Monthly Archives: January 2013

The felicitous* inconsistencies of St. Thomas

St. Thomas Aquinas by Fra Bartolomeo

St. Thomas Aquinas by Fra Bartolomeo

Or maybe it is just Stephen Pfurtner, author of “Luther and Aquinas on Salvation” which I am reading (I have not read too much straight Thomas, but I’m guessing Pfurtner represents Thomas reliably).

This quote about Thomas’ teachings (I’ve left out most footnote references) bowled me over:

“To the external vocation of preaching there must be added an internal, ‘which is nothing other than a kind of mental instinct, though which man’s heart is moved by God to assent to the things that are of faith’ (Thomas on Rom. 8:30, lect. 6.).  Only God can [‘move us to the assent of faith’], and then in so far as he bears witness to himself within us.  Or we may say with the Apostle (Gal. 1:16): the Father must reveal his Son in us.  Faith is the sending of the Son to man’s soul, it is the Son himself dwelling within us.  We are united by faith with the power of Christ.  This word alone, which is uttered by God himself in the soul, finally and definitively establishes our faith.  How strikingly close this is to Luther’s theology, according to which faith is Christus in nobis!  And how much light is here thrown upon what veritas prima [Aquinas’ “First Truth”] with its effect on us, means to Aquinas!” (80, Pfurtner, italics his, bold mine)

And I think “No wonder [the great 17th century Lutheran theologian] John Gerhard liked this guy” (as one of my church history profs said was the case) – even if Luther did not.

On the other hand, let’s talk about that “added internal” that must go hand in hand with preaching.  Certainly, it involves grace: the heart’s inclination to believe, Thomas tells us, comes not from hearing, but from the gift of grace (79).  Still somewhat permissible perhaps…  But then, elsewhere Pfurtner, evidently echoing Thomas, talks about things like the following:

  • The soul’s powers to produce biblical saving faith (74)
  • Salvation is man’s conscious and free response to God’s call (62)
  • The main attention of Thomas’ systematic writings is to “define faith as the work of intellect and will” (75, see 83, paragraph 2 as well)
  • The subjective decision in the act of faith (76)
  • Faith has no evidence of the truth it affirms (76)

So as much as Aquinas sometimes sounds like Augustine when it comes to this matter of initial conversion to God, he (or at least those who represent him!) also sound(s) a lot like a Greek philosopher at times (see this comment I made at a blog for more).  In addition, one cannot read Thomas on the matter of grace – without reading what others say about Thomas – and not get the impression that he was determined to make one’s personal faith in God uncertain (see article V here).

When death drew near, we can hope that Thomas had no desire to focus on his soul’s powers to produce anything meritorious in the present or the future, but rather simply clung to the mercy that was offered to him in the One who chose Him.  Betting all the “blue chips” on Christ.

*felicitous as in pleasing or fortunate, not as regards his theology but as regards his person

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Posted by on January 29, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Luther on certainty of salvation

Luther and Aquinas on Salvation, published in 1965, when Ecumenical hopes were high.

Luther and Aquinas on Salvation, published in 1965, when Ecumenical hopes were high.

In his book Luther and Aquinas on Salvation (1965), the Roman Catholic theologian Stephen Pfurgner nails Luther’s views  about what creates certainty in the Christian:

“To this notion of “grace” there corresponds also the manner in which I become certain of it.  For certainty does not come to me from any kind of reflection on myself or on my state.  On the contrary, it comes solely through hearing the Word, solely and because and in so far as I cling to the Word of God and its promise.  Certainty of grace for the believer therefore does not arise from a feeling of confidence; it is not psychological, as Catholic critics have often represented it.  Faith only as acceptance of the Word, effective of salvation, is for Luther the decisive source of certainty.  Not indeed that subjective experience is to be excluded: the experience of comfort can be incorporated in the certainty of salvation.  But God can withdraw feeling, at any rate for a time, without the confidence of faith being thereby dissolved.  A sense of comfort therefore is in no way the real basis for the certainty of salvation: this is the Word of God and the promise it includes.” (pp. 125 and 126)

To demonstrate this, he quotes Luther saying :

If you have received forgiveness of sins, do not on that account be secure (secures). You are just, holy, from outside yourself (extrinsece).  It is through mercy and compassion that you are just.  It is not my disposition or a quality of my heart, but something outside myself – the divine mercy – which assures us that our sins are forgiven” (WE 40 I, pp. 588f, in Pfurgner, 124, 125)

