Writings by Dr. Blair

LUTHER 500

LUTHER 500

The 500th Year of Luther’s Reformation

The 15th Annual Evangelicals Concerned Preaching Fest

Ocean Grove, New Jersey, October 6-8, 2017

An Introductory Lecture and Three Sermons

Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)


LUTHER 500: An Introductory Lecture

Growing up to be 34 years old seems a long time while you’re living it. To your parents, on your 34th birthday, the day when you were born doesn’t seem that long ago. That’s our ever-shortening experience of our ever-shortened time.

In 1983, 34 years ago, EC marked the 500th year of Luther’s birth. Now, we mark the 500th year of his protest against corruption in the medieval Church of Rome.

In 1983, I was 44. Thirty-four years later, it’s hard to fathom that, 34 years earlier, I was 10 and in 5th grade! And it’s no easier to fathom that 34 years later, I’m 78!

In an equivalent span of 34 years, at the crossing of the 15th and 16th centuries, that wee infant, Martin, had grown up to begin to change the course of history by calling for a return to the foundations of the faith of the first Christians.

Over EC’s 4 decades we’ve honored many who learned from Luther’s witness and passed along the Word of the Lord to still others. Doing so, we, ourselves, are called back to the foundations of the faith of the first Christians.

In that 500th year of Luther’s birth, a baby was born to a devout Muslim couple. Three weeks ago he died of cancer. In his own 34 years, Nabeel Qureshi became a physician, a husband, a father and a dynamic disciple of Jesus in the worldwide ministry of Ravi Zacharias, launched 34 years ago by the financial backing of D. D. and Velma Davis. The Gospel that Luther recovered is still being preached.

An historian notes that folks in 40,000 denominations are “Christians, whose religion derives ultimately from Martin Luther’s rebellion.” (Alec Ryrie) Actually, it derives from the Bible, via Luther’s rebellion. And Luther’s legacy goes far beyond religion, as that historian indicates in his book’s title: Protestants: The Faith that Made the Modern World. Read more →

LUTHER 500: Sola Scriptura

LUTHER 500

The 500th Year of Luther’s Reformation

The 15th Annual Evangelicals Concerned Preaching Fest

Ocean Grove, New Jersey, October 6-8, 2017

An Introductory Lecture and Three Sermons

Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)


LUTHER 500:  Sola Scriptura

C. S. Lewis recognized that, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to making certain mistakes.” We’re all stuck in our own age, the only age we experience. So, it’s easy to miss where we’re mistaken – especially as we flatter ourselves into assuming that we’ve progressed beyond all those dolts who came before us. Then, we ignorantly repeat the mistakes of the past.

So, said Lewis, we “need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that,” he knew, “means, the old books.”

This wasn’t a reactionary conclusion of a crotchety old professor sequestered up in an ivory tower of nostalgia. It’s our only option. One’s own era is inescapably circumscribed within its own setting and its own bent. So, it does make sense to try to rise above one’s own era’s inevitable ignorance and shortsightedness. We’re in need of a cultural diversity that goes deeper than the present tense.

Since no yet-to-be-written books are available, the only options to today’s books are old books. They’re free of our era’s biases and blind spots, but they have biases and blind spots of their eras. Fortunately, the old books come from many different eras.

Unfortunately, and for some time now in American universities, the study of old books, e.g., the ancient classics, Western history, as well as basic principles of rational thinking and logic, have been dropped with high handed disdain for the sake of our day’s pet peeves, prejudice and priorities. That censorship dogmatically deprives us of a diversity of viewpoint and perspectives beyond our own biases and blind spots.

These days, people get themselves anxious and then hostile if they’re presented with anything that questions or refutes their own presuppositions, their postmodern prejudices, and their politically correct and postured pieties. Sadly, since they lack any real ability at skilled reason and argument, they start and end with “Shut up!”

Still, there’s one collection of old books that’s stood the test of time and that’s linked to various eras, authors, languages and cultures, that presents a perspective that claims to rise above any one particular time and place, and, indeed, above all time and space. It’s been received for nearly 2,000 years to be the Word of God. This collection of old books has impacted more people than any other collection. It’s called, of course, The Bible. Read more →

LUTHER 500: Sola Gratia

LUTHER 500

The 500th Year of Luther’s Reformation

The 15th Annual Evangelicals Concerned Preaching Fest

Ocean Grove, New Jersey, October 6-8, 2017

An Introductory Lecture and Three Sermons

Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)


LUTHER 500:  Sola Gratia

Well, what did you bring with you this afternoon – besides all that coffee you drank to stay awake? What did you bring with you? What I’m really asking is this: What did you bring with you when you came into the world?

