Monthly Archives: September 2014

*How* will we know the truth that sets us free? What is TSSI and is Jesus’ bodily resurrection the validation of His teachings? (part I of IV)

20th c. Lutheran theologian Robert Preus - a man who knew TSSI.

20th c. Lutheran theologian Robert Preus – a man who knew TSSI.  What is TSSI?  Read on.

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. — I John 5:10-11.

“Faith will stagger if the authority of the Sacred Scriptures wavers.”—Augustine* De doctr. Christ, bk. 1, c. 37, quoted in Gerhard, On Holy Scripture, 2009, 58

“He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures…” – Nicene Creed

“…we are to render ourselves and our message historically vulnerable as did our Lord Himself when He deigned to enter fully and unreservedly into the maelstrom of human history.  If we so present Him, His historical claims will assuredly prevail, for, as those who had eyewitness contact with Him declared, His manifestation in history was accompanied by many infallible proofs.’” – John Warwick Montgomery, Preface, Where is History Going?, 1969)

“And as the ancient church at the time of Moses, Joshua, and the prophets, so also the primitive church at the time of the apostles was able to testify with certainty which writings were divinely inspired. For she knows the authors whom God had commended to the church by special testimonies; she knew also which were the writings which had been composed by them; and from the things which she had received by oral tradition from the apostles she could judge that the things which had been written were the same teaching which the apostles had delivered with the living voice.” — Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, trans. Fred Kramer (St. Louis, Concordia, 1971), 176.


David "All theology is Christology" Scaer, Lutheran theologian

David “All theology is Christology” Scaer, Lutheran theologian

In a previous post called “History and the Foundation of Christian doctrine” I looked at a piece the Lutheran theologian David Scaer wrote, where he talked about the different approaches he and the late Robert Preus, another Lutheran theologian, had regarding matters of Christology.  Scaer discussed some of the differences he saw coming out of this, particularly how the matters of history and divine inspiration were treated.

As was implicitly noted in that post, it seems that Scaer locates the Scriptures within history – emphasizing their human aspect – and that Preus locates history within the Scriptures, emphasizing their divine aspect.  Surely this is an oversimplification, and I invite those who can speak more fulsomely and intelligently here to weigh in.  Both of these men, or course, would see the Holy Spirit at work in the process of giving the church the inspired Scriptures in time, guiding men into all truth.

In response to Scaer’s article, I asked: How might [Robert] Preus’ “from above” way of doing theology and [David] Scaer’s “from below” way of doing theology be synthesized in some way – such that a stronger overall theological approach is the result?”**

Paul testifying before Agrippa about the resurrection from the dead

Paul testifying before Agrippa about the resurrection from the dead

Going along with this, I note that in Jesus Christ and the Scriptures that reveal Him there are a couple things that are held in some kind of tension: the notion of mystery (“who can know the mind of God?”) and certainty (“you will know”) as well as the discontinuity and continuity of the Old and New Testaments (Augustine: “new in the old concealed, old in the new revealed”).  In this series, I am going to explore more the certainty of faith (both the faith and personal faith) and the continuity of the Testaments.  This is not to deny the other two factors – mystery and discontinuity – but is, admittedly, to find both of these firmly embedded within the former.  My hope is that this preliminary series can be a bit of a spark in the promoting thoughtful dialogue among Christians, particularly to those holding to the distinctives of the Reformation.

Let’s begin.

The highly respected evangelical Christian apologist Gary Habermas has said:

“Over and over again, with the help of several checks and balances, we are told to test God’s revelation to us.  To be reminded of just a few of these, potential prophets are to be tested according to their own predictions (Deut. 18:21-22)….. God could have simply sent his listeners his Word, but he apparently did not think that these challenges to look at history were improper references to an authority above his written revelation. 

Miracles also served such a test.  While seeking an incredible heavenly sign, Elijah announced, ‘The god who answers by fire – he is God.’  The people were challenged to view an awesome miracle as God’s vindication of his prophet and message (I Kings 18:20-45).  Centuries later, Jesus performed miracles on the spot to show John the Baptist that he was the Messiah (Luke 7:18-23).  Both Peter (Acts 2:22-24) and Paul (Acts 17:30-31) proclaimed that Jesus’ resurrection was the validation of Jesus’ teachings.”

He spoke with authority….

He spoke with authority….

I have quoted this statement from Habermas positively in the past.  As I did so, I must admit that I sometimes wondered if Lutherans could find room in their theology for such a statement – even if it was not, strictly speaking, against Lutheran theology!  Well, I now think that there are there is something wrong with this statement for theological reasons.  Let me explain – but in order to do so I cannot start with predictive prophecy or the resurrection…

I must start with authority – Authority.  If a person believes that they should give serious attention to religious and spiritual things – perhaps asking questions like “has God spoken?” –  they will, sooner or later, realize something….  Yes, Jesus spoke with real authority.  And yet, so, evidently, did Confucius.  And the Buddha.  And Mohammad.  And even Joseph Smith.  

