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American Christianity’s Fatal Flaw: Failing to Fully Appreciate All the Ways God is Good (part 3 of 3)

“There is nothing that we could call ‘good’ except that it reflects God in the way it was designed by Him to so reflect. Disobedience to God is literally synonymous with departure from Goodness.” – Matthew Cochran

 

Part 1, Part 2

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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!

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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]

Gerhard Forde: the “Fall” is a bad theological idea!

 

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!).

Infiltration and convergence proceeding.

 

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.

“…our present debate specifically concerns ‘free-will’ without grace, which is taught by laws and threats (the Old Testament) to know itself, that it might run to the promises offered in the New Testament.” (180-181, Packer ed.)

 

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.

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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?

Shut up Liar-Oppressor Clive?: “The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career.”

 

  • 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…

“…the theologian in academia has two challenges: 1) To teach that which he should; 2) To be taken as intellectually viable. Since the enlightenment, the latter has trumped the former.” — Pastor Paul Strawn

 

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.

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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…

A false structure: “[Law and Gospel] are against each other as life and death” (Werner Elert, quoted on page 316 of CPH’s 2017 “so-called 3rd use of the law” book, The Necessary Distinction).

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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]

“Everything… we might say about goodness and obedience proceeds from that fundamental reality that God = Good.” — Matthew Cochran

 

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!

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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?

Christ’s love for sinners. What does this mean? The exhibition “Ecce Home” by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin shown in Belgrade

 

Let’s look:

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.

“Satan attacks sexuality with such intensity because it is the conjugal union of man and woman, which is God’s most powerful image in the world. Unable to strike God himself, the enemy strikes God’s image!” — Scott Stiegemeyer

 

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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.

“…even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the [j]men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another…” – the Apostle Paul

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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.

I think so, but they also need a lot of your love!

 

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.

And forevermore!

FIN

 

 

 

[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 [69].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).

 

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

God’s Relation to Kinds of Evil

View from hell: “The greatest ‘danger’ to the Gospel is the Law.” – the late Edward Schroeder, summing up Werner Elert as he understood him.

 

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In my recent series talking about all the ways that we have failed to recognize all the ways that God is good, I said the following:

“…evil is never good and God does not do evil. Yes, nothing could exist or have energy without the God in whom all things depend, but no, He does not do evil.

Saying that might engender some controversy, but it shouldn’t. The word “evil” in Scripture can mean either metaphysical evil (just think of the term “pure evil”) or it can mean “harm”. What this means is that if God is ever said to do “evil” then, it can, first of all, mean that He harms in order to help. As in the Proverb “wounds from a friend can be trusted.” All this is in fact a kind of “goodness,” or a “good”—though not, of course grace!—in the fallen world.”

Noting what I said there about potential controversy, I want to re-iterate, say more about that, in this post (I did say quite a bit also in the post linked to above).

“To pose the question of the pagans, whether God was the cause of evil, showed an improper understanding of rhetoric and dialectic….” — Timothy Wengert, explaining how Melanchthon thought Erasmus had misunderstood Luther.

 

First of all, let’s note what our Lutheran Confessions say about this. There are some very clear words about this topic in in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession where we read in Article XIX, “Of the Cause of Sin” the following:

77] The Nineteenth Article the adversaries receive, in which we confess that, although God only and alone has framed all nature, and preserves all things which exist, yet (He is not the cause of sin, but] the cause of sin is the will in the devil and men turning itself away from God, according to the saying of Christ concerning the devil, John 8:44: When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own…”

Again, “metaphysical evil” is what we might also call “pure evil,” which of course, would go hand in hand with the power of the Lie.

The heart of sin is nothing like an engineer setting up the train to run along tracks, but something else. At its core, it is missing the mark and rebellion.

And again, God is not the Author of this. Period.

God set up the creation in a certain way, and it was meant to function in a certain way. This is good.

Man sinned however, and therefore evil—in the sense of both increased metaphysical evil and bodily harm—will inevitably come to him (we’ll get into this more below).

“A free will is that which wills nothing of its own, but submits only to the will of God.” — Luther

 

Is God a cause of that second kind of evil, “harm-evil”?

Well, He is the One by which all things have their form or structure, and the One in which nothing else can exist or have energy.

In fact, what this means is that insofar as God “provides” existence and energy by which his creatures choose to run, pre and post-Fall, one can say He is the “efficient cause,” in a sense, of all things.

Therefore, He is a cause of not only harm-evil, but metaphysical evil as well!

Erasmus: (smugly) “So, I was right…”

 

That said, since metaphysical evil is opposed to God’s will and character, here He is only a, or even “the” cause (i.e. “efficient cause”) of this Fall and its continuing fallout in the most irrelevant sense possible.

At the same time, back to this point: God did set up creation, with consequences built-in for pushing against it, and in this sense, might be said to be both an indirect and more direct participatory cause of this or that instance of harm-evil. This “system,” of course, is not like the “deist’s clock,” and yet we might justifiably say that “it” is going to “work” like this or that when you mess with it (as God shows us, by revelation or general experience).

This will then involve God issuing certain warnings, or, in some cases, even threats. These threats are made out of concern for the beloved, as threats are made in coordination with [or in harmony with] everything that the Lawgiver has created. In other words, this is what we might reasonably call a specific kind of coercion that takes into account creation’s intrinsic social and material limits/constraints, which are “built-in” precisely in order to allow for things like trust, loyalty and love to grow (I’ll say more about this in an upcoming post about three kinds of coercion).

Think you know better?

 

When this is resisted, both spiritual and physical death are the inevitable result, as well as issues like pain, tears, and thorns as well.

This also will involve things….

  • …like particularly evil persons deciding to commit evil acts against us for the sheer pleasure of doing so, even as this might also, in some cases, be related to things…
  • …that the world might call “natural consequences” (Eastern: “karma”) for this or that action (this would include God “giving us over” to sin, to let our actions run their course and reap their rewards).
  • There are also consequences for sin where God clearly actively punishes in this or that case (Sodom, Exodus, Flood) or consequences associated with what the world calls “natural evil” (i.e. storms, famines, droughts, etc.), and these might be particular punishments (as Scripture revealed of this or that situation) or understood more generally…
  • …like, for example, all manner of personal maladies contained in the wider “problem of evil,” like the man born blind whom Jesus said was not directly responsible for His situation, people born with this or that genetic malady, physical or mental disability, or even predisposition to this or that kind of sinful desire, sin, etc.
  • For example, a person who identifies with and desires to become the opposite sex has a disordered sinful desire…

Hence, regarding those last two points, very much on many minds today, what Scott Stiegemeyer says is true: “Satan attacks sexuality with such intensity because it is the conjugal union of man and woman, which is God’s most powerful image in the world. Unable to strike God himself, the enemy strikes God’s image!”

Appropriate connection? In what sense?: “His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'”

 

We need to get this most difficult of situations and questions right, pastorally and otherwise. More on this kind of matter on tomorrow, in the final post of “American Christianity’s Fatal Flaw: Failing to Fully Appreciate All the Ways God is Good”

Our God, of course, not being captive like the world’s false gods, is strong enough to save….

Luther on gods not strong and free enough to save: “the Gentiles have asserted an inescapable fate…for their gods” who “cannot foresee future events or are deceived by events.”

 

FIN

 

Note: an earlier version of the post had the confusing had some mistakes in the beginning, which have since been fixed. : )

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Tweets to, about, Bradly Mason and His Dangerous Ideas

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“For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.’” – II Cor. 8:13-15

“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” — Acts 6:1

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Those Bible passages above do not only describe Christians friendly to SJW nonsense.

They are important to many serious, culturally and politically conservative American Christians who have no desire for revolution, and desire to give no quarter to revolution.

As I get ready to record with the honorable Matthew Garnett about Bradly Mason and his work tomorrow morning, I have been doing some Advanced Twitter searching, reviewing some of our exchanges…

These are my notes which I am making available here, for the three people who are interested… : )

This blog post is basically some of my more important tweets to or about Bradly Mason (and his ideas), a man whom I have recently become sharper with in my comments:

I have contacted contacted Bradly privately as well (3 times from August-November) and asked to talk with him about these things.

