he will reign in righteousness and justice, and of his peace there will be no end.

Advent allows us to never fail to be thankful for what has been given, and what is promised and sure to come.

HT: Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, The Time Is Now

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Links with Little Context

Bedeviled by my Wife's Dementia
By Douglas Groothuis
"Through these trials, Becky struggled to write and edit. As her health declined, each work became more difficult than the previous one. After writing two books, she labored for four years co-editing a major work on the theology of gender, contributing a long and carefully argued chapter. That was the last thing she wrote for publication. But page after page of my writing—books, reviews, essays, and academic papers—were marked by her corrections, questions, and deletions. We seldom argued over any of it. She made my work better, and we both knew it. Only God, Becky, and I know how much of her wisdom is woven into my work.

But she did not edit this essay."

Perception and the Cartesian Theater
by Michael Egnor
[Warning: Philosophy Ahead. Materialist and non-Materialist philosophies make a difference.]

"Locating perception in the sense organs and/or in the brain is a central fallacy of modern neuroscience and philosophy of mind. The study of perception -- central to cognitive science -- is itself unmoored from reality by the implicit or explicit presumption of the Cartesian theater. A scientist trapped in a Cartesian theater can have no sure knowledge of external reality, which is the very object of science, and even the study of the Cartesian theater itself entails merely an infinite regress of Cartesian theaters, a Lowes multiplex of subjectivity and exclusion from reality."

How Yale University Became a Savage, Bigoted Tribe
by John Zmirak

"America is ruled by a political and media elite that takes as self-evident truths a long list of outrageous fallacies. Like post-hypnotic suggestions, these false beliefs linger beneath the surface of lazy minds. They wouldn’t withstand ten minutes of sustained intellectual argument. Luckily for them, they’ll never have to. These cobbled-together opinions aren’t passed on through reasoned discourse, and rarely have to make their way through the rational sieve of the mind. Instead, they travel from person to person on a transmission belt of fashionable sentiment and self-congratulation, attracting new subscribers by dangling the hope of membership in a self-selected elite of “decent” people who hold “enlightened” ideas that make them sophisticated and praiseworthy. These views lurk in bumper stickers and status updates, are transmitted in winks and nods, retweets and likes, rarely brushing against the sharp edge of opposition. When you dare to contradict such a precept, its believer won’t hunker down to engage you. He’ll roll his eyes, nod condescendingly, and silently cross your name off his “list” of respectable human beings. The dialogue ends there."

Monday, December 07, 2015

Like a Tree Planted by Streams of Living Water

What a cacophony of pressures is the pastor’s life! What a job exposed to the conflicting expectations of people whose whims and moods change! What a vocation where many of the best-selling authors write books about “leadership” and volunteer management as though they were writing a manual for an international conglomerate of toothpaste makers, and simultaneously the prophets warn against such crass reductionism of the pastoral task.

The moment a pastor feels at ease with the prophet’s words, the pressures of week to week volunteer management and “leadership” raise their heads. It’s like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole against Cerberus.

I want to pastor souls and see humans made in God’s image grow in that image. I want to see them find healing – deep, real healing like they cannot get anywhere else but in Christ. I want to disciple and pray for people. I am unwaveringly committed to expositing Scripture every change I get while the “bigger” church across the way has chosen to use Star Wars for their Advent series. Seriously. I want to apply my vocation in the ways I believe Scripture lays it out for shepherds of souls, but some of those souls are rarely around. And when I come into contact with them, many are far too happy for a glancing conversation and empty promises.

Even when I feel like I know what a pastor is supposed to do, don’t I need others to know as well so we can get along doing God’s work together? Should I be concerned about that? If they don’t know, is that my fault?

I grow more and more convinced of the necessity of the Church’s role in our world as the bearer of the knowledge of God – both in what we talk about when we are together and how we live our lives. But very few seem similarly convinced. And I mean pastors and churches. Should I be concerned about that? Is it even my job to be concerned about that?

I will wake up striving to be at ease in the sovereign grace of God instead of trying to make myself at ease with my ability to manipulate people, programs, or budgets. I will pray more. I am more and more thankful for faithfulness and endurance when I see it. I am more and more thankful all the time for God’s great gifts of family and friends.

This Advent I will meditate on what it means to wait on and work for an all-good, all-benevolent, and all-powerful promise fulfiller.

I want to be like the tree planted by the streams of living water whose leaves never wither and who bears his fruit in his season.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

One of the World's Great Cataclysms Produced Two of its Great Authors

I read a lot of books. I read a lot of history, theology, biography, and philosophy. I cannot remember the last time I wanted a book to be longer that it was, but that is what happened to me in the last pages of Laconte's book. I believe the most useful kind of biography is one that pays careful attention to the history of ideas passing through the life of the subject. This means a good biography will not only mention historical and philosophical context, but find significant ways to relate it to what happened in the life or lives under scrutiny. This book does a marvelous job of doing just that.

I found myself overwhelmed with Laconte's description of the setting leading up to the Great War and the blood-letting facts of the War itself. It does not take much effort to overwhelm an attentive reader with the horrors of the world's first mechanized and modern war, but Laconte does a wonderful job of laying just enough groundwork to let the reader understand what it would mean for both Tolkien and Lewis to have been in the thick of some of the worst fighting. The Western world was awash in trust in the progress of humanity and all that we could achieve under our own steam when the War To End All Wars turned that optimism into deep and abiding pessimism at what humans are capable to doing to each other.

So, how do two of the English language's greatest authors not succumb to that humanistic nihilism, and instead turn to the Christian faith and hope in their work? In many ways, this is the track of the book as Laconte traces their faith, their friendship, and their writing. Throughout the book, he is able to relate the realities of WWI to the themes and characters of Tolkien's and Lewis' works. Laconte discusses the much neglected topic of friendship through what is possibly the most literarily productive friendship in the 20th century. Both authors know loss and grief and fold those lessons inexorably into their fictional works. Both of them know what it costs to overcome evil and pursue the good. Both of them know how hope in Christ works in a world full of false hope in human progress. The battlefields of France shaped those characters and stories. Their friendship shaped each other's work. And their faith becomes stronger than the humanism all around them.