And while there might be some overlap here and there, the teachings of these men also contradict one another wildly at important points.  If and when we become aware of this – particularly in this pluralistic day and age – many of us might find ourselves asking: which of them speaks the truth – or at the very least, gets closest to the truth?  How to really know?

“God cannot be impersonal, personal, transcendent, polytheistic, pantheistic, monotheistic, able to beget, not able to beget, relevant, and irrelevant all at the same time… Irreconcilable data gives us no knowledge of God whatsoever.” – Francis Beckwith (see here for more)

“God cannot be impersonal, personal, transcendent, polytheistic, pantheistic, monotheistic, able to beget, not able to beget, relevant, and irrelevant all at the same time… Irreconcilable data gives us no knowledge of God whatsoever.” – Francis Beckwith (see here for more)

Things become more complicated when we come to understand that many of these teachers often talked about how people could know that what they said was true by an internal self-attestation of sorts.  In other words, when listening to their authoritative-sounding words – words often later put down in authoritative writings – one will feel it in one’s heart.  That is how the truth will be known.  Some of these teachers – even Jesus Himself – add that one can know whether the teaching is from God when one puts it into practice (see John 7:17).

Regarding the self-attestation of the truth, Christians talk about something like this as well – with a basis for such thought being found in the Scriptures.  “Taste and see tha the Lord is good!”  “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free!”  And, perhaps most importantly, “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (II Tim. 1:12).  They talk about the “self-authenticating” nature of the Christian message in general, and the Christian Scriptures in particular.  More specifically, this is seen to be a work of the Holy Spirit, and it is called the “testimonium Spiritu Sancti internum” or internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. We can call that TSSI for short.***

"The Word of Scripture, being the Word of God, is an object of perception that creates its own organ of perception, faith, and thus Scripture itself bears witness to its divine authority." -- Lutheran theologian Franz Peiper on TSSI

“The Word of Scripture, being the Word of God, is an object of perception that creates its own organ of perception, faith, and thus Scripture itself bears witness to its divine authority.” — Lutheran theologian Franz Peiper on TSSI

We will look at that in the next post, but permit one more brief note at this point: even many Christians here might ask “but what about our own capacity to verify what authorities might be telling the truth”?  This is a good question, and we can briefly address it at this point.  First, it is helpful to look at an interesting illustration demonstrating the stakes of what is involved. 

“Suppose someone is running from an island volcano to a harbor, and sees a large fleet of boats.  He has been warned before that many of the boats have terrible holes and cannot be trusted on the open sea.  If this person hopes to escape the coming wrath, he will surely be concerned with which of the crafts is seaworthy.” (Angus Menuge, p. 252, Reformation and the Rationality of Science, Theologia et Apologia)

Which boat will you take when she blows? -- Lutheran apologist Angus Menuge

Which boat will you take when she blows? — Lutheran apologist Angus Menuge

Going along with this, another good question is “which boats should I look at first”?  Here, one notes that of all the religious leaders in the world’s history, there is only One who is claimed to still live – not only spiritually, but physically.  Might this not be highly significant, given that one of the most significant man’s great questions is “Why do we die and what follows death?”****  Of course the Christian faith is unique in this claim of its founder’s overcoming of death – and His claims to have its final answer – and also opens the way for historical investigation into the matter (see Acts 2, 17 and 26 regarding this matter).  As Jesus’ disciples said concerning him: “Come and see”.  While the Scriptures would assert that you are not able to give yourself true spiritual life, you certainly can decide to put yourself in the path of the One who can.

Part II in a couple days (here now)




* De doctr. Christ, bk. 1, c. 37, quoted in Gerhard, On Holy Scripture, 2009, 58.  Note the following from the Enchiridion of Erasmus, Luther’s “skeptical” opponent: “All Holy Scripture was divinely inspired and perfected by God, its author…divine Scripture…contains nothing idle…Believe none of those things which you see with your own eyes and handle with your own hands to be as true as what you read there. It is certain from the divine words that heaven and earth will pass away…Although men lie and err, the truth of God neither deceives nor is deceived.” (Spinka, Advocates of Reform, Library of Christian Classics, Philadelphia, Library of Christian Classics, 1953, XIV, 303-305)  Luther: “The Holy Scripture did not grow on earth”.   In other words, this message the Spirit brings and works through is in, but not of, the world.  It is, in a very real sense, always the word of God before it is the word of any man.

** I believe that the approach that I am putting forth here also enables one to go beyond the stark contrast recently presented on the Reformation 500 blog (to which I also contribute):

Roman Catholic apologists want to have it both ways. They will present evidence that they find sufficient to lead one to convert, yet when Protestants, using the same method, present evidence that they consider sufficient to lead one to convert it is rejected without consideration to its content but only for it methodological foundation.  Again, Roman Catholics cannot have it both ways…  Either you can present sufficient reasons for one to convert to Roman Catholicism apart from church authority and accept the legitimacy of the methodological basis of Protestant conclusions (meaning you cannot reject them prima facie for their failure to provide certainty) or you admit that you cannot provide sufficient evidence apart from church authority for one to convert to Roman Catholicism (an admission that you cannot legitimately enter public debate) and you continue to presuppose the requirement of Roman Catholic certainty when evaluating Protestant conclusions and thereby reject them prima facie.  Take your pick.”

