Monthly Archives: February 2013

What to expect from natural law

what-to-expect-when-no-ones-expectingEvidently, not much – that is, if you are hoping that people will agree with Christians about what is right and wrong.  Surely we can’t insist that all children have a “right” to life.  And surely they don’t really want (and need?) both mommies and daddies!  No, not at all.  Simple “biology” just doesn’t seem to cut it these days, much less St. Thomas.

A comment left by a well-known writer left on Rod Dreher’s blog  (also see his post “Secularism needs natural law” and the post “What if Christianity itself is secular?” as well):

Frederica Mathewes-green says:

“People who reject lifestyle liberalism are either wicked or stupid” — yes, exactly. I ran into this in the 90s when I was writing and speaking primarily about a feminist argument against abortion. I met everywhere a belief that all pro-lifers were anti-sex and their deepest motive was to stop women from having careers. When I’d show up and not say what they expected, I was seen as evilly trying to disguise my true motives, making me twice as bad as ordinary oppressive pro-lifers. I think the perception that all pro-lifers are “evil and stupid”, combined with my undeniable pro-life papertrail, is the main reason I wasn’t able to cross over from writing for conservative / Christian publications to the mainstream. (I’d do the same again in a heartbeat, though.)

If history serves, what will happen next is what happened to pro-life advocates: we were silenced. Instead of seeing one of each side on a talk show, there will be two of the winning side. Those who advocated traditional views will just disappear from the stage.

In the case of abortion there appears to be a surprise next act coming, as (against all odds) the younger generations are increasingly pro-life and see this as a basic justice issue rather than women’s rights. Not conservative on any other issue, but seeing this one at last in terms of human rights. I don’t expect that with the marriage issue, but in times the undeniable biological fact of heterosexual marriage will bob up to awareness. Gay couples can do whatever they want (I am not trying to stop gay marriage) but there is just a primeval reality to heterosexual marriage, and it will eventually be seen. Wont stop any gay marriages, but will just dawn on people that there is an ineradicable difference. Nothing anyone can do to hasten the moment.

That last paragraph sums up my best guess of where we are going and what will happen, especially with realities like this on the horizon… (see a short interview with the author here).

Reality always bounces back.  Unless Jesus saves us from this chaos first.


UPDATE: Just realized I did a series on natural law – as it regards man’s knowledge of God at least – about 3 years ago.  The first part is here.

More of Jonathan Last on his book:

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Posted by on February 28, 2013 in Uncategorized


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“I’m a Lifelong Lutheran, But…”

I saw an interesting talk given by Rev. Jonathan Fisk to a group of steadfast Lutherans.  In it, he asked the challenging question of why so many people who grow up Lutheran seem unsatisfied with their Lutheranism.

As implied in the talk, he suspects part of the problem is that many Lutheran pastors themselves have issues (not Issues ETC, unfortunately) – perhaps their congregations, like one Fisk grew up in, even handed out free copies of things like the “Purpose Driven Life”!

What accounts for persons being unsatisfied with Lutheranism – particularly, when so many evangelicals who are finding Lutheranism are absolutely passionate about it?

I suspect that much of this might be the tensions – the paradoxes – that Lutheranism embraces.  For some, we are “too Roman Catholic”.  For others, we are “too Protestant”.  In fact, Lutheranism embraces this tension.  For example, we hold to the Church’s historical understanding of the Sacraments and the Office of the Ministry, (the pastoral office) while also affirming the key importance of preaching and the “priesthood of all believers”.

A friend of mine described Lutheranism as “the unstable particle” – seemingly ready to come apart at any minute.  I tend to think that persons who ignore Lutheranism – and who tend towards other ends of the spectrum – are analogous to Luther’s famous analogy of the drunk man who falls off the horse on one side only to get on and fall off the other side (Luther said this specifically referring to false teaching).  One recalls that throughout his career, Luther was taking on opponents from every side – the Roman Catholic Church under the papacy and the more radical reformers who threw out the historic understandings of things like baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the importance of maintaining the Church’s visible oneness.

Interestingly, I had an experience similar to that of Pastor Fisk’s.  While I never left the faith, as he implies he did, I did have a six-year long flirtation with evangelicalism (they were the only ones I had ever met who actually seemed to think Christian apologetics were important – I did not learn about folks like John Warwick Montgomery and Rod Rosenbladt until much later on).  And when I went to Slovakia in 96-98 as an English-teaching “missionary”, it was not lost on many of us at our “missionary orientation” in St. Louis that many of us going overseas who actually seemed grounded and eager to share our faith (one guy I talked to wasn’t sure he believed in the Trinity, I recall) had been heavily influenced by Campus Crusade for Christ and Intervarsity Christian fellowship. I had even read Senkbeil’s “Sanctification: Christ in Action” in the summer of 1995, and while it helped some, his picture of evangelicalism did not seem to line up with the evangelicals that I knew…

