Tapping into the Michael S. Horton archives is to find a treasure trove of insightful goodness.
here is an article on what makes a sacrament a sacrament.
America is a marketplace of desire, a super-store of consumer craving, and its do-it-yourself religious life is as much a testimony to that fact as any other aspect. In our culture, shopping is therapy. We are not so much Pilgrim making his way with the communion of saints to the Celestial City as individual tourists bouncing from booth to booth at Vanity Fair. As much as the “emergent” movement criticizes religious inauthenticity, it exhibits more than it disproves that thesis. Its most visible leader, Brian McLaren (named recently by TIME magazine among the most significant evangelical leaders), in addition to redefining or challenging core evangelical doctrines, says that he appreciates the “sacramental” world-view of Roman Catholicism. “Once we say there are seven sacraments, we can then begin to see everything as a potential sacrament,” he writes. To be sure, McLaren’s theology is different from Finney’s. Unlike the celebrated revivalist of yesteryear, McLaren eschews “hell-fire and brimstone.” Yet like Finney, he downplays the seriousness of sin as a condition from which nothing short of a substitutionary, vicarious sacrifice of Christ can alone redeem us. The theology may be described as “Finney-lite.” And practice cannot be separated from theory. Like Finney, McLaren and many in the “emergent” movement seem to think that it is up to us to decide what constitutes a “means of grace.”
Man’s Terms vs. God’s Terms
The Protestant Reformers recognized that if you start with a human-centered “gospel,” you will need human-centered methods. Even the ordained sacraments can become means not of divine grace but of human striving. Just as Finney looked for “excitements sufficient to induce repentance,” Rome offered various strategies for obtaining remission of sins through penance. The Reformers, by contrast, recognized the logic of Paul in Romans, especially chapter 10. In that chapter, Paul says that there are two answers to the question, How can I be reconciled to God? One answer is “the righteousness which is by works,” the other is “the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ.” One is founded on our zeal for God, the other on God’s zeal for us and for our salvation.
Paul recognized that the message creates its own methods, as he unfolds the argument in that famous chapter. Works-righteousness looks for ways of climbing up to pull Christ down or descending into the depths to bring him up, while faith-righteousness receives Christ as he has descended already to us and where he promises to be present to us for our salvation. For works-righteousness, faith comes by striving; for gospel-righteousness, faith comes by hearing Christ preached. One need not catch a plane for the latest “revival,” get caught up in the latest crusade or spiritual fad, go on a pilgrimage, fast and pray for it, walk through a labyrinth, bow before an icon, or follow the most recent “principles for victory.” Christ is never closer to us than when he is actually giving himself to us in the preached Word, in baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper.
So does God want us to be poor, sad, lonely—generally unsuccessful in our life and relationships? This view would simply be the mirror opposite of the prosperity gospel. God is not abstractly interested in ensuring that we are either wealthy or poor, successful or unsuccessful; he has far larger plans for us. He has chosen us as his children—co-heirs with Christ of the whole estate. Fellowship in the age of everlasting peace, not where believers live above poverty, but where the poor are rich and there is no more poverty; not where believers are spared a little pain and even tragic news of a loved one killed or seriously injured in war, but where no one gets killed or even fights anymore because sin, evil, injustice, violence, and oppression no longer exist.
It is sometimes said that it is not our happiness but our holiness that concerns God. A helpful way of drawing us back to a God-centered orientation, this contrast nevertheless assumes that happiness is found somewhere else than in God’s glory, which is holiness epitomizes. Created by God—in God’s own image, humanity is the creature who was designed for holiness. More than a static moral quality or attribute, this holiness was to characterize every thought, action, and desire. Things in fact went this way until our first parents willfully determined to set their affections on themselves rather than on God. Immediately, they were unhappy: ashamed, guilty, fleeing from the presence of the best thing that had ever happened to them.
So the problem is not happiness, but that we do not even know real happiness when we see it. More than happiness, we crave power and control over our circumstances, fellow-humans, the whole creation, and even God. We will surrender happiness to being in charge because we mistakenly believe that the latter is the realization of the former.
What we have trouble understanding as Americans—especially Boomers (sorry to pick on my generation again)—is that what we call happiness is really this sense of being in control. Even if we get cold, we are comforted in knowing that we have control of the thermostat and can change it whenever we want. We have choices. We’re in charge. If we get in a pickle, there is nothing that we cannot turn around with the right credit card. But take away the cherished props of our life movie and we can get pretty dramatic. It is like cutting off the oxygen supply to a deep sea diver. Like overweight children sitting on the sofa with their Happy Meals watching a report of starving children in the Sudan, we think that we are better off. But are we? Of course, in one important sense we are, but in the big picture?
emphasis added. Go read the remainder of these two articles this weekend. They are some well written good stuff.
UPDATE: check out Miley Cyrus’ theology of happiness here.