Monthly Archives: December 2011

Nice Christmas greeting

Christmas greetings from the President of the institution where I work.  Very nice.

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Posted by on December 22, 2011 in Uncategorized


Knowledge first and foremost: baby King David vs. adult St. Thomas

related posts: Forgiveness free and true: the crux of the Reformation, the essence of the Christian life,  Babies in Church: the arrogance of the infant (a), and (b)

When we speak of what it means “to know”, what are the most important things that can and should be said?

I have been discussing the issue of knowledge and certainty, or “certitude”, with RC apologists.

Here is a section from the Catholic encyclopedia on certitude:

Metaphysical certitude is that with which self-evidently necessary truth is known, or necessary truth demonstrated from self-evident truth. The demonstrative sciences, such as geometry, possess metaphysical certitude. The contingent fact of one’s own existence, or of one’s present state of feeling, is known with metaphysical certitude.

For theologians such as Thomas Aquinas, this metaphysical certitude – along with the teachings of the Church – can alone be called knowledge in the strict sense – they are absolutely immune from doubt. All other things, since they are “contingent”, are “opinion” – even though this opinion may be something that, practically speaking, is either immune to doubt or should not be doubted (i.e. it is “certain” in a different sense).

First of all, this elevation of metaphysical certitude  seems wrongheaded to me.  If we can talk about “scientism” we can also talk about “metaphysicism” (also, considering the “laws of nature” to be more certain than the occurrence of well-known events in history – since “the laws of human nature” are “subject to occasional exceptions” – seems wrongheaded as well).

Second, when presenting theology for Christians especially, all philosophical discussions about certainty should take a back seat.

Why?  What we are to know and in fact already know in part should start with essential Christian doctrine.  My argument builds on truths like those exemplified in Psalm 22:

“…you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
  On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”

Note that when we are talking about the faith of the little ones (the foremost example now being the baptized) we are not really talking primarily about matters of the intellect, but rather personal trust in Another.

Note that David can assert that he trusted the Lord at His mother’s breast.  In which case, did not David know the Lord – really and truly – even then? (in a John 17:3 kind-of-way, of course: saving knowledge).  It seems clear that he did, for we can’t trust a person without knowing them to some extent.  Here then, we see that it is personal trust in God that pertains to the highest knowledge.  This seed of knowledge is then continually developed in us by wise teachers.  We come to understand how Christian doctrine, the Scriptures, and the Rule of Faith are those things that continually nurture us in the world, that make sense of our relationship with God, and keep us from going “out of bounds”.

Presumably any older, well-socialized (i.e. non-feral) child could readily determine the items of “metaphysical certitude” discussed above with little guidance.  On the other hand, it would take more guidance for even an older Christian child to understand – and then recognize as true – what is said to be essential Christian doctrine (RC apologists talk about how “the certitude of faith” is even more certain than the metaphysical items discussed above – an unquestioned adherence to Roman Catholic dogma is in view here).

Nevertheless, is not the only reason that we have any knowledge in the world at all because of the love of God – because of His design for us, as well as His continual involvement with us? And is not the faith that is passed on to cradle Christians from the beginning meant to be that which guides us as regards all other kinds of knowing?

I think so, in spite of what Thomas Aquinas might say or how he might want to frame things.

Why is this all so important?  In RC theology a person may have a “moral certainty” that they are in a state of grace – but this can only be determined by evaluating of one’s own [moral] character and conduct – not by clinging to the external Promise alone (of course after calling what God calls sin “sin”– ie. that thing and those particular things which separate us from Him).  As Cardinal Cajetan (who I believe was the foremost Thomist scholar of the day) told Luther, “one could never be certain that one’s contrition was sufficient to effect the forgiveness one hoped to receive” (Scott Hendrix, Luther and the Papacy).  Some in Rome may insist that Trent, when it dealt with this issue, did not mean what Cajetan meant, but I have yet to see convincing evidence of this (for example, in this Catholic Encyclopedia article, the moral certitude that might at first seem to be real knowledge of some kind eventually comes to be coupled with “practical certitude”, and this seems to involve things that were previously labeled “opinion” in the article…so, is this opinion something that is immune to doubt or should not be doubted or not?). Regarding Aquinas himself, he may have well thought that Christians could have real certainty (knowledge?) that they were on firm footing in their relationship with God (i.e. a “state of grace”), but he also laid the groundwork for the intricate labyrinth of the Roman penitential system that brought Luther to the brink of despair.

But what was the answer Luther finally found and clung to?  As I wrote before:

In sum, there is nothing greater than the certainty – the knowledge of eternal life – that the received Promise creates in the individual believer.  Here of course we are not talking about mathematical certainty, or that certainty which can be derived from axioms or discerned patterns (based on repeated experiments and observations), but rather personal certainty, personal knowledge – knowing a Person.  And borrowing the language of law courts, one may believe that one’s parents truly love them ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, but the Promise brings us into a realm beyond even that – into the realm of a loving and secure relationship that exists ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt’.

To enter, become like a child, not a philosopher.

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Posted by on December 19, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Gory, gory, gory! (Glory, glory, glory!)

In this post I said that I remembered my mom singing “God loves me dearly” to me at night.

I asked her “Is my memory right?  When we sang this in church for the first time about 1.5 years ago, memories came flooding back…”

She emailed me back:

“Yes, I did sing it to you.   Perhaps, not all the verses but the first four for sure.  Another time in your infant life.  After we finished the liturgy one morning, you praised God in a very loud, yet firm voice, saying  “gory, gory, gory!”  The faith of an infant… you  much.”

I was 20 months old.  Christmas 1975.  The things moms remember.

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Posted by on December 14, 2011 in Uncategorized


Sons of God by nature?