If this review was helpful, please say so on Amazon.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Opposing Evil is Hard. Sometimes, Very Hard.

If I name something as evil, a necessary corollary is the moral duty to oppose it.

When you name something as evil, that label comes with necessary moral obligations. Because of the very nature of evil, when you call something evil you are saying that it ought to be opposed where it can be, stopped when it can be, and that you will oppose and stop it where you have the ability to do so. This is an inherent and necessary moral obligation with evil. If you pick up a single coin it has two sides; if you name something evil and flip the coin over, the other face is the moral obligation to oppose it. It follows that the greater the evil, the greater the moral burden to oppose it. And it also follows that the greater the evil, the greater the possible cost at opposing it.

So, when a culture looks radical and murderous evil in the eye and cannot name it as evil, what is going on? Simultaneously, what is going on when a culture looks at an evil and mislabels it in the light of clear facts to the contrary?  The refusal to name it as evil is a sign of moral weakness or even turpitude. And over time the refusal to name real evils as evils turns into a corroded ethical system and becomes the inability to name real evils as evil.

Yet, the human is incapable of living in a world without recognizing some things as right and some things as wrong (it is simply the way we are created). So what does the person who is incapable of naming real evil do? They put the label of real evil on either minor evils or things that are not evil. This is one of the universal actions of the human intellect – we cannot avoid doing it no matter how tolerant we think we are – and it is the move that allows most of the great evils in human history to do the most damage. While the bull is charging the crowd, these folks would have us worried about the mouse in the corner.

For example, our current Federal Administration looks at the same evil we all do, perpetrated by Islamic radicals who (almost always) are heard yelling, “Allah is Great!” and hesitates to the point of foolishness to name it correctly. Two current favorite fallback positions are to call that kind of evil either “workplace violence” or “gun violence.”* The first fallback makes extraordinary evil seem common and easily done by any properly disgruntled employee, and the second is a self-serving political ploy. Both moves serve to distract millions from the root of the evil, and thus allow those in power to avoid dealing with the evil altogether. Simultaneously they raise other, much more debatable or minor evils, to the fore acting as if they have done something about terrorism by addressing their politically convenient evil while not actually doing anything about terrorism at all.

Take this one step further and we get what happens in parts of the cultural left. When Islamic radicals kill dozens of people, they step in front of cameras or turn to their keyboards and say that Christians are as dangerous as Islamic radicals. No facts are given because no facts can possibly be given in support of such dangerous foolishness. In fact, lies are told to support this meme. Hitler was not a Christian. But now that we know how naming evil works, we know at least one reason why these people will stare at real, murderous evil, and name the peaceful among them, and even the victim, as evil. The cost of calling a Christian evil is far, far less than calling an Islamic terrorist evil. In fact, in Progressive, elitist circles, calling Christians evil is haute couture. You are the smart gal in the room if you manage to slip that socially acceptable lie into a conversation. If you want to fit in, why utter an unacceptable truth? (Another theory of mine – everything is high school. Peer pressure does just as much intellectual and moral damage in our 40s and 50s as it does in our teens, if not more.)

Part of the philosophical power of Christian theology is that it predicts this kind of behavior for us and thus helps us avoid it if we are wise. If we are conversant in our theology and reasonably faithful to it, we are not at all surprised that the human heart is capable of naming evil good and good evil. We are equally not surprised when humans are willing to make mincemeat of other, less fortunate, humans for personal gains in power. It is all there for the attentive mind to see. But if Christians are the bad guys, who wants to listen to them?  

*Talking about gun control and gun violence today is a very popular and hotly debated issue. It is true that evil and mentally unhinged people do violence with guns. But we need to be much more careful in our thinking than we typically are in this debate. Imagine a widget that, in the hands of craftsmen, does much good, but in the hands of cruel novices, does much damage. If we are smart, we would want to limit the use of that widget to craftsmen; the morally significant variable in the equation is not the widget but the person wielding it. It is no different with guns. We can have a legitimate debate about who ought to own guns and how, but to make guns the morally significant detail (and yes, often the only variable discussed), is to miss the point and to miss an opportunity to talk about where the evil really lies. It becomes a form of intellectual dishonesty, and in cases of real ideological evil, it becomes dangerous.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Pastorate: Both Local and Universal

My hometown suffered some recent tragedies entirely uncharacteristic of our self-image. Whether it is a little self-deceiving to believe it, we still see Colorado Springs as a sleepy, small town with lots of churches and conservative Christians (though in reality we are well over half-a-million is size, and mostly unchurched). With two “mass” shootings in the last two months, we are forced to take a second look at what is going on in our city. The pastor is uniquely poised to do exactly that because of what they are given to work with.

This has helped remind me that the pastor's job is always a combination of the local and current, and the universal and unchanging.

The Pastor’s Job is Intensely Local

The local congregation is a kind of focal point for the kingdom of God here on earth, like a child’s magnifying glass used to focus the rays of the sun on a dry leaf. The great and eternal truths of God are intensified when believers gather together to hear the Word of God, pray, and disciple each other. The presence of God is magnified when brothers and sisters in Christ join together to worship. Life with Christians over a period of time reveals things that would not be seen otherwise. The pastor learns what lies in peoples’ past, walks with them through some of the most difficult times you can imagine, and even gets to dedicate babies and baptize new believers. These events provide a local flavor for the pastor that cannot be developed if he or she has their study door closed and head in the sky. Some pastors neglect people for their study and thus miss the beauties and developed wisdom of living with people. Some seek broad acclaim and use their local congregation to reach the next rung in the ladder, thus using something God intended as an end as a means for their own glory.
The best pastors in our past were able to use their local congregation to meet the ends of both pastoral wisdom and deepening theological acumen (think of Jonathan Edwards on the American frontier and Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones during WWII). A pastor, as Scripture envisions him or her, is a theologian of sorts who lives, breathes, and works among a particular group of people in a particular setting. The local provides us with the warp and woof of daily life and naturally affects the pastor's work. But the local cannot subsume the universal.

