Monthly Archives: May 2012

Safe in Christ – but “be surprised by suffering and be insecure in your faith.”

clipped image from this outstanding blog:

One of the focuses of this blog is to set our eyes on Christ, not on our own faith (which a child would never do).  The first way leads to real peace with God and the other, ultimately, leads to despair!  That said, here are some good, challenging thoughts from a popular evangelical blog: (all the bold are mine – this does not indicate my agreement!)

“I believe in what is called “perseverance of the saints.” I am less inclined toward the designation “eternal security of the believer,” but it will do. I can even use “once-saved-always-saved”, so long as it is properly qualified. However, I also believe that there is a type of faith that does not save. What a statement of insecurity this may be to you. But I really don’t know what to do with some of the language of Scripture. Some have labeled me an enemy of the so-called “Lordship Salvation” position (look it up). While I do have some issues with certain articulations of the Lordship position, I am in agreement that believers should be continually testing our faith to see if it is of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:5). Why? Because it may not be.

Let’s talk to Jesus just a bit:

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” (John 16:1)

(“Why this passage?” you ask.  Because it was in my daily Bible reading today.)

What a fascinating passage this is. Here, in the middle of the great “Upper Room Discourse,” Christ is comforting his disciples and preparing them for his imminent departure. This passage follows on the heels of Christ’s warning that his disciples are going to suffer persecution for bearing his name. “If they hated me, they are going to hate you,” he tells them (John 15:18). “But don’t worry . . . this is your life now . . . a life filled with suffering and persecution.” Why is he telling them this? Well, that is where our current passage comes in: to keep them from “falling away.”

“But I thought a believer could never fall away? I thought you said that we were eternally secure.” Well, we are. But we are not. Forgive me for the apparent double-speak, but, as best I can tell, I am just falling in the footsteps of our Lord. You see, Christ has already said, in the John passage, that we are (eternally) secure in the hands of God:

John 10:27-29
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”

(What a comforting passage)

Yet, here in John 16:1, he seems to suggest that his disciples could fall away from the faith. The word here for “fall away” is skandalizo. It is the word we get “scandal” from. It means “to be brought to a sinful downfall” (BAGD), or “to stumble or fall”, or to “fall away.” Louw-Nida (may favorite Lexicon so long as I am using Bibleworks) has it as ”to cause to give up believing, to make someone no longer believe.” It is the word used in the parable of the soils for the soil which experiences persecution: “But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away [skandalizo]” (Matt 13:21). This is appropriate to Christ’s usage in John 16:1, since it parallels the thought. There is a type of faith that can be “scandalized” and fall away, never experiencing the benefit of true faith: the salvation of their souls.

Now, in response, my Calvinist friends would simply say that this is not true faith born of the Holy Spirit. My Arminian friends would say that it was true faith that was lost. Neither view impacts our exposition here. The point is that Christ was calling, even pleading with, his disciples to keep the faith.

And we cannot miss the fact that these were his disciples with whom he was talking. His disciples! We call them Apostles. They were the heroes of the early church. They were the ones who would go on to establish the church and, indeed, die for their faith (well, most of them). Why would Christ feel the need to encourage his disciples not to leave the faith? After all, he knew those who were his and those who were not. He knew that Judas was the only one who would betray him and leave the faith. Why warn them of the persecution and hardship? Because, no matter what the security of their faith was from the vantage point of heaven, they needed to know that their perseverance in faith was necessary on earth.

If this was true of the disciples, how much more so is it true for us? If it is true that, according to the parable of the soils, there is a type of faith that gains some ground, “falls away” doesn’t mean that our faith can fall away too, or that we should not take the encouragement of Christ seriously? I think so. But while I believe we are to always to be fully prepared not to fall away, I also believe that there is a great security we can have in our faith.  However, this security is gained through time. This security is gained through sufferingChrist warned the disciples against the hardships that they had coming. He wanted them to know that their lives on this earth were not, by any means, going to be cake-walks.  If they took to heart this teaching, their faith would be made strong because there would be no false expectations causing them to rethink their mission.

