The “No” and the “Yes” of Jesus

One of the resources I use as a Lutheran to help people understand the tradition is a small book called Baptized, We Live: Lutheranism As a Way of Life, by Daniel Erlander.

One of the book’s strengths is its consistent rejection of a “theology of glory” for a “theology of the cross,” and its insistence on the Christian way as a way initiated and sustained by God’s grace from beginning to end. This leaves us free, as Erlander says, “to be weak, to be honest, to be interdependent, to be vulnerable, to LOVE.”

Here is an excerpt from Baptized We Live, a list of “forms of religion” that the Lutheran way finds wanting because they, in some form or fashion, depend upon something other than that amazing grace. I don’t necessarily find all of these equally persuasive with regard to Erlander’s point — some are certainly much stronger than others and I might state some differently. But I do find this to be a list that is worth putting out there for discussion, so I hope you’ll consider it and chime in today.

Erlander writes:

We share the NO of Jesus when we reject any form of religion which promotes or validates itself by human reason, human persuasion, human power, or by offering “cheap grace.”

We share the NO of Jesus when we reject:

  • religion which proves itself by miracles, answered prayer, worldly blessings, fulfilled prophecy or rational thought.
  • religious which validates itself by worldly standards of success, strength, effectiveness.
  • religion which uses worldly power techniques to make history come out right or to force society to fit a certain definition of “righteousness.”
  • religion which promises certitude, life without questions or risk — a security often provided by an infallible leader or an infallible book.
  • religion which asks us to only believe doctrines about God rather than introducing us to a living God who calls for radical change.
  • religion which offers the joy of “living with Jesus” without facing our sinful ways — our egotistical, over-consumptive, earth-destroying, people-oppressing patterns of life.
  • religion which offers personal salvation without living, serving, growing, struggling, and celebrating with the body of Christ, the church.
  • religion which avoids the pervasive Biblical themes of sharing food with the hungry, caring about the poor and oppressed, living as good stewards of God’s creation.
  • religion which fulfills our human need to have higher status than others, to be better than others, to have “outsiders” or “unbelievers” to despise.
  • religion which provides divine approval for the assumption of a particular nation, culture, society, economic system, or race.
  • religion which provides a way we can bargain for, work for, or earn our status as saved persons.
  • religion which teaches “going to heaven when I die” as the main reason to believe in God.
  • religion which avoids teaching that the crucifixion is both the sacrificial atoning act of Christ and the example of the way of Christ we are to follow.

Baptized into Christ, we reject, as he did, the theology of glory.

Jesus said YES to the way of the cross — the way of…

  • submission to the will of the Father.
  • absolute trust in the Father.
  • dedication to human liberation.
  • solidarity with human pain.
  • freedom to be human, weak, and vulnerable.

57 thoughts on “The “No” and the “Yes” of Jesus

  1. Dana – do you ever find it hard that God allows his children to suffer so? It’s probably the last thing I should be reading right now in my life, I need to be thinking about the kindness & fatherliness of God, the one who tucks us under his wings.

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  2. I guess the truth is that I just don’t find the lore about many of the Protestant “saints” inspiring or credible. But then, if I think about it, I feel the same way about the hagiography of many of the canonized Saints of the older Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Mr. Rogers is a good example: to my wife, his television kindness and gentleness were a spirit-buoying grace during her very traumatic and difficult childhood; to me, he seemed neither believable nor inspiring, and I had no interest in him. The problem lay in me.

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  3. “Where is the public evidence that living a holy Christian life is more than a two thousand year old fantasy? Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox would point to the lives of the Saints as that evidence, and as exemplars of how to walk the path.”
    You are answering your own question a bit here. There are well known exemplar Protestants, too (OK people may disagree with my examples): e.g. John Wesley, the Evangelical abolitionists, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mr Rogers, Quaker pacifists etc and there are also many, many Christians of all persuasions out there quietly getting on doing amazing things inspired by their faith.
    As to how, the method is well known: regular communion, private prayer and devotion, regular reading of the Bible and study, persistence acts of charity, compassion and love and the practice of self control.

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  4. the evangelical program of ‘these are the sinners we hate’ has overtaken their witness and the world sees the negativity only

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  5. When I quoted “and the rich he hath sent empty away” to my On-Fire-For-Jesus Pentecostal coworker, he said, “That’s not in the Bible….”