The Pastorate is Inescapably Universal

In the local church, the pastor has the responsibility of communicating the truths of the faith once and for all handed down to us by the saints and communicated in Scripture. The pastor's text is (or, ought to be) the Word of God in all its full and varied wisdom. While we live within communities that experience their own seasons of blessing and cursing, the pastor is at their best when they bring the universal and unchanging truths of Christ to bear upon each season.

In our community's most recent tragedy, our congregation prayed for the loss of a sister congregation across town and reached out to them in Christian brotherhood, and those of us who have connections to those touched by the tragedy are reaching out as we can. But we also must talk about Christ. When the press of the current events seems the strongest, the church must remember to glorify the one, true hope of us all, Jesus Christ. Our Sunday text for the weekend of the latest shooting was Colossians 2:6-15. It was fitting for the church to emphasize Christus Victor on a weekend when we feel the weight of sin, and the despair into which it leads many. We must, as Paul admonished us, avoid false philosophies about human nature and false political utopianism, and keep ourselves rooted in the victory of Jesus Christ.

When the church proclaims the universal truths of Christ in an ever-changing world, we are the most relevant and the most powerful.

Consent as a Moral Category - Is It Enough?

[This post was inspired by a short Facebook conversation in which an individual appealed to "consent" as the kind of trump card in a conversation about sexual ethics. Further reading and research has led me to the discovery that he was not a cultural outlier. Many now observe, and I concur with this conclusion, that the only agreed upon category for sexual ethics is consent. Violate that, and you are in trouble. Violate any other traditional sexual boundary, and you are either ignored or celebrated.]

The term “consent” is commonly used now to describe what is and is not ethical behavior for sexual activity. It has been noted by several cultural observers that invoking consent is currently the one universal standard on sexual ethics. Because gender, marriage, family, and number have been effectively eliminated as ethical considerations, the current backstop against unbridled sexual behavior is the invocation of consent. With all serious considerations of human essentialism gone from the conversation about sexual ethics, is this enough? Despite the surface appeal it has as a moral category, it lacks all the force a real moral category needs in order to do its job. Consent fails to carry the ethical load it is currently given.

We find ourselves in a cultural position where the appeal to consent is replacing human essentialism (or some form of it) as our dominant sexual ethic. Human essentialism in this context is roughly the belief that there are things hard-wired into human nature that inform sexual behavior, uses, and ethics. So, things like gender, number, and community are significant concerns that persist over time and across cultures. In addition, issues like family and child welfare are considered as crucial to determining the value and ethics of sexual behavior. Without some robust form of human essentialism, all these concerns must be accounted for, and currently the place-holder for the chasm left by human essentialism is whether someone consents to sexual interaction.

Consent alone does not do all the moral work we think it does.

Can a 12 year old consent to sex? I will guess that most of those who use consent as the pivotal moral category will balk at saying yes, but it is quite clear that they can. A child may be so sexually informed (or exposed) that when presented with an opportunity, every indicator they give will look like consent. But if consent is our singular moral category, we find ourselves in contradiction with laws regarding statutory rape. These are old but significant laws that were informed by a much more robust sexual ethic which argued that people should be protected from most sexuality until a certain age of maturity no matter what they consented to. And if the "consent theorist" wants to keep their position and be in favor of statutory rape laws, they need to appeal to something else beyond consent to judge between the contradiction created in this scenario. They have then admitted that consent is not enough.

But what if the external indicators of consent are not genuine? Well, that is a thorn in the side of the consent theorist. If we want to rely on what is "really" going on with the 12 year old who consents, then we are not relying on consent, but some other set of moral or psychological categories that temper consent. And so what happens to consent? It is rendered a subsidiary moral concern.

In this case we find a situation in which an individual can consent and we still think the sexual activity is wrong and/or harmful. But if we are consent theorists, on what do we base that claim? If we have gone so far as to remove a form of human essentialism from the moral equation, where do we stand intellectually and morally in order to make this judgment in opposition to the consent given?

Can consent change over time? If it does, how do we judge the morality of the act when consent was given?

Of course consent can change over time and after the fact. This is so ubiquitous a reality, for example, that universities are doing summersaults to cover themselves legally from what is termed the “rape culture” and the fact that plenty of people regret decisions and make a big deal out of removing consent after they gave it. But if consent is our only tool here, we are in a pickle. Actually, it is another contradiction created by the removal of all other, far more robust, ethical categories. If we believe we can make judgments about the wrongfulness of sexual behavior after consent is withdrawn, our allegedly primary moral category is again rendered a subsidiary concern; it is most useful in the service of other, more robust, moral categories.

In both cases a sexual ethic that appeals to some form of human essentialism or ahistorical moral standards (like those found in some religions) is the more accurate, useful, and preferred ethic. Gender, age, community, family and other essentialist categories really do matter. We erode our sense of human essentialism to our great peril. Consent is clearly a moral category and very useful when reflecting on the ethics of sexual behavior, but we have found that other more robust concerns are also necessary to place consent within its most useful context.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

What Does It Mean To Politicize an Issue? And Where Do Pastors Fit In?

The same day as the Umpqua Community College shootings, President Obama gave an impassioned speech regretting the violence and calling for more gun control. In his remarks he made an interesting statement, proactively responding to an inevitable criticism of more calls for gun control. He said that some complain that he and others would politicize this issue and remarked that of course he would politicize it - it in fact needed to be politicized.

What does it mean to politicize an issue? A simple dictionary search comes up with definitions like, "to cause an issue to become a political matter" or to "try and convince others of your political views." These are true as far as they go, but I believe there are at least two other ways of talking about this that are more comprehensive and helpful, and are intellectual and sociological consequences of politicization. To politicize an issue is to inherently change the way we talk about the meaning of the issue and the potential solutions of an issue.

So here are two ways politicization affects public discourse.

It (normally) removes discussion about the issue out of the realm of true or false.

Politicized speech is a devolution of argumentation. By in large it will take an issue that is normally quite complex with several thoughtful positions and reduce it to a handful of expressions that can be contained in sound bites, scribbled on protest signs, and printed on bumper stickers and presented in a dichotomous either-or way. Regardless of how President Obama and others talk about gun control, it just isn't that simple. It doesn't matter how quickly pundits explain the situation in Syria, or the Trans Pacific Partnership, or fracking - it is not that simple. But, in order to politicize the issue, it must be pulled out of the arena of nuance, research, and argument and turned into something simplistic. The goal of politicized speech is no longer truth-seeking or persuasion by argumentation, but poll numbers and votes. Sustained thought and back-and-forth reasoning is not possible (in the end) with politicized speech, but propaganda and peer pressure are.