When you came together in your mother’s body, when one of your father’s millions of sperm made it into your mother’s egg – and then and there, you were! – what did you bring with you? The truth is, on your arrival, you brought nothing that you hadn’t been given. And, that’s a given. That’s God’s grace.

What were you given? Gifts galore! And those gifts keep on giving. That’s a given, too. That’s God’s grace.

You arrived packed with protection and promise in your DNA – a random mix of your parents’ genes. They, in their turns, decades before you, inherited their genes from their parents. Their parents inherited theirs from their parents, and so on, back down through the distant and now long forgotten past, probably beyond the seas.

That past, though, is here and now, in you, personally. You got it as a gift. You didn’t earn it. You didn’t intend it. You were totally oblivious to all of these gifts that came wrapped in the gift that’s you. That’s a given. That’s God’s grace.

In your blissful oblivion, your mother gifted you by keeping you safe, “hooped in her ribs and staved by her spine”, in words by Marilynne Robinson. And you escaped what’s forced on over three thousand pre-born Americans each day, whose lives in this world are cut short. Your life was left as a gift to live out in this world. That’s a given. That’s God’s grace.

In your mother’s infancy, her tiny ovaries held some two million immature eggs, follicles. By the time she reached puberty, she still had around 400,000 of those follicles. With every menstrual cycle, she lost a thousand, and still, around 400 matured into actual eggs. You, in part, came from among those two million follicles and then from among those 400 eggs. That’s a given. That’s God’s grace.

And even with the more than three million differences between your unique genome and everyone else’s, you nonetheless share 99.9 percent of your DNA with everyone else – even with those in this room! So, be nice. We’re genetically connected with each other – as Scripture, rather more poetically put it long ago: “God made all of us of one blood to inhabit the earth”. (Acts 17:26) And it’s all a gift. That’s a given. That’s God’s grace. Read more →

LUTHER 500: Sola Fide

LUTHER 500

The 500th Year of Luther’s Reformation

The 15th Annual Evangelicals Concerned Preaching Fest

Ocean Grove, New Jersey, October 6-8, 2017

An Introductory Lecture and Three Sermons

Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)


LUTHER 500:  Sola Fide

Luther had tried for so long to appease a “Christ” he’d been taught to dread as his final Judge who’d send him to Hell. Sensing that he’d never been able to appease this “Christ” and never would be able to appease this “Christ”, he felt excruciating frustration and anxiety. It was no wonder that he was angry with this “Christ”.

But finally, in his relentlessly searching of Scripture detached from all of the distracting encrustations of the dogma of medieval Rome, Luther found the original Good News in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul cites the prophet Habakkuk and he writes: “In the Good News, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, as it is written, ‘The righteous will live by faith’.” (Rom 1:17; Hab 2:4)

Suddenly, Christ’s crucifixion in the place of sinners, for their salvation, made sense. Luther’s excruciating fears, frustration and despair were mercifully lifted in this profound biblical revelation.

That 16th-century term, “excruciating”, was from the Latin word for the cross where Christ experienced the excruciating ordeal of sacrificial atonement for our sins. These Scriptures revealed that, by faith, there was freedom in God’s free grace for all in Christ’s liberating us on the cross. Luther learned to trust in the crucified Truth Himself, Christ in his battered body, and in the risen Truth Himself, Christ in his resurrected body. This was the Christ he’d feared? Oh, no. This was the Christ he’d come to know and to love.

To Luther, this was the most radical and reviving revelation of his life. Yet this Good News of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross had been there in the Scriptures all along. Crucifixes were ubiquitous in the cathedrals, cloisters and chapels and even on the walls of peasants’ houses. People wore them round their necks and, for some three centuries, they’d fingered them with the beads of their rosaries. Innumerable relics of the so-called “true cross” were the focus of pilgrimages across Christendom. But the true meaning of Christ’s cross never had crossed Luther’s mind. Now, from Scripture, he couldn’t get the true meaning of Christ’s cross out of his mind. By God’s grace, he never would, and never did. Read more →

Life More Abundant?

by Ralph Blair  

This is the text of Ralph Blair’s keynote at connECtion2oo6, the summer weekend gatherings of Evangelicals Concerned, held at Kirkridge Retreat Center on the Appalachian Trail (June 2-4, 2006) and on the campus of Reed College in Portland, Oregon (July 27-30, 2006).


