Monthly Archives: October 2013

On with the Reformation!, circa 1580: the lover of Truth, Martin Chemnitz (part III of III)

First, here are some of my other posts about the Reformation:

The coming vindication of Martin Luther – summary and conclusion (2012)

Unchildlike Reformation Eve (2012)

Babies in Church (part VIII): judge your mother, o child (the tragic necessity of the Reformation) (2011)

Forgiveness free and true: the crux of the Reformation, the essence of the Christian life (2011)

Re: Reformation Day: kids don’t celebrate divorce (2011)

Reformation history: what would you have done? (2011)

A child of the Reformation (2009)

16th century Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz

16th century Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz

The topic for today is not Flacius (see the previous two posts here and here) but Martin Chemnitz.  He is known to be the primary author and editor of the Formula of Concord, the last of the confessional documents of the steadfast Lutheran church on earth, contained in the 1580 Book of Concord.

There is 17th century saying about this man that goes something like this: “If the Second Martin had not come, the first would not have prevailed”.

According to the Lutheran pastor and blogger Paul McCain, in this fascinating discussion about Mr. Chemnitz, this saying was evidently originally uttered by Roman Catholics.

To this day, McCain notes, Chemnitz’s answer to the Council of Trent, the Examination of the Council of Trent, goes unmatched.

Chemnitz (essentially): Halt! He shall not be moved! (for real story behind pic, see here)

Chemnitz (essentially): Halt! He shall not be moved! (for real story behind pic, see here)

Chemnitz’s opponents have often disparaged him by saying that his knowledge of the early church fathers is only apparent – that he did not really understand them but actually just used them, in effect doing violence to their actual views.   In other words, he was an excellent “quote miner” or “proof-texter” who actually just skated on the surface – as much as he needed to in order to win the arguments he was already convinced of.  I wonder if even some serious Lutheran historians have fallen prey to this account.

For many scholars who have delved into Chemnitz deeply and taken the time to cross-reference some of his quotations, they have not found this to be the case at all.

Here, complements of Pastor McCain’s blog, is Chemnitz explaining in his own words what he did SAMSUNGin his late twenties, upon being hired to work in one of the best theological libraries of his day:

“I should have given myself wholly to Theology earlier, had it not been for my dislike for superficial knowledge of any kind. Hence while I was destitute of books whence I might acquire solidly and from its foundations what is necessary for this study, I had no taste for Theology. For I could not approve of those who, satisfied with certain dictations, were not eager to understand the text from its fundamentals, or to arrive at a sound judgment of the points of controversy…Yet, to nourish godliness, my mind was always inclined toward this study.

So, then, when I now had the most desirable store of the best books in the ducal library, and God governing my course, I devoted myself wholly to the study of Theology. My method was this. First I read the biblical books through in their order, comparing all the various versions and expositions, old and new, which were in the library, and if I met anything that seemed memorable or remarkable, I made a note of it on paper arranged for this purpose. In the second place, I read the writings of the Fathers, from the earliest antiquity, and what engaged my attention was entered in my notes. In the third place, I diligently read those recent authors who pointed out the fundamentals of the purified doctrines, and chiefly those who wrote polemical treatises on the controversies of our time, the arguments of the Papists, Anabaptists, Sacramentarians, and from what foundations the explanations and solutions were to be taken, and what solutions were the best. The notes I made of all these things in my memoranda I still have and often inspect with great delight and profit.

The Acts 17 Bereans

The Acts 17 Bereans

It seems to me this man was a lover of the Bile.  A lover of the Fathers.  A lover of the Church.  A lover of truth.  A lover of Christ, the Truth.  To paraphrase something I wrote a while back (in this post), he trusted 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.

Dive in, and examine Martin Chemnitz. (this post by current LC-MS President Matthew Harrison and the interview referenced above are great places to start).  You will see that the theology is the same as the first Martin, even as the delivery has less fireworks and more of a very deliberate and intentional theological approach – all to assure Christians everywhere of the pure comfort found in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.


Chemnitz pic: Wikipedia ; Examination of Council of Trent pic:

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Posted by on October 31, 2013 in Uncategorized


On with the Reformation!, circa 1567: the under-appreciated Matthias Flacius Illyricus (part II of III)

matthias-flacius-illyricusThe insights contained in this post are mostly culled from a paper given by my pastor, Paul Strawn, at a conference on Flacius given in Northfield, MN. In 2011: The Holy Spirit as Interpreter of Scripture in the Clavis Scripturae Sacrae of Matthias Flacius Illyricus. (you can read it here)

Regarding the Scripture’s interpretation, Strawn states “Luther had argued for a clarity provided by the Holy Spirit externally via the ministry of the Word (that is, the Son of God) and internally in the heart of the Christian”.  This was in contrast to

“Schwenkfeld[, who] understood the actual words of the text of the New Testament not to be the actual Word of God, word’s dictated by the Holy Spirit in one way or another to man, but in quite a modern sense, only a human record of a type of divine event. Such words could thus only truly be understood by the direct divine illumination of the reader and were open to much interpretation.

Not only this, but though he is widely considered, for good reason, the most mild-mannered and conservative voice of the Radical Reformation, Schwenckfeld – who had actually been converted by reading Luther – told him in 1525 that

“his colleague Crautwald—a scholar in the original languages of Scripture—claimed he had received in a ‘revelation’ [about the Lord’s Supper]…. Schwenckfeld believed his interpretation was divinely sent, and he hoped that Luther would recognize in his doctrine a solution to the debate that was causing serious strife and discord among Christians.”

Evidently, Schwenkfeld met with Luther three times but persisted in his (mis)understanding. To put it mildly, Luther did not see additionally revealed doctrines from heaven as the way forward (can confessional Lutherans allow for any extra-Scriptural guidance from God?  Yes!  See here). For those who are interested, their meetings, as recounted by Schwenkfeld, are discussed in a 1980 volume of Christian History magazine devoted to him (the previous quote above is from there – see here).  In that issue, we also read this summary of his views:

Caspar Schwenckfeld

Caspar Schwenckfeld

Schwenckfeld is perhaps the best representative of the fourth Radical reformation group, the Spiritualists. He and others who are placed in this category tendedto make a sharp distinction between spirit and flesh, the spiritual words of the Scripture and the physical letters, the spiritual-invisible universal Church and the physical institutionalized forms of Christianity, the spiritual sacraments and the bread or water.

What is going on here ultimately?  Obviously, many persons who claim Christ will disagree about this matter, but according to Joachim Wach, in his Types of Religious Experience, Christian and Non-Christian, (Chicago: Chicago Univ. Press, 1951), this is all rather simple.  Platonism lies at the base of Schwenkfeld’s views.  As quoted by Strawn:

Plato: How large is his influence in Christianity?

Plato: How large is his influence in Christianity?

“…Against Luther and his followers Schwenckfeld holds that faith, by which we grow in the knowledge of the divine does not come in or by the outer word or sign (‘fides ex auditu’) but, being of the spiritual or inner order, it comes from God, is his work, and hence cannot have its origin in the external or material.