He also quotes Luther on how he teaches the certainty of grace or salvation:

[“We must daily more and more strive to get out of uncertainty into certainty and occupy ourselves with destroying at its root that utterly pernicious error”] (that man cannot know whether or not he is in a state of grace), by which the whole world is seduced.  If we doubt God’s grace and do not believe that God is well-pleased in us for Christ’s sake, then we are denying that Christ has redeemed us – indeed, we question outright all his benefits. (WE 40 I, p. 579, 17f, in Pfurgner, 37, and 120)

I would add here: holding to good and salutary thoughts like Luther’s here are not necessary for one’s personal salvation – but they are necessary!

Pfurgner also provides several other fine quotes on the topic from Luther’s Galatians commentary:

“Our ground is the following: The Gospel teaches us not to look to our good deeds and perfections, but to the God of promise, to Christ the Mediator himself.  The Pope on the other hand orders us not to look to the God of the promise, not to Christ the high-priest, but to our works and merits.  On that side there follow necessarily doubt and despair, but on this certainty and joy of spirit since I cling to God who cannot lie….” (WE 40 I, pp. 588f, in Pfurgner, 37)

Also this one where Luther emphasizes the “to me”:

“But do not pass over contemptuously the pronoun “nostris”, for it will avail thee nothing to believe that Christ offered himself for the sins of the other saints and to doubt in regard to thy own.  For the godless and the devils also believe that.  Much rather must thou accept with constant trust the fact that it holds also for thine and that thou art one of those for whose sins he was offered.  This faith justifies thee and makes Christ dwell, live and rule in thee.” (WE 40 I, p. 458, 20f, in Pfurgner, 37 and 38).

Pfurgner sums things up this way:

“Luther’s interpretation of Catholic teaching maintains therefore: the Roman Church (‘the Pope’) does not recognize the certainty of salvation.  It abandons the individual to doubt and despair.  For it bases justification on the works of men, on self-sanctification.  But by his own merits no man can become completely just before God.  It follows that he must remain in distress and turmoil of conscience.” (38)


Posted by on January 24, 2013 in Uncategorized


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For the creation was subjected to futility….

From a friend:

“This is probably the best comment on the theme of creation (subjected to futility) that I’ve heard in a while”:

See Romans 8:

18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21thath the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

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Posted by on January 22, 2013 in Uncategorized


Babies in Church (part IX): Divine revelation and infallible human opinion [!?]

Matthias Flacius and the Survival of Luther's Reform by Oliver K. Olson, edition sold in Germany

Matthias Flacius and the Survival of Luther’s Reform by Oliver K. Olson, edition sold in Germany

Here are the preceding posts in this series: I, Can adults be saved? ;  II, Word or the Church? ; III, The unattractive body, IV, Miraculous, ordinary, conversational experience ; V, The arrogance of the infant (a) ; VI, The arrogance of the infant (b) ; VII, The “Church-speak” that we need ; VIII, Judge your mother, o child (the tragic necessity of the Reformation)

Warning: long and heady post here….

A man named Mark Patison said, I believe accurately, that “the German Reformation is imperfectly described when it is considered an appeal to scripture vs tradition.  It was rather an appeal to history” (Isaac Casaubon, 1559-1614.  2nd ed.  Oxford: Carendon Press, 1892, from the book pictured on the left, which I will be saying more about in a future post)

A conversation at a Roman Catholic blog has shown me how little importance these things have for at least some Roman Catholics (perhaps this is a reaction vs. Hans Kung, who said “Christianity is the activation of memory”!).  One prominent online Catholic apologist, Michael Liccione, says that the question of which church can really discern Divine revelation is philosophical, not historical (post #321)

Earlier in the comments, in post  #221, a man named John Thayer Jensen wrote:  “… people often seem to me to make the mistake of deciding, first, what things are true – which implies some external canon – and then looking around for the body that teaches that.”

Michael Liccione, responded to that in post # 222 saying, “And that is the very essence of Protestantism.  One assumes that the deposit of faith is knowable independently of ecclesial authority, and that one knows its content.  Then one chooses a church whose teaching conforms with that.”