Jesus told some Pharisees: “Unlike those who come to butcher my sheep, I’ve come that they may have life more abundant.” (John 10:10)

What’s life more abundant? Do you have any opinions‘?

Okay. Enough of your opinions! What’s my opinion?

Okay. Enough of my opinion!

Who cares about opinions on life more abundant! They’re irrelevant. Life more abundant isn’t made up of what we might make up.

Was “Who cares!” your response when I asked for your opinion? When I asked about my opinion, I did notice some people rolling their eyes and mumbling “Who cares!” What did that mean? It meant: Some naughty people can get the words right for the wrong reason.

Back in the 1920s, some prominent ministers and Bible scholars were asked to contribute essays to an anthology to be called My Idea of God. Here’s how J. Gresham Machen began his essay:

  • If my idea of God were really mine, if it were one which I had evolved out of my own inner consciousness, I should attribute very little importance to it myself, and should certainly expect even less importance to be attributed to it by others. If God is merely a fact of human experience, if theology is merely a branch of psychology, then I for my part shall cease to be interested in the subject at all. The only God about whom I can feel concerned is one who has objective existence, an existence independent of man.
  • But if there be such a really and independently existent Being, it seems extremely unlikely that there can be any knowledge of Him unless He chooses to reveal Himself. … I reject, therefore, the whole subjectivizing tendency in religion that is so popular at the present time.

Subjectivism is still the suffocating air that chokes us. At a recent meeting of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, Tony Campolo cautioned them: “You have no right to be a spiritual leader if you haven’t read Scripture. … If we don’t recognize this, we don’t know squat.” Sure enough, a subjectivist who didn’t know squat, piped up: “I thought this was a spiritual progressives’ conference. I don’t want to get validation from something other than ourselves.” Read more →

One in What Spirit?

by Ralph Blair

One in What Spirit? is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s keynote at the connECtions2005 at Kirbridge in the eastern Pennsylvania mountains and at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.


A new resident introduces herself to two new patients on the psych ward.
“Good morning. I’m Dr. Brown.”
“I’m Julius Caesar.”
“How do you know that?”
“God told me.”
The other patient pipes up: “I did not!”

Some people are crazy. They think they’re God. They think they’re the final authority on what’s what—what’s true, what’s false, what’s right, what’s wrong. No one can tell them otherwise. Know anyone that crazy?

Well we all slip into such self-centered self-deception. We’re all just crazy enough to make up meaning to suit ourselves as we footnote our three favorite authorities—me, myself and I.

This delusion that we’re the final authority has been one with the spirit of the times since the time of Adam and Eve. But it’s never been more conceited and cocksure. Ravi Zacharias notes: Today, “there is no transcendent context within which to discuss anything. … Meaning dissolves into the subjective, rendering it beyond debate.”

Our parents in Eden hesitated a bit before yielding to the demon of self-deception. But, these days, people rush right over undetected assumptions of autonomy to unexamined assertions of authority. Insisting that “truth” is merely a power play, a construct of self-interest, they say there is no Truth with a capital-T. But they assume that’s Truth with a capital-T. Moored in a makeshift autonomy, they fail to realize they’re marooned from reality. They think we construct reality itself—without a Creator with a capital-C. They assume Carl Sagan’s cliche: The cosmos is “all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be.” That’s not poetry, as Sagan’s producer pretended. That’s the arrogant assumption of the apologetics of atheism. It’s an affectation that’s getting more strident and even hysterical. Psychologically, it may be a matter of reaction formation, for as C. S. Lewis recalled: “When I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.” Read more →

Freed for Freedom!

by Dr. Ralph Blair

Freed for Freedom! is Ralph Blair’s 2010 keynote at the eastern and western Evangelicals Concerned connECtions at Kirkridge, on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, and at the Marriott City Center in Oakland, California.


“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!” – Paul

A graffiti artist tags trash bins with a tag of trash of his own: “Become Your Dream.” Salon gushes: He’s “the most revered street artist.” And people who know they can’t afford to buy his stuff at Christie’s steep prices still think that they can afford to buy into his pop psych prescription for power.

“Become Your Dream.” He tells folks who deem they’re not their dream, to dream up a dreamy self out of the un-dreamy “self’ they wish to escape. “So: If see myself as third-rate, kind of bland, I, by myself can dream me into something first-rate and really rather grand?” You’re dreamin’, dude.

Now, I’m not dissing random firings along the neural network during sleep or loving intentions and visions for others’ good. I’m critiquing self-centered fantasy.

