Monthly Archives: April 2012

Martin Luther, Roman Catholic prophet

Amazing the praise Martin Luther gets from some Roman Catholics.  Some terrific quotes from the pictured book:

“[Roman Catholic scholar Otto Herman] Pesch’s assertion that Luther is truly Catholic stemmed from the recognition that the Reformer’s teachings, while novel, reflect much of the classic Catholic tradition before the sixteenth century…. Overall Pesch concluded that Catholic theology ‘has to ask in a more unbiased manner about the contemporary consensus with the Luther of that time who has already formulated, sometimes in an uncanny way, so much of what is also today self-evident to the Catholic sense of faith’…. [Pesch] asserted that the precise differences between the two schools of Catholic Luther-studies really concerns the question whether what was ‘un-Catholic’ in the sixteenth century can be considered ‘Catholic today’.   One should view Luther’s theology as an innovative translation of the Catholic tradition that anticipated much of Catholic postconciliar understanding.  Pesch concluded that certain elements of faith that Luther articulated are readily admitted now, for example… the principle that persons are simultaneously holy and sinful…” (p. 50 and 51)

Near the end of the book, we get this quote:

“Finally, how do I justify labeling the recent Roman magisterial image of Luther as a prophet rather than merely a reformer or a teacher?… In our time when apologists for doctrine are needed increasingly, Martin Luther can be best described to Catholics as an authentic prophet whose fundamental work was highlighting the gospel that had become eclipsed by the church authorized to proclaim in.   Like men described in the Old Testament, Luther was eccentric yet brilliant, banal yet prayerful, unsystematic yet focused.  As earlier prophets had urged the recovery of Mosaic traditions within events that encapsulated their lives, so Luther’s life provided novel expressions of faith that purified Catholic tradition even as it promoted disruption among Christians.

In terms of the New Testament, James Atkinson considers Martin Luther to be a ‘prophet of the Church Catholic’ because God revealed the gospel to him with a unique clarity known through God’s “terrifying and stark otherness” (1983, 44).  He views Paul as Luther’s only comparable prophetic Christian colleague and asserts that neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic can exclude a rare person of such charisma in their understanding the gospel of Christ (Ibid., 68).  In the light of the gospel that Paul and Luther preach, their personalities are negligible for the faithful today.” (p. 151)

I would agree with this assessment.  Luther’s understanding of the true God was immense – an amazingly mature, child-like faith.

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Posted by on April 30, 2012 in Uncategorized


Joan of Arc faith vs. infant faith (part 2 of 2)

Part 1.

After Cardinal Cajetan confronted Luther over his “presumption” (i.e. his confidence that he really was in a state of grace) at Augsburg in 1518, his tracts over the next 14 years show that there was no moving on this teaching that the faithful could not be certain.  One gets the definitive sense that through conjecture the pious and devout were to conclude, from the evidence, not that they were in a state of grace, but the opposite!  And Cajetan, I have recently learned, was more or less Luther’s most thoughtful, irenic, and dare I say, “liberal” opponent (and the top expert on Thomas Aquinas of that day)!  In spite of the consensus that no one could be certain about this issue (admittedly due to William of Ockham’s overwhelming influence), there were some Franciscans who followed Duns Scotus, arguing that a person did not need to “doubt whether his disposition was sufficient for justification through the sacrament [of penance]”, but could rather be confident of meriting God’s grace by sorrow over their sin.  But even their view did not hold sway at Trent (Antonio Delphinus, O.F.M., Pro cetitudine gratiae praesentis (Concilium Tridentinum, XII, 651-658), which came down on a formulation that seems to have left Duns in the dust, and Thomas reigning supreme.  (see Cajetan Responds, footnote 14 on p. 267).

Not long ago, I heard an interesting story from the Lutheran pastor Rolf Preus.  He talked about being at a conference where a highly informed and capable ecumenical Catholic scholar was convincing many Lutheran pastors that Rome and Wittenberg were not far about on the matter of justification by faith.  He seemed to be saying all the right things – that is, until one pastor asked him the first Kennedy Evangelism Explosion question: “If you died today, do you know for sure you’d go to heaven?”  This question threw him off, and at this point he evidently sputtered and flailed and didn’t know what to say.  This convinced the pastors that for all the other words they had heard that sounded so good to their ears, there were still significant differences that remained.

Again, many modern RC apologists would not be so tongue-tied over a question like this… in fact, they have ready answers.  I contend that they are new and innovative answers though – deviating from Rome historically – even if they don’t want to believe that it is true.

It truly is amazing to be reminded that Martin Luther, from Vatican II onwards, seems increasingly to be vindicated by modern Roman Catholic theologians….