(For those who are interested, here are some more specifics to the argument from another post prior to the conclusion quoted above:

“In order to avoid circular reasoning, a Roman Catholic must provide good reasons for another to become Roman Catholic apart from reasons that assume Roman Catholicism. This is basic argumentation: one cannot present evidence that points to a conclusion assumed by the evidence. This means that a Roman Catholic must assume a theoretical position of neutrality when presenting evidence. Or, to put it differently, he must theoretically suspend his belief in Roman Catholicism to put it on public trial. Evidence must be “public evidence”: it must be offered as evidence from a standpoint of neutrality toward that which it aims to support. Stated differently, public evidence or a public reason to believe is something that does not simply provide the presenter internal consistency, but provides the person to whom it is being presented evidence that does not demand one presuppose the question at hand. In other words, it demands a theoretical neutral position. This might be startling to people of faith, but that is how argumentation works.

….  The issue though is whether a Roman Catholic, given the Church’s position on its own authority, can consent to the terms of a legitimate public trial. I submit that they cannot. When a Roman Catholic presents public reasons to believe Roman Catholicism, they must consent, by the rules of argumentation, that they can provide sufficient reasons to believe apart from church authority.[2] They are in effect saying that there are sufficient reasons to believe Roman Catholicism apart from the church’s authority to establish the reasons to believe, what constitutes sufficient reasons to believe, and, more importantly, the Church’s authority itself. This is pretty basic: if the question of the church and its authority is the issue at hand, then one’s evidence, to be legitimate public evidence, must not rely for its value as evidence on the question at hand. Moreover, the intent of the presentation of evidence must be to prove its object. When presenting evidence without intent to prove the evidence’s object, one violates the terms of a public trial. But a Roman Catholic qua Roman Catholic cannot consent to these terms: fundamental to their theological system is the notion that the Church is the arbiter of divine truth on earth, meaning that evidence itself cannot be sufficient to provide reasons to believe. In other words, no Roman Catholic can honestly enter public debate. By the very act of presenting evidence as public evidence they undermine the notion that the Church is the only sufficient mechanism of establishing the truth of a theological position. They cannot present public evidence without contradicting their overall system.”)

Again, I note that whether it has to do with Scripture and tradition, free will and predestination, clergy and laity, trust and unconditional obedience, preaching and the sacraments, and high worship (Eastern Orthodoxy) and low worship (Pentecostalism), ceremony and “real life”, presuppositional and evidential apologetics, Lutherans almost always seem to be right in the middle, both/and-ing it all (more on this at my post commenting on a Jonathan Fisk talk: “I’m a Lifelong Lutheran But…”) – with persons always struggling to stay in the saddle.  There never will be a “perfect church”, but perhaps all this should give us pause?  What is it really that everyone is looking for but not finding?

*** It is not so much that TSSI actually provides knowledge or content, but rather that it adds certainty of credibility to knowledge, doctrine, simple statements of truth, Scripture, etc.  In some ways, it is kind of like the certification that Microsoft developed.  Here is an explanation of that from Internet Explorer:  “A public key certificate, usually just called a certificate, is a digitally-signed statement that binds the value of a public key to the identity of the person, device, or service that holds the corresponding private key. One of the main benefits of certificates is that hosts no longer have to maintain a set of passwords for individual subjects who need to be authenticated as a prerequisite to access. Instead, the host merely establishes trust in a certificate issuer.” (credit to Martin Noland for this illustration).

Basically, we can say that the TSSI is a “certificate of authenticity” that:  1) the believer is a child of God; 2) Scriptures contain God’s voice (i.e., are inspired); and that 3) God alone is the most proper witness as to what is his teaching (i.e., that God witnessed to his approval of prophets, apostles, and Jesus through miracles and other direct events).  This three-fold view is found in the 16th century Lutheran theologian John Gerhard, in “Nature of Theology,” commonplace 1, chapter 3, section 36.  See the last footnote to part II where for the quotation from Gerhard.

**** “We all fear death in some sense, and so the funeral, for instance, becomes the ancient effort to help the surviving community come to grips with the devastation and seeming irrationality of death.  In light of such realization, Carl Gustav Jung and Mircea Eliade, convincingly argue that images associated with death are cross-cultural and indeed are ‘archetypes’ of the collective human unconsciousness” (Parton, Craig, “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Trial” in Making the Case for Christianity: Responding to Modern Objections”, pp. 86, 87

Images: Lord’s Prayer (Authority):

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Posted by on September 30, 2014 in Uncategorized


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An appeal to my FiveTwo brethren

(NOTE: There is a follow-up post to this one: A Sincere Question for My FiveTwo Brethren ; the latest post is here)

To any FiveTwo folks reading this, I first need to set some context….

