Monthly Archives: September 2012

The law is not of faith like a child (part II)

[The Son] gives the Spirit without measure – John 3:34

See part I here.

Even as they are not to be mixed or confused, faith and the Law are meant to complement one another, to go hand in hand, from Old to New Testament, from first to last.  Even as the Law was always there in part to lead us to our need for God’s mercy (mercy found in circumcision, the daily sacrifices, and any other “means of grace” that also pointed to the Lamb of God who would come, or later on, those New Testament sacraments given by the Lamb in the flesh) we were to live by the Law in the right sense – perhaps more “in” the Law, as the Lutheran Formula of Concord says.  But we were not meant to live by it in the sense of doing over receiving en route to justifying ourselves.

But the flesh can never understand this.

So Paul is right – all those who rely on works of the law are under a curse (again, note that Paul’s opponents in Galatia did not see that circumcision was actually a means of grace to be passively received and point to Christ [see Rom. 4:11,13,16], but made it like the other Laws we are to do, therefore Paul treated them accordingly, associating circumcision not with the Promise [see Gen. 17:10] – which would be correct – but with Sinai!).  The Law cannot be understood apart from understanding the merciful person who speaks the Law.

In the 4th century, the Church father Athanasius successfully countered the Arian heresy.  At one point in his writings vs. Arius, he talks about how a baptism is not valid unless those who speak the Name of the “Father, Son, and Spirit” utter it with the correct understanding.

I believe we in the Lutheran Church would say a tentative “yes” to this.  Surely, insofar as we are talking about having a true Church, the meaning of the words must be the same for God’s people and God Himself (even if God can certainly can make His Words mean what they really do when and where He pleases – and can create true faith even through these).  Athanasius’ point is well taken:  God’s true people are those who properly understand the meaning behind the words given.

And Paul, not the Judaizers, had the proper understanding of the words and hence, of the One who spoke them.  The Law cannot be properly understood without knowing and understanding the Person behind it – the One who incarnates both the Law and the Gospel.  And when this happens, Augustine is right: “love God and do what you will”, for the believer will always readily recognize God’s Law, even as he needs “no one to teach him” (i.e. formally inculcate).

In the end, theology really is a non-theoretical exercise, just like understanding a Person is a non-theoretical enterprise.  We understand someone not because we have a better theory (causation), but because we know a Person (hat tip to the philosopher Ray Monk)

If we know a person well, we know why they do what they do, even if others are puzzled.  We can present and describe a way of seeing someone so that another may be able to say “oh, now they make sense”.

I hope all of this makes sense.

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Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


The law is not of faith like a child (part I)

[The Son] gives the Spirit without measure – John 3:34

(also see the complementary post, “On children’s delight in rules”:

I believe many in the Church today – those who confess the Creeds and are convinced they believe them – have “another Jesus” (II Cor. 11:4).  Let us review one occasion of how this happened in New Testament days.

The Law is holy, righteous, good, and spiritual (Rom. 7).  Further, the child of God has faith that God really does use His Law to dish out blessings and curses, rewards and punishments.  And yet, Paul says “the law is not of faith”.  Our “doing” the Law, he insists, is not of faith (Gal. 3:12), evidently just as works and faith are to be kept distinct.

Why does he insist on this?  How does he know that?  After all, the Old Testament never says this.

He knows this because he has seen it happen, and the Holy Spirit has made him wise.  In Galatians the “Judaizers” have taken circumcision (and no doubt the other ceremonies God gave as well) and have turned even this gift to be received into a thing persons must actively do or accomplish in order to be real people of God (i.e., to be saved).  “Doing” is drowning out, or has drowned out,  the passive righteousness of faith – if it ever was in them to begin with – which simply hears the Word spoken, believes, and has all things in Christ already.  Our “doing the Law” is not of this faith – this critical and foundational passive faith

(that said, the New Man pursues the Law in the passive righteousness which is faith – Christ has already fulfilled all righteousness, even as He does so in us)

But it is easy for our doing to drown out this…  At times, we may find this happening to us.  We hear and behold the beauty of the 10 commandments, the Golden Rule, or the Two Greatest Commandments, and before we know it, we feel motivated by them.  And before we know it, we become like Martha and not Mary.  Unless we are brought to our senses, we become like the Judaizers in Galatians, the blind Pharisees, or even pre-conversion Paul.

Again, the Law is not of faith.  When we focus on the Law and not the Merciful One who gives not just the Law but mercy and grace in passive reception, we veer from true faith.  We then focus on our doing and eventually enter a compensation game by which we try to justify ourselves by doing more right than wrong, since we know deep down that we do not follow the Law.  Then, the Law actually exacerbates the sin that is in us, as Rom 7:4-13 reveals.