Besides, haven’t we all changed our minds about a daydream or two? What about that childhood dream to be a fireman or prayers to be “ex-gay”? Have you ever said: “If I knew then what I know now”? But you’re buying into what you “know” now just as you bought into what you “knew” then. Well, they say hindsight’s 20/20. But what do they know? Even 20/20 can’t see around the bend of a road not taken. Hey, 20/20 can’t even see the road. And have you ever heard that old adage: “Be careful what you pray for”?

Well, some wake up and move on. But many merely move to some other daydream they’ll later dream of escaping to yet another daydream they’ll dream of escaping later on. It’s really so much wiser to wish, as in a prayer to the wise and loving Father: “Not my will, but Thy will be done.” Read more →

HOMOSEXUALITIES: Faith, Facts, & Fairy Tales

Ralph Blair is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. He is also the founder of Evangelicals Concerned, a national organization of Christians addressing the integration of Christian lifestyle and homosexuality. This booklet is an expanded edition of continuing education lectures given by Dr. Blair to United Methodist clergy meeting at the Churches of God Center for Christian Ministries at Findlay, Ohio, November 11, 1991.


MORNING SESSION

Last November 25th I wrote back to your committee saying that I’d be glad to accept your invitation to come to your Academy today to give morning and afternoon presentations on homosexuality and the “ex-gay” claims. But I hope that I’ll have a better reception than John Wesley did on that same date back in 1739. After having preached at St. Mary’s, Exeter, in the morning, he was disinvited for the afternoon. “Not that you preach any false doctrine,” he was told, “but it is … dangerous. It may lead people into enthusiasm or despair.”

Well, that’s true, of course, of the gospel of God’s amazing grace. It’s news that prompts enthusiasm or despair, depending on whether it’s received as good news or bad. It divides even families, as Jesus warned. But like anything important—and sadly, many things that are not so important—our topic today also divides, as United Methodists are painfully aware.

Like John Wesley, I too bring a message of grace. And my message of grace will be heard as dangerous by some of you. You’ll know how Wesley’s critics felt. But my message of grace will be heard with enthusiasm by some of you. You’ll know how Wesley’s supporters felt.

But each of us comes this morning already bringing with him or her a certain predisposition for enthusiasm or despair. And if each leaves with a little more or less enthusiasm or despair, it will be due to both what you hear me say and what you do with what I say. Each of us comes here today with a lifetime of experience filtered through the lense of common conditioning as well as through the eyes of our very private worlds. We come with our various sexual histories and different degrees of sexual literacy. We come as theologically more conservative or theologically more liberal. We come as younger or older, pastorally more or less experienced, married or single or divorced, female or male, wide awake or sleepy, teachable or not, hopeful or somewhat down, intelligent or somewhat dull. What you see and shear will depend on what you are prepared to see and hear. Each has his or her own agenda, expectations, distractions, prejudices. That’s as it is with all our thinking. There’s a hermeneutic of homosexuality as well. And whether you intended to or not, you’ll be tested today. Through the ink blot of what you hear me say, you’ll say more about yourselves than about homosexuality or homosexuals or the “ex-gay” questions we’ll be discussing. Questions and answers on these topics are Rorschach tests for the people of God today just as questions and answers about Gentile believers, slavery, or civil rights were the projective tests for faithers of other eras. Read more →

“Were You There?”

Dr. Ralph Blair’s Keynote

ConnECtion2017

June 3, 2017

Were you there when this question and response was heard each week across America?  “What sort of day was it?  A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times – and you, were there.”  Were you, there?

Those words were spoken in the mid-1950s – so, as a more familiar voice echoes in your ears, “So, you couldn’t have been there, could you.”  You couldn’t have been there? Really?!

I was there.  As the only one here from The Silent Generation, I speak up to say: “I was there.”  Each week in my mid-teens, I heard those sonorous words – there in Youngstown, Ohio, in front of our 21” black-and-white Capehart television set in our living room. Walter Cronkite spoke those words at the end of every episode of You Are There.  It was his CBS series of reenactments and film clips of great historical events.

Watching them, we did have a sense that, yeah, we were there! Of course, that generation was reared to “be there” through radiosound filtered through imagination. Now, we “were there” through sound and sight, so, less was left to imagination and we were there! As it were!

Cronkite’s sign-off made a big impression on me.  His sound and inflections, even his cadence, echoes in my long-term memory.  And, he made good sense!  We all, throughout history, have, as it’s said today, “been there, done that”. Every day is, “a day like all days”, filled with experiences and opportunities that, if used wisely, can be illuminating and life altering.  Live and learn!  But, often, we don’t.