He is evidently not interested in doing so, and that, of course, is fine.

I’d be fine with him blocking me on Twitter as well–a perfectly respectable thing to do!

Even if I think persons like himself should definitely have to deal with the issues and questions I bring up, no one on Twitter should be expected to tolerate me personally!

I just don’t want anyone to doubt my sincerity or my belief that Christians are capable of making things work (its doubtful the 1580 Book of Concord would have come together without the Christian rulers in Germany saying “Work this out! Don’t stop until you do!”):

Here’s what we are ultimately dealing with…

Basically, the idea is that nothing substantial has really changed since the days of Frederick Douglass and continued resistance vs. the oppressors, that is, the vast majority of Americans, is called for:

My response (Bradly himself did not respond to this):

Let me make my concerns as clear as possible:

I think the kind of stuff we see above is basically divisive and dangerous, hence my response to him here:

Bradly seemingly has no idea about what I think is so concerning:

So, I’m just getting started here… at this point you will see more background to all of the above…

Other than those tweets above, we’ll put my tweets to Bradly into 5 categories (please note the dates in each case — the presentation below is not entirely chronological):

  • 1. Complementary
  • 2. Asking him for clarification
  • 3. Challenging him about the relevance of basic facts and data
  • 4. Challenging him about his general support of, and generally uncritical view of, Ibram Xolani Kendi
  • 5. Challenging him about his overall view/approach from a more technical and academic perspective

I think many reading this will not care much about 5. and maybe 1. and 2. You might just want to go down to 3. and 4., which will probably seem the most relevant.

1. Here are some basically complementary posts:

2. Posts asking him for clarification (for some of these, you’ll need to click into these threads to get more context for the questions):

3. Posts challenging him about the relevance of basic facts and data:

4. Posts challenging him about his support, and generally uncritical view of, Ibram Xolani Kendi:

Note what Bradly writes at the end of this post, which, to be sure, in terms of American history at least, is far more helpful than the New York Time’s completely discredited (by the far left and the right) 1619 Project:

…And it should still be of no wonder that the vast inequities and disparities in this society—along the very same color line created for exploitation—are continually explained away by Americans and evangelicals as the fault of so-called morally degraded, hyper-sexualized, lazy welfare queens and criminals; that is, the black community itself is to blame. Racist ideas continue to justify unjust circumstances.

Following the Civil War, the abandonment of Reconstruction, and 100 years of both legal and de facto nationwide Jim Crow, it is no wonder that in the 21st century the average “white” child is born into a family with ten to twenty times the wealth of his “black” peer (HERE and HERE and HERE), is twice as likely to live through infancy (HERE), 2.5 times as likely to live in a two-parent household (HERE) (though will likely spend less time with his father than his black peer [HERE]), is much more likely to go to a well-funded, academically superior school (HERE and HERE), is more likely to be put into advanced coursework as opposed to remedial or special needs coursework, regardless of ability (HERE); the white child is likely to live in de facto segregated neighborhoods, attend de facto segregated schools, and worship in de facto segregated churches (HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE), is much more likely to make it to college without being incarcerated, even if he commits the same or similar crimes as his black peer (HERE, HERE, and HERE), is more likely to graduate from college (HERE), is much less likely to be shot and killed by a police officer (HERE), is more likely to secure a job, even with precisely the same resume (HERE and HERE), is likely to be paid more for the same work (HERE), is likely to accumulate 3 times the net worth of his black peer (HERE and HERE), is likely to have significantly more wealth mobility, while his black peer is more likely to spend what he has to care for his aging parents (HERE and HERE), is much more likely to own a home (HERE), will likely have greater access to healthcare, and the care his black peer does receive is likely to be lower quality (HERE), and in the end, the white child is even likely to outlive his black peer (HERE).

And all of this devastating disparity straddles a color-line unknown to the world prior to Prince Henry’s African exploits, Gomes Eanes de Zurara’s fabricated justifications posing as legitimate “chronicles,” and the American Colonies’ vast industrialization of human labor. This is what 1619 has to do with 2019. The Atlantic Slave Trade, with its untold billions in profits, both for traders and 19th century America’s largest single export—cotton, took hold on American soil in the very colony from which the United States modeled its republic and farmed its Fathers and presidents. (bold mine)

…and compare this with the core focus of Ibram Kendi:

That makes it pretty clear where this is going. Nevermind any progress, and don’t expect answers back up with solid evidence to questions like these…

This is serious stuff:

In sum, it doesn’t matter how soft-spoken Kendi is. This, again, is serious stuff and seriously messed-up stuff, and it needs to be rejected or at the very least not touted as being useful in public.

+++

Please note that I do think that Kendi brings up some things that should be seriously explored. Note this extended exchange:

This last tweet exchange gets us ready for part 5:

5. Finally, and most important, here are some posts challenging him about his overall view/approach from a more technical and academic perspective

Historicism basically is the precursor to serious forms of relativism and extreme forms of social constructivism (the most extreme being social constructionism), staples of CT and CRT, which basically dissolves all notions of persisting truth (and with this goodness — see the series I am doing) in acid.

I’ve talked about this in papers I’ve written for Libraryland:

I do keep up with this stuff too, as best I can:

Here is the most interesting exchange. Again, “CT” = Critical Theory, and Vico’s historicism is what underlies it. If he agrees with me about the dangers of historicism like he says he does…

…it doesn’t look to me at all like he thinks this is a big deal.

He seems to think that all “CT” is tainted by this stain but that there are parts of it that are salvageable and that Christians should use.

I had first challenged him about the roll of historcism in all of this, back in Aug of 2019:

And here is the second-to-last thread on this to him, trying once again to make clear my concerns:

The last and most recent thread about this follows…. 

In sum, we don’t need and in fact must not use CT and CRT, philosophies designed to destroy cultures created by Christianity (for all their flaws!), to fight racism:

FIN

 

 

Bonus 1: And what can we expect from Matthew Garnett?:

 

Bonus 2:  other interesting interactions:

Think we all project, cherry-pick. The problem is on a spectrum though….

 

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

American Christianity’s Fatal Flaw: Failing to Fully Appreciate All the Ways God is Good (part 2 of 3)

What is Goodness? The Church of Sweden altarpiece “Paradise” by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin

 

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I don’t consider myself much of a systematic theologian, but the other day I had a bit of a burst of insight, one which I think helped me to better understand what is wrong with much American Christianity (and yes, to be sure, Western Christianity in general).

That is why, in the first post, I made the claim that:

“there is… common ground that can be found using the Bible that has, largely, hitherto remained “unsystematized” – and hence, not been able to be effectively used.

With a little work however, this common ground can be readily identified and used in promoting a feasible cultural and political program that all Christians can get behind….”

A few key caveats beforehand:

  1. I do believe there are people who are really Christians but are nevertheless in the habit of obfuscating the Bible, or at the very least not given to proclaiming either its divine nature or its clarity. If you don’t think a passage like 2 Tim 3:16 is particularly relevant for today, you might want to stop reading this series now.
  2. In sum, what is provided here is really a tool to make it easier for the steadfast Christian to provide theological assistance to the waffling Christian.
  3. Expectations nevertheless must be managed. This series, I think, will both unite and divide.

Let’s dive in!…

+++

It is my contention that many American Christians think as they do about goodness because, in the end, it enables them to adjust to the culture at the expense of the Word of God.

Who do you fear?

