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Why I am Not Posting

mediafastHello all – in case you hadn’t noticed, I have been taking a real break from blogging this summer.

Well, not just blogging. I have not been reading blogs, listening to podcasts, listening to YouTube video lectures, or paying much attention to Twitter or Facebook (check out the freshly translated Lutheran devos at FB off and on, but that is about it). (I still do answer email and personal messages on FB)

Part of this was me wanting to be in solidarity with my kids as we severely limited video games and the internet this summer. Part of this was me just wanting to see how I would fare. I’ve had time to do some other things that I have wanted to do, including writing two papers for library journals (which will hopefully be published in the fall).

So this taking time off from being online has gone surprisingly well (well, not with the kids – that fast hasn’t been so severe) – I thought all of this would be much harder, but it has been surprisingly easy.

But is that really a good thing? I do feel some guilt about not paying attention to my friends on FB, those I follow on Twitter, etc. Ah, online relationships…

Which reminds me, I wanted to tell all the people I interact with regularly online about this earlier, but was bad about even doing that. I should have been better about this. Sorry!

I plan on starting to blog again in a month or so, if I still have any readers. : )

 

Image from https://iamchronicallywell.com/tag/media-fast/

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Should the Christian Live in Fear of God?

Luther, driven by a "terror of the Holy One"

Luther, driven by a “terror of the Holy One”

 

Intro: The Fear-Invoking Athanasian Creed?

The Christian – who is justified by God’s grace in Jesus Christ though faith – should be at peace with God and not live in fear of him, correct?

This would seem to be logical consequence of a message like that of Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And yet, for confessional Christians who recite the Athanasian Creed once a year (as we did a few weeks ago), the end of this creed might, on occasion, cause one to doubt and wonder:

“…At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies; And shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.”

A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. -- Matthew 7:17

A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. — Matthew 7:17

And here, as when reading passages like John 5:28 and 29 and Revelation 20:12, the doubts might encroach at a fast and furious pace! How can we not be terrified? We might wonder: “Do words like these work against salvation by faith by declaring a salvation by works?” And even if they don’t cause us wonder about this, still, what does this mean for me? Me, whose love for God and neighbor often seems so poor? Can I be sure I am even a Christian?

A few responses here, to counter this doubt and, possibly – terror!*

I. Fear God? In the first place “no”.

We need to recognize that the Athanasian Creed is thoroughly biblical. In addition to the verses noted above, Romans 2:13, for example, says: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” There is a very real sense that these words mean exactly what they say. Simply put, at the last judgment, those who have shown fruits of repentance and good works according to the 10 commandments (even if it is just the first of the ten!) will be revealed by God to all persons to be His faithful, thankful, and loyal children. No one will doubt Him.

The fruits of repentance and faith are even seen imperfectly prior to the final judgment in persons like the sinful woman who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears (see Luke 7). “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown“, Jesus says to the Pharisees (before turning to the woman and assuring her that her sins are forgiven and her faith has saved her!).

When if comes to what these good works look like, they include both the fulfillment of the first and second table of God’s Ten Commandments. For the first table of the Law, this means fearing, loving, and trusting God alone, gathering for worship frequently with His people, and praying, praising, proclaiming and singing His Name and deeds. When it comes to the second table of the law, it means not only restraining from sins towards one’s neighbors, but works of love and mercy shown towards them, starting with the family of God. This also includes the kind of forbearance and mercy that God undoubtedly showed the sinful woman of Luke 7 and shows us in His Son (“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”).

“works have no standing before God and faith has no standing before the world.” -- David Scaer (picture of final judgment before the world)

“works have no standing before God and faith has no standing before the world.” — David Scaer (picture of final judgment before the world)

 

These are those who reveal themselves to be the “true circumcision” (Rom. 2:29), those whom God knows according to faith. That said, this does not mean that the end of the Athanasian Creed is the kind of message that a doubting Christian and/or terrified sinner needs addressed to him! After all, the default orientation of our “Old Adam” – who remains even in regenerated believers! (see Gal. 5 and Rom. 7) – is not only to get away with whatever sin we can, but also to believe that we can be justified not only before men but before God by our good actions and words (and perhaps even thoughts and desires!). If you try to earn grace by your works, you make everything worse, because you are a bad tree, Luther said. This inevitably plays itself out in the dual extremes of either pride (I’m doing it ; I’m making it) or despair (there is no way I can do this, make it).

In short, words about the final judgement according to works – or even words explaining how this final judgement fits with our understanding of the judgement of each individual alone before God by faith alone! – can either stoke our pride, or leave us relentlessly accused – even unto despair.

[I felt I] "was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates . . . that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise." -- Martin Luther, on coming to understand Romans 1:17.

“[I felt I] was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates . . . that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.” — Martin Luther, on coming to understand Romans 1:17.

The person who is feeling such hopelessness does not need to hear an explanation of how the end of the Athanasian Creed is biblical but rather to hear “200 proof Gospel”: Christ has covered and covers all your sins! Today and forever, you are, in a sense, with Him in Paradise!

II. Fear God? In the second place, “yes” – some fear, not terror.

…with all this said, ongoing accusation has its place in the Christian life as well – for damnable pride, sloth, and other sin always remain. Does this mean living in fear – or even terror, of God? The Eastern Orthodox Christian writer Elder Sophrony, for example, talks about how

“a person who ‘keeps his mind in hell’ is ever aware that only one fate is appropriate for his deeds, eternal damnation. This consideration sears humility into his soul, as he finds himself utterly unable to lift his eyes toward the face of God.”

“Keep your mind in hell and despair not,” he counseled.**

This is something I can identify with. On any given Sunday, for example, I will utter the words of our church’s liturgy:

Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.

Is that right? Or is that a bit extreme?! In the rest of this short article, I want to try to address this question in some detail, talking in particular about how it relates to fearing God.

Regarding that topic, I have been asked some very good questions lately about what this means or should mean. And this, in turn, has helped me to better formulate my own thoughts to more effectively answer the students who have been asking me about it. Now, when I get comments like “I am not sure why we are to fear God”, I talk about things in the following way…

To begin, we were not created to fear God in terror, but rather in a childlike awe and reverence. Of course, then there is Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. Hence, the Bible notifies us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, and therefore, an even genuine terror of the Holy One is wholly appropriate for those opposed to God. But then there is the redemption through the blood of Christ, and here we recall the words of I John 5: perfect love drives out fear! This would mean that the love of Christ drives us not to fear in terror, but to go back to Eden: reverential awe and wonder.

"...when God is angry at someone, that person is not holy and accepted with Him..." -- C.F.W. Walther, 19th c. Lutheran theologian

“…when God is angry at someone, that person is not holy and accepted with Him…” — C.F.W. Walther, 19th c. Lutheran theologian

 

So why then, those words from the liturgy? The fact of the matter is that we have only experienced the firstfruits of the new creation. We are new men in Christ, but again, Galatians 5 and Romans 7 indicates that there is also an “old man”, or “Old Adam”: something inside us that by nature desires and pursues things that are wrong. Here we see the ongoing infection of sin and its power in us. This has sometimes been expressed in this way: Christians are sinners and saints at the same time (simul), possessing both an old and new nature (perhaps analogous to the divine and human natures of Christ – see my old post “Not Radical Enough: the Problem with Radical Lutherans Like Gerhard Forde”).

Christians, insofar as they are new creations in Christ, need not live in fear, but our old man does (though often not directly through fear of God – Old Adam suppresses his knowledge of God!). And Christians, again insofar as they are new creations, are pleased when the old man they know is still within and can’t ever shake – their “imposter self” as one put it – is afraid of God. The Christian can know that God is not angry with them, even as they are often angry with themselves! And this is good, for the old man is to be driven out of us more and more with the Word of God*** – even as this will finally occur en toto only on the last day!