FiveTwo is a group in the LC-MS that identifies itself with the missional movement (for more on this idea of “missional” vis a vis “confessional” see this post, discussing the differences of Lutheran pastor Jonathan Fisk and the Reformed Baptist David Platt).  They have recently caused quite a stir in the Confessional Lutheran blogosphere (see, for example, here, here, here and here)

On a post on the Confessional Lutheran blog Brothers of John the Steadfast, Rev. Robert Mayes said:

Out of all of the Twitter comments from this Five-Two wiki conference that are questionable or confusing, one stood out as the most serious and saddening. It was this comment: “We don’t go in preaching the gospel because we are the gospel.”

NO, PEOPLE ARE NOT THE GOSPEL! No one can believe in you and I and these five-two folks to inherit eternal salvation and be forgiven of their sins! The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, lived a perfect life in our place and died on the cross for us to pay for our sins. By God’s grace alone, Jesus took our sins upon Himself and put them to death, so that we would not have to stand before God in His wrath and anger, but could stand before Him in confident trust as His dearly beloved children who are redeemed by Jesus’ blood.

THIS ALONE IS THE GOSPEL. And the five-two group by this quotation does not understand it….

Here is how I responded to Pastor Mayes:

Pastor Mayes,


This is most certainly true. Just like we can’t say we are sacraments (even if we can, and should, as Pastor Stuckwisch says, live a “Sacramentally Shaped Life”). Of course we cannot talk this way and I don’t see how we can avoid saying that the FiveTwo group should simply disown such statements (but this was a tweet from a layperson and I believe the context of the quote was also explained on another post [it was – see here]). Even if there were a serious theological case someone would want to make here about us being sacraments (which the group clearly does say) – perhaps akin to the whole “ordination is a sacrament” idea – this simply introduces confusion.

“No one can believe in you and I and these five-two folks to inherit eternal salvation and be forgiven of their sins!”

What if we say, as you go on to say:

“The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, lived a perfect life in our place and died on the cross for us to pay for our sins.”

I hope they believe you, trust you, when you say that!  Still, here we would be right to say that they are not really “believing in you”, but believing in the one you point to. So this is a fine line where we should be careful: here, we need to admit that while men will fail us and God never will, we still do trust men… even trust in men… even as we must finally NOT look to them alone… “Believe *in* them” in this sense.

I note Exodus 15:31 states: “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”

So why must I challenge FiveTwo? Because we trust in God who has used reliable men in his plan. Men who value the truth and tradition handed on. Men who respect those who desire to hold tenaciously to the “old time religion” – and to engender love for it and to pass it on – because it so beautifully and wonderfully adorns and carries the truth.

Now, here is where I finally get to speak to the FiveTwo crowd directly:

Herb Mueller, Vice President of the LC-Ms, has recently blogged some comments originally made in 2002 to leaders in the LC-MS:

“When one of us develops an idea that may be different from what has been commonly accepted doctrine or practice, we do not simply go forward on our own, but we bring it to our brothers, remembering we are committed to the same confession and remembering how easy it is to develop blind spots. We are not alone. God has given us brothers. And here it is disingenuous to go only to brothers we are sure will immediately agree with us.”

To any FiveTwo folks reading this: is this true?  Is this what brothers do?  Are you my brother?  Is there, in you, a part of you, that really wants me to “go to you”? (you know, I don’t want to give you that option!)

Because brothers, I agree with you, we must trust men… But the men I want to trust more than any other men are those who really, really want to take seriously the faithful brothers who have gone before us, and paid the prices they have paid to give us the treasures we have received….

I want to trust men.  I want to trust my brothers.  Even as, yes, ultimately, I trust no man but God.

Because of God, there is no one on earth who should be able to trust men as much as Christians do.  This is the way it should be.  Are you willing to listen to me a bit more?

Are you with me?


UPDATE: I thought it was possible that some persons reading this post might find this research study interesting: What Does An American Evangelical Journeying Into Confessional Lutheran Thought Look Like?


Posted by on September 30, 2014 in Uncategorized


Absolutely Shameless Lutheran Proselytizing

wittenberg_trailThe following is a post I did recently at the Reformation 500 blog, which I recommend checking out.  The contributor’s overriding interest is in doing posts that uphold the importance of the 16th c. Reformation vis a vis Roman Catholicism.  Lutheran and Reformed writers contribute (while posts usually do not draw attention to Lutheran and Reformed differences, such posts are not disallowed).  Here it is:

Oh, please sit down Pope Francis!  And I hope, by posting this, I am not rankling too many feathers here…

The other day on this blog John Bugay mentioned that when he was leaving Roman Catholicism, he was “looking for the history of others who had left it as well”… but that “most of the historical writings [he] was finding were coming out of the Reformed tradition”. To this effect, he recommended Lutheran Pastor Jordan Cooper’s excellent show about Lutheran theologians in America (explaining, why, for example, there are so few).

Naturally as a serious and convinced Lutheran, I would like to second John’s recommendation.  In fact, I promptly forwarded John’s post to all the members of the theology department and a few others at the Lutheran institution of higher education where I work, so helpful, constructive and unique did I consider Cooper’s analysis.