Again, if this was true for the disciples, how much more so is it true with us. I don’t think we are necessarily to preach the “insecurity of our faith.” Nevertheless, I do believe that the discipleship process must be accompanied with continual and stern warnings of the impending and certain troubles that will be characterize our Christian life, a life filled with hardship, pain, and rejection. (Ahem…) Take courage in this!

Yet, how often do we exhort and teach, as Christ did, in our evangelism and discipleship?  Conversely, we assert themes such as:  “Your best life now.” “How to have a fulfilled happy life.” “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” Yes, God does have a wonderful plan for your life . . . trials and hardships. In fact, I am increasingly convinced that this hardship is more severe for Christians! How is that for your best life now? However, it is a hardship that we face with the Creator of time space, and eternity. It is a wonderful hardship. And yes, properly qualified, it is “your best life now.” Unfortunately, one of the most diseased and hideous teachings I have ever heard is being preached out there from pulpits all over the world: “God wants you to be healthy, happy, and safe from all harm.” God forbid such a message supplant the message that Christ preached. God forbid that safety is our good news. God forbid this monstrous creation of the insecurity in the faith of many. God forbid that we fail to follow Christ by preaching a Gospel of suffering early in the discipleship of the believer. God forbid we preach a “theology of the glory” rather than a “theology of the Cross” (On Being a Theologian of the Cross).

Be secure in your suffering and be secure in your faith. Be surprised by suffering and be insecure in your faith.”

(end quote)

For the most part, I think this is good stuff (note the author cites, Gerhard Forde, who was a more conservative ELCA Lutheran – hopefully, he will discover some good LC-MS authors as well!).  I would simply make this more clear by saying that security is gained by clinging to Christ alone for forgiveness, life and salvation – and when we broken sinners are with Christ, there is not only faith, but suffering (from the fall, from our sin, and for His sake).  We certainly can fall away from faith (see here for a reflection on this), and our faith may certainly be either strong or weak, but that does not necessarily mean that we should to start focusing on our faith (whether or not we, after being convicted by the Law, are clinging to the True Object who alone brings salvation should be the only question) or suffering for that matter – it just does us good to realize that where He is, we also will be – and that means, this side of heaven, the cross.  This is the faith to keep – faith which remains fixated on Him!  And in Him and Him alone we are indeed secure – safe from sin, death, and the devil!


Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Uncategorized


Idealogues true and false: Blackheart or Braveheart? part II

NY Times op-ed columnist, Stanley Fish

Thank you Stanley FishIndeed, we are all idealogues.

The fact that evidence which is public, relevant and convincing is (evidently) important to many of us cannot change this fact.  In short, there are true and false idealogues (by the way here’s part I ; also see this):

“…Dawkins and Pinker asserted that the trust we place in scientific researchers, as opposed to religious pronouncements, has been earned by their record of achievement and by the public rigor of their procedures. In short, our trust is justified, theirs is blind.

It was at this point that Dawkins said something amazing, although neither he nor anyone else picked up on it. He said: in the arena of science you can invoke Professor So-and-So’s study published in 2008, “you can actually cite chapter and verse.”

Intellectual responsibility for such matters has passed in the modern era from the Bible to academic departments bearing the names of my enumerated topics. We still cite chapter and verse — we still operate on trust — but the scripture has changed (at least in this country) and is now identified with the most up-to-date research conducted by credentialed and secular investigators….

the chapter and verse we find authoritative is the chapter and verse of the scripture we believe in because we believe in its first principle, in this case the adequacy and superiority of a materialist inquiry into questions religion answers by mere dogma….

It is at bottom a question of original authority: with what conviction — basic orthodoxy — about where truth and illumination are to be found do you begin? Once that question is answered satisfactorily for you (by revelation, education or conversion), you cannot test the answer by bringing it before the bar of some independent arbiter, for your answer now is the arbiter (and measure) of everything that comes before you. Your answer delivers the world to you and delivers with it mechanisms for distinguishing good evidence from bad or beside-the-point evidence and good reasons from reasons that just don’t cut it…. 

despite invocations of fairness and equality and giving every voice a chance, classical liberals, like any other ideologues (and ideologues we all are), divide the world into “us” and “them.” It’s just that rather than “us” being Christians and “them” Jews or vice-versa, “us” are those who subscribe to the tenets of materialist scientific inquiry and “them” are those who don’t, those who, in the entirely parochial judgment of liberal rationalists, subscribe to nonsense and superstition….