 

At the same time, I don’t think they necessarily know that! In other words, they are largely unaware that this is indeed what they are doing…that this is how they suppress this truth…

What are we missing? In sum, we are missing that the Bible shows us that there are 5, and perhaps 6, kinds of goodness (can you come up with some more?) that can be distinguished:

  • There is the possibility of a goodness we currently have no frame of reference for even comprehending – in other words, a final goodness in the new heavens and earth that we don’t even begin to know in this life!
  • There is the goodness of the creation prior to man’s fall into sin that we begin to know now and will know fully in the new heavens and earth.
  • There is the goodness of the creation prior to man’s fall into sin that will not persist in the new heavens and earth.
  • There is the goodness in the fallen creation that will persist in the new heavens and earth.
  • There is the goodness in the fallen creation that will not persist in the new heavens and earth.
  • There is the goodness that God initiated in light of the angelic rebellion, which will persist alongside the new heavens and earth.

…Again, American Christians tend to not notice these important distinctions – and hence much confusion is able to reign in their churches (starting in the more liberal churches) even before such confusion engulfs the culture surrounding them.

Let’s dig into those six points, drawing from the wisdom the Bible has for us here…. I will also address them according to the order of greatness!

We can call it the “Biblical Hierarchy of Goodness”.

+++

There is the possibility of a goodness we currently have no frame of reference for even comprehending – in other words, a final goodness in the new heavens and earth that we don’t even begin to know in this life!

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived — the things God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9).

Let the good times roll… It doesn’t get any better than this… Wait.

 

There is the goodness of the creation prior to man’s fall into sin that we begin to know now and will know fully in the new heavens and earth.

There are things that men and women now do imperfectly, but will do perfectly in the life to come. Here, one can look at the 10 commandments, and see how they point out both what heaven won’t and will contain in perfection. For example, in heaven we will not kill or hate, lust or be unchaste, steal or covet, lie or defame. Rather, we will honor our parents and every authority with our every action towards our neighbors, being driven fully by pure love for God, His whole creation, and all His purposes. Furthermore, our fear, love, and trust in God and desire to speak with Him, praise Him, and give Him thanks will only be heightened, as all sin is forever left behind.

There is the goodness of the creation prior to man’s fall into sin that will not persist in the new heavens and earth.

Marriage would be the prime example of the goodness that we know now among ourselves, but will not know in heaven. On the one hand, marriage was in the cards from the beginning, and Adam and Eve were encouraged to be fruitful and multiply. And yet, on the other hand, Jesus also tells us explicitly that while people were getting married and being given in marriage in the days of Noah, in the life to come they will neither marry not be given in marriage.

But it can be so good! Marriage and family not forever?!

 

There is the goodness in the fallen creation that will persist in the new heavens and earth.

Now, as we begin to deal with God’s goodness made in reaction to the actions of His creatures, we see that the book of Revelation presents us a stunning picture: “before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Stunning and beautiful as this may be, one also notes that different languages and groups initially resulted, in part from the sinful actions of man and corresponding actions from God (see for example, Genesis 10 and 11, the later chapter describing the “Tower of Babel” incident). Presumably, Adam and Eve would have looked similar to one another, but God wants a kind of diversity in heaven! Other examples of this might be that we see the “Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” in the book of Revelation (see, e.g. 5:6) and—in spite of the fact that meat was presumably eaten only after the fall into sin—we get a picture of “choice meats” in the vision of the new creation in Isaiah 25 (my son believes these might be created through some kind of 3-D printing process).

There is the goodness in the fallen creation that will not persist in the new heavens and earth.

I believe this is the most complicated of the six kinds of goodness, and hence, will spend additional time on it.

First, evil is never good and God does not do evil. Yes, nothing could exist or have energy without the God in whom all things depend, but no, He does not do evil.

Saying that might engender some controversy, but it shouldn’t. The word “evil” in Scripture can mean either metaphysical evil (just think of the term “pure evil”) or it can mean “harm”. What this means is that if God is ever said to do “evil” then, it can, first of all, mean that He harms in order to help. As in the Proverb “wounds from a friend can be trusted.” All this is in fact a kind of “goodness,” or a “good”—though not, of course grace!—in the fallen world.

Even if rational and sinful man cannot see this, faith can!

“faith and the Spirit… believ[es] that God is good even though he should destroy all men.” — Luther, p. 202

.

Or, alternatively, God does “harm” in order to restrain and/or punish evil, which thereby helps others. When He does this, He does not, punish evil with evil, even if He uses evil persons to accomplish His purposes. In fact, His vengeance and punishment, are synonymous with His [retributive] justice (which is just a part of the wider biblical conception of justice or righteousness) and are therefore good. Again, all of this is in fact also a kind of “goodness,” or a “good” in the fallen creation.

Again, even if rational and sinful man cannot see this, faith can! 

There is much more to talk about here, getting into nitty-gritty details. For example, going along with what has been said above, the death penalty and military/police service—a couple things which many struggle to call “good” in the creation—are an example of the goodness that we find in a fallen world. In Eden and in the life to come, there will be no need of such things.

Another good example is worldly or civil government, which, post-fall, supplements the family and church as well, supporting them by bearing the sword for good in the world.

In like fashion, seemingly unlike property (which, though it will undoubtedly be eagerly shared, certainly seems to exist in some sense in heaven), money plays a temporary role in the fallen creation. We can observe, for example, that material wealth and things like money are often the only thing that can cause an unkind person to act kindly towards (at least externally) another person (when all notions of another’s rights are either non-existent in or have left this person)….

If they don’t respect God, they might respect this.

 

Furthermore—and most challenging—as right as it is to assert that God is compassionate, loves His whole creation (see Psalm 145) and “does not desire the death of [even] the wicked,” we must also simultaneously assert that no one is “innocent” when lives are claimed by “natural” disasters (though, when it comes to how to respond in real time, see this[i]). These should be a sign for all of us, reminding us of our sin (see Romans 8:21-23) and reminding us to repent (see Luke 13:1-5).

The ceremonial and civil laws of the Old Testament also present a kind of temporary goodness. They were meant for the theocratic nation of Israel, and existed precisely as they did in that nation because Adam and Eve had introduced sin into the world.

Regarding the ceremonial practices of the Israelites (this is something the “but God said shellfish was sinful” crowd will want to note), the Scriptures assert that the ceremonial laws themselves are revealed in the Gospels to express deeper truths, are shown in the book of Colossians to be shadows which pointed to the reality – Christ – to come, and are abrogated in the book of Acts by God Himself.

In like fashion, the civil laws of the nation of Israel were specifically created for Israel, in order that they might be a showcase of sorts to the nations. Many of these laws were only “good” not in that they offered the closure of retributive justice, but in that they simply offered a weak and temporary restraint vs. evil, or “damage control.” And also note that “good” laws regulating divorce, for example, would not only have been absolutely inconceivable in Eden, but are also singled out for His disdain! Nevertheless, note that even as God “hates divorce,” He initiates it in the O.T. vs. His people. Contrariwise, also note that God never indicates that other kinds of things that could only be “good” in light of sin and/or the fallen world—like polygamy or owning others as property for example—are things that He hates, even if should not think for a minute that he likes them either.

How hard can they get? We don’t want to know.

 

At the same time, it is also true that these laws also help reveal clues about God’s character and therefore might also contain for us practical knowledge about the purposes of God’s creation. As such, some of these laws might prudently be applied by Christian rulers in Christian freedom. These, of course, would be things that are in line with the 10 commandments, covered above….

There is the goodness that God initiated in light of the angelic rebellion, which will persist alongside the new heavens and earth.

Yes, even hell, created for the devil and His angels, is a good thing! This also helps us to put the last kind of goodness into proper perspective as well.

And with that, let’s give quick names to these 6 kinds of created goodness:

  • Unknown Final Goodness
  • Persisting Edenic Goodness
  • Non-persisting Edenic Goodness.
  • Persisting Fallen Goodness
  • Non-persisting Fallen Goodness
  • Invisible Goodness (Angelic Goodness)

+++

Now, the question becomes this: is there an even easier way to sum up these 6 points?

I have already alluded to the fact that we know that the final 3 kinds of goodness are all certainly made by God in response to the actions of His creation.

Another biblical, and I think better way of addressing them in an imperfect and short-hand fashion, might be to say that there is immature and mature goodness, which basically correlates with temporal kinds of goodness and eternal kinds of goodness.