What brought me to Lutheranism was persons who not only talked about what Lutherans believed, but also spoke intelligently and persuasively about why they believed it – and also the historical circumstances in which those “whats” and “whys” arose.  It started with Issues ETC. in 1996 (my dad, a pastor who uses contemporary Christian music, used audio cassettes from Don Matzat to lure me back), and then, early issues of Wallace Schulz’s “Good News” magazines I found laying around in an office in Slovakia.  It continued when I was given the opportunity to study Lutheran theology in Cambridge England by the guy overseeing the missionaries in Europe (here’s to you Bob Hartfield – thank you!).  And things became more solidified for me than ever when – after earning my Masters in Theological Studies from the Lutheran seminary in St. Catherine’s Ontario, Canada – I met a pastor who not only knew Lutheran theology inside and out, but also had a PhD-level education with a heavy focus on the early church (particularly Cyril of Alexandria).  For me, historical continuity is very important – meaning an intelligent explanation of how the Reformation goes hand in hand with what we know of the early church.  I have no interest in being a “Protestant”, as that term is commonly understood – I want to be a part of the true visible Church on earth.

sevenCsIn addition, the desire for “historical continuity” is also connected with the desire for history, period.  I agree with Pastor Fisk about the importance of the “Biblical narrative”.  I think here of something like Answer in Genesis’ “7 C’s of creation” (although I would put “Christ” – as in the Genesis 3:15 promise – right after corruption as well!).  It seems to me that the while the Small Catechism is surely a great tool (a great “extraction” of the key biblical teaching), it will be most effectively taught when in the context of the whole story of the Church in general, and the “story” the Bible tells in particular.

Finally, this world not only needs Christians who are deeply formed by the Word, but also highly intelligent Christians formed by the Word.  It is more and more the case that being as shrewd as snakes (and unjust stewards) is not even close to being optional.  We are in a vicious spiritual war, whether we realize it or not – and our weapons must likewise be spiritual (Eph. 6:10ff. also see John 18:36; 2 Cor. 10:3-5; Isa. 42:2-3).

So now, for me, its not “I’m a Lifelong Lutheran, But…”  Its “I’m a Lifelong Lutheran who is passionate about it”.

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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Babies in Church (part XI): “Trust in God, trust also in me” – and also these men (b)

"...those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies... none shall make them afraid.” -- Zephaniah 3:13

“…those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies… none shall make them afraid.” — Zephaniah 3:13

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) ; IX, Divine revelation and infallible human opinion [!?] ;

X, “Trust in God, trust also in me” – and also these men (a)

Jesus said to His Apostles, “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16) – and we know we are to not doubt God’s words.  Just because some who are put into positions of authority by God get terribly “off message”, flying “off the rails” (see Matt 5 [“you have heard” and “but I tell you”], 16, 21:25, 22:29, 23:16-22 ; Mark 7:11-12 ; Luke 6:1-11 ; John 5:33-34,39), does not mean that we should think God has no interest in using formal offices – even in spite of their misuse! (see Matt 23:2) – and has not set up a very structured way of handing on testimony that can be relied on.

For in these persons – in whom God has put His trust – we find the preferred way of “verifying” the Church’s claims for ourselves.  In other words, we should, first and foremost, be talking with these persons in authority, who in fact will often be aware of objections to the historical testimony that they bring (having perhaps doubted it themselves)!   When we find ourselves confronted by factual evidence, which on the face of it at least, looks like it should throw our current understandings of our heritage into doubt… the wisdom and discernment of these persons is needed as these facts and accompanying claims are honestly weighed and dealt with.

Now, it is true that – in reaction to the claims of “Enlighten[ment]ed” man – we might be tempted to see this whole matter of God’s divine revelation as not being so grounded in “human” and “earthly” (“worldly”?) things.  Is not the reliable knowledge that we have about math, some science, and certain historical events, for example, at the very least distinct from the reliable knowledge – the divine revelation – that comes from above in the power of His Holy Spirit?  Are not such distinctions absolutely necessary in order to safeguard that which we hold precious and true?