But the desire of classical liberals to think of themselves as above the fray, as facilitating inquiry rather than steering it in a favored direction, makes them unable to be content with just saying, You guys are wrong, we’re right, and we’re not going to listen to you or give you an even break. Instead they labor mightily to ground their judgments in impersonal standards and impartial procedures (there are none) so that they can pronounce their excommunications with clean hands and pure — non-partisan, and non-tribal — hearts. It’s quite a performance and it is on display every day in our most enlightened newspapers and on our most progressive political talk shows, including the ones I’m addicted to.”

Good stuff!

Meanwhile, on a (I think) related front, check out this concise summary of Lutheran vs. Reformed apologetics.


Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Uncategorized



Convicted by those convicted by the Word

Wow – Amen!


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Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Uncategorized


A Husband – and Father – like no other

I recently came across the following line from a book that jarred me a bit:

“The highly intense forms of human relationships, which we designate as friendship or love, include an intensity of emotional encounter, openness and care which cannot be continually multiplied, but which is singular and unique.  Thus it is understandable and suitable if sexual love in its intensity, intimacy, and all-encompassing nature is understood as the earthly analogy to the love of God.” (Wilfried Harle, Living Out of Justification, in Justification is for Preaching, ed. Virgil Thompson, p. 97)

In some ways, this statement resonates with me.  For it right to insist that all of us together – men included – are the Bride of Christ, and this implies, a la Song of Solomon, the kind of intimacy that a husband and wife share.  I think we justly flee from “Jesus is my boyfriend” music, but perhaps we need some better “Jesus is our husband” music.  I recently wrote the following:

“Can this final “consummation” become the most important thing that a Christian – particularly a Christian man – looks forward to?… In truth, what greater thing could we work towards?  What greater thing could we long for?  What greater thing could we pursue?…

But even here – God’s Kingdom comes without our prayer…  It is He who pursues us!  He is the One who really longs for us, His bride!  He is the One who works – who is working all things for the good, leading up to the end.  It is not we who pursue or try to effect the end – to bring about consummation – but He who does this.  It is He who works all in all, and we can only reject His subtle and not-so-subtle advances…

God is like the strong hero, protector, provider and lover – the One ladies everywhere find themselves falling for.  This God, however, does not limit Himself to the beautiful ones only, but to the lowly and unattractive.  More – He veils His own attractiveness and desirability, so that it is hidden.  More – He ravishes and takes all of us for His own Name’s sake, which means nothing more than He is the only One that exists who not only unfailingly desires each and every person, but truly loves them, enjoys them, and remains faithful to them.  He will not be tamed as He does all that is necessary to protect, treasure, win, ravish and woo us.  This includes crushing those other “lovers” who would lovelessly use us for their own empty purposes, that we may be His forever.

And we are moved to sing of this great love – from this great Lover.  That He might have us forever… for we are His.”

Still – even though I wrote that, I am uneasy talking about how “sexual love… is understood as the earthly analogy to the love of God” (italics mine).  It seems to me that even as we are the Bride, we are also brethren of Jesus and Sons of the Father.  *The* earthly analogy?  Might there be a bit of a danger in saying this?

We need to keep both of these analogies in the forefront.  Just because one may have been given short shrift up until this point does not mean that it now should take over the show.


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Posted by on May 16, 2012 in Uncategorized


It’s good to be your baby

Short prayers I pray:

  • The Lord’s prayer
  • The Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” (or, “have mercy on us poor sinners”)
  • Prayer inspired by John Kleinig’s work: “Lord God, Heavenly Father, fill me with your Holy Spirit” (or, “fill us with your Holy Spirit”)
  • “I am yours; save me!” (Psalm 119:94)
  • “Lord, it’s good to be your baby”
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Posted by on May 10, 2012 in Uncategorized


Endgame of the “New Perspective”?

N.T. Wright, popular exponent of the “New Perspective” on Paul

NOTE: All of the accounts of conversations I post like these are done with permission from my debating partner. 

I like debating with people who have very different views than mine.  For several months now, I have been debating with a very articulate “New Perspective” Roman Catholic going by the name Adomnan at Dave Armstrong’s blog here.

