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Yes David French, We Should Seek Certainty in an Uncertain World

National Review writer David French

 

In an article published in National Review, “The Enduring Appeal of Creepy Christianity,” David French uses the news surrounding Judge Roy Moore to make some critical points about American Christianity.

The sub-title of his article — which definitely caught my attention — provocatively reads “the desire for certainty in an uncertain world yields terrible results.”

French states that Christians have two temptations rooted in the fear of men. One is the path that liberal Christians take: to “forsake Christian doctrine to seek the approval of a hostile culture.” The other path — which French distinguishes from the first by calling it “pernicious” — appeals to the “theologically orthodox: “the temptation to run toward a form of hyper-legalism as a firewall to protect your family from the sins of the world.”

He writes:

“Mothers and fathers are desperate for a way to guarantee that their children will grow up to love the Lord. They want to build high walls against sin, so they seek to create distinct communities that are free of the world’s filth and moral compromise.”

More:

“Theologically, [this temptation] fundamentally denies a very uncomfortable scriptural truth: that this side of heaven we can’t eliminate uncertainty or temptation. We “see through a glass darkly.” We simply don’t have all the answers — for raising children, for sustaining a successful marriage, for thriving in our careers, or for responding to sickness and adversity.

The scriptural response to this fundamental uncertainty is unsatisfying to some. Faith, hope, and love are vague concepts. The Bible doesn’t have a clear, specific prescription for every life challenge. But rather than seeking God prayerfully and with deep humility and reverence, we want answers, now. And thus we gravitate to those people who purport to offer more than the Bible.”

The thrust of French’s article is that there is much that is wrong with American evangelical Christianity, and that unless it “end[s] the cult of the Christian celebrity and the quest for certainty,” this world is “destined for ruin, and before it goes down, it will consume and damage the most vulnerable among us.”

 

I see much that is true in French’s article. His warnings about Christian celebrity are apt. As friend of mine says: “I am so done with celebrity pastors, so called “Christian” leaders, and pop-Evangelical Christian politicians.”

My friend goes on:

“I’ve made a couple of rules for myself.  1) Don’t trust any “Christian” leader who has a New York Times best seller.  2) Don’t attend conferences that attract more than 500 people in attendance or follow speakers that appear at that conference. And maybe 3) any “Christian” leader that appears regularly in the news.”

Perhaps a bit extreme, but he makes a great point.

In like fashion, even though I have not experienced them myself, I understand that there are communities of Christians who have a poor understanding of the law of God and who demand more from Christianity than it gives.

A more sophisticated “seeker-sensitive” attempt.

 

Another friend who read the article had some very challenging thoughts expanding on this:

“I think that the article is largely on target when it comes to the misguided quest of many Christians for certainty on worldly matters. God’s promises are absolutely sure, but they do not include children who will grow up to love the Lord, communities that are free of the world’s filth and moral compromise, successful marriages, thriving careers, proper responses to sickness and adversity, etc. For me, this is one of many manifestations of Western society’s embrace of technical rationality (techne) at the expense of practical judgment (phronesis); we want formulas and procedures with guaranteed outcomes for all aspects of life, but things just do not work that way within our fallen existence.

French quotes Ecclesiastes, which I consider to be the greatest philosophical treatise ever written, since it is the only divinely inspired one. My summary of its overall message is, “Your time is short, your understanding is shallow, and your control is shaky (at best). So fear God, because He rules all; keep His commandments, because He knows best; and enjoy His gifts, while you still can.”

There is much to take in here! Is it really true that the Lord does not promise us, e.g. successful marriages and children who will grow up to love the Lord? I hesitate to go so far in saying this, for it seems to me that passages like Proverbs 22:6 can definitely be taken as promises from the Lord. I know what my friend says above is meant to comfort, but such words make me very sad to. If God desires all persons to be saved, and I can’t be a conduit for His grace to efficaciously reach the flesh and blood who are under my own roof — especially when I beg Him for such mercy! — well, it is something I don’t even want to think about (….and I think, going to I Cor. 10:13 and John 16:12, that God knows what I as a father can bear!)

My kids with Jesus. More.

 

In any case, I think my friend’s words are wise words…(even as I supplement them!).

So David French is touching on some really good stuff.

At the same time, there is also something about the article that really made me uneasy. Maybe it’s this: when French says “[t]heologically, [this concern to protect one’s family] fundamentally denies a very uncomfortable scriptural truth,” I can’t not stop thinking about the following passage from 2 Corinthians (the end of chapter 6 and beginning of 7):

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.”

Therefore,

“Come out from them
and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”

And,

“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

It seems to me that a lot of persons outside the church might read something like that, and think, “Yep, the enduring appeal of creepy Christianity.”

That, however, would be terrible way to read the Apostle Paul. After all, who among us has not identified with what the church has said about the world — namely, that it is a “vale of tears”? And what if there is indeed — as the Apostle insists — true “higher ground” to be found? (see Colossians 3:1-4)

A taste of heavenly fellowship, of un-fallen love… (The Parable of the Prodigal Son, Gerard van Honthorst, 1623)

 

The overall message? Christ is the light of the world, and therefore the church, His bride, is the light of the world.

Even if the light doesn’t look so much like a City on the Hill these days as a candle – maybe even a flickering candle — in the darkness.

I take great comfort in the way Paul begins his letter:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Yes! And note — this is the kind of certainty we are meant to have. He has loved us with an everlasting love in His Son Jesus Christ.

Exulting in this certainty, I certainly will come out and be separate!

FIN

 

Image: David French pic: CC BY-SA 3.0 ; by Gage Skidmore. 

 

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Posted by on November 22, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Matthew Garnett’s Helpful Evaluation of Tullian Tchividjian’s Preaching

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Matthew Garnett, of the In Layman’s Terms podcast and the Federalist, shared an important piece last week on Facebook about Tullian Tchividjian’s Preaching. As I said there in reply to a critical comment (referring to “fear based heretic hunting“):

I’d say we owe Matthew our thanks for his very insightful and careful article here. Tullian does to, of course! — very kind of Matthew to listen to absolutely everything the man has said, and I detect no mallice towards Tullian from him as well, for which I am thankful.”

Matthew has given me permission to reprint his article here in full (and note that his last three podcasts have also been about Tullian’s preaching, here [most recent], here, and here [I’m on this one to]). Enjoy!

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Seven Reasons Why Tullian Tchividjian’s Preaching Is False and Its Dangers to the Gospel

By Matthew Garnett on Saturday, November 4, 2017

Having formerly been a major fan boy of Tullian Tchivijian, having listened to all of his sermons from his time at Coral Ridge, his lectures at “Liberate”, and now seeing him emerge again with his tullian.net site, I have realized I was dead wrong to embrace his teachings and here’s why.

1. He never warns his people of the dangers of apostasy.

Being trained at perhaps the finest Reformed seminary in the country, Westminster, Philly, Tchividjian is in that all too uncomfortable place of “unconditional election” and “limited atonement”. There, you have two options: 1) preach that you might be of the elect since you seem to be doing good works and hanging around the church, but then again maybe not because you might stop doing those things, or 2) preach “once saved always saved” like Tchividjian does in his oft quoted cliché “You’re in forever!”

The only problem with that is the bible warns of apostasy all over the place. Of the two options, the first seems the safest bet, albeit still inadequate. Going with the latter option, biblically speaking, gives a false comfort.

2. He never warns of the temporal punishments of sin.

Of all the people who should be acquainted with the natural consequences of sinful behavior, Tchividjian continues to cruelly withhold that information from people. While he certainly laments his behavior on the new “tullian.net” website, I have yet to find a sermon or blog post there that warns others of the inherent dangers of disobedience to God’s commands. Furthermore, he’s seen fit to post his sermons from Coral Ridge there. Not one of them warns people of the destructive consequences of sin.

I will agree with Tchividjian that there is hope for everyone who has made complete shipwreck of their lives. However, preaching that warns us of this in order that we may avoid such disastrous consequences should be an emphasis in instructing in God’s law. He does a fine job of letting people know that any sin, no matter how severe, is forgiven in Christ, however, he fails to warn people of these dangers. Both should be preached in proper law and gospel preaching.

