The “biblical hierarchy of goodness” introduced in the previous post will be helpful in a number of situations – even in cases we might not expect….
For example, Martin Luther himself certainly had some hermeneutical temptations….
In his commentary on Deuteronomy, if one reads carefully, one will see that Luther seems to closely connect the Fall to marriage, which, as we know, the Apostle Paul says one should enter into if one burns: “matrimony was divinely instituted and commanded for those who cannot live a chaste life without it” (AE 9:96).
Elsewhere, of course, Luther wrote differently and more carefully of marriage and it’s purposes. That said, from instances like this one, the impression can certainly be given that for him the Fall and marriage are somewhat conflated! God foresaw that man would sin, and so for this reason instituted marriage in the pre-fall (or “prelapsarian) world. Why would Luther even be tempted to fall into this kind of thought-pattern?
This may well have had something to do both with the kind of theology Luther was taught (from men like William of Ockham) and even lived for many years as a Christian monk. Perhaps you are aware of the idea of “social contagion” — I think its a useful thing to keep in mind…
In some ways, I think Luther was trying to respond to a theological “social contagion” of his day, the idea that marriage did not help fight sin, but rather encouraged it!
This kind of problem where the original creation and fall get conflated still happens on occasion today, even among otherwise very careful Christian thinkers. Hence, the popular pastor Chris Rosebrough, in a seemingly very conservative presentation, might also think that things like male headship are also closely connected with the Fall. Here, God foresaw that Eve would sin and bring Adam along, and so for this reason He instituted male headship (or, perhaps, he just instituted it after but not before the Fall).
On the contrary though, Scripturally and historically, both marriage and male headship were things that are presented for us as things that are wholly unrelated to the Fall (Genesis 1-2, I Cor. 11:3)!
Again, the Biblical Hierarchy of Goodness, seen below, would have been helpful here!
And not just in these cases! Issues that perhaps arise from this kind of thinking go ever deeper… with far more severe consequences…
As noted at the end of the previous post, possibly in part because all of the kinds of goodness found in Scripture are rather complicated and involved, more liberal conservative theologians—and even persons from my own conservative Lutheran camp—have taken the “opportunity” to “simplify” the matter:
“Have you realized that, in each and every case, trying to be lawful, to be good, to be better… is basically synonymous with trying to be God?”[i]
This view has been effectively promulgated among many conservative Lutherans primarily through the writings of the late “conservative ELCA” theologian Gerhard Forde. Now, in some ways, Forde might seem to be on my wavelength when he says, in reference to man’s creation, fall, and redemption, that the human creature was “given a relative perfection in the creation…”
That sounds a bit like the immature and mature goodness I talked about in the second post of this series! That said, which direction does he insist on going with this? Forde does not think the notion of a “relative perfection” is a good thing at all!:
“[This] means nothing but trouble for the understanding of sin and freedom” – the “very word ‘fall’” “is not…a good biblical term.”
By insisting that the word “fall” is not a good biblical term, Forde in effect conflates all of the different kinds of Goodness. But how can Forde get away with eliminating the very biblical Fall from consideration? In part, it is because the Bible itself speaks about how it is not only man as fallen sinner who needs God, but man as creature as well (for even prior to the fall, He is weak compared to God and fully dependent on God!).
And yet, note this as well: he now also has an excuse to not explain how the redeemed Christian has a sanctified and freed will, much like the will that Adam and Eve had in the Garden before they sinned (actually, now, the believer has “two wills” because he now, somewhat analogously to Christ, has two natures).
Saying that traditional Christian ideas like the Fall, clearly seen in Genesis 3, are a part of the problem, Forde can then attack the notion of the Christian’s responsibility for attempting to do good in the world! For again, it would seem that in Forde’s view, if one is trying to be better–or even to better understand what it means to follow God’s law–one is necessarily trying to justify one’s self by following the law!
Forde, like Luther, does rightly counter those who contend for false notions of free will. At the same time though, he in effect says that any notion of a freed will in the Christian—at least one that is consciously so—is just more evidence of our sin! (for the best counter I have seen regarding this kind of erroneous thinking, see the piece by Matthew Cochran touted in these tweets: https://twitter.com/NathanRinne/status/1200381479789957120)
In this, he not only fails to acknowledge that Luther himself explicitly says in the Bondage of the Will that the book is not discussing matters of sanctification, but justification – but he directly attacks what Luther would have never in his wildest dreams attacked.
As we saw at the beginning of this post, conservative Lutheran theologians–even Luther himself!–for whatever reasons, have not always been as careful as they might have been in their treatment of Goodness vis a vis the Fall.