Even facing what we haven’t experienced personally, we should remind ourselves that others, with less experience, less advantage, have “been there, done that”, and have managed fairly well.  As Terence, the ancient playwright who’d also been a slave, learned: “I’m human, so nothing human is alien to me.”

Today is yet another day like all days when, again, we get to live and learn, if we know well enough, and will enough, to do so.  And we may do that from all the hard-won wisdom still available to us.

Throughout the ups and downs of human history, the wise have been wise to the fact that every day is, indeed, a day like all days.  At our recent weekly Bible studies and at our most recent Bible Study Weekend, we’ve seen evidence of this in the timeless truths from the old Hebrew wisdom literature.  As Kohelet said: “There’s nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl 1:9)  Of course, if we don’t know what they knew and we don’t bother to learn from what they passed on for us, none of it is of any use to us.

Yet now, in our turn, we have opportunity to learn what they learned (or didn’t), if we pay attention to their wisdom and folly. Read more →

Wesleyan Practice & Homosexual Practice

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This booklet is a slightly expanded version of an address delivered by Dr. Blair at the Annual Michigan Area United Methodist Pastor’s School, August 22, 1983 on the campus of Ferris State College in Big Rapids, Michigan. Dr. Blair’s address followed one by Dr. Robert Lyon, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary. Dr. Lyon had been invited to focus on biblical and theological considerations and Dr. Blair had been invited to focus on clinical and scientific data, though both speakers included other material as well. A question and answer period followed both presentations.

(PDF version available here.)

Introduction

I suppose that an audience of United Methodist preachers isn’t the very easiest audience to address with much of what I have to say tonight, but I guess that there are preachers of other denominations (unnamed) with whom I might have an even harder time. In spite of all the seeming openness about sex today, we all, including clergy, have a certain uncomfortable feeling about it. And there is even more uncomfortableness about homosexuality. Even though the Bible leads the way in our thinking of God as the great Cosmic Lover, no less than John Wesley himself felt a sort of homophobic squeamishness over Charles’ phrasing: “Jesus, Lover of my soul, Let me to thy bosom fly.” [1] So I thank you for this opportunity to “calmly consider”—as Wesley might have put it again [2]—some material on homosexuality.

I’m tempted to try to win you over by adopting the strategy Thomas Coke used in another controversy. Your first American bishop reported having “found out a method of delivering [his testimony against slavery] without much offense, or at least without causing a tumult.” His tactic was this: “by first addressing the negroes in a very pathetic manner on the duty of servants to masters, … the whites will receive quietly what I have to say to them.” [3] As there are not very many openly gay people here this evening, however, I cannot really begin by “first addressing the homosexuals in a very pathetic manner.” I assure you, though, that when I’m speaking before openly gay groups, I’ve been known to come down hard against self-destructive patterns of what too often parades for homosexuality per se in some gay lifestyles, especially those of some urban gay males. [4]

Need it be said here that what I’m supporting is not every expression of homosexuality anymore than what most of you support is every expression of heterosexuality? I had hoped not. But apparently it does need to be said, in view of the negative caricature of all so-called “pro-homosexual” advocates painted by the first speaker [Robert Lyon of Asbury Seminary]. Need it be said here that what I support is not every expression of every homosexual anymore than what most of you support is every expression of every heterosexual? Sadly, it seems that I do need to say that I don’t support every expression of every homosexual. May I say, too, that I’m not in favor of the ancient forms of homosexuality known to the Apostle Paul, e.g., rape, cultic prostitution, “call boy” prostitution, and the inequalities of Roman and Greek master-slave pederasty. [5] There are some types of contemporary same-sex expression such as promiscuity, prostitution, and so-called “value-free” gay pride rhetoric that I don’t support any more than you support some types of heterosexual expression such as promiscuity, prostitution, “kiddieporn,” sex with minors, and so-called “value-free” open marriage. Neither you nor I want to be identified with all homosexualities or all heterosexualities any more than we want to be identified with all expressions of Christianity, be it Donald Wildmon’s, Jimmy Swaggart’s, or Mary Baker Eddy’s. I no more support the silly lesbian separatism of a Sally Gearhart than you support the stupid racial separatism of a Bob Jones. I am no more to be confused with advocating the gay est delusions of a David Goodstein than you are probably to be confused with the straight est delusions of a Werner Erhard. When “Gay is Good” becomes “Gay is God,” I protest just as I do when, failing to see the implications of the incarnation, others fail to see that “God is Gay” as well as God is all the rest of what we are, “yet without sin.” Read more →

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