(NB – the majority of my report here is dealing with Tchividjian’s sermons on the “tullian.net” site and not his blog posts)

3. He never teaches obedience.

In fact, he teaches against teaching on obedience. Yes friends, we are saved by grace through faith, and obedience to the commands of Holy Scripture is a part, in fact a requirement of the Christian life. To say otherwise (which Tchividjian does), is to make total non-sense of about a half to two-thirds of the bible. Tchividjian decries people who preach “clean up your act”, but you don’t have to read very far into 1 Corinthians to realize that St. Paul is preaching precisely this to the Corinthians.

4. The only sin in his book is only a certain kind of self-justification.

There are three forms of self-justification. 1) You believe obedience to God’s law will justify you before Him. (think “Pharisaical legalism”), 2) You’re struggling to overcome a sin. So instead of continuing to repent of that sin, calling that sin a sin, believing that it is forgiven for Christ’s sake, and wanting to do better, you just stop calling that sin a sin. (Sexual sins tend to fall into this category) 3) Thus, you begin creating your own rules by which you can justify your existence.

Tchividjian fails to preach #’s 2 and 3. And not only this, while he recognizes that this is the ultimate sin, he fails to realize that other, perhaps “lesser” sins act as “gateway sins” to the ultimate sin. For instance, if I have a problem with stealing pens from my company. Instead of recognizing that theft, at any level, is a sin against the 7th commandment, I justify that sin saying, “Oh well. My company doesn’t pay me enough anyway so I’m justified in stealing their property.” Now I will admit that he does attempt to preach #3 on occasion. He does warn of dumbing down the law, but not for the purposes of instructing in obedience, but for the purposes of demonstrating that you cannot obey. The problem there is, if we do not hold ourselves behaviorally to the standard of Scripture, then we’re going to default to some lesser standard. Tchividjian seems to think that most people, even most Christians trend toward #1 when in fact it is quite the opposite. Most realize they aren’t cutting it when it comes to obeying God’s law, so instead of repentance, they self-justify their evil misdeeds.

5. False teaching of the “light life”

Strewn throughout his sermons is this notion of the “light life”. When confronted with the commands of Scripture in certain passages, Tchividjian will say something to the effect of, “This is what it looks like to lead a lighter life.” This is yet another twist on the Osteen quip of “Your Best Life Now”. Nowhere in Holy Scripture will you find that the Christian life is one of ease and “lightness”. In fact, as a baptized believer in Christ, the war and struggle has just begun. If you’re looking for an easy and light life, I would not recommend becoming a Christian. Note well, this is not the gospel. The calling of a Christian is one of struggle and discipline and self-sacrifice in this life. To preach this only gives a person a false sense of comfort.

6. The false gospel of “God’s perfect demands” and “you’re not pulling it off”

When Tchividjian attempts to preach the law, he preaches it as something that must be done perfectly or not at all. Here, he, at least partially, misunderstands what God’s law is. The law is not a description, even in theory, of how one attains eternal life. It is a description of what man was created to be and how he was created to act. It is how Adam and Eve behaved in the garden before the fall. It is how we will behave in the hereafter.

To preach the law as something given in order to gain eternal life, in any sense, is a confusion of law and gospel. The only remedy for our rebellion against God’s created order is the person and work of Christ. Thus, Jesus restores us, in part now and fully in the resurrection, to what we were created to be. Having been raised from death to life with Him means that we now can make a beginning of being alive as we were meant to be and cease to exist as dead people.

So for Tchividjian to preach, “God demands perfection and you’re not pulling it off” is to say that you’re dead and all you’ll ever be is dead. But that’s not what St. Paul preaches is it? (viz Rom 6) And this “gospel” of Tchividjian’s sounds really good to the itching ears of dead people. “What?”, they’ll ask, “I don’t have concern myself with living how God created me to live? That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time! I was so tired of struggling to be alive. I’m much happier being dead!”

The really sad irony in this preaching is that, while it’s meant to be comforting, just like any false gospel, it leaves the person in bondage to sin, death, and the devil. It tells you that you’re simply going to keep existing as a dead person in this life and there has not been nor will there ever be something done about this sad state. It is in fact a denial, in part, of the gospel.

7. Preaching gospel to unrepentant sinners

Over and again in Tchividian’s sermons, we find him recommending that if someone is living an unclean life and is happy doing so, the answer is not to “tell them to clean up their act”, the answer is to preach the gospel to them. His final solution to all of this is to say (and this is in summary form), “Be perfect” then “You can’t be perfect” then “It doesn’t matter because Jesus was perfect for you”.

That is a far cry from calling people to genuine repentance. “Being sick and tired of trying at life” does not equal biblical contrition. Being terrified at the wrath of God you deserve for your sinful, destructive life and sorrowful for your rebellion against Him and how you’ve hurt others with your sin is biblical contrition that leads to true repentance. Telling someone essentially that “nobody’s perfect but Jesus was” is a watered-down version of law and gospel preaching at best.

Perhaps what is most deceptive is that Tchividjian and others of his ilk frequently insist that preaching the free gift of grace in the gospel does not carry the risk with it that people will misunderstand it and use it as an excuse for licentiousness. Over and again, all of the New Testament writers warn of this, but Tchividjian’s answer to this is much different. He maintains that the answer to this problem is “going deeper into the gospel”. As with any sin, this misbelief should be met with the law which is precisely what St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. James do in their epistles. Not so with Tchividjian. Here again, he preaches gospel when the biblical move is to preach the law to correct this misunderstanding.

The Dangers of Tchividjian’s preaching and teaching

1. Licentious living

Tchividjian all but gives permission to his audience to continue in living destructive lives. Let’s not forget what sin is and what it does. First of all it is a “high handed rebellion” (a Hebraism for what we would call “flipping the bird”), to God. “God you created me to be this way? Well forget that! I’m going to act however I want to act….” is the idea here.

Secondly, when Tchividjian flippantly says, “You’re not pulling it off” think about what that means for those around you. If I’m not pulling off being a good employee for my employer, that means not only will he suffer, but my wife and children are going to suffer. “Not pulling it off” when it comes to obedience to God’s commands means you are wreaking destruction on everyone around you. It also places your faith at risk. As stated, he fails to warn people of these dangers.

2. The Gospel is lost

This is the greater consequence to this false teaching. As I am wont to say, “The degree to which you lose the law is the degree to which you lose the gospel.” The most deceptive false teachers preach part of the truth with some key lies sprinkled in among what is right. Tchividjian preaches rightly that we will not be perfect in this life, but then turns and says tying to live as we were created to be is not to be attempted. Preaching the law in its full sternness means preaching that, yes, God demands perfection *and* that we should strive, struggle, and fight to be that, even though failure is guaranteed. Only in this context does the gospel make sense and enter into our lives in its full sweetness.
Indeed, we merely assume that “failure is guaranteed”. The Scriptures don’t speak this way. Jesus, St.Paul, St. James, and the rest do not add the tag line “but you’ll surely fail in this” to their many exhortations and commands to us. Why? Well first of all, if we take those passages seriously, our Lord and these men writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit expect obedience from us as once dead and now alive men. Secondly, this kind of preaching is sure to do the work of driving us again and again to the cross of Christ and His saving power. Most tragically, Tchividjian’s preaching utterly fails in this task for the reasons stated.
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In addition to Matthew’s article, I also offer this recent post from Jon Alan Schmidt at my blog, The Lutheran Catechism: Law, Gospel, Discipleship, as well as this recent talk from Pastor Cooper, Good Works in the Christian Life, which I think complement Matthew’s points very well:
FIN
Images: Tullian Tchividjian, preaching at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church on March 13, 2011, User:DashHouse. The original uploader was StAnselm at English Wikipedia, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
 
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Posted by on November 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

The Lutheran Catechism: Law, Gospel, Discipleship

 

Guest Post By Jon Alan Schmidt

Contrary to common usage among Lutherans, the term “Catechism,” strictly speaking, refers to neither of the two documents (Large and Small) first published by Martin Luther in 1529 and included in the Book of Concord in 1580. By the time of the Reformation, it was well-established in the Western Church as designating the standard content for basic instruction in the faith: the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, often in that order. Luther’s most obvious innovation was revising this sequence, and he explained his rationale for doing so as follows in his 1522 Personal Prayer Book (from Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 43, pp. 13-14):

Three things a person must know in order to be saved. First, he must know what to do and what to leave undone. Second, when he realizes that he cannot measure up to what he should do or leave undone, he needs to know where to go to find the strength he requires. Third, he must know how to seek and obtain that strength. It is just like a sick person who first has to determine the nature of his sickness, then find out what to do or to leave undone. After that he has to know where to get the medicine which will help him do or leave undone what is right for a healthy person. Third, he has to desire to search for this medicine and to obtain it or have it brought to him.

