Monthly Archives: November 2010

“That’s how easy it is to receive salvation.”

I have been serving as an adjunct theology professor, and one of my online students (non-Lutheran) recently wrote this:

[My pastor] always explained receiving salvation as a gift.  He would walk up to you and give you a present.  Then he would say, ‘Do you want to keep this gift?’  The person would say ‘yes’, and he would say ‘That’s how easy it is to receive salvation.’

I have heard many illustrations like this, but I found this one to be very compelling and thought-provoking.  Usually, these illustrations emphasize how someone wants to give you a gift, but you have to receive it and accept it – it all depends on your action and decision.  In this one, it’s first given to you.

And really, which one of us is not excited to receive a gift?  As long as we are don’t feel there is a good reason to not trust the joyful gift-giver – be they a family, friend, or stranger – we eagerly cooperate in receiving the gift.  The joyful generosity of the gift-giver could even be said to “create” our cooperation.

C.F.W. Walther, in his work on Law and Gospel, wrote that nothing was easier than receiving salvation.  That said, he also noted that keeping it was a different matter.

What happens when the experience of receiving the gift from the gift-Giver has worn off – and we take a closer look at the gift given (perhaps even opening it and looking at it for the first time)?

For the person who has felt the weight of their sin, realizing they do not really love God or their neighbor – and haunted by the evil they see within themselves – this gift will be very good news!  And the deeper the realization of one’s evil, the more deeply appreciated the gift (Luke 7).

On the other hand, for the person who has harbored Satan’s lies in their hearts – about man, creation, and “God” – this “gift” will look like anything but… While they first trusted and joyfully embraced the Gift-Giver and His Gift, they now reject that same “gift-giver” and what “He” “gives”.

They reject the Reconciling One who has created true cooperation, harmony, unity, and life.

Satan has stolen the seed that was lovingly planted in their heart.  They have in fact “received the Kingdom” but “will by no means will enter it”, for they did not receive it as children – but as rational[izing] adults.  To those who have the Word in their heart, more will be given, but to those who do not have, even what they do have will be taken from them.

So pray that God’s Word would go deep into hearts – and that Satan would steal no seed.  And certainly, when it comes to the little ones, the ground is tilled and well-prepared… they do not “willfully” resist, but are “willing” to be nothing but given to… (see Isaiah 7:14)

Nevertheless, be earnest in prayer for them to – to grow big and strong in the Word.  Like a nail pounded deeply into a board, may the Word go deeply into their hearts.

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Posted by on November 29, 2010 in Uncategorized


Lutheran “universalism”?: God really desires that all be saved, and we should to

Some things you don’t forget.  A few years back, I read Kathleen Norris’ “Amazing Grace: a vocabulary of faith”, which is a pretty thoughtful, if not a theologically suspect, book.  At one point, she talks about the words of a conservative Lutheran pastor (from the country) to the mother of an unbaptized infant who has died.  He, evidently very matter-of-factly, tells her that her child is in hell.

I don’t recall if he said that to a believer or an unbeliever, but in any case, what sticks, sticks.  I also recall a seminary professor who talked about the the right way to handle this kind of question.  If I recall, he said that when Martin Luther spoke of infants dying prior to baptism (and I guess there were few if any “unbelieving” parents to speak of in his day), we hope for their salvation not on the basis of any “innocence” on their part, but rather on God’s mercy.

So I think: God does not just want us to say that He desires all persons to be saved but He really and truly and earnestly does, and so I hope that unbaptized children who die are saved because of God’s mercy (here, I think, many pastors, if not Luther himself, even feel they can give Christian parents certainty).  This also means that I hope that this is true for babies of non-Christian parents who die (by the way, I also hope that by using the word “hope” in this way, I am not confusing it with that hope we read of in the N.T. that is a certain hope!).

But I wonder, is this mercy of God with or without faith in Christ?  Surely with faith, and here I think further about how this might occur, and I run with the ideas of the Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer (these are not his stated views though)…

I hope that many pagan infants who die are saved because they are given faith in Christ when they receive externally good works from those who “know how to give good gifts to their children” – even though these parents, like their infants, are evil (even themselves unredeemed!)  In other words, their “good deeds” (not really good of course because they are not only done without some measure of fear, love and trust in God, but none!) do not only not contradict the core message of the Scripture, namely, the Promise of God’s love, mercy, and grace in Christ Jesus, but that they can’t not be intimately and inextricably connected with – be of one whole with – that saving Word, that Logos.

So… the hope is that these actions to – these gestures – though done by persons with evil and even unredeemed hearts, could be a “saving word” of sorts.  This would not be salvation according to “nature” or “natural law”, because here we would acknowledge that the Creator would be acting in His creation in a undetectable, special, and highly personal way to create saving faith when and where He chooses.  This would be God intervening in His creation with deliberate communication that is intended to restore – and in fact does restore – a human being’s saving fellowship with Him. In any case, usually He does not do this directly (the Apostle Paul), but “naturally” (“natural” in this sense, as in ordinarily, not in the sense of any “nature-grace” dichotomy) through the feet of the redeemed who preach (not “common grace”, although it occurs commonly!).  Still, God often works in spite of the conscious cooperation of His willing servants, and I pray He does here to.

