Monthly Archives: February 2014

Gems from my students IV

Do Lutherans do personal testimonies?  Well, we don’t emphasize this, because usually they are a bit boring (yes, I’d say this is typical, even as it is entertaining).  That said, we do have our adult converts. Some great stories can be read in the regular “Wittenberg trail” feature of the Issues ETC Journal (read them here), and this account from Brian Wolfmueller is both powerful and entertaining.


One of my students has had a rather arduous and amazing journeys, and was kind enough to share it with me and gave me permission to post it here.  I give you Kendra.


I guess that my journey with the Lord started at the age of nine. I remember asking my mother to pray with me in my living room to accept Jesus into my heart. The tv was blaring in the background, but at that moment I sensed peace and quiet in my heart. I grew up in a small town where everyone knows everything and I went to a tiny baptist church with a congregation of about 30 people. I have an older brother and younger sister and we are all 5 years apart. My father was severely bipolar, so when he was on his “up” times, he came to church with us and was a great witness to others, but when he was depressed and low he was an alcoholic and very abusive. I remember at a young age witnessing him beat my older brother and mom in front of my sister and me. There were many nights that we left our home to stay at my grandma’s and I can remember laying in bed and not knowing where we would go tomorrow, but having a calming feeling inside me that at least we got through today. I still felt safe and secure and I know that was Jesus holding my hand throughout those nights. Over the next few years his illness got continuously worse and at the age of eleven my dad started sexually molesting me. It started when my mom would work nights and my brother would go out with his friends. I knew when it was going to happen because I would get a dark feeling in my stomach and I would want to go to bed early with my sister. This happened over the course of a few months and I left this painful secret with me until I could bare it no more. God was telling me that I had to do my part to protect myself and the future of my sister. I needed to be brave, so after months of going on this way I finally told my aunt on the car ride home from school what had happened. We went to my pastor’s house, just her and I, and he prayed over me. I knew after that night that he could no longer harm me and that the lies he told me wouldn’t happen. I was safe again. We went to a town home and that night my dad was arrested. At that age I didn’t really know what to think about the whole process. I had so many people talking to me and everything happened so fast that all I could do was hold on the Jesus’ hand and know that he would hold me another day. Four days after my dad went to jail he was released on bail and that night he committed suicide in our home. I can’t really explain to you what it was like that night that we found out. So many things went rushing into my mind: What have I done to my daddy? If only I would’ve kept my mouth shut, he would still be alive. So many doubts rushed into my mind that I really started to question myself and most of all, God. Why would he take my dad away that way? Why would he allow my dad to do all he did and give me the courage to speak up and then to feel like I got punished for it anyway. I was very lost those couple of days and very unsure, but I know I was being carried through this wilderness and I wouldn’t have gotten through it had it not been for my faith. It took me many months after his death to realize that it wasn’t my fault and that his decision was his own and it truly wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault. Knowing this and being able to go through the process of forgiving my father was the most amazing weight being lifted from an eleven year old’s shoulders. I knew that if Jesus could get my through this then I could do ANYTHING THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME.


The year after my dad died was quite the roller coaster. My mother had been with my dad since she was 14 and she was very co-dependent on him, so she took his death very hard. After that night she took a very hard turn and she was never to be the same again. Nine months after he died my mother was married to his older brother and we were moved to New Mexico, a place I had never visited and never wanted to live. We were made to leave our home, our family, and our comfort for this desert. I resisted my mom more than ever before. This barrier was now in between us and for some reason it would never be broken. My brother, my protector, my rock, and my best friend, had joined the military directly after our move and I really felt like I was alone. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t have any family and my mom and I weren’t on good terms. Over the course of 4 years I would make the journey back and forth from Minnesota to New Mexico every 6 months, or until my mom decided she wanted to me live with her, or wanted me to live with my grandma. My stepfather wasn’t very accepting of my sister and I and there was some violence in the home and I just didn’t know where to turn. I knew where my home was and I wanted more than anything to resist all change and stay in Minnesota, but something called me to finally stay in Albuquerque my sophomore year and I did until my junior year when I graduated a year early. I have no idea how I achieved graduation that year, all I know is that it took night classes, summer school, online courses, regular school, a part time job. LOTS OF CAFFEINE, and the Lord. I did it. I graduated and I could now have my independence and I could go where I wanted. This is the year my mother started her downward spiral from us. She began to steal and lie. She stole from me, my brother, and my grandma. We didn’t know where this money was going or what was going on, but because she was my mom and because I still loved her, I forgave her. After I finished school at the age of 17,  I moved to Seattle to go to art school and live with my brother and my beautiful baby twin nephews. I guess you could call this year of my life, my oasis time. I was very happy with my brother and watching my nephews grow, and most of all doing what I loved to do. My art. After that year my brother decided to finish his time with the military and move back home. I was going home. As much as I loved my year away, I knew that God was directing my life and my future to Minnesota. I had no idea what I was going to do, I had no idea where I was going to work, but I knew that it would be taken care of, because I was always taken care of and that was because of my FATHER, my real dad.