Some clarification on the word “eternal” is needed here though. God’s character is an eternal kind of goodness which certainly informs even the temporal kinds of goodness. That said, God’s own eternal, uncreated character is not the only thing that we can refer to as “eternal”. We can also talk about things being eternal when it comes to certain temporary or created beings God means to live forever without sin.

“It is said improperly, that is, not rightly and not fittingly, that we are obliged to do what is impossible by the law.” – Luther

 

So, again, to drive home the point: “eternal” in this sense would mean that this is the goodness that God means for man to have in himself forever in communion with Him: Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

God might have meant this for the angels as well, but at the same time He says that He desires all human beings to be saved, not the angels. Therefore, insofar as we are talking about what we can know about eternal goodness, only the second item on the list above is fundamentally related to the eternal goodness God means for all men to know, imperfectly now, and forever in the life to come (yes, we might argue about the fourth kind of goodness). 

What does this mean for all the other kinds of goodness that we see in the rest of the Bible? For one, it means that while Adam and Eve were innocent, they were not perfect or “complete”. In other words, though they were “very good,” that is, without sin, they were not fully mature in that goodness. They had an immature goodness.

What does this mean?: “[He] grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man”.

.

In like fashion, the Old Testament saints as a whole had an “immature goodness” in relation to the New Testament church, which now has the fullness of the message of God’s grace and lives by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (and the New Testament church is likewise immature in relation to the Church Triumphant in Heaven). Again, as noted above, we see this idea of “immaturity” in other respects as well: while the death penalty is not something that will be present in heaven, God has nevertheless commanded the death penalty (see Romans 13) as something which is good in the fallen world that we live. In fact, contra men like Pope Francis, this cannot be denied without affecting the preaching of the Gospel.

Of course what complicates matters is that something that we are not told is part of the fall—something like marriage itself—is also a part of that immature and temporary goodness. Why won’t those who are married to one another now be married in the new heavens and earth? Well, not only will no new persons be created there, but earthly marriage is meant to be a sign, or icon, of the fact that each and every person is a member of the human race, who, in relation to their Creator, is meant to be His Bride.

This is a great mystery… but I am talking about Christ and the Church…. (Paul in Eph. 5)

 

Just as the Son of God is equally God yet before His Father takes on a subordinate relation within the Godhead, this is supposed to be, to use a controversial term, “natural” for us. This is not, however, the case now—even for Christians (see Romans 7)—even if it will be in maturity, in the life to come (for more reflection on this notion of maturity in the Bible, please see this post, “This New Years’s Consider Becoming Perfect in Jesus Christ”).

I hope thusfar this article has shown that while all of this is undoubtedly complicated, it nevertheless deserves our most intense reflection.

That said… we might also be able to understand why some want to stay fixated on the simple need to be accused by God’s law for failing to take it seriously—and how this is all meant simply to drive us to Jesus Christ, who provides for us “the end of the law”. Since we are told Christ ends the law, looking too deeply at these kinds of goodness and how that goodness might correlate with God’s commands might be interpreted as wanting to be put “back under the law”. That fundamentally means a determination to save one’s self by following God’s laws or even just one’s own laws.

Here the point is made in rather stark terms:

Is the “opinion legis,” or the “opinion of the law,” driving the show, with you trying to justify yourself? In other words, 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?  

There is no doubt that suggesting that this is indeed the case as well as the main point does seem to radically simplify things.

Is trying to be a better Christian really opposing God’s grace?

 

This might also seem comforting in some ways. We can insist that since we can’t do anything to better ourselves, only God can “reveal” His truth to us as well! If we don’t feel like He has done this for us personally… experientially… it’s not, in the end, our truth.

This kind of “comforting” though, can spiritually kill… Does not Jesus, in Luke 24, hold the Emmaus-road disciples responsible for their ignorance?

The issue ultimately comes down to what it means to, as some Lutherans liked to put it especially in the mid-20th century, “let God be God.”

We’ll try to tie everything together in the last post…

FIN

 

 

[i] Matthew Harrsion, the current president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, was the Director of LCMS World Relief/Human Care when the Tsunami of Dec. 2004 hit, and was there on the ground.  Here is what he wrote about that experience:

“What does [the fact that Jesus Christ forever remains the ‘”crucified one” (I Cor. 1)] mean for a tsunami? I don’t finally know the mind of God. But I do know from the cross that God works His most profound deeds in suffering. And so I plunge my feeble mind into the suffering of Christ and know that amidst trials and crosses and disaster upon disaster, God loves us in Christ. And there, only there, I find consolation amidst the devastation. In faith, I know that resurrection follows Good Friday. The women stood at a distance and watched Him die. Hopeless. The end. “God hates this Jesus … and us,” they may well have thought. Or perhaps even, “There is no God, or certainly no God who cares about us.” Yet right there, on Good Friday, God the Father was doing what He had prepared to do from all eternity for the salvation of the world. The most loving act of God in history was veiled and hidden by a bloody, wretched cross. Where was God in this tsunami? Where He always is— in Christ, in suffering, in the cross.”

 

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

American Christianity’s Fatal Flaw: Failing to Fully Appreciate All the Ways God is Good (part 1 of 3)

How to take back the wheel? — and first in the church…

 

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Ever since the Reformation of the Western Church, Christ’s body has been torn asunder and the ruler of this world has been at a great advantage when it comes to influencing culture and society.

That said, I think its basically indisputable that the Reformation was a necessary tragedy.

Martin Luther and his followers, at bottom, rightly pilloried Rome for essentially saying that Christians could not know they were Christians (see Romans 5:1 and I John 5), and yet the Thomist wing of the Roman Church also was on target when they pointed to William of Ockham’s theology, adopted in part by Luther, as a major problem…

It is the contention of this 3-part series that while we must continue to be divided until we find true unity in doctrine (see I Cor. 11:9), there is nevertheless common ground that can be found using the Bible that has, largely, hitherto remained “unsystematized” – and hence, not been able to be  effectively used.

With a little work however, this common ground can be readily identified and used in promoting a feasible cultural and political program that all Christians can get behind (something that I had already began to explore here 3 years ago).

+++

First of all, whether one cares to try and unite Christians in a common “cultural and political program” or not, I maintain that the things I will speak about in this article are critical for the church in any case.

Let me illustrate this with the help of a recent post titled “Dallas Theological Seminary Profs Say Transgenderism is Given by God, Not a Sin,” from the popular and controversial conservative Baptist blog, Pulpit and Pen.

 

The post maintains that the DTS professors show “a stunning display of bad theology,” going on to point out the following:

First, the desire for sin is still sin (Matthew 5:28) whether or not its acted upon.

Secondly, a sinful proclivity resulting from the Fall of Man does not absolve anyone of sin but rather condemns us (Romans 5:12-17).

Third, claiming that transgenderism is a gift from God is horrific, because God tempts no one to sin (James 1:13).

Fourth, Job was tempted because of his righteous[] heart (Job 1:8), but transgenderism comes from a rebellious heart (Matthew 5:19).

Fifth, claiming that something must be a “choice” in order for it to be sinful is denial of the historic understanding of Original Sin. The professors seem to grasp the fallenness of mankind, but then use it to absolve from sin rather than condemn.

Having watched the entirety of both of the videos these professors did on the transgender issue (see them here and here), I think the writer of the Pulpit and Pen article misinterprets and misrepresents their discussion — and yet, I can also understand why he might, operating from his own understanding, respond the way he does.

The situation is surely difficult to understand, and for that reason, I really don’t see a good reason to assume that any misrepresentation there is intentional.

I worked hard myself to write a careful and helpful article on this topic a few years ago, and while I make some arguments similar to the DTS professors, I don’t think that overall, my article is as open to attack from Bible-respecting Christians as is their discussion (granted, the title alone might assure that!)

So, how have even seemingly very conservative Baptist professors like those from Dallas Theological Seminary gotten to this point where what they say can provoke such a reaction?