(also see this post for more about Plato’s influence in Christianity and how this might be related to views on baptismal regeneration, for example)

I know what you are thinking – give us Illyricus!  Well, here is where Matthias Flacius Illyricus, who had studied in close proximity to Luther for five years, comes in.  He took up the fight against Schwenkfeld in the 1550s, as they disputed this question: “What is the relationship of the Word of God, to the Bible, to the Christian?”  This can be seen from the titles of the books they published, in debate with one another, during that decade:

1) Schwenkfeld: Concerning the Holy Scriptures (1551);

2) Schwenkfeld: Concerning the Gospel of Christ and its Abuse (1551);

3) Flacius: Concerning the Holy Scriptures and their Effect (1553);

4) Schwenkfeld: Concerning the Word of God (1554);

5) Schwenkfeld: A Book Concerning the Difference Between the Word of God and the Holy Scriptures (1554);

6) Flacius: A Refutation of the Book concerning the Word of God and all the Spiritually

-Vacillating Books of Stinkfield (1555);

7) Flacius: Fundamental Refutation of a Number of New Donatistic Writings of Stinkfield (1555);

8) Schwenkfeld: Conclusion and Farewell (1555);

9) Flacius: A Few Contradictions (1556);

10) Schwenckfeld: Defense Against the Little Book of Flacius known as “Contradictions” (1556);

11) Flacius: Fundamental Refutation of all harmful Spiritual Vacillation of Stinkfield (1557);

12) Flacius: Fifty Gross Errors of the Stinkfieldien Spiritual Vacillators (1558);

13) Schwenckfeld: Rejection and Response to the Fifty Lies or Calumnies of Flacius Illyricus (1559)

HowtounderstandPersonal insults aside, the content of what they were discussing does seem rather contemporary, especially given the disputes about the Bible that took place in the 20th century.

I will simply leave you with a small selection of some of Strawn’s  observations concerning Flacius’ view:

“Of importance for us here is the mere assertion that when Scripture is interpreted, according to Flacius, something more is going on than a mere grammatical pursuit of clarity. 2 Peter 1:20, for example, at least here in this section of the Clavis, is not cited to prove divine authorship of the Scriptures, as it is done in most explanations of the Small Catechism. [my note: which Luther himself did not write] It is instead cited to demonstrate the Spirit’s ongoing work in these End Times as an interpreter of Scripture. What is more, however, such interpretation of Scripture by the Spirit in these End Times is understood to be always in conjunction with the incarnate Son of God Himself, who works Himself through the Spirit via the Scripture to affect the heart and soul of the reader or hearer of the Bible….

[Commenting on John 16:7-11] Flacius, without referent [cf. Rom. 15:4], puts it this way: “All that is written, therefore, is written for us, so that Scripture first binds us under sin and condemns us; then, testifies to us about Christ; third, consoles us so that we might have patience and hope.”

How Flacius understands exactly how the Holy Spirit then carries out this binding, condemning, testify and consoling, specifically as the Christian encounters the Word of God in memory, paintings, interpretation, singing, whistling or “in whatever way possible” is beyond the scope of this little paper…”

But even though Strawn’s paper does not go there, it is well worth reading, to get a fuller discussion of what has been discussed here.


One more key quote.  Here is how Strawn ends his paper:

“…Of greatest importance, however, is to understand what would follow in the writings of Flacius about the interpretation of Scripture as coming into shape, coming into form within this eschatological context.   It simply is too simplistic to look at the hermeneutical principles and ideas found in the Clavis, and then later in the writings of John Gerhard (1582-1637), to create some sort of scholastic straw man which modern man in his arrogance of all things self can quickly set alight in the name of intellectual and even Christian freedom.  At a minimum, the attempt should always be made to understand such an approach to Scripture as something that Flacius hoped would truly correspond to its God-given reality.  That Flacius had something of this sort in mind is clearly seen by its development out his interaction with Schwenkfeld.  More effort, and more sympathy, is needed to describe clearly exactly what it was.”

Tomorrow, we will conclude this series with a brief picture of Martin Chemnitz, “the second Martin”.


Picture of Flacius: ; Picture of Schwenkfeld: Wikipedia ; Picture of Clavis:

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Posted by on October 30, 2013 in Uncategorized


On with the Reformation!, circa 1550: the under-appreciated Matthias Flacius Illyricus (part I of III)

Flacius, at Madgeburg, 1550 (essentially): Give us the liberty to preach the Gospel in its purity or give us death!

Flacius, at Madgeburg, 1550 (essentially): Give us the liberty to preach the Gospel in its purity or give us death!

This past week, the excellent Lutheran talk radio program Issues ETC. (see programs from Oct. 2013 here) had some excellent guests discussing some of the excellent Lutheran theologians of the past 500 or so years.

I wish they would have had at least one more guest on to discuss one more Lutheran theologian: namely Oliver K. Olsen discussing the great Croatian Reformer Matthias Flacius Illyricus.

Flacius, who ended up going too far on his doctrine of original sin (saying that sin had become, in the fall, a part of man’s essential nature*), nevertheless seems to be a man who is quite underappreciated given his many accomplishments.

Here is a summary of Olsen’s first book on Flacius (the second will be released within the coming year by Lutheran Press, which, in full disclosure, my pastor founded), first published in 2002 and held in hundreds of academic libraries throughout the world:

“Probably more than any other second-generation Lutheran reformer, Matthias Flacius Illyricus (1520 – 1575) has remained in relative obscurity, not because of some sort of barely discernable footprint upon the 16th century, but because of the implications of both his seminal and massive contributions to the field of Lutheran hermeneutics, church history, and liturgical theology that continue to challenge the received historical narrative of the era. Whether or not such academic neglect can be attributed to the Istrian (Croatian) origin of Flacius, or simply to a more common interest in the more well-known German and Swiss reformers, Dr. Oliver K. Olson’s Matthias Flacius and the Survival of Luther’s Reform fills this long-unoccupied void—especially in the English language—and thus brings to modern students of the Reformation a long-needed fresh perspective. Olson’s work not only brings to light a pivotal figure in the developments of the Reformation, but does so with a method that draws the reader into the period, using a multitude of sources—many reproduced graphically—that normally are not found in such a volume. The narrative—more a series of vignettes than one laborious chapter of minutia after another—introduces the myriad of social, political, racial, and theological circumstances that were 16th century Europe, and in so doing, constantly raises fresh and intriguing questions about key events and documents that the next generation of researchers in the field will be challenged to answer. Copious bibliographies not only of sources and literature for the study of Flacius, but for the Reformation in general make this volume an invaluable resource: Especially in this time of instant access to resources all over the world via the internet. It is nothing less than a roadmap through a highly complex array of people, places and events to which both the student and the scholar will refer again and again.” (end summary)

Click on the book to see an excellent review on

Click on the book to see an excellent review on

I have read the book and it is one of the best history books I have ever read (I would estimate there is almost one picture or illustration on each page of this 400 or so page book).  Here are a few key quotes from that book having to do with the Roman Catholic siege of Magdeburg, Germany in 1550-1551.  The first is contained in the picture below.

Flacius on the Magdeburg siege: “If you are a Christian you really have to recognize Christ’s cause and not allows yourself to be used foolishly, so that you slaughter Christians as if you were asked to slaughter swine or sheep” (quoted in Olsen, 178)

Flacius on the Magdeburg siege: “If you are a Christian you really have to recognize Christ’s cause and not allows yourself to be used foolishly, so that you slaughter Christians as if you were asked to slaughter swine or sheep” (quoted in Olsen, 178)

For Flacius, now was a time to stand for Christ against Belial.  He minced no words regarding men like Melanchton and Bugenhagen (who had been Luther’s pastor), regarding their caving into the demands of the Emperor to still Flacius’ and the Magdeburgers’ voices.  He spoke of their past resistance to Rome, and how the tune they sung had changed:

“But [back] then they still had a prince who said the same war was persecution.  And since they were in the same danger with him, they, too, said it was persecution.  But now, after they, with their beautiful adiaphorism have reconciled the whore and the beast, and have a lord who says it is not persecution, they, too, say it is not persecution.  Now they are writing a secret confession, because the lord wants it so.  They are theologians very obedient to the government.” (quoted in Olsen, 203)

Melanchton’s retort was in part something like this: “What good could one expect from a man who dared to say that one should keep the respect of princes by means of fear and sedition?”