That said, perhaps we can say that while the Christian may fear God in two ways (reverential awe and wonder according to the new man/saint, genuine fear of the holy according to the old man/sinner), he, unlike the unbeliever, need not be terrified, because the fear of God is tempered by three facts:

  • Sin is not imputed to the believer because of Christ’s fulfillment of the law and His sacrifice
  • Accordingly, the Christian, insofar as he is a new man, does not have a desire to sin and in fact fight against it****
  • God does not act to punish His children (act punitively towards us on the basis of strict, retributive, justice) but rather disciplines those He loves

This means He is always looking to not only forgive our sin, but lead us into a better and more appreciative understanding of who He is, who we are, and who He has called us to be.

These are the kinds of things I tell my students.

III. Fear God? In the third place, “no”.

All this said, it does a Christian well to ponder that our best actions – even though good works are most definitely not needed to earn God’s approval but rather to serve our neighbor in genuine love! – truly are worthy not just of cleansing fire but hell-fire. God created us as persons who would freely and joyfully represent Him – who is Love and Life – to our neighbor. But again, then came the fall into sin and things have gotten very nasty (and are always getting more so,it seems). Now it is as C.S. Lewis and T.S. Elliot, respectively, have said:

“For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me: a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion

and

“our offenses, infidelities, greed, lust, and violence ripple through families and communities, affecting people unto the third and fourth generation. We spend much of our time, both individually and corporately, protecting ourselves against this knowledge”

Christ embracing St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who, at the point of death confessed: "I have wasted my time, because I have lived a waster's life."

Christ embracing St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who, at the point of death confessed: “I have wasted my time, because I have lived a waster’s life.”

And these quotations can be viewed as understatements! In the third chapter of the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul quotes the Psalmist who accuses humanity of making itself “worthless”. Jesus Christ also reminds us that “whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Socrates could not have been more wrong when he claimed that those who know the good will do it – even those who do do it know their best deeds need to be washed.

For me, also speaking personally as a Christian, there is a sense in which I, like Satan, am a masterful destroyer of relationships due to the infection that continues to rage within me. When I stand naked in the midst of a holy God I know that I am undone, for the meaning of God’s eternal law – His 10 commandments – goes deep. I have denied him before men, and in the name of “justice” refused to turn my cheek, refused to forgive from the heart 70 x 7, constantly mixed dung with precious perfume, ignored the unfortunate and outcasts who sense their need for Him more than most, lived as if this world is all there is, failed to heartily do my duties for His glory, failed to see all disasters (man-made or not) as calling all to repentance, put up fronts of righteousness, and hated my enemies for whom Christ bled. I have refused to recognize marriage – my own marriage and resultant family – as a crucial sacramental sign of God’s presence in the world. My actions – or inactions – have served as an acid that dissolve the Gospel proclamation that brings forgiveness, life, and salvation. How little I must know my God! In short, how can I be certain that my lack of trust, confidence, and reliance on God – and hence, love – has not caused my neighbor to perish? *****

All of this said, God has chosen to love me – all of us! – in spite of our sin, taking these sins upon Himself and bearing their cost that we might have life eternal in, with, and through Him. Through God’s love alone, ultimately revealed to the nth degree in the work of Jesus Christ, we are, indeed, restored to peace with Him! It is because of the fact of this relationship that when He calls us “sinners” and calls our desires and actions “sins”, we are able to not only bear with this, but actually able to exult and glory in His companionship! Even when we realize, and are saddened by, the fact that our actions do not deserve such kindness on His part… Nevertheless, He goes on to look us in the eye with love and tender mercies, and causes us to rise again in joy, and to go forth in His pardon and power! (being able to talk like this, by the way, is why the 16th century Reformation of the church was necessary).

For this our earthly journey we live – always – by His tender mercies and grace!

FIN

 

Image from Wikipedia: Sir Joseph Noel Paton, “Dawn: Luther at Erfurt” which depicts Martin Luther discovering the doctrine of Justification by Faith ; http://www.topofart.com/artists/Sir_Joseph_Noel_Paton/art_reproduction/5836/Dawn:_Luther_at_Erfurt.php Original hangs in the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, United Kingdom ; bad fruit image from https://jennygeddes.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/badfruit.jpg?w=340&h=289 ; The Martin Luther window at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Charleston, SC by Cadetgray ; 19th-century photograph of a young CFW Walther; originally from http://www.reclaimingwalther.org/ (public domain) ; Christ Embracing St Bernard by Francisco Ribalta

*An additional post I’ve done on this topic, “Unchildlike Reformation Eve” is here.

**C.F.W. Walther, pictured above, wrote something similar as he reflected on Luther’s experience: “Luther contends that the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s children is accompanied with strife. There must be confidence in the Christians and at the same time fear and trembling. This is possible. I can cross an awful abyss, trembling at the thought that I may be hurled into it; but seeing a barrier erected on both sides of my path I gather confidence and cross over, confident of safety. That is the strange paradox of the heart of a Christian: he fears and trembles and still is assured.” (200, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, 1897).

***Regarding the Christian’s “Old Adam”, an LC-MS pastor colorfully put it this way: “[After believing the Gospel that saves me], I look back at the law that corals me, that pulls me in and says “you will not go past this line, this boundary” and the old Adam starts digging, and starts trying to figure out an escape plan. And the new man in Christ is like “Come here. We gotta kill you. We gotta kill you more because you are getting in the way of me being with Christ.”

****Luther writes that to the extent that a believer is “actively” righteous, the law’s accusatory office has ceased. Under the accusatory law insofar as they are sinners, Christians are also “without the law” because Christ’s fulfillment of the law is imputed to them and insofar as they battle sin in their lives in the power of the Holy Spirit (see p. 16-17 here)

****We are reminded that “God’s Kingdom comes without us”, as Luther said. That said, God chooses us to be the vessels who communicate His message to others, and so I would only assert: “You should not think you are indispensable. The Kingdom of God comes without any person in particular.”

Also, most of this paragraph was taken from an old, heartfelt post I did here – which I think this most recent post tempers a bit, and puts in a more helpful context.

 

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Heartfelt Spiritual Counsel for “Fabulous Internet Supervillain” Milo Yiannopoulos

Brieitbart provacatuer Milo Yiannopoulos, a.k.a. “Nero”

Brieitbart provacatuer Milo Yiannopoulos, a.k.a. “Nero”

I recently watched a couple of interviews (here and here) the ever controversial Breitbart journalist Milo Yiannopoulos did with “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson about his new movie “Torchbearer”. According to an article from the same Breitbart news, the film’s “thesis” is that “sin has become mainstream in Western culture, which will soon lead to societal destruction.”

Yiannopoulos himself, a vigorous proponent and practitioner of free speech, identifies as both gay (flauntingly so) and Roman Catholic, and so I wondered how he would interact with Robertson, who a few years ago was fired (and then re-hired following protests) for remarks about the sinfulness of homosexuality.

Christian persecution is a topic of the aforementioned film, and according to Yiannopoulos’ boss Alexander Marlow, he was “very touched” during the film at the Cannes festival in France (where the interviews also took place). In Yiannopoulos’ own words, during the movie he was often “clutching [his] crucifixes and having tearful moments.” His being greatly affected by the film was in evidence during the interviews as well, as he complemented Robertson about the movie: “it even changed my mind about you…. I thought ‘this guy is smart and compassionate – I want to meet this guy.’”