In addition to that, some of you may be interested to know that Pastor Cooper is doing a series of interviews on the Lutheran talk radio program Issues ETC. about the “Confessional Documents of Calvinism”. The first show has already taken place where Pastor Cooper talked about the Three Forms of Unity. As always, I learned a lot from Pastor Cooper, who as many of you probably know, is a former Calvinist. Listening to the show, I was reinforced in the impression that he both really knows what he is talking about and really tries to fairly represent the views of those he now disagrees with (I know how frustrating and maddening it can be when persons practicing polemics don’t make the effort to try and represent their opponents views in a way that the opponents themselves would recognize).*

Finally, Issues ETC. also recently had a very interesting interview with a man who had been deeply immersed in the Baptist faith and church life (if he was not a Calvinist Baptist he deeply appreciated them), but who recently, in his sixties, converted to Lutheranism. I found this interview with Dennis McFadden – who incidently has five adult children who are actively involved as church workers or lay persons in Evangelical churches – particularly fascinating, and of course, reaffirming (as I am sure persons of other denominations or religions do when they hear stories of persons converting to their faith).

I don’t know how many persons here are like me, but I really enjoy listening to conversion stories – regardless of who is converting from what to what. For a long while, I listened to EWTN’s Journey Home program – at least with the guests that I thought might have particularly interesting stories to tell and reasons to give. Again, I find it tremendously engaging to see how person’s views do change over the years and the reasons that they give for them. Even though listening to a variety of these stories without other input might hopelessly confuse a person, I think that with other study such stories have the potential to be tremendously helpful. If you are aware of good places to go for other interesting conversion stories that you would like to share, please post those in the comments below.

Perhaps you might be particularly interested in directing me to conversion stories of persons moving from Lutheranism to Calvinism. Or, if you are a Roman Catholic reader, from Lutheranism to Roman Catholicism (though I probably have already heard the story!) If so, please do share. I would be very interested in listening to some of those stories.




* I realize some might want to say: “Why not have a guy who is still Calvinist on to talk?”. I think that would be interesting as well, even as I would hope Pastor Wilken would then also ask some tough questions!



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Posted by on September 29, 2014 in Uncategorized


A Reflection on “Making the Case for Christianity: Responding to Modern Objections”

Click on book to read more

Click on book to read more

Every time I see a book on apologetics by Lutherans, my pulse quickens a bit. There is no doubt that this is an area where we have not been as strong as we could be, and so I see apologetics as an important issue for Christians to be aware of and understand, at least to a some degree.

This book is truly worth the read and I think it has something that will interest most everyone – even those perhaps not particularly interested in apologetics. I especially appreciated the chapters by John Bombaro and Angus Menuge, “The Scandal of Christian Particularity” and “Gratuitous Evil and a God of Love”, respectively, and readers can look at posts that I did on these chapters here and here. And I think all of the chapters in this volume are quite good and the arguments are timely and intelligent – these are men on the “front lines” so to speak. For the most part, I concur with the ringing endorsements on the back of the book from Christians of various denominations. You can read the foreword and introduction here.

That said, this book also helped to clarify in my mind the difficulties I have with the typical Lutheran apologetical approach and helped me to create the previous series of posts where I attempted to put some of John Warwick Montgomery’s arguments in a stronger frame (see the introduction and part I, part II and part III).

What follows is basically that same argument from a different angle, and condensed a great deal.

In the background of every book about apologetics in general, and every Lutheran book about apologetics in particular, are questions about the role of reason, or argument, in the evangelistic task.

At the end of the book, Adam Francisco writes:

“Hopefully this volume will provide some small impetus for a recovery of or renewed emphasis on engaging those who have rejected the Christian faith, with the goal of persuading them that their doubts or objections to the Gospel are unfounded.” (p. 200)

“Persuade” – what does this mean? How does this occur?  What about the point that doubt itself can be associated with rebelliousness? (see last post) On the one hand, I think we can truly say that the Holy Spirit guides us as we use any and all reasonable arguments as seem appropriate to defend the faith and gain a hearing for the Gospel. As Gene Veith opens the book in the foreword:

“The word apologetics comes from the Greek word for “defense.” Christian apologetics is not necessarily about trying to argue someone into the faith, if that were possible. At its heart, apologetics is about defending Christianity from those who attack it. Today Christianity is being attacked from so many different sides, tarnished with so many false charges, and obscured with so many misconceptions that the apologetics enterprise – that is, defending the faith – is critically important. The attacks need to be fended off, the charges answered, and the misconceptions cleared up so that Christianity can at least gain a hearing, which is all the Word of God needs to create faith (Romans 10:17).”

In other words, the Holy Spirit works with us as we speak the plain truth – revealing to persons that some of their objections to the Christian faith cannot be substantiated. With their case weakened, perhaps more openings for hearing Gospel truth – faith-creating truth – are created.  We can’t “argue someone into the faith”, but with the Spirit, we can at times destroy their arguments and shake their fleshly confidence.