I think this happens all the time but it did more vividly for me lately.  Countering those who have no room for the Law of God in their hearts, I have looked at it more closely, and been taken with its beauty and majesty.  I have been trying harder to follow it as much as I can in thought, word and deed.  While this is not necessarily a bad thing, I  noticed that my focus had gotten to be more on doing than passively receiving, and simply being with my Lord.  Actually, sitting at the Lord’s feet had taken a real back seat …  But these things should go together!  We should be utterly ablaze and passionate for the Law and doing it – not just for our own sakes, but for our neighbors.  But we should be even more so for the message of free grace the Giver of the Law has for us sinners, in 70 x 7 fashion – again, not just for our own sakes, but for our neighbors.   And ironically, the one who simply receives the Word of God, Law and Gospel, in faith, passively does fulfill the Law as God requires – and of course, goes on to actively do so as well.

Part II coming tomorrow

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Posted by on September 26, 2012 in Uncategorized


Regarding Jesus’ wife: His real wife, that is…

“Like an apple tree… is my lover”, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1851-1860, images here:

As Gene Veith recently said in response to all the news about “Jesus’ wife”, the Church is it.  So, here is a little reflection on that in our current cultural context.

First, a warning: this post has a little bit to make everyone uncomfortable (do not read if you are easily offended by issues of a sexual nature)

Second, a disclaimer to counter persons who may misunderstand its content…  We have no promise from God that any gift other than His revealed Word and Sacraments (physical element plus a direct promise of forgiveness from His Word) can cause an unbeliever to trust in Jesus Christ.  One may believe something in creation shows a God of love (and hence, perhaps mercy), but nude creation, without further clarification, also might seem to reveal a cruel and evil God.  Only the believer can see all God’s created gifts as originating from His love, as this is made absolutely clear in His revealed word, and is “incarnated” in the creation with His death on the cross for sinners (for a good “soundbyte” making this clear, click here)

Now, the reflection (related, more theological, post)…

I’ve heard the argument recently that Christians with homosexual inclinations, while acknowledging that gay marriage is not God’s ideal, should still be able to practice it – they should see it as a “cast” of sorts that keeps the flesh in check, i.e. it allows the mortification of sinful desire, helping to channel and contain the need for sexual intimacy.  After all, marriage is given to us that it might curb our sexual desires (I Cor. 7).

Some persons in the church have issues with the activities that bring forth procreative fruit and others have issues with marriage.  Some would just presume sexual intimacy was a result of the fall (some theologians, particularly in the past, have expressed this view).  Other would just assume marriage is given only because of the fall, or because the fall was coming.

Both are wrong.  The kids, who granted, are a bit young to understand the details of all these things,  just shake their head in amazement.

The Christian with homosexual inclinations, like any other Christian who fights with particular kinds of sin, should indeed mortify the flesh, daily drowning the Old Adam in repentance.  This means that they should fight against their same-sex desires, of which there is no acceptable expression.

Why is this so?  Because we have and are to have the mind of Christ: His designs, desires, thoughts, words and actions.  Nothing else is available to us.  We are found in His life.  Where He is, there we also shall be.

But perhaps this objection arises: not even married men can think like Christ, who, after all, was never married.

Of course, this is not true because we are the bride of Christ, our Husband.  And marital intimacy is always on His mind.  The Christian is to always remain child-like as regards faith, but not childish as regards maturity.  God would have us understand both what a good father and a good husband are, for they help us know Him better.  What follows is what we realize occurs as we mature in our relationship with Him.

In spite of the Church’s valid concerns about its mystics within (see here and here, where I recently addressed issues pertaining to this), we must acknowledge that our husband Christ is a Lover.  This Lover is the attractive and strong provider whom the Church desires, and whom He exclusively desires in turn.  In our Protector’s presence, all realize His dominance – He does not put up with our, or anyone else’s crap, and will not only freely criticize when necessary, but take drastic action.  And He is not only a Lover, but a Fighter – a Champion Fighter.  Our Champion is the mighty One who sarcastically taunts the enemies sin, death, and the devil, kicking sand in their faces with authority and confidence.  Not only this, but He outwits His foe, turning the tables and winning the seemingly improbably victory via improbable means – an instrument of torture.

Of course not all know this about Him, but faith perceives it (Heb. 2:8): our Man is simply like the millionaire who veils his wealth, choosing to live in simple fashion.  And He became Man for no other reason than to win His bride and all she had (stewardship of creation) through His death and resurrection.  This is the Son of God who took on created flesh, and it is now this very flesh that enters us in the Lord’s Supper – even if we are not completely aware of the intimate gift this is.  A la Song of Solomon, He is the One who aggressively pursues us that He might be with us, speak with us, sharply flirt with us, touch us, and finally, take us: “I want you.  And I want you now.”  Like a good Lover, He enjoys both giving us pleasure, and yes, receiving pleasure in turn from us.  He enjoys us:  He woos, ravishes, and finally proceeds to intimacy, in full awareness that good, procreative fruit will be the result.  This is no time for “make duty a pleasure” talk, which, as Luther reminds us, is sometimes necessary in the Christian life.