In which case, Lutherans are not Protestant by this definition.  We like to quote Luther saying thank God, a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd.”  True enough!  The key content of this faith is simply the Gospel pure and simple (as in John 3:16) – and by this all who believe will be saved.  And yet, in our Christian lives, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of God – from the whole counsel of God.  But just what is that Word of God that has been divinely revealed to us and all people – that was provided for us to “safeguard the truth” (Luke)?  The Scriptures!  And this is ultimately how are able to identify fallible human opinions, discerning when the Body of Christ is actually teaching as His Body (and we always must keep talking about who decides what claims about Divine revelation are now out of bounds and how we determine that).  

And yet, we dare not say that we would surely know what Scripture was apart from the fact that there were certain books of the Bible that our spiritual fathers (i.e. the undivided early Church – those in fellowship with the Apostles and one another) unanimously accepted as being the infallible, Divine revelation of God.  We received the deposit of faith from ecclesial authorities, who received it from ecclesial authorities – our spiritual ancestors in the Church.  In short, because there is “a dynamic interaction between the verbally transmitted Word, and the Word committed to writing” (Paul Strawn), whatever did not conform to the Rule of faith was not Scripture (miracles and prophecy alone could not establish the authenticity of the prophet: the people needed to recognize the *voice*).  Lutherans often forget that Luther himself was hesitant to give the book of James, II Peter, Hebrews, and Revelation full canonical status.  After all, there were congregations early on who had never recognized these books as being Divine revelation!

Mike also says some interesting things about how we can discern what the true visible church is:

“The question at issue is whether there’s a principle necessary for discerning which human interpretations are only that, and which are also authentic conveyances of Divine revelation. My argument has been that the Catholic interpretive paradigm (IP) contains something that qualifies as such a principle, and that yours does not….(#276) [In short], “Which IP[, or interpretive principle,] best facilitates distinguishing, in a principled rather than an ad hoc way, between Divine revelation and human theological opinions–regardless of the actual content of either?” (#321)

In addition, he thinks that all Protestants (he includes Lutherans here), by virtue of their divisions, show they cannot make a tenable claim to knowing Divine revelation and that his principle shows that infallibility in the Church is necessary.  In which case, I point out that we have never denied the concept of infallibility for the Church today.  Here is what I said about that:

“…while a person may indeed speak infallibly as God enables them to utter His oracles, there are no prophets or apostles we can find in the Bible who ever said ‘you should listen to me because I am infallible’ or said ‘I have the infallible charism – that can never be lost in certain circumstances  – for infallibly interpreting the words all we believers recognize as God’s very words to us” [Divine revelation].

I also note that this need not be synonymous with Divine revelation per se, which is given to the whole Church by God for teaching all persons and is public knowledge.  The Holy Scriptures were given to “safeguard” (see Luke 2) the Apostolic deposit, “putting in writing” that which Jesus and the Holy Spirit taught the Apostles for the benefit of all persons.

There are other things we should notice about Mike Liccione’s “interpretive paradigm” (I.P.) however. 

First of all, we simply note that Mike’s I.P. assumes a particular view of infallibility up front – i.e. there is theological “content” in it.  It has a view of infallibility that has been formed in persons during the course of history – whether by God or not (note of course that even if it “doesn’t require us to look at history at all” it itself is formed by considering history).  In other words, I would say that it is imperative for “separated brethren” (Rome’s current description of other Christians) compelled to explore Rome’s claims (which may seem compelling on the face of it), first be mature and knowledgeable in the practice of their own faith.  All should be aware that one may not be able to “walk in a Roman Catholic’s shoes” via this I.P. in a “neutral” way, whereby one can be sure of being unaffected. 

Second, we note that if this I.P. is wrong*, it will be particularly harmful to the Church because of the all-encompassing claims that it entails – convinced that only one person in particular (who at times in history has wielded great worldly power as well) may always speak infallibly under certain discernible circumstances, i.e. convinced that God means for us to possess this kind of certainty in this kind of way, persons may be unable to accept that God’s rightly appointed leaders may err as they in fact did throughout the Old and New Testaments.  On the contrary, Acts 17 indicates that leadership that follows in the Apostolic train should be eager to have its claims verified by previously recognized (i.e. the past, i.e. history) Divine revelation – specifically the Apostolic deposit.  While doctrine “develops”, should not all claims at least be clearly implicit in these writings, since they were given to safeguard the truth?  Also consider this: just because one concludes that Mike’s I.P. is the best option because it is the most useful and powerful at giving certainty regarding God’s will for us since Jesus’ ascension (in other words, the I.P. itself is a good reason for a Christian to believe that [Roman] Catholicism is true), one might just as easily conclude that it is the “best” option because it is the most powerful for concentrating unifying political force in one person!  Also note this post about some of the more practical problems with this I.P.

