The Downside of Immanuel

Cornelius Plantinga:

We must not get cozy with the idea of Immanuel. It’s not just a notion of Christmas cards and hymns, offering just the right little movement of joy for late December. The fact is that we might not enjoy Immanuel very much at all. Peter found him reproachful. Pharisees heard the sound of a whip in his voice. And any seedy, shifty human being might find it disconcerting to be absolutely transparent to a person who never compromised with evil, never shifted ground to make a better appearance, never sacrificed integrity for the sake of getting on with others. Would we dare to have God with us? As Malachi puts it (3:2), ‘Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?’

                            —Deep Down Faith (Study Guide)

Ego-Death: A Prayer of Confession

This week I’m in Grand Rapids, MI attending a week-long seminar on Cruciform Humility in Christian Preaching and Worship. Along with 15 other students sitting under Neal Plantinga, Jr. (an exemplar of humility and mentoring, he also wrote a devastating and highly readable book about sin), it’s been a rich, rewarding and refreshing time defining and unpacking cross-shaped humility.

Before our seminar began, we had to submit two prayers fit for congregational worship that promote humility. Here’s a prayer I wrote (with obvious and unapologetic allusions to John Donne, St. Augustine, Robert Bellah, and Phillip Bliss, and who knows what else):

A Prayer for Ego-Death

Batter my heart, three-person’d God.

Take your wrecking ball of holy grace

and obliterate my prideful Self.

You know how much I love Me,

recklessly pursuing my wayward loves no matter the cost.

But the carnage is clear.

In thought, word and deed,

by what I’ve done,

and by what I’ve left undone,

I’ve dirtied my relationship with you and others.

There is no health in me.

And no matter how hard I try,

I can’t renovate this rebel heart.

Please have mercy on me.

Please help me.

Please forgive me.

Remove the hardened, hurtful habits of my sinful heart.

Reorder my disordered loves.

Renew my love for you and others.

I ask these things because of Christ who,

“bearing shame and scoffing rude,

in my place condemned he stood,

Sealed my pardon with his blood,

Hallelujah! What a Savior!”


Sin: An Essential 15 Minute Primer

What is sin?

Why is it such a big deal?

Who’s to blame?

What can be done about it?

Neal Plantinga answers these questions about sin in this brief video, which warrants repeat viewings:

Read Plantinga’s excellent essay about sin here.

Also read Plantinga’s devastatingly sublime book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin.

Now Available: Plantinga and Douthat Audio on Sin

Neal Plantinga and Ross Douthat’s talks about sin—Plantinga discussing sin’s essence and force, laced with many pop culture references, with Douthat discussing sin’s migration in the US—are now available in here.

The audio session is one hour, with both speakers evenly divided, followed by a 90 minute Q and A. While I commend them both, if you have time to listen to only one, listen to Plantinga’s (i.e. the first 35 minutes). Concise, lucid and sane, it’s a tour de force description and defense of sin—among the best I’ve ever heard.

If you don’t consider yourself a Christian, I think you’ll find Plantinga’s talk (given to journalists) refreshing yet challenging. Give it a listen.

Douthat’s talk is briefly discussed here, along with some photos of the event.

Transcripts of both talks will be available within a few weeks, and I’ll post them here.

          Update: Transcripts of Douthat and Plantinga’s talks on sin are now available here.

So Long, Sin. Hello “Ceasingly Cheerful Worship”

Sin. Lament. Confession.

According to Cornelius Plantinga Jr., senior research fellow at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, these words and concepts are absent in many evangelical—even confessionally Reformed—churches in the United States.

So what’s the dominant tone and tenor of these churches?

Ceasingly cheerful worshiper? Yes. says Plantinga.

Ceasingly cheerful worshipers? Yes, says Plantinga. And it’s not good.

Ceasingly cheerful worship.”

Plantinga, along with The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, spoke at the Ethics and Policy Public Center’s recent 2014 Faith Angle Forum on the topic “Whatever Became of Sin—2014 Edition.”

Read Plantinga’s perceptive comments and consequences of this shift here.

Also read Plantinga’s bracing book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be:  A Breviary of Sin, or download a condensed article of his book in this free PDF.




Are Modern Christians Revolutionaries?

Cornelius Plantinga Jr.:

The Christian church is boring even to some Christians:

  • They hear lifeless, cliche´-ridden, entirely predictable sermons;
  • Their preachers are trained in safe, sleepy seminaries;
  • Their congregations undertake only the most harmless and predictable ministries;
  • Their church councils argue over small matters;
  • Their worship services are endurance contests.

Nothing is going on! There is no life here! No action! No movement! Somehow their church has lost the distinction between being founded on the rock of the ages and being stuck in the mud.

[The early Christians’ mission had] power, dunamis, dynamite! Modern Christians who yawn through wileecoyotetheir worship, who gird on their weapons to fight crabgrass on the church lawn, who live at a tiddly-winks level of faith can hardly understand why Christians should be seen as a threat! But the early Christians were. They were regarded quite literally as revolutionaries, as people who had “turned the world upside down.”

Beyond Doubt: Faith-Building Devotions on Questions Christians Ask, pp. 144-145. Reformatted for readability.

A Very Merry Debbie Downer Christmas

Pondering sin during Christmas seems like Debbie Downer crashing your office party.imgres

But I’ll be brief.

Cornelius (Neil) Plantinga Jr. wrote an accessible, winsome, and condensed update of his exceptional book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of SinThe article, available as a PDF document, should be required reading for anyone who wants to better understand sin, and subsequently the need for redemption.

Plantinga progressively—and deftly—unravels sin in the following way:

  1. Shalom
  2. Vandalism of Shalom
  3. The Human Race “Has a Habit” Where Sin Is Concerned
  4. Parasite
  5. Corruption
  6. Who’s to Blame
  7. The Bottom Line

Advent is a most appropriate time to dwell on the nature of our sin, looking to the Redeemer who was promised in Genesis 3 who would deal with it and its ruinous consequences head on. If you can, get the book. If you’re unconvinced, read the PDF updated abridgment first and then buy the book (and thank me later.) It’s that good, in a devastating sort of way. It will make you newly appreciate Advent’s significance on the need for Christ’s Incarnation.