Monthly Archives: June 2012

Information as food / Word as food

I’m a librarian by day, and I found this TED talk on the “Library Link of the Day” site.

It’s called “Information as Food” and I think it is well worth listening to (its about 8 minutes).  The speaker, J.P. Rangaswami draws all kinds of interesting and creative parallels between information as food.

It’s very interesting to think about this from a theological perspective.  Some motifs that come to mind:

  • belly vs the mind
  • Word of God as our food
  • his view is not so related to truth, of course. His view is not that we live by truth (“every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”… “my words are Spirit and life”…) but it is more about practical and aesthetic realities… The truth is that God often fasts from eloquence and gives us the truly healthy stuff, in love.  Love and words are inseparable.
  • also – we can’t treat information as a buffet.  As we come to understand God rightly from our teachers (the “Rule of Faith”), we increasingly realize what kind of food we should be readily receiving and actively seeking…

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Posted by on June 28, 2012 in Uncategorized


The Christian life is like chutes and ladders

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity…so that everyone may see your progress” (I Timothy 4)

A student (background: Assemblies of God) in one of my on-line classes says on the discussion boards:

“I’m ashamed to say that being good is such hard work. Why is being bad so easy? Obviously we all know the answer to that, Satan makes that so easy for us. I wish it was just a little easier to be good. I feel like I do a pretty good job in the majority of my life but there are still some specific things I struggle with every day. Fortunately for us, we keep getting second chances or do-overs and can redeem ourselves.”

I reply: “What a wonderful comment!  Yes, all of us have our own “pet sins” that we struggle against.  As you say, we continue to get mercy from our heavenly Father though – second, third, fourth, fifth chances (70 x 7, didn’t Jesus say?).  When we hear His words of mercy for us poor sinners (He is, after all, only the friend of sinners!), we are strengthened in faith and want to live for Him.  This is not something that we need only when we are initially turned from darkness to light, but consistently, throughout our lives…”

The student continues: “We are all a work in progress and some in different spots along the way and often I feel like I’m living “Chutes and Ladders” taking 3 steps forward and 1 step back.”

Me: “This is a great illustration, and I am now going to start using this.  It is true that we make progress in the Christian life – Paul even writes to the young pastor Timothy to tell him its good when people “see his progress”.  That said, many have observed that as Christians grow, they only see more and more of their sin (for the great infection of original sin permeates us from head to toe)!  Even if we get “victory” in one area, it seems like God opens up more and more doors in our house with skeletons! (and this goes down to the deepest level: our basic motivations, conscious or not).  And here is the real kicker: we don’t finish “Chutes and Ladders” completely until either our deaths, or His return… (see I John 1: “if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves….truth is not in us”).”

It’s not perfect – and I think that we need to be careful about underestimating the sin that dwells within us.  Even if we take steps forward (and sometimes it might be 1 forward and then many backwards!) all of the works God enables us to do are still tainted with our sin.  He provides all the good, we provide all the evil – the unbelief, the selfishness, the disregard for His words…  Yet He still reaches down and brings us up… that we may, like Him, descend to our neighbors into the mud and muck of the fallen world…

UPDATE: if you enjoyed this post, you may like this one as well

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Posted by on June 22, 2012 in Uncategorized


Update on my humble contributions to honest ecumenical dialogue

A comment recently left here:

From a traditional Lutheran perspective, “Sola Scriptura” is understood very differently [from the position Dr. Michael Horton lays out in the blog post responded to here at Called to Communion].  I’ve been sharing this insightful quote for years now (from my pastor), and I’ll do so again:

“The concept of a contemporaneous existence of the Word of God in a corrupted verbal form, and a pure written form, spawned Chemnitz’s explanation of traditiones in the second locus, De traditionibus. Here he lists the first of eight different types of traditiones as Scripture itself, i.e. the things that Christ and the Apostles preached orally and were later written down. Then follows: 2) the faithful transmission of the Scriptures; 3) the oral tradition of the Apostles (which by its very nature must agree with the contents of the New Testament canon); 4) the proper interpretation of the Scriptures received from the Apostles and “Apostolic men”; 5) dogmas that are not set forth in so many words in Scripture but are clearly apparent from a sampling of texts; 6) the consensus of true and pure antiquity; 7) rites and customs that are edifying and believed to be Apostolic, but cannot be proved from Scripture. Chemnitz rejects only the eighth kind of tradition: [8] traditions pertaining to faith and morals that cannot be proved with any testimony of Scripture; but which the Council of Trent commanded to be accepted and venerated with the same reverence and devotion as the Scripture. The important element of this last of the traitiones appears not to be the fact that such traditions of faith and morals not provable from Scripture actually existed, but that their status of equality with Scripture was foisted upon the church by the Council of Trent.” P. Strawn, Cyril of Alexandria as a Source for Martin Chemnitz, in Die Patristik in der Bibelexegese des 16. Jahrhunderts, Wolfenbu”ttleler Forschungen, Bd. 85, Hrsg. v. David C. Steinmetz, Wiesbaden 1999, p. 213-14.