Now, this is only a hope – there is no guarantee of this, since it is not clear from the Word of God that this is indeed the case.  We only know the way that He has given us: namely, by making Christ and His work explicit.  Further, if my hope in God’s mercy for those who die in infancy were limited to this kind of activity, where would this leave the abandoned and the aborted?   Here, if God were to be merciful, He would need to create faith in Christ in other ways (perhaps that were even more “interventionist” – even more special, as with Paul).

In addition, even if infants were to receive faith early on in the way described above, without consistent nurturing in the Word, there would be little hope that they would retain their faith in Christ.  As their capacity for language and understanding of creation grew, to grow in grace they would definitely need to hear a clear articulation of the Gospel message, especially given the ambiguities of “nature”.  Therefore, such a hope as I have outlined above should not make us feel less of a need to spread the Word far and wide, but more of a need. This alone is our certain charge.  One best avoid the phrase “Once saved, always saved” not because it is misleading or gives the wrong impression, but because it is clearly wrong!

Of course, now that I have opened this can of worms, some creative mind given to heretical visions can take it even further (like this, from this website).  Seriously though, I think this is what happens when we do theology in earnest, and we always walk the line between what we should and should not say, what is helpful and what is not.  I wouldn’t blame myself for reading Oswald Bayer, or Bayer himself for any cognitive contamination some may feel I am suffering from.  I believe I say what I say because God desires that all would be saved, and I cling to this truth, for my sake and the sake of everyone else (contra the Reformed and perhaps even some Lutherans today, I insist that God’s jealousy for His own glory need not be pitted against His stated desire to save all: in fact, they go hand in hand, for when He is lifted up from the earth [in glory] He will draw all people to Himself).  However, I would blame anyone who does not critically evaluate the words of any teacher in the light of Scripture – and take them and their concerns seriously through the lens of God’s love for the world in Christ, as the Scriptures proclaim.

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Posted by on November 23, 2010 in Uncategorized


Christ’s infants vs. Rome/Babylon/the world

Not of this world indeed:

The Roman world was brutal and generally indifferent to suffering. Sympathy and mercy were weaknesses, virtues anathema to those of Rome. The ancient world was both decadent and cruel. The practice of infanticide, for example, was widespread and legal throughout the Greek and Roman world during the early days of Christianity. In fact, abortion, infanticide, and child sacrifice were extremely common throughout the ancient world….

Historical research reveals that infanticide was common throughout India, China, Japan, and the Brazilian jungles as well as among the Eskimos. Dr. James Dennis, writing in the 1890s, showed how infanticide was common in many parts of Africa and was “well known among the Indians of North and South America” (Social Evils of the Non-Christian World, 1898). Suffice it to say, for much of the world and throughout most of its history the culture of death and brutality has been the rule, and a culture of life, love, and mercy has been the exception. It is to the cause of this exception that we now turn…

These early Christ-followers did not organize special interest groups or political parties. They never directly opposed Caesar; they didn’t picket or protest or attempt to overthrow the ruling powers. They didn’t publicly denounce or condemn the pagan world. Instead, they challenged the ruling powers by simply being a faithful, alternative presence—obedient to God. Their most distinguishing characteristic was not their ideology or their politics but their love for others. They lived as those who were, once again, living under the rule and reign of God, a sign and foretaste of what it will be fully, when Christ returns.

They expressed their opposition to infanticide by rescuing the abandoned children of Rome and raising them as their own—an enormously self-sacrificial act at a time when resources were limited and survival was in doubt…

Read it all: (found here)

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Posted by on November 12, 2010 in Uncategorized


God loves babies (from First Thoughts)

My wife and I often joke about how angels probably take all kinds of measures to save our children from themselves.  Joe Carter writes:

“If you’re reading this blog you are (probably) still alive, which means God prevented your hasty demise when you were an infant.

The Lord spends a lot of his time watching over babies because they spend a lot of their time trying to find ways to get themselves killed:

French media are describing as a “miracle” the unscathed survival of an 18-month-old girl who fell from a sixth-floor apartment.

The girl was left unattended by her parents when she somehow fell, then bounced off the awning of a cafe below.

She had a further stroke of luck when a passing doctor saw her fall and caught her before she hit the ground, witnesses were quoted as saying.

The doctor found no injuries but she was taken to hospital for a check-up.

[. . . ]

The man who caught the girl was walking by with his wife and son when the boy spotted the girl falling.

Another witness told Le Figaro that the doctor positioned himself by the awning and caught the girl in his arms after she bounced off it.

(Via: Neatorama)”

Found here:  God Loves Babies

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Posted by on November 4, 2010 in Uncategorized


Remember, who loves you more than I do?

Despite my sin, I really do hope that my children see me as loving them deeply – which is why this is sometimes the last thing I say to my children at night.  On the other hand, because of my sin, this is why these are sometimes the last words they hear from me at night.  And they know the answer well: “Jesus”.

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Posted by on November 4, 2010 in Uncategorized