I was listening to lectures from a Roman Catholic apologist and he talked about how we can’t say that human beings are children or sons of God by nature because that is pantheism.  I think I have also heard Lutherans say that we can’t call human beings children of God, but from our tradition, it would be because this is reserved for believers, not fallen man in general.

Interestingly, the Scriptures go so far as to say we are all not just sons of God, but gods ourselves.  But it does not shy away from calling all men sons of God either, as Paul points out to the Athenians:

“…he is not far from any one of us.  ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’  As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill…”

(Acts 17:27-29)

Those Biblical writers don’t seem so concerned with the philosophical categories some of our theologians want to push on us.  Sit down Aristotle, huh?  We should be thinking a bit more like a child: the brotherhood of man indeed! (but note the freight that comes with that phrase, OK?).  We are all one blood and bought with the blood of the one Son, who though Divine (valid category!) took on created flesh (as the Eastern Orthodox say, “Salvation is created”) for our salvation.

I have heard one man say that hell will be full of forgiven sinners.  In like fashion, it will also be full of children of God.

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Posted by on December 9, 2011 in Uncategorized


In praise of hymn-singing grandmas (and grandpas)

I’m teaching a face-to-face class on basic Christianity now, and last night the topic of worship came up.  Here is what one of my students said to me in her weekly reflection (used with permission):

“There are a few things that struck me from class on Wednesday but there is something that really stuck with me. It was our discussion about hymns versus praise songs. I agree with you that when I go to a worship service that I like hymns better than praise songs. When I am by myself, I really like the praise songs and other forms of Christian music like the Christian Rock, etc. I think there is a time and place for all kinds of music and that traditional hymns are for worship services. It also meant a lot to me that you said you sing hymns to your children. When my brother and I were little, we spent Friday nights at my Grandma’s house and she used to sing us church songs because that was all she knew so that was all we knew. :o) We knew more hymns than some of the older people in our church did. We really enjoyed her doing that as well. I am just sad that she is not here anymore to sing them to my kids that I might have some day.”

I replied, in part, as follows:

“Such wonderful words from you about the hymns and your grandma.  Wow.  I’m sure you remember it well.

I am not convinced that many ccm songs are inappropriate for worshipping God – even corporately.  The words of some (a few) of the songs are particularly good (poetry).  The question of the appropriateness of music (which many construe, rightly or wrongly, to be first and foremost emotionally manipulative, and make the case that this is largely a bad thing) is another matter – sometimes, perhaps this can be dealt with depending on how the tunes are played (i.e. electric guitars, synthisizers and drums vs. simple piano accompaniment).  Certainly, some of the Psalms do seem to have some emotion behind them, and it makes sense to me that the Church, the bride of Christ (yes, the men to…), might occasionally want to sing a love ballad to the true Man and Husband, Jesus Christ.

To say this does not mean that these [modern praise] songs should be used however…  For the more elderly believer, for example, who finds this style of music and expression off-putting, should we disregard their concerns?  I am uncomfortable suggesting that we should, even if our motives are simply to be more relevant to the persons who we are trying to reach and bring into the Church (which I can understand, and even agree with to a certain extent).  I ground my reasons for this in Paul’s words in the New Testament about being concerned for the “weaker brother”.  If we perceive someone’s unwillingness to accept certain songs, for example, as weak, should we not be willing to accommodate them, so as not to upset their [perhaps simple] faith?”

I recently re-discovered this hymn, which I then remembered as one of the ones my mother had sung to me at bedtime when I was little:

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Posted by on December 5, 2011 in Uncategorized


To train children, we must become children with them

A fabulous post lifted entirely from the First Things blog:

Much recent Luther scholarship has focused upon his incisive use of economic metaphors to describe the (deceptively) profound daily actions of Christian believers. Over at Lutheran Forum, Sarah Wilson reports on her discovery of a whimsical, yet well-crafted, plan by Luther to convey Scripture’s “riches” to children:

“…the heart may grasp the whole sum of Christian truth under two headings or, as it were, in two pouches, namely, faith and love. Faith’s pouch may have two pockets. Into one pocket we put the part of faith that believes that through the sin of Adam we are all corrupt, sinners, and under condemnation, Romans 5:12, Psalm 51:5. Into the other we put the part of faith that trusts that through Jesus Christ we are all redeemed from this corruption, sin, and condemnation, Romans 5:15-21, John 3:16-18. Love’s pouch may also have two pockets. Into the one put this piece, that we should serve and do good to everyone, even as Christ has done for us, Romans 13. Into the other put this piece, that we should gladly endure and suffer all kinds of evil.

When a child begins to understand this it should be encouraged to bring home verses of Scripture from the sermon and to repeat them at mealtime for the parents, even as they formerly used to recite their Latin. And then these verses should be put into the pouches and pockets, just as pennies, groschen, and gulden are put into a purse. For instance, let faith’s pouch be for the gulden, and into the first pocket let this verse go: Romans 5:12, ‘sin came into the world through one man and death through sin.’ Also this one: Psalm 51:5, ‘Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.’ These are two Rhenish gulden for the first pocket. Into the other pocket go the Hungarian gulden, for example this text, Romans 4:25, ‘Jesus was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.’ Again John 1:29, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ These would be two good Hungarian gulden for the second pocket….

And let no one think himself too wise for such child’s play. Christ, to train men, had to become man himself. If we wish to train children, we must become children with them.”

Indeed, if Matthew 18:3 is to be believed, the benefits to becoming “like a little child” go far beyond the pragmatics of conveying the faith to youth…

Luther on Coins, Pouches, and a Child’s Faith, Thursday, December 1, 2011, 11:46 AM (italics and bold mine)

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Posted by on December 1, 2011 in Uncategorized