The “Lutheran I.P.”, as explained above, grounded in particular circumstances of the past, can already get us to infallible Divine revelation found in Holy Scriptures (see above).  As to continuing to rightly and infallibly discern the will of God, we claim that we can only determine which I.P is best or preferable by actually taking the time and effort to look at the past with others who will point out things to us we may have missed.  This is where the rubber hits the road.  Mike’s I.P. really ends up bypassing the Lutheran contention that this is primarily about persons, their purposes, real history and real trust – and not primarily about principals, processes, and methods.   This involves the knowledge – not just the opinion – that that can be attained through historical study.  The Lutheran view here involves a deep reverence for evidences from the past outside of ourselves, particularly, but not limited to the Scriptures that past believers universally embraced (also, we can also do this in part by dealing with the living histories of persons formed by bodies revering these Scriptures in the present).

It is also important to note that there is in our view no more Divine revelation per se.   Human theological opinion can accurately reflect Divine revelation – and speak it appropriately in the moment where it is demanded – without itself being Divine revelation.  In other words, it is true knowledge – perhaps even authoritative public knowledge in line with God’s very words  – even if it is not, strictly speaking, Divine revelation.

Other things to make explicit here that are related to this discussion:

  • Whatever we Lutherans might want “Sola Scriptura” to mean it does not mean that anything not taught explicitly in Scripture cannot be essential doctrine (infant baptism is clearly implicit).
  • To give just one example, the teachings of the early Church Fathers are necessary, for making an irrefutable case (persons may still deny this) for infant baptism (update: this connects with the Lutheran viewpoint that, by default, authorities – particularly church authorities – are to be obeyed – see first paragraph here)
  • While the Scriptures are clear enough so that a genuinely curious atheist could discern their main message (on a careful reading), he could not, for example, produce by himself the theological content of the Lutheran Book of Concord – determining what is essential and non-essential doctrine cannot be done satisfactorily without the true Rule of faith (Acts 8 – teachers to guide).
  • One component of the true Rule of faith is that it always tests the Spirits by checking those Scriptures that have been accepted by God’s people and that safeguard the truth (see, for example, Isaiah 8:20, Acts 17:11 and I Corinthians 4:6).
  • Aspects of the Rule of faith are often tacit, meaning it can become further refined (more specific) through the interactions with heresies which are tested vs. the Apostolic deposit.
  • All manner of traditions can be followed in the visible church that are not in Scripture so long as they do not contradict or detract from the core Apostolic teaching.
  • Adiaphora (“indifferent things”) are part and parcel of the church.  Given uncoerced deliberation among Christian bodies, there may be things deemed necessary or simply helpful for preserving unity in the Church (where we, as in any good marriage, willingly give up certain things we would otherwise be free to do without sin) but not for salvation per se (although a loss of unity in the Church may eventually lead to a loss of salvation, as love for one’s Christian brothers – inevitably due to a lack of love for God! – grows cold… and this because of a lack of faith).

When it comes to the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Lutherans never left.  I do not insist that LC-MS to be infallible – only that perhaps it, and those in fellowship with it, alone can contain and deal with persons who may speak infallibly.  I make the claim that there is always a remnant (within larger institutional bodies claiming and trying to show in their own way some measure of devotion to Yahweh [OT] and Christ [NT] and those things He commanded) and those who speak infallible words – which are truly saving words – among them…. even if they refuse, on the basis of the true emphases of the Scriptures, to focus on the issue of the infallibility of any person or body.  “Catholicity” does not in any sense mean big and outwardly conspicuous, but universal, in that there are *at the very least* faithful believers and groups of believers spread throughout the world who agree with one another in the doctrines that brings life and salvation, even if it means they are hidden in caves, deserts and prisons.”  (John Gerhard).

* – Mike objected here, saying that an interpretive paradigm could only be “useful” or not – i.e. does it help us accomplish our purposes?  I said that since in my view it made God’s purposes/desires for us subservient to our own purposes/desires, it was in fact false, wrong, bad.


Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Uncategorized


A Lutheran anthropology for non-Lutherans (my post-Broken philosophical and apologetical round-up) – part III of III

Fallen man: "Should we assimilate the Creator as well?"

Fallen man: “Should we assimilate the Creator as well?”