The next year to come went by very quickly and I grew up a lot. I got my own apartment, I worked full time and I was in the same apartment building as my brother. That year my mom left my uncle and she took off in the middle of the night to move back to Minnesota. What at first seemed like a home coming and joyous time for her, quickly turned very unfortunate for us, very soon. My mom was on some sort of path that none of us could quite figure out. We still had some what of a relationship, but nothing of substance and I was now the mother to her and I hadn’t had in quite a few years. I called to make sure she had eaten, she borrowed my money, and she continued to steal what she could. This time of my life was up and down and I really didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t know what to do with my mom and I didn’t know how to be a friend and a daughter,  but the beginning of the next year was my big JOURNEY. I got married to the boy I knew since 2nd grade, my friend, John. I was 19. We dated for 3 months, were engage for 2 weeks, and got married with two witnesses in my small baptist church and that began my trip to the big city. I didn’t know why it all happened so fast. I knew that God intended for me to marry John and we both knew that we wanted to have our relationship be right with the Lord and get married before living together and starting off this way was right. We thank God that we began our lives together this way and the next year I know that the Lord had me with John for a definite reason. Months into our marriage my mom really just began to be lost in herself. She abandoned my 14 year old sister and she never looked back. She just left one day with a meth dealer and no one in my family has seen her since. This wilderness period of my life is still very much evident in everything I do. I had a lot of resentment and anger for my mom. To leave my sister, our whole family the way that she did really devastated me. Over the past 3 years I have really found myself questioning God’s intentions on why he would allow this to happen to us.  My mother was very good at manipulation and playing a big role in the trust issues I have struggled with on a daily basis, especially in my marriage. I had trouble trusting what anyone ever said and I thought I had to be in control of EVERYTHING and that way it would be less possible for me to get hurt or be left again. I tried doing a lot on my own and that led me to even more heartache. Why would God let our last parent just leave us this way? It left me feeling very abandoned, as well as lied to, and most of all very alone. I felt that God allowed me to be cut and left to bleed by both of my parents and there was nothing I could have done to prevent either one from leaving the way that they did. I have had a major struggle forgiving my mom and being able to let go of her and really being able to turn her to the Lord because He’s the only one who knows where she is and is actually going to be able to save her.  Through this process I’ve not only been able to free myself of the bondage, but also learn how to trust other people again and not control everything, because it all is entirely OUT of my control. It’s still an up and down process, but it is only through the Lord that I have been able to let things go and not be so critical and bitter toward others. There are many times that I have bitter inside and I really began to become hard. It’s that this point that I tried and still do try to be around other believers and ask for their prayers and encouragement because sometimes they’re the only ones that can pray me through the day. The hardship of my mom isn’t over yet, and there are days I need more help than others, but if I just do my Bible study and really ask God for His presence, it’s like He goes above and beyond just to show me that He still thinks I’m special and He’s a pretty great Dad to have to show me that. I know that God really has blessed me in my life with many people to keep me sane over this period. Even when I felt alone, even when I lay in bed wondering what happened to my life, I knew that God gave me so many people to keep me safe, to be lift me up and encourage and I know that Jesus wanted me to know, “Kendra I know that you hurt and that you don’t understand, but I have great plans for you, and I gave you people in your journey to give you hope. But most of all, remember that I WON’T LEAVE YOU.” That sense of abandonment has been my worst fear. The Lord has been so faithful in all of His ways an He truly has shown me that no matter what happens in my today, no matter where I go in my tomorrow, that HE is here with me. That HE is my best friend. He catches all of my tears, He lays awake with me in the middle of night. And unlike so many people in my life, HE WILL NEVER LET ME DOWN. I’ve been so encouraged throughout my life with so many people to help me through. My aunt has really stepped up and played an important part of my life and has been more than a mother figure to me and I couldn’t ask for more. My grandmother has opened her home to me and my little sister and she lives there even today. My sister has exceeded above and beyond even after my mom has left. She is 17 now and will be graduating from highschool with her A.A. and a 4.0 gpa and she has so much ahead of her to look forward and regardless of any of the hurt she has felt I know that God has sheltered and kept her through the years of hurt we have faced. My husband and I started going to Grace Church shortly after we got married and the Lord has shown us in so many ways that He is with us and helping us. The people at Grace have really guided us both and I am so grateful for the strong and courageous women that He has brought into my life through Grace. I may not have a mother of my own, but He has just poured godly women into my life to show me what a Mother is and how she can love. I couldn’t feel more blessed in my life at this point in time. I look back and see that I could have gone so many other places and been such a different person, but I know that it is my Christ alone I am saved and I am here today and this is my joy. I don’t regret anything that I’ve gone through and I can honestly stand here and say that I know I didn’t face this alone.