Thus the commandments teach man to recognize his sickness, enabling him to perceive what he must do or refrain from doing, consent to or refuse, and so he will recognize himself to be a sinful and wicked person. The Creed will teach and show him where to find the medicine—grace—which will help him to become devout and keep the commandments. The Creed points him to God and his mercy, given and made plain to him in Christ. Finally, the Lord’s Prayer teaches all this, namely, through the fulfilment of God’s commandments everything will be given him. In these three are the essentials of the entire Bible.

Luther then added discussions of Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar, since these are the means by which the Great Physician dispenses the medicine of grace to those afflicted by the sickness of sin. These “six chief parts” together comprise The Lutheran Catechism, and its structure reflects the following:

  • The Law instructs us how to think, speak, and act, and reveals our inability to do so perfectly as God the Creator demands.
  • The Gospel offers us forgiveness through the redemption of Jesus Christ, and new life through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.
  • Discipleship is our exercise of faith in constant prayer, daily repentance as a return to Baptism, regular Confession and reception of the Lord’s Supper, and conscientious discharge of our various vocations at home and in the world.

As illustrated by the diagram below, the first six petitions of the Lord’s Prayer recapitulate key aspects of the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed, while the seventh petition serves “as the sum of all” by asking God for deliverance from evil. The Sacraments are then His efficacious answer!

Although now widely perceived to be a one-time doctrinal manual to prepare youths for the rite of confirmation, Luther advocated sustained employment of his Small Catechism by people of all ages. Each part is explicitly intended, not primarily for pastors or other church workers, but “as the housefather should teach it in a simple way to his household.” In sixteenth-century Germany, that would have included not only his own immediate and extended family, but also any servants or other employees, and perhaps even their families—a genuine “house church.”

Out of a desire to facilitate such consistent usage, I have decided to create a daily devotional that pairs each item and explanation in the Small Catechism with passages from the corresponding section of the Large Catechism. I am now in the process of arranging the content accordingly, as well as preparing questions to prompt meditation—within one’s own mind, through journaling, or perhaps in conversation with others—and brief accompanying prayers, all of which I am posting each morning at http://twitter.com/LutherCatechism. Since Luther did not include Confession as a distinct topic in the Large Catechism, those readings will instead come from relevant portions of his 1537 personal confession of faith, the Smalcald Articles, which was also included in the Book of Concord in 1580.

I began the daily tweets on October 1, so it is not too late to start following them and get caught up. The material will be spread out over twenty-six weeks, such that it can be covered in its entirety twice per year; by comparison, Lutheran pastors in the sixteenth century routinely preached on the Catechism as many as four times per year. I am omitting later additions to the Small Catechism that were likewise left out of the 1580 Book of Concord; these include Andreas Osiander’s 1531 insertion regarding “The Office of the Keys,” as well as “Christian Questions with Their Answers,” which debuted in 1551, five years after Luther’s death.

Luther strongly recommended memorizing not only the basic texts themselves, but also his short explanations in the Small Catechism. I encourage taking his advice, either as an initial step or over the course of the first six months. One helpful discipline for cementing the words in the mind is to recite the six chief parts in their entirety on a weekly basis—for example, the Ten Commandments on Monday, the Apostles’ Creed on Tuesday, the Lord’s Prayer on Wednesday, Holy Baptism on Thursday, Confession on Friday, and the Sacrament of the Altar on Saturday; perhaps appending “Christian Questions with Their Answers” on Sunday, as preparation for receiving the Lord’s Supper.

My hope is eventually to publish the results of this labor of love as a book. The project is dedicated to my wife, Irene, my partner in all things, but especially in training up our children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6); and to those children, Timothy and Cristina, to whom I have sought to teach The Lutheran Catechism in a simple way throughout their lives. May God richly bless them and all who use this resource as they read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the truths of His holy Word, and then put them into practice as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit!

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Jon Alan Schmidt is a professional engineer, amateur philosopher, and LCMS layman who lives in Olathe, Kansas and is a member of Redeemer Lutheran Church.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Want to Write Posts for this Blog?

Why not?

If anyone reading this blog is interested in writing posts for this blog, you can get in touch with me (you should be able to find my email or FB or Twitter account easy enough) and let’s talk (I’ll answer any questions you have there). I would be interested in submissions that contain thoughtful and interesting theological, philosophical and cultural/political analysis, along with a focus on Gospel proclamation, from cradle (passive faith like a child) to the grave (theology like a child).

If you aren’t too familiar with the content of the blog, take some time to explore it a bit before writing me. I don’t want persons who are going to march in lock-step with me (well, I shouldn’t want this! : ) ), but I also am not looking for pieces that are going to seem jarringly out of place on this blog. My first instinct, of course, is to strongly favor persons of the confessional Lutheran distinction (since I do not want posts to just focus solely, for example, on politics to the exclusion of theological considerations).

You could write with your name, or even under a pseudonym, insofar as you would not write anything that could be construed as a personal attack someone under that pseudonym. Critiques about person’s theology are a different story. We do not have to see eye-to-eye on what the “best construction” on this or that does or does not entail. Your posts would not be assumed to have my full support, even if it does appear on this blog.

No, I don’t get paid and neither will you. Initially at least, I would reserve the right to make all editorial decisions.

Hope some of you readers will consider.

+Nathan

 

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/owenwbrown/4857508633

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Bravehearts and Blackhearts? Milo Yiannopoulos’s and Jordan Peterson’s Divine Gambits

“Anybody who only preaches a namby-pamby God, and not the highly masculine God of Scripture, is leaving young men vulnerable to the monstrous false gods of race and ideology.” –Yiannopoulos

 

Prefatory material: My views alone to be sure. Why give this man any time at all? As my Senator Al Franken puts it, because of “lies and the lying liars who tell them.” Milo is no angel to be sure, but for persons even relatively informed about him the pathetic hit pieces get old (a good response on that one, even if the author is wrong about the Reformation).

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I’ll admit it. Men like Milo Yiannopoulos and Jordan Peterson make me think of the popular 1995 movie Braveheart. That award-winning film featured the story of the courageous William Wallace, who, in order to free his people from the British, fought not just a culture war but a real war.

As portrayed by the traditionalist Roman Catholic “bad boy” Mel Gibson, the character of William Wallace is, like Yiannopoulos, not an angel. One of the more dramatic moments in the movie occurs when the dying British King is informed by his unadoring wife that his heir is anything but – she carries the child of William Wallace. All, of course, in the service of goodness — another victory for Wallace and his people!

Wallace is the imperfect hero – imperfect if we take the 10 commandments as our measuring stick that is – that we can’t help but love. Sure, I might not want to have the man around my wife, but look how he fights! Here is a man who knows how to defeat those on the side of the lie… of evil!

“Pope Benedict XVI is still the wisest and most erudite man in Europe, though I’m sure he doesn’t deserve to have me hung around his neck as an admirer.” — Yiannopoulos

 

How he inspires and motivates us! In spite of the flaws of such men, how, some of us might think, can God Himself not be impressed?

I thought of that also when I read Milo Yiannopoulos’s interview with the Jesuit magazine America. Like his interview with NPR, this is one conversation that was never was released for the public.[i] In the interview we read this…

Maybe you mean it’s shocking that I’m always joking about my lack of chastity and my fondness for black dudes, but I still call myself Catholic. And I don’t see what’s so shocking about that, either. One of the most famous saints of all time, sixteen centuries ago, prayed, ‘Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.’”…

You don’t see me disputing the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. There’s no intellectual tension, because I wouldn’t dream of demanding that the Church throw away her hard truths just to lie to me in hopes I’ll feel better about myself. I love the truth, not lies, and I know no one’s feelings are the basis of truth.