I focused on this in a debate that I had with the RC apologist Dave Armstrong.  The form of my argument, based again on the following quote above, was very different than Dr. Horton’s.

Here they are:

Round 1:

Round 2:

Round 3:

(warning: these are pretty long, but they are because I quote a lot from Chemnitz and Gerhard and try to answer most all the questions that Dave was able to throw at me)

Currently, the debate continues in a way with a delightful Catholic gentleman named Nathaniel (great name) here.  We have a wonderful thing going, and I feel like we have definitely dug deep into the issue.  He gives me hope for good, honest, ecumenical dialogue:

Finally, my viewpoint, although I definitely think it is in line with classical Lutheranism (Chemnitz, Gerhard) is not always so understood, although I do think it is more amenable to Roman Catholic sensibilities about the mystery of the Church, particularly as regards its ontological nature and visibility (see this post and the comments I put in there:

Best regards,


(Adjunct prof. of theology – Concordia University Saint Paul)

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Posted by on June 20, 2012 in Uncategorized


MN. South pastor’s convention: innocent doves needed?

Tomorrow begins the Minnesota South pastor’s convention for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LC-MS).  Some pretty momentous things have happened there in recent years.   In June of 2009, a convincing majority voted to allow the Alley, an edgier mission congregation (originally planted by an LC-MS pastor, not the LC-MS), to gain membership in the district (one of the objections to this, among other things, was that they were not willing to use the recent hymnal).  This year pastors and representatives may well end up voting in some way regarding the University Lutheran Chapel’s building, which the district is selling to raise 3.5 million for new missions (for the latest on this, see here and here… also go here for the most information, and, if you want to material of interest regarding both of these congregations go here and do a key word search for Alley convention and ULC, respectively).

After the Alley was accepted, their pastor (I believe), wrote this on the Alley’s blog:

Prior to the convention many things false and misleading were said about our church.  Some criticisms were completely false, some were based on personal preference and few if any were Biblically minded…. at the convention, God spoke…  When the vote came, the people of the convention spoke with an overwhelming vote of approval.  We are thankful for all who sought God alongside of us for wisdom in this.  We continue to pray that God would lead us all the more into the future and that the spiritual forces of evil who fight against the gospel and it’s proclamation would fall on deaf ears.  All glory to God.  May we be counted worthy of the prize for which He has called us heavenward.

During the University Lutheran Chapel’s long battle, sermons were preached that were later linked on ULC’s website as being relevant to the sale of their chapel (under “Documents, background information, etc. from ULC” here):

Of course the Jews in Jesus day were not the last of the wicked vinedressers the church would have to face.  Century upon century, decade upon decade, there have been those who wish to steal Christ’s Church from Him and from His people.  They reason among themselves “if we abuse them, if we injure them, if we cast them out, this will all be ours to do with as we wish!”  Oh, they keep their pious face, of course; and they even do it in the name of Jesus as if they were furthering His work.  But it is a deception rooted in a lie, a deception that sadly is believed even by those who help perpetrate it.  But I ask you as Jesus himself asked: “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will become of those vindressers?… (Maundy Thursday on April 21, 2001)… [Psalm 37] seems especially potent to me this year…  : “Do not fret because of evildoers…” (October 2, 2011)

I have no doubts that Satan attacks everyone in the LC-MS, particularly leaders, and contributes to all manner of sinning among us as He tries to suffocate clear Gospel proclamation.  That said, when it comes to caring for one’s brethren in Christ, I do believe that there has, generally speaking, been less love, forebearance, and wisdom shown on one of these “sides” than the other (please note, I realize it is not really fair to assume that all “missional” congregations will side with the district offices when they look into this matter)  If I were voting on the ULC question, I definitely know where I would cast my vote. 

Getting past issues like this into solutions for realizing true unity, blogging pastor Pastor Peterson had what I think are some compelling words for us to consider….

We have employed this hermeneutic of suspicion on all levels of our life and discourse…. suspicion [in the recent WI. recall election] was not simply toward the opposing view but toward everyone and everything that was said….  In the Church this has surely been a primary ingredient in the worship wars between so-called “contemporary” worship forms and music and those labelled “traditional.”  It has also had a great deal of impact upon the debate between the “creative” and “missional” types who think outside the box and those who look more like the Church has looked and do more what the Church has done in the past.  It does not matter which side you are on (and you know from reading this blog which side I am on), the point is we are deeply suspicious of each other and can hardly agree on the meaning of the terminology so that our conversation is hindered from the get go.  We do not trust what our “opponents” say and we do not believe their motives are noble (on both sides)…”

Does it seem like the men previously quoted above were being as innocent as doves? (not saying this demeanor should not also involve the “wise as serpents” part)

It seems to me a child would innocently trust what persons say.  One would especially hope this would be safe to do in the Church (and of course, that persons who need to speak would feel free to do so…)!  In any case, if we do trust what these pastors say above – if they mean what they say – even if they aren’t being as “innocent as doves” themselves – what might this mean? (isn’t it easier to not even deal with the implications of these words!)