But we must remember what it is that God has safeguarded for us to know (see Luke 1:4, see Phil. 3:1 as well).  In history, he has simply safeguarded the Apostolic deposit –which is simply knowledge – by causing His Church to write the Scriptures, and to further recognize these as His own words (there are key books we know the *entire early church* to have recognized).  Therefore, we must be careful here, for just because something that was revealed by God Himself in an unusual course of human events (for example, as He did with the disciples with His miracles, His transfiguration, His resurrection and the meaning of these) – as opposed to being the kind of knowledge that is gained during the regular course of human events – it does not make it anything different in terms of it being real knowledge that all men can, should and must know.*  For example, the resurrection, after all, would seem to be the ultimate way the true religion is “materialized”, following closely on the heels of the incarnation (again, see Acts 17:31)

No – we cannot fail to realize that faithful people go hand in hand with the evidence – in that they reliably bring forth the objective “good news” (the faithful /true/trustworthy sayings and reports!) – that which comes to us from outside of ourselves – into the present day.   They do not give the Word its power, but their presence is important and cannot be separated from the message’s proclamation: and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (II Tim 2:2) andjust as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts (I Thes. 2:4 ; see also I Timothy 1:12, 3:11 ; Isaiah 8:2 ; I Cor. 4:2 ; II Peter 1:16 ; Proverbs 12:22, 13:17, 25:13 ; Daniel 6:4 ; Luke 16:11, 19:17 ; Titus 1:9 ; Acts 16:1).

Evidently, Jesus, for example, was at times exempt from this otherwise unavoidable reality (as He did not receive all His divine revelation from parents and teachers): “Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved” (John 5:34) – while others were to hear John the Baptist – “unauthorized” though he may have been! – as we are to hear others today (see John 5:33)

And by the grace of God, among men, those Christians who spend much time learning the Word of God and the Church’s past are the most reliable of men.**  These are the persons we look to when we know we are in desperate need of help.  We look to those who speak the truth and also “speak” the love that God gives them to share with their neighbor.  We look to men who are honest about the “little truths” of everyday life and about their own sin in particular – and, fearing the Lord, are ready and eager to be corrected when wrong.   We look to those who are honest about human nature in general (and if blessed to have such knowledge, honest about the very real helpfulness and real limits of various kinds of scientific methodologies).   We look to persons who are very aware that it is their responsibility also to humbly, patiently, and firmly correct the errors of others – and that repentance and reformation are always needed among God’s people, starting with themselves.  We treasure and pursue those who welcome “interruptions” from those in need and are eager to forgive and give persons the grace of God.  And we look to people who are willing to seriously listen to those who do not embrace them, who  try and understand what they say, and do their best to accurately represent the views of these to others.  We are drawn to those men of God who are honest about the challenges they see with God’s words and events from the past that deeply disturb them and all human beings sensitive to the value of human life.  We are especially impressed when we find people who seem to embody all of these traits.  We are attracted here because we know that the wisdom found among the godly is wisdom more profound or reliable than that of the worldly wise“Wisdom is justified by all her children” indeed – God is most definitely not blasphemed because of them (see also this post from Rod Dreher from yesterday, which dovetails nicely with this post. Update: and this one)

And like children, we to can recognize this character and love – this love of the Truth, truth, and each human being (see here, which I linked to in the beginning of part I).  For every one of these that falls into sin and doesn’t get up, there are many more we are confident will never surprise us and never do – because we know and knew them to be those whom we can trust (imperfect though they be – see the “Cretan’s paradox” issue dealt with here) as regards important matters current and past.  And even as some amaze us, we come to be amazed still more by others – and in turn trust them even more than the others. 

To be a Christian is in fact to trust in men more than one’s non-Christian fellows.  In trusting in those who trust the Father, we trust in the Lord indeed – and we are blessed in realizing that authority ultimately goes hand in hand with love, faithfulness, service, beauty, and all things. 


*-I note that the world is *very confused* about what knowledge is.  Among the elites, there exists an unwarranted trust in many kinds of scientific “knowledge” that are anything but.  On the other hand, their conceptions of what knowledge is are very constrained, anemic, and impersonal.  For example, they might not think that your knowledge of your family’s history is really knowledge if you can’t prove what you know to them (perhaps you even have some tangible evidence but it does not satisfy them).  Nor would they consider your knowledge that you are in a stable marital relationship with a spouse, for example, to be something that you or anyone else can rely upon to any real extent – it is not something that qualifies as knowledge.   Further, we should also point out that some knowledge is dangerous – and some things need not and simply should not be doubted.   Truly, while some knowledge can be created through doubt, much also comes through and from persons we trust, present and past – and which often is able to be backed up with good evidence and reasons (when do new methods and principles that seem to “work” trump what we know from persons and their purposes throughout time?)

**-There are those who have a lot of knowledge of the Bible, but not a living knowledge, formed by trust. In other words, having the most basic outlines of this knowledge in embryonic form is necessary but not sufficient.

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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Babies in Church (part X): “Trust in God, trust also in me” – and also these men (a)

Reliable (and living!) content passed on to reliable men

Reliable (and living!) content passed on to reliable men

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) ; IX, Divine revelation and infallible human opinion [!?]

Another conversation with Roman Catholic apologists has given birth to a new entry in this series.  I’m not sure if that conversation is over or not, as my last posting is still pending approval after 5 days… (its hard to not want to try and interpret that!)