That’s why I don’t understand those Catholics — such as, if you’ll forgive my horrid impertinence, this magazine’s editor at large, Fr. Martin — who imply that if people don’t like what the Church says, maybe the Church is wrong or should apologize. The Church was founded on a rock and a cross, not on a hug.

Still, if you insist I talk about feelings, I’ve said before that I feel there’s something wrong with the fact that my lovemaking can’t produce the mini-Milo’s I’d like to have. How’s that for a subjective confirmation of the Church teaching that same-sex attraction is “objectively disordered” because it can’t lead to procreation?[ii]

Yiannopoulos has several conservative fans who will tell you that he doing the Lord’s work, who, after all, has been known to use evil for good. On the other hand, some persons, probably on both the political left and the right, think that Yiannopoulos is a simple attention-seeker: a fraud and a mere play actor.

“My personal motto, ‘laughter and war,’ comes from a passage in Chesterton’s Heretics.” — Yiannopoulos

 

I don’t think that is the case at all (Vox doubts this to, sounding a bit scared[iii]). I think he genuinely believes in God. And as he says in the interview – an interview which lauds Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, Flannery O’Connor, G.K. Chesterton, and Hilaire Belloc – I think that he really does hold that the previous Pope, Benedict – a.k.a, Cardinal Ratzninger, God’s Rottweiler – is the greatest intellectual force of our day.[iv] I also think that he does really believe that God’s law is true – and that homosexual relations are, to say the least, “objectively disordered”.

Yiannopoulos soldiers on under the banner of the Roman Catholic church, seemingly unfazed by the whole situation.

And so, is this how it works in his mind?: I fight on the side of God, in His cause. And He, in return, overlooks my sins.

Ah, but he doesn’t say that at all. What does he say instead? Right after the above quote he says this:

Bottom line: The Church says I’m not culpable for my temptations, but I shouldn’t sin. She’s right. And her founder said He came to heal those who knew they were sick, so I don’t despair.

Humility, you see. By not asserting that he is in God’s good graces, but by saying that he hopes in God’s grace and mercy! “Doing his best,” he “has some way to go.”

Heroes of Milo’s!? Good, but must consider this.

 

Think he doesn’t know anything about humility either? Well, compared with others, there actually does seem to be a bit more self-awarenesss than we often find among the famous….

Growing up Catholic also taught me the value of humility, even if that’s not exactly a forte of mine. This virtue is important for society, because it teaches us to be tolerant of a diversity of opinions, rather than arrogantly trying to silence people we disagree with. And it’s important for me personally, because despite my vanity, I know I’m not as smart as Thomas Aquinas or as good as St. Francis.

There’s a great line from the novelist Flannery O’Connor, who liked to shock and troll a bit herself: “I’m not limited to what I personally feel or think; I’m a Catholic.” She meant the same thing Chesterton did in his famous quip, “Tradition is the democracy of the dead.” Political correctness gives us thin gruel and loneliness. The Church gives us a grand party with red meat and red wine.

Perhaps a word of comfort is in order? Is this not what the Reformation was all about? Grace – “a grand party with red meat and red wine” – for poor sinners oppressed by the heavy burden of the law?

Well, this comes to mind: persons like Martin Luther, the 16th century church reformer, both upheld the law and thought that he absolutely needed to obey it. For someone like Luther, grace could not be cheap. What kind of good and faithful servant disregards His Master’s commands? Who would dare think that the Lord isn’t serious about what He commands? Who would dare think, for example, that His moral law is evolving? Not Luther.

Conceivably, Milo knows about humility in this world – and how to make good jokes about it to boot. The question is if he knows about it before God. Or – if he genuinely just hopes that God, gradually healing him through the grace he finds himself able to cooperate with, will be so good to bless him in the life to come the way He has presumably blessed him here. [v] For example, as he has been blessed with his new husband — something one of his most ardent and sophisticated traditional Catholic supporters, at least, doesn’t seem terribly concerned about.

Lectured by Milo?: “Sins of the flesh, let us remember, are at the bottom of the scale. The Church says self-righteousness is at the top.”

 

In truth, for all the things that a person like Milo might be right about, I get the impression that he isn’t ultimately serious about God or His law where it counts the most.[vi] If he were, he would recognize that human beings must be completely infected by sin (he says human nature is good) and that no one can hope to “win” God’s gracious favor by the grace-empowered good one does — even if that person were, for the sake of argument — actually saving Western civilization.

And lest anyone else get the mistaken idea that this is all about sex — and since Milo apparently doesn’t mind being compared to Jesus all that much — I offer you this short account of our Lord’s fear, love, and trust in His heavenly Father, who fulfilled God’s law on our behalf:

  • He perfectly loved the Lord, His God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind
  • He loved His neighbor as Himself, always doing for them as He desired they do for Him
  • He did indeed! – insofar as He could. Not by excising the First table of the commandments from the “Golden Rule” or notions of the “common good,” for “natural law” minus the first table not only cannot save but teaches wrongly
  • In other words, Jesus Christ always called upon and proclaimed the Name of the Creator who has acted very specifically in history, doing mighty deeds in the world for our good.
  • He always listened to God’s Holy Spirit, who, as Martin Luther said, gives “all truth, wherever it might be.”
  • Finally, Jesus worshiped His Father, God as He truly is and is in our history, from a pure heart, never doubting for a minute the truth of the Scriptures

Evidently, God is not one with the idea that when the scales are weighed in His sight, that any individual’s grace-empowered good deeds — starting with one’s willing cooperation — can outweigh one’s bad…

Acts 24:24b-25a: “he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed…”

 

Lest you think this is merely me talking, I give you the Apostle Paul:

  • For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
  • For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “…who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” (Romans 11:32-33, 35)
  • Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being[a] will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).

Worthless lot. Every one (see the whole of Romans 3 if you don’t believe me!) From Adam, none of us traitorous blackhearts deserve mercy. No matter what kind of deeds we do, think we do, or others think we do.

Then you’ll have to heed Paul brother… “We Catholics are better at clothes, food, and parties. Why shouldn’t we be better at guilt, too?” — Yiannopolous

 

Another man who makes me think about the hero portrayed in Braveheart is the increasingly famous Jordan Peterson (who, as of this writing, just finished another biblical lecture in Canada). And, as I said in the past, he has all “all of the clarity and courage of someone like Yiannopolous, but without the self-proclaimed ‘dangerous faggot’s’ liabilities.”[vii]

Nevertheless, those bulleted lists above can apply to Peterson as easily as they can Yiannopolous. Essentially, Peterson seems to basically share Yiannopolous’ view of what it takes to save a human being – justification through one’s good deeds (and, unlike Milo, when it comes to morality, I have heard very little from Peterson that contradicts the Bible[viii]). In one of his lectures on the Bible from a[n evolutionary] psychologist’s perspective, Peterson even evoked the picture of the fearsome Christ who judges the world — from the book of Revelation! — as a helpful figure for spurring one on to good deeds! Overall, he paints a picture of our commitments and corresponding actions – no doubt done from the purest of motivations we can muster – being able to not only save us from the future we face in this life, but as being that which may very well echo in eternity… They are something that can provide us with a real hope in whatever life there is to come.

This is the Divine gambit.

Seriously though… For the love of God, don’t go there! Instead, hear the Word of the Lord.

“Faith lives in repentance” – Phillip Melanchton, theologian and the father of universal education for all

 

I understand that there are some in the Christian world that think that persons like Milo – and even Peterson, given his lack of Christian profession in spite of his general friendliness to it – should be talked to in a gentle way. Treated with kid gloves (I can’t say, like the “Church Militant” site that published Milo’s interview, that he has not encouraged anyone to act on their sexual inclinations — on the contrary, he consistently promotes extramarital sex).

Well, they are big boys. They, no doubt better than most, can handle it, just like they can dish it out and do. Dig into those Bible passages, men – and think about the experiences of someone like Luther, whose conscience knew what God’s Law demanded!

Give him a read to (start with the Small and Large Catechisms). He was not wrong when he put it this way:

“This, then, is what it means to begin true repentance; and here man must hear such a sentence as this: You are all of no account, whether you be manifest sinners or saints [in your own opinion]; you all must become different and do otherwise than you now are and are doing [no matter what sort of people you are], whether you are as great, wise, powerful, and holy as you may. Here no one is [righteous, holy], godly, etc.