On the other hand, let us come back to this idea of persuasion – which is a word that can potentially be associated with “arguing someone into the faith”. In Acts, words like “persuade” (as well as “proof” along with it) are indeed used, but even here it is always in the context of seeking to prove to Jews in the Synagogue – from the Scriptures that the resurrected Jesus is the Christ (see, for example, Acts 17:4, 18:4, and 26:28, see also all of 13 and 14).  For example, we are shown that the Apostle Paul worked tirelessly to persuade persons of just this. So this is an interesting kind of persuasion – here the Holy Spirit is simply using the Scriptures, as well as the Apostle’s words about Christ’s fulfillment of them, to reveal the truth to persons that they might have and fully know God – meaning, in these last days, Jesus Christ in the flesh (no doubt, many of these Jews that heard the message were in fact believers like Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna and Nathaniel – “true Jews” we might say).*

Of course, all of this talk of God’s work in history goes hand in hand with what Korey Moss says in the book’s introduction:

“…To ask whether Jesus existed, or whether he publicly claimed to be God incarnate, or whether he rose from death to establish that claim is not at all to ask an esoteric ‘religious” question such as, ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?’ It is to ask a question about objective, historical facts.

It is therefore not surprising that the apostles themselves regularly appealed to empirical evidence in their proclamation of Christ. John, for example, insists that he writes about what he and his companions “have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands (I John 1:1). Peter, in presenting the case for Christ to a skeptical, even hostile, audience, not only reminds his hearers that he was an eyewitness to the events described, but refers to these events having happened “as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22)….”

Indeed. That said, Moss goes on to say:

“In similar fashion, the modern apologist says merely, if there are certain objections to the faith which can be addressed by reasonable appeals to evidence – or certain foundational facts which can be similarly established – then, when speaking to the rational unbeliever, one should make every possible use of reasons and evidence. (pp. 4-5)”

Again, here it is time for us to ask how certain words are being used. “Established” – what does this mean?  Does it simply mean to pile on more proof – as it seems appropriate to do so – that the unbeliever is responsible for acknowledging?  Or are we talking about establishing the facts for the unbeliever that they might be persuaded to believe the Gospel? (while I do not deny that such arguments may “improve the acoustics” such that an unbeliever might be willing to hear more, this would be because they have been somewhat convicted by the Holy Spirit of the truth – the truth that there is much that they are, in fact, suppressing as regards God**).

Here is the key point: are not the glorious facts of the Gospel acts already established, or proven?  Is it not our role to help persons to see – through conviction of sin and enlightenment by the Gospel – that this is objectively the case?  After all, has not God spoken through eyewitness testimony and the continual historical testimony of reliable men?  Again, my thought, in sum, is this: while not denying that the methods used by modern historians are capable of establishing among them and the wider public facts and even meanings (in a limited sense) that are not liable to be disputed, what should prevent us from simply saying that the eyewitness testimony itself we have access to – passed on by reliable men (and recorded as the Holy Scriptures for its safeguarding) is not only our evidence, but our proof? (it is not “the proof” however, but “a proof” as I will discuss more in my upcoming series on the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit) And that God Himself has already established this?

Again, I call to our attention Acts 17:31 – should not God have some say in how man gets to define “proof”?  Then, we could go on to say, as Maas closes his introduction,

“by means of reasonable and persuasive argument, as by means of the law, “’very mouth may be stopped’ (Romans 3:19). And that, with mouths closed, way might be made for ears to be opened.” (p. 7)

It seems to me that the fine essays in this volume are not to fall not in the category of “establishing” certain foundational facts – for the historical testimonies that we know from reliable men God has provided do in fact do this – but they fall more into the kind of framework that Dr. Veith provides in his insightful opening paragraph. Again, it seems to me that there is a kind of uneasy tension that exists in Maas’ account.

Maas writes that Christian claims “might at least in theory be verified or falsified either by some deductive logical means or by some inductive empirical means” and also says these are “truth claims which are at least in principal open to logical or empirical evaluation”. That said, only one paragraph later, the “in theory” or “in principle” clauses have disappeared: “Many of Christianity’s fundamental tenets, by contrast, are expressible in propositions capable of being verified or falsified by means of the rational weighing of evidence”. (italics mine pp. 3 and 4)***

Even as I agree with Maas on most everything else he says in this essay (and this recent blog post “It’s Okay To Use Reason To Attack Christian Faith, But Not Defend It?”) I find this problematic, not only for the reasons already noted above, but because of the reasons noted in more detail in the Montgomery series: this approach inadvertently makes concessions to Enlightenment thinking about what may, in fact, genuinely be called knowledge.**** In short, in the dominant Enlightenment mode of thought, the importance of character and trust in the “knowledge equation” are severely minimized, or, some cases, removed altogether.  In this case, what we get is an anemic conception of knowledge where things like natural laws, physical evidence, accurate observation, mathematics, logic, and human reason become all that remain.  Insofar as these things go hand in hand with the presence of humanity, in this mode of thinking they are basically extracted from human being, from character, from trust.*****

We are in fact left with the unworkable fact-value split – the “two-storied universe” that Francis Schaeffer emphasized, and that satisfies nobody (see this recent post from Daniel Deen at 1517: the Legacy Project where he critiques the fact-value split from a different angle).  Nobody that is, except perhaps those who, in an attempt to remain relevant and/or have a bulwark vs nihilsm look to Plato for an assist through Kant and/or other Enlightenment figures (see part I of the Montgomery series).