Robertson: if they don’t buy it [the Gospel] we love them and move on… we love them and move on…

Robertson: if they don’t buy it [the Gospel] we love them and move on… we love them and move on…

In the second interview they discussed Robertson’s temporarily being fired in Dec. of 2013 for simply sharing the “list of sins” in the Bible in response to a question about homosexual practice (“read that list and see if you are in there…”, Robertson quipped about his usual practice of helping people discover their sins). When Robertson talked about his personal experience seeing notorious sinners become godly men and women, Yiannopoulos replied, “other kinds of Christians are Christians because they think they are good people. Catholics are Catholics because they know they are not”, and this prompted a quick “that’s a good point”, from the “Duck commander”. When he later insisted that the pardon and power of Jesus Christ definitely “works”, Yiannopoulos responded, “I’m looking for a ‘pray it away camp’ that will work for me”, making one think – even if just for a moment – that he was quite serious.[i]

Recently, at a talk at the University of California – Santa Barbara, Yiannopoulos expounded on matters like these further, in response to the question “how do you reconcile being a Roman Catholic and a homosexual”. He began by politely suggested that the man asking the question did not really understand Catholicism, stating in part (see full comment here) the following:

The catholic church is different from the Anglican strain of Christianity not just because they’re wrong….I can’t remember who said this, but people are Anglicans… they’re Baptists or Methodists or whatever because they believe they’re good people. Well, Catholics are Catholics because they know they’re not…. we have this thing called original sin….we go to church because we know we’re not good, and I think for me at least, at least certainly living the lifestyle I do, that’s a more honest approach to theology than other sorts of Christianity have to offer.[ii]

First of all, when it comes to his claim that some of these groups attribute goodness to human nature – and hence themselves personally – this does, in fact, describe the views of many liberal Protestants (not to mention Catholics!). Furthermore, even though many conservative Anglicans, Baptists and Methodists would undoubtedly take issue with Yiannopoulos’ claim here, whether or not the struggle that the Apostle Paul describes with his sinful nature, or flesh (see Romans 7 and Galatians 5) – as when he cries out “who will rescue me from this body of death?” – applies to Paul as a Christian (and hence to Christians today) is evidently an open question in even many of these more conservative churches. So far at least, this “habitual sinner” can really identify (throughout our lives we each face our own particular crosses, temptations…and even sins) with Yiannopoulos’ rather striking answers.

Lutherans and others assert that Romans 7 describes Paul after he became a Christian.

Lutherans who hold to their confessions assert that Romans 7 describes Paul after he became a Christian.

And yet, then we get to the issues of Yiannopoulos’ comments about “living the lifestyle I do”. Is there a fight vs. sin here, or a sense of resignation due to the futility of fighting? Here, it seems, is the crux of the issue, and this is where my challenge to Yiannopoulos lies. He playfully kids about not having feelings, and doesn’t put a lot of stock in how “fact-free” people “feel”. So here I note that however much – or little – Christians have disagreed among themselves, they have, until only very recently, always claimed to be putting forth Scriptural teachings that, because they do not change, are able to give us the hope we so desperately need. In short, because these teachings are rooted in the very character of God Himself, His eternal law and eternal Gospel do not change – they, as Robertson was keen to point out, offer an anchor of stability and goodness we can trust…

And what this means is that those teachings have always been seen by Christians as something we today call “objective” (just subtract any Enlightenment connotations from it!) – i.e. they exist in a certain way no matter what we, personally, might feel about them (for more, see part 2. here) This, of course, holds true even for “the most fabulous supervillain on the internet.” To put this delicately to Milo (and I hope he sees this), is it not hard to claim allegiance to Jesus Christ when one is frequently giving the impression that he doesn’t need or want His forgiveness – at least for this or that thing He calls “sin”?[iii]

Yiannopoulos graciously reminding us of the kind of adulation Jesus deserves.

Yiannopoulos graciously reminding us of the kind of adulation Jesus deserves.

This forgiveness, of course, is something far more personal than the removal of the threat of punishment – it is, in fact, the act of continuing in, or the act of being ushered into, the closest of relationships with Almighty God Himself. It is because of the fact of this relationship that when He calls us “sinners” and calls our desires and actions “sins”, we are able to not only bear with this, but actually able to exult and glory in His companionship! As the One who rescues us from sin, death, and the devil through His atoning death and resurrection, He is our lovely Alpha (and Omega) – worthy of our highest honor, praise, and worship!

For non-Christians reading this, let me be clear: when it comes to considering our sins vis a vis such a One, there need be no “animus” towards any particular kind of sinner here. In other words, when it comes to particular Christians retaining these traditional views, there may well be as little “homophobia” in this or that case (here is what I published the day after last year’s Obergefell decision – homophobic?) as there is with Mr. Yiannopoulos’ purported misogyny, racism, or “transphobia”. This is something I have no doubt he would say “Amen” to.[iv] Blanket charges of “bigotry” and “animus” towards more traditional viewpoints like ours[v] are not only careless – they are, frankly, without a whiff of reason (just because I tell my children they are wrong when they are wrong, for example, doesn’t mean that I don’t love them).

In sum, to talk about the importance of all Christians acknowledging and confessing all of their sins is not to exult in self-righteousness (“I thank God we ‘good Christians’ are not like other men”) – thinking one is a Christian because one, over and against one’s fellow human beings, is or does good.

At the same time, neither is it to assert that our sin cannot sabotage the Christian life God grants. For example, when it comes to particularly nefarious and soul-killing sins like self-righteousness (a species of pride), perhaps Milo might readily say “Amen!” to what one Lutheran Christian on Twitter recently said: “Lord, forgive my sin. More importantly, forgive my righteousness, by which I suppose I have no sin, or little sin, or not as much as others.”

The advice is sound – even as we also realize that such righteousness would not be the true righteousness Christ creates “in us” (sanctification) by His being “for us” (justification), outside of us (see 2 Cor. 5). Such “righteousness” would rather be that which our “old Adam” claims – for it is we according to our sinful nature who are always eager not only to count and measure our progress over and against others – but to earn God’s final approval!

But that we cannot do, nor should we try. As the controversial Roman Catholic writer and renegade priest Brennan Manning said, it is like a plumber looking at Nigara Falls and saying “I think I can fix this” (read Romans 3!). No – for us it is simply as Jesus said: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:10). And the approval that ultimately matters comes in the peace and certainty He gives in, with, and through His own beloved Son’s sacrifice for us (see Rom. 5:1 and I John 5:12-13) – we stand before Him not because we are good, but He is. Of this we may be reminded again when we pray “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Grace for sinners indeed! We bow to our kind Lord and Master – and perhaps kiss His feet and wipe them with our tears.

I am indeed pleased that Milo wants to identify with Jesus Christ and the great Christian tradition. And yet, if he is going to endeavor to speak for it, I would hope that he would be at great pains to accurately represent it. When something is as good as this – “as good as it gets” in fact! – you don’t want to get it wrong.

Jesus Christ: fabulously humble and simple – for us.

Jesus Christ: fabulously humble and simple – for us.

Dive in “Nero”. Jesus Christ, always provocative, had the utter nerve to say that His words were spirit and life, right? He further asserted that we live by every word that comes from the mouth of God! Who did – Who does – He think He is? (the caps might give that away)

In sum, Christianity is even better than the most fabulous earthly things we can imagine.

Bow, brother. Of course this habitual sinner is ready to stand by you through it all.

FIN

 

[i] Yiannopoulos has, in the past, said both that he wishes that he wasn’t gay, and that he thinks that God made him the way that he is in order to help him to overcome the atmosphere of identity politics, utterly confounding the academic left (and “just to make the heads of feminists spin”).

[ii] More from his comment: “Though here’s the thing: progressives will sometimes demand all manner of complex and weird acknowledgements themselves…they want to be a gender-queer-blah-blah – throw in cis… blah, blah but what they can’t seem to understand is other people asking for the same acknowledgement that life is messy and complicated, and that sometimes things aren’t fully recognized or realized or pulled together in your own mind and sometimes it takes a lifetime of study or prayer…”

This part of Yiannopoulos’s answer is perfect if the intention is merely to show that those who oppose him (generally on the left) are often inconsistent and irrational. But of course if he wants to strongly put forth the beliefs of his church as being different – that is of being rational and reasonable – his answer falls short.

[iii] Yiannopolous is known as a conservative in today’s cultural and political environment. That said, does his theological approach in fact resemble that of another provocateur, Nadia Bolz-Weber, whose Christianity, in turn, bears a striking resemblance to the philosophy of Hegel?

[iv] Yiannopoulos talks in the first interview about Robertson holding a “perfectly respectable opinion” that millions of Americans hold.