Part I and Part II

Returning to our three “rough” universal “principals”, I think that we can see the desire to reach all of these three goals in all ages of human history, particularly as they are manifested in those who have been leaders of the race of men (since I am focusing on thinking and philosophy here).  Roughly speaking I think that we can also discern that there is a shuffling of the order of these things that has taken place throughout time.  In addition, I note that it does seem that where the “West” leads, others follow:

Ancient world:  1. Primary principle – 2. Happiness principle – 3. Behavior principle*

Medieval world: 1. Primary principle – 2. Behavior principle – 3. Happiness principle

Modern world: 1. Behavior principle – 2. Primary principle – 3. Happiness principle

Post-modern world: 1. Happiness principle – 2. Behavior principle – 3. Primary principle

The next stop on our itinerary would be a return to the order of the Ancient world (while holding onto the blessings of the modern age), but with bigger and more powerful guns.

Again, for the non-Christian, in whatever the age, everything ultimately comes down to man’s own powers – his own strength – by which he seeks to obtain these goals.  Now all of this will inevitably relate to what he believes – where the confession and promulgation of such beliefs follow (and of course men who of their own free will decide to stand on the “shoulders of giants” – receiving from their “treasury of merits” – deserve credit, reward, and even salvation for making this choice).  Note the key fact that even the most sophisticated among us who deny we can know Truth (with a big “T”) still believe that we can have enough real knowledge of the cosmos to insist that at least some ways of life that we become familiar with (complete with understanding and action) are superior or preferable to at least some others that we become familiar with – and that some power or program – internal or external – can help the ignorant see this – or make them comply.  Despite the fact that doubts accompany all belief, all should nevertheless bow and worship the “Truth” we come to know, however understood.

Here, concern for, and some devotion to, all personal beings without exception – especially a Tri-Personal Creator – is relegated to the back seat (especially note that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, rightly understood, has had relatively little influence among the leaders of men – even in the past times mentioned above).  All this in spite of the fact that even fallen man, by nature, knows at the very least that a Divine Mind must be responsible for what they see – though they certainly may suppress this with notions of impersonal pantheism/materialistic atheism, for example (see here).  Again, in every age – “Christian” or not – when it comes to being put right with this Power, it is man’s free powers that are in charge.  Now, in cultures with relatively more limited technological know-how, it is true that man’s perceived relationship with the Divine at least may seem to retain a highly personal element – meaning that it mirrors human relationships that function according to what we recognize as “quid-pro-quo” (but not according to any sort of persistent and free reciprocal gift-giving)

However, with an increase in functional knowledge and earthly power, man’s free powers tend to combine with devotion towards certain unbending  principles and “cause-and-effect” laws (like a vending machine: ultimately manipulative “if-then” moralism), and the temptation is for this to take over completely, squelching out the last vestiges of an actual person who is God.  In other words, this “highest of men”, rich in the knowledge and wisdom of the world, seeks to harness not only what have come to be known as the “laws of nature”** and “natural law”, but any “laws of the [increasingly depersonalized] supernatural” as well (whether more or less “systematically”).  This is accomplished with the help of its magicians/scientists and priests as “salvation” comes through the mighty accomplishments of the appropriate “technologies”, dealing with both the material and the “spiritual”.  Here, we find that the distinction between the natural and the supernatural, for whatever its beneficial uses, has actually been of some assistance in banishing the biblical God.  Therefore, writ large, as unchecked Old Adam more successfully harnesses the order inhering in the creation, in practice he makes the Creator his impersonal creation and himself salvation.***

As a result of this, the human person – not considered in light of the Divine person of Jesus Christ and His love for all – is inevitably trodden underfoot, as at least some persons inevitably become means to other ends**** (always the case when God and the creation become one due to temptations posed by technological prowess, but especially as the “Happiness Principle” takes center stage and P.A. [not personal affection, but Personal Autonomy] gains in ascendency).  In this “game”, all who “succeed” among those in their circles inevitably believe they are “good persons” who don’t need a Physician – however they articulate their Primary principle, be it connected with types of moralism, mysticism, rationalism, pragmatism (or utilitarianism, for that matter), prosperity (me: mammon-ism), change (me: progress-ism), or lawlessness (me: freedom-ism) (these track with Fisk’s categories to some degree).  These are all simply idols from the idol factory of man’s mind – as is all our own power, and wicked pride, which pursues them.