When it comes to trusting God (not loving Him!), children are tops.  How so?  Click here if you’d like to have a clue to where I am going with this post…

Psalm 146:3 says “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.”  As Christians there is no doubt that we are to put our full trust in God.  He alone is to be the Object in which we hope. 

When we are brought to faith and sustained in that same faith, He is the One to whom we look.  Him and no other!  It is by His Holy Spirit that He calls us, enlightens us, and sanctifies us through His word and sacraments – His “means of grace”.  When we hear His word preached we recognize its truth – and the power that it has to transform not only us – but the world.  It is even, as some say, “self-authenticating” (and it doesn’t matter if Mormons, for example, say the same about their false message).  In addition, those mature in the faith readily recognize this message vis a vis imposter messages – even if an “angel of light” performs the greatest of miracles to support the errors they bring, these faithful stalwarts will not be moved! (see Deuteronomy 13! –they are only interested in the “many infallible proofs” [Acts 1:3, see also Acts 2:22,32-36, 13:34 ; I John 1 ; and I Cor. 15] Jesus did that fulfilled OT prophecies about Him and further bolstered the OT-confirming message He brought)

So we put our emphasis here – on the Word God alone brings and uses!  We put all our eggs in this basket.  Period!  This is the faith we know and proclaim, and it is good, right and salutary to talk this way – these are, we believe “God’s talking points” (aside: to see some Evangelicals beautifully emphasizing and explaining some other doctrines Luther brought to the fore, see Jono Linebaugh and Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, discussing Law and Gospel here)

That said… there is something else to be said, even if it is by no means to be made an emphasis in our formal theology.  That thing is that there is no denying that the Church *is* the means of the means of grace!  (note this interesting fact to: we are happy to accept the prophecy made about the “second Hus” as regards Luther even as, when it comes to the matter of determining Church teaching, we hold tenaciously to Luther’s words vs. ”enthusiasm” in the Smalcald Articles).  We cannot eliminate people from the equation, even if they, as the messengers, are often happy to quietly step aside and get no credit!  They are, as one RC apologist puts it “Formal Proximate Objects of Faith”.*  There might seem to be the rare exception of course – like Paul being directly encountered by the living Christ – but note that even here he was sent to Ananias for additional instruction and baptism (note as regards visions God still seems to do this today)

And it has always been so.  Many of us are “cradle Christians”, blessed with the gift of faith early on in our baptisms, nurtured with good words from our earliest days.  We were fed these Spirit-and-life words that transform and reform (see I Thes. 2:13: “when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers”).  And of course many of our parents found themselves under the care of reliable men who were appointed to pass on that message – that tradition – from runner to runner.

So who am I really trusting then?  This is how I would put it:  I trust God, by the power of His Holy Spirit, through the words spoken by the Church, which is in line with the Church of the past (particularly “Apostolic Fathers”), which is in line with the Apostolic Deposit in the Scriptures, which is in line with the Old Testament prophets.  And it’s not necessary that I doubt any of these things at all – it is good, right, and salutary to rest in this trust – this trust that is confirmed in me every time I explore the past (whether by the evidence of books of the primary and secondary sort or just living flesh and blood persons I speak with “in the know”) – not necessarily out of any skepticism (anyone else see the problem with the statement “trust but verify”?), but rather out of simple curiosity and a desire to better know the heritage that belongs to me and those who surround me.

For there is a heritage.  A “flesh and blood” heritage that is not only the flesh and blood of God offered at the altar.  Yes, I also mean the “flesh and blood” of reliable eyewitnesses who were the means of the means of grace!  The trustworthy men who were unavoidably part and parcel of this whole saving action of God (even if He *can* bring persons to faith through those true words that are spoken by a lying non-Christian if He so desires).  It is not that “doubting” Thomas had no evidence for faith.  His fellow disciples who brought the testimony of the resurrection were part and parcel of that evidence – that evidence that is in turn inextricably bound up with the powerful Word the Holy Spirit speaks.  On the other hand, saying that the disciples “add to the message” would also not be accurate. 

In the book of Acts especially, God, in the power of His Holy Spirit, proclaimed the resurrection as proof to all men through reliable and trustworthy eyewitnesses – and both the fact and the meaning of this event are objectively “good news” and truth for all persons – whether they are accepted as this or not.  Indeed, the disciples had this knowledge – perhaps something akin to what certain philosophers (of the analytic type) call “justified/warranted true belief” – what they said said is true knowledge whether one uses historical methodologies to verify it or not!  Just because a person may not have inquired further, learning more about these eyewitnesses, their mission, and their claims does not make what they said anything less than reliable knowledge that God means for all persons to have via His reliable messengers! 

The same holds for today – just because a person may not spend serious time listening to and speaking with those who have carried that testimony into the future does not make it anything less then reliable knowledge that God means for all persons to have via His reliable messengers!

I am speaking about the succession of the Apostolic message, carried forward primarily, although not exclusively, by the continuing Apostolic ministry. 