+++

I think that the genesis of the problems we are now facing is readily explained.

We know that the kinds of questions that we are now finding ourselves facing—particularly from LGBTQ+ proponents—have certainly come to the forefront and will not be going away. Why, however, is this the case? These issues have become the issue that they are largely in part because of the church’s own failure to be clear about them, both in their internal and external communications (something I also argued in a recent sermon about the “man of lawlessness”).

We simply do not have the kind of basic, easily-understood frameworks at hand which we would need in order to effectively address these issues in ways that could be readily apprehended by ourselves and others (admittedly, conservative Roman Catholics like Edward Feser have a better framework here than most, but I argue that even Feser’s approach could perhaps benefit from and be challenged by the one I offer below).

The core problem is that we have an underdeveloped biblical doctrine of goodness. Of the goodness that comes from the only One who is good, God (Mark 10:18 ; Luke 18:19).

If we look at the freight that the modern conceptions of goodness carry in conservative American Christianity in general, from Roman Catholics to Evangelicals to conservative Lutherans, we see that there are a couple basic kinds of goodness that they like to talk and think about.

The first has to do with the goodness that is unique to God and His character. We like how God ultimately uses everything – even the things Satan and others might mean for evil – for our good. As I heard the popular evangelical Christian author Phillip Yancey put it years ago, “nothing is beyond God’s redemption.” This is a truly wonderful and powerful thought for human beings to ponder, even as one also notes that the fallen angels are never told to repent!

Phillip Yancey

 

We also appreciate a peculiar kind of goodness that we see in creation, namely, the heart of the believer who loves the Lord with all His heart, soul, strength and mind! (seen, for example, in the great Lutheran hymn: “Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart”). In other words, these persons show us that submission to God and His commandments is something that should be done freely.

Such free consent is undoubtedly beautiful and good!

Now, of course, speaking in terms of historic biblical Christianity, to say this does not mean that one denies that in the end, every knee will bow, whether one likes it or not. Rather, it means precisely this: ideally, it is God’s will that all of our devotion and love should come from a place deep within, being wholly un-coerced!

And since it is true that Christians can begin to freely express themselves and become the way they wish to be such that it also harmonizes with God’s desires, it is hard for us, especially as American Christians, to not wish for others to feel so liberated in their own self-expression! A corollary of this then is that in our minds the idea of freedom and goodness go hand in hand not just for Christians – but for others as well.

What could be more beautiful and good than such freedom?

This, however, is to go down an unfruitful and ultimately destructive path, something we have been doing for some 350 years now.

 

The problem is ultimately with our overly philosophical and yet very human-centered idea of goodness, which—since it is not sufficiently informed by the biblical text—cannot carry the necessary freight and leaves us unsatisfied on the one hand, and unproductive (in the 2 Peter 1:8 sense) as well.

When we speak philosophically about the desires of human beings—and, when it comes to goodness, put the focus on this aspect of the equation—we minimize the importance of all the kinds of created and uncreated goodness that exist in the ways they exist whether we like them or not.

This is the problem with, for example, giving too much credance to notions like social constructivism, social constructionism, or even “worldview”!

Christians need to stick with theological dogmatics – and its relevance for everyone.  

I hope you’ll stick with me as I take a stab at pointing out–and systematizing–the goodness that we are missing. I’ll launch part 2 in 3-5 days.

FIN

 

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

In Jesus Christ, We Really are Above it All (sermon text and video)

[apologies for the poor sound quality in the video]

“…you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not…” — Malachai 3:18

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In the book of Malachai, we hear how God’s people complained with the words “Where is the God of justice?” (or, we might say “of righteousness…”).

This they have the nerve to ask after God points out the many ways His people had failed to do right by Him!

  • They had offered Him lame animals for their sacrifices…
  • The priests had failed to teach the way of the Lord to the people…
  • They had fled from His decrees and robbed Him through their meager tithes and offerings…
  • Judah, he said, was enmeshed in idolatry, had ‘broken faith’… even going so far as to marry the wife of a foreign god…

So now, after all that and now hearing this question about where His justice is, He’s, frankly, had enough…

He’s done!

So He speaks of His coming judgment and speaks these words to them…

I will come to put you on trial

I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty….”

And later on, He goes on to assure them:

“…You will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not…”

Abraham’s words to God in Genesis 18, as he pleads for the lives of the righteous in the city of Sodom, come to mind:

“Far be it from you to do such a thing–to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?…”

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Many throughout time have questioned this though….

That is, whether this God, revealed to us in the Christian Scriptures, will indeed do right…. Or even if the “righteous” he’s going to save are really all that righteous!

Just a few generations after the last of Jesus’ disciples died, a man by the name of Marcion took a look at the New Testament – particularly the book of Luke and Paul’s Epistles – and after comparing it with the Old Testament…

Decided that the God of the Old Testament was a different God than the God of the New!

Other critics have questioned whether God is truly good and just as well.

In the 3rd century, when the church father Origin defended the God of the Christians, He nevertheless did so on the basis that many of the stories in the Old Testament weren’t really meant to be taken literally….

So—perhaps emboldened through the half-hearted defense of some Christians—critics like the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins haven’t really held back:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Even as he was competing with another notable atheist and excellent writer at the time, Christopher Hitchens, I think Dawkins really does deserve to win some kind of award for that one…. : )

That said, even the great contemporary philosopher and theologian David Bentley Hart—who some years ago countered Dawkins in His book “Atheist Delusions”—recently spoke about how

every evil that time comprises, natural or moral . . . is an [indictment] of God’s goodness: every death of a child, every chance calamity, every act of malice, everything diseased, thwarted, pitiless, purposeless, or cruel; and, until the end of all things, no answer has been given…”

As such, Hart is again sounding a lot like Origin… and maybe even Marcion….

Do the beginning words of Psalm 36 come to mind?:

I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:

There is no fear of God before their eyes.

In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.

Or, do we… perhaps find ourselves wondering about some of these critics… whether or not they might not have a point?

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Well, if we have such thoughts, we would not be the only believers who have thought them!

People in the Old Testament had issues with God too.

Admittedly though, their issues weren’t really related so much to God’s cruelty (ironically, it may only be the love revealed in Jesus Christ that would make the world so sensitive to that!)

….rather, they lived in a world where might truly did seem to make right and where for that reason the gods were called upon.

In this world…

  • Violence was a very regular occurrence…
  • Live infants were seared on the heated hands of idols,
  • Women were basically owned, sometimes in mass…
  • And, evidently, well-known commands from God not to have intimate relations with animals were necessary….

So they, on the contrary—knowing the world they knew—were probably often wondering why God wasn’t more forceful and destructive with their enemies!

Be that as it may their main question– as we saw briefly in Malachai—was why the wicked, the godless, often seemed to be so blessed in this world!

Have you read Psalm 74? You too, might actually find it somewhat contemporary and relatable. It’s worth taking a look….

They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.[a]
They are free from common human burdens;
they are not plagued by human ills.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity[b];
their evil imaginations have no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.[c]
11 They say, “How would God know?
Does the Most High know anything?”

12 This is what the wicked are like—
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth…

Behold the very Word of God!

Giving voice to the common complaints of His children…

…but again, God insists—while men like Dawkins and perhaps even David Bentley Hart scoff at the reports of His behavior—all things will indeed be well….

And that yes, He will do right.

Hence we also read in Malachai of the final judgment:

“…But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years…”

A look at this passage in the book itself shows that this is clearly a prophecy of the coming Messiah.

And so… what does that Messiah do when He finally comes – at least initially?

Just what does He show us about God’s judgment?

Just what does He reveal to us, we who live on the other side of the Old Testament, about God’s wrath?

Why, the raging fire of God’s wrath would burn itself out in Christ’s body… that He will take it all into Himself.

And as He does this He also says—at the same time—“Today you will be with me in paradise” to the one who confesses “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong…

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Behold your God!