To drive home my point (hopefully not ad nauseum), I submit that, in theory, if we had nothing else besides the eyewitness testimony that has been passed down to us by reliable men – aided by the presence of the Holy Scriptures as well – that would be more than enough.  As concerns the matter of the resurrection of Jesus Christ for example, we know that these things, as Paul says, are true and reasonable (Acts 26) – they are God’s proof to all men (Acts 17) – for they “did not happen in a corner” (Acts 26), “as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22). The testimony of God’s reliable eyewitnesses – entrusted to and passed down in time from reliable man to reliable man – simply demand to be taken seriously in themselves.

Enlightenment skepticism be damned.******

I suggest that this is the kind of good, strong word the world – and sometimes we to – needs to hear.  This is something akin to the confidence displayed by Reformed presuppositionalism, for example, but I think that this view makes more sense in light of the book of Acts, with its emphasis on the importance of fulfilled prophecy and miracles, particularly prophecy-fulfilling miracles.*******

Again, it seems to me that Christian evidential apologetics in general and Lutheran evidential apologetics in particular fall down in failing to deal with these issues, which Kierkegaard, for all of his faults, could have warned us about (see here).  Do we not need to spend time looking at “bare-bones” apologetics – and to see clearly what God, not the world, insists is proof?

Lutherans like to utter a lovely shorthand phrase “God doesn’t need your good works but your neighbor does” – and there is no doubt that this new book above may be particularly helpful to you as you look to love your neighbor with God’s strong love.  This said, I also think it does us well to re-emphasize that, when it comes to convicting our neighbor of sin that they might be ready for Christ (see John 16: 8-11) we do not need to provide our own answers or proof precisely because God already done that in Christ!

So is the book bad?  No, I am just suggesting reading some of the essays in particular with the above firmly in mind.  Thinking critically in a biblical kind of way.

Again, particularly for the reasons given by Gene Veith in the quotation above, I am abundantly thankful for this book and the good work that these men have done, utilizing their reason for the glory of God and His Christ.  Insofar as we are able and given the opportunity, we should indeed, like the Apostle Paul, seek to engage our neighbors about their beliefs and to intelligently address their questions, concerns, objections, etc.  Loving one’s neighbor demands that each of us, as we are able, do just this.

In short, this book enables our proclamation of the Lord’s deeds for us and our salvation to be fleshed out to an even greater degree. It helps make it possible for the assuring story that we love to hear – of God’s work in time in Christ – to not only be told again and again, but to be told in even greater detail (for those who have explored these questions – out of doubt, simple curiosity, or both – have given us more information firmly showing how God’s history and man’s history go hand in hand). For insofar as we receive those words as faith-filled children, we love to hear the story – the glorious meaning of the facts of the Gospel acts.

This in turn, spurs us on to know, love, and live I Peter 3:15-16 with a new vigor and spring to our step:

“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”




*It does us well to remember that here, at the very least, the Apostle Paul was dealing with persons who believed that the Old Testament Scriptures were authoritative and from God – even if they believed them wrongly.

** See part II in the Montgomery series.  Some may suggest that it is not the Holy Spirit who is guiding us “when we’re debating some convoluted point using evidential apologetics.  At that point, I think we’re using God-given reason, not an inspired argument of some sort.” (as Lutheran apologist and layperson Scott Diekmann mentioned to me when I shared this post prior to publishing it). My response is that God can guide us in using our reason as well – to bring up good evidentialist points (or other arguments) when appropriate to the conversation.

*** Interestingly, in Maas’ short article from the April 2014 Lutheran Witness, adapted from the introduction of this book, this last sentence does not appear while the “in theory” ones do. Because of this I think the short article for the LW is basically perfect – a very nice short summary!

**** With this approach, for example, knowledge of one’s family history (or simply of one’s spouse for example!) that cannot be proven to the satisfaction of this historian (physical proof or documentation?) cannot really be called knowledge – especially not public knowledge!

***** Note that this is why I have been so critical of what I have called the MSTM, or modern scientific and technological mindset (see, for example, here and here).  I note in passing that Plato, for all of his cultured sophistication, believed understanding the universe ultimately came down to mathematics – and the man had little time for any “truths” poets, for example, might utter.

****** Again, trust is key to life, even if this truth is constantly de-emphasized by everyone, including Christians, who should know better.  As I argued before (in another footnote): “…given that one man’s saintly wife is and has, both intentionally and unintentionally, shown herself to be (her presence is strong evidence for Christ’s presence among him), he sees and feels absolutely no need to entertain the possibility that she will enact “plan b” as regards their marriage. Here, what he knows if what he has yet to be shown is false – distrust and mistrust has not been earned.  Now, it is true that evidence may be presented which seems – on the face of it – to contradict such confidence, and from this point this challenge will need to be admitted, with decisions made (and each case being unique in its own way). None of this negates the main point however about how utter trust in this or that situation is not just reasonable but more than reasonable – and of course, even if this cannot be said of all married couples….”