It creates the illusion that the best (only?) solutions to our common problems are contained in the political and governmental arena.

To stick with my example, if you want to fix problems associated with gun ownership, the only place to go is the government. Pass another set of laws. Write another book of regulations and that ought to fix it. Expanding the examples from recent events - if you want to fix racism, pass a set of laws and ostracize certain people and expunge certain parts of history. To politicize these issues is to strongly imply that with a quick wave of the Presidential pen and enough funding, we can solve these problems.

Now, don't get ahead of me here. I believe that every public issue may have political consequences and rightfully so. Most people are all for federal background checks for the purchases of firearms. Amendments to the Constitution securing rights to vote and the end of slavery are obviously good things. But those are political solutions to certain public problems that do a large degree of good. Taken to its extreme, it becomes the belief that the best (only?) solutions we have to large common problems can be found in government. This is the act of politicizing an issue.

And government clearly does not have solutions to most of our common problems. Racism, for instance, is a hatred/heart issue with social consequences. Laws and regulations may stem the tide of those consequences, but they will never deal with the hatred/heart issue. And on and on the examples could go.

Here is where the pastor and the church come in. Without a long explication let me lay this on the table: Christian theology is the study of what is true in God's creation and in Christ. Pastors and churches teach and proclaim knowledge about the way things really are and not the way Christians want them to be in the secret corners of their hearts. God is Lord over all creation and the church is the repository of his truth. The church has solutions to our large, common problems and pastors are tasked with proclaiming those truths in wise and winsome ways.

Pastors - take your place in the public square.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Amnesty International, The Military, and the Sex Slave Trade

The New York Times published a horrifying story about the rape and abuse of Afghan boys by Afghan militia leaders and the U.S. military’s position that our soldiers are not allowed to do anything about it. In “U.S.Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies,” US soldiers tell their stories of knowing about the abuse and being told to look the other way. In addition, when they did interfere they faced official charges for getting involved. (Most recently a Green Beret is fighting his dismissal over doing something about the abuse.) An article like this rightly strikes us as horrific because of our innate moral sense that this kind of behavior is inherently immoral and it does not matter who engages in it. Pedophiliac rapists are wrong no matter what their culture teaches. Then we are doubly aggravated because our moral compass is frustrated by the illogical policy that sex trafficking, rape, and pedophilia are overlooked exactly because we are dealing with another culture. So, we find significant moral dissonance with something like this – a conflict between two strong moral intuitions in our current culture.

The first is that this kind of sexual exploitation and violence is simply wrong. And by "simply wrong" we mean to say that there are not situations in which we can imagine that kind of violence to be right. The second is that we have become deeply hesitant to judge the moral actions of other cultures out of a misguided sense of tolerance. Who are we to say they are wrong? And currently, the wining force is on the side of this conception of tolerance. Even if we still see pedophiliac rape as morally wrong, our cultural institutions are hesitant to act as if it is wrong. Our moral instincts are slowly running afoul of reality.

This kind of moral judgement (many will see it as a lack of moral judgement, but it is in fact a cowardly moral judgement) is not limited to some recently uncovered military protocol. It is systemic in the Western world. For example, the vaunted international human rights organization, Amnesty International, has recently begun to weigh in on the problem of the human sex slave trade and their growing record is decidedly mixed. They recently passed a proposal regarding their position on the sex slave trade that is less than brave. It leans in the direction of decriminalizing the sale and rape of human beings for fun.  From an article in the Washington Post:

Amnesty International recently adopted a proposal that recommends decriminalizing the sex trade, a move that it says is for the human rights and equal protections of sex workers. This proposal instead gives amnesty to pimps, brothel owners and sex buyers by recognizing everyone in sex work as “consenting adults.”

The moral reasoning is as baffling as the conclusion involving “consenting adults”:

This industry is not safe, and Amnesty International understands that sex workers in many countries face high levels of violence, but it draws the implausible conclusion that the danger lies in societal stigma, not in the precarious nature of the sex industry and those who exploit it.

Amnesty International is unwilling to take a stand against an aggressive, largely anti-female evil on the grounds that calling it a moral evil might stigmatize the victims. In some insulated circles this sounds like brave moral reasoning. In the clear light of day it is dangerous and sophomoric.

I know how complicated the world of aid to women and girls caught in the sex trafficking can be. I helped found an organization that provides long-term support, education, and ministry to girls rescued from the sex slave trade here in the United States. If you want to donate to an organization actually doing something for these girls, I encourage you to join me in giving to Sarah’s Home.

It is obvious that the girls we work with have deep and abiding issues they need to work through for a long time in order to lead healthy, independent lives. And they are not “easy” to work with. But far and beyond the complications of working with the girls is the snake’s nest of dealing with government bureaucracy. It is impossible to work with any single organization, so you have to convince several of them of the value of what you do, which inevitably does not fit into the pre-printed boxes on their paperwork. And if you get one branch of government on your side, you still deal with the inane and CYA policies of the others. Over and over our work is hindered by government, not primarily the girls.

And one of the most significant issues we face is how to categorize these girls once they are in the system. Because the American culture is just now coming to terms with the reality of sex trafficking in our borders, we simply do not have legislation that helps the victims in ways they need help. Technically they are often processed as prostitutes, even at the age of 13, and when a wise Police Officer realizes what is going on the best solution they often have is to put them in the domestic abuse system. The first category labels them as a criminal; the second doesn’t go far enough to help. So laws and policies need to change to make the work a long term success.

All that to say, I understand that Amnesty International may not have pre-approved legal categories for the victims of sex trafficking at their disposal, but their solution is the dumbest and most harmful possible. You don’t help these kids by de-stigmatizing the organized crime behind rape-for-profit. If you are moral and brave, you take a clear ethical stand and begin to change the system. We did that in our own small way, and if there are courageous people at AI, maybe they can do the same.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Pastor As Public Intellectual

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Owen Strachan, The Pastor As Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015).