But to this office the New Testament immediately adds the consolatory promise of grace through the Gospel, which must be believed, as Christ declares, Mark 1:15: Repent and believe the Gospel, i.e., become different and do otherwise, and believe My promise….”

+++

As far as Yiannopolous is concerned, I’m sure he will continue to say that conservative Christians, in his experience, have been considerably kind and gracious with persons like himself, exploding every myth of their purportedly hateful attitudes towards gays.

If he reads this, he might even say that about me.

“The fact that so many of us think hurting people’s feelings is the greatest evil says all you need to know about the decline of our civilization.”

 

Because I think that he does – at least more than most in the media! – really care about the truth. And he respects those who say hard truths (like Peter Scaer addressing an issue close to his heart!) and who don’t back down – ever.

As he says: “Pray for me. I need it.”

That’s definitely something I need to.

I will pray.

FIN

 

Images:

Benedict pic by Mangouste35, CC BY-SA 3.0 ;  Milo Yiannopoulos photos by @Kmeron ; Milo on throne used with permission from @KingCrocoduck (Twitter).

Notes:

[i] Eventually, only after Yiannopoulos posted the interview, NPR released a few mere minutes of the longer conversation. Vox reports: “A representative for the publication told Vox on Friday, ‘We can confirm that an interview with Mr. Yiannopoulos was conducted by one of America’s occasional contributors and was not accepted by America for publication. As a general matter, America does not comment further on editorial decisions about why articles are not accepted for publication.’”

[ii] Earlier in the interview, he said this: “Frankly, what’s really shocking is that a poor sinner like me has spoken out more on contraception than 99% of our bishops, who seem too preoccupied with diversity and climate change to talk about God.”

[iii] “But if Yiannopoulos is totally sincere about his right-wing Catholicism — a rarity for a man sincere about so little else — that might prove more unsettling still. If he can combine Steve Bannon’s apocalyptic worldview with his ability to manipulate the thoroughly temporal worlds of Twitter and college campuses alike, he might prove almost as dangerous as he wants us to think he is.”

[iv] From the Vox piece: “Yiannopoulos praised Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, as “the wisest and most erudite man in Europe,” celebrating his willingness to “declare publicly that Islam’s irrationalism is one of the world’s great problems” — a reference to a controversial speech Benedict gave in 2006.”

[v] Unsurprisingly, Yiannopoulos has expressed sympathy towards types of Christianity which flirt with “health and wealth” doctrines. He’d “like to believe in the prosperity Gospel,” he says.

[vi] From the interview: “I’ve already quoted St. Augustine, who had his own pelvic issues. I once tweeted out an illustrated page from his Confessions that began, ‘I will now recall my past foulnesses.’ That’ll work for my memoirs someday, too.” It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

[vii] https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2017/05/12/why-i-cant-not-love-the-noble-pagan-jordan-peterson-and-be-concerned/

[viii] In a recent Q and A for his Patreon supporters, I did hear him encourage someone who called themselves “asexual” to not only get a sex therapist but to find a partner that they could feel comfortable with and who might be able to ease them into sexual activity. Marriage is presumably not in a picture like this.

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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What Does the 1517 Legacy Project Believe Concerning the Nature of God’s Law and the Atonement?

It is no secret that the writings of the late ELCA theologian Gerhard Forde have impacted the folks at the 1517 Legacy Project out of Concordia Irvine.

Some in that group — at least the ones in charge of making the stickers! — are quite proud of this fact.

Not only does “Forde live” with the 1517 Legacy Project, but one of the celebrated speakers at the recent 1517 Legacy’s Reformation conference is considered, by many, to be Forde’s theological heir, carrying on his unique emphases.

This particular person, along with Forde, was one of the main topics of my last blog post (I did not name him there nor will I name him here), discussing the idea that Jesus was justly accused by God’s law. I argue that Forde’s view of the law (i.e. that it is wholly temporal) and his view of the atonement go hand-in-hand, and result in novel theological statements like “Jesus was justly accused by God’s law”.

As regards that thesis, I want to thank Brad Novacek, who very thoughtfully engaged with the article on the Confessional Lutheran Fellowship Facebook group.

I got Brad’s permission to post our conversation here (I’ve edited the conversation somewhat, fixing spelling errors and the like):

Brad Novacek Nathan Rinne, I’m not sure I follow your meaning. Are you saying that there’s something wrong with the article you posted, or are you using it as a kind correction about [this theologians] alleged theological issues?
.
.

Brad Novacek Nathan Rinne, Okay, I think I understand your point here. This is certainly a complex issue and the terminology must be well defined to convey a proper understanding. This is often not done. I think we actually hold very similar views, but there is a sense in which Jesus became a “sinner” on the cross. To be clear, it is plain wrong to say that Jesus became the “embodiment of sin” or “took on a sin nature,” Just as it is wrong to say that he was a sinner because of some sin of his own. But if we think of the term “sinner” in the broad sense (a person with…or perhaps convicted of…sin) as opposed to the narrow sense (someone who has sinned), we can see a great distinction that can be made in the case of Christ. Jesus was fully man and was therefore under the law just as any of us are. He has a human nature, but without original sin. Also, he never committed actual sin. So Jesus was not a sinner in the narrow sense (one who has sinned).

However, the broad sense is another matter. Here is my meaning. When we receive salvation we receive the righteousness of Christ. This righteousness is not imparted to us so that it becomes ours…inherently part of us. Rather, it is imputed to us…It remains Christ’s, but we wear it like a cloak. Therefore, in the eyes of God and under the accusations of the Law, we are not guilty. We are still sinners, but reckoned as righteous because of Christ’s imputed righteousness. But this great exchange goes in both directions. He remained righteous but was reckoned as a sinner for our sake because of our imputed sin. We remember that Christ’s atonement was substitutionary…he is our substitute. A substitute must by definition stand in our place as sinners. As his righteousness is imputed to us, so also was our sin imputed to Christ on the cross. Again, imputed, not imparted. It did not become his own, but rather he wore it just as we wear his righteousness. In the same way we say that we are righteous (in truth, only reckoned because of Christ’s imputed righteousness in us), so also we can say that Christ was a “sinner” in the broad sense of one who has sin (again, only reckoned because of our imputed sin in him). But that reckoning has meaning. In the eyes of God, we ARE righteous, just as Jesus on the cross WAS a sinner. So yes, the law found him guilty because of our imputed sin, just as it finds us not guilty because of Christ’s imputed righteousness. That’s simply Christ as our substitute. That is Luther’s whole point in calling Jesus a sinner (the greatest of sinners, in fact) in his Galatians commentary. All of this seems to be the main point of the first article you posted, though he didn’t acknowledge the broad sense of “sinner” as it is used by Luther (and Calvin in the portion he quoted), intentional or not, I cannot tell.

The idea of Jesus as a “sinner” can cause confusion, but in the broad sense it is biblically accurate. However, to say that he embodied sin, took on a sin nature, or became a sinner in the narrow sense is simply unbiblical. That is why Jesus as a “sinner” can cause so much confusion if not properly defined. We must determine whether the broad or narrow sense is meant. Both you and the author of the other article were thinking in the narrow sense, and you were correct in your statements, but it’s not the whole story.

As for saying that he was “justly accused by God’s law,” I’d have to read the full context to fully grasp the meaning of the author, but his flowery language there makes me think he may have just misspoke in his effort to be interesting. The whole question is perhaps dubious since I’m not sure we can say from Scripture whether or not Jesus was actually accused. We are accused but not condemned because Christ took our condemnation, but I’d have to determine whether Christ was condemned because of the law’s accusations against us (against our sin imputed to him) or because of supposed accusations against him as the bearer of our imputed sins (if we can determine that from Scripture at all). The point is that there is accusation and condemnation. We are accused of sin, Christ is condemned as a “sinner.

Nathan Rinne Brad Novacek “I’d have to determine whether Christ was condemned because of the law’s accusations against us (against our sin imputed to him) or because of supposed accusations against him as the bearer of our imputed sins (if we can determine that from Scripture at all).” I’m going with the former, because the law’s accusations against us are accusations based in fact. “On our behalf” are key words, I think.