Here I pray “Lord have mercy!”, and I include all of us involved in that prayer, regardless of how they interpret all the above matters at hand.   I hope you will join me in that prayer for this convention.

May we increasingly trust in the power of His Word to work, as I Thessalonians 2:13 reminds us that it is “indeed at work in you who believe…”

Please note: I changed “Obviously, the men quoted above were not being as innocent as doves”, to “Does it seem like the men previously quoted above were being as innocent as doves?”

dove image:

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Posted by on June 13, 2012 in Uncategorized


The Roman penitential system and the emergence of Reformation doctrine – extra 1

“Go and sin no more”

A recent post here on the Brothers of John the Steadfast caused me to finish this one, which goes along with the series found here and here.

I have been having a great discussion with a Roman Catholic apologist who has shown incredible patience (this is needed with me) and a willingness to try to help me see things from his perspective.   We have been discussing the Roman Catholic view of absolution, and with that, whether or not Rome says that a person may have real certainty that they are in a “state of grace” (see here and here also)  Here is what I am concluding is the crux of the issue

“Does the word of Gospel absolution, the moment a repentant person hears it, really deliver God’s very own forgiveness, life and salvation or not?  Is it fully sufficient to both create and renew faith – which then motivates the believer to joyfully go on to “sin no more”– or not?”

You’ll notice that I don’t say anything in particular about certainty there – even though certainty certainly does, we insist, go hand in hand with this.  

So, I think that is the main question.   After reading stuff from the Council of Trent, the Catechism of the Council of Trent, and the new Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), it seems clear to me that they ultimately think that the pastor’s absolution always simply announces the reality – the forgiveness – that has already occurred.  In other words, the absolution is never meant to actually directly give forgiveness, life, and salvation from God and before God.  This means that it is not for persons who, feeling no love for God in their hearts, know they are evil, and who perhaps hate their sin primarily because they fear God.   No, strictly speaking, the power the pastors have to forgive sins is to “reconcile sinners with the Church” (CCC, 1444)   When it comes to reconciliation with God Himself, the sinner is the one who *must* reinstate the favor and friendship of God first:  “If, then, (the pastor) happens to encounter those who seem to distrust the infinite goodness and clemency of God, let him endeavour to inspire their minds with confidence, and raise them up to the hope of obtaining the grace of God” (Trent Catechism).  Note the kind of hope that is given.  On the contrary, although things like “abandoning all hope of salvation” and “conceiving a sorrow which bears no proportion to their crimes” (Trent Catechism) are certainly not fitting and are sinful in themselves, this kind of demonic attack is not first to be met by requiring persons to overcome said sins before absolving them, but by actually persuading the sinner through the Words of absolution (and more if necessary) that God forgives them and restores them in the midst of their struggle.

The views of St. Thomas Aquinas on this issue are the original basis of this discussion.  It seems clear to me that for Thomas, presumptive hope (i.e the “sin of presumption”) would be that which chiefly banks on the “grace already received” in the present, as opposed to God’s “omnipotence and mercy”– i.e. that He will provide all the sanctifying grace we need to merit, through our actions, eternal life.  I submit that if we think in this way, because of the demands of God’s law and the sin which inheres in us, we will lose the true confidence God means for us to possess, and this can potentially leave us with only false confidence not placed where it should be – which is the true “sin of presumption”!

Regarding this making of satisfaction in RCC theology (which follows absolution as a part of the Sacrament of penance), it seems to me that we can basically say that for each sin, the recovery is threefold (as the previous posts in this series reviewing Pastor Sonntag’s work show):  in view of self, in view of the neighbor, and in view of God.  Therefore there is a threefold reparation which must take place for each and every sin.  I think it is safe to say this is somewhat like a “recommended prescription and exercise regiment which remains somewhat in doubt, not simply because its complexity and extent must be so great, but in the end, because it finally depends on the will of the individual to complete the tasks at hand”  (this is a quote from my pastor – who also said this:  “And of course, the priests forgiveness is conditional and at times doubtful–Why the need to bring in a higher office (bishop) to forgive greater sins?!”)

The discussion has been most enlightening.

Once more, our  take, in a nutshell:  When God labels “sin”, we say “Amen”.  When God turns us to Him and says “forgiven”, we say “Amen”.  It *is* true!

Believe it like a child – and go and sin no more!

(of course “sinning no more” does not exclude taking appropriate steps to make things right between yourself and those you have sinned against you as circumstances allow – this to we are now free to do in His strength)

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Posted by on June 8, 2012 in Uncategorized