As soon as I heard this book existed I looked it up, read up on some of the details, and immediately purchased it. I knew it was going to resonate with my thoughts on the pastorate, what has been lost and what needs to be regained, and it had the promise of producing significant insight. It was only in the second paragraph into the Introduction when my pencil came out and began making notes:

Too many pastors have exchanged their vocational birthright for a bowl of lentil stew (Gen. 25:29-34; Heb. 12:16): management skills, strategic plans, “leadership” courses, therapeutic techniques, and so forth….Theology is in exile and, as a result, the knowledge of God is in ecclesial eclipse.

Amen, and amen. The goal of the book is to reclaim theology as the core of the pastoral vocation. In their educated opinion, and mine as well, theology has been successfully separated from the pastorate with serious consequences. In order to reclaim this ground, the authors delineate three publics, or arenas, which have laid claim on this change in the pastoral profession: the academy, the church, and the broader society. In each arena there are distinct challenges to meet in order to reunite the role of theology and the vocation of pastoring.

Their first broad argument is that the pastor is inherently and necessarily a theologian and is always in some sense a public theologian. As such the pastor ought to become a public intellectual, a generalist of sorts, or what they call an “organic intellectual.” The pastor is not as specialized as most academic intellectuals, but they are competent in the world around them, the Gospel, and in the human condition. So much so, that they are reliable voices on truth where these things intersect. They do specialize, but in the knowledge that is made available in Christ and his Word, and become adept at relating those truths to all that the church interacts with. If this sounds like a tall order, that may be for two reasons. First, it may sound like a lot because we have sold the vocation of pastor short by defining it in corporate and managerial terms. And secondly, it sounds expansive because maybe that really is what the vocation of pastor is supposed to be.  The authors write:

Pastor-theologians, like Solzhenitsyn, are generalists, yet with a difference: pastor-theologians give voice to the church’s understanding of the meaning of life – or rather, the meaning of the life hidden in in Christ (Col. 3:3). Pastor-theologians know something particular and definite, but strictly speaking, it is not specialized knowledge. The pastor-theologian is rather a special kind of generalist: a generalist who specializes in viewing all of life as relating to God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Better: the pastor-theologian is an organic intellectual who is present as the mind of Christ, which animates the body of Christ. (pg. 25, italics theirs)

With a lot of challenging materials in just the Introduction, I am struck by the vision of pastoring presented by the authors. Pastors are not small figures overseeing the management and volunteer structures of their fiefdoms, employing some version of the same old marketing techniques to grow their influence. They are significant cogs in the spiritual and public lives of their congregation and the communities they find themselves in. They have significant things to say about reality and the way things ought to be. They are not relegated to some kind of spiritual social worker who everybody really knows is just a glorified food pantry operator. They are the bearers and translators of actual knowledge and ought to treat their lives as such.

But in order for this to be true about the pastor, they must recover a vision as old as the people of God in which the leaders of the congregation are deeply serious about the things of God, the souls of the people, and the life of the world around them.

Pope Francis, Meet President Obama, and Welcome to the Land of Infantile, Illiberal Intolerance

If you listen to the rants of many political and cultural liberals today you might get the feeling that they are very a tolerant people. You would at least get the clear sense that they want you to be tolerant of ideas and lifestyles you disagree with. But there is a catch. The modern, liberal idea of tolerance is not what it is made out to be. To paraphrase a wise man, I do not think it means what they think it means.

In short, “tolerance” sounds like the virtue by which you agree to disagree and learn how to work with and talk with people who see things differently than you do. It might simply be called civility. In reality it is a label used to coerce and shame people into seeing things the way political liberals see things. It is the opposite of actual tolerance – it is a severe and short-tempered distaste for people who see things differently. “If you are tolerant, you will agree with us!”

Enter the Papal visit. President Obama and his Administration have organized a reception committee for the Pope’s visit to the White House which includes every imaginable dissenter from the doctrines and practices of the church in an attempt to make their position known. It is exactly what a petulant child would do to make sure mom and dad know they are angry and are not getting their way. A full article is at the WSJ behind the pay wall, but here is an excerpt from some reporting on Hot Air:

At practically the same time that Barack Obama has decided that the US has to shut its eyes to dissenters in Cuba suffering under the yoke of oppression by the Castros, he plans to offer a lesson in dissent to Pope Francis. Obama has extended invitations for the pontiff’s first state visit to transgender activists, a gay Episcopal bishop, and the leader of a group of nuns that want changes to Catholic teachings on abortion and euthanasia.

By lining up a veritable circus of people who openly oppose the Vatican, the President and current Administration are expressing exactly the opposite of tolerance and hospitality. They are making it clear that they are incapable of living with the Catholic Church in all of its historical catholicity. The transgendered activists are inflexibly right, they are asserting, and the church needs to get with the times. As if Christians have not heard this gripe before and outlived and out-argued it every time.

You might think that this is just one expression of a policy of dissent the Administration has adopted in order to express to the world at large one of the clear benefits of living in an American system where political differences do not get you put in jail. That would be nice, but you would be wrong.

I’m curious. When the Saudis visited the White House this month, did Obama invite women’s-rights activists to dinner with them? Did Obama invite Ayaan Hirsi Ali to discuss the need for reform in Islam? No? Which entity has more need for openness, inclusiveness, and tolerance?

So why does a cultural force that preaches so much tolerance fail so miserably at being tolerant of other points of view? This really is not a mystery. When a worldview loses touch with truths beyond its own making, the only way for it to promote itself over other worldviews is by force. And here, force can take the form of brute force, propaganda, emotional manipulation, peer pressure, censorship, shouting, etc. All of these are effective means to enforce your ideas, but none of them have inherent connections with the truth. If, however, a worldview holds that there are truths to reality, including moral and theological truths, then it need not resort to intimidation to get its point across.  It can, by the very nature of the convictions of the worldview, argue for its conclusions.

(In one of the great philosophical ironies of the 20th century, the Postmodern critique of Modernism as power can only be argued for through some form of power-wielding.)