Forde though, as we have seen, takes the next step and concludes that something like the Fall is wholly irrelevant and even harmful for doing theology! What ultimately matters—and what controls everything else in his theological system—is not that God’s law accuses us of specific deeds that are essentially evil trans-culturally and trans-historically, but that we feel accused.
I contend that this denial of the importance of the Creation vis a vis the Fall—of letting Scripture delineate how we treat matters of Goodness—has disastrous implications.
If we do not let the Scriptures dictate the matter of how to appraise Goodness, with the Hierarchy that exists there, the world will run over us.
After all, the kinds of things that we have been taught by the world’s elites (who often got their start in the more liberal quarters of the Christian church!) create for us the temptation to think in all kinds of ways that are opposed to Scripture but are more friendly to men like Forde….
Note that, after all….
- the idea of the fall is difficult to square with modern scientific “knowledge,” particularly the theory of evolution.
- the world is now saying that races don’t exist, which seems to be true enough, but also seems eager to make sure that certain nationalities and/or ethnicities cease to exist as well. From a political standpoint, this might even seem to make sense (even as, taking lessons from history into consideration it is woefully short-sighted).
- in the past, the idea of some things that don’t change and are permanent was a fixture even for intellectuals, while in today’s environment, influential historical figures like Vico, Hegel, Darwin, and Nietzsche have created a highly “liquid” environment, which one must adjust to if one is to effectively communicate and survive.
- the world likes the idea of maximizing freedom in the sense of being who we are and doing what we want to do, as long as we do not hurt others. And again even Christians can see some wisdom in this, so long it is not insisted that we have no duties towards those who abuse freedom such that they hurt others or themselves – but what does “abuse”, “freedom”, and “hurt” really mean anyways? What is real goodness?
- when Paul in Ephesians tells wives to “submit to their husbands as to the Lord,” how popular in our culture is this going to be? If we take modern explanations of what submission means here and apply it back to submission to the Lord it will almost never be accurate, demonstrating that it is almost never a good explanation. As Matt Cochran puts it, “does our submission to Christ merely mean that we respect him and that he respects us? Not so much.”
- those sympathetic to theologies like those of Radical Lutheranism often tend to think that they experience more genuine love from people in the world than Christians. While Christians might express “concern” for them, “trying to guide their behavior,” they know that those Christians, however gentle they might try to be about this, don’t really “like” them while the world does.
- the pressure from groups claiming an identity of LGBTQ+ is great and powerful. Since marriage is only temporal, why insist that, in lines with issues of “burning”, gay marriage cannot provide much the same kind of “damage control,” or “temporary solution” that marriage can?
It is not hard to see the advantages men like Gerhard Forde might have thought he had in going in this direction – even if this was largely subconscious…
In other words, being academically and socially respectable becomes our goal–or at least one of our goals (how else will I become an effective evangelist?)–even if we are not fully aware of this.
We might even watch the new play about conservative Catholics, “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” and rightly find much to appreciate (that liberal guy represented those conservative views quite well, didn’t he?) while still simultaneously refusing to go into the even deeper waters the times demand!
….And that the Biblical Hierarchy of Goodness is ready to address.
In order to drive home the point as effectively as I can, I need to continue picking on my fellow Lutherans here….
All of the above goes a long way toward explaining the kinds of things that we see in books like The Necessary Distinction but don’t fully understand… and can’t fully express what is wrong….
Concordia Theological seminary professor Roland Ziegler, for example, wrote that those who want the legal institution of same-sex marriage are showing reverence for God’s law and yet, never says, in any sense, that they are actually acting against God’s law (see p. 330 in The Necessary Distinction). Addressing the same kind of issues elsewhere, Professor Scott Keith has said: “Its easier to treat someone without compassion if it goes against natural law…it is easier to divest yourself from having any compassion toward somebody if its just simply unnatural.” In each situation, the implication seems to be that being overly conservative, holding the line on LGBTQ+ issues, does not demonstrate love but in fact a lack of love!
Therefore, here we can see how the kinds of ambiguities spoken about above—which have always been seized upon by the more liberal wings of the Christian church—find root in conservative Lutheran soil as well!
Even with these conservative Lutherans, what reason is there to think that there will not be a temptation to waffle on the notions of “male” and “female” next, causing confusion much like the DTS professors mentioned in the first post?[ii]
After all, if something like marriage can be both good but temporal, there might seem to be few firm reasons why should we insist that the same is not true for the categories of “male” and “female”…
That said, let us give an answer using our Hierarchy that I imagine even many a “Radical Lutheran” (or RL sympathizer) will be inclined to say “Amen!” to!