“[Catholic theology] has to ask in a more unbiased manner about the contemporary consensus with the Luther of that time who has already formulated, sometimes in an uncanny way, so much of what is also today self-evident to the Catholic sense of faith” (Otto Pesch, quoted in Sobolewski, Gregory, Martin Luther: Roman Catholic Prophet, p. 50)

True, I would say.

So how can we sum all of this up?  Well, some modern RC apologists, rather than embracing the Joan of Arc model, are at once doing a right thing and a wrong thing.  The right thing they are doing is insisting that when a Christian who sees his sin says the words “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” they really should believe the words they speak, and receive the real peace with God that Christ delivers.  In other words, they should be as infants, who in simple, unassuming, unpretencious, and unreflective faith receive the wonderful words of absolution freely, and resist alternative voices that tell them not to be formed, shaped, and driven by these words.  The wrong thing they are doing is insisting that this is what St. Thomas taught – or what Trent taught – or even what Rome currently teaches.

Ecumenically speaking, all of this means that Rome would have to admit that they were on the wrong side of history on this most important of issues, and that Luther was fundamentally right.   If this were to happen, it would truly be a wonderful miracle!  Alternatively though, they could double down on the issue, which would continue to alienate those it calls “separated brethren”.  Either way, all the word games in the world will not hide the fact that ultimately, a choice will need to be made.

Semper reformanda!

P.S. – Any RC apologists reading this – If I’m wrong, please show me why.  I certainly am open to hearing where I may have gone off the rails here – historically, or otherwise.

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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Joan of Arc faith vs. infant faith (part 1 of 2)

In the heat the Reformation, Luther said some very damning things about Rome:

 “What kind of church is the pope’s church? It is an uncertain, vacillating, and tottering church. Indeed, it is a deceitful, lying church, doubting and unbelieving, without God’s Word. For the pope with his keys teaches his church to doubt and to be uncertain… It is difficult enough for wretched consciences to believe. How can one believe at all if, to begin with, doubt is cast upon the object of one’s belief? Thereby doubt and despair are only strengthened and confirmed.” (Luther, 1530, quoted at the beginning of one of the chapters in Hendrix, Scott, Luther and the Papacy, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1981, italics mine).

Or try this one:

“There hasn’t been a more destructive teaching against repentance in the Church (with the exception of the Sadducees and the Epicureans) as that of Roman Catholicism. In that it never permitted the forgiveness of sins to be certain, it took away complete and true repentance. It taught that a person must be uncertain as to whether or not he stood before God in grace with his sins forgiven. Such certainty was instead to be found in the value of a person’s repentance, confession, satisfaction, and service in purgatory.” Luther, Martin. Antinomian Theses, Disputation #4, 1938 (translated by Pastor Paul Strawn) Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, Inc., 2005 (The whole book is available for free at:

Was Luther right for being so harsh in his assessment?  What does Rome say about this issue today?

Officially speaking, Rome offers up Joan of Arc for our consideration in its most recent catechism:

 “…according to the Lord’s words “Thus you will know them by their fruits” – reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty.

A pleasing illustration of this attitude is found in the reply of St. Joan of Arc to a question posed as a trap by her ecclesiastical judges: “Asked if she knew that she was in God’s grace, she replied: ‘If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.'”58  (see here)

I’d say that is a very clever answer!  Presumably – this is the model we are to remember and live by.  Historically speaking, one of the ways the powers-that-were thought they could prove Joan was a heretic (evidently) was by finding out whether she thought that she really had forgiveness, life and salvation, or as the Roman Catholics would say, that she was in a “state of grace”.

Up until the recent past, this kind of attitude would have been labeled the “sin of presumption” – Roman Catholics knew that to be a strong Christian actually meant that you doubted whether you yourself were saved.   For example, right around the same time that Luther nailed the 95 theses to the Church doors in Wittenberg, the theologian Johann Altenstaig (in his Vocabularius theologiae, Hagenau 1517) was saying that the devil led people astray by making them think there was good evidence for being saved.  “No one, no matter how righteous he may be”, Altenstaig said, “can know with certainty that he is in the state of grace, except by a revelation”. Likewise, Cardinal Cajetan, a few weeks before confronting Luther at Augsburg, wrote that “Clearly almost all come to the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist in reverent fear of the Lord and uncertain of being in grace.  In fact theologians praise their continuing uncertainty and ordinarily attribute its opposite to presumption or ignorance” (both quotes from Cajetan Responds, a footnote from p. 269 and p. 66)

However, nowadays, among some Roman Catholic apologists the definition of this “sin of presumption” seems to have narrowed quite a bit!   I think that we can readily understand why this is the case.  If you are trying to appeal to evangelical Christians, for example, telling them they can’t be certain that they are in a stable and secure relationship with God is not a winning argument.  As such, several RC apologists now, distinguishing between different kinds of “certainties” (see here to see how they approach this) will say that the certainty of one’s current status before God need not always be in doubt (see here, for an example of this)

I can understand this impulse, because it clearly is a biblical one.  One needs only to look at undeniable passages like Romans 5:1 and I John 5:12.  The only problem is, as best I can tell, is that they are rewriting their history.  Early on, the great Scholastic theologian Thomas Aquinas had said that certainty of one’s “state of grace” was at best “conjecture” (i.e. only “guesswork” due to inconclusive or incomplete evidence – hence the reason this was a good way to nail Joan).  When Cardinal Cajetan, in his meeting with Luther in 1518 essentially told him that one could never be sure “one’s contrition was sufficient to effect the forgiveness one hoped to receive” (Hendrix, Scott, Luther and the Papacy, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1981, p. 62), Luther – amazed at this position – never looked back.  When the Pope backed up Cajetan’s views when he condemned Luther in Exsurge Domine, nothing more was needed to convince the Reformer that he was dealing with the Antichrist.

Continued Monday…

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Posted by on April 21, 2012 in Uncategorized


On children’s delight in rules

NOTE: This post was slightly updated to provide for clarification.

Do children delight in rules – or relationships?  Obviously, the question is silly.  For kids, it can’t be an either/or.  They know that rules serve relationships and not vice-versa.

Rules are good.  Rules show that people care about you.  It has always been this way.  In the Old Testament, we can see that God argues that because of His love for His people, He gave them His Law.  The gods of the pagan nations did not do that – they did not care about people like Yahweh did.

Kids love rules.  They are a blessed consistency their parents provide: this order is born of love, not from a love of order!  They might not like it when a rule does not permit them to do something they like – or when they are being accused by rules (“Don’t tell me that!”) – but this does not detract from the, well, general rule of which we are speaking.

In Romans 7:25, Paul sums up what he has been arguing in that section of the book: “So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin”.  Is Paul putting himself “under the law” again, contrary to what he had just written a chapter earlier?: “…you are not under the law, but under grace.” (Rom. 6:14).

Not at all.  Here (in Rom. 6:14) Paul is really talking about being under the law in such a way that sin became His master – apart from Christ, baptism, faith.  Paul goes on to explain that when “we were in the realm of the flesh”, sin “sprang to life” when “the commandment came”, killing him – i.e. the law actually exacerbated the sin that was within him (Rom 7:4-13)  This bondage he speaks of goes hand in hand with the attempt to justify one’s self that Paul speaks of in Galatians 3: “all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse”, for the one who is troubled by sin will try to compensate for it by doing good…

But this is a view of life apart from the Advocate spoken of in I John 2:1: “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”.  This Advocate is the One who silences the Accuser, and cancels the “record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands”, nailing it to the cross (Col. 2).  He is the One who redeems us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’” (Gal. 3)

And this Advocate is for all – for you.

Therefore, as new people, we delight in being under the law – i.e. being a slave to it.  We know it is good even though we are not.  Though we still struggle with it because of our sinful nature (Rom. 7:14-25), we also delight in correction.  We delight in all His words, for we live by every word that comes from His mouth.  This side of heaven, we know that we never stop needing His Law and Gospel – for our own sakes, as well as for our neighbors. 

And when we fail to know Christ in this way, there is forgiveness for this as well!

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Posted by on April 16, 2012 in Uncategorized


The childishness of the new atheists

Thank God for David Albert – for ,as he says, being “quick, and crude, and concrete”:

“…Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff. The true relativistic-quantum-field-­theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields — what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields! The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.

Krauss, mind you, has heard this kind of talk before, and it makes him crazy. A century ago, it seems to him, nobody would have made so much as a peep about referring to a stretch of space without any material particles in it as “nothing.” And now that he and his colleagues think they have a way of showing how everything there is could imaginably have emerged from a stretch of space like that, the nut cases are moving the goal posts. He complains that “some philosophers and many theologians define and redefine ‘nothing’ as not being any of the versions of nothing that scientists currently describe,” and that “now, I am told by religious critics that I cannot refer to empty space as ‘nothing,’ but rather as a ‘quantum vacuum,’ to distinguish it from the philosopher’s or theologian’s idealized ‘nothing,’ ” and he does a good deal of railing about “the intellectual bankruptcy of much of theology and some of modern philosophy.” But all there is to say about this, as far as I can see, is that Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right. Who cares what we would or would not have made a peep about a hundred years ago? We were wrong a hundred years ago. We know more now. And if what we formerly took for nothing turns out, on closer examination, to have the makings of protons and neutrons and tables and chairs and planets and solar systems and galaxies and universes in it, then it wasn’t nothing, and it couldn’t have been nothing, in the first place. And the history of science — if we understand it correctly — gives us no hint of how it might be possible to imagine otherwise.

(bold mine)

Hat tip:

(good quote from it: I won’t go into the details of Krauss’s critique of this latest triumphal attempt at deicide. It is well worth a read, and a single line is enough to give you a taste: “But all there is to say about this, as far as I can see, is that Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right.” Can you imagine a sentence like that being printed in The New York Times? That fact alone might be taken as wry proof for the existence of God!)

See also this related piece by me:

Update: a good soundbyte taking down this kind of thinking:

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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Uncategorized


Kids trust


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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Uncategorized


Dangerous children: to the world or to the Word?

UPDATE: There is now a part 2 to this post.

On Gene Veith’s blog, I recently came across this great quote from ELCA Lutheran theologian Steven D. Paulson:

`I forgive you’… Luther taught and demonstrated that these simple words give absolute, indubitable certainty, and no one is more dangerous than a person who is certain. The certainty was not based on human self-certainty; it was the opposite of that. It was the certainty of forgiveness because of what the Son of God did by taking the sins of the world upon himself and defeating them at the cross… (p. 7)

Amen to that!  But he then goes on to say:

“…The decisive cosmic battle of God against sin, death, and devil was already waged and won when Christ was raised from the dead to make a new kingdom of people who live with no law, nowhere to go, and nothing to accomplish. They were simply–free.” (7)

Now, I believe that we as God’s children are free indeed – to play and otherwise, but does this strike you as somehow a bit off?  As I have said before,

“Although God’s Law is the only consistent moral framework that exists which enables us to grow in our relationships with God and one another – albeit only when empowered by and freed by the Gospel of grace – have we not come to doubt just this?” and “From what, ultimately, have we been saved? Sin, or the Law of God? We have been freed from the Law, and are no longer under the Law.  But we have not been saved from the Law, for this we uphold and fulfill in Christ (Romans [3:31 and] 8:4).”

Is this just me refusing to embrace the radical Gospel as God has revealed it? (as Paul does in Romans 6:1).  I don’t think so.  In the conversation that resulted from the same blog post mentioned above, I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman who has visited this blog before.

This gentleman said: “God expects nothing of His children. That is the fundamental principle of the Gospel, probably best expressed in what Martin Luther wrote on his deathbed (cart?), ‘This is true, we are beggars all.'”

I responded: “Insofar as we are sinners, we need to be told that God expects us to follow His commandments. No? Not just that we ‘get to’, but that He expects us to, in His words, ‘make duty a pleasure.'”

He said: “… The relationship we have with our Father is not that we need to know what ‘He expects us to do’, but we need to know what His will is…. As soon as we think that ‘God expects something’, we have left the province of the Gospel. But as our Lord taught, even that will be forgiven.” (see the whole context here)

I said: “Not sure I really get the distinction. His will is that He expects love, no?”, and he replied: “No. HE IS LOVE. He expects nothing. Perfect love does not expect anything from anyone; perfect love only serves, as He Who took upon Himself the form of a Servant.”

To which I said: “…because God is love, He expects love from His children. He delights in making them into the kind of people who do love, and know the joy that comes through love. Insofar as we are sinners, we hate this and run from it. Insofar as we are saints, we delight and rejoice in it, for we desire to imitate our loving Father, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who revealed true love to us and made us the recipients of it. What a person needs to hear depends on the attitude we discern they have.”

I took notice when he quoted Luke 6: 35 (“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”) and said “’Expect nothing in return’? That is how God loves.” (see the whole context here)

But then I thought a bit and replied:

“The problem with this here is that sinful man’s kind of expectations – i.e. “tit for tat” – are being contrasted with God’s way of doing things. God’s love – and hence His expectations – are more like that of a parent in their most selfless of moments, who desires the best for their child in life. To really love God and neighbor is to live in freedom, and God would have His trusting children to grow in this wonderful love. It should be good news to us that He expects us to grown in His love, loving His will (which He has indeed given us and we are always trying to catch up to, grow into) – the fact that it does not sound like good news to us – even after He has redeemed us – simply once again illustrates the extent to which sin inheres in us. I John 4:17 is a wonderful verse, but it is the ideal that we won’t reach until the other side of heaven.

I can’t imagine a parent not having some expectations – hopes – for their child. To not have expectations of a child does not sound like love to me, but disinterest, lack of concern, lack of love.”

The conversation is not over yet, but I’m not sure how long it can go on…  Augustine encouraged Christians with the radical words, “love God and do what you will.”  Dare we go any further than that?  We know that God ultimately takes the sinner out for the sake of the little ones. And we want to be on the side of the little ones!  We want to keep the faith.

The first part of Paulson’s quote makes us dangerous to the world.  The second part makes us dangerous to the Word.  This kind of conversation has been going on a long time.  Read this. 

Also see my series on antinomianism here.


Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Uncategorized