Brad Novacek Nathan Rinne, I would lean that way as well since we know that much for sure.

Nathan Rinne Brad Novacek Do you mind if I turn our convo into a blog post? Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

Brad Novacek Absolutely. Thanks for checking. I hope it turns out well for you and can help people understand this particularly tricky situation.

I think that Brad has worked very hard to put the best construction on the statements I discussed in the blog post. That said, my main point is this: given the premise that God’s law is not eternal but temporal, it makes perfect sense that a person’s view of the atonement would be radically altered. To believe, for example, that Jesus becomes a sinner because an imperfect law, not fully reflective of the will of God, accuses and condemns Him as such (go back to my post again for the more fully worked-out argument).

And if you want to follow my reasoning even more closely you can do that in what immediately follows. I followed up with the theologian I was challenging, sending the following email to him (slightly edited):

“I have tried as best I can to discern what you are saying theologically, from your writings. Where might I be going wrong? I really do want to know, as I have no interest in misrepresenting you.:

Luther tells us that “the law’s proper effect…you always ought to remain in the chief (principal) definition of the law, that it works wrath and hatred and despair…”

According to you, Jesus Himself felt this wrath: “[Jesus] felt God’s wrath and took that experience as something truer than God’s own word of promise to him”

By its own standard, which cannot be violated (as a friend once told me “When the Law says ‘stone’ you stone!), the law “justly” but falsely accuses Jesus of being a sinner.

([As you say:] “Here Paul’s point is exact: the law is no respecter of persons, it does not identify Christ among sinners as an exception to the rule. Law as “blind lady justice” executes its judgment regardless of race, color, creed—or divinity.”)

Why? Is this perhaps where we say that the law, though good, is weak? It is “good” temporally, and has a practical function for the time being, but ultimately is a creation of this world that is passing away?

Is it because the Law, focused on externals, can’t distinguish between a cry of dereliction that dishonors God and one which, though without faith, was, given the circumstances, in some sense justified?

When[, as you say,] Christ “irrationally comes to confess this crime so vehemently that he believes he has committed it— and as Luther famously said, “as you believe, so it is,” does God, seeing this occur, change His mind about sin?

Is this where the will of God accepts Christ’s lack of trust and cry of dereliction that results when Christ personally takes on the sin of the whole world? – i.e. this unbelief is somehow understandable?!

For you then, does the law falsely accuse Jesus of sinning when, in fact, by God’s judgment (which makes it so!) “ontologically Christ didn’t sin” (not sure where this quote is from, but someone claimed it for you)?

If so, the law of God here, on the other hand, does not accept this. Because, ultimately, the law of God is not the will of God – in the end it is distinct from, apart from, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

[As you say:] “As long as God’s anger at sin, his law, is his righteousness, then his righteousness is in the process of destroying the whole cosmos”

“[A]ll laws that regulate men’s actions must be subject to justice [Billicheit], their mistress, because of the innumerable and varied circumstances which no one can anticipate or set down.” (LW 46:103; WA 19:632)

When it comes to law, good decisions are made “as though there were no books.” “Such a free decision is given, however, by love and natural law, with which all reason is filled ; out of books come extravagant and untenable judgments” (LW 45:128 ; WA 11:279)

In the end then, Jesus did not just, as the Scriptures say, “Become sin” for us – He also became a Sinner according to God’s law, which now passes away…

E.g. [as you say:] “The law is eternally in the past for those who have been put to death in baptism; it is a memory. Their future is without any law, since a good heart does the works of the law—without any law at all— perfectly freely.”

My conclusion: Per you, God’s will does not see Him as a sinner. The law falsely does. What happens here though? What is the inevitable result? Now is it harder for us to see Him as God to…. Or is that just our theology of glory talking, which can’t stomach weakness in God, who should be strong?”

Unfortunately, I have been told that this particular theologian does not appreciate being challenged at all, and will generally not answer emails from his own students. I hope that he will reconsider this policy, and let us know what he really does believe, teach, and confess regarding these issues.

And I am sure that many of us think that a statement from the 1517 Legacy Project regarding the same would be in line as well.

+++

Because if Forde’s doctrine lives, we die.

FIN

 

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Jesus Became Sin – But Did He Also Become a Sinner According to God’s Law?

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Cor. 5:21

+++

Among professed confessional Lutherans, this, it appears to me, has become an issue.

At the end of my controversial review of Concordia Publishing House’s “So-Called 3rd Use of the Law” book, The Necessary Distinction[i], I made the following statement:

“I know the folks at CPH need to eat, but that is not best done by promoting books that say, for example, that Jesus was justly accused by God’s law (157).”

Here, specifically, is what I was referring to. Naomichi Masaki sums up Luther as follows:

“Christ relates to the law passively. He was born under the Law. He voluntarily… subjected Himself to it in His ministry. This He did so that the Law may rage against Him as much as it does against an accused and condemned sinner, and even more fiercely. The Law accused Jesus of blasphemy and sedition. It found Him guilty before God of all the sins of the world. It frightened Him to the point of the bloody sweat in Gethsemane. Finally, it sentenced Him to death, even to the death on the cross” (157, italics mine)

I’ve been reflecting on this more – Masaki, seemingly echoing Luther, is saying that the law actually accuses Jesus of blasphemy and sedition.

VDMA LQ? Hmm… why would anyone say “[The] law is present only where Christ is absent,” the Holy Spirit is “the opposite of the law,” or that “the criterion of the law is the self”?

When one looks at some quotes from Luther’s Galatians commentary that relate to this, one might think that it fully explains why Masaki writes as he does.

For example, in the well-known Christian Dogmatics textbook by Francis Pieper (see vol II: 344ff), we find the same passage of Luther mentioned by Masaki, from his famous “Great Galatians” commentary:

“Christ is no longer ‘an innocent and sinless Person, but a sinner who has and bears the sin of Paul, the blasphemer and persecutor, and of Peter, the denier of his Master, and of David, the adulterer and murderer; in a word, He bears and has all the sins of all men in His body…. He Himself is innocent, but since He bears the sins of the world, His innocence is weighed down by the sins and guilt of the whole world. Whatever sins I and you have done have become the sins of Christ, as though He Himself had committed them. Is. 53:6 says: ‘The Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.’’ (St. L, IX: 369ff)” (italics mine)

As an online interlocutor put it to me: “the Perfect is ‘weighed down,’ as Luther says, with imperfection. The Sinless has become sinful. In a sense, on the cross Jesus is simul justus et peccator.”

“How was Christ made sin? Certainly by imputation. And thus we are made the righteousness of God in Him (Examination of the Council of Trent, “Concerning Justification,” 1.7.6.).” – Martin Chemnitz

 

In that same Galatians commentary, speaking of chapter 3, verse 13, Luther writes:

Let us see how Christ was able to gain the victory over our enemies. The sins of the whole world, past, present, and future, fastened themselves upon Christ and condemned Him. But because Christ is God He had an everlasting and unconquerable righteousness. These two, the sin of the world and the righteousness of God, met in a death struggle. Furiously the sin of the world assailed the righteousness of God. Righteousness is immortal and invincible. On the other hand, sin is a mighty tyrant who subdues all men. This tyrant pounces on Christ. But Christ’s righteousness is unconquerable. The result is inevitable. Sin is defeated and righteousness triumphs and reigns forever.

In the same manner was death defeated. Death is emperor of the world. He strikes down kings, princes, all men. He has an idea to destroy all life. But Christ has immortal life, and life immortal gained the victory over death. Through Christ death has lost her sting. Christ is the Death of death.

The curse of God waged a similar battle with the eternal mercy of God in Christ. The curse meant to condemn God’s mercy. But it could not do it because the mercy of God is everlasting. The curse had to give way. If the mercy of God in Christ had lost out, God Himself would have lost out, which, of course, is impossible.

Here, the following questions perhaps arises: is the curse only associated with sin? Or something else? In this regard, his comments on Galatians 4:4 are even more interesting:

How did Christ manage to redeem us? “He was made under the law.” When Christ came He found us all in prison. What did He do about it? Although He was the Lord of the Law, He voluntarily placed Himself under the Law and permitted it to exercise dominion over Him, indeed to accuse and to condemn Him. When the Law takes us into judgment it has a perfect right to do so. “For we are by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” (Eph. 2:3.) Christ, however, “did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” (I Pet. 2:22.) Hence the Law had no jurisdiction over Him. Yet the Law treated this innocent, just, and blessed Lamb of God as cruelly as it treated us. It accused Him of blasphemy and treason. It made Him guilty of the sins of the whole world. It overwhelmed him with such anguish of soul that His sweat was as blood. The Law condemned Him to the shameful death on the Cross.