So now we are ready to point out that the issues specifically addressed by the Dallas Theological Seminary professors can be usefully addressed with the Hierarchy provided above.
The key question is this: In the Scriptures, do we see any divergence between what is externally “male” and “female” and what is internally so?
Unknown Final Goodness: There, of course, is little that we can say here about anything!
Persisting Edenic Goodness: Perhaps one, looking at this or the next category, might be tempted to say “Our knowledge of the world before the Fall is very limited, but the world we observe is such a vast place. We’re discovering new places, new stars, new species, and other new parts of God’s creation all the time. Who’s to say that transgenderism isn’t just one more of those parts of God’s original creation that is only just now being discovered?”
And yet, for those of us who take passages like 2 Tim. 3:16 seriously, what is revealed to us in the Scriptures specifically about “male” and “female”?
- Sex or gender are simply a good part of God’s creation (Matt 19:1-9, Gen. 2: 24, Eph 5:22-33)
- “The body is meant . . . for the Lord and the Lord for the body (1 Cor 6:13)”[iii]
- In Deuteronomy 22:5, God commanded His people to dress in accordance with the sex that one had been given.[iv]
- Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration are recognized as being those particularly men!
- The masculine pronoun is used to describe angels, who I have never taken to be genderless beings, even if they are not, presumably, sexual beings.
- Hebrews 11 speaks about particular men and women who are now with the Lord!
Non-persisting Edenic Goodness: We are given no indication in Scripture that the distinction between male and female, like male-female marriage, is meant to be temporary, and a part of the “immature” state of affairs. As Scott Stiegemeyer puts it, echoing the above list: “There will not be marriage in the resurrection, but there will still be men and women. And since our resurrection bodies will be absent every disease and disorder, we can assume intersex people will be raised as men and women, even if, due to the fall, their sex was questioned during their earthly life…”
Persisting Fallen Goodness and/or Non-persisting Fallen Goodness: Perhaps someone might entertain thoughts like the following:
“Because we live in a broken world in which things don’t always work the way they’re supposed to, it’s good for humans to adapt to those circumstances so that we can alleviate one-another’s suffering. Transgendered people, being fundamentally unable to live as the gender assigned to them at birth, are doing precisely this by discovering both new ways to be men and women, and new ways to be human without being men or women. Maybe that goodness persists in the new heavens and earth because the good deeds of the saints follow them. Maybe it doesn’t persist because the need for adaptation goes away. But either way, it’s a good thing.”
Much more can be said about reasoning like this, even from a purely secular perspective (all noted in the post I referred to in part 1). The issue is not that we as Christians cannot say that something is not true knowledge if that knowledge is not confirmed by the Scriptures. The critical question to ask here, in light of the rest of the things we have seen above, is this:
Given what has been revealed clearly to us in His Word about male and female, does God really expect us to be so agnostic and uncertain about these kinds of things?
Invisible Goodness (Angelic Goodness): Not relevant to inquiry.
We cannot remain comfortably agnostic about what goodness is in this life…. To cling to the Scriptures for guidance about what is most important in life and what is good to do is precisely the opposite of causing abuse, oppression, and harm.
We should not never forget that while Christ is firm vs. sin (“Go and sin no more!”), He did not come to judge, but to save. To heal our sinful disease and the effects of that sin. And this is great news, because as Scott Stiegemeyer has wisely put it:
“All children of Adam have disordered sinful desires but not all disordered sinful desires are exactly the same in terms of our lived existence. Some sins have a deeper grab on us than others. Some are habits. Others are embedded more deeply. Pastoral care toward all sinful brokenness is not one-sized-fits-all…
Helping an alcoholic overcome his temptations might require a different approach than helping a person who struggles with envy or gossip. Baptism, Absolution, preaching, and the Eucharist are effectual to heal us, both in time and for eternity. But Thomas Hopko is exactly right that the techniques of psychologists and psychiatrists should be employed where appropriate as well” (p. 45, CTQ article, italics mine).
So here, some nuance, informed by our discussion of the kinds of goodness above, is needed. Some might feel a very powerful desire to drink alcoholic beverages, but it is the desire for drunkenness that is sin. Some might feel more of an “incongruity between their mind and body” (Stiegemeyer), but it is the desire to change one’s sex that is sin. Some might feel a physical attraction to members of the same sex, but it is the desire to engage in sexual activity with them that is sin..