If you cannot do that, you throw fits like a child. You make scenes intended to embarrass and shame people you disagree with so you can try and bully them into becoming as tolerant as you are.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Things you don’t want to hear your Doctor say, but which I have been told in the last 2 months.

I have a great deal of appreciation for doctors and nurses and all they do. Even dentists. My last couple of months, however, have been full of unexpected visits and interesting conversations. I hope you enjoy more than I did.

“When I put that filling in (1 and ½ years ago…) I made a mistake and didn’t go deep enough. That’s why you tooth is dying and you now need a root canal.”

(2nd dentist visit on the same day to confirm) “Yup.”

(During the root canal) “We are pulling an unusual amount of puss out of this tooth. I’m surprised you weren’t in more pain than you were. Either that, or you are used to pain in your head.” (I didn’t realize I was given the option of the Spinal Tap pain scale, because, you know, 11 is louder than 10.)

(After the first root canal didn’t take away the pain) “We have about 1 in 100 patients react like this.”

(When they decided to redo the root canal with even more medication) “We do hundreds of these in this office in a year, and almost never does a patient have this problem.”

(Conversation with an ER nurse) “Are you feeling any better?” “No.” “Seriously?”

(Same ER nurse) “We are used to guys walking in here with your problem screaming in pain. I don’t know what to do with a guy who isn’t.”

(From the same ER nurse) “I gave you enough pain medication to ice an elephant.”

“You have two kidney stones.”

(From the ER Doc) “When you got here, you looked like crap. Pardon my language, but you looked awful.”

(From the Surgeon) “We’ll pull that stint out next week. Without anesthesia.”

(An exchange between nurses on my way to the operating room from pre-op)
Surgery nurse: “We are going to wheel you around the corner. You have been medicated, so we can’t let you walk.”
Nurse from around the corner: “Can your patient walk there? We have construction in the hallway and we can’t get the bed through.”
“He’s not authorized to walk.”
“We can’t get the bed through.”
After a short, pointed remark from the surgery nurse and a trip to the hallway, he returned to say, “We are going to have to walk you down the hallway.”

With him in front of me and another nurse behind me making sure my already undone gown didn’t float away in the breeze, we made our way single file past the construction workers.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Bad Ideas Have Really Bad Consequences

The horrors of Planned Parenthood, exposed by the video releases by the Center for Medical Progress (the 10th being released today), are inevitable consequences of the worldview that created the organization. People are rightly shocked  to hear what they do to babies crushed to death in their mother's womb, or pulled out in-tact in their amniotic sacs and cut to pieces, or born alive and then scissored open to harvest organs while the heart is still beating. But in one very important sense they should not be surprised by the news.  For a long time large parts of the Western world looked on in shocked disbelief at the discovery of the Nazi concentration camps, but in one sense they should have been prepared for their existence.

It has been said a million times and deserves saying a million times more because people simply do not believe that it is true: ideas have consequences. And, logically speaking, bad ideas can have bad - really bad - consequences. Some consequences are an unfortunate and non sequitur extension of big ideas, and in those cases the ideas may not be directly responsible for the outcomes. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the way in which the Crusades are connected to Christian theology is just such an example. However, there are situations in which the consequence is directly linked to the idea (or ideology) in such a way as to allow someone to react to the consequence by thinking, "We should have seen that coming." In other words, that person is entirely rational in predicting an outcome before we know it, and may be able to do so with a surprising degree of accuracy.

(Some insightful historical research is being done linking Darwin to the more radical evils of the 20th Century, including Sanger's work.)

The destruction and sale of human body parts by Planned Parenthood is such a situation. The Progressive, eugenic agenda upon which PP is founded is so blatantly horrific that it is often actively suppressed and always deliberately blurred so as to hide its founding principles. Margaret Sanger wanted to kill as many of the poor, blacks, Italian Catholics, and Jews as possible, so she founded an organization to do just that. Additionally, what has been called Progressivism in America for just over a century is fundamentally secularist, strenuously rejecting any religious or ethical principles which may impose themselves upon our behavior from outside the ideology. When an idea/movement as powerful as Progressivism does that for as long as it does, we ought not be surprised when its most devoted followers take matters into their own hands and do things normal people thought were unthinkable.

Secularism Eventually Deteriorates Into Crass Individualistic Relativism
Here, I use "secularism" in two ways, one strong and the other weak. The weak version of secularism is the belief that individuals have the right to hold to religious beliefs as long as they know those beliefs have no bearing on the public square and our common lives. You can be a Christian all you want, just do it by yourself. The strong version may also be called metaphysical naturalism - the position that holding religious beliefs is irrational because no such thing as God exists. In either case secularism seeks to disconnect itself from ethics rooted in theology, and in both cases, public morality is reduced to a matter of power and propaganda and dying vestigial folkways and mores. The religious believer, qua religious believer, is squeezed out of the public square in favor of some other more so-called scientific and secularist form of morality.

When a culture unchains itself from the sun it will playact at a public morality for a period of time, but it will not be long before things begin to unravel at the edges. Publicly it will be assumed that people obey some form of culturally acceptable moral codes, often borrowed from its religious roots, but people are smarter and more morally devious than Progressives want to believe so they begin to stray from the agenda and do things their own way. Then it turns out that because we severed ourselves from any objective form of public morality, we quickly discover there is no compelling authority which has the ability to stop the horror show. Every answer to the secularist/cultural relativist can legitimately be a dismissive, "sez who?"

Secularism Inevitably Leads To The Devaluation of Human Beings
In order to protect the most vulnerable among us we need a way of grounding human dignity in places beyond current public opinion. If we can't do that, then certain classes of humans will become disposable nuisances. This has played itself out hundreds, even thousands, of times in human history in every conceivable form from the rampant enslavement of one group of people by another to a multitude of attempts at genocide. If humans qua humans do not have dignity and value, then humans are conferred value by an individual's decision or the public's current mood. This does not bode well for humans at the margin, and so it is today for humans in the womb and humans at death's door.