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  6. Yes, but all my questions here are two, or multi, part: What does it look like in human form, outside of its embodiment in Christ? Where’s the human proof (I’m not talking about airtight logical or scientific proof here, but human proof!) that it is possible to walk this path and arrive somewhere I should go? How do I learn to walk the path, and recognize its markings? Where is the public evidence that living a holy Christian life is more than a two thousand year old fantasy? Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox would point to the lives of the Saints as that evidence, and as exemplars of how to walk the path.

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  7. “The problem is that, while he urges us to be transformed by Christ, he doesn’t give us a picture of what that transformation will look like if it’s undertaken and lived into.”
    Answer:
    “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
    It is love which is the fulfilling of the law, and therefore love which is righteousness. I’m sort of with Burro on this one, at least where he says: “Insamuch as behaviors like that reflect the interior state a man’s soul, I tend to think of them as righteousness.”

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  8. I want to ask: But how, pastor? Yes, I can accept that you may not have all or even most of the answers, and you may not have the answers that I in particular need, but you, and the Church, should be able to point to those who have some of those answers, you should be able to provide direction to those human resources in previous times as well as our own.

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  9. Righteousness is the long and arduous transformation of ourselves through the crucible, the sacrificing of our high ego standing into the image of Christ. It is a painful process. One I don’t think we are well suited to in this day and age of fast food and 140 letter tweets. Everything quick and easily discernible. It is the uniting of our spirit to God’s. It is the working out, “with fear and trembling” of our salvation. It’s a noun and a verb. Like love it is a state of union. There. I said a couple a more things.

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  10. Martin Landau’s character is subsumed in the darkness, not kicking at it. “We rationalize, we deny or we can’t go on living.” He is secretly confessing to a murder by putting it in story form. He could never confess directly because he can’t admit that darkness is in him or how could he go on living? He is constantly on the run from himself. That is my point. The whole thing is recognizing the desperate evil and sizing it up in the light, not denying it. Community service is good and necessary but righteousness is a different thing. Paul refers to the mystery of iniquity. He might equally have referred to the mystery of righteousness. You can’t find one without the other. What does light mean in the absence of darkness? I’m not sure what else I can say about it.

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  11. It worries me that lately I find that I agree with you in this matter, Burro. Our Lutheran church has recently hired a new pastor who is quite young, and quite Lutheran in his theological orientation. I like him very much, and am especially delighted that he seems to have a very strong and personal faith in Jesus Christ, in his Lordship, life, cross, resurrection, ascension, and future coming. He really believes, and his sincere and strong faith has provided a much needed shot in the arm to our congregational convictions. His sermons do more than touch on the transformative power of Jesus in the life of believers, and he urges us to seek that transformation in personal encounter with Jesus Christ. All this is good, and I appreciate it immensely, and am thankful.

    The problem is that, while he urges us to be transformed by Christ, he doesn’t give us a picture of what that transformation will look like if it’s undertaken and lived into. He stresses that we need to avail ourselves of confession and the Eucharist, and that these are the primary ways that Christ will transform us. That’s well and good, but, aside from the very daunting picture of holiness that we as Christians all have in Jesus Christ, where can we look for examples of sanctified human lives to inspire us and give us hope that we can also attain to something better than our current state? What are the methods that helped them in their journey? And what were the milestones and obstacles they encountered along the way, and that we are likely to encounter as well? There are few human resources in the traditions of Lutheranism, or Protestantism in general, to help us with this; we more or less fly by the seat of our pants.

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  12. Yes, that. That is a beautiful drawing.

    Our Lady consoles our mother. “It’s OK. Everything is going to be all right.”

    Liberation from the serpent that coils in our own hearts.

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  13. Righteousness is an inner state, mildly recognizable to the outside world, of holding and letting go.

    I’m kind of a big fan of “simple recognizable behaviors”; staying faithful to your wife, returning borrowed property, fulfilling promises, doing your part in the community, not offering bribes to jump the queue, not lying, Insamuch as behaviors like that reflect the interior state a man’s soul, I tend to think of them as righteousness. At the very least they indicate that he is trying.

    Crimes And Misdemeanors is my favorite film by Woody Allen. I find it very hard to see where there is any light whatsoever in the darkness that in Martin Landau’s character could “kick through” . It appears total, pitch black. I don’t see any “inner Christ” there, even though my faith tells me there must be.

    The subsequent (to this movie) revelation of Mr. Allen’s creepy behavior with young women makes part of the clip hard to watch. But I have always felt impatient and irritated with his critics.