But Flacius made a distinction between sedition and religious resistance:

“Therefore, when worldly people cry that in such a matter one must be obedient to the government, the leaders should answer, one must obey God rather than man.  And if they say, the Romans are coming, the preachers should say, one must fear those who can destroy both body and soul more than those who destroy the body alone…They should also warn all people most vigorously to steadfastness in the acknowledged truth, but they should never advise sedition.” (quoted in Olsen, 218)

In addition to preserving the Reformation by defending the right of Magdeburg to continue to preach the pure word of God, which is the estimation of even secular historians (see Olsen 216, 217), Flacius did much more.  Being a highly educated bibliophile, he sought out and republished all kinds of rare works through his extensive network (he was a bookseller) that might otherwise have been lost today (including some of Dante’s key work).  Increasingly recognized as one of the key figures in modern history/historiography (“Collation is the mother of truth”), he also spearheaded efforts to produce the first multi-volume church history (the Magdeburg Centuries, which had the intent to “revision catholicity”, showing from history the pedigree of the Lutheran claims to be a true church).  Finally, he wrote what is considered a classic of Scriptural interpretation: his Clavis Scripturae Sacrae seu de Sermone Sacrarum literarum (1567) literally “the key to sacred scripture or a discourse concerning the language of the sacred writings” (get an updated version of it here).  Here, he argued that “The Holy Spirit is at the same time the author and the interpreter of Scripture”. 

This is an important topic for today that I will say a bit more about tomorrow.


*That said, do you note any problems with, for example, this bit about Flacius culled from his Wikipedia entry?: “Affirming the natural inability of man, he adopted a position on sin as not being an accident of human nature, but involved in its substance, since The Fall of Man. Holding to a strong view of what Calvinists later called total depravity, Flacius insisted that human nature was entirely transformed by original sin, human beings were transformed from goodness and almost wholly corrupted with evil, making them kin to the Devil in his view, so that within them, without divine assistance, there lies no power even to cooperate with the Gospel when they hear it preached. Human acts of piety are valueless in themselves, and humans are entirely dependent on the grace of God for salvation. Those that agreed with him on this point, for example, Cyriacus Spangenberg, were termed Flaccians. Resisting ecclesiastical censure, he left Jena (Feb. 1562) to found an academy at Regensburg.” (bold mine)

Flacius pic from Wikipedia ; The siege of Magdeburg:

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Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Uncategorized


How Jesus becomes King in man: what role does the church have in building good nations? (part II of II)

Part I

Now again, perhaps you, like me, want to point out that the broad-based social transformation that we see among Christians and the cultures they inhabit is not what we should be focusing on.*  In other words, the real focus of the Church should be on getting out the message of Christ that gives persons hope that transcends their earthly circumstances – forgiveness, life, and salvation from sin, death, and the devil.  And along with this we say, “of course positive social change will happen as a result of preaching the undiluted pure Gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection for sinners – of God’s justifying the wicked (Rom. 4:5) in Him!”  When we see Paul preach, for example, when does he ever focus on matters like this?  Does he not simply focus on Jesus Christ, what He has done, and the forgiveness and new life in His name that He brings?  I have even heard one Lutheran pastor posit that while Paul preaches to non-Jews in Athens the only reason he did so was because some people in a marketplace got into a conversation with him about his beliefsThis may be saying a bit much, but if one looks at the book of Acts, it certainly is true that other than visiting existing synagogues, Paul seems to have not modeled much “activism” at all – much less social activismeven as he was undoubtedly “always prepared to give an answer” and was pleased to get those opportunities.

And the result?  Slowly, like yeast working through dough – perhaps with violent starts here and therehowjesusbecameking on the front lines of the battle – God’s Kingdom advances and scatters the darkness

Again, I think that we can say that given faithful preaching of the word, positive transformation of societies really is a given as well, as “nation-building” starts in Christian’s homes – “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” with each household possessing a king and queen.  And as it extends outward, it should actually begin with other “nations” or houses, that is families within one’s local church, or congregation – as Paul says, we first focus on the family of believers.   This of course, would include those believers whose houses are broken, or are far from their houses, and have not started their own house, i.e. single persons.  All in all, we see how the “Kingdom of God” here is primarily identified with, begins in, and is grounded in the sphere of the church, composed of all the parts of the body.  That said, in hearing the Word of God and responding in worship, the fruits of the Christian faith overflow not only in congregations but also into the world – such that even non-Christians are recipients of the “leftovers” of the feast of their Christian neighbors (like the feeding of the 5,000).  And perhaps this will start more with those in the most need – the working poor – as they are able to more quickly realize the help, support, and encouragement the church offers in a world that is increasingly selfish, callous, and lacking respect for each person’s dignity.  And as they spend time with those in the church, they hear the Gospel which gives faith, hope, and life.

Societies do not naturally produce Good Samaritans

Societies do not naturally produce Good Samaritans

The church, for example, first cares for its own wounded but when it sees needs among its neighbors, it also, like the Good Samaritan, should delight to help, and often does.  As the church offers this kind of physical assistance, N.T. Wright’s words from his book (above) seem worthy of some reflection:

“As we should have realized all along, the ‘lifting up’ of Jesus on the cross is his exaltation as the kingdom-bringing ‘king of the Jews,’ because the kingdom that is thus put into effect is the victory of God’s love.  Kingdom and cross fully joined” (p. 231).

The service of the King’s ministers and their proclamation of His cross can never be pulled apart.   That is “How Jesus becomes King”. 

This helps me make sense of how the Gospel and social action should be seen as working together.  Still, here is the question that sticks in my Lutheran mind: once large groups of people begin moving from darkness to light, is assistance also not necessary to help cultures take active steps to transform themselves politically to accommodate the Christian way of life – whether we are talking more or less radical changes?  After all, while not becoming radical Protestants who would consider rebellion against our rulers not sufficiently Christian or friendly to Christianity, surely we can at least imagine saying that we must obey God rather than men in circumstances beyond simply the freedom to preach the simple message of Christ crucified and risen – and taking stands as we are called by our circumstances to do so!**

So, insofar as this is true, what might we be able to learn from driven men such as Vishal Mangalwadi – truthandtransformationfor at home and abroad?  For starters, this quotation particularly challenged and inspired me:

People with strong convictions lead reform movements.   Skeptics are, by definition, unsure in their beliefs.  A lack of conviction does not inspire people to die for their beliefs and values.  Fundamental reforms require the faith of ardent believers, so certain of their convictions that they would take up their crosses and go to the stake for them.  Fanaticism can, of course, lead to bigotry – unless one is following a God who sacrifices himself to serve others and commands you to love your neighbor as yourself.  Conviction that God is on your side makes you a powerful person.” (p. 345)

Can we say words like those and also keep taking the focus off ourselves and looking to our Lord?  How can we afford not to?  I think confessional Lutherans should especially take those words to heart – as we insist on a keeping the jars of clay in the forefront, holding up Christ crucified whenever we can.  I encourage you to read Mangalwadi’s book.  It is a very interesting ride.  I hope to post a couple interesting excerpts from it sometime relatively soon.