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Posted by on February 27, 2014 in Uncategorized


In what does man’s essence lie? A meditation.

Men, there is a message you should know about – for without it you are nothing...

Men, there is a message you should know about – for without it you are nothing…

Aristotle said that man is a rational animal.  Our uniquely constituted minds with their abilities of reason and language are what make man human.

Descartes, perhaps attempting to somewhat salvage Aristotle from Francis Bacon’s relentless focus on technique and the external realities that surround and confront us, put forth this: “I think, therefore I am”.

Recently, I read this question from technology and culture watcher, Nicholas Carr:

“As we transform ourselves into creatures of the screen, we face an existential question: Does our essence still lie in what we know, or are we now content to be defined by what we want? If we don’t grapple with that question ourselves, our gadgets will be happy to answer it for us.”

What is man’s essence?  It is not that man has true knowledge of something*, but that man knows a Who.  Without this critical component, it does not really make sense to speak of man’s essence.

Not so fast son.

Not so fast son.

Some persons know this God in a partial sense – a sense that will do them no good eternally – and some have begun to know Him fully, in a “now but not yet” fashion.

Those who know Him fully know that “this is eternal life”.

He is known through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whose words are “spirit and life”.

And along with this it is good to be a creature of the book, the book that carries forth and preserves those words into the future.

The Calvinist author Rosaria Butterfield had some wonderful thoughts about being this kind of creature on the Gospel Coalition blog this past week:

Yes, the Holy Spirit gives you a heart of flesh and the mind to understand and love the Lord and his Word. But without good reading practices even this redeemed heart grows flabby, weak, shaky, and ill. You cannot lose your salvation, but you can lose everything else [Nathan’s note: Lutherans do believe that you can lose your salvation]

Enter…The Puritans. They didn’t live in a world more pure than ours, but they helped create one that valued biblical literacy. [John] Owen’s work on indwelling sin is the most liberating balm to someone who feels owned by sexual sin. You are what (and how) you read. J. C. Ryle said it takes the whole Bible to make a whole Christian. Why does sin lurk in the minds of believers as a law, demanding to be obeyed? How do we have victory if sin’s tentacles go so deep, if Satan knows our names and addresses? We stand on the ordinary means of grace: Scripture reading, prayer, worship, and the sacraments. We embrace the covenant of church membership for real accountability and community, knowing that left to our own devices we’ll either be led astray or become a danger to those we love most. We read our Bibles daily and in great chunks. We surround ourselves with a great cloud of witnesses who don’t fall prey to the same worldview snares we and our post-19th century cohorts do.

In short, we honor God with our reading diligence. We honor God with our reading sacrifice. If you watch two hours of TV and surf the internet for three, what would happen if you abandoned these habits for reading the Bible and the Puritans? For real. Could the best solution to the sin that enslaves us be just that simple and difficult all at the same time? We create Christian communities that are safe places to struggle because we know sin is also “lurking at [our] door.” God tells us that sin’s “desire is for you, but you shall have mastery over it” (Gen. 4:7). Sin isn’t a matter of knowing better, it isn’t (only) a series of bad choices—and if it were, we wouldn’t need a Savior, just need a new app on our iPhone.