In order to avoid the horror show of Planned Parenthood, people need a theology of human personhood that speaks to an inherent and invaluable worth that cannot be conferred or removed by any individual or institution. Only then can humans at the margin be protected in the long term. But here again, secularism has served to remove that pillar out from underneath our culture's foundation and we are witnessing our own holocaust as a result.

The idea we need is the Christian valuation of human beings – every human is created in the image of God and is of un-measurable worth. No human being, no matter what stage of life, deserves to be torn apart for research and profit.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Choose To Follow Christ

"[M]any of us live our lives with the perpetual question, 'Lord, what do you want me to do; what is

my mission?' The common mistake is that we seek the answer to this question before we start walking the path of obedience. This is exemplified by nearly 50 percent of churchgoers who attend services a couple of times a month, throw something in the offering that is below 2 percent of their income, and hope to hear something that will get them through the week. They don't see themselves as disciples, learners, or followers of Jesus. They believe self-denial is for monks, missionaries, and ministers. They go through life being Christian without being Christlike. They never pick up their cross because they never submit themselves to true discipleship. In fairness to them, sad to say, often no one has taught them what following Jesus really means."

Your 'Get Through The Middle of the Week' Post

This guy is as talented as he is funny.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

I'm Pretty Sure a Good Theology of Joy Includes Laughter

My lovely and talented wife, Heather, never laughs at these guys, but that doesn't stop me from inflicting them on her from time to time. This episode, however, had her laughing and crawling out of her skin at the same time. It's one of the funniest things I have watched in a while.

Maybe the internet exists to watch other, braver, people sample Jelly Fish Jello.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Great Conteporary Text on Preaching

Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Viking, 2015).

I am a preacher, but I have a hard time listening to most sermons. I have learned over the years that I end up being frustrated or disappointed when I listen to most preachers speak to congregations on Sunday mornings. Often I am disappointed by the lack of biblical exposition and depth, and every now and then I am offended by the trite manner the Bible and its truths are handled.

Maybe I am too picky. Maybe I am a bit of an elitist when it comes to good sermons and what they ought to do. But I do know I have a conviction that handling the Scriptures for congregations and communities is a big deal and it demands hard work and prayer. Even though some pastors often sound like second-rate stand up comedians when they talk there is nothing silly about what we do when we preach.

If you are a pastor and you are not learning at least one or two things from Timothy Keller, let this book on preaching be your starting point. Having preached for decades in the spiritual clay of the north eastern United States and many of those in the middle of Manhattan, he has a lot to offer pastors on the ins and outs of effectively preaching the gospel to our culture. His book, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, is broken into three sections where he addresses “Serving the Word,” “Reaching the People,” and “In Demonstration of Spirit and Power.”

Keller makes one thematic point a few times in the book in a few ways: the preacher’s job is to be simultaneously faithful to Scripture and to God’s people. To that end he does a wonderful job defending the centrality of expository preaching, discussing how to make us of the whole of Scripture to preach the gospel and Jesus Christ, preach to a post-Christian culture, and providing an insightful outline of what it means to preach from the heart and to the heart. As a Pentecostal I find it ironic that the shortest portion of the book has to do with preaching in the power of the Spirit, but there is still much to commend in that he says.

I do not think I exaggerate if I say that almost every preacher would do good to read this book and put much of it into practice. As with all texts on preaching and communication there will be suggestions that do not fit everyone’s gifts and personality (and Keller recognizes that), but there are still plenty of marvelous and effective principles contained in each section.  If you have not paid attention to your craft in a while, or if you have spent too much time trying to sound like the guys and gals on TV, this book is a must.

If you find my comments helpful, please say so on Amazon.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Some Clarity on Tax Exemption, Part Two

In the previous post, I tried to make the case that non-profits are subject to several forms of taxation and that taxing non-profits further will either put a lot of good works out of business, or result in targeted discrimination. Now for a brief argument from religious liberty.

Tax Exempt Status is a Necessary Component of Religious Liberty
In a twist of mental gymnastics, those who fight most ferociously for the separation of church and state are now fighting the hardest for the entanglement of church and state.

Taxation is a form of behavior modification. It is an economic axiom: if you want less of a behavior you tax it, if you want more of it you tax it less. For example, states and the Federal government levy what are called "sin taxes" under the presumption that gambling, smoking, and drinking are detrimental to society. (Handily, they can also be taxed at high rates and people still engage in those activities leading to higher revenues.) On the other hand, the Federal government provides tax write offs for many activities including home ownership and charitable contributions. The tax write offs are intended to encourage certain behaviors. Plenty of candidates over the last 20 years have included tax benefits for renewable energy use in their platforms because they want to encourage the purchase of electric cars and the installation of solar panels. Behavior modification.

As such, the tax exemption of religious organizations operates under the principle of not letting the nose of the camel into the tent. If you let the nose in, the whole camel follows. Taxing religious organizations is a great way to allow the Federal government and the State to begin regulating the speech and behavior of churches. The Supreme Court has said so. In the 1970 Waltz ruling, the Supreme Court said that tax exemption for churches, "creates only a minimal and remote involvement between church and state and far less than taxation of churches. [An exemption] restricts the fiscal relationship between church and state, and tends to complement and reinforce the desired separation insulating each from the other....the power to tax involves the power to destroy." Taxing churches and religious organizations is a fast-track to entangling church and state, severely reducing religious liberty and speech, and creating a state-sponsored church.

If the Federal Government and the State begin holding certain ad hoc guillotines over the heads of religious organizations, the inevitable consequence will be churches doing one of two things: engaging in civil disobedience, or capitulating and becoming a de facto extension of the state's politics. And history tells us that every time churches capitulate to the state's demands, the pews grow cold when the dust settles the culture realizes that those churches were faithless and lacked the courage to fight for their beliefs.

Photo from USHMM

Some Clarity on Tax Exempt Status, Part One

More than once in our not-so-small hamlet of Colorado Springs public initiatives have been launched to tax non-profits in order to make up for the revenue shortfall the city consistently faces. Each time it happens the public argument is something to the effect that churches need to pay their fair share. Currently, with the SCOTUS ruling on Same Sex Marriage (SSM), the argument is being made that religious organizations ought to lose their tax exempt status because they (in reality, many but not all of them) do not conform to the newly minted SCOTUS ruling. Again the point is made directly - churches need to "start paying taxes."