******* Let us note that this is not about what approaches seem most successful at reaping in numbers (see Acts 17:32), but which are faithful to God’s designs.


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Posted by on September 25, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Methuselah, Elrond, Matthew Harrison, and the search for ancient wisdom

"History became legend, legend became myth…" - but not for him.

“History became legend, legend became myth…” – but not for him.

In the recent and controversial Noah movie the character Methuselah, the oldest living man in the Bible, made an appearance. In the film, he is shown not only as strange shaman-type figure, but as the man who remembered, and could relay, what had happened from the very beginning.  While the film gets much wrong, it does get his ability to do this – by virtue of his age and experience – right.

In the completely fictional story of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring, we are told something similar. According to the movie version, as regards the story of the Ring (the Fall!) “some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth… the Ring passed out of all knowledge” (“much that once was is lost for none now live who remember it”). And yet, the immortal elf Elrond, for one, continued to know in great detail and certainty the true history and its great significance – the True Myth.*

LC-MS President Matthew Harrison on reliable testimony.

LC-MS President Matthew Harrison on reliable testimony.

Enter LC-MS President Matthew Harrison. In a recent Lutheran Witness article from April (and also on the LC-MS blog), he brilliantly points us to the significance of a modern day Elrond:

“I had the pleasure of preaching the 150th anniversary of St. John’s, Corcoran, Minn. As I was preparing for this occasion, I learned that the founding pastor was—you guessed it—John Fackler! Imagine my surprise when, at the luncheon after the anniversary services, I met Myrtle Klemp, who, still spry at 99 years of age, told me, “I was baptized by Pastor Fackler! I knew him well as a child.” Amazing!….

My father-in-law is 90 years old (a decade younger than Myrtle). He was born in 1924. Transposing this century onto the first, Jesus would have begun His ministry in 1930, was crucified and risen in 1933. My father-in-law has vivid recollections of events from the late 1920s. He is also a WWII veteran and remembers helping to liberate Paris, returning home for a brief furlough after victory in Europe and preparing to ship out to the Pacific when the atom bomb was dropped. In this year of 2014, there are people all around us who are completely cognizant of events from 1930. Myrtle has vivid memories from before 1920! If I were to assert that the first resident pastor of St. John’s Corcoran had been a thief or a drunk, a man who pastored that church in its early years, Myrtle would vigorously assert by personal experience that such an accusation is completely false.

Yet no one from within the Christian community took it upon themselves to write a refutation of the events recounted in the Gospels or Acts or even St. Paul’s letters. Yes, there were some kooky Gnostic writings that were obviously spurious and written by individuals in heretical communities, most written well beyond the lifespan of actual eyewitnesses. But no legitimate insider wrote something that said, “Hey, folks! I was with Jesus! I knew Paul! And these Gospels and letters of Paul are bogus! It didn’t happen that way!” In fact, the essential criterion for acceptance of a New Testament document by the Church was whether or not it was known to be the product of an apostle or directly based upon apostolic witness (e.g., Luke/Acts).

This indicates that what I know to be so by faith—that is, the words of Jesus, the accounts of Jesus, His death and resurrection, and the words and works of the apostles— is entirely true and accurately given in the New Testament. Amazing. Joy indeed!”**

return_of_the_kingA final thought about all of these matters. While I, like many Christians, find parallels in the Lord of the Rings stories with the Bible, I always come back to the fact that there is no prayer in these books.  For all that it may have in common with Biblical themes – and Tolkien made it clear that this was not meant to be like Lewis’ Narnia – there is no prayer much less “prayer without ceasing”.*** As with Plato’s deity, there are hints of a mysterious Providence, but nothing really akin to Personal God who is able to be known, loved, depended on.

How different it is with what is in fact the Greatest Story Ever Told – where God, though His Holy Spirit, has not only provided a chain of reliable messengers to pass it on, but has sealed it in His own written word, and enscripted us into His service to continue in its train – as it carries us, and the world, with it.  Whether with joy or sadly, reluctance.

May we all look with anticipation to the Return of the King! Come Lord Jesus!



*In like fashion, there are echoes of the true history in our world – echoes of the historic space-time Fall and echoes of the Promised Deliverer – the “True Myth” as C.S. Lewis said. Who knows how many there have been who are like Elrond – perhaps like Melchizedek – have been raised up and supported by God throughout the ages?

** Interestingly, the news of Jesus Christ’s life and resurrection can be contrasted with the message of Genesis 3 in particular, with it’s account of judgment and promise. This would have been “front page news”, and events that would have been potentially knowable and accessible to every man, woman and child on earth. The resurrection, of course, was more local news, and news, it seems, that many would have tried to keep hushed up.

*** A student in my class just commented last night: “Too often we think we can handle these situations on our own, and don’t pray about it until we reach our limit. I know this is true for me, and I’ve heard it from others as well. A time of trial can be an opportunity to draw nearer to God.”

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Posted by on September 23, 2014 in Uncategorized


Good, Right, and Salutary Certainty vs. Brian McLaren, “Bible 3.0” and Protestant Confessionalism?

What hath Brian D. McLaren in common with Karl Barth - