Monthly Archives: May 2013

Teaching Tolerance and thinking critically about teaching tolerance.


Continuing the theme from the last post…

Several years ago, while working for the public school system, I read an article in the magazine “Teaching Tolerance” about teaching religion in public schools.  It was called “Because I had a turbin”.  Here is the email I sent to the author (the pictures and the bold print were not in the message…)


I wanted to write to you and tell you that I enjoyed your article “Because I had a Turban” in “Teaching Tolerance”.   It certainly makes one think twice about what non-Christian students may experience.  Thank you (I am a  Christian by the way).

If you would not mind, I would be interested in engaging you in a bit of vigorous thinking about this issue.  Please know that I won’t be offended if I don’t hear from you again.  We only have so much time in a day.  In any case, your comments at the very least have been helpful for me in organizing my thought – so thank you. 🙂

You say: “Religions influence the behavior of individuals and nations and have inspired some of the world’s most beautiful art, architecture, literature, music and form of government.  When discussing these subjects, it’s okay to acknowledge religion and its impact.  Discuss how different religions deal with the concept at hand”.

I really like what you say here, but I wonder how far people really want to take this kind of thinking.  For instance, I imagine that you might not approve of making the teaching of ethical values – which are often related to one’s religious beliefs – explicit in public schools [I regret putting this in my letter to her, even if the magazine as a whole generally seems to take this line].  I must admit that I for one have greatly appreciated what philosophers like John Dewey, Richard Rorty and Michael Polanyi say about the importance of the tacit dimension of life – stuff like “performative knowledge”, “operational logic”, etc (in other words, “show” – but don’t “tell”).   This, initially, is the best way for people to pick up stuff, I think.  Culture powerfully forms us.

And yet – I wonder how long we can continue to do this in this increasingly multicultural, permissive, and consumer-driven society.  Incidents do, and will come up.  Analogous to the dentist telling us we have a cavity after the fact, we *can’t not explicitly correct* people from time to time (i.e., we don’t have “discussion” about and continued tolerance for the activity – we just say “no”…) – even if we don’t have an explicit “moral education curricula”.  After all, despite all of the radical secularists’ claims to the contrary, and in spite of the varieties of thought regarding moral issues, it seems all of us really do believe there is something akin to moral *knowledge*.  Even if we can come to  a consensus on how to fairly handle religious holidays and dress  –  we still need to get into the moral issues of life.

Let me make this more concrete.

Even if a young straight-A Harvard student believes the Golden Rule in its positive form, this won’t necessarily stop him from bluntly asking the young, cute cleaning women for sex (after all, he’d want her to ask him).  Should she just get over it?  (I get this example from a 1995 editorial in the Chronicle of Higher Ed).  Or should we uphold a moral code for our students and say this is not tolerable?

Or –  let’s get a little bit more controversial (after all, people from most world religions might say “yes” to our situation above).  Let’s assume *for the sake of argument* that a person – a teacher –  believes that infanticide, polygamy, sati (widow-burning in India), female circumcision, marriage to seven-year old girls, pedophilia, and the sex-slave industry, for example, are all tolerable (at least some of these issues above would be approved by some religions [in general, that is – traditionally] and not others)  Let’s say her basis for this is a fuzzy idea that what’s ultimately important is that we love and respect each other’s individuality and cultures – honoring the differences and various worldviews we encounter (so she emphasizes the importance of learning “cultural competence”, i.e. the ability to form “authentic” and “effective” relationships – perhaps at the expense of spending her time educating others about the traditional concepts of human rights, self-governance, and personal liberty, I might add…).  After all, when she really listened to these folks, they convinced her that they really were attempting to “love their neighbor” in this or that sense.  It seemed that their worldview really did “respect and build relationships” – although not in a sense that she had been familiar with before.  Nevertheless, in this case, would she still not need to exclude cannibals, for instance?  Perhaps not.  After all, after consulting with some lawyer :), they might even convincingly and emotionally argue that *they are all about “respecting”* their neighbor – for example, by cleaning their plates.  Given these kinds of realities about how people use language to their particular advantage, it would be prudent to get deeper with the definitions of these concepts – *and get to the point* – before we wind up at the point of a spear!


The last example with cannibals may be extreme, but in all seriousness I want to make a logical point.  When someone says schools should be more or less “values neutral” or “religiously neutral” – part of me wants to agree, but on the other hand, I have huge intellectual – and practical – difficulties with this.  One may be in the knee-jerk habit of slapping down what one perceives to be the exclusive values of relatively non-violent, meek Christian fundamentalists, but what about this other stuff?  (incidently, many of the democratic values themselves – tolerance, human rights and dignity, equality, etc. – when compared with the rest of the history of the world, begin to look themselves suspiciously like “bourgeois” Judeo-Christian values – Nietschze certainly thought so [NOTE: see last post]).

So, if one is to counter such moral ideas, I think one must do more than just discussing texts or literature which touches on moral themes – even though one certainly does implicitly teach morality even in this way.  I would argue in fact that every judgment – whether by body language or words – that we make in communicating about a text (or other) is a “moral judgment”.  In truth, I don’t see how we can avoid “naming names” (eventually) – by which I mean positively identifying not only morals and laws, but whole “worldviews” – religions – that will need to be seriously dealt with.

Many say: “one has to learn to evaluate the behavior of other people, not just blindly copy them”, and I agree, but I wonder *when* this process should start.  I have to say as a father, that in a child’s early years at least, children really don’t seem to need much explanation for why you believe something is right – and explicitly introducing them to alternative viewpoints to “evaluate” would seem to only breed unnecessary confusion.  I suppose I tend to be quite “traditional” and “intolerant” in my values.  For example, even if I myself might enjoy sharing a beer with a NAMBLA member, listening sympathetically to him about the merits of his case, hell would have to freeze over before I gave him access to my seven-year old son (he’s actually about 5 right now) so that he could convince him of the richness and beauty of man-boy love.  “Eight is too late” indeed!  

In short, it is certainly true that different cultures and societies have embraced general concepts like truth, love, honor and justice (as opposed to lies, hatred, dishonor, and injustice) – but they may view many of the same certain behaviors quite oppositely (suicide, for instance).  Unfortunately, people just don’t agree on what is “the good and the beautiful” (more traditional concepts [I think naïve] of this of course say that we have a free will to seek the “true, the good, and the beautiful”, that we can train our wills to do this, and that it is our human liberty / right to be able to seek these things, to embrace them, and to express them [Alexander Hamilton, I think]…)  Therefore, I think for any moral discourse to be effective, we need to use practical, experiential language and examples that all parties can understand – again, not automatically presuming either the validity or “human consensus” of traditional, Greek philosophical (metaphysical) principles and categories, for instance… In other words, persuasion – in a *free and open encounter with undistorted communication* – with *practical effects figuring in prominently in the debate* – is in the forefront here.  I think people who believe in true freedom will be content to call “fair” whatever the outcome of such a fair debate is (I say: we get the government we deserve).  I cite Richard Rorty here.  Of course, this becomes increasingly difficult as we become less word and more image-centered.


Also, I suppose one could argue that when considering the concept of human evolution, as well as social engineering and new technologies, perhaps behaviors that were psychologically and socially harmful in the past may not be so in the future.  I think this would be a tough sell, frankly (I don’t buy it).  Therefore, what I’ve said above seems to me the way forward – that is, if we are going to try to live together.

…Unless we just want to pitch words, meaning, logic, etc. altogether.  If so, we get what we deserve then too, I think.

So again, Khyati, I appreciate your insights and what you are trying to do here in promoting sensitivity.  I want to do this as well – but what about these deeper issues – does your book deal with these things?


Nathan Rinne

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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Uncategorized


An essay on Christian tolerance, derived from God’s love, which results in a unique form of civil righteousness

"What is more harmful than any vice? — Active sympathy for the ill–constituted and weak — Christianity ... ." -- Nietzsche, The Antichrist

“What is more harmful than any vice? — Active sympathy for the ill–constituted and weak — Christianity … .” — Nietzsche, The Antichrist

Regarding the nature of love, C.S. Lewis said:

“In order for love to be genuine, the agent has to have the ability to choose not to love. Unless there is freedom of one’s will to either love someone or hate them, it isn’t really love.”

It seems strange to say about one as great as Lewis, but Pastor John Fraiser points out some very real problems with this argument.  That is why I propose the following instead:

“Only freely given love is genuine love. Love that is forced is not free, and therefore not genuine love. In that case, we might as well be robots.”

Luke 15 (“the prodigal son”) shows us how God is with us.  This not only has theological but political implications.

Only in the West have persons had so much freedom to live as they see fit. This is due to the heritage of Christian tolerance (Nietszche, Islam [?]: “weakness”) and its influence in our society: the idea that although we may disagree with someone, we want to respect and dignify them as valuable persons, created in the image of God, who have the “right to be wrong” (this unique form of “civil righteousness”, present only in societies inhabited by large numbers of Christians, derives from this core aspect of true righteousness, the righteousness of God, namely: if you love something you let it be free. This is the reason why free consent is considered to be at the heart of marriage in the West*). Hell, a true place to be sure, is also in the Christian mind, the “un-life”[1] that persons freely choose for themselves. There is no one in hell who God has not fully loved in Jesus Christ. It is we, not he, who desire to relegate to non-existence the relationships we have been given with others, most notably with God himself. So here we note that at the core of the Bible is the idea of true freedom – from sin, death, and the devil – where we may (without being forced against our willing) through Jesus Christ, live as forgiven people of God – in accordance with the way God intended us to live in joy, that is, in love for the other, which means nothing other than genuine and self-sacrificial concern for the well-being of their person “body and soul”.

Give me this liberty or give me death.  This is not about Christian nation-building**

Now, it is simply not responsible for those holding political power to always allow for this “civil righteousness”-“right to be wrong” stuff of course. While all may agree that in general (20th century Germany, Russia, Cambodia, etc. excepted, quite a large amount of exceptions, I note) laws against murder and theft are a good thing, due to the sinfulness of sin, it may be infinitely better and wiser to not outlaw, but rather verbally discourage, in some cases make more difficult, and certainly not subsidize other behaviors which may not be best for the health of the individual and society (gambling, pornography, adultery and consistently practiced [lifelong] deliberate childlessness (!) for instance).

undertheinfluenceNevertheless, the level of personal freedom persons in the West have experienced is immense, and unarguably, unprecedented in human history. And I note that you will not find the nuanced and expansive view of rights that allows for this, which in Western societies (especially America) is part and parcel with respect for the freedom of the individual conscience – in any other society, where non-biblical religious ideas (polytheistic [hoi polloi], pantheistic [elites], etc.) are much more closely intertwined with the political. Hence, you will, for example, find that the politically active classes in no other society – not even pagan Greece and Rome – ever officially sanctioned and actively promoted things like gay marriage – hoping to elevate same-sex relationships to the same status as heterosexual ones – although throughout history there have been “variations on a common theme” (namely man-woman themes) when it comes to marriage. Quite frankly, only in a society buffered by so much biblical tolerance and patience (where the “habits of the heart” formed by the non-Christian’s imitation of the Christian [Christians could never “tolerate” *sanctioned* gay marriage] is what I am speaking of) could a thing like “gay marriage” occur (go read Luke 15 to see the attitude of the waiting, prodigal Father Jesus speaks of).

The key point here is that faithful Christians believe that both mortal (what we call “natural”) life and immortal life is rooted in the concept of gift, or grace – and that this can be freely rejected. In short, it is not so much our “duty to believe”, but our privilege to be “woken up” and recognize and receive all God does for all men – for He does not show partiality – through our neighbor (as we are called to serve them), starting of course with the Neighbor, the Crucified One whose Life creates and restores all life. This means, for example, that it is not so much that our own life is a gift to us (and hence suicide is wrong, per Aquinas), but the lives that are given to us are a gift to us (and hence suicide is wrong: you are a gift to the other).

This is why deliberate lifelong childlessness, for example, in regards to man-woman relationships (which require fidelity as well) is simple absurdity. It is to cut off the umbilical chord of life itself, not to mention Life. Speaking of society as a whole, one cannot pursue “happiness” (however ultimately lacking a Christless happiness would be) in liberty (however ultimate lacking a Christless liberty would be) without life. Many today look at the pain of life and see death as a “curative slumber”, something which should be courageously embraced because it brings freedom (“to be free is to die”) and I suppose, happiness. This makes me both sad and scared.

This is my Christian perspective. I am sure those of other religions – including pagan philosophers – would have their own coherent way of dealing with these realities. At the same time, I don’t think you are going to get societies with nearly as much earthly freedom in these schemes (unless you are rich and powerful and can do as you please to a greater extent).


*-We can be clear: Western culture’s historic shift away from arranged marriages* to marriages based on mutual choice is a good thing. It is a Christian idea – we do not choose God but He does allow us to leave – to disown Him. This is the reason why free consent*** is now considered to be at the heart of marriage in the West. I think that “hard” arranged marriages would be bad.  On the other hand, very “soft” ones, where the person getting married has some choice?  Not bad at all!  Good idea!

**- Christians should not be eager to create “Christian nations”.  Still, I think there is something to be said about nations that are built largely according to Christian principles, that derive from the Christian consciousness (even as the Church does well to keep distinct from the state!).  Part of this consciousness involves the idea that God respects individual persons’ freedom to resist Him (we get what we want), and it only seems right and fair that Christians should be able to resist other religions as well.  Hence, to be fair, people should be free to resist all particular religions, even as, when it comes to general matters of personal freedom and sensible governance (including justice), we try to persuade them (civilly) through Natural Law argumentation (while making it clear we are, in fact, Christians), which does not preclude talking about the very real felt human consensus about a general Deity(s)/Divine Nature that inhabits (and is responsible for!) the cosmos.”

Here is an excellent quote from Luther on the matter:

“Certainly it is true that Christians, so far as they themselves are concerned, are subject neither to law nor sword, have need of either. But take heed and first fill the world with real Christian before you attempt to rule it in a Christian or evangelical manner.

This you will never accomplish; for the world and the masses are and always will be un-Christian, even if they are all baptized and Christian in names. Christians are few and far between (as they say is). Therefore, it is out of the question that there should be a common Christian government over the whole world, or indeed over a single country or any considerable body of the people, for the wicked always outnumber the good.”

—Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should Be Obeyed (found here)

***-On the other hand, some misunderstand the limits of free consent, seeing it, for example, as the defining moral principle in sexual relationships (see here).

[1] I Timothy 6:19.  Also John 17:3.

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Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Uncategorized


“Come to me and I will give you rest.” Law or gospel?

Luther: "Make duty a pleasure."

Luther: “Make duty a pleasure.”

On Issues ETC last week, Pastor David Petersen was interviewed on the topic of “Responding to Reasons for Not Going to Church”.  It was a very good program, and certainly worth listening to.  In it, he did address the question above and talked about how that statement really is gospel.

True.  First and foremost, this is can be objectively labeled as a statement of pure gospel – for thought we are asked to come, we are meant to understand that “all has been prepared” – and we know we are coming, as Jesus says, not to endure toil, labor, and burdens, but to rest.  As we know, God gives both repentance and faith in Christ as a gift through the hearing of the word.

That said, this statement certainly can be both law and gospel though – depending on the attitude of the person hearing the words, and the Spirit’s corresponding guidance of the one proclaiming God’s word.  For example, if a non-Christian already thinks they have the rest they need, they won’t be too pleased to hear that need to “come to Jesus” and Him alone.  But law proclamation may entail pointing out that their rest is not a God-pleasing rest.

Not only this, but the Christian’s old Adam may interpret the statement in this way:

It’s a bait and switch you know.  Sure Jesus talks about peace with God, forgiveness of sins, streams of living water and the like – but that’s not all He has to say to you… He also wants something from you.  Don’t trust Him.  Drop that nice roasted turkey that He just put in your arms.  There is a catch.”

(alternatively, maybe one’s old Adam is a little less sophisticated: “feeding my face on the couch while watching the game sounds pretty restful to”… or perhaps more piously: “wouldn’t Jesus want me to take some ‘me time’ with this nice Christian life book instead….”*)

There is no “catch” of course, but old Adam is right to a point.  However, the point is that the new man knows Christ, knows the context, and knows that overall, even though He has much that He has prepared for us to do – that He works with us, gives us all the power we need to do the work, and does in fact give us rest in the midst of the “vineyard work” to be done.

For He is not a hard man.

A recent edition of Luther's "On Christian Freedom"  Click book for more info

A recent edition of Luther’s “On Christian Freedom” Click book for more info

Back to the question of the title for this post. Again, I suspect that a lot of our difficulties as modern confessional Lutherans would dissipate if we started to think about the Christian more like Luther did, that is, analogously to Christ and Christology.  At the end of chapter 1 of his book, “On Christian freedom”, Luther says this:

The reason why seemingly contradictory statements are often made in the Bible about Christians is due to the Christians two-fold nature.  The simple fact is that within each Christian two natures constantly oppose each other.  “The flesh wars against the spirit and the spirit wars against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17).

Modern confessional Lutherans are loathe to take his advice, for Luther says we should not only know Christ, but ourselves.  He points us, to some degree, to the Christian, as well as the Christ.

But if this is true, we say, “How can I decrease that He may increase”?  I think Luther does not understand the question.


*-It is also possible that old Adam may tell us to attend worship services in order to justify himself, particularly if the Gospel in the narrow sense is not preached there.  In general, old Adam “fears, loves and trusts in God” for his own purposes and benefits: “I want something from God so I will do what He says.

That said, perhaps these days it is more common for old Adam to convince us to avoid church in order to demonstrate – to ourselves and to others – that we are not justified by works, but faith alone!  “God knows I love Him” we arrogantly say.

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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Uncategorized


Wake up to the plain – if not extreme – truth: a post no idealistic, secularized liberal wants you to read

extremetruth_001On occasion I might consider my own views to be extreme.  But the fact of the matter is that the truth itself is the “extremist”, not myself.

Children, be innocent of evil, but as wise as serpents. 

For the fact of the matter is that even if the idealistic and secularized liberal feels even a little uneasy about any of the following things, they have no good and cogent reasons for trying to hold them back.  Well, other than the fact that you, the untrustworthy one, only need to know more when you are ready, that is, complacent enough…

Behold the “love” of the world:

Polygamy is no longer an outlier for many social scientists, and much serious work has already been done laying the groundwork for its defense (see here, as well as this recent Slate article arguing for it).  Polygamy, however, is small potatoes.  Polyamory, the idea that many persons sexually involved with one another should be able to accrue government support, benefits, and legal structure to assist in their lifestyle, has a serious academic following (see here and here ; also note it’s happening in Brazil here).  And what about the many “gay marriage” advocates in academia who admit that they want to get rid of – move “beyond” –  traditional marriage altogether? (see here and here)  What about those in the gay rights movement – not a small number – who believe the “next step” should be to help straight people get over their obsession – the hypocritical obsession! – with monogamous marriage?  (see here and here and here).  And what about the fact that for many, their conception of “civil rights”, grounded on just what I do not know, is the card that would trump all factual reality?  In other words, whether or not children in general do better with a mom and a dad, to take one example, is irrelevant (see here – so what is the point of insisting that conservatives provide evidence that pornography is harmful?).  Jerry Sandusky aside, pedophilia has been gradually losing its stigma – as long as it is done ethically of course! – and there have been serious academic books written defending it (see here and here; interesting related links here and here).[1]

extremetruthIIILikewise, the academic world is finally catching up with Peter Singer, and the Journal of Medical Ethics recently held a conference seriously discussing the merits of infanticide (see here, here, and here).  Our current President has not been supportive of bills that would discourage infanticide in the case of “botched abortions” (see here).  Further, unlike many European countries, neither the right or left in our country have the will to counter the American wild west of reproductive technologies and “designer babies”, or human cloning en route to organ harvesting, etc.  Unbridled commodification of not only sex, but human life itself, is “what’s next”.[2]

If any of these trends gain steamroller traction in the wider culture – something very few thought would happen even for dreams of gay marriage until very recently – on what basis does the idealistic and secularized liberal argue against those advocating for these positions?[3] In short, what this means for me is that, even when it comes to dealing with people’s opinions surrounding gay marriage, I have to hold in check the impulse to say “I respect your opinion”.  I simply cannot even say that, even if I respect them as human beings made in the image of God and bought with His own blood.


Image credits: and and

[1] Judith Levine’s Harmful to Minors: the perils of protecting children from sex (2003) is particularly interesting here.  Levine is very confident, for example, that pre-school level child-on-child sexual exploration is not really harmful to minors (see pg  183).  One of the things that sticks out like a sore thumb to this father is Levine’s desire to eschew any discussion – serious or otherwise – of any real sexual boundaries as it relates to age, person, place, etc (see p. xxxii, where she actually calls this an “obsession”). Entitled to sexual pleasure (xxxv) “child…sex can be moral or immoral” indeed (p. xxxiv) and kids can make their own decisions (p. 17).  I get the distinct impression that if kids could just be given economic assistance, good health care, and good rather than bad sex – perhaps with experienced adults who know how to give them a good experience? – sex would be “no problem” and be like any other form of “recreation”.

[2] I need not mention the seemingly unstoppable trend to legalize pot and other substances clearly harmful to society, nor our elected representatives predilection to prey on its own citizens through “sin taxes” and gambling.

[3] Our likely reaction to these questions only goes to show how much all of us are still under the influence of Christian thought. Most all of these things were common in the ancient world, particularly among the Greeks and Romans (who did not have gay *marriage* however).  Of course the influence of Christianity in the Western world has been receding, and seemingly at a more rapid pace as of late.  I see the wide acceptance of abortion in our public laws as a profound indicator here.  If the Bible’s account of the ancient world is to be believed – and both ancient writers and archaeology gives us good reason to think it can – the killing of infants has always been part and parcel of pagan practices (It is, in fact, sacred ground).  These sacrifices were a part of the furniture of ancient life.  As regards the insufficiency of “consent” as the defining moral principle in sexual relationships, see this post.

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Posted by on May 21, 2013 in Uncategorized


A great You Tube video: what is the Bible basically about?

Doing the discussion boards for my online class right now…  Have found myself linking to the video below again, in an answer to one of my student’s posts.  Thought I’d put it up here as well.  If you’ve never seen it, enjoy.  If you have, I’m guessing you might want to enjoy it again:

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Posted by on May 19, 2013 in Uncategorized


Nail in the coffin?: Surburg decimates “new perspective on sanctification”

“Gospel” bullying

“Gospel” bullying

I am talking about this post, which builds in part on the conversation had here.

Now, I know the title of this post is a pretty bold.  Still, I think it is warranted.  “2KR” (see last series), now being taught in the St. Louis seminary – and even promoted by one of its professors as “a better paradigm than Law and Gospel” – is the attempted answer to what is quite clearly an anemic, biblically deficient doctrine of sanctification. Luther’s view, echoed by the Formula of Concord (as Surburg clearly demonstrates) is much better.

As for the anemic view of sanctification I am claiming he so thoroughly demolishes, it is what I heard from most all of my professors in confessional Lutheran seminaries.  It is also the view I hear from many guests on Issues ETC (still a top-notch theological talk show program if there ever was one – if you can support it and don’t, please do!).  I think that deep down most everyone realizes its sheer absurdity – that the emperor has no clothes – and people have just been waiting for some capable theologian-historians to convince them.  As far as I am concerned, that has been done in spades – at least on the internet.  Time will tell who has been paying attention, and whether substantial work supporting or attempting to refute Pastor Surburg’s conclusions (not to mention others who have been faithfully conveying the confessions for years on this point, though not with quite the intentional and systematic vigor of men like Strawn, Sonntag, and Surburg) will be forthcoming in print.

Years ago, on Paul McCain’s blog Cyberbrethren, Aaron Wolf (note from the link the last program he did on Issues ETC, and the article it was based on) left this impassioned comment:

Saint Paul writes to Saint Timothy, “Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.” Now, more than ever, as Western Christian civilization is crumbling all around us, we need to be told what that means. We need to hear what self-controlled means; it is Law. By preaching this, as our Lutheran forebears did, we will learn what pleases God and benefits our neighbor and, in the process, be convicted of sin and driven to confession and the Sacrament of the Altar.

If we don’t get specific about such things, we risk gaining a false sense of the depth of our own sin, and our own need for repentance. It just might not occur to me that I’m breaking a particular commandment, unless I am told what it means to break it. The old man is very good at tuning out general statements about being a sinner, even if we add “poor, miserable” to it.  We also risk creating an antinomian Lutheran culture, a soil that produces young people who don’t really look or behave much differently from those produced in the dying culture around them. They don’t know the meaning of modesty or self-control. They lack manners. They respect neither parents or pastors. In short, they have been trained to hate authority, because their Lutheran culture has given them a pat answer to any specific point of Law: I’m a poor, miserable sinner, and that won’t change until I’m dead. I say the general confession every Sunday. Leave me alone. Or they might go to confession and confess what troubles them, based entirely on their own unformed consciences, untouched by a growing knowledge of the Law, which David loved.

So great is this spirit of antinomianism that, for example, I’ve spoken with many conservative pastors who wouldn’t dare set standards for their young people at church. As in, You may not approach God’s altar dressed like a harlot. Or like a bum. Some pastors wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing in the first place, while others wish they could, but know what a nuclear bomb that would be in the congregation.

Then come the very postmodern, Pilatesque “what is truth” replies. How can you really say that a nose ring or a tattoo or purple punk hair is wrong? Did God really say? Who made you the judge of what is modest and what isn’t? It’s really remarkable that we still have a civilization at all.

Attempts to reason away such plain Scriptural language as that of Titus 2, or a host of other passages in the New Testament, whether by appealing to such theological buzzterms as synergism or by crying “Reformed!” or “fundamentalist!” or “papist” are a slap in the face to Lutheran preachers of the past (beginning with Luther), bespeak a willful ignorance of history, and reveal the deep-seated antinomianism in modern Confessional Lutheranism. It is a small wonder that the grass looks greener in Constantinople or Rome or Geneva. Some folks just don’t want to turn their children into little Marilyn Mansons or Britney Spearses for the sake of maintaining a nebulous sense of “monergism.” And that is sad, because they don’t realize that the formulaic preaching they are hearing, with lessons shoe-horned into an antinomian, post-liberal, Gospel-narrative-only hermeneutic, is not really Lutheran at all. They will have been led by their shepherds away from the green grass of the Gospel to stoney ground.


Back to Pastor Surburg.  In a recent post titled “Lutheran preaching – third use or agnostic use of the law?” he says:

It seems that the discussion about the third use of the law with those who hold the new perspective on sanctification always ends up back at the same point. No Lutheran in the discussion will explicitly deny the third use – after all it is confessed in Formula of Concord article VI.  But at the same time we are told that the preacher can’t control how the law strikes the hearer. The law always accuses and so we must assume that it will function in its second use for some, if not most, hearers.  And so practically speaking there really is no third use of the law that the preacher can intentionally employ because we can never know that it will be used by the Spirit in this way.  We are left with an “agnostic use of the law,” and so are told that we should just preach law – which means we should speak in ways that are most commonly associated with the second use.  The third use of the law is confessed in principle, but functionally it is denied.   Ultimately, the agnostic use of the law ends up being the second use of the law because it is assumed that this is what the law really does.

Yet in fact, this approach stands contrary to the apostolic practice in Scripture and the position confessed in Formula of Concord article VI.  In addition, it does not withstand examination as a theological argument.  It should not be allowed to determine how we think about the law in the preaching task as Lutherans.

The question arises because the New Testament in general, and Paul’s letters in particular, are filled with exhortation and admonition for Christians to live in new obedience.  Within Paul’s letters these statements are always grounded in what God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Christ, and through the work of the Holy Spirit – they find their source in the Gospel (bold originally his italics)

That’s right.  Thank you Pastor Surburg for laying this out so clearly in black and white.

Near the end he says this:

It should not escape our notice that Paul is no more able to control the Spirit’s use of the law than we are.  Yet in spite of this fact he repeatedly engages in exhortation and admonition as he seeks to lead Christians to engage in new obedience.  He shows no hesitancy about speaking in this matter.  In fact, as Luther observes above, “Paul is so persistent in his admonitions that he actually seems to be overdoing it” (paragraph 3).

In doing so, Paul provides the apostolic pattern that we need to follow.  And in fact we can go beyond that assertion. For while Paul can’t control the Spirit’s use of the law, in the mystery of the inspiration of Scripture what Paul writes is exactly what the Spirit wants to be said.  The apostolic model of exhortation and admonition affirmed by Luther and described by FC VI as the third use of the law is in fact the Spirit provided model and pattern of addressing Christians.

Our theologizing about the nature of the law and the manner in which the Spirit may or may not use it cannot be allowed to become something that precludes pastors from speaking the way Scripture speaks.  Theological constructs about the individual’s experience of the law that have their roots in the twentieth century cannot be allowed to preempt preaching and teaching that employs the language of the inspired, apostolic pattern. (bold originally his italics)

If you still are not convinced, you need to go here to read the rest.  Yes, that is a law statement.  And even if you are convinced, go read it anyway as it is well worth your time.  Pastor Surburg, like Pastor Sonntag and my Pastor, Paul Strawn, are doing a great service for the church in bringing this to light and putting it forth so clearly.  If you are concerned about where this leaves the Gospel in the narrow sense (evil ones forgiven and holy before God for Christ’s sake!), as I ended my last post:

…we certainly are makers and doers who influence and impact both the church and the world – as Luther said repeatedly (he believes the gates of hell won’t prevail because God will always preserve some men vigorous to defend and promulgate the things of God). It is also because of these truths that the comfort and confidence provided by the passive righteousness is continually needed.

Mark that last sentence.


Image from here:


Posted by on May 16, 2013 in Uncategorized


A Wittenberg way of doing theology?: a critique of Kolb and Arand’s “Two Kinds of Righteousness” (part V of V)

2KR_VI. Introduction (and Conclusion)

II. The Passive Righteousness of Faith

III. Types of creaturely righteousness and the corresponding law of creation

IV. Types of creaturely righteousness and the corresponding law of creation (continued)

V. The Active Righteousness of Faith

As Kolb and Arand remind us, Luther summed up the Christian life as a life in which “the Old Adam in us is drowned through daily remorse and repentance and dies with all sins and evil lusts, and a new human creature daily arises, who lives eternally in God’s sight in righteousness and purity.”[1]

Cutting to the chase, the question is: “Who does this daily drowning?”, and here 21st century confessional Lutherans – eager to define their views of the Christian life over and against American evangelical conceptions of it – struggle (and I think fall off the other side of the horse). Kolb and Arand might seem to offer one possible way when they say… “the passive righteousness of faith constitutes the nature of our relationship to God, the active righteousness of faith constitutes and sustains our relationships with other members of the human community” and that “active righteousness ultimately depends on passive righteousness” while “active righteousness provides the context for our need of passive righteousness” (K&A, 76).

In the last section, we discussed the fact that Kolb and Arand tend to conflate active righteousness in general with the active righteousness of faith.  Also, we discussed the reality that active righteousness not only deals with our relationships with other human beings, but with their relationship with God. Finally, there is the question of just how our “active righteousness provides the context for our need of passive righteousness.” When it comes to God, is everything passive for the believer? In other words, is sanctification, like justification, purely “monergistic”? Does God do everything in this process?*

Kolb and Arand state that “our daily activities… do nothing to…perfect our relationship with God.  Christ’s righteousness makes us secure at our core before God” (K&A, 54).  Of course Christians are participants in a marriage with Christ, and with him have everything they already need: justification, redemption, wisdom, and sanctification (I Cor. 1:30). That said, when it comes to the things we have in our persons with him – wisdom and sanctification, or our “concreated righteousness” – Lutherans insist we cooperate, as God works to make immature believers into mature believers (see FC, SD III , see this brief discussion for more specifics). We who are children of God may not be able to make ourselves “get closer to him”, but we certainly can realize more what we have with him, and thereby our trust in him – and our righteousness – can grow. 

Of course, Kolb and Arand want the reader to know that Luther urged Christians to get active with good works. The “two kinds of righteousness” “clarified the relationship of the human creature to the world in which God had placed him or her…” (K&A, 26). This said, how did Luther urge the Christian to get active? Kolb and Arand say “as faith grows, one could say that the Christian grasps more firmly the righteousness of Christ. As faith grows, just like a tree, it does not become more righteous, but it does produce more fruit… For Luther, one can speak of more works or fruit, but this does not imply growth in sanctification….” (K&A 126). They add that Luther’s statements in the Large Catechism about sanctification not being completed make sense “within the matrix of the two kinds of righteousness”: “Christ’s righteousness is a totality, and the believer participates in it totally. It is partial when viewed from the standpoint of the world’s approval of us and as a new beginning for human beings along with a new obedience” (K&A, 124).

Is the world’s approval – not God’s – part of the reason the Christian “still waits for righteousness” (p. 124), as Kolb and Arand put it?** Or is the active righteousness of faith of even greater consequence, where the believer “walks in danger [of the world, the flesh, and the devil] all the way” – with each moment a battle of faith? Kolb and Arand take the focus off Christians and any personal righteousness we might be tempted to think is “our possession”, focusing on the neighbor God gives us to serve instead (again, see the last post for concerns here). But have they completely removed the Christian from the equation?[2] In Kolb and Arand’s account, the emphasis seems to be all on Christ (yes, this sounds good!), who evidently not only daily drowns us in repentance (preserving us in the faith), but also makes us daily exercise ourselves in the law of the Lord (see FC SD VI), without our cooperation. 

How to view the Christian’s sanctification? First, though we are new creatures in Christ – with “new desires, attitudes, and dispositions to align [our lives] with God’s design” (K&A rightly point this out on p. 126), we are not yet completely mature. Second, the believer’s new nature, not Jesus, is the new man who cooperates with God. Therefore, God judges some of us to be more in line with his designs, desires, thoughts, words, and deeds (even as each are conformed in distinctive ways) and rewards these as such. Although this teaching is not popular – evidently with Kolb and Arand either – everyone thinks some people are better than others. For example, when it comes to choosing a roommate – or spouse! – we generally will seek someone who we think is a better person overall, our standards being more or less in accordance with God’s. This is not done according to quantitative criteria, but qualitative criteria – we “measure” the whole person. And there is nothing wrong with this, even as we also assert that everyone, without exception, is loved by God who desires the salvation of all. And, as many a parent of multiple children knows (and hopefully many a child), to say this is not to say that one is loved more than another.

Believers who are more mature in Christ – who have a higher level of sanctification – will be very humble(d) persons who know their sin. They know they grow not because they do not fall, but because Christ gives his hand to pick them up again. Their sin bothers them greatly, and they know they could take a terrible fall, a la Chutes and Ladders, or even lose their faith altogether (i.e. justification) through faith-destroying and doubt-inducing sin (hearing Paul’s “do not be deceived” regarding doing evil deeds). Rest assured, “keeping track” of any good they do is an attitude they flee and repent of, and when Paul encourages believers to take pride in their own deeds in Galatians, he speaks to the simple of course.  Finally, they are eager not to point to their own progress (even as Paul urges Timothy to make sure others see his progress), but that of those great saints around them whose lives they are most thankful for.

So, how do we mature? The answer is as simple as it is profound: hearing the Word of God, participating in the sacraments, and exercising ourselves according to the whole counsel of God. This goes hand in hand with the drowning of the old Adam that is daily repentance. Knowing that we live by them, we seek out every word from his mouth, and these comfort and help equip us, so that we leave childhood behind and attain to the “mature manhood” mentioned in Eph 4: 13-15. Since “the word of God…is at work in you believers” (I Thes. 2:13), this is the kind of activity we actively run to, and initiate ourselves as well. 

Faith is busy in good works the world does not necessarily see as such – particularly pertaining to the first table of the Decalogue – and while we cannot use them to secure our justification, they often place us exactly where we need to be. Again, these works – which are first and foremost the command to fear, love and trust God and no other ; to pray, praise, proclaim and sing his Name and deeds ; and to gladly hear his word and keep it – are not necessary “for” salvation, but “to” salvation (as Luther noted in the Disputation Concerning Justification). Likewise, they arise from faith in both its passive and active aspects. They help believers, empowered by the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection for our justification, to understand why it is important for the sheep to huddle up close to the shepherd. This shepherd guides us in straight paths – that he may protect his flock from all harm and danger – and we are wise and are eager to participate insofar as we are new men.

No doubt, strong pastors eager to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (II Cor. 10) are needed here, for only then can the most helpful kinds of actions proceed. Kolb and Arand, echoing Forde, state “in the end, if human beings see themselves as makers and doers, they will find themselves having to carry the entire world on their shoulders like the mythical Atlas holding the world on his back” (K&A, 92). On the contrary, the violent take the Kingdom of God by force. Yes, we are not “makers and doers” in our justification, but we certainly are makers and doers who influence and impact both the church and the world – as Luther said repeatedly (he believes the gates of hell won’t prevail because God will always preserve some men vigorous to defend and promulgate the things of God). It is also because of these truths that the comfort and confidence provided by the passive righteousness is continually needed. 


*Although there may be nuance in the position which goes beyond their book, it would seem that, because of the way Kolb and Arand have set things up (that is coram deo on the one hand and coram mundo on the other) the only way we can be active is towards our neighbor in love. 

**Growth in sanctification, or new obedience, is not something that Luther talked about at all in terms of “before the eyes of the world”.

[1] “Small Catechism” (Baptism, question 4) in K&A, 13.

[2] Just as the doctrine of double predestination might cause a baptized person to think that what happens in space and time in their body has no ultimate significance or meaning, the doctrine of the two kinds of righteousness, as it is summarized by Kolb and Arand, may give the same impression.


Posted by on May 14, 2013 in Uncategorized