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  14. something about the ‘deep magic’ that is connected to the Coming of the Light into the Darkness

    Light the candles !!! it’s time for St. Lucia celebrations!

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  15. “I didn’t need to understand the hypostatic unity of the Trinity; I just needed to turn my life over to whoever came up with redwood trees.”

    ( Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith )

    ‘in silence, The Word’

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  16. If you believed it, modifying behaviors would be the last concern. Nice Woody Allen clip. I’m assuming there was some message there for me but you’ll have to elaborate.

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  17. Somebody told me that Ritual Magick (summoning and binding spirits and forces to your will) is just an elaborate method of calling Room Service.

    And either Chesterton or Lewis (I think it was Chesterton) said that in Magick, the Dark Powers have a reputation for Getting Things Done (i.e. Delivering, MAGA, etc). i.e. it’s BLACK Magick that gets Results.

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  18. “rational thought”

    I do think that a lot of Christian apologetics is a waste of time. I mean I can explain why I believe in God, but trying to prove this to someone else probably won’t work. But rationality within the faith seems a good thing.

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  19. I agree. God moments, miracles and so forth are not to be summarily dismissed. I treasure them as gifts. They are not the foundation of my house but more like chandeliers.

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  20. I have also heard “everything happens for a reason, but that doesn’t mean you will like or agree with the reason”

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  21. The “prosperity gospel” is simply a more sophisticated way people invoke Magick. Doesn’t have much to do with trust, or carrying one’s cross (whatever that may entail for each person).

    Dostoyevski’s late works (Crime & Punishment, Brothers Karamazov) will really make you think about all that, and the “everything happens for a reason” trope as well.

    Dana

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  22. I agree with HUG that the “no” list is the checklist of American Evangelicalism. Again, let me say I know American Evangelicals who would reject what is on that list; however, my experience in Evangelical churches was that the vast majority of people did everything they could to not be seen as weak or in need of anything, once they acceptedJesusChristastheirpersonalLordandSavior. (I have no experience in black Evangelical churches, or Latin Pentecostal churches, for that matter.)

    While I think both lists are generally good and echo a lot of what I found in EO, I think Luther’s understanding of competing theologies (glory/cross) is something that comes out of his struggle with late medieval Roman Catholic theology and practice. I’m not sure it speaks to much of our situation today, particularly with the increasing numbers of “nones” among us who would neither know nor care about such a distinction, especially with regard to the word “salvation” and its commonly-understaood implication that it’s ALL about “going to heaven when I die.” I’m kinda with Mule on his points, too.

    I gain more help from pondering these kinds of things:
    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/?s=theology%2Bof%2Bthe%2Bcross

    Dana

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  23. Actually, this is the book I was thinking about, the “Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved.”

    Great book.

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  24. Yeah, I guess so. I was just kinda focused on what “submission to the will of the Father” or “absolute trust in the Father” looks like in a practical application sense. Maybe it manifests itself in the last three points (dedication to human liberation, solidarity with human pain, freedom to be human, weak, and vulnerable).

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  25. “Who speaks for the Father these days?”

    Jesus, and those who re-present His words on who He is and what He wants of us.

    “Can’t get out of the arena without tossing your pinch of incense on the altar of wokeism these days. What is human liberation?”

    I believe the Virgin Mary and Jesus had something to say about that in the early chapters of Luke.

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  26. I just finished reading Kate Bowler’s book Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel. The thinking among Prosperity churches really boils down to believing in and worshiping God in order to get something for oneself. If you don’t get the goodies, you are doing it wrong. There are spiritual laws you should follow, and when you do, you will prosper. When you don’t, bad things happen. Your health, wealth, and happiness depend on how well you follow God’s spiritual laws.

    So, I was glad to read this anti-prosperity gospel piece.

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  27. –> “Am I just easily rankled?”

    Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear… well, you know… do it’s business in the woods?

    😉

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  28. I think I’m with you on this aspect. If our faith provides no worldly good, why bother? Maybe the point is that it doesn’t PROVE itself in such things, though they do come. (Perhaps?)

    But let’s face it… I think most of us believers here have experienced a God-moment or two or three which helped solidify our faith in some shape or form. So yeah… not sure I’m fully buying into that one.

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  29. –> “The formulation of the theology of the cross, and it’s practical application…”

    I don’t want this to sound argumentative because it’s not–I’m seriously curious–but could you lay out some practical applications of the theology of the cross, ones that you experienced. I just want to see if I know what that means…LOL.