I would even go so far to say that it is even better to surround ourselves with those who should know and really do know this God and His book better than we do.  In this way we might not only hear the words read to us by another, but hear them explained to us in the clearest way possible and put to us in the idioms of our time and to see how they convincingly confront the falsehoods of our age… We Lutherans especially point to great individuals like Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz, John Gerhardt, C.S.W. Walther, and Herman Sasse.

….and so we look to the good book…. and also look books by the departed saints and the living examples – the “living letters” – of those who carry forth His word, His purpose, His story, history in the world.

For it is in Him that our essence truly lies.


*Aquinas believed that being human requires the faculties of will and reason


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Posted by on February 24, 2014 in Uncategorized


When considering the impact public demonic displays would have, it would be counter-productive to keeping our minds off of religion

Pious and salutary speculation about the enemy's strategy

Pious and salutary speculation about the enemy’s strategy

….this from one of my students, ably making concise something I struggled to explain in lots of words….

Yes, did you hear about the very public public demonic displays in Indiana a few weeks back?  My guess is that some lesser demons are getting a very bad whooping right now for their lack of self-control…

In case you missed it:

Of course, now the priest who performed the exorcism has signed a big movie deal with the producer of hit movie The Conjuring:

The priest, Michael Maginot, “said he signed the deal with DeRosa-Grund because he trusts that he will not sensationalize the experience.”

Hmm.  May the Lord be in this for the glory of His Son.


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Posted by on February 20, 2014 in Uncategorized


“Imagine! Of all places, God chooses eastern Germany, one of the world’s most godless regions, as the stage for a spiritual awakening among Persians.”

“As a confessional Lutheran, I am not given to Schwarmerei [ie, religious enthusiasm],” explains Dr. Martens in the article. “But these reports of visions sound very convincing.”  Quote from here.

As a confessional Lutheran, I am not given to Schwarmerei [ie, religious enthusiasm],” explains Dr. Martens in the article. “But these reports of visions sound very convincing.” Quote from here.

So says conservative Lutheran Pastor Gottfried Martens – whose church I got to attend back in 1998 – named the “Pastor of the Year” in 2012 by the German Christian magazine IdeaSpekturm.

Why the quote and why the award?  As the Canadian Lutheran tells us, it is because of his work with Iranian converts to Christianity over the past five years.

More from the Canadian Lutheran:

The growing number of Iranian converts to Christianity in Germany was highlighted in a 2012 article for Christianity Today entitled “The other Iranian Revolution.” That article, which featured Dr. Martens and his work, noted that Germany is now home to the largest Iranian community in Western Europe with approximately 150,000 Iranian immigrants. The January 2013 issue of SELKinfo further notes that dozens of Iranian Muslims in Germany are estimated to be converting to Christianity every month.

“These refugees are taking unimaginable risks to live their Christian faith,” says Dr. Martens in the article for Christianity Today. “Imagine! Of all places, God chooses eastern Germany, one of the world’s most godless regions, as the stage for a spiritual awakening among Persians.”

The article goes on to explain how numerous Iranian Muslims are reportedly receiving visions of Christ as a precursor to their conversions. “He always makes it clear that he is Jesus of the Bible, not Isa of the Qu’ran,” the authors write, “and He directs them to specific pastors, priests, congregations, or house churches, where they later hear the gospel.”

And now the latest news, reported last week by the International Lutheran Council:

The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) continues to see remarkable numbers of Iranian Muslims converting to Christianity. According to a recent SELKinfo story, Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martens of St. Mary’s Lutheran Church (Steglitz, Berlin) reports that the number of congregational members and applicants for baptism of Persian background at his church has recently grown by 75%. The same report notes three groups of Iranians were preparing for baptism at the time, with the first group scheduled to have been baptized December 15, 2013.

“It is a kind of miracle which we experience in Berlin right now,” explained Rev. Dr. Jobst H.M. Schöne (Bishop Emeritus of SELK) during a 2013 visit to Canada. It all began when a few Iranians showed up for service at the church one Sunday, he said. As time went on, they expressed an interest in being baptized. “We thought at the beginning,” Dr. Schöne reflects, “that’s it: two people, maybe three people, maybe four people. I tell you, it’s now more than 300.”

Great stuff.  Check out the whole article.


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Posted by on February 14, 2014 in Uncategorized


Gems from my students III

First, Christopher proves himself to be a cultural commentator with a sharp eye:

“Speaking of Revelation, check out the lyrics to Katy Perry’s latest song “Dark Horse”. She performed this song at the Grammy’s and the performance was pretty “dark”.

So you wanna play with magic?
Boy, you should know what you’re falling for
Baby do you dare to do this?
Cause I’m coming at you like a dark horse
Are you ready for, ready for
A perfect storm, perfect storm
Cause once you’re mine, once you’re mine
There’s no going back”

He says:

“The sad thing is, people ride around in their cars singing along not even “hearing” what they’re saying.”

Before he sent this, he wrote the following to me:

“I would like to inquire your thoughts in terms of the state of the world today and its relation to the Book of Revelation. It appears to me, that evil is running rampant throughout the world, more so than ever before. The mainstream media has turned from news information to perverted stories glorifying sin and negativity. Social media is the most common form of communication and exemplifies selfishness and gloating. The FCC allows more foul language, nudity and violence during “family hours” of programming than ever before. People always claim to be too busy yet their time is spent doing what? Certainly not serving God, but rather working to earn more money, to buy more things. Governments are gaining power and with it, pushing their own agendas rather than supporting the people they represent. Satanic symbols are no longer hidden in the entertainment industry and are flaunted in the face of the unknowing viewer. From Beyonce posing in front of a Last Supper painting and blocking Jesus or flaunting a baphomet ring, to a dark Grammy awards which led Christian singer Natalie Grant to leave early . What sent a few chills down my spine was reading about the potential for e-tattoos to be implanted in people to use as currency ( ), then reading Revelation 13:16-17 which sates “It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.” A little spooky. Whenever asking my mother about “end of the world” as a kid, I always remember her quoting Mark 13:32 stating “Only God knows when the end will come.” So I don’t want to imply I feel it is coming now, just pointing out my observations. I’m curious whether you have had any similar observations and what your thoughts are concerning the evil we see more and more each day.”

From Wanda:

“Over the years, many have tried to discredit the Bible, but none have been successful. Many feel that it is a book of do’s and don’ts, but it really is a love story about a God that loves his people so much that he would send his son to die for our sins, so that we might have life. The Bible doesn’t promise that everything will be perfect once we accept Christ, but that we will never be alone in whatever we go through. Some would say that the Bible is a roadmap to life, and others would say that it teaches us how to live. Over the course of this class, I have learned that it is neither. The Bible is really about Jesus. It shows us a better Adam, a stronger David, a wiser Samuel, a braver Elijah, a better John the Baptist, a more passionate Peter, a more loving Mary, and a more dedicated Paul. The words of the Bible are used by the Holy Spirit to move even the hardest man. The spirit of God anointed the Bible to be used to lead anyone to Jesus Christ and to bring the truth to everyone. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).”

From Nancy:

“1968 was a tough year; even as a young girl I remember vividly how frightened I was during the protest, riots, assassinations, and constant images of war everywhere. When we went to mass after Martin Luther King’s assassination that year, there were police snipers on the roof of the police station standing gard as we walked to church; it was like living in a war zone. I was confused, lost, afraid, and having nightmares. I will never forget that Christmas Eve though, it changed everything.

I witnessed the glory watching the Apollo 8 broadcast with my family showing the earthrise out from the dark side of the moon into the bright light of the sun. The crew read from the book of Genesis while we saw contracting imagery of the dull lifeless moonscape compared to the perfect planet earth bathed in light. There was no doubt that only the divine Creator could have crafted this glorious earth, perfectly balanced, full of life, and yet so fragile and vulnerable in the stark void of space. That night I dreamed of Christ’s crucifixion in a way no movie could ever recreate, it was oddly beautiful and full of grace. I was not afraid. The next morning at Christmas mass celebrating His birth it all came together for me. Jesus was born and died for me, we are the Lords creation and all things are under His control. I walk with Him and it is all good.”

I love teaching my online classes.


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Posted by on February 12, 2014 in Uncategorized


Lutherans are *not* boring: why Lutheran Pastor William Weedon did not become Eastern Orthodox

There are few men I respect as much as Pastor William Weedon.  The man is knowledgeable, passionate, and kind to a fault.  Not to embarrass Pastor Weedon too much, but when I talk about sanctification and holiness, his name comes to mind (and another Lutheran saint in particular, Pastor Kurt Marquart).

In a recent post by Anthony Sacramone of the Strange Herring blog, he spoke of how Lutherans are boring, and I gladly linked to that post.  Now, I found on his blog the two videos in this post featuring Pastor Weedon.  It them, he is talking with a group of Lutheran pastors about how and why he almost left Confessional Lutheranism for Eastern Orthodoxy, and this is not boring in the least.

If you are curious about this topic, you’ll want to give this talk a listen.  If you are not that curious, you may also want to give it a try.  Pastor Weedon is a very easy man to listen to – and I must say, a very fine apologist for Lutheranism.

He talks about “waking up from an enchantment – a beautiful dream – that wasn’t real”.*  What does this mean?  Check it out.  If you don’t have time for both parts – and I strongly recommend both parts – part 1 can certainly stand alone.


*You’ll also hear an interesting line about venerating the icons of the fathers vs. actually reading what they wrote.


Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Uncategorized


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The creation debate after the debate


I am blessed to have many theologically-minded friends.  In response to the recent Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate, here is what one of them, Piotr Malysz, said:

I find Nye’s views to be far more conducive to theologization (not that he does it!) along the lines that suggest God’s continuous involvement in creation, even where other explanations already are available and (to some) quite satisfying. This cannot be said of Ham’s fideism.

Ham’s position, as I see it, has its intellectual roots in medieval nominalism: (1) It relies on extreme observational positivism, which is said to legitimately generate only pragmatic, applicational conclusions for the here and now – what Ham considers the only licit kind of science. It thus sows doubt about rationally established past (“You weren’t there!”), just as easily as it is unable to be predictively generative. (2) Ham’s position assumes that God and natural causes are competing and mutually-exclusive agencies. (3) And it views God as a potential deceiver in his worldly activity: What we now know to be the case, in terms of physical laws for example, need not have been the case earlier; in other words, evidence, even when legitimately interpreted, deceives if it’s taken to point beyond the here and now. The world points at best to the will of God, which always hides within itself unrestricted possibilities.

What I find far more logically compelling than Ham’s view is Jonathan Edwards’ argument that God actually recreates the world ex nihilo every split second. At least this is logically defensible (see Edwards’ treatise on original sin), and does not imply divine deception, etc.

Now, a totally different kettle of fish is what Ham’s position does to the Bible on account of the above assumptions. Ham is like those 17th-century theologians who argued that the vowel points had to have been in the original Hebrew text because it would be unbecoming of God to have produced a less than perfect text. They decided a priori, on the basis of their own notion of divine perfection, what God’s Word had to be like.

The point of the analogy is to highlight that what Ham calls his biblical worldview (a set of beliefs, assumptions, and expectations) may not be quite as biblical as he makes it out to be, at least in some crucial respects. Rather, he imposes important assumptions on the Bible, and on God. Ham’s is very much an early-modern/modern worldview, and it has to do with prior assumptions, among other things, about what God should be like in order to be divine and by extension what characteristics God’s Word must have, as well. All this to offset the possibility of our being deceived even if we interpret the evidence in accordance with what appears to be the case in the here and now.

This leads Ham to what one may call “Gnostic” exegesis, based on the implicit conclusion that God could not have expressed himself, or it would have been beneath the perfect God to have expressed himself (and God cannot depart from his Platonic nature) though historical forms, time-bound conventions, and contingent usages. It also makes God seem tone-deaf when it comes to the richness of language, incapable, say, of humor, hyperbole, poetic license, and genre convention. As a result, everything, every genealogy and term, is interpreted literally and on very modernist premises. High as it may be, this view of the Bible does not seem quite biblical.

And here is my response to that:

I agree with much of what you say, or at least parts of your analysis resonate with me…

For example, regarding the “laws of nature” – I don’t believe that we should say that there are any “laws of nature” that intrinsically exist.  I agree with the Italian humanist Vico’s critique (really vs Descartes) already offered in the late seventeenth century and re-iterated by Hamann in the eighteenth: “human beings experience a regularity in the world around them, which they then improperly abstract into a concept of ‘natural law’ that excludes from serious discourse, the mystical, and the religious”.

I think that’s exactly right – even if Christians at the time did not latch onto and continue with Hamann’s argument.  And I would argue that the reason God is not a deceiver is that we misunderstand the purpose of creation if we think that God created it so we could pronounce hard and fast laws instrinsic in “nature” (creation) and treat it like some clock.  It is an organic whole, not some mechanized, lifeless and computerized nightmare.  Therefore, I understand, for example, things like supernova to be there first and foremost something for us who dwell in God’s creation/household: it is there first and foremost to show us something like a beautiful painting or fireworks display (take your pick).

I think all of this can be better understood with a simple analogy: Parents arrange things in a consistent fashion so that a child can be captivated, play, create and experiment on the one hand, and they arrange things and *act* in a consistent fashion so that the child feels security, stability, and confidence, on the other hand.  Arranging things in a consistent fashion – more or less so – depending on what we are talking about, and acting in a consistent steadfast fashion is a part of love.  Creating beauty and order for another is a fruit of love. In other words, order is born of love, not love of order – or from a love of order!  As the linguist Roy Harris perceptively notes, communicative behavior cannot arise from non-communicative behavior.  There must be an infrastructure in place from the beginning. This matter does not center around the fact that truth is a social construct instead of some cold and impersonal factual correspondence, or something like that – but that how we conceive of and describe reality can’t not be done personally, or socially.  And such should not surprise, because Reality is personal, is social (rooted as it is in the Reality of the Triune God).  And this in turn brings us back to Romans 1.  It is not that there is nothing to the idea that order=God, but rather that order can’t not be recognized as a fruit of love.  Perhaps one’s proof of God does not begin by saying “Someone must have made this”, but rather by the love that one does know.

Now none of this means that we can’t observe the hard and soft regularities that God has put in place for us.  It just means being humble about working with these things, understanding that He has His own purposes for arranging the world as He sees fit, and we have our own purposes.  For much the same reason, I will no longer talk about the “historical-grammatical method” either – but, more like Ham, simply will speak about the natural, or normal, or common, or everyday use of language – we can, for example, readily differentiate genres of literature when we take a look at them – and read them as the author intended us to.  On the contrary, it seems to me that it was clearly Bill Nye who seemed “tone-deaf when it comes to… genre convention”.

As for the “You weren’t there!” bit you mention, I do think Ham is right to highlight this and he is actually not being as inconsistent as you think he is.  As I noted in my series on Athens and Jerusalem, naturalistic science has no room for accounts from the distant past – they have no place when it comes to figuring into our philosophies or worldviews in any sort of prominent way (think of Henry Ford’s comment about history being “more or less bunk…”, where he in effect was saying that history was of little or no significance in our scientific age).  I therefore think you are wrong when you say this is a kind of “Gnostic” exegesis on Ham’s part, where for him “it would have been beneath the perfect God to have expressed himself (and God cannot depart from his Platonic nature) though historical forms, time-bound conventions, and contingent usages”.  On the contrary, it is actually man’s misuse of naturalistic science (which looks at the world through the lens of quantity and regularity, finding constant mechanisms behind phenomena, and carries with it the temptation to do so with all phenomena) that is slowly lobotomizing the accounts of history that really matter (not the sometimes insightful but very imperfect historicist streak that you seem to be referencing).  Hence, Ham is actually a dinosaur himself for this reason: he is upholding a more humanist view (humanist in the best sense of that word – Christian/Renaissance, not “secular humanism”) that gives our ancestors not only a vote, but respect, loyalty and trust.  So I find this part of your complaint entirely unconvincing.

When you essentially say Ham is deciding “a priori, on the basis of [his] own notion of divine perfection what God’s Word ha[s] to be like”, I think this is wrong.  For example, biblically, death is clearly an enemy caused by sin.  We all think death is far from perfect.  I think you need to attack Ham’s position on the world’s imperfection – put forth in the Bible – not his notion of divine perfection.

Finally, I agree that the theory of evolution has led to some discoveries that were predicted, but many of the predictions have not born out as well.  You hear about the successes and when it is the default system that drives methodologies, I don’t think it should surprise us that creation science seems to evince little predictive power (as they are fewer in number).  Nye’s point about the ice layers is probably his most challenging point (but for living things, like trees, it is less convincing – why would God not have made them fully formed, with rings and all?), but I’d simply point out that evolutionists have their own ad-hoc and unconvincing explanations as well.  Note all the scrambling that occurred after this.  Of course, there would not be such angst if such a thing had been predictable.  There’s also problems like the fact that devolution seems to be all around us.

You can read a fuller account of my view regarding these issues here.

In sum, while I am not wholly satisfied with Ham’s approach – given its inconsistencies (yes – he and many of us should probably read Edwards here) he is more right than he is wrong.  What he says is absolutely more in line with the more simple faith of most early church fathers in the words of Genesis (the same Vico I mention above also introduced the concept of “mytho-poetical” truth many seem to assume for most or all of the Bible today – although for Vico in the late 17th c. he inconsistently insisted this was not to be applied to the Christian Scriptures).  This, I think, is undeniable.  And more importantly, it is also in line with Jesus’ own views of the Scriptures.

The larger point here for me though is this: while there is nothing wrong with a little fun with numbers – fueled by curiosity – the quantitative, the numerical, the “power law” seem to be fast becoming the god of all who “count” in the world (Mr. Brooks I am sure, is not worried).  Increasingly, it seems that anything that stands in the way of those desiring to use this power and the control it offers will be crushed (talked about here a few weeks back).


Note: the debate is here, but probably only for a few more days.

UPDATE: Since this posts original publication, I clarified some of my remarks above.

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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Uncategorized


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My pastor on mortal vs venial sin

I just stumbled across this again.  We were discussing this a while back via email and he told me that he’d be OK with me posting what he said there.  I think its helpful:

I think the distinction between mortal and venial sin is important. As far as our justification is concerned, all sins are mortal, as Luther pointed out in the Heidelberg disputation. Imperfection is imperfection, no matter if it is small or larger, no matter if one is aware of it or not. As far as our sanctification is concerned, some sins are venial, some are mortal. Venial sins usually fall under the category of sins which occur not purposely and willfully, but because we are by nature defective. Sometimes we are aware of them, sometimes not. Here the confession of sins of two types in the Small Catechism: Those of which we are not aware, and those of which we are aware. (This distinction goes back to the Old Testament, and the placing of garments on the priest, and the offering of specific sacrifices for unknown sins.) So if we are aware of a sin, does that necessarily mean it is a mortal sin? Well, we can we be aware of sin within us. For example, when something causes us to become angry, and we realize we should not be angry about that thing, and yet we are. At that moment there may be an awareness of the New Man, that the Old Adam has caused such anger, and must simply live with it until that anger subsides. Thus to prevent further or greater sin, the New Man takes the Old Adam for a walk…Here we can talk about non-willful sins, sins which occur because by nature we are defective, and which are a result of the reactions of that defective nature to our situation (we are tired and hungry and so end up yelling at a child when such yelling was not really needed…). But what about “premeditated sin”, that is sin which we commit with the full knowledge that it is sin, and we should not commit it? Here we are working against the Holy Spirit, and have strayed into mortal sin territory. So the chief example in the Bible: David and Bathsheba. Certainly with all the time that lapses during the sequence of events which occurred there there must have been something more than venial sin occurring. We don’t know. What we do know is that as soon as David is confronted with his sin, he does not claim ignorance, that he should not have committed adultery or murdered, but he repents, asks for a clean heart, a right spirit, and that Spirit not be taken from him, that the joy of salvation be restored to him.

I had asked: Does true anthropology support the notion that some sins at the time they are committed are not mortal because its not “me” who is doing them, but sin (Rom. 7) – in other words they are not “willful” as Scripture defines willfull?

Perhaps [it] can be seen in this way: They are not mortal not because something besides me is committing them, or because I am not aware of them, but because we live by faith in Christ.

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Posted by on February 2, 2014 in Uncategorized