We seem to be at opposite poles.  Here is one of the things he said to me during our debate:

Both Augustine and Luther were attempting to interpret Paul. Augustine was correct (contra the Pelagians) in teaching that, for Paul, Christian righteousness is a gift, because it is a new and higher life, a sharing in the nature of God. He was wrong about using Paul’s polemic against the Law and works of the Law as an argument against the Pelagians. Luther’s take is basically a misinterpretation/exaggeration of Augustine with certain important innovations, too far removed from the real Paul in context to have anything to do with the Apostle’s authentic teachings. Luther was possible only because of Augustine. His thought never would have grown directly out of Paul. That’s why nothing resembling Lutheranism ever grew in Eastern Orthodox soil, which has Paul but no Augustine. (His name is known, but his teachings largely ignored.)

Let me try to sum up our debate in a bit of a nutshell:

Adomnan says that

“[the] Judaizers believed that adhering to the Jewish religion was necessary to attain and retain the grace of God. The works of the Law were the rites, especially circumcision, that made one Jewish, circumcision being the initiatory sacrament of Judaism, as baptism is for Christians. Paul did not think Gentiles needed to become Jews, which is why he focused on the Law (Jewish religion) and the works of the Law (Jewish sacraments) as something to be avoided. On the other hand, he saw value in what he called the dikaiomata or righteous requirements of the Law, interpreted by Christ, as positive ideals embodying love (the “law of Christ”). That’s why Paul could write that love fulfilled the Law.

Thus, Paul had an ambiguous attitude to the Law (the Jewish religion). He admired its ideals, which he saw fulfilled in Christianity, but he rejected it as a way of life, at least for Gentiles. Essentially, it was part of the old world, now superseded by the new age that the Resurrection ushered in….”

My position is the following:  The Judaizers missed that circumcision, which pointed to Christ and faith, was a shadow that had fallen away now that the reality had come.  Why did they miss this?  Because circumcision to them was not something that God had given them to point to Christ, but was a work that they did in order to attain and retain the grace of God.   In other words, the Judaizers, probably inadvertently, were trying to be justified not by God’s grace in Christ but by the actions/doings they performed, and therefore, Paul tells them that if they want to be justified that way they must keep the whole law Law – all rites, precepts, commands, etc. (particularly Sinai – see Exodus 19-24 and Hebrews 12:18-24)” – “doing”!

Here is how Adomnan responds to my position:

You are setting up a dichotomy that is foreign to Paul’s thought. I have pointed out that “hearing of faith” is less passive than you suggest, because it’s a way of saying what Paul also calls the “obedience of faith.” The “works of the Law” that are set against this hearing/obedience are Jewish rites, circumcision first and foremost — not “doing” in general or even “doing the Law” in particular. After all, Paul says in Rom 2 that “doers of the Law” will in fact be justified: one of the few — the only? — places where doing (poiein) and the Law are joined.

Thus, for Paul:

1) “doing works/works of the Law” = doing Jewish rites, particularly circumcision.

2) “doing the Law” = doing the dikaiomata/righteous requirements of the Law.”

This is why Paul says one can be justified by doing the Law, but not by doing the works of the Law.

I’m not saying that Paul pushed doing over receiving. I am saying that this tension between activity and passivity that you see in Paul is not there at all. It never enters Paul’s mind. “You don’t need to practice Judaism” is not the same thing as “You don’t need to do anything.”

So my new question for Adomnan in the debate is whether he thinks there is such a thing as passive faith/righteousness at all (see Psalm 22: 9,10 and here as well: ).  In our life of faith, we certainly commit to God and decide for Him – but is this the only kind of faith?

I had said of the unbeliever: “They (think they) *deserve* God’s mercy because their good outweighs their bad, or because their good combined with their ‘sincere repentance’ outweighs their bad.”