I think a little clarity is in order (though, I must admit to a great deal of skepticism about the effectiveness of argument in our highly emotionalized culture right now).

We Pay Taxes
I am a pastor of a church and I helped to start a charitable non-profit that provides long-term support, education, and ministry to girls rescued from human trafficking in the US. I currently run and have run non-profits that own property, operate under state and federal tax guidelines, and hire people. We pay several forms of taxes and our employees pay taxes. We are exempt from a fairly narrow set of tax categories for which charitable non-profits must apply and prove they are eligible, and for which churches agree to a trade-off with the Federal government represented in the restrictions of the Johnson Amendment.

Having said that, I will say that the exemptions we are eligible for are a great help to churches and non-profits. We often operate on smaller budgets and different income structures than a typical business, so several tax categories are a significant barrier to entrance and a barrier to efficient non-profit work. For example, many people who give to non-profits are careful to pick organizations who can prove that the vast majority of their gifts go to the work and not to overhead. Overhead includes things like staff, taxes related to hiring staff, office needs, and office space. If your favorite non-profit began paying property tax, the percentage of your gift going directly to the work would necessarily decrease, often significantly.

There Are More Non-Profits Out There Than You Know
Did you know that many non-profits are news organizations and journalists' offices? Are you cognizant of the neighborhood recreation centers that run on paper thin budgets and are non-profit? Do you know that universities and colleges (with very rare exceptions) are non-profits? So, returning to the well-meaning but ignorant people in Colorado Springs who sponsored those petitions to remove tax exempt status from non-profits, when confronted with these details they did not know that they would likely put the liberal Peace And Justice Mission office out of business or shutter the soup kitchens run by the Catholic church they supported so much.

This brings us to the present push and the inherent tyranny contained within it. The current proposal is to remove tax exempt status from religious organizations, and more specifically, religious organizations that do not tow the line on SSM. So maybe the neighborhood community center is not affected, but what about the Episcopalian church and Southern Baptist church across the street from each other? The current argument has the implication that one is favored over the other for an ad hoc reason. One accepts SSM and the other does not, and based on that alone proponents of SSM want to discriminate and do harm. Why SSM? Why not the SCOTUS rulings on gerrymandering? Or the SCOTUS rulings on abortion, Civil Rights legislation, campaign finance reform, and so forth? In other words, there are hundreds of issues that could be picked on to discriminate with the power of Federal and State taxation, but this one has been picked by people drunk with current cultural power and who want to strike while the iron is hot.

As this particular form of tax discrimination moves forward be attentive to this form of argument, "You can keep your tax exempt status as long as you agree with us about X." This is tyranny and coercion pure and simple, which brings us to our last point.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Can I Love The Sinner And Hate The Sin? It's The Only Way To Love

There has been a lot of talk recently about the Christian doctrines of love and sin, mostly in the shape of, “I no longer can keep up the unbiblical fa├žade of loving the sinner and hating the sin. The Bible calls me to love, and that is what I am going to do.”

While I believe deeply that we are called to love in extravagant and radical ways – ways shown to us by God in Christ – I believe the recent talk about refusing to see people as sinners actually strips the Christian of the ability to love in this deep and transformative way. Contrary to the assertion that “love the sinner and hate the sin” is not in the Bible, it is necessary to the character and nature of God, and is, ironically, all over Scripture. It turns out that you are unable to love the sinner without hating the sin.

The first and most readily available analogy is the way a good parent loves their child. Any parent will tell you that they often live in the tension of loving their child while hating the things they do or the character traits within them that cause them harm. Have you ever known a parent in the middle of struggling over a rebellious teenager? In theological language, that is nothing more than loving the person prone to sin while hating the things in them that cause them harm. In fact, you might say the two sides of that parental disposition IS love. If you disagree, then you will need to convince most of the humans you know that a parent who allows their child to do each and every thing that will cause them short-term and long-term harm is a good parent. Obviously they are not.

And so it is with God. It is common for Scripture to speak of what God hates and why he hates it. Modern evangelicals don’t often think or speak in these terms, but maybe that is because many of us have been trained by our churches to conform the Bible to our current proclivities instead of the other way around. A small sampling of the Bible talking about God hating sin:

Isaiah 61:8 For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

Jeremiah 44:4 Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, ‘Oh, do not do this abomination that I hate!’

Zechariah 8:17 do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord.

Christ-followers are people who belong to this kind of God and are thus expected to learn to interact with the world the way God does. As a consequence, we are expected to have the same kinds of loves and hates that God has.  For example:

Micah 3:1-2 And I said: Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel!
Is it not for you to know justice?— you who hate the good and love the evil,
who tear the skin from off my people and their flesh from off their bones,…

Ezekiel 35:6 therefore, as I live, declares the Lord God, I will prepare you for blood, and blood shall pursue you; because you did not hate bloodshed, therefore blood shall pursue you.

Amos 5:15 Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate…

And then there is the passage in the New Testament which is cited most often to promote the idea of loving the sinner and hating the sin:

Jude 21-23 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

Here Jude makes a direct link between the love of God, our acts of love and mercy, and snatching people away from the sin that so easily destroys us.

All in all, the evidence is pretty overwhelming – the best way to love people who sin is to hate the things in their life that cause destruction – sin.

This is radical love. To refuse to acknowledge or talk about sin is a weak and easy way to like people, but it is not biblical love. God’s love is often very hard to live out. If you have ever loved someone who is not exactly like Christ, you have loved someone who needs the kind of Christ-like love that makes sacrifices for sin and remains loving through all kinds of trials and rejections. Jesus loved Judas. Not in a way that refused to hate the sin, but in spite of the sin. Jesus loved the woman caught in adultery when he simultaneously saved her life and told her to go and sin no more. Jesus loved disciples who often misunderstood him. God showed steadfast love to a nation of people who were persistent in their rebellion against him.

God’s kind of love recognizes sin and rebellion in the human heart and shows unconditional love anyway. This is the kind of love the world needs to see in the church. This is the kind of love I am required by my God to show. This is the kind of love I need – the love that sees my sin and saves me anyway.