[v]  I have crtically touched on aspects of the “cultural libertarianism” he expounds on here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/justandsinner/what-does-the-rise-of-trump-have-to-do-with-science-and-christianity/

 

Image credits (Creative Commons): Milo Yiannopoulos, photo by @Kmeron ; Phil Robertson speaking at CPAC 2015 in Washington, DC., by Gage Skidmore ; Milo on throne used with permission from @KingCrocoduck (twitter) ; Palm Sunday 10 by Waiting for the Word.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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My response to the article cited by Anthony Sacramone in his blog post about losing faith

"The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him." -- Proverbs 15:8

Not what He wants: “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.” — Proverbs 15:8

 

Anthony Sacramone, a former editor of First Things and former author of the defunct blog Strange Herring, has written an article about losing his Christian faith. He is still a conservative of sorts, but he now says this:

One day, should enough people care, and the proper venue provide itself, I will attempt a more thoroughgoing explanation of what happened, of the internal revolution that has left me with no more confidence that the New Testament is reliable, inspired, true, or “inerrant” than I do that astrology, Marxism, or the Happy Healthy Vegan Kitchen is reliable, inspired, true, or inerrant.

If you are surprised or stunned by that last sentence, believe this: no more than I….

Frankly, the existence of an evil deity has far more explanatory power to me in relation to this vale of tears than either no god or a “good” god. But he doesn’t make for nearly as appealing Christmas carols.

I am very saddened to hear this. I’ve enjoyed Mr. Sacramone’s honest and heart-felt writing over the years, even as I got the sense sometimes that he was teetering near the edge.

As he says, he may in the future provide more details on his journey to where he is now. Suffice it to say, however, that he did drop a hint in his article:

In fact, I believe some of the worst pathologies of leftist-progressive thought has its roots in Christianity’s inability to come to terms with its own internal contradictions. For that matter, I have never understood how conservative pro-lifers could find support for their cause in the cult of YHWH, which, as Jon D. Levenson has shown, began with a fetish for child sacrifice that was only extinguished later in its history. (In fact, the early history of this deity, one of several in a Near Eastern pantheon but singled out by ancient Israel as its God, illustrates a near penchant for the killing of children. Think of the Flood and Canaanite-massacre narratives, not to mention the Matthaean infancy story, in which how many babies were supposedly slaughtered because a providential star led “wise men” to Herod first rather than directly to Bethlehem? Fortunately—for some Near Eastern families of antiquity, at least—this episode is a fiction, merely a reboot with different actors of the story of the slaughter of the Hebrew babies in Exodus.)

Nevertheless, because I am a conservative, I do not suddenly believe that the American experiment would be perfected if all religions were wiped from the cultural landscape….

The link to the chapter by Jon D. Levenson hit me pretty hard, because four years ago I had an LC-MS friend send it to me as well who, I got the impression, found the argument compelling (and he wanted me to read it).

Before I read it and replied to him (my friend, that is), I said this:

Well, evidently [child sacrifice] was legitimate among some of the neighbors – and, as false worship in Israel increased, those immersed in these things certainly would be tempted to take that Exodus 22 passage in isolation and use it apart from its full context, right?….

Since the fall, sacrifice is as natural as breathing for mankind (see Girard’s insights here as well).  Even those things considered most valuable among us – the things that seem to be the greatest cause for hope (like firstborn and firstfruits) – die and need to die because of sin.  The core concept is this: without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.  We need bloodshed to absorb and protect us from the consequences [and] judgment that bloodshed-causing sin brings on itself (Passover as analogy here).  What we are dealing here in Exodus 12 and 13 are sin offerings: God is showing, through the example of the firstborn (again what is considered among us on earth to be more valuable and hope-giving than a firstborn?  I note that the wider creation to is redeemed… donkeys in Exodus 13 : ) ), that it is only through bloodshed that He provides (Jungel’s work here is good if I recall….) that the groaning creation is set right – even the things on earth that seem to be indicators of the most hope.  No, apart from God’s provision, there is no hope.  We are condemned.  Yet death conquers death.  What is hopeless brings hope.  What is meaningless brings meaning.

Now – how much did the Old Testament folks think along contours like this?  Well, the faithful among them at least understood the core truth that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.  And they surely knew of the Promise.  That much is unmistakeable.

Also note: even thank offerings (not sin or guilt) that involve the shedding of blood would not exist if it were not for the power of sin in man that demands atonement.

After I read the article, this was my reply to him:

Babies.  Children.  Sacrifice.  So – I also finally read the article you gave me.  Thank you again for copying it for me and desiring to engage me (I presume) on this issue.

In response, I’ll just *try* to ask questions.  Answer any you feel comfortable answering and have time to answer.

By the way, the whole idea of Christians asking questions like these has been on my mind lately.  The whole question of “intellectual honesty” (3) as it relates to “academic freedom” (which we know, no institution of higher learning has en toto, as there are always parameters) is a difficult one.  Here at Concordia, it seems there is the potential for a new openness regarding the homosexual question (have run into this 2 x in the past week as regards some encounters with leadership here on campus).  Some may cheer, and others might wonder if God is sending us a strong delusion (2 Thes 2:11).  I take that latter view very seriously, even as I struggle to know how best to handle issues like these.

Questions.

  1. …first of all, as I said in my previous email about this stuff, you may have to educate me as to why JEDP lives. Levenson’s argument on pages 3 and 4 strike me as odd, to say the least, for the reasons I mentioned earlier.  Now, I know there are issues with the simple “inerrantist” opinion, things that Sasse pointed out (i.e. there was no properly Christian theory on the nature of inspiration [i.e. it is a fact but what is the process?], what does it mean that they are also truly human literature, what about the fact that it was common for disciples to write books under their master’s names [i.e. Pythagorus, Isaiah?], why is almost every important event in the history of salvation told not once, but twice or even more often, what about situation like the David of Samuel or the pious David of the Chronicles,(why two version of Israel’s history and what seem to be contradictions?), is it the Hebrew canon or the Septuagint (not just a “translation”!) – why does the N.T. recognize both?  Are we working with the concept of truth of Greek philosophy, i.e. Aristotle’s logic?, in what way do we see truth and in what way must it be believed….?, what does it mean to do thorough historical research accompanied by thorough dogmatic thought?), but I do not need to accept uncritically this JEDP scholarship, do I?  What is one book that I absolutely must read as regards this?
  1. Regarding Ezekiel 20:25, 26 (to dive right in), let’s assume that the laws God gives to indeed have to do with child sacrifice (as, I admit, it does seem to be the case, on the face of it). If that were indeed the case, why would it not be perfectly reasonable to think that the laws that God gave them, were simply the religious “codes” or “laws” of the godless – i.e. the Canaanites, or Israelites influenced by Canaanite practice?  I know that Hammurabi’s “code” did not really have to do much with religious matters, and that even Jahweh notes that the gods of other nations did not care enough about their people because they did not give them their law (as Yahweh did), but still – of course these nations had some of their own “theological or moral ideals” (which could be seen to go hand in hand with the concept of “law” – see Psalm 94:20 and Isaiah 10:1 here) – their gods most definitely preferred sacrifice, not obedience!  Why is it not the best explanation that, given the rest of the other “anti-infant sacrifice stuff” in the prophets and the Torah (again, JEDP here I know….) God gave the Israelites over to what they, in fact, wanted  (and with this, perhaps the hope that some, at least, would come to their senses)?  This is not to say that God desired this, but that he gave, after numerous attempts to alter the situation, man what he wanted – even as, as Luther says, “God is all in all”, as he energizes all of the life and activity of life in the universe – not to mention allows and permits certain things (therefore, he “does” them) , and uses evil for good in His plans as they unfold for us in history, even as they all times exist simultaneously for Him as He not only actively controls all things, but also reacts to His creatures, losing no control, but always actively remaining the Captain of the ship (in what sense is God “behind” all things? – in a sense like this…God only “decrees” Pharoah “do” evil [i.e. lets him do it] after numerous attempts to change Pharoah, and when Pharoah continues resisting as he does, he is appropriated into God’s plan for His glory in the way He is….)
  1. Again, if we assume that Ezekiel 20:25 and 26 does indeed connect these laws to child sacrifice, it seems to me that this would mean that the Israelites were not being faithful to God’s Law because they were being idolaters (Ezekiel 20:18) – why should we assume that many Israelites (perhaps most, with only a few faithful remaining, a la Elijah) innocently misread Exodus 22:28-29 instead of assuming, that first, through the lure of the idolatry of the nations (i.e. unbelief and bad-character-forming actions) they had fallen into the practices of the nations (i.e. child sacrifice) and then, they perhaps justified their actions by reading Exodus 22:28-29 out of context (i.e. chapter 13:2,13)? (further, how would reading Exodus 22:28-29 in this way, given the failure to account for chapter 13 be a “literal interpretion” (8)?!) I also note that Levenson himself sees the Laws given as God’s retaliation for idolatry (7).  Therefore from my view, It’s not that God perverts their hermeneutics, but that he confirms them in their sin, which has caused them to previously adopt faulty hermeneutics (sin=spin) to justify their actions.  Why is this not the best way to look at things?  It certainly seems to flow with the rest of the biblical accounts, does it not?
  1. When Levenson writes: “Could it be that Jeremiah’s hearers saw themselves as apostates or syncretists but as faithful YHWHists following the ancient tradition of their religion?” I get very confused. Is this not always how syncretists and apostates see themselves?  When is it otherwise?  Does Kathryn Jeffries Schori see herself as an apostate and syncretist?   Definitely not.  Nevertheless she is.
  1. Levenson quotes Greenberg “at least from the time of the last kings of Judah it was popularly believed that YHWH accepted, perhaps even commanded [child sacrifice]” and then he comments “What is curious in Greenberg’s comment is his certainty that popular practice was so radically separate from the normative religion.Why , if there is no evidence in the Bible (outside of Ezek. 20:25-26) for the sacrifice of the first-born son to YHWH, did so many Israelites come to adhere to such a practice?” (end quote)  I reply:  why, if there is no evidence in the Bible that homosexual activity is permissible did so many who follow the lead of Gene Robinson and Kathryn Jeffries Schori, did so many Episcopalians (and ELCA, and Presbyterians, etc. etc. – in spite of the fact of the Orthodox presences around them!) come to adhere to such a practice?  I know – from their (your?) perspective – the passages in Romans could very well be the equivalent of the “bad laws” of Ezekiel 20.  How to know?  The Spirit of course.  But why is it wrong to ultimately approach the Scriptures (after as much historical investigation as desired has been engaged in) with the view that Jesus himself seems to have of the Old Testament?  Believe like a child the simple words?  (saying, it might seem this other view is likely, but ultimately, there is much we can’t confidently assert here….)
  1. Obviously, I do not think that the “the latter opinion… better fits the biblical data: YHWH once commanded the sacrifice of the first-born but now opposes it”.
  1. Regarding Molech (10), why should God not execute Molech by the instrument of his own choosing – Tophet? Why not put him down via his own bread and butter?  Does Levenson have no sense of sweet poetic justice?
  1. Why not assume that at the time Micah writes he does not condemn child sacrifice because he didn’t need to – because it was now widely known now due to Hosea and Isaiah having made known the teachings of the Penteteuch again. Why not assume that everyone in their audience basically now knows this?  Just because the pagans may have thought that child sacrifice was the greatest act of devotion to god – i.e. he desired [a cult of child] sacrifice not obedience – does not mean that the prophet expected his readers to buy into this.
  1. Top of 12: “presented lovingly to his Lord”. Ugh.  As to why the account of Abraham and Isaac survived in the midst of this condemnation of child sacrifice (which, according to my reading of Genesis, I believe is condemned in that very book as well), why should we not assume that the most important thing here is that Abraham was willing to ***obey**** God here when it was, understandably really, really hard?  Levenson, states Gen. 22 shows that Abraham’s piety “was not to be taken as paradigmatic – a most unlikely interpretation”.  Why not say that it *is* but that the key point is to let God be God.  To listen to Him even when He seems to contradict what He says elsewhere, because we trust Him to fulfill His promises?  To think that He desires obedience, not sacrifice?  Paradigmatic indeed – but not because of a general piety that embraces child sacrifice as part and parcel of this piety!  Why is Levenson’s suggestion here not bordering on ridiculous and parody?  If this were as important as he claims why would this practice not be continued in the Scriptures (again, one must assume JEDP….) by other prominent and respected fathers of the faith?
  1. Regarding Jephthah (not a prominent and respected father of the faith, by the way), the author of Judges is notoriously vague on whether many of the things he shares are descriptive rather than prescriptive, but I’d suggest the last line of the book should have the most weight here (everyone did what was right…) Why not simply assume that Jephthah, though heroic, is simply evidence of how incredibly affected Israel was by their neighbor’s views?  I think this simply underscores the tragedy of how badly off the Israelites were.  And yet, God was merciful and worked through such corrupt folks as these, who had gotten so far from the truth.
  1. I don’t think II Kings 3:26-27 necessarily underscores the “full acceptability of this act even to the Israelite author of this narrative”. I think it could just as well underscore how much the demons appreciated and actually reciprocated child sacrifice.  It really works.  See Girard as well.
  1. P. 16 and 17: God is in the dock everywhere here. It is hard for me to not see all of this reasoning as undermining the message that the Scriptures really present.   Our Spirit-suppressing hermeneutics are a sight to behold.

I know my saying this might cause you to feel that you want to stop the conversation, but I hope not!  Know that I think all of us are permeated with the Satanic, since his venom is deep within us, infecting us, killing us and driving our relationship-killing actions as you say.

But Christ is risen as well, as you say.

(end of email to my friend)

My friend never responded to my questions though I will not assume it is because he would not be able to provide answers to them. It’s just as possible it may have simply fallen off his radar.

In any case, I hope that if these questions are not helpful to Mr. Sacramone, they may at least be helpful to others who have read Levenson.

Our God does not desire the death of the wicked – whether they be old or young – period. Jesus, who bid the little children come to Him, fully reveals to us the face of YHWH. Little ones to Him belong… they are weak and He is strong.

And this strong one – again, who is the only one who can help us understand the Old Testament in its depths – puts to flight the lies of the evil one. As I noted in a recent post about Martin Luther’s view of Scripture, summing up a recent paper from my pastor (partially quoting him):

“Luther gives the impression of believing ‘Scripture to be a coherent whole, in spite of its many writers, languages, historical contexts and transmission issues… [and] Where conundrums were discovered he let them be.’”

In other words, if the explanation that I am hinting at above in my questions to my friend is not the correct one, there is, rest assured, another one. Christ shows us the kindness of God – even as He still speaks of hell! (He is decidedly not a safe and tame lion!) – and reveals His firm desire to save all from all the myriad varieties of unlove, unlive, and unlight that Satan would peddle.

“Jesus loves me” – and all – “this I know“, by the grace of God. That grace that continues to reach out to, and be there for, Mr. Sacramone as well.

Much love to you sir!

FIN

 

Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Foster_Bible_Pictures_0074-1_Offering_to_Molech.jpg

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Is Martin Luther’s Sola Scriptura Our Sola Scriptura?

The seal of the author's church body, Note the three solas.

The seal of the author’s church body, Note the three solas.

 

Adam Hamilton is the senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, “one of the fastest growing, most highly visible churches in the country” (see here). He is the author of several popular books, and in his book When Christians Get it Wrong, he writes that the Bible is a document that is both divine and human, which for him means that the authors “were people who had a deep faith in God” who “heard and understood God in light of their culture and times.” He goes on to write that “..the Bible is the timeless, inspired word of God found within the writings and reflections of very human authors.” (italics mine, quote from here)

From a more scholarly perspective, Stephen Fowl, in his book “Engaging Scripture”, writes the following

“…theological convictions, ecclesial practices, and communal and social concerns should shape and be shaped by biblical interpretation” and “Biblical interpretation will be the occasion of a complex interaction between the biblical text and the varieties of theological, moral, material, political, and ecclesial concerns that are part of the contexts in which they find themselves.” (p. 60).

How do these views of the Bible compare with those of the 16th century church Reformer Martin Luther? Not long ago I had noted that at a recent theology conference in Bloomington, Minnesota, my pastor, Paul Strawn, had given “a rip-roaring scholarly paper” titled “Martin Luther’s Sola Scriptura”. The paper has not been published yet, but I have been given permission to publish some excerpts from the paper, which are found below.

In the paper’s introduction, Strawn writes about the recent history of the phrase “sola Scriptura” in his church body, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod:

“The Latin expression sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone) used to be regularly included in the slogan that summarized the Reformation of the western church in the 16th century via Martin Luther (1483-1546): sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide. At the last centenary of the Reformation in 1917 it was accepted as an accurate summation of the causes of that event.[1] It was incorporated into the newly designed seal of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1948 and popularized by the Oscar-nominated film Martin Luther in 1953—a film on which both Theodore G. Tappert (1904-1973) and Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006) served as consultants. A more recent (apparently) derivation of the slogan replaces sola Scriptura with solus Christus, that is, instead of Luther’s championing of the Bible being a leading cause of the Reformation, it was his confession of Christ…..

He goes on to provocatively state:

So perhaps can be understood the liturgical innovation of late of removing the place where the lectionary—a book containing the readings from the Bible used in worship—has traditionally been placed and from which it was read: the lectern… The Bible no longer has an authority in its own right deserving its own liturgical appointment (lectern) as does baptism (font) the Lord’s Supper (altar) and preaching (pulpit). Instead, its authority is derived from its proclamation (from the pulpit) by the church (the pastor).

Martin Luther believed "the Holy Spirit is no skeptic" and that the text was not just established, but actually existed: "Holy Scripture is God’s Word, written & formed in letters, just as Christ is the eternal Word of God enveloped in the human nature." - Luther (photo: Dr. Luther debates Dr. Eck - Martin Luther Memorial in Eisleben, Germany)

Again, Martin Luther believed “the Holy Spirit is no skeptic” and that the text was not just established, but actually existed: “Holy Scripture is God’s Word, written & formed in letters, just as Christ is the eternal Word of God enveloped in the human nature.”

 

The paper’s first section is titled “Scriptura Plastica”. Some of the highlights from this section:

  • The idea of establishing an original text of the New Testament (i.e. an “autograph”) was abandoned already in 1979, by critical scholar Kurt Aland, in the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece (the critical edition of the Greek New Testament). A new process, called the “local-genealogical method”, or “eclecticism” was adopted instead.
  • The contemporary “coherence-based genealogical method” is the newest method whereby scholars endeavor not to discover the original text of the New Testament, but rather the first “witness” in the New Testament tradition.
  • According to Strawn, we now have “witness criticism”: “The use of this term ‘witness’ is not insignificant, for it was an important term in the theology of the preeminent Protestant (Reformed) theologian of the 20th century, Karl Barth (1886-1968), allowing him to assert that in Scripture, you don’t necessarily have the Word of God itself, but the fallible ‘witness’ of man to God’s Word.”
  • “…the methodology of NA28 [i.e. the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland text noted above] has further implications, specifically that of the authority of Scripture, or in essence, the meaning of sola Scriptura”, and this has prompted some to suggest that traditional approaches towards biblical hermeneutics (that is the art and science of biblical interpretation) need to be reconsidered.

The final point made in this section:

  • “Why did [Martin] Luther take a number of manuscripts, reduce them to a single text, insist that that text was the inerrant Word of God, and also that its simple meaning be pursued? Was is that Luther was simply ignorant? Or could it be that he had a difference understanding of sola Scriptura than what we have today?”

The next section of the paper is titled “Luther and Scripture”. Within this section, the following points are made:

  • Martin Luther lived during a time when the Bible was seen to exist as a fixed text (i.e. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate), and her personally had extensive exposure to the Bible in this form while growing up.
  • “The sheer volume of Luther’s interaction with the Bible simply overwhelms. He read the Bible cover to cover twice a year.. Luther prepared a timeline of the history of the world, based on the text of Scripture… he translated the entire Bible from Hebrew and Greek into German (1534).” Throughout his life he held classes on many of the particular books of the Bible.
  • It is interesting to note that Luther received his first degree in Aristotelian philosophy and even taught the same. That said, in the long run, he “bypassed Aristotle (philosophy), Plato (mysticism), Lombard (medieval theology) and the patristics (Dogmengeschichte) and spent his life studying, teaching, preaching and translating the Bible.”
  • According to Luther, “The reason Scripture has never erred, is ‘clearer, simpler, and more reliable,’ and ‘alone is the true lord and master of all writings and doctrine on earth.’ The Bible is the ‘book of the Holy Spirit’ Luther asserted in comments on Psalm 40:8-9.[2] The Scriptures ‘did not grow on earth’[3] but ‘have been spoken by the Holy Spirit.’”[4]
  • “Thus Scripture, for Luther, seems ultimately to be a matter of the work of the Holy Spirit, especially in view of the end times, who is to convict the world of ‘Sin, righteousness and judgment’” (John 16:8).[5]
“All Holy Scripture was divinely inspired and perfected by God, its author…divine Scripture…contains nothing idle…Believe none of those things which you see with your own eyes and handle with your own hands to be as true as what you read there. It is certain from the divine words that heaven and earth will pass away…Although men lie and err, the truth of God neither deceives nor is deceived.” -- Erasmus, Luther’s skeptical opponent!

“All Holy Scripture was divinely inspired and perfected by God, its author…divine Scripture…contains nothing idle…Believe none of those things which you see with your own eyes and handle with your own hands to be as true as what you read there. It is certain from the divine words that heaven and earth will pass away…Although men lie and err, the truth of God neither deceives nor is deceived.” — Erasmus, Luther’s skeptical opponent!

 

The final section of the paper is titled “Luther and the Texts of Scripture”. There, we read:

  • “Even though Luther grew up hearing and studying the text of Jerome’s Vulgate, he was not unaware of its textual tradition. Jerome’s edition was not a straight translation… already in 1504, when Luther was 21, the first edition of the Vulgate with variant readings had been printed.”
  • In Erasmus’ “Textus Receptus”, “he also compared the Byzantine texts [Greek texts of the New Testament] to the references to Scripture found in the writings of the church fathers[i]—something not done with the critical text until the middle of the 20th century!”
  • “Erasmus apparently had access to the Greek manuscripts of the Eastern fathers he mentioned. This is not insignificant, for it means that he had access to some of the earliest manuscripts of Scripture known today.” (see a summary of another important paper by my pastor here: “An Overview of the Influence of the Publication of Patristic Literature Upon the Reformation”)
  • Why did Luther undertake the translation of Scriptures into German at all? “Eighteen editions of the Bible in German—fourteen in High German and four in Low—were published before Luther’s… the reason was clarity of meaning: a Bible which people could read and understand.”
  • For Luther, “the literal or historical meaning of the text was its Christological meaning, since the center of Scripture was Christ…” As he said: “In the Scriptures, therefore, no allegory, tropology, or analogy is valid, unless the same truth is expressly stated historically elsewhere. Otherwise Scripture would become a mockery.”
  • “How did all of these resources which clearly revealed a complex history of the textual transmission of Scripture affect Luther? It really seems not to have been an issue at all. A text, a clear text is assumed, and consequently, bad renderings, bad translations, can be spotted and corrected.”
  • “Modern scholarship…most assiduously endeavors to create unique contexts for each author, language and time period. Luther had no such proclivity, believing apparently Scripture to be a coherent whole, in spite of its many writers, languages, historical contexts and transmission issues.”

The views of Hamilton and Fowl, noted at the beginning of this article, are both related to the teachings of Karl Barth, i.e. his “Neo-Orthodoxy”. Approaches like theses are decidedly different from those of Luther. In the paper’s conclusion (you can read the entire conclusion, as well as other quotes from the paper in this article, which examines these issues in a larger context), we read the following: “The Bible as we have it is a work of the Holy Spirit even in these end times. Therefore, in spite of the questions raised by modern textual criticism, it remains without error, readable and understandable.”

Some in the church today would see this as opposed to solus Christus. This would have made absolutely no sense to Martin Luther. As noted earlier in the paper, the Church has always viewed the Scriptures as “a third-article topic, as that of the work of the Holy Spirit in history” and not “so much as of that of the second article, the person of Christ, in the present.”