It is truly amazing that the Law had the effrontery to turn upon its divine Author, and that without a show of right. For its insolence the Law in turn was arraigned before the judgment seat of God and condemned. Christ might have overcome the Law by an exercise of His omnipotent authority over the Law. Instead, He humbled Himself under the Law for and together with them that were under the Law. He gave the Law license to accuse and condemn Him. His present mastery over the Law was obtained by virtue of His Sonship and His substitutionary victory (italics mine).

It almost sounds like, as a Radical Lutheran (a term Gerhard Forde coined) might put it, that God’s Law is a master at getting loose, escaping its chains! What has gotten into God’s “holy and righteous and good” (Apostle Paul) law?

“We know the law is good if one uses it properly.” — the Apostle Paul

 

Well, with Luther’s words ringing in our ears, let’s get back to our question. If the law does “justly accuse Jesus”, what makes this accusation just? One might argue that this is exactly what happens when Jesus “becomes sin” for us – the law is going to accuse and condemn Him, and by God’s intention and design. Just as He who has no sin undergoes John’ baptism in solidarity with us, “fulfilling all righteousness,” Jesus so closely identifies with us that He becomes the “real sinner,” so to speak, whose condemnation satisfies the wrath of God the law demands.

Even as, for example, the thief on the cross recognizes that He, truly, is innocent. The spotless Lamb of God.

There is something missing here though. The primary question this brings up is how and why the law accuses Jesus Himself of things like blasphemy and sedition. Does it really do so as the law of God, as it is wielded by the Holy Spirit? (see John 16:7ff).

No.

Why not? Because this is a case of the law being wielded by Satan (who Luther tells us, uses it for our harm and not our good)[ii], but Satan getting played by God.

“…the Antinomians state[] that the law only shows sins, certainly without the Holy Spirit, so it therefore only shows them unto damnation…[but] the Holy Spirit is in his majesty when he writes with his finger on Moses’ tablets of stone…” — Luther, vs his Antinomian opponent, Agricola

Here is how it works: God, being of perfect character, is the definition of justice. Therefore, if He chooses, from the foundation of the world, for His Son to be slain by sin and evil – something the Son Himself ultimately is determined to have occur – in order to die in our place, “blow up” death and the curse, and win back His creation, then it is, by definition, “just”. Satan’s plan gets co-opted and used in the bigger plan of the One who “works all in all.” Jesus therefore, in spite of being unjustly accused by the law as wielded by Satan, is, in this sense “justly accused.” He becomes sin for us so that God’s justice (broader sense of the term – which includes mercy) – which even uses evil for good! – prevails. Even Jesus Himself, as our Great High Priest offering Himself for us as sacrifice, can say “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

In other words, the answer to the question “Was Jesus than “justly accused by God’s law?” is “Perhaps, but only in a very limited sense.” (the one above)

That said, I still do not think we should say that “Jesus was justly accused by God’s law,” as it is more liable to confuse than anything else – “Are you saying Christ actually broke the law?” — and to be hijacked by others for nefarious purposes.[iii]

Which brings me back to Masaki’s essay. You might be thinking, “this is not specifically what Masaki said anyways (justly accused), so why did I have that in my original review? Was it fair of you to say that?” The reason I said that is because other statements made by him, covered in that review, indicate he follows Gerhard Forde in his belief that most all theologians outside of Luther have considered “the Law,” and not God’s gracious favor, “as the original way of salvation.” Therefore, “[f]or Luther,” he explains, “the Law was not a description of what man is supposed to do within the structure of the eternal order. Instead, he viewed the Law as what it actually does. It kills” (The Necessary Distinction, 153-154). Forde explicitly draws the logical conclusion: Jesus Christ, in spite of His perfect life traditionally understood to have been in complete accordance with God’s law “was quite justly condemned by the law” (Forde, Theology is for Proclamation, 77).

“Satan hates the teaching of piety (cf. 1 Tim. 6:3). This is why he wants to remove the law through such spirits.” — Luther

 

“Justly condemned by the law.” Even though I am unfamiliar with this line of thinking being present anywhere in the church’s history, persons sympathetic or somewhat sympathetic to Forde have expounded on thoughts like this – and not in the way I unpacked it above. Rather, they might say, for example, that in the end Jesus was justly accused as a violator of God’s own law so that all sinners may have assurance of eternal life. In violating the law, Jesus Christ is actually being faithful to his Father’s mission to save the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matt 10:6). Here, Jesus presumably breaks the Law by, for example, dining with sinners![iv] Another — not Benny Hinn or Kenneth Copeland — has even appeared to say that Christ committed His own, personal sin by not believing the Word of God (when He was on the cross): “He felt God’s wrath and took that experience as something truer than God’s own word of promise to him.”[v]

In sum, what it comes down to is this: Christ ends up a damned sinner, “defeated” by that most coercive and even killing of forces: the merciless “order keeping” law!

What do I mean?

By “order keeping” I mean something like this: law is not necessarily associated first and foremost – or at all! — with God’s law, the 10 commandments, but is rather anything which provides boundaries, “makes life work,” and keeps peace – all good things! What really is true, right, and just may not even need to be considered here, as this story from a good friend of mine illustrates:

“In Kindergarten I was accused of and punished for throwing a snowball at recess. I had not done it. Oddly enough, 45 years later, it still kind of hurts to think about.

In other words, even though I was not guilty of the sin for which I was punished, there was significant suffering involved on my part. I didn’t need to be the sinner to suffer for the sin of whoever did commit that sin. Although that is what I, for all intents and purposes, became.

And justice was served. The boy hit by the snowball in the face, and his parents, were satisfied. The teacher and principal upheld the law. My classmates learned from my experience.”

By “merciless,” I mean that the law, though “good” in an earthly sense, ultimately fails because it does not have the good of particular persons in mind – even Jesus!

This, however, is mistaken. Why? Luther believed that the law, in its proper use (see footnote 2 as well), always went hand in hand with truth and the Holy Spirit – and that God convicted by it with the intent to deliver the faith-creating Gospel. Lutherans used to talk about this all the time, as John 16:7ff was used repeatedly by the original Reformers. This is why Luther could talk about the law in a way you generally won’t hear from persons attracted to Forde (and certainly not from Forde himself!): “The law does not want you to despair of God,” he said, ratherit wills that you despair of yourself, but expect good from God…”

“For even in His own eyes, Christ was similar to one who has been forsaken, to one who has been cursed, to a sinner, a blasphemer, one who is condemned, and yet without sins or guilt.” — Luther

 

Yes, since we are sinners and remain so until heaven, the good law can’t not accuse and condemn us. That said, from the beginning, the law was not given to threaten, accuse, and terrify us, but rather to inform us of danger and guide us in truth.

Again, the only response to the idea that Christ ends up being a damned sinner according to God’s law is that this is a perversion of the truth that will not do. As the Apostle Paul would have put it: “Anathema!” As another one (this one) put it, “Jesus knew that God knew that Jesus was innocent.” Therefore, Jesus willingly accepts the punishment – the wrath! – we deserved as He bore our sins on the cross.

When Luther, for example, comments on Psalm 51, he writes that

“[T]hat expression, ‘My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ is similar to blasphemy against God, but it is not blasphemy. If, therefore, we were to say that Christ had been made the blasphemy of God, as some translate that passage from Deuteronomy (21:23), ‘he who is hanged is a blasphemy of God,’ or, ‘he who is hanged is an insult of God,’ of which Jerome makes much in his treatment of Galatians, then we would say it in the same sense as that statement (Gal. 3:13), ‘He was made a curse and sin,’ that He felt the blasphemy, the curse, the sin in Himself without the blasphemy, without the curse, without the sin which, in us, was a blasphemy that blasphemes, a curse that curses, a sin that sins. To such an extent was Christ plunged into all that is ours, as it says in Ps. 69:10 and Rom. 15:3, ‘The insults of those who insult you fell upon Me’” (italics mine).