Even when we do not realize it, He is showering us with His love.  Now it is true that we are not by any means the most attractive partner, and our ways and goals – our fleeting fancies and silly concerns – often do not mimic His own.  Nevertheless, our foolishness does not sway Him – He sees us as cleansed in His own sacrificial blood – as a beautiful and pure virgin.  Christ goggles.  And yes, “one-flesh” intimacy is always on his mind.  When we are with Him in the way He ultimately desires, we lose ourselves in Him.  We are not self-conscious of our imperfection, but focus on Him and what He is doing for us and in us – and, feeling connected and secure, we joyfully submit and obey His will.  Him in us and we in Him – we are one with the Strong one who makes us strong when we are weak.  Not our will, but His, be done.  And more:  though He loves us just as we are, as intimate moments with Him reveal, He nevertheless refuses to leave us that way – there will indeed come a day when we will be all that He envisions we will be.

And just as the lover covets letters from his beloved when separated by great distance, so our Lord treasures our groanings of anticipation and prayers to Him.

We are the ones who ruin the glory of God’s beautiful gift that is marriage and sex.  Further, gay marriage simply cannot give us this picture – homosexual activity fits neither with this husbandry nor the fatherhood that it fruits.  This is because marriages are icons – albeit highly imperfect ones – of this marriage we have been discussing, which is the True Marriage.  Ephesians 5 reveals more than God’s love for sinners alone – it reveals God’s love for His human creatures.  Christ’s specific actions for our redemption are not a completely new picture, but only more fully reveal this picture.

There are indeed times when the doctrine of creation can becomes Law for no other reason that that it is not Gospel – that is Gospel in the very narrow sense of Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners – for the infection of sin still weighs heavily upon us.  At the same time, there is also a wide sense of the word Gospel, in which everything that God has given and gives us is seen as a gift from Him, as it rightly is.  This is especially true of both marriage and sex, as both were given prior to the fall into sin.  In this environment, Adam and Eve had original righteousness (in a child-like innocent stage) and everything was a “get to” (there was no law save the one God gave about the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil)!

And so it will be again come the final consummation.  There will be a great wedding feast – the final great union and fulfilled anticipation for all who believe.  Come Lord Jesus.


Posted by on September 21, 2012 in Uncategorized


New book: Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief

Hat tip to Gene Veith, as the following excerpt of the new book by psychologist Justin L. Barrett is culled from his blog:

Anyway, a new book explores, from the vantage point of scientific research, the way infants and extremely young children seemed to be wired for religious belief.

Wheaton provost Stanton L. Jones reviews Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief by psychologist Justin L. Barrett:

“He summarizes creative, sophisticated research establishing that in infancy, babies understand distinctions between mere objects and agents (human and non-human, visible and invisible) which initiate actions that are not predictable and yet are goal-directed or purposeful. Only agents act to bring order out of disorder.

Children over three begin to discern and attribute purpose to much of what happens around them, which they in turn are inclined to attribute to human and superhuman agents. When children are old enough to actually discuss their intuitive concepts of god(s), they seem normatively disposed to believe in a (or many) divine agent(s) possessing “superknowledge, superperception, creative power, and immortality,” as well as to believe in a purposeful design to creation, in some sort of basic universal morality, and in the persistence of human identity after death.

Roughly the first 40 percent of Born Believers summarizes this research, while the remaining portion fleshes out its implications. Barrett’s view of religious development is that “children are naturally drawn to some basic religious ideas and related practices (natural religion), and then the meat of a religious and theological tradition as taught by parents grows on this skeleton.” He discusses trends in the research that might foster effective religious education.”

via Born Believers, Part 1 | Books and Culture.

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Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Uncategorized


Worship wars: where is the conversation going?

(A little bit different fodder for this blog this time around.  All I can say is that little children don’t have a need to seek “The Feeling” because life is just about as exciting and full of God-given wonder as can be – see here as well)

Recently, Matthew Harrison said that, in the future, instrumentation within the service would not be an issue as long as the traditional ordo is followed (see 1:22:35 ff here).  Elsewhere, Issues ETC host Todd Wilken just released an article where he suggests talking not about music, but about doctrine: what are we really saying we want to teach and confess if we worship in a certain way?*

My pastor, Paul Strawn, also recently weighed in on this issue, at the regular meeting of the Northeast Minneapolis Circuit of the Minnesota South District (LC-MS)**.  I think his argument deserves a wide hearing, and he gave me permission to post it on my blog.