To take an easy comparison in order to draw a very necessary kind of distinction, we would not say, in general, that a man’s attraction to his wife or even his desire to be united with her in sexual intercourse is sinful in terms of rightly-ordered creation, in spite of the fact that, due to the “concupiscence” of original sin, sinful impulses are no doubt involved in the mix here which God is pleased to cover through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Even as we can and must make distinctions like this though, what Scott Stiegemeyer talks about is also correct: “All children of Adam have disordered sinful desires but not all disordered sinful desires.”[v] And all of those sinful desires are in need of Christ’s cleansing blood!
In closing, in a past post in reference to the transgender issue, I said:
“Is it possible that Christ’s message to his disciples about the man born blind is His message for us today about those who struggle with transgender inclinations: namely, “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him”? In other words, nothing that has gone wrong among us – things are “not the way it’s supposed to be”! – can’t be redeemed in Him. Due to the ravages of original sin, we are all “disabled” in the same and different ways – some of us having particularly difficult crosses to bear.”
Much more can be said here, and should – and with great efforts to do so in both firmness and real compassion, as men like Ryan Anderson and Robert George do here. Again, God can certainly use all things for good, as we American Christians like to point out (again, almost exclusively—see part 1) but when we dig deeply into the Scriptures or even just into the above offered Hierarchy of Goodness derived from Scripture, we see we have the basis for the most well-informed and most biblical responses, (see my try here) which are truly the only really compassionate responses.
In sum, while we will not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, narrowly understood (forgiveness by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ!), we will also not be ashamed to talk about and exult in the many ways our Lord has brought and brings us Goodness, both through His creation, and the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ!
In the beginning.
Now in this cursed world.
[i] Lutheran theologians have always insisted that we are not sinners because we sin, but, at the deepest level, we sin because we are sinners. I have recently been reminded that Radical Lutheran theologians take things steps further, and have no trouble insisting, for example, that because of facts like this even attempting not to sin is sinful and that we spiritually die not because we sin generally (unbelief and disobedience of God’s Word, a lack of fear, love, and trust in God), but because we attempt to justify ourselves before God by what we do. This, of course, is not the way that the Scriptures approach our life in Christ. What are some of the clear consequences that we see following from this? What are some thoughts and ideas about the best way to counter this? (BB 92, 38:00 ; BB 90 [or 91], 20:00)
[ii] This will be culturally useful after all—even for social conservatives! After all, as more and more trans-women (men) come to dominate things like women’s sports, this could be seen as tipping the scales more in the direction of the “masculine,” which, no doubt, is a kind of felt need among many of us (to counter more “gynocentric” approaches created by feminist currents, most clearly seen in things like family law).
[iii] “Attitudes toward gender identity these days might not favor the binary, but the human reproductive system does (Scott Stiegemeyer)” The “binary” cannot be escaped (even LGBTQ…depends on it). Persons are not only their bodies, but they are, in part, their bodies. We are integrated people all the way through (to counter the idea that “gender” = what’s in head and “sex” = what’s between legs).
[iv] The 10 commandments and other law in line with the natural law, like Deuteronomy 22:5, cannot be put against the two great commandments to love God and neighbor. One of our fathers in the faith, Ambrose of Milan, puts it well: “if you consider it truly, there is an incongruity that nature itself abhors. For why, man, do you not want to appear to be what you were born as? Why do you put on a strange guise? Why do you ape a woman? Or why do you, woman, ape a man?” Commenting on Deuteronomy 22:5, he goes on to say: “Nature arrays each sex with its own garments. Men and women have different customs, different complexions, gestures and gaits, different sorts of strength, different voices.” (Letter 15 .2.) I looked at about 12 commentaries on Deuteronomy 22:5, particularly 7 released in the past 8 years or so, and while some think this may be addressing transvestite practices in Canaanite religion (even here note that this is not separated from, but goes hand in hand with, the concern for moral order – see Lundbom’s 2013 commentary, pp. 616-617), only one commentary I recall suggested this exclusively (Christensen, 2002). Block’s 2012 Zondervan commentary is typical when it says “this injunction seeks to preserve the order built into creation” (p. 512). Even the new commentaries published by more liberal publishers (Abingdon, WJK, and Smyth & Helwys), perhaps eager to point out the Old Testament’s backwardness, agree. Also, it is not only in this present age that persons deal with what we now call “gender dysphoria”.
[v] He says more: “We should not say or imply that people who have the sense of incongruity between their mind and body are necessarily sinning. They are fallen sinners, yes, but is their confusion itself a sin or the result of their inherited sinful condition? It would indeed be a transgression of natural law and Aquinas’s Principle of Totality to undergo the so-called sex reassignment surgery. Alternative medical and psychological treatments for GD should continue to be sought.” (p. 46).