…those with eyes to see can tell that is not the same thing as claiming that, by the law’s judgment (is the law, properly used, in accordance with truth or not? – see footnote 2), Jesus took His experience of God’s wrath as “something truer than God’s own word of promise to him.”

The law does not do its work without God’s Holy Spirit, who gives “all truth, wherever it might be,” for “to forbid the law is to forbid the truth of God” (Solus Decalogus est Aeternus [SDEA] 139, ; see also 55)

Luther also writes “For even in His own eyes, Christ was similar to one who has been forsaken, to one who has been cursed, to a sinner, a blasphemer, one who is condemned, and yet without sins or guilt.” If this is indeed the way to understand Christ’ cry of dereliction, there is, contra Gerhard Forde, no good reason to think that Christ had not, in fact, experienced His Father’s turning away, and thereby let His suffering humanity be known to Him (whom He never ceased to look to in trust!). Is God not holy? Indeed, does He not refuse to abide that which is not? Particularly when all that is not holy has been concentrated in one [very human, very created,] place?

And yet, sin and death — and their judgment in Him — could not hold the God-Man. Perhaps, remembering not just the beginning of Psalm 22 (“My God, my God, why….”) but its glorious end as well, our Lord ultimately cries out “It is finished!” and then, “Into your hands, I commend My Spirit.” He does not despair of God, but expects good from Him, fulfilling the law.

In sum, Christ never violates God’s law, which some today, misinterpreting Romans 10:4, believe absolutely had to go – not just in the sense of accusation, but totally. This is wrong.

Luther: “These true disciples of Satan seem to think that the law is something temporal that has ceased under Christ, like circumcision.”

 

I close with the following point from Dr. Eric Phillips:

“To call Christ a sinner, and to treat Him as such, is to number Him with sinners. To call Christ sin is to call Him a sin offering, because this is how the OT sacrifices consistently speak of it (“sin offering” is simply the word “sin”).

To say the least, this is a great mystery! Brothers, from the bottom of my heart, I say this: Let’s remember who we are dealing with… let us trust the Word of God, delivered to us in the Scriptures!

FIN

 

Notes

[i] Also discussed on Federalist writer Matthew Garnett’s “In Layman’s Terms” podcast here and here. Part 3 available this weekend.

[ii] Would this be using the law properly? After all, nowhere are we told in Scripture that Christ commits any sinful action. He is fully without sin, even as, per God’s eternal plan, our sin is imputed to Him. Note also that when Luther talked about law being administered on earth, his understanding of it law is hardly a “wooden” one but is considerably nuanced: that “[A]ll laws that regulate men’s actions must be subject to justice [Billicheit], their mistress, because of the innumerable and varied circumstances which no one can anticipate or set down.” (LW 46:103; WA 19:632) and that when it comes to law, good decisions are made “as though there were no books.” “Such a free decision is given, however, by love and natural law, with which all reason is filled ; out of books come extravagant and untenable judgments” (LW 45:128 ; WA 11:279). (see here for more). If earthly rulers are to be so careful in their judgements with the law, how much more so God in heaven? (and to point out such a thing is not to say that the law does not also, before God, cause every mouth to be silent, revealing as it does the guilt of all.)

[iii] Having read the text which precedes this footnote, Pastor Eric Phillips, I think, aptly sums up what is at stake in this question:

“For the accusation to accomplish justice (whether the wide or narrow sense of “righteousness”), and for it to be just in itself, are two different things. The former concerns the end and the latter the means. This is a case (the prime case) of justice being accomplished by unjust means, of good coming from evil, because the one who was called upon to suffer that injustice willingly did so instead of insisting on His rights, and offered His suffering for the sin of the world.

To say that the law accused Jesus justly is to confuse the end with the means.

It also demonstrates the danger of talking about the Law as if it were a person, when it’s not. Who used the Law to accuse Jesus? It was “him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” The Father bruised the Son by using the devil, not by using the Law. And as the devil wielded the Law, it was unjust.”

Therefore, when Luther writes colorfully about the law in the quotes above in the main text, giving this “force” personality, are we to believe that this is more than creative rhetoric? That he is to be taken literally here, and that he honestly thinks that the law by itself has a personality of sorts? Or that it is operating properly, as it is designed to be used?

[iv] This author goes on to talk about how in Jesus Christ’s ministry, everyone excluded by the law (tax collectors, prostitutes, prodigals, etc) would be embraced by God. It is for that particular reason that the very Son of God is shunned and killed on the cross. Here the law, even in those with good but self-justifying intentions, overcomes God’s promise in Christ alone. The law must therefore have its limits — and even its end! (Rom. 10:4)

[v] Another statement: “[Jesus was] multiplying sin in himself just like any other original sinner who does not trust a promise from God.” This has to do with Christ’s cry of dereliction from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Presumably, we are to understand here that God, did not, in fact, turn away from Jesus at this moment, prompting His cry. Rather, because of the weight of the sins of the world He bore, Christ irrationally confessed our sins by believing that His Father was displeased with Him and thereby sinned all of our sins. In other words, Christ’s willful act of ‘confessio’ is what makes Him truly a sinner who disobeys according to the law, which is to be sharply distinguished from God’s will. For example, in other statements this author says: “[Jesus] wants to take your sins and leave it to no one else; so he sins against the Golden Rule,” that when Jesus took sin by association, he not only transgressed the law, but placed himself ‘under an evil lord.'” More: “If Christ were obedient to the law, rather than obedient to the Father…” and “Christ’s obedience is outside the law, since the Father is not the law.” If this author believes and means to say that “ontologically Christ didn’t sin,” or something like this, then the logical thing to conclude is that God’s use of His own law is, to say the least, wooden (e.g., “Here Paul’s point is exact: the law is no respecter of persons, it does not identify Christ among sinners as an exception to the rule. Law as “blind lady justice” executes its judgment regardless of race, color, creed—or divinity.” [!]) and that it is not in accordance with what is really good, right and true, correct? This,, however, is the opposite of what Luther believes. The great reformer not only notes how “the Spirit first convicts the world of sin in order to teach faith in Christ, that is, the remission of sins (John 16:8)” (SDEA 37), going on to speak about how Adam, David, and Paul are killed by the law. He also says that, in accordance with God’s will, the law does not do its work without God’s Holy Spirit, who gives “all truth, wherever it might be,” for “to forbid the law is to forbid the truth of God” (SDEA 139 ; see also 55).

Luther does speak about the importance of metaphorical and figurative language. For example, he writes vs. Latomus: “So, coming to the point of this discussion, we see that when Christ is offered up, he is made sin for us metaphorically, for he was in every respect like a sinner. He was condemned, abandoned, put to shame, and in nothing different from a true sinner, except that he had not done the sin and guilt which he bore” (LW 32:200). Luther goes on, “In this trope there is a metaphor not only in the words, but also in the actuality, for our sins have truly been taken from us and placed upon him, so that everyone who believes on him really has no sins, because they have been transferred to Christ and swallowed up by him, for they no longer condemn. Just as figurative language is sweeter and more effective than is crude and simple speech, so also real sin is burdensome and intolerable to us, while transferred and metaphorical sin is wholesome and most delightful” (LW 32:200). Thus, “We therefore say that the sophists really do not know what sin is according to the usage of Scripture, for when they talk of ‘penalty’ they dream in an unscriptural way of something very different from sin. As I said, Christ was in every respect similar to sin except that he did not sin, for all the evil which follows sinful acts in us, such as the fear of death and hell, was felt and borne by Christ. The sophists themselves do not understand what they have invented about guilt and the attribution of punishment. Contrary to what they say, Christ felt that attribution, and was similar to one to whom sin is attributed, although without guilt. What is an attribution which one does not feel? Absolutely nothing. So, as I said, Christ differs not at all from a sinner of our own day who has just received the sentence that he must be condemned to death and hell. It was an effective attribution, wholly genuine, except that he did not deserve it, and was delivered up for us without having done anything to merit it. However, this is a thing rather to be experienced than to be discussed and grasped in words” (LW 32:202).

Still, does this not seem to be a far cry from the words in the previous paragraph? See Pastor Cooper’s post on this topic from the other day as well.

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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