Part (b) coming tomorrow

*-Just one example:  Exodus 15:31 says, “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”

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Posted by on February 19, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Posted by on February 13, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Hope alone!: Christ’s roman [catholic] candles (part II of II)

lighthousePart I here.

To counter Andrew, I would say that even if 16th-century Thomas-experts like Cardinal Cajetan (who said the devout are those who doubt whether they are in a state of grace) got the Angelic Doctor wrong (perhaps under the influence of men like William of Ockham and Gabriel Biel?), we still have issues.  The way I understand most all Roman Catholic apologist’s current take on this issue (though interestingly, I cannot find it in the new Catechism), we can only conclude we are in a state of grace in part because of a positive evaluation of our own moral character and conduct – and this relates to what some Catholic theologians have only very recently (as best I can tell) begun to describe as a “moral certainty”.  After all, when it comes to looking at evidences within to determine whether or not one is in a state of grace , St. Thomas said that one could consider, for example, one’s conscious experiences of “delight in the things of God” (strictly speaking, this would be “conjectural knowledge” and hence “imperfect” knowledge, i.e. guesswork based on inconclusive or incomplete evidence).

What would these “things of God” include?  To be sure, it would include what Andrew notes, namely one’s experience of “enjoy[ing] God as an end in himself”.  In addition, I think Andrew’s colleague at the Called to Communion blog, Bryan Cross, can help us here, as he expounds on St. Augustine:

“The New Testament is the ‘ministry of righteousness’ because through the Spirit we work righteousness, and thereby are delivered from the condemnation due to transgression.  Our deliverance is not that Christ fulfills the law in our place and then imputes His obedience to us, but that by His work He merited for us the grace of the Spirit whereby we are empowered through agape to work righteousness and so no longer fear the condemnation of the law.”

This may not sound bad at first (sometimes I do sense God’s grace in me, making me love Him and neighbor) – but what about what Catholics have called the “dark night of the soul”?  What about those times when we sense that, in reality, we are truly sinners who don’t work righteousness through agape – whose perseverance in good works seems to fail miserably?  When all our good actions seem tainted by motivations not from God?  Perhaps due to the failures we sense, we question not the Object of our faith or hope – but rather the genuineness of these things in our own lives.  Maybe we thought we had been in a state of grace but now wonder if we’ve lost it (as the Scriptures say can occur) – or ever really had it to begin with!  Perhaps our faith is not actually alive – “formed in charity”, as Roman Catholics would put it – but dead?*  Perhaps we have only been fooling ourselves that we are enjoying God as an end in Himself?**

Perhaps Andrew might offer such a person hope here.  After all, as he clearly says, God, not the state of one’s own soul, is “the direct object of the assurance of hope” (in his original post ; but also note ***)

An excellent answer – but we still must ask whether one can know this to be true in one’s own case – and if we can know the way it is true as well.  Should we simply avoid reflecting on any troublesome internal matters like those described above – considering ourselves overly scrupulous – and hence suppress such unwelcome thoughts?  Or, as regards being confident of one’s state of grace, perhaps someone with a view akin to Andrew’s might distinguish between one’s delight in receiving the gracious, salvation-giving promises of God on the one hand, and one’s delight in performing the commands of God to love Him and neighbor on the other hand?  Or, given that Andrew, like Luther, certainly wants to focus us outside of ourselves in the act of absolution, perhaps he might suggest putting it like this: are we looking to God for the grace sufficient to give real eternal life/salvation in the present (this would mean that the Roman Catholic, in the midst of the dark night of the soul, could receive real peace with God though “faith/hope alone”) – or are we looking for the grace that we can only activate and preserve via our present and future love of God and neighbor? – in other words, eternal life/salvation wrought only through the loving cooperation of our wills?  (a key?: does grace transform because it forgives sins via words that are Spirit and Life?  Or does grace forgive sins because it transforms via an infusion that does not come via hearing only? See here)

The issue here is that even if Andrew would rightly say the first is the way to go (this would mean that due to our own honest evaluation of our sinful state, the issue of “moral certainty” here would really be about an evaluation of the character of God’s faithfulness in the relationship and not our own), Thomas never seems to consider any thoughts similar to these – and evidently felt no need to do so ***Even Pfurtner, the author of Luther and Aquinas on Salvation, also never takes this route – as he, unlike Andrew, never focuses on absolution as being God’s final judgment of us rendered now, nor uses words like “know” when it comes to one’s “state of grace” (on the contrary, see pages 101, 102, 110, 132, 133, and 157 ; also, again note part V here from Aquinas****).

Recently, I said this to Andrew:

“It seems rather clear to me that in Rome the emphasis is almost always on [the work that remains to be done] and not where you think it should be.  Of course you are right.  From where I sit, that’s why your article stands out like a bright shining light in a sea of darkness.”