The God who indeed harshly punishes the evil of sin, but most harshly in His own Son

…that we might receive His most tender and gentle mercies through His own very blood!

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”…

…indeed.

Jesus says: Richard, David…I am that God you are talking about…

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So where to do from here?

What does it mean for us who believe this, being justified by our Great God, to be just… to act justly in the world?

Especially in our world today, where there is so much discussion about things like the latest trends or fads (shall I call them that?) of social justice and rights!

Rights… Rights…. Rights…

Does being just, perhaps, have anything to do with effective political action in the here and now?

Well, the importance of us being culturally and politically wise and brave here should not be discounted….

Peter Scaer, a professor at Ft. Wayne theological seminary in the LC-MS—who is well-known for His punchy and opinionated posts on Facebook—is  sometimes criticized by his own fellow pastors for being too political…

I admire and commend him, however, when he says things like this:

“Who posts more about Christ and his life than I do? And still I am accused of speaking politically? As if abortion had nothing to do with Christ in the womb? As if the gender lie had nothing to do with the God who made us male and female? As if marriage had nothing to do with Christ and his Bride?”

Do you see what really lies beneath his words?

If you say a sly “political power play” I’m going to call foul!

We should rather see that the real power to transform hearts and minds is embedded right within what he says!

For He is simply insisting that both God’s Law and Gospel, while needing to be kept distinct, testify to the same love of God – indeed, the same goodness of God shown to us in Jesus Christ!

And this changes everything!

With life in Christ we have the beginnings of true love, life, safety, and peace!

But do we really?

After all, in looking over history, one great theologian came to this rather depressing assessment:

“As it is in my own life history, so it is in world history, is a part. We should speak more cautiously and soberly in the plural, of world histories: namely, the histories of great social groups or movements; the histories of alliances, nations, and blocs; histories which stand apart and never merge into a world history in the singular. These world histories are nothing but the histories of the seeking, enforcing, denying, or lacking of mutual recognition. They are the histories of vindications and the assigning of guilt. They are one long story of the battle for mutual recognition, a life and death battle. In this regard, then, we can indeed speak of a world history in the singular.” (Bayer, Justification and Sanctification, p. 4)

It is indeed such observations that led the liberal theologian Harry Emerson Fosdick to write these words, which even theologically conservative churches have been willing to sing:

Cure your children’s warring madness;
bend our pride to your control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss your kingdom’s goal,
lest we miss your kingdom’s goal.

(God of Grace and God of Glory)

I think some of you know that even as we sing a hymn like that we begin to feel an answer to that prayer as well… We have realized the difference that Jesus Christ makes.

World history might be life and death battle for recognition, but it is more than that. It is God’ story of His work in Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness, life, and salvation…

In the lives of our family, our church, our local community! This is where we can make a difference, and where the love of God can begin to be known!

All that said here, it is easy for us to think less and less locally… and to even get overly preoccupied with earthly powers… and the heights of earthly power – especially in this days when the drama runs high!

We can forget that our real battle is against spiritual foes—and that the power which can really defeat and dislodge such foes is the Word of God—particularly the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For while the earthly powers are not unimportant—and our place and right to speak the truth in the political realm should never be questioned for a minute and we should never discourage brothers who do this!—it also does us well to think more on, to reflect more, on the Higher Things!

…to direct our attention there…

What will happen then?

+++

When we do this, we will find ourselves not less, but more eager, to show true justice and mercy to our neighbors – first to fellow believers and then to unbelievers, unsettled by life’s trials and willing to hear…

We will want not only to share God’s forgiveness in Christ, but offer physical assistance as well…

This is what the separation of the sheep and the goats on the Last Day is all about, right?

Those who have forgiven much, those who have shown much mercy – echoing the mercy of God Himself – will be shown mercy.

Those who opened up the Kingdom of Heaven to others will have the Kingdom of Heaven opened up to them.

In other words, these are the ones who have demonstrated themselves to be God’s children…

After all, sons and daughters of God act like sons and daughters of God and it is right that they should be found with their father and brother….

Like Christ, they eagerly gave the promise of paradise to all—even to those enemies of God dying to the left of them (and to the right, if they would only have it)—who had nothing to give, and could pay nothing back.

For God’s people, like God Himself, are profligate with pity, mercy, and grace….

As Paul puts it “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you….”

So, confident that this is us…  how can we do this more and more?

And… also, to even be fighting men like Peter Scaer?

For, as he would undoubtedly tell you, love for life in this world is a good thing… deep involvement in the world’s affairs is a good thing…

but our love for the life we know in this world should be always be driven by an eternal mindset and perspective rooted in Christ!

Many times, men have desired to fight for their country…

but can we also be those today who will fight in and for Christ’s church?

The old.. The young…

The church needs soldiers.

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How can this happen? How will this happen?

And how is it that we Christians are even the ones, who when it comes to the Final Judgement, who will judge the world as Jesus says and Paul echoes? (1 Cor 6: 2-3)

It is because of our Lord Jesus, “the Head of the body, the church;

He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy….”

There is the kind of supremacy the world needs!

As Paul reveals in Colossians, “knowing Christ is the key to knowing how things began, how things are, and how it is going to end…”

This also means you know: “where you have come from in Christ, where you are in Christ, and how it ends for you in Christ.” (Bombaro).

For who are we and why do we do what we do? What are our “identity politics?”

  • Christ has overcome the world and has all authority!
  • And we are put in Him! (put a bookmark in the Bible…) In baptism, we are united with the One who both created and redeemed us…
  • As Christ was crucified and buried, our sinful self was crucified and buried!
  • As He came from the grave with new life, so we to have new life in Him!
  • And as He is ascended of God and reigns at the right hand of God, and who will judge the world, so too will we!

It’s not really that we were baptized – we are baptized!

And so, “since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God!”

For that is where our True Hope lies!

Every day, and all the time! 24-7. Stay in touch! He wants to be with you and hear from you even more!

Not only can we “know ourselves as delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of His beloved Son”, but Christ “has broken into the old world through the cross and empty grave and is supplanting and reversing the old-world bit by bit…” (Bombaro)

And so, in Christ’s church it is good for us to fight for what is good and right and true….

The old… the young… The church needs soldiers.

And what a Commander we have!

As the Lutheran theologian, and by the way, military man, John Bombaro recently pointed out, things people might say sarcastically about certain popular figures in society really can be said about Jesus!

  • We are just supposed to bow down and worship at His feet!
  • He is never wrong!
  • We are all just supposed to believe everything He says!
  • He does act “like He walks on water or something…”
  • The world really does revolve around Him!
  • He is God’s gift to humanity!

“He’s the firstborn of all creation, the head of the body, the very ICON of God the Father on earth!” (Bombaro). He shows us the face of the One True God

…and that is good news! Very good news…

So let’s roll!

Like a wise church father said long ago, “they can kill us but they can’t hurt us…”

Let’s give them Jesus

…as He has been given to us!

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

A Reply to Pastor Larry Peters and Dr. Gregory Seltz: the Church is Not Political Enough

Martin Luther was a nationalist too…

 

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My guess is that the Roman Catholic Attorney General William Barr has been reading reading First Things and specifically its editor Rusty Reno.

And I think it’s like this: Reno = good cop. Barr = bad cop.

This recent speech seems like it was a real barnburner, and the calls for Barr’s impeachment have already begun. For a live-tweeting rundown, see here:

(for more on this see here)

As long-time readers of this blog can probably tell, my own views on the topic of culture and politics have been evolving bit over the years…

I have some suspicions about why that might be the case…

 

Yes, yes, I know. LC-MS wise men like Gene Veith have been telling us for years that “politics is downstream from culture. We should focus on culture.” I do think that’s largely right.

And I have also been the first to say that before the church points the finger at secularists we ourselves have much to repent for. In fact, I think that most of the bad secular ideas we have this day originally came out of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ (see Matt 13:24-30 and my recent sermon on the antichrist rebellion in the church).

All that said, culture, church and politics are not always easily disentangled.