FIN

 

Note: if you would like to talk to my pastor about his paper, he can be reached at pstrawn@lutheranpress.com

Notes:

[1] Theo. Engelder, “The Three Principles of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides,” in Four Hundred Years. Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Martin Luther and Its Blessed Results. In the Year of the Four-Hundredth Anniversary of the Reformation. By Various Lutheran Writers, Ed. by W.H.T. Dau (St. Louis: Concordia, 1916), p. 97-109.

[2] Walch 2nd ed., IX,  col. 1775.

[3] Sermon on John 3:34 (ca. 1538-1540), Walch 2nd ed., VII, col. 2095.

[4] From the Last Words of David (2 Sam. 23: 1-7), Walch 2nd ed., III, col. 1895.

[5] Cf. Martin Luther, Convicted by the Spirit, trans. by Holger Sonntag (Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, 2009).

[i] “Complete New Instrument diligently reviewed and improved by Erasmus of Rotterdam in relation to not only the Greek truth but also the trustworthiness of many codices – old and improved – of both languages [Greek and Latin]; then also in relation to the quotations, improvements, and interpretations by the best authors, chiefly Origen, Chrysostom, Cyril, Vulgarius [d. 928], Jerome, Cyprian, Ambrose, Hilary [of Poitiers d. 367] , Augustine – together with annotations that may instruct the reader concerning what has been changed for which reason. Therefore, whoever you are and love true theology, read, understand, and then judge. And do not be offended right away, should you indeed find fault with what was changed, but consider whether it was changed for the better.” (NOVVM IN strumentū omne, diligenter ab ERASMO ROTERODAMO recognitum & emendatum, nō solum ad graecam veritatem, verumetiam ad multorum utrius [que] linguae codicum, eorum[que] veterum simul & emendatorum fidem, postremo ad probatissimorum autorum citationem, emendationem & interpretationem praecipue, Origenis, Chrysostomi, Cyrilli, Vulgarii, Hieronymi, Cypriani, Ambrosii, Hilarii, Augustini, una cū Annotationibus, quae lectorem doceant, quid qua ratione mutatum sit. Quisquis igitur amas veram Theologiam, lege, cognosce, ac deinde iudica. Ne[que] statim offendere, si quid mutatum offenderis, sed expende, num in melius mutatum sit) (Basil: Froben, 1516).

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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My Six Sentence Secular Response to President Obama and Liberals in His Train

So, maybe like you, I woke up this morning to this:

bathroom_laws

Coincidently, yesterday I spent a couple hours thinking about and writing the following, which addresses issues very much like this:

When Richard Rorty defines truth as “what our peers will let us get away with saying”, how does this not, in effect, make truth liable to being nothing more than a power play for one’s advantage? From which it follows that it is really true (!) that it is ultimately only things that overpower other things that can be said to exist… to be. This certainly puts a new spin on what Aristotle said about truth, namely that “to say that which is, is and that which is not is not, is true”! With this assumed, the best among us can only be those who take – and lead – leaps of faith into oceans, hoping that the evolving beliefs we think are “good” – and not just our genes – will be spread and passed on. Here, any classical notions of knowledge as “justified true belief” are banished as whatever can win, if only temporarily, is all that remains for us to hope in. On the other hand, what if what we ultimately need is real knowledge… real wisdom… involving a truth that even goes beyond “accuracy” – implying perhaps even a goodness that goes beyond our own subjective impressions?

The President is making a grave mistake here, even as it is a mistake that, given his view of the world, he can hardly avoid making. Still, as I implied earlier this week, this kind of “compassion” is a lie:

Update:

I had sent the paragraph above to my pastor, along with my three-part explanation of how my Christian faith dovetailed with it:

  • Many believe knowledge is power. Further, power is truth. In short, what works to accomplish the desires I believe are good that I have for myself and those I choose to love is true.
  • But if truth is only about the “is” that overcomes and outwits the desires of those we compete with by “effective knowledge practices” are we not left without hope?
  • If we desire to become that “is” ourselves, are we not embracing not what we are meant to be and become, but rather death itself? Death is that “is”. But there is also “I am”.

My pastor comments:

“As I understand what you have written:

In the world, knowledge is power and power establishes truth. More simply: Power establishes truth. So the question: In order to “grasp” the “truth” must we acknowledge, believe in, succumb to, or simply embrace the “power”? Whatever we do, however, we do not discover what is true, but simply become the “power”.

If I remember right, this was the subject-matter of Orwell’s “1984”.

FIN

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Intelligent Public Discourse on Transgenderism – Able to Moderate the Current “Bathroom Battle”?

Are there limits to our interpretations of reality or to what our imaginations can construct and build?

Are there limits to our interpretations of reality or to what our imaginations can construct and build?

.

If you are a serious Christian – or even if you aren’t – and you feel like you could use a good primer on the issues transgenderism presents, I wrote this article for you. And… I even revised my initial draft with the help of this article by David Blankenhorn about being an effective de-polarizer (learned about it here). We’ll see if it works. : )

One can rest assured that most traditional Christians think that the new progressive (will refrain from putting that in scare quotes!) demands regarding “bathroom laws” are both a bad and unnecessary idea, even if they don’t speak out about it.

And why might they not raise their voices?

When even professors from Harvard University now suggest treating conservative Christians, the losers in the culture wars, the way that America treated Germany and the Japanese after World War II, one might begin to understand such unwillingness on the part of some (others might have other reasons as well). On the other hand, Christians can always hope and pray that some of our other liberal friends will take the tack of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof instead. In any case, we who just celebrated Ascension Day are confident that Jesus reigns already, even as “at present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him”, as the author of the book of Hebrews (2:8) put it.

On to the specific issue at hand.

Some Christians, like Aaron Wolf for example, make a case that making an effort to win this battle is a losing cause. As Wolf puts it, “When we as a society accepted the notion of transgenderism itself, we lost the bathroom battle”. Based on what I have read, I am not sure that is right and want to lay out some of the more interesting content that I have found on the very helpful website Public Discourse, which

is an online publication of the Witherspoon Institute that seeks to enhance the public understanding of the moral foundations of free societies by making the scholarship of the fellows and affiliated scholars of the Institute available and accessible to a general audience.

What follow, therefore, are clips from a few of the articles on the website dealing with transgenderism that I found particularly helpful and interesting. I’ve divided the concerns into a few main categories.

I. What can account for the transgender inclinations some persons experience?

Gregory Brown writes in his article, “Conservatives and Transgenderism: A Response to Jennifer Gruenke” (see Gruenke’s Public Discourse piece here) the following:

I welcome Jennifer Gruenke’s recent essay in Public Discourse, wherein she describes the rare intersex condition “from a biological point of view” and argues that, given the scientific facts surrounding many of these cases, conservatives should take a more tempered approach toward transgenderism. As long as other possible explanations of gender dysphoria are ruled out, she argues, conservatives should give transgender people the benefit of the doubt and take their introspective reports at their word. Because there is a plausible genetic account of transgenderism, conservatives should assume that the transgender person’s professed divergence between bodily sex and reported gender is a result of some variety of intersex condition.

Unfortunately, I do not find Gruenke’s case convincing…

This account of sex.. has much in common with the account of sex identity that Christopher Tollefsen recently introduced at Public Discourse. Because human beings reproduce sexually, human beings are either male or female in the typical case, and their sex corresponds with the function that their reproductive organs can play in coitus. There is no other principled way for picking out the sexes.

As Tollefsen argues, sex being so defined, it is not even possible to change one’s sex, and attempts to do so will mutilate otherwise functional organs. So long as the practice of medicine is correctly understood as the practice of restoring human bodies to their proper functioning, gender-reassignment surgeries will fall outside the domain of medicine. The conservative can happily grant Gruenke’s biological account, for the sake of argument if not because it is true—there is a fair bit of disagreement over the science and how best to interpret it, after all. But Gruenke’s account, in what it presupposes, offers only reasons to accept Tollefsen’s argument, while offering nothing to resist his conclusion…”

To another of Gruenke’s objections, Brown writes:

“It would be silly to doubt the honesty of an anorexic person; though we think there is something wrong with her introspective report, we do not doubt that there is something behind it, that she makes it for some reason. The anorexic person might have brain chemistry similar to that of someone who is overweight. In fact, the chemical imbalance might be a result of some heritable mutation, shared by one’s identical twin. But an anorexic person’s introspective report is nevertheless incorrect.”