What follows are some clips from his talk.  Go here to see the whole thing:

“…what if a musical style, a musical setting, and even a type of text, is chosen to be used in worship in order to actually alter the experience of the worshiper in a way in which it previously had not? In other words, what if a type of music and text would be deployed in worship, with the express purpose of causing the worshiper to acquire a different awareness of God at the end of the song, than he or she had at the beginning? Here we are not thinking of a “growth in grace and knowledge,” of the Holy Spirit working through the text of the song to affect His purposes, but an altered state, an altered awareness of God by the Christian effected by the music, what some have dubbed, “The Feeling”[1]?…

With [LC-MS pastor and musician Michael] Schmid’s stated purpose of such music “to lead the worshipper to [a] point of meditation and reflection, and so hopefully engage the worshipper in a way that goes beyond the intellectual or cognitive,” i.e. ”meditation on God in the presence of God,” the question raised by this presentation is whether the introduction of the praise chorus into the worship of Lutheran churches actually is occasioning unwittingly the entry of a theology somewhat foreign both to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, and that is the theology represented by the practice of cataphatic mysticism. While such an assertion might initially seem somewhat odd, already ten years ago it had become a topic of great concern among many Christians across multiple Christian traditions as cataphatic mysticism seems to be a common element, even a key element, of the theology of the so-called Emergent Church Movement (ECM)…

So in order to pursue the answer to this question, the general contours of cataphatic mysticism will first be described. Martin Luther’s early interest in late medieval cataphatic mysticism will then follow and finally, the surprising interest of the emergent church movement in cataphatic mysticism will be explored…

…unlike other forms of mysticism, in which a person may suddenly, without warning, encounter something other, or in experiencing something “other,” loses track of self in which the person becomes one with the other, or beholds a startling vision which is deemed inexpressible, or expressible, in cataphatic mysticism a person participates in a common, everyday or “soft” mysticism. The ultimate aspect or goal of cataphatic mysticism is simply the feeling of God’s presence. That feeling is achieved not suddenly and unexpectedly, but somewhat expectedly, even mechanically, through the creation itself, through created means.

What are the created means of the cataphatic mystic? Really anything that can be intentionally sought. In that God is present in all things, if a thing can be contemplated long enough, God’s presence can be encountered in and with and through, or in, with and under that thing. So a picture, a statue, a beautiful vista, a bit of music, and even ideas and words. Here words would not be used in a normal sense, as a tool of communication between two or more people, but merely as objects that contain an idea. So like a statue, words become images which the eye beholds. Yes, the eyes can depart from the image, but when they return to the image they behold the same image once again.

And the point must be made: Cataphatic mysticism is normally just a starting point that usually ends up in apophatic mysticism [an indescribable experience], and apophatic mysticism usually begins with cataphatic mysticism. Cataphatic mysticism is the start, for the creation itself is the start. So if the feeling of the presence of God is that for which it is hoped, the creation itself must be, to a certain extent, left behind, in apophatic “unknowingness”…

…it would seem that Luther distinguished between the mystical traditions with which he was familiar, and the practice of cataphatic mysticism, speculative mysticism, the use of the creation to go beyond the intellectual and cognitive to meditate upon God in his presence…

The “Max Schmolenbach,” to which [Tony] Campolo refers, is most probably the German economist, Eugen Schmalenbach (1873 -1955), who pioneered the idea of the Bund, as opposed to a community (Gemeinshaft), or society (Gesellschaft), that is, “an elective association based on a common goal or a common ritual experience of communion.”[2]  So Schmalenbach is not defining Christian worship in specific, but “a common ritual experience of communion” of man in general. This definition could also be used to describe the effect of participation in large athletic events, like college football games and NASCAR races—packed as they are with ritual experiences—and rock, country western and classical music concerts. And it also would explain some of the the results of a recently released (August 19th, 2012) study by the University of Washington ‘God is Like a Drug’: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches, at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver, Colo.[3]

* – Wilken ask questions like: “What is worship?  What isn’t worship?  Is worship what man does for God, or what God does for man?  What is the purpose of worship?  What are the benefits of worship?  Those are all doctrinal questions.”

** – “The Praise Chorus as Unwitting Introduction of Cataphatic Mysticism into Christian Worship”

[1] Brian D. McLaren, “Missing the point: worship,” in Brian D. McLaren and Tony Campolo, Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), p. 212.

[3] James Wellman, Katie E. Corcoran and Kate Stockly-Meyerdirk. Cf.


Posted by on September 8, 2012 in Uncategorized