And while I do think that Christians should first and foremost be those whose minds are “set on things above” (Col. 3:1), that doesn’t give us permission to be so laissezfaire about the “things below” either.

Central to my concerns.

 

As comfortable as that may be. Yes indeed – we may well remain silent in order to remain comfortable. Why? Well, read this from Dr. Gregory Seltz, Executive Director of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty:

“In talking about religious liberty in my travels around the country, I’m often faced with the charge that conservative, Bible-believing Christians may deserve the public attacks presently heaped upon them from politicians and the media because we’ve gotten too political. Many have also been led to believe that the Church’s stance on various moral issues is divisive and intolerant just because we disagree with the present libertinism of the day. After two years in Washington D.C., I can say with confidence that such a charge is unwarranted….

“Sadly, the truth of the matter is this: The kinds of attacks that Christians are enduring in our culture today are coming from a powerful, mean-spirited, secular elite. As the smearing of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has demonstrated, it doesn’t matter if you are a clean-living, mercy-giving, empathetic, and gentle-spirited Christian. The new ethos seeking to dominate Washington, D.C. and the rest of the country is one that demands that the Christian worldview be expunged from public dialogue and public expression….”

So, there certainly is the temptation to keep our mouths shut. And yet, what are the wider effects of this? Here’s one I can think of: when we act like political topics are basically off-limits we can rest assured that we might well suffocate the callings of many of our own people who might otherwise be strong and effective politicians.

2009: “[The] 111th Congress includes four LCMS Lutherans…” Ooooh. A bumper crop! (former Minnesota Representative Erik Paulsen pictured).

.

No, in sum I think that men like Rusty Reno are heading in the right direction with their argumentation and approach while persons like Dwight Longeneckerwho basically sounds like your typical LC-MS Lutheran—are not being very helpful… On the other hand, I submit that one real LC-MS Lutheran, Matthew Cochran, basically shows us the reasonable and respectable way forward. I can’t recommend his short article “We Need Christian Nationalism Because Religious Neutrality Has Failed“ enough, as that article was the final piece of the puzzle that finally helped me put together a coherent and quite clarifying lecture on the topic:

 

 

I’ve also been heartened to recently learn more about the excellent scholarship of Mark David Hall, which clears up a lot of the confusion about the role of Christianity in America’s founding. All of us need to recognize that people in the 16th century were more right then we are about how politics and religion should go together. Leaders of the earth should indeed be challenged to kiss the Son, lest He be angry.

So at this point let me address point-by-point the things that Pastor Peters said in his recent post “After the Fall”.

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Pastor Larry Peters

 

Pastor Peters begins:

“One of the things we learn from God after the Fall of Adam and the banishment of Adam and Eve from Eden is a hard lesson.  That is the truth that there is no goodness that is not born of or lead to suffering.  That is the plight of the world post Fall.  Of course, the cross is the prime example of this but we are called to take up the cross and follow Jesus and warned not to expect smooth sailing but rejection, persecution, and even death.  We, however, reject this path in order to follow the path of least resistance and adopt the lure of the illusion of an easy life.  We are shocked when suffering happens to us.  It is not fair, it is not right, and it is not just.”

Pastor Peters is exactly right here. In the context of politics however (I bring this up because this is where he goes in his article), the question this brings to mind is this: “Does this mean that I, concerned to not be tempted to ‘put my trust in men, horses, and chariots’ should not do what I can do politically to protect my family and nation?” Even if that just means voting for the people who seem to show respect for our nation’s Christian heritage and who will not only defend the church’s right to exist but also see it as a valuable part of society? (it seems the least, really, that we can do!)

“Our desire to find a path without suffering is, in part, the reason why we seek a ‘Christian’ society or nation in which morality has the force of law and culture is either an unwitting or intentional ally.”

Again, it seems to me that the ones who suffer the most right now might be Christians who dare speak truth to power. That said, what if I myself might be happy to suffer and take some necessary risks but don’t think my kids need that right now—or really don’t need their dad to do that right now? (that whole “monk-ish?” I Cor. 7 chapter is making a lot more sense to me these days…). What if I love my nation and the people who love what is best about it and don’t want them to suffer – at least, in ways that it seems might or even should be avoidable despite a fallen world? Is that somehow unchristian? Will I immediately be called some kind of a utopian?

Martin Chemnitz, a nasty utopian-Constantinian type?: “The first duty of a ruler is to care for those who are subject to him, so that they may ‘live in godliness,’ that is, this first concern must be for their religion…”

 

And even if the avoidance of suffering is “in part, the reason why we seek a ‘Christian’ society or nation in which morality has the force of law,” what about the desire to see the way of the Lord honored – and the blessings of love and family, for instance, that He really does mean for His people to know? I know that this is also tangled up with the pursuit of other more materialistic material pleasures and the like, particularly in places like America, but that will never not be a part of the challenge for us as Christians, right?

“If we have a society in which common values and goals are shared between church and state, then it is less likely we may be asked to give up anything for the sake of faithfulness or sacrifice anything for the sake of a larger good.  But a culture in which ‘Christianity’ dominates through force and majority rule may not be one of great virtue but merely a reflection of the ordinary truth that the strong rule the weak.”

In such a society, we would be truly free to make the sacrifices Pastor Peters speaks of. And while the last sentence above is correct, maybe the answer is not to suggest this is bad, but to call the Christians in a nation to really be Christians, that is, to love and honor the Word of God? To represent Him well by always thinking about just what it means to be in, but not of, the world?

“In the same way, the faith is not triumphant when sacrifice or suffering is excised from the walk of faith.”

“When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another….”

 

Jesus directly told His disciples to flee persecution. It might be true that eventually we will run out of places to flee, but I do not condemn them for fleeing (or, first, fighting culturally and politically). And in like fashion, the life experience of Old Testament believers living in an honest-to-God theocracy also show us that we’ll probably always be persecuted for upholding the Word of God – either externally, from other nations, or internally, from within.

“Neither faith nor the Church is made stronger when the way is eased for a more comfortable Christianity.”

So are people on the far right correct then? We have no interest in fighting for what remains of the Christian heritage of this nation? I used to feel and think exactly the same way, fresh out of college in the heady 1990s. I’m still anti-imperialist and highly critical of American materialism, but then I was a multiculturalist (then Alvin Schmidt, via Issues ETC, radicalized me I guess) and also very against “patriarchy”.

I was wrong. Again, the “comfort” sword cuts both ways. What did all those Christians who fought in our armed forces over the years fight for? Of course you can just say they just did it for their neighbors, but what was, or at least should be, the thing most important to their neighbors? Well, conservative Americans may have disagreed in the past about whether the order is “God, country, and family” or “God, family, and country,” but they all knew that “God” was the right first answer. Even if many don’t truly know who God is or at least don’t know Him very well.

“In order for lives to change, hearts must change and with this change must come the willingness to suffer for the sake of doctrine and practice of the faith. The heart does not have to change if behavior is enforced by fear of punishment.  So the path of Puritanism ended up with laws ruling but hearts still filled with wrong desire.”

St. Patrick, going to and converting whole peoples like Jonah…

 

Before the Gospel can take root, the Law must do its work. And does not the Law speak of the worst punishment of all? And to bring up the Puritans as a foil is also to set one’s self up to fall off the other side of the horse. None of this is to say that I support things like Charlamagne’s forced baptisms, but I also am not going to say that the practice of people following their nation’s leaders in Christian conversion was unfortunate, or less than Christian. While ultimately only God knows the hearts of each, both individuals and peoples, tribes and nations can convert to God. If you disagree with that, speak with the prophet Jonah.

“What we have forgotten, the early Church knew only too well.  If a Christian walks in the way of the Cross, suffering will ensue.  The faithful must be prepared to lose, at least as the world counts it, in order to be faithful.  This is clearly what Christ teaches.  Today we find ourselves in a world in which faith has been manipulated into a means to get what you desire out of life and where the sign of God’s blessing is to resolve the problem of suffering and relieve the person from loss.  In the early Church, the stories of the faithful were the accounts of martyrdom in which the threat of death did not shake the resolve of the faithful to remain true to Christ.  The heroes of these early years were not those who found accommodation but those who suffered all rather than fall away.”