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  30. It might’ve been free to us, but it cost the Father His Son. Maybe that’s what it means.

    (But I’ve always hated that term.)

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  31. Why does this five-fold exegesis of the Way of the Cross rankle me? Am I just easily rankled?

    1) Submission to the will of the Father Other than that in Arabic that would sound like a call for conversion to Islam, you are left with the same conundrum which that communion has: Who speaks for the Father these days?
    2) Absolute trust in the Father See #1, but this is more subjective. Nevertheless, I put my trust in Jesus the Human, who reveals the Father.
    3) Dedication to human liberation Faugh! Can’t get out of the arena without tossing your pinch of incense on the altar of wokeism these days. What is human liberation? Is it Carl leaving his fat, complaining wife and taking up with that hot little gal at the truck parts store? That would sure feel like liberation to Carl.
    4) Solidarity with human pain. Unavoidable. Why doesn’t he just say ‘almsgiving’? Maybe I’m too alt–right to be ever be a good Lutheran, but I don’t know if human pain was ever meant to shared indiscriminately. Some people have more than their share of it. Others get off almost scot-free. What I am concerned about is the responsibility for the hurt I encounter on a day to day basis.
    5) Freedom to be human, weak, and vulnerable Also unavoidable. Maybe what he is saying is permission not to pretend you are superhuman, strong, and invulnerable.

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  32. I take some issue with parts of the following statement:

    “religion which proves itself by miracles, answered prayer, worldly blessings, fulfilled prophecy or rational thought.”

    Religion may not prove itself by miracles, but sometimes miracles happen. They certainly do nothing to invalidate one’s faith when they do. And prayer as a generality: answered prayer, prayers of worship, “Our Father…”, guidance, insight, comfort… all these things happen as a result of prayer. I do not condone praying demanding an answer or expecting a certain outcome or using prayer as proof. But without prayer, my life would sometimes be very empty. This is subjective I suppose, but to me, it is proof of the presence of Jesus.

    Rational thought: I have no idea how you prove one’s religion with rational thought, but sometimes rationality is a very good idea, especially in today’s culture. I personally like rational Christians even if I do not always agree with them. We are called upon to love God with our minds. We need more of it.

    Otherwise, I have no argument: Good stuff.

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  33. “…or to force society to fit a certain definition of ‘righteousness’.”
    The concept of righteousness is to this very day the most confusing aspect of Christianity. It continues, despite knowledge to the contrary, to be considered a behavioral and demonstrable phenomenon. The buttoned up shirt. The correct speech. Good, by societal standards, behavior. Nothing could be further from the heart of righteousness. Righteousness is an inner state, mildly recognizable to the outside world, of holding and letting go. Finding and losing and finding again. It is the high wire act of reconciling one’s own, prevailing evil with one’s light. It is, as Bruce Cockburn puts it, “kicking at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.” It is stepping off a cliff into a dark void and finding unseen footing. It is a lifelong, internal, process of death and resurrection. The fact that we continue to equate it with simple recognizable behaviors is an embarrassment and a travesty. It is a continued weakness of the body of Christ that we purvey it as such and more importantly it serves as a convenient escape plan from living through the darkness of taking up our cross daily. “What cross? I’m saved. I’m cleansed. I’m going to heaven and I behave admirably (mostly).” It is not about developing the proper behavior, though that is mostly good and fine (except when it’s habituation serves as a blinder), it is about finding the inner Christ amidst the darkness. The fallacious concept of righteousness does not even admit to darkness let alone consider it as the place where light will be found. It’s just too dangerous, nonsensical and unkempt. The other guy has the darkness. Those people.

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  34. Luther does have a confederacy formed against him today. I believe when Jesus was crucified, it forces all to confront incarnation AND the actual nature of God. It is that humility, diligence, lowliness, justice, mercy, peace, purity that causes followers to try to emulate these. That last no above( about both) includes the theology of glory, no matter that it is abused( as is the theology of the cross). You can’t have resurrection without good Friday, Nor good Friday without resurrection.
    Please know I believe the above corrects many abuses that happen with the application of the theology of the cross.

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  35. “… or by offering “cheap grace.”

    How can grace be anything but “cheap”–it is afterall “free”.

    Need some definition of “cheap”. Does it mean “lacking in transformation”?

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  36. The formulation of the theology of the cross, and it’s practical application, is the greatest gift Lutheranism has given to the Church as a whole. 🙂

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