Luther’s words to them all – to all of us, in fact?:

“This, then, is what it means to begin true repentance; and here man must hear such a sentence as this: You are all of no account, whether you be manifest sinners or saints [in your own opinion]; you all must become different and do otherwise than you now are and are doing [no matter what sort of people you are], whether you are as great, wise, powerful, and holy as you may. Here no one is [righteous, holy], godly, etc.

But to this office the New Testament immediately adds the consolatory promise of grace through the Gospel, which must be believed, as Christ declares, Mark 1:15: Repent and believe the Gospel, i.e., become different and do otherwise, and believe My promise….”


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*-I list H.P. over B.P. here because B.P. has a more “objective” and universalizing aspect to it – in the ancient world the fight for survival and security was first and foremost, not universal ideas of what made for any wider harmony and blessing.  In addition, most all ancient gods were very much like any other person – and hence the efforts to appease them not so much in accordance with B.P. but with H.P.

**-I suggest we would be better off using language like “hard and soft regularities which we observe happening in Creation” here.  Otherwise, the activity of “nature” is rendered “thinkable” apart from the moment-by-moment involvement of the Personal Creator, who comes to be seen as either the “banish-able” deist clock-maker or Spinoza’s mind in nature (see here and here)

***- Insofar as the new man has influence in the disintegrating creation, I look to persons like the Roman Catholic Peter Maurin, who said a good society is a society that makes it easier to choose to be good.  Here, the influence of the Christian faith is of great help, both in defining the good and providing the power to will and do.  Of course, in the “Kingdom of the left”, Christians need not strive to make the government exclusively Christian, even if it should allow for Christians to preach and practice their faith, whatever its structure. Here, of course, choosing to be good (by the Spirit) in the ultimate sense would include full devotion to the 10 commandments, which Jesus summed up as the two greatest.

****-For an extreme example, see here:


Posted by on January 7, 2013 in Uncategorized


A Lutheran anthropology for non-Lutherans (my post-Broken philosophical and apologetical round-up) – part II of III

The philosopher Aristotle, "the worst enemy of grace" (Luther)

The philosopher Aristotle, “the worst enemy of grace” (Luther)

Part I

I submit theology has often been derailed by philosophical musings where biblical claims have been made to submit to philosophical categories and this actually ends up altering the biblical content (as is the case with someone like Thomas Aquinas [using Aristotle] and I suspect is the case with someone like Kierkegaard).  I don’t foresee how that might happen with what I’m about to do here.

Again, jumping off of Pastor Fisk’s book as well as all other helpful authors, I’ve got what I think is a helpful apologetic approach based on three propositional claims which I have stated very carefully (it is a bit of a reframe of Fisk’s presentation, which I consider highly insightful and valuable).  Mankind has always and always will seek to reach three fundamental things:

Understanding and knowledge of the powerful Mind responsible for the cosmos “out there”.  Stated in a more refined way, this desire is also accompanied with the desire to recognize and to understand what is true, the origin and order of what is, what exists.

I will call this the Primary principle.

Understanding of the kinds of universal behaviors that result in growth, harmony and blessing for human beings.  Stated in a more refined way, this desire is also accompanied with the desire for what should be or ought to be, relating to that which is good and beautiful.

I will call this the Behavior principle.

Happiness for one’s self and those one desires to be found with – family, like-minded friends, and chosen others.  Stated in a more refined way, this desire is also accompanied with the desire for long-term, meaningful, and fulfilling pleasures, not only short-term and fleeting excitements.

I will call this the Happiness principle.*

Now, people generally don’t care about thinking for “its own sake” in route to happiness, or fulfillment – that is, apart from living, moving and having our being as the Greek poet (and Apostle Paul) said.  We note that the rise of “abstract philosophy” apart from philosophy which is for living is a relatively recent trend in world history.  Further, of course there is unavoidable overlap in these imperfect principles (simple categories we can all recognize at some level – notions of “essentialism” need not be brought into this discussion).  Also, note that it is true that for some who insist there is no Divine Mind (above that which is purely “physical” or “material” – there are more persons saying this today), what is good, beautiful, and just for example, are “objective” only in the sense that they and others (whom they desire to be found with) choose to insist that they are – which simply means they are not (see here for more).  I contend even they cannot ultimately escape the philosophical categories I have set up for all of us.