Consider reading the whole thing.

II. Concerns about the mental health – and lives – of the transgender community

Walt Heyer, in his article “The Danish Girl: People Aren’t Born Transgender, But Playing Dress-Up Can Spark Psychological Problems”, writes the following:

The usual diagnosis for patients who identify as transgender is “gender dysphoria.” According to the DSM-5 (the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), gender dysphoria is characterized by a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and one’s biological sex, lasting at least six months. Although it isn’t talked about much, studies show a majority of transgender patients suffer from other comorbid (co-existing) disorders.

A 2011 survey found that 41 percent of transgender people reported attempting suicide at least once. Unhappiness and suicides were first reported in 1979 by a doctor at Harry Benjamin’s gender clinic, endocrinologist Dr. Charles Ihlenfeld. After six years administering cross-gender hormone therapy to five hundred transgender patients, Dr. Ihlenfeld said that 80 percent of the people who want sex-reassignment surgery should not have it. The reason? The high rates of suicide among the post-operative transgender population. More startlingly, Dr. Ihlenfeld stated that transgender surgery was never intended to be a life-long treatment solution, but only a temporary reprieve.

In another article titled “50 Years of Sex Changes, Mental Disorders, and Too Many Suicides”, Heyer writes…

… Charles Ihlenfeld administered hormone therapy to some 500 transgender people over a period of six years at Benjamin’s clinic—until he became concerned about the outcomes. “There is too much unhappiness among people who have the surgery,” he said. “Too many of them end as suicides. 80% who want to change their sex shouldn’t do it.” But even for the 20% he thought might be good candidates for it, sex change is by no means a solution to life’s problems. He thinks of it more as a kind of reprieve. “It buys maybe 10 or 15 years of a happier life,” he said, “and it’s worth it for that.”

But then, Ihlenfeld himself never had a sex change. I did, and I disagree with him on that last point: The reprieve is not worth it. After I had a reprieve of seven or eight years, then what? I was worse off than before. I looked like a woman—my legal documents identified me as a woman—yet I found that at the end of the “reprieve” I wanted to be a man every bit as passionately as I had once yearned to be a woman. Recovery was difficult

…two powerful and influential doctors were early pioneers in the treatment of transsexualism. Dr. Ihlenfeld is a homosexual psychiatrist; Dr. Paul McHugh is a heterosexual psychiatrist. Both came to the same conclusion, then and now: Having surgery did not resolve the patients’ psychological issues.

… A 2014 study found 62.7% of patients diagnosed with gender dysphoria had at least one co-occurring disorder, and 33% were found to have major depressive disorders, which are linked to suicide ideation. Another 2014 study of four European countries found that almost 70% of participants showed one or more Axis I disorders, mainly affective (mood) disorders and anxiety.

Again, suicide rates of this group are very high:

… Transgender people report attempting suicide at a staggering rate—above 40%. According to Suicide.org, 90% of all suicides are the result of untreated mental disorders. Over 60% (and possibly up to 90% as shown at Case Western) of transgender people have comorbid psychiatric disorders, which often go wholly untreated.

His conclusion is devastating:

Allowing a political agenda to override and silence the scientific process will not prevent suicides or lead to better treatments for this population. It’s not compassion; it’s reckless disregard for people’s lives.

Also in this article, Heyer links to a piece that Paul McHugh, mentioned above, wrote about these issues in the magazine First Things. In the article, titled “Surgical Sex: Why We Stopped Doing Sex-Change Operations”, he concluded as follows:

I have witnessed a great deal of damage from sex-reassignment. The children transformed from their male constitution into female roles suffered prolonged distress and misery as they sensed their natural attitudes. Their parents usually lived with guilt over their decisions—second-guessing themselves and somewhat ashamed of the fabrication, both surgical and social, they had imposed on their sons. As for the adults who came to us claiming to have discovered their “true” sexual identity and to have heard about sex-change operations, we psychiatrists have been distracted from studying the causes and natures of their mental misdirections by preparing them for surgery and for a life in the other sex. We have wasted scientific and technical resources and damaged our professional credibility by collaborating with madness rather than trying to study, cure, and ultimately prevent it.

III. Concerns about the encroachment of these issues into the lives of children

In her article, Transgenderism Has No Basis in Science or Law, Margaret A. Hagen writes:

While no one is yet publicly advocating the surgical alteration of children, loud voices in the media and among advocates—even at Boston Children’s Hospital—have called for and have even implemented hormone therapy to delay the onset of children’s puberty in order to facilitate gonadectomy later in their teens or young adulthood. Research on the sexual development of children who at some point are seen to be nonconformist shows that more than 80 percent of such children outgrow their “transgenderism” by the end of their teens. Interference with the normal sexual development of children on the basis of political ideology is not just unethical—it is child abuse. It is not only past time for an extensive public discussion of this practice; it is past time to put an end to it.

In light of this, might progressives better understand the position taken by the state of North Carolina namely that of “allow[ing] accommodations based on special circumstances, including but not limited to transgender individuals”? I thought “hard cases ma[d]e bad law”.

Another very interesting point in this article (not related to children) is the following:

The conviction that one is a “one-limbed person trapped in a multi-limbed body” is now being treated as an actual mental disorder called “Body Integrity Identity Disorder.” Seven such patients are reported as having had an arm or a leg electively amputated as “treatment” for this disorder. Immediate post-operative reports seem to be positive, but what about follow-up reports on life as a voluntary amputee ten and twenty years after the surgery? How about an extensive social discussion of the ethical limits of elective amputation—both for the doctors and for the society at large?

Some other good articles at Public Discourse you might want to check out include the following:

An African-American Woman Reflects on the Transgender Movement by Nuriddeen Knight

Is Christian Teaching on Sexuality Psychologically Harmful? by Andrew T. Walker and Glenn Stanton

Sex Identity by Christopher O. Tollefsen

Gender Identity by Christopher O. Tollefsen

“Sex Change” Surgery: What Bruce Jenner, Diane Sawyer, and You Should Know by Walt Heyer

When My Father Told Me He Wanted to Be a Woman by Denise Shick

The Girl in the Tuxedo: Two Variations on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity by Jean C. Lloyd

Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme by Paul McHugh

The Absurdity of Transgenderism: A Stern but Necessary Critique by Carlos D. Flores

Our Great Sexual Adventure: Where Does It End? by Jeremy Neill

The End of Single-Sex Higher Ed by Kelsey Paff

Freedom to Change Your Life: Why the Government Shouldn’t Ban “Reparative Therapy” by Walt Heyer

North Carolina’s Bathroom Bill and the Constitution by E. Gregory Wallace

And one of my favorites: The New Dignity: Gnostic, Elitist, Self-Destructive Will-to-Power by Roberta Green Ahmanson

My conclusion is that we do not need to deny that there may very well a biological component to transgenderism. In any regard, I think based on what was said above, it makes sense to be opposed to progressive bathroom laws for reasons other than concerns about enabling male predators, as Wolf also points out. There is also a good case to be made that the government should not give the impression that transgenderism is a good thing. In any case, I think it is certainly right for us to have compassion for those who deal with these issues, while at the same time remembering that “hard cases make bad law”, as many in the legal profession put it.

Of course, for the Christian, there is a wider concern about what all of this means in the big picture. First, there are the concerns that are raised, and second, there is, in light of this knowledge, the hope that we gain. Here, Scripture can give us the clue that even much that seems to occur according to nature has to do with the Fall into sin, and this presents us with the opportunity to talk about the promise of the God-Man Jesus Christ. Christ and His redemption help us to address the nagging sense we all have that the world is not the way it is supposed to be – He saves us not only from our sins (and death and the devil), but also the effects of the sin which manifests itself differently from person to person (more on that here).

FIN

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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