I repeat, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary that I have produced which I think clearly demonstrate that Rome teaches differently (see here, here to start and read the whole conversation for more detail), Andrew insists that Roman Catholic teaching must be what he says it is – that knowledge that one is in a state of grace is both desirable and possible.

Well, of course his spiritual instincts are right – this must be so (see here, here and here for how this plays out with Lutherans).

Again, unlike Andrew, I’m quite sure that right now this is not the Roman teaching, of course – but I am also confident that God desires Rome to go this way (strengthening what good remains), and I see persons like Andrew as reasons for having hope.

May those who cannot imagine how their church could mitigate Romans 5:1 (peace with God is attainable) and I John 5 (knowledge of our eternal life is attainable) continue to grow in their conviction of God’s desire to give His children – even His failing children – peace!  May this man and others like him determine and bend the doctrine to their will – for it is God’s will!  Whether this comes about in Rome as a whole as a conscious realization of those within it (accompanied by the necessary repentance for false past teaching) – or more unconsciously – may this come indeed!

Some may consider Andrew naïve, and express concern that he is putting his soul in quite a bit of danger by remaining in a church that actually is at odds with him.  On the other hand, I don’t want to downplay the true power of the actual word of forgiveness that creates and preserves forgiveness, life and salvation!  As Luther says, this word becomes the all-encompassing word that dares to die a thousand deaths!*****

If Andrew really can cling to the promise of absolution that Christ offers penitent sinners and be utterly confident in his salvation – and also forcefully articulate a case for why he believes all Roman Catholics should do the same – it gives me that much more hope than not that one day our Churches might see eye to eye.  For I suspect that when a church freely gives to broken sinners the forgiveness, life, and salvation found in Christ – that is, true peace with God and knowledge of eternal life in His Son – then all the other errant teachings that they might have must be overshadowed with this bright light – as they eventually fade into the background and lose their power to keep sinners from the light which saves (that said, the spirit of antichrist is clearly not without influence, and he will do all that he can to destroy that which gives life – eternal life – to the world… perhaps even trying to use such openness to the Gospel in Rome to his ultimate advantage)

The transformation of the world seen first in Christ’s resurrection is grounded in the individual sinner’s imputation.  Truly, there is nothing more powerful in this world than the simple Gospel of God’s forgiveness of penitent sinners in the simple and humble forms of God’s Word…. through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ alone.

Note: This message cannot be stopped.


*-I note that in Roman Catholic theology, being a true believer and being one who has “justifying faith” are not necessarily synonymous (see Pfurtner, 132, 133).  Also, Pfurtner says “As long as we remain on this earth, we are never certain of possessing faith and hope in the way that God calls us to possess them…” (p. 135) – of course this is precisely why Luther spoke of the doctrine of justification as he did (see here again) – to take our focus off of ourselves, and put it on Christ.  We do not look to our faith or have faith in it, but to Christ!

**-note that for Thomas, is it imperfect love, or love that intends to obtain possession of something for one’s self, that pertains to hope.  Perfect love pertains to charity, which adheres to God for His own sake (see II.II 17, 8)

*** Thomas does not, as Andrew claims, say we can enjoy the “certainty of eternal life”, but essentially that we can enjoy the certainty of the hope of eternal life.  See part V here from Aquinaswhere he uses Psalm 18:13 (Who can understand sins? From my secret ones cleanse me, O Lord, and from those of others spare Thy servant.”) and Ecclesiastes 9:1 (“Man knoweth not whether he be worthy of love or hatred”) to lead persons into doubt over whether one really has God’s forgiveness, life, and salvation.  On the other hand, note that Luther, in focusing on receiving God’s promise of forgiveness, does not even put our focus on our delight or confidence we feel as a result of the absolving word, but rather the actual absolving word itself (which certainly creates delight and confidence – see here for more).  And yet, Luther, like Thomas, realized that self-evaluation – and hence introspection – on the basis of God’s law (commands about what we are to do) was a critical part of the Christian life.  And for consciences very sensitive to God’s law (and commands given in the church), he insisted that questions similar to the following would arise in many: “How do I know for sure that sins I might convince myself are venial are not really things that I have actually done with ‘full knowledge and consent’”? “Aren’t small sins big sins when they are considered small?” “If I am told that ‘confession of forgotten and unknown sins is beyond human ability’, but that I should confess all sins as lie within my human abilities, how do I know whether I have not forgotten some sins because of more sin and not innocent forgetfulness?” Also key to penance of course: not coming to communion if you’ve committed a mortal sin, fully trusting that the particular works of penance prescribed to you will do the job (in spite of the fact that they are not found in God’s Word!), fully trusting that one was in the right state of mind when doing what was required in the sacrament: i.e. that an accurate description of the circumstances of all mortal sins was given so that the pastor’s evaluation would be accurate…, and finally, trusting that the penitence performed was done in sufficiently pure love for God…

**** – Saying that we can have a “moral certainty” that we are in a state of grace is not something that Thomas ever said. In fact, on the basis of article V regarding “the cause of grace”, I would argue it is quite clear that he would have rejected such language (something Roman Catholics previous to our time would concur with). I would put it this way: for Thomas, although we can’t have knowledge, or certainty, that we are in a state of grace – by divine revelation *or otherwise* – we can have knowledge, or certainty, about the hope we have of eternal life.  This is the contrast that he wishes to bring to our attention.  Thomas specifically says one may *know conjecturally* – that is that is by one’s personal experience and guesswork regarding it – that he has grace, but that this *knowledge* is imperfect (i.e. it is not really knowledge, but “opinion”) – and it seems clear from the verses he quotes in this section that he wishes to discourage one from coming to a positive conclusion (see above note for more).  As best I can tell, Roman Catholics theologians seem to have unanimously realized this up until more recent, “ecumenical” times.  I wonder when it was first claimed that Luther had misunderstood Thomas…

***** – please note that I don’t think Andrew’s teachings would be good for those not already in the Roman Catholic Church.  In other words, a lack of pure doctrine is still a big problem here, and I would be concerned to have him teach my own children, for example (so much of what Rome teaches takes us away from the Biblical emphases, and binds consciences where it ought not ; in addition, I suspect that certain persons with highly sensitive consciences about the sins they know remain will not be helped by Andrews message – Luther’s full theology [with the doctrine of original sin] is still key).  Further, I think the ideal is for churches to have clarity about – and be honest about – the things they believe, teach, and confess (i.e. “pattern of sound words”)


Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Hope alone!: Christ’s roman [catholic] candles (part I of II)

Rome in the cleft of the rock?

Rome in the cleft of the rock?

Men like Called to Communion’s Andrew Preslar inspire me.  Not only is he, like many Roman Catholics I’ve had the privilege of talking with on the internet, a model of grace and charity, but I can’t help but sense this man is a fellow evangelical Catholic, or, if you will, a Lutheran.

That is, a Christian who knows what matters most – who has a sense of the fullness in Christ that is ours and awaits us.

Now yes, I know Andrew would remind me he is a firm Roman Catholic! (although he is pleased that I think him a Lutheran) After all, if I, in the interest of sharply distinguishing justification from sanctification (why do this?… see here), say “Christians are saved for good works, not saved by good works” or “the Christian makes the works – the works don’t make the Christian” or “the Christian reflects, not effects, their salvation” or say “we should not say good works are necessary for salvation” I don’t doubt that he would  have some issues with that!  Still, it seems that in spite of his Roman Catholicism (him: because of it!), Andrew defiantly clings to the promise that God’s forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ is surely his.  He is utterly confident – he knows in his heart of hearts – that these things Christ gives and offers can and do seal him in a state of grace in the present time.*  And this is not just based on some good feeling or intuition that he has: he believes that eternal life is his when he hears the promise of mercy that is given in the absolution provided by the called and ordained servant of the Lord (perhaps he, with me, would say that, fundamentally, the Christian lives from peace with God, and not in order to obtain said peace).

What is his evidence for believing in this way?  First we note that in his article on this subject he mentions Stephen Pfurtner’s work Luther and Aquinas on Salvation, as an inspiration.**  Although this is left unsaid in his article, Andrew, like Pfurtner, assumes that “it is clear” that Aquinas’ teaching of the certainty of hope “must involve something of the content of the Lutheran teaching on the certainty of salvation” (Pfurtner, p. 53) – and correspondingly, that Luther only “superficial[ly] understood Aquinas” (Pfurtner, p. 59 see here for Luther’s view of Rome on this issue).  In Andrew’s article and the discussion that follows he frequently quotes from Thomas Aquinas and what he would say is the Thomas-affirming Council of Trent.  For example, Session XIV, Chapter 3 on the Sacrament of Penance, at the Council of Trent, says:

“But that which is signified and produced by this sacrament is, so far as its force and efficacy are concerned, reconciliation with God, which sometimes, in persons who are pious and who receive this sacrament with devotion, is wont to be followed by peace and serenity of conscience with an exceedingly great consolation of spirit.”

This quote surely seems to have some promise for the Christian desiring comfort and confidence regarding where he stands with God!  But what about the great 16th century doctor of the Church, Saint Bellarmine, who wrote “The doctrine that in the present life men cannot attain to an assurance of faith regarding their righteousness, with the exception of a few whom God deems worthy to have this fact revealed to them by a special revelation – this doctrine is a current opinion among nearly all theologians.”  Does he not represent Rome and put the quote from the council of Trent into its true context?  Andrew explains that while Bellarmine is talking about the certainty of faith, he is not addressing the Thomas’ teaching about the certainty of hope!

Still, when a German priest by the name of Dietrich Kolde, writing in his early 1520s work Mirror of a Christian Man, states he does not know where he will go when he dies – and that this “troubles him above all” and “frequently makes his heart heavy”***, are we to assume that his experience was uncommon?  And that St. Thomas could not possibly have anything to do with this?****

This statement from the earliest times of Luther’s reform efforts is just one of many reasons I think the Trent quote above deals with the Sacrament of penance as a whole and would not preclude Thomas’ view that presumptive hope (that is “the sin of presumption”) would be that which chiefly banks on the “grace already received” in the present, as opposed to banking on God’s present and future “omnipotence and mercy”.  In other words, knowing that He is strong enough (He is an “infinite power”, see Pfurtner, 75 and 77) to – and also will – provide all the graces that we need to merit the end that is eternal life (the “infinite good”) – starting even now with the willing reception of His sacrament(s)!  This is the good news!

In other words, good workers are rewarded with the knowledge that even they to, can have a firm hope that they *will* obtain eternal life with God if they choose, by His grace, to consistently and lovingly cooperate with His grace (His “omnipotence and mercy”) – striving for perfect love for God and neighbor, starting with the necessary works of penance prescribed by the priest.  I think that this is the promise that Rome says may give peace of conscience and consolation of spirit.*****

On the other hand, when it comes to talking about penitential acts and beyond, Andrew prefers to speak like this: “forgiveness and restoration to a state of grace are presupposed by the works of satisfaction performed by the penitent, which complete and perfect the reconciliation with God and neighbor by way of the penitent’s participation in the work of reconciliation.” (italics mine)

He explains his statement in this way: genuine works of penance/satisfaction only proceed from the person who is in a state of grace.  Further, the eternal punishment for sin is removed by absolution, with the performance of penance only being needed to counteract the temporal effects of sin.  Now, I am not convinced that the absolution is a performative utterance in Roman Catholic theology (see here), but for the sake of argument, I will grant this.  What is really at issue is this: in Roman Catholic theology, what we are able to say is true about justified persons (not just “true believers” – there is a difference between these) in general – objectively and abstractly speaking – and what a particular individual can know about one’s own case, are two different things.  If it is indeed Roman Catholic theology that “when one enjoys God as an end in himself (which is like a foretaste of eternal happiness, or beatitude), he is in a state of sanctifying grace, which includes the gift of charity” (Andrew) the real question is whether one can actually know – and not just feel – this to be true of one’s self.

Andrew says “Because God’s grace precedes and is the principle of all good works done by the Christian, those who persevere in good works can enjoy a moral certitude that they have already obtained the grace of God that brings salvation.”

Is that indeed what Rome teaches?

Part II coming in a couple days

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* – Nothing is being said about his future perseverance in the faith.  Both Lutherans and Roman Catholics believe salvation can be lost.

**- “I must note at the outset that my thinking on this topic has been stimulated by Fr. Stephen Pfurtner’s insightful contribution to ecumenical…” – found via Google, Feb. 6, 2013.  I don’t see this in the current version of the post, which Andrew told me in our conversation he feels free to change anytime as needed.

***-Denis Janz, Three Reformation Catechisms: Catholic, Anabaptist, Lutheran (New York: Mellen, 1982), 127, quoted in Kolb and Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology, p. 35

**** read article 5 here.

***** – It seems to me that this goes hand in hand with what Stephen Pfurtner says: “Essentially, certainty pertains to knowledge, that is – in our case – to faith; not to hope, which is in the sphere of affections.  But certainty does also enter into a movement of the affections, because of its participation in the knowledge directing this and because of the inner strength and unchangeableness of the movement.  Both these belong to hope: it shares in the certainty of faith and overcomes all human inconstancy, since the Christian ‘does not hope to gain eternal life by his own power’ – for then his own weakness would also undermine the certainty of his hope – ‘but in virtue of the help of grace.  If he perseveres in this, he will obtain eternal life absolutely and infallibly.’  Thus Aquinas can extend to hope and its unfailing reliability what he has said of faith and certainty: ‘in hope also there can be nothing false,’ even if the certainty of hope does not imply any certainty of security of fulfillment.” (p. 97, Luther and Aquinas on Salvation)  Also this: “The fullness of hope with its undisturbed confidence is present only when man has become completely reconciled and at peace through friendship with God.  Nevertheless, the sinner may – indeed, he must – as long as he only believes, be certain without any reservations also of God’s saving will in regard to himself.  Otherwise, he does not rightly believe, but doubts God’s promises”. (pp. 102-103, Luther and Aquinas on Salvation).  Here, I think about how Catholic theologians have historically talked about certain persons receive a divine revelation (i.e. “the certainty of faith”) that they will persevere because God knows that they will not abuse such knowledge!

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Posted by on February 8, 2013 in Uncategorized


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