Most importantly, these three things (and all the action that follows from them) are to be achieved – at the very least in part – through mankind’s own powers and strength – his own moral, rational, and even mystical powers, as Pastor Fisk says.  Power and strength are therefore the key things man possesses and that attain “salvation”, however defined.  Money and possessions certainly may be seen to be of help here, sometimes going hand in hand with these.  Interestingly, all of fallen man is “conservative” in this sense, in that he seeks to preserve, or conserve himself (and those he chooses to remain with and be found with) through his own power… his own willed choices to cooperate with the God or gods he worships.  Even if life after death is denied, the choices we make by our own free powers somehow echo in the life to come.

Alternatively, the Christian God, ever “liberal” with His goodness towards all people, overturns everything about this hopeless task – these things are to be ultimately had and understood only through His powerful love – a strength which overturns the world and is made perfect through weakness  – in line with the simple and humble forms whereby God chooses to reveal Himself and come to us in His forgiving and transforming words.  This grace is first and foremost to be understood not as a heavenly fuel that powers us in our choices, but as the disposition of a loving Triune God towards his fallen creatures – “sinners are ‘attractive’ because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive”Only in this way is the demonic (led by Satan), death, and the curse of sin (and its manifold manifestations) overcome.

And only in this way are men made whose primary goal is to dwell in the House of the Lord forever – to fully know the joys given by the One who bought them with His own precious blood.  Only in this way, are men created who strive and long for their full sanctification in, with, and through Jesus Christ.**

Part III on Monday

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*-Some might contend that the Behavior principle and Happiness principle must go together.  And yet, for example, while behavior leading to children – and children who are nurtured well – is essential to humanity continuing and flourishing, social historian Peter N. Stearns, in his insightful book on happiness, “Satisfaction not Guaranteed”, points out that in late 20th century polls and surveys couples who decide to remain childless report having the highest levels of personal happiness. Also note that even if the “pursuit of happiness” is seen to be problematic from a Christian perspective (necessarily or potentially), simply desiring satisfaction and contentment for one’s self, one’s family, and one’s neighbor is unobjectionable. 

**-As Pastor Fisk notes, there is a “higher level of faithfulness to pursue”, “[the] possibility of finding actual true growth”, and “objective maturity” (Fisk, 210).  Of course, it is critical that the pursuit of these things be put in the proper context and understood rightly. His book is a terrific antidote to the false notions that are pervasive today.


Posted by on January 4, 2013 in Uncategorized


A Lutheran anthropology for non-Lutherans (my post-Broken philosophical and apologetical round-up) – part I of III

brokeninfographicI recently reviewed “hip” Lutheran Pastor Jonathan Fisk’s interviews about his new book, Broken on Issues ETC., and then read it over the Christmas break.  Fantastic – like LC-MS President Matthew Harrison, I give it my highest recommendation (click on the infographic for more info).  Pastor Fisk especially excels at making big ideas accessible to the average modern reader – and has a real gift for speaking so that that non-Lutherans can easily follow him (also: the book does not so much teach Lutheran theology as much as do it – to great effect, I think).  Along these lines, he inspired some creative and big thinking on my part (as he tends to do  – this man is the host of the video blog Worldview Everlasting after all!)  In this series, starting Friday, I am going to talk about three principals that I think are true of all human beings.  Based on what I have read and think I know, philosophically speaking, I am quite sure that these are solid – clearly universal and hard to argue against.  Following this, I am going to discuss the kind of energy – our energy as fallen human beings – that goes into reaching those three principles and further acting on them.

And what will be the endgame of this discussion?  It will be to make clear that it is the highest temptation of human beings – even Christians – to treat God in what amounts to a superstitious way.  This comes down to: “if I do this, God *will* do this,” whether it be in crass or more refined and sophisticated forms.  In other words, human power looks to treat God as our good-luck-charm or rabbit’s foot – either in rough accordance with the 10 commandments, for instance, or not.  This is how (fallen) human energies ultimately seek to control the Divine energies.  When we are saved from the devil, death, and sin God also saves us from our lying selves – from our “Did God really say?” and our “pursuit of personal authority” (Gen. 3:5, Fisk, 221)… from our headlong rebellion vs. the Source of all light, life, and love.*

Since the fall, mankind has always labored to make God in his own image, using his own “natural” powers.  Yes, many may “seek” the Divine Mind responsible for everything they see – but they are not at all really interested in finding the true one!  As “enemies of God”, if fallen man knew what He was like – if he actually did find Him – he would not run to Him, but away from Him.  In other words, if man thinks he does find god, he simply finds what he wants to find.  On his own, he does not find the true God he needs, but rather suppresses the knowledge of Him.

In our day – especially in this country, with its “cafeteria-style” religion – this tendency to re-make God has been taken to new levels.  I suggest that in this era of exceptional technology we can also see ever more clearly the kind of God that we all, apart from His Word which transforms and guides us – want to create.  The most recent technology gives man a new opportunity to see that this is always how we are tempted to treat not only *certain* other people – but God himself.

In short, fallen man always wants to make God his slave.  And today, who are the best and most cooperative slaves?  Robots.  Sure, we might not find them at all fulfilling emotionally – at least not yet – (see Turkle’s Alone Together) but with these we actually get to make the rules and they do what we say.  We make the rules and are the primary actors and they respond to us – as we like.  When God created us, He did not want us to be this way.  But we want Him to be this way.**

In other words, dealing with God is like making and programming a computer.  In the recent past, most human beings in the West at least had a different kind of temptation.  Having been Christianized, they were, as a whole, more tempted to manipulate God by insisting that when they did the stuff that He said was right and good, He was obligated to reciprocate.  Even in the Christian church, the concept of “congruous merit” arose, which stated that “on the ground of equity” we could claim a reward – even the reward of eternal life – from God for our works.  In other words, were God not to compensate us, He would actually be committing an offense by violating that which is fitting.  He would be unfairly discriminating against us (even if, strictly speaking, as God, He was under no obligation and violated none of our rights in doing so)!  In short, what this really means is that man perpetually underestimates the depth and seriousness of original sin – and his sins to boot.  That a “Great Divorce” on God’s part would actually be justice does not even seem to occur for many modern persons claiming Christ.

Therefore, so much for “we are only unworthy servants”!  So much for the parable of the eleventh hour!  So much for radical grace and mercy!  So much for “what do we have that we have not received?”!  It’s well and good to say that God is good and cannot act contrary to His nature – but not if we are going to define “good” or “just” in a way that is at odds with the Scriptural witness.  To me, it seems like we are saying that if we can master the “laws of the supernatural” (just like we try and harness the “laws of nature”), we can actually control God (more on this to follow), where his actions are predictable because of our own worthy persons and deeds.

Now again, in recent years this kind of manipulation has become even more brazen and crass – within Christendom but without it as well.  The Ten Commandments have largely been left behind as America, in particular, is a “how to” society where we do what “works”.  Whether dealing with children, those we’d like to attract to us in a romantic sense, or those holding position of power and influence, we persistently try certain behaviors or techniques that we think will work to help us get what we want (and any real sense of simple duty in service of what is good is less common).  We do the same with God, but since many no longer know (or if they do know, care about) His word, we imagine invisible Him to be the easiest Person – Thing? – in the world – in our world – to manipulate and bend to our will.  He will submit.  Even those who seem to have some real concern for things like the 10 commandments think that He will – or that He had better! – forgive them for their minor “mistakes” and always be there for them whatever they do.   The American religious landscape only shows most clearly what all sinful men would do with God if they could, which is, make him not just into our vending machine, but our Apple tablet or whatever gives us the most pleasure and satisfaction.  And efficiently and effectively to boot!

“Wait on me” we say, adding a false “please”.  “I’ve got the power!” sings fallen man, otherwise known as “Old Adam”, as he struts his stuff on the dance floor.  Again, this is usually not made so explicit, and fallen man has a vested interest in suppressing any knowledge of his rebellion vs. God.  Usually, these sinful desires to war against the Creator are given cover by three very human, unavoidable, and legitimate desires.  In the next couple days, I will talk about these a bit more specifically, before circling back to what we’ve spoken about here.

*-More Fisk on the Fall: “The thing Adam wanted above all was knowledge (Genesis 2:17), and in order to attain it, he was even willing to learn ‘the knowledge of evil’… [the] notion [that ‘personal godhood can be achieved by learning knowledge’]… is a lie…. This is the fall: the theoretical but false knowledge that by worshipping knowledge we shall become ultimately knowledgeable (Fisk, 97)… [Adam and Eve] believed by eating [the fruit] they would themselves become the source of their own newer, better goodness.  ‘You will be like God’….It is as if he said, ‘You will be good apart from God… you will identify yourselves as the good you make yourselves to be.’”(Fisk, 244)

**-I think that this would go hand in hand with Fisk’s claim that “If only the right application is discovered, the right system, the right method, then minds will be freed from mental slavery” (Fisk, 98)

Part II coming on Friday


Posted by on January 2, 2013 in Uncategorized