And he responded:

My point was that Paul says as forcibly as one could wish that perseverance in doing good leads to eternal life and that “doers of the Law” are justified. This is not hypothetical. This is Paul’s fundamental conviction and what he sees as the real situation. Thus, he would agree wholeheartedly with people who believed their repentance and good deeds gained them eternal life: He said as much himself. And nothing he writes about setting aside Judaism as a religion with its rites derogates in the least from this rock-solid principle: “He will pay everyone as their deeds deserve. For those who aimed for glory and honor and immortality by persevering in doing good, there will be eternal life.” (Romans 2:7-8)

For Paul, it is “faith working in love” that justifies.

It’s true that the image of the scales of justice is not frequent in the Bible. However, neither is it utterly absent as a metaphor for judging righteousness: “Let me be weighed in an even balance that God may know my integrity.” (Job 31:6)

Again, this has been a very interesting discussion.  You can see that for Adomnan, we are very much justified by our works.  This is not the way many Protestant New Perspective persons would really want to put it (as persons like N.T. Wright, for example, are eager to point out that justification in the present gives real confidence of salvation [which Rome does not – see here] while their final justification will be “based on the whole life lived”), but Adomnan, being a Roman Catholic, has no such hesitations.

On the other hand, we talk about how “no one is righteous – no not one” – and how Paul really means this.  And we then go on to speak of how the Righteous One and all He has becomes ours by grace when we hear the message that creates faith in our hearts (see Romans 10)

That is, hearing the Word and believing it as would a child.


Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Uncategorized


Dangerous children: to the world or to the Word? (part 2)

(Link to part 1)

Thanks to Pastor McCain for re-posting my piece.  Welcome to any new readers.

Again, ELCA theologian Steven Paulson’s words are a bit breathtaking:

“…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.” (italics mine, Lutheran Theology, p. 7)

So what might we say to this in a nutshell?

How about this: To say that truly free people don’t have anything to accomplish, anywhere to go, or won’t ever need to be directed at all in this life (or heaven for that matter) is something we have no business asserting.

As someone on Paul McCain’s blog said, this is “Lutheran nihilism”.

Some may be curious about how the conversation I described in my post ended up.  Here are some of the *highlights* of the rest of the conversation

To my: “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”, I got “Fortunately, God is not made in the image of man, but vice versa…..”

I then followed up: “Love always hopes”, we are told – what kind of hopes do you think God has?” and he said: “This is what I mean by attributing human qualities to God. God has no hope. How could He? He knows the outcome of everything. He does not hope that something will change in a way He is not aware of.”

Later he commented: “We think of ‘passion’, whether it be sexual, emotional, or rational in our human way. God’s passion is to love, and He does that beyond our ability to comprehend.”

I replied: “Well yes. But is [I Corinthians 13:4-8]…not a description of Divine Love? If it is not, then it is a description of the best human love. And if this is the case, why would God’s love be any less – or substantially different – than this? Of course God loves. God feels compassion. God feels jealousy. God regrets (and repents). God gets angry. God hopes… God wants…. God desires… God is unchanging, in that His ‘Infinite, unconditional, self-sacrificial love is His unfailing stance toward us’ as someone told me, but this does not preclude anger, jealousy, compassion, hope, etc…”

(note: I’d say becoming like a child entails believing this!)

My interlocutor quoted the end of Matthew 25 and said… “You see, nothing there about ourselves, but only about others, the least of His brethren. So don’t worry about the wolves; they are only dangerous when we worry about ourselves.”

I replied:

“I didn’t say anything about worrying. I said [that]… The point here is that if we do not be who we are – if we do not embrace the fullness of the life that He gives us – the only life that is truly life (and love and light) – we are in danger of falling off the path, where there are wolves. We really do “walk in danger all the way”, and we do not want to mess around for a minute with doubt-inducing and faith-destroying sin. This kind of talk is clear in the Scriptures, clear in Luther, clear in the Confessions, clear in Chemnitz, etc. As I said in the Judas post, there is ***no guarantee*** that God will renew us again when we fall from faith – and this makes Him no less gracious.”

In other words, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

I believe that. Because sin kills us. Rejection of the Word of God destroys us. Sin is doubt-inducing and faith-destroying. We are to not be worried, but alert. We are to be sheep that cling to their Shepherd, scurry to His side, and stay closely to Him. Where He is, we want to be. We flee both sin (our sin nature in general) and sins….”

No “Lutheran nihilism” for me.  Be alert.

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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Uncategorized