Again, temptation to take the easier way and suffering for the truth will never be a problem. It will come. And right – no accommodation.

You – repent. We, the church – repent. You rulers of the earth and all its nations and people’s – repent.

“A Church isn’t proclaiming the full biblical gospel unless it calls kings and nations to acknowledge and serve the king of kings.” — Peter Leithart, author of Defending Constantine.

 

Taste and see that the Lord is good! Whether material blessing follows or not, you are meant to know true love in Christ for eternity – and even to begin now, prior to the new heavens and new earth, to know such love…

“In contrast, today we celebrate the rich and famous, the sports figures and entertainers, who seem to be able to have it all and to do is their way.  In this scenario, however, the Church is hardly different than the world around her and resembles the creation of Christ’s blood hardly at all. There was, after all, a reason why the earliest canonical heroes (saints) are mostly martyrs.  While we may idealize such devotion today, none of us wants to be placed in the cross hairs of such a choice.”

Again, I see no reason to think that even in nations that turn to Christ (and incorporate this into their laws, as had Luther’s Germany), that there will be no persecution. “Christian Sweden” and England are now places where the faithful must resist not only government but church. The ways and will of God will constantly challenge men, and prophetic voices who call God’s people to faithfulness – even vs. some of the moves its Christian nation (or purportedly Christian nation) may make – will always be necessary. Particularly as the Final Day approaches.

..and take note Rulers of the world:

The point is that the church has a responsibility to proclaim the Gospel to all — and this includes, perhaps especially, you. And when you convert, it is your responsibility to protect the church and not interfere in its doctrine even as you also should be supportive of the Word of the Lord in whatever ways you can. If you want to protect other religions too, all well and good, though here harmony and order are no doubt a concern (like when multiple languages cause issues) and no doubt should be for any nation… (Maybe we need more nations? More fences?)

Clear-eyed about the end to come: “Nation (Ethnos) will rise against nation (ethnos), and kingdom against kingdom… this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” — Jesus, in Matthew 24

 

So this will mean being involved in ways that will sometimes cause issues (particularly when all “churches” do not submit to the 1580 Book of Concord as they should!). The church must never submit to the state, but the state must submit to the Lord… I know none of this may sound practical right now. That, I think, is largely besides the point.

“The Gospel does not make us into better consumers but teaches us to sit in the lower place, to serve as Christ has served us, and to suffer gladly with Christ in confidence of the great reward that this world may not see or know.  God is not where suffering is absent but hidden in suffering.  Someone said to me years ago that if you are not covered in blood you are not standing close enough to Jesus.  While rather crass and blunt, the point is well taken.  Jesus did not promise us a rose garden but He did warn us of the rejection, persecution, imprisonment, and death to come for those who seek to know Christ and Him only.  Our life does not manifest worldly marks of success but flows from the Cross and the Cross alone.  Is this not what the Benedict Option is about?  Is this not a challenge to the kind of institutional Christianity in which God’s job is to make us so successful and happy that the world will want to know what makes our lives so rich and so easy?  Luther’s theology of the cross is not cliche or slogan.  It is the way of Christian life.”

Knowing the peace and love of a family devoted to Christ is the greatest blessing, even “material blessing,” that I can think of. Even if it is not necessarily a “worldly mark of success”.

[Marriage] is a great mystery… but I am talking about Christ and the Church…. (Paul in Eph. 5)

.

I understand Peterson’s concern about “institutional Christianity,” but the fact of the matter is that God likes institutions and God likes authority. Marriage and family are institutions where authority is in the forefront. So is the church. As the Eastern Orthodox like to say, it is “not an organization with mystery but a mystery with organization.”

And the goal of this church is not to suffer, even if suffering on this side of the Fall is inevitable, but to know and know better the love of God in Christ. And when it comes to that, we should not be ashamed of the kind of success and happiness we experience here… To say this is not to abandon any “theology of the cross” (the true one, at least — see page 83).

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Dr. Gregory Seltz

 

Back to Dr. Gregory Seltz, whose words I quoted appreciatively above. After stating that “The new ethos seeking to dominate Washington, D.C. and the rest of the country is one that demands that the Christian worldview be expunged from public dialogue and public expression….” he then goes on to say:

“Now, you might think, ‘What’s the big deal?’ If people want to live a different way than prescribed in the Bible, can’t we just let them be? But that’s not the problem. The problem doesn’t lie with Christians in the public square forcing their view of marriage or sexual practice on others. The censorship problem lies with those who are advocating for and politicizing all forms of sexual expression, while allowing for no dissent or disagreement. We’re not too far away from government empowered ‘equal rights’ compliance officers being unleashed on Christian businesses, schools, universities, and, yes, even churches.”

Frankly, we need to be much more honest.

The natural family – and hence nations…something to be overcome?  Does the world not hate the family for the same reason it seeks to eliminate natural marriage: because these are living icons of the church?

 

When Seltz says “The problem doesn’t lie with Christians in the public square forcing their view of marriage or sexual practice on others” that is, clearly, not the full story. The secular world is right to think that Christians believe that all cultures must honor marriage and that this really, is not something that any society can fail to do and avoid consequences and God’s judgment. Perhaps they better understand the significance of things that we like to suppress. In fact, I am quite sure they do know better. This being the case, they also are quite intentional about what they are doing (even if they “know not what they do”), which is why they must lose this war.

Marriage should be upheld by Christians among the peoples that they inhabit and be urged on them – even to the point of establishing these things in law when the opportunity presents itself to do so.

The love — including tough love — that really drives the West.

 

Not only because marriage offers untold blessings and benefits in this life, which it does. Not only because to denigrate or weaken marriage robs children of that which God means for them to know and have, which is also true. Most importantly, because all are meant to be the bride of Christ, and must ultimately submit to the One who is Love, Light, Life.

This is not Islam, because Islam does not recognize a Gentle and Tender Savior who, having mercy on His faithless whore of a bride, grants her the mercy she does not deserve in a “Happy Exchange”:

“This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied himself of his righteousness that he might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and he has taken our evils upon himself that he might deliver us from them.” (Martin Luther)

People can try to ruin that too, but they will ever fail.

The blood that covers sinners is for you to. “The cross is our theology,” said Martin Luther. The blood is meant to cover you too…

 

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Now, I don’t doubt that some will get the wrong idea from this post.

Again, I fully expect people to come back with statements about “utopianism” and the like. That said, what an author of the blog the Jagged Word recently said about the Jerusalem Temple in Jesus’ day applies as well to many of our own projects:

“Sometimes, when I read the Scriptures, I get the feeling hanging out with Jesus would not have been much fun. I know it was not the purpose of His coming, he did not take on human flesh to entertain or just to have a good time with us. Yet, I often imagine He must have been sort of a killjoy, like the person you hang-out with who always dismantles your big ideas. For example, take the account of when His disciples are chatting about the beautiful buildings in Jerusalem. No doubt the Temple itself would have been the focus of their attention; it stood tall among everything surrounding it, massive stones overlaid with gold that caught the first lights of the morning sun. It filled spectators with a sense of awe and wonder. So, they are rightly commenting on its beauty when Jesus interrupts their appreciation and says, “You like what you see? Well, the days are coming when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” In other words, He is saying, “Take a good look now for its all coming down.”

This is a great symbol for us to remember. Everyone and everything is going to be fully refined, and surely nothing that has been built by man, for man, will stand.

In Christ though, the Church will stand. And somehow, within that Church, representatives from distinct peoples, tribes, and nations will stand.

“…behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…”

 

So we build… politically too.

No, we are not ultimately about power, but none of this means that we need to project weakness either. When the Apostle Paul talked about being strong when he is weak, that doesn’t always need to mean looking weak before the world…

FIN

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2019 in Uncategorized