*Mangalwadi, it seems to me, gives mixed messages here.  The whole book, discussing as it does societal transformation, flourishing and prosperity, seems to inevitably make the Gospel a means to this end, as opposed to seeing such things as a likely by-product of Christian righteousness (see 321, paragraph 2 for an example of this).  That said, he also says things like this: “Christians’ choices in favor of sexual purity, stable marriage, and care for children, orphans and widows aided civilization but were not caused by concerns for civilization.  Their motive was to please God by obeying His word” (p. 286)

**Ideas about “inalienable human rights” come to mind.  See Mangalwadi’s discussion of this on pp. 347 and 348 and his related discussion on human dignity on pp. 71, 72.

Good Samaritan pic:

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Posted by on October 22, 2013 in Uncategorized


How Jesus becomes King in man: what role does the church have in building good nations? (part I of II)

Vatican City, in Rome

Vatican City, in Rome

Do Christian have any business thinking about building “Christian nations”?   In a previous post, I distanced myself from this idea – it would seem in any form.  However, I do not think the question is dismissed so easily.

To be sure, Vatican City notwithstanding, it will not be until the new heavens and earth that church and state will finally be one in the way God desires.  Then, it would seem that not only Jesus’ 12 disciples, but an additional 12 elders as well, will rule with the Lamb from their thrones.

Until that time however, the Kingdom of God is “not of this world”.  Christians – the church – live in a peculiar kind of tension of being in, but not of, this world.  They are “strangers and pilgrims in this world” who seek not the earthly Jerusalem, but the Heavenly one – the “city whose designer and builder is God”.  Hence, Augustine is eventually led to speak of the city of God as distinct for the city of man and Luther further develops this in his idea of the two kingdoms – the kingdom of the left and the kingdom of the right (see here for more specifics on these ideas)

All that said, until the time of the new heavens and the new earth, what might it mean for a state tocityofgod rule in relative harmony with the church, where the state upholds the church and respects the authority of its Scriptures?  And what role should the church play in this?

Now, it may seem strange for Christians to ask a question like this.  After all, in the last days does Jesus not warn us that there not be all kinds of persecution brought against His people?  Why then, should we expect that states should do such things – even if, as the Christian theologian N.T. Wright is ever reminding people, Jesus is the King?  The answer here is that we have been in the last days since Christ’s ascension into heaven, and this does not mean that we should not try, by the grace of God, to make these last days as harmonious as we can.  The church prays “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and invites the state, insofar as possible, to say “Amen”.

Luther talked about how God governed the fallen world through three estates: the family, the church and the state.  As regards the question posed in this post’s title, what might it mean for us to take Luther’s categories seriously here?  After all, according to Luther the family is the fundamental unit of the world – he basically sees the father and mother as acting king and queen of a micro-kingdom with all other earthly authorities deriving from these.

"What is the world to me?" or "Not dead yet!"?

“What is the world to me?” or “Not dead yet!”?

This is where Indian Christian Vishal Mangalwadi’s recent book comes in: The Book that made your world: how the Bible created the soul of Western civilization.  Mangalwadi’s book is similar to books like Alvin Schmidt’s How Christianity changed the world or Dinesh D’Souza’s book What is so Great About Christianity?  in that it talks about how Christianity is responsible for many of the blessings that we see in the Western world.  What makes it different is that Mangalwadi is clearly an activist – a social reformer of sorts – who puts the focus on the social transformation Christianity brings and talks about how it can happen again.  Optimistically, he thinks the sun need not set on the West.

I think it would be easy for some Christians – particularly Lutherans – to dismiss Mangalwadi’s approach, which, I must admit, seems to me like making the Gospel a “means to an end” – that is, building great nations.  When we preach Christ, should we not focus strictly on how Christ delivers us from sin, death and the devil?  Did not Christ warn us of those who used Him for earthly comforts – desiring the bread He gave, but not the Bread from heaven? (see John 6).  I think this concern is definitely valid, but I invite you to read on and reflect more with me here.

Mangalwadi, with his family, spent a key period of his life with the poor of his country in rural India.  In some

Martin Luther surrounded by his family, Gustav Spangenberg (1828 – 1891)

Martin Luther surrounded by his family, Gustav Spangenberg (1828 – 1891)

ways, he seems like a Protestant Mother Theresa of sorts, except he seems to have a very informed and well-thought-out view about how Christianity makes all the difference and we best be conscious of it.  While he preaches the Gospel, it seems to me that he did not work so much as a missionary who sought to start churches (though I think this happened) but rather as a deliberate nation builder – a nation builder who thought big, but started acting locally, specifically at the levels of the individual family.  Mangalwadi specifically says that he believes that the root of the social transformation he speaks of starts with the biblical idea of the family (p. 273).

This is why, for all what some might call his “Methodism” I can’t help but seeing connections with Luther and his view of the three estates.  Mangalwadi himself focuses much on Luther’s writings about the family.

More on this tomorrow.

Vatican cit pic from Wikipedia.  Martin Luther pic from

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Posted by on October 22, 2013 in Uncategorized


Pope Francis – a pastor – speaks

Cardinal Jorge Begoglio

Cardinal Jorge Begoglio

-He seeks him out. Jesus took on our nakedness, he took upon himself the shame of Adam, the nakedness of his sin, in order to wash away our sin: by his wounds we have been healed. Remember what Saint Paul says: What shall I boast of, if not my weakness, my poverty? Precisely in feeling my sinfulness, in looking at my sins, I can see and encounter God’s mercy, his love, and go to him to receive forgiveness. (see here)

-The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! (see here)

-The cross does not speak to us about defeat and failure; paradoxically, it speaks to us about a death which is life, a death which gives life, for it speaks to us of love, the love of God incarnate, a love which does not die, but triumphs over evil and death. When we let the crucified Jesus gaze upon us, we are re-created, we become “a new creation. (see here)

-We can build so many things but if we don’t confess Jesus Christ, then something is wrong. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, spouse of Christ… He who doesn’t pray to God prays to the Devil…We might be bishops, priests, cardinals and Popes, but we are not disciples of the Lord” if we leave the Cross behind. (see here)

-When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross, and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly . . . I would like for us all, after these days of grace, to have courage, precisely the courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord’s presence . . . to build the Church upon the blood of the Lord, which is poured out on the cross; and to confess the only glory there is: Christ crucified. (see here)

-A Christian cannot coexist with the spirit of the world, [for worldliness] leads us to vanity arrogance and pride… [it] is an idol… worldliness is a murderer because it kills souls, kills people, kills the Church. (see here)

-The Church is called to a deep and profound rethinking of its mission. . . . It cannot retreat in response to those who see only confusion, dangers, and threats. . . . What is required is confirming, renewing, and revitalizing the newness of the Gospel . . . out of a personal and community encounter with Jesus Christ that raises up disciples and missionaries. . . .

A Catholic faith reduced to mere baggage, to a collection of rules and prohibitions, to fragmented devotional practices, to selective and partial adherence to the truths of faith, to occasional participation in some sacraments, to the repetition of doctrinal principles, to bland or nervous moralizing, that does not convert the life of the baptized would not withstand the trials of time. . . . We must all start again from Christ, recognizing [with Pope Benedict XVI] that “being Christian is . . . the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. (see here)

From just a couple days ago:

-The one tree has wrought so much evil, the other tree has brought us to salvation, to health. This is the course of the humanity’s story: a journey to find Jesus Christ the Redeemer, who gives His life for love. God, in fact, has not sent the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. This tree of the Cross save us, all of us, from the consequences of that other tree, where self-sufficiency, arrogance, the pride of us wanting to know all things according to our own mentality, according to our own criteria, and also according to that presumption of being and becoming the only judges of the world. This is the story of mankind: from one tree to the other. (see here)

This Lutheran says “Amen”.

Image: Wikipedia


Posted by on October 15, 2013 in Uncategorized


If all theology is Christology, how wide the divide? A reflection on Lutheranism and Eastern Orthodoxy (part IV of IV)

Ukranian Lutherans use a  revised version of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  Pic from here.  Read more here.

Ukranian Lutherans use a revised version of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Pic from here. Read more here.

Part I

Part II

Part III

There is much that Eastern Orthodox persons say that seems to make a lot of sense to me.  For example, when a priest and monk named Father Patrick says “the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world regardless of the choice of Adam because He must take as His own that existence that is really dead in itself”, it naturally appeals to me at one level (for without faith in God, we do not have the “life that is truly life”, that is, eternal life, but only a life which is a shadow of that which God intends for us) but on another level causes me to ask the kinds of questions that I have been asking, questions like: “Why would Adam and Eve not have had and grown in eternal life had they not sinned? – not by “nature”, but by grace?”

What I think lies behind my questions from the last post  – the one dealing with how man is able to choose to grow in fear, love, and trust in God – is the Augustinian/Lutheran view that Adam and Eve fell before they actually ate the fruit, and this fall was absolutely disastrous for both their free will and mankind.  In fact, we see that this infection that results in evil action is passed on to all of their ancestors, resembling Adam and Eve as regard their “image”:  In Adam we have all been one / One huge rebellious man / We all have fled that evening voice / That sought us as we ran”.  If this makes you want to run at some level, please take the time to see this post about this article from Pastor Weedon and the discussion that follows – one must not attribute to the Lutherans the Calvinist idea that God imputes Adam’s sin to us, for we are all responsible for our actions that do not derive from full fear, love, and trust in God (man’s ignorance God is in fact a culpable ignorance – but as Paul reminds us, it is to precisely such as these that He is merciful)

In any case, one might think that this could be amenable to EO sensibilities – after all, according to their way of thinking, just as God is several persons sharing a common essence, “man” likewise is best thought of as several persons who share a common essence.  Since the essence of man and God is analogous in this fashion, it seems to make sense to me that due to the infection of sin in our first parents, our actions will reveal that what was true of the head is certainly the case for other human persons as well!   As one man put it: “inasmuch as human nature is indeed unique and unbreakable, the imparting of sin from the first-born to the entire human race descended from him is rendered explicable”.  As Cyril of Alexandria said: Explicitly, as from the root, the sickness proceeded to the rest of the tree, Adam being the root who had suffered corruption* and “For the whole nature of man became guilty in the person of him who was first formed; but now it is wholly justified again in Christ.” (Homily 42 on St. Luke)

Another point I need to clarify. If I understand my EO brothers correctly, human nature is already being made incorruptible via the incarnate Logos (could this be connected with the “pistis” in Acts 17:31 perhaps?)  Therefore, let me ask another question:  since we are now living on the other side of the incarnation where Christ actually has united himself with human nature are we now capable of doing even more than Adam and Eve while on earth – perhaps reaching a state of not being able to sin?  If so, this would seem to be highly problematic!

At the same time, it is one thing to talk about this as being a theoretical possibility that seems to be a logical deduction of the “system” and the actually reality on the ground – especially as this reality is held in check with Scriptures like those in I John 1 (in order to be EO, must one believe that Mary would not have been able to take this statement as her own?)  If the Eastern Orthodox will allow this Scripture to stand in its simple meaning – i.e. that all of us Christians will sin until the end** – it does not seem unreasonable to me that they might also be open to seeing what Lutherans, standing on Augustine’s shoulders in particular, see:  namely, that we sin in all our good works….

In sum, I hope for some progress in understanding one another’s respective viewpoints here, because I think that we can both see, as I mentioned in my last series on free will, that there exists a kind of theology that seems to want to talk primarily in terms of man’s virtues and nature apart from Christ (even if their official prayers and liturgies are usually better).

Here I repeat what I said near the end of that series: “But is this not to side with the fall, and to let philosophy trump theology?  Can fallen man do anything that is good?  Imperfectly to be sure – and judging by people’s external actions there are definitely some persons I would prefer to have as neighbors vs. other ones!  But perhaps we ask: can some actions by some fallen men be more pure than others?  Do some have a better standing with God because of their particular actions and/or the habits they have developed?  Well, maybe the real question we need to ask here is this: why do we want to know these things?  To what end?  It seems that it should be enough to say that God is the source of all goodness and fallen man is the one responsible for all evil.  Even if God were to do a perfectly good work in fallen human being, he, when made conscious of this fact, would take credit for it and be proud of himself – or at the very least, take credit for actively choosing by their own free will to not reject God’s work in them.  In sum, the glory must remain Gods!”

On the other hand, when it comes to the defining matter being able to stand justified before Him, why not simply confess that all is by grace and “what do we have that we have not received”?  That way He gets all the glory for our regeneration and we get all the blame for our degeneration?… (lack of faith, fear and love of God)”

It seems fitting to me to close this series with the some of the words of St. Paul that follow the passage that has been contested among us in the book of Romans (that is, 5:12):

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And to that, I know we will all say “Amen”!  Lutherans would also be very keen to connect the importance of oral proclamation (Romans 10:13-17) with this passage.  Isaiah 55: 10 and 11 is one of our favorite passages here:

           “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
            And do not return there without watering the earth
            And making it bear and sprout,
            And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;

            So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
            It will not return to Me empty,
            Without accomplishing what I desire,
            And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

I hope to some degree this series has been helpful to you.  Please feel free to keep it in mind and to comment at any time in the future.

Blessings in Christ,



* Again, I am aware that when I see the word “corruption” I am perhaps reading it with my own set of presuppositions intact.  Perhaps most (all?) Eastern Orthodox persons will insist that this quote from Cyril of Alexandria that I think fits with our view really does not?  Here are some things that the EO apologist Perry Robinson said to me in a conversation many years ago (in response to my views and questions – the statements are not necessarily in the chronological order he made them):

“Sin is the personal employment of a nature against the proper end and goodness of that nature. That is sin is dialectical-it opposes person to nature. Sin is in the use, not in the nature. This is why sin can’t be inherited while the disorder within the nature that it causes can. This is corruption ….  I do not know how sin can be an accident of human nature since sin is personal and not natural. Sin is a way a person wills. Sin is in the use, not in the essence. Here you seem to be confusing corruption with sin. [elsewhere he said: “…. Part of what you need to do is to explain how corruption isn’t the same thing as sin”]  Man could only be “spiritually dead” if he lost the imago dei, which I deny. Humans are spiritually lost. I also deny that divine sacramental efficacy is limited to Word and Sacrament because Christ gathers together all of creation into himself in the Incarnation and fills all things. Sacraments aren’t tools or “means.” If they were, the humanity of Christ would be too, which is a denial of the Hypostatic union. The union is personal, not instrumental. Consequently I am not a big fan of sacramental Nestorianism or Eutychianism ….Is sin natural or personal?  Are natures and persons the same? If sin is natural, then it will not be possible to make sense out of passages like Heb 4:15, which indicate that Jesus took on our corrupt nature for it would imply that Jesus was a sinner”.

I note that we do not say nature and persons are the same, we do not believe sin is now the essence of human nature, and we do not insist that the loss of original righteousness (no desire for true spiritual things) is synonymous with the complete loss of the image of God – something that we also do not insist occurred.  Rather, it is true that in fallen man this image is lost… but he still has some residue of his origin within him.   Therefore, in Luke 3, Adam is called “the son of God” and in Psalm 82:6 Jesus says ”You are gods, all of you, sons of the Most High.”  Man’s “relation” to God was that he was specifically created to be something different than the rest of creation.

As for the points about Nestorianism, here is something I said a few weeks back on another post directed towards persons of the more Reformed persuasion: “You agree that Christ is 100% God and 100% man?  Good.  Now, what does this mean?  Is the flesh of Christ life-giving in and of itself – not just some pipe through which divine operations flow – because it is united to the divine nature in the personal union?   And does this mean that the whole Christ – 100% God and 100% man – dwells within you – really and truly?  When Jesus says “I am the vine, ye are the branches”  does this mean that we are just some pipe through which divine operations flow, or are we truly united with God?”

** Here we also think of Romans 7: It is a real infection that Paul deals with and that actually is a driver of his actions, of whom he alone is responsible.  At the same time, the man he knows he really is – the “new man” – does not agree with these actions. Sin controls him to a degree, but ultimately does not have authority over him.


Posted by on October 7, 2013 in Uncategorized


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If all theology is Christology, how wide the divide? A reflection on Lutheranism and Eastern Orthodoxy (part III of IV)

Salvation, understood in its broad sense, also consists of the sanctification, or what Lutheran theologian Jordan Cooper is calling "Christification", of the Christian man.  That said, Lutherans do insist on distinguishing, not separating, justification and sanctification.  Picture is from the paper located here.

Salvation, understood in its broad sense, also consists of the sanctification, or what Lutheran theologian Jordan Cooper is calling “Christification”, of the Christian man. That said, Lutherans do insist on distinguishing, not separating, justification and sanctification. For more about this picture and sanctification, see here.

Part I

Part II

Before launching into this post, let me quickly deal with some common questions and misapprehensions about confessional Lutherans:  while Lutherans do accept theosis, we are nevertheless eager to make some important distinctions (see this post from Jordan Cooper and this paper from Kurt Marquart for more).  And yet while we do make these distinctions, note that Lutherans do not believe that any human being will be finally justified who has not begun to be sanctified (see my post here – “Lutherans as weaker brethren?” – for more that helps explain this).  Finally, realize that Lutherans did not fight against monasticism per se, but monasticism of a particular kind (see here for more of my thoughts on this).

With that behind us, let us take a look at some words that the Eastern Orthodox blogger Father Aidan Kimel recently wrote:

Paul can even include faith in the list of the fruit that is borne by the Spirit of Christ (5:22), suggesting that the act of trust does not have its origin in the human being… that act springs from the proclamation of the risen Lord. It is incited by the preached message (Gal 3:2; Rom 10:17)….so faith itself is existentially impossible for a humanity enslaved by the powers of sin and death. Trust, too, is a grace of the apocalyptic invasion. If we think that we have believed in Christ by our own power and autonomous decision, then perhaps we have attended one too many revivalist tent meetings. We are not righteoused by our faith in Christ; we are righteoused by the faith of Christ… I am reminded of St Gregory of Nazianzen’s famous saying “For that which he has not assumed he has not healed.” Surely this assumption must include the diseased human will, which is healed, purified, liberated, and sanctified through our Lord’s obedience unto death.

(yes, there are many ellipses here!  Please go to the entire post to read these words more in the context Father Kimel wants you to read them in)

Now, with those words ringing in our ears, let us go forward…

I have heard EO Christians say that “the divine power of incorruptibility is present within the image of God”.  I have also heard the words “’grace’ is God’s own life manifested and active in creation”.  Another person said that “to-day [Christ’s divinized body] is mingled with us, it dwells in us and, naturally, it enlightens our souls from within” (see here)  Finally, a well-known Eastern Orthodox convert named Perry Robinson told me once that “Christ gathers together all of creation into himself in the Incarnation and fills all things”.  While with the EO, Lutherans reject the strict dichotomy of “nature” and “grace” promulgated by Rome – that certainly has relevance as regards statements like these – I must admit that all of these ideas prompt me to ask “what does this mean – especially right now?”  As regards Adam and Eve before the fall, it seems I can easily comprehend what is being said here.  That said, do these words simply mean that God puts the salvation in us which we consequently – in, with, and through Christ – “work out”?  Does it mean that we, from our hearts can assert with the Apostle Paul – without any qualification – “what do we have that we have not received”?    

For the Lutheran’s part, our confessional documents quote Martin Luther saying the following:

“When the Fathers defend free will, they are speaking of this: it is capable of freedom in this sense, that by God’s grace it can be converted to do good and become truly free, for which it was created in the beginning. (WA 2:647, quoted in Article II, Free Will, 23)

There is more to be said about the Lutheran view here, but I would like to focus on the Eastern Orthodox viewpoint regarding these things.  In attempting to do so, I know that the following barrage of questions might seem a bit of excessive, but I question the way I do because I do not want to carelessly dismiss the EO viewpoint based on a misunderstanding.  From what I think I do know about it, it seems to me that it is difficult to grasp and easy to caricature.  I know many persons miss the full picture of the confessional Lutheran viewpoint and its subtle nuances.

What do the EO believe about this issue of free will and the unbeliever’s conversion to God?  While all persons in this world certainly live and move and have their being in God and cannot operate apart from His power, do they believe that all of the persons following Adam and Eve that want to choose what is good do so because, by God’s grace, their free will has been led and enabled to do so?  Is this fundamentally why they, led by the Spirit, choose to grow in fear, love and trust in God with their own free powers?  In other words, do they do what they do because they have already been given a measure of Christ’s salvation (see John 17:3), i.e. “graced” with some kind of implicit or explicit knowledge that lives – eternally lives! – in, with and through Christ alone?*   Note that by stating things in this way, I do not mean to imply that they could not have – incomprehensibly! – rejected this gift at the time it was given to them or that it could not also be subsequently lost.  Even if it were possible that grace might conceivably be irresistible in this or that circumstance, it is certainly not irresistible throughout the whole of any Christian’s life.

If you are EO, how does this sound so far?  I ask all these questions because I wonder if the spiritual power provided by the promise of God’s incarnate Messiah – and this promise’s actual fulfillment in time – is the power that must be behind – the source of – all man’s spiritual powers.  Is the promise of the Christ – that event in which human nature would be and was taken up into the Son of God, the second member of the Trinity – somehow already the possession of the person who subsequently chooses the good?  Or, alternatively, did all those following Adam and Eve have the ability to choose to grow in salvation because they had already chosen it previously – without any divine assistance to get them started – when it had hitherto been offered?  In other words, even though some EO talk about how the “inescapable condition” of natural man is that he is “captive”  to sin, corruption, disintegration, darkness (ignorance) and death, the fall was not really quite as drastic as this language might suggest to some of us?  Is the key simply that an unbelieving person may want to choose the true God and all those things that come with Him but he is not able to complete this action without God’s help?  In other words, when it comes to man’s initial conversion to God – his “regeneration” – do we ultimately say that the human soul’s own powers are able to produce [what would seem to amount to] a good choice that wins God’s acceptance – albeit only with His assistance?

If this latter formulation does not sound as good to the former one, then I think there may be room to do some business (and yes, if you think the way I have framed this whole issue is unfair please say so!).  I say this because in that first case we seem to be talking about salvation by Christ alone – due to His incarnation and all that flowed from that – as the “justifying factor” – where He “frees us from death and corruption and justifies our life and existence” as one commentator told me.**  Here further questions will certainly arise though, and some of those questions would be the following: What role does faith in Christ – whether it be implicit or explicit – have in all of this and what, fundamentally, is this faith that is the power unto salvation (Rom. 1:17)?  Or is faith in Christ not an absolute necessity for salvation?  If it is not, why is it not?  If it is, what is the nature of this divinely-given faith in Christ required for all of this, whether we speak of pre-incarnation or post-incarnation human beings?  Again, to emphasize, in what way does the life the EO speak of here relate to the faith that Paul talks about as the power unto salvation for all who believe?  Is it through faith in God’s promises and their effects that our will is animated and energized to work out the salvation God has already worked in us?

To approach this from a different angle: Truly if the Holy Spirit convicts all people of sin for not believing in Jesus Christ (John 16:8) this presumes them having some knowledge of God’s acting in the world through His Son.  But how?   Do the Orthodox insist that there is some kind of knowledge all men must have of Christ apart from hearing the oral communication about Jesus?  Or, are persons simply responsible (and perhaps culpable!) upon their hearing of the self-authenticating word of God, when His Spirit testifies in their hearts that it is true?  In what way are the oral and written forms of God’s words “living and active” – “spirit and life” – in Orthodoxy – especially as regards the issue of initially turning persons from darkness to light?

Again, on the other hand, perhaps my asking questions like this is not the way to go if we are to better understand one another.  Perhaps what is simply being said here is that Christians need to talk about how this genuine spiritual life – this life of divine power and pardon – can simply be obtained by the powers of free will present in the unbaptized and/or unbelieving.  If you are EO and that is what you think Christians should believe, I wonder whether you can nevertheless identify to some degree with what I have written with here at all…

Or perhaps in all of this there is something else I should consider that I am missing entirely.  If so, please raise your voice!

In the next post we will try to wrap up some of the things we have discussed in this series.


*There are those who have a lot of knowledge of the Bible and even its salvation narrative, 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 – the component of personal trust in another must be present.

**Of course this point is critical for Lutherans, because although sin does not destroy our good nature, it does infect it such that we not only “cannot do what is natural for us” but we don’t want to!  “Willing” is still natural for us of course, but the poison of sin affects us such that fallen man does not desire or will to desire or desire to will (etc.) what is good and right and true, namely trusting, loving and fearing God as He created us to!  It really is a “captive” and “inescapable” condition in just this way.  As such fallen man, or “Old Adam”, can only be contained – and increasingly killed spiritually – by the Word of God that is Spirit and life.  This is the Word Paul talks about in Romans 10:17 that creates faith.

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Posted by on October 4, 2013 in Uncategorized


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A personal appeal for the most excellent Christian theologian, Scott Dehn

And why is that?

And why is that?

If you happen to know a fantastic young person (ideally a college-age student) who lives in the area north of Minneapolis Minnesota, please tell them about this opportunity to work as a personal care assistant for Scott Dehn and his wonderful wife Lisa.  If you would like to learn more about the position, click here.  Scott can be contacted at

I have been privileged enough to know Scott and Lisa personally from the time we were involved in a young adults group in our church some ten years ago.  In spite of their cerebral palsy, both Scott and Lisa have managed to live in their own home for many years, the last ten in a special house equipped specifically for their needs.

Scott is a Certified Public Accountant by trade, and over the years, I have found him to be a very astute theologian as well.  Years ago, he wrote an excellent article reflecting on what his cerebral palsy means not just for him, but for all of us – in light of Adam and Eve’s fall and Christ’s redemption.  I think it is a powerful piece that I believe demands a wider audience.  Scott has generously given me permission to publish this piece.  If you are as moved as I was, please feel free to spread it far and wide. 

Please note, I have highlighted portions that stick out to me:  The article can also be found on the website of his church, Lutheran Church of the Triune God in Brooklyn Center Minnesota.

Without further ado, I give you Scott’s article:

Disabilities: One Lutheran’s Perspective 

The issue is a very sensitive one. It is one that can hit close to home at any time, especially in our congregations. Yet it affects me every day. The issue I am talking about is my disability. More importantly, how people react to it.

We have come a long way towards bringing people with disabilities into the fabric of our society, including the life of the church. But there is always that uneasiness when, for example, on any given Sunday morning a person in a wheel chair or any other visible disability shows up simply for The Divine Service. A myriad of questions can go through a person’s head ranging from “who’s with the person?” to “how do I act now?” It’s almost automatic.

On one hand, much has been done to try to fix the problem. I have cerebral palsy and I am well aware on how big “awareness and sensitivity training” has become. One can almost make a living out of it. To further help, I have seen churches start special groups or “ministries” and even hold “disability awareness” or “physically challenged” Sundays. Please don’t get me wrong, such training or events may have their place. At times, however, I wonder if they get to the real source of our discomfort.

Perhaps the source of the issue is not a lack of understanding or compassion on either person’s part. Nor can we say that it’s some emotion that we feel at the time. Maybe the problem goes deeper than that. Just maybe the situation forces us to look at something we don’t like to admit. It is the exact same thing that causes all that is “wrong” in the world; natural disasters, sickness, disease, and even death. I of course am talking about original sin and, as a result, the law.

Let’s think about it from both perspectives. To the person that is meeting the disabled person, he is now seeing first hand exactly what Adam’s disobedience brought about, something our flesh can’t handle. We want to think everything is OK. We try to deceive ourselves into thinking we are basically good people and, for that reason, God has been good to us in whatever way we want to measure that, be it health, financial status, or possessions. Now we see less than perfection in front of us, forcing us to consider that we, too, are not what we think we are. Our souls are awakened to the fact that there is nothing we have done or can do that God should favor us. In fact, because sin infects every part of us, we are total enemies of Him. Meanwhile, the disabled person also feels discomfort. Further, he might feel frustrated that he is misunderstood or being separate from everyone else. This is yet another reminder of what we deserve; nothing less than being totally cut off from God. As hard as we try to put the thought out of our minds, words of a familiar hymn begin to reverberate through our being:

All mankind fell in Adam’s fall

One common sin infects us all

From sire to son the bane descends

And over all the curse impends.

LSB 462 v. 1

A doctor who was treating me one time for a persistent infection told me “Once we figure out what the cause is, it will be easy to find the right cure.” We have already identified what the cause of the uneasiness around people with disabilities. Now the cure should be obvious. Simply put, it’s the Gospel. It’s nothing but Christ and his saving work. For we know that through His suffering and death on the cross, not only did he take upon himself the weight of all our sins, but also the effects of our sins. I, for one, certainly realize that it does not mean disabilities go away or are any pre-conceived ideas about the disabled removed. Yet, what we experience in such situations, Christ himself experienced. He took our place for all those times we misjudge someone, for any reason, and by offering His life and rising from the dead, we can take comfort in the fact that we too, are free from our sins. What’s more, situations like this, although still awkward, have absolutely no power over us.

Now, in true Lutheran manner, we can ask here “What does this mean?” Earlier, I mentioned the ways churches tend to “over compensate” in order to make the disable more comfortable. There is nothing wrong with anything that fosters inclusion and understanding of people with disabilities. We can also say that there is no one “sure fire method” to do this since, even people with the exact same diagnosis can be affected differently. However, my view is that many times such activities become the main force in working with the disabled rather than letting sound doctrine and practice be the guiding norm.

The story of the healing of the paralytic I believe provides a good example. We are probably familiar with the story. But have you ever noticed what order the events take place? From Mark’s account (Chapter 2), we learn this man was lowered through a hole made in the roof. We are then told in verse five, “and Jesus seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” Think about it. In a sense, when Jesus encounters this man, his first action is to pronounce absolution, much like the beginning of the Divine Service. Yes, this man is healed, but only after the scribes begin to protest. Even then, Jesus makes it quite clear that this healing is happening “so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Verse 10)

Sure, I struggle with my disability at times. I do not believe that there is a disabled person who does not. However, like any person who has his share of problems, whether the issue is physical, mental, emotional, or pertaining to any of life’s problems, I need to find relief. Contrary to what many churches may teach, it can’t be found by reading a popular self-help book. It can’t be found by becoming active in this or that special group or the church’s latest “ministry”. Believe me; I have been in churches, all LCMS that take that position. I have found that the only place where I find that relief I need is within the church itself. It comes as the pastor announces that my sins are forgiven. It comes as I hear the Word of God, both law and Gospel, boldly proclaimed. It comes when I come to the altar every week to receive His body and blood and what it bestows. This is where I, as we all should, finally find peace and relief I so desperately want.

I don’t think this little piece will have a great effect on how churches and people with disabilities they come in contact will interact with each other. That is not my intent anyway. However, it is my hope and prayer that these thoughts will give us the encouragement we need when we are faced with a similar situation. And may our Lord Savior keep us all in the faith, knowing that He has paid for our sins, and that we can rest knowing we are truly the children of our great and loving God. Amen.

Scott D. Dehn [again, please note that I, [Infanttheology], am responsible for what has been bolded]

New Hope, Minnesota

*Incidently, Scott’s pastor, Peter Preus, has also written an excellent book on dealing with the issue of suicide from a Christian perspective, titled And She Was a Christian.

Image credit: somewhere on flickr from the Creative Commons section – let me know if you know!

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Posted by on October 3, 2013 in Uncategorized


If all theology is Christology, how wide the divide? A reflection on Lutheranism and Eastern Orthodoxy (part II of IV)


Part I

In the previous post, we saw that Eastern Orthodox writers are able to talk about how fallen man is “captive” to sin and sin is an “inescapable” condition.  But if they use language like this, why do they insist that man has a free will and can choose to cooperate with God in one’s initial conversion?  I will try to get to examining this specific question in what may seem initially to be a “round-about way” – although I hope my reasons for proceeding in this way will become clear as we go along.

For the Eastern Orthodox, I understand that man’s immortality is a product of the Resurrection of the incarnate God-Man Jesus Christ, and is not due to any “natural inescapable immortality of man”.  Here I think of words that we speak in our traditional Easter Vigil service: “This is the night when all who believe in Christ are delivered from bondage to sin and are restored to life and immortality”.  Going along with this, they would also say that man’s nature is not “grounded in God’s eternality” by virtue of creation, but rather is only by virtue of the Incarnation.  Here is where I think it makes sense to think about what I said in my last post (in a footnote):  had Adam and Eve constantly looked to the Word, which was the way God intended for events to transpire, i.e. it was to be the “normal or regular course of things” (in other words, it was “natural” in this sense, not in a nature/grace-dichotomy sort of way), they would have not died.

That said, here is how one EO commenter put it:

In order to truly actualize incorruptibility within human nature, there must be a person who is incorruptible already, and thereby actualizes this divine power within human nature. Anyone who lacks actual incorruptibility will not have the power to use human nature perfectly, thereby uniting it to incorruptibility. Thus, a divine Person is needed in order to give human nature a stable participation in God’s incorruptibility. This person must live each stage of human development—birth, life, death—to unite all of human nature to God. And in order to complete this process and make human nature predestined to move towards a final state of incorruptibility of soul and body, He must inaugurate a fourth stage of human life: resurrection….  So even if the fall had never happened, an Incarnation of the Word was needed. Otherwise, human nature would not have been recapitulated by an incorruptible Person who would unite it to God. And without this, there would always be the possibility of a fall into corruption.”

How are these views supposedly different than those of Western ChristendomAccording to some of the Eastern Orthodox persons I have spoken with, “Westerners say ‘yes’, man is naturally immortal, at least his soul is… The soul does not obtain eternality (more technically averternality) through the Resurrection [as it does in Eastern Orthodoxy], but like the angels, is, in its very creation, rooted in God’s eternality.”  Further, one EO said to me “Adam was created neither immortal nor mortal, but with the potential of becoming immortal; that, because of separating from God, Adam became mortal and that mortality is transmitted to his descendants.”

From our standpoint as Western Christians of the Lutheran variety, I certainly think we also should question this notion of souls being eternal by nature.   That said, I am at a loss to understand how death – which is a curse, an enemy, and not a part of the original plan – can be conceived of as a “stage of human development”.  And if the fall had never happened (yes, I am playing “what if”), why would a resurrection, a “fourth stage of human life”, been needed?  Would this be “resurrection” in a different sense?  In any case, I am sure that many pious Lutherans believe that Jesus Christ would have become incarnate even if the fall had not occurred (this is interesting fodder to ponder!).  However, I do not see why this absolutely needed to occur either for God to truly show His love for us or for us to be able to depend on Him fully – if some would insist on this.  In sum, I think this belief is a very pious and comforting one, and perhaps I should have no problem with anyone being confident of these views.  However, I think that problems would arise for myself and others if these views were imposed on other Christians as being necessary for salvation.  We do uphold St. Gregory of Nazianzus’ dictum that what was not assumed, was not redeemed”, but, as can be seen from above, do not see things in quite the same way here.

All that said, all of this seems to make more sense to me if I put it this way: in light of the fall, it was God’s move to redeem man by becoming man, and part of this meant that new “spiritual bodies” and the fullness of eternal life would be given to believers through, in part, His incarnation and resurrection.  If I am thinking about this rightly, this would perhaps also be why, until the Promised Christ actually came in the flesh, believers who had died were not in heaven with God but in the “holding tank” of “Abraham’s bosom”.  Evidently, it was not until Christ was resurrected that human nature was able to be prepared to “assume” (or, from our perspective, “re-assume” ?) this quality that it was made for.  In addition, I think it is possible that this view might help explain the Scriptural teaching that unbelievers will suffer for eternity in hell – not because their souls are necessarily immortal, but because God is not the one who destroys relationships (the eternal life which is love) – or takes any pleasure in their dissolution.  He is rather the One who renews them, and hence gives all men a share in His life by uniting Himself to man in the deepest possible way.  It is a quality of sinful man that he destroys relationships, not God, who is holy (see Hosea 11)

Please note: I know that we still have not talked about why EO believe we can cooperate with God in initial conversion, but I promise that we are getting there…  More background is necessary, I believe.

Lutherans are apt to get uneasy with the “God became man that man might become God” language of Athanasius.  However, as the Lutheran pastor Will Weedon puts it, if we say “God became a child of man that man might become a child of God….”, much of our discomfort disappears.  In any case, as noted already above, it seems that both Augustine and the Eastern Orthodox, for example, believed that Adam and Eve, while able to not to sin, were to eventually, by God’s grace, become those who were not able to sin.  Further, in Augustine’s view, Adam was not made instrinsically immortal, but could die or not die depending on his response to the command of God (perhaps we could say that eternal life was “conditional” only in the sense that they needed to continually live from the life-giving words of God!) 

I think that the traditional Lutheran view is similar to this, although I would want to nuance it a bit (see ** from the first post in this series), and I think this fits with the Eastern Orthodox view as well – namely that Adam and Eve would have only been and continued to be immortal – reaching the highest heights of what they were capable of – by participation in God’s grace (as one EO commentator said: “where ‘nature’ is synonymous with ‘essence,’ we are naturally immortal because immortality does not belong to our essence but is given to us by the grace of God”).  That said, the key question here, of course, has to do with the abilities of fallen man.

And that discussion will be coming in the next post in a couple days.

NOTE: this post originally said: “I will try to get to answering this question in what may seem initially to be a “round-about way”.  I did not want to say that.


Posted by on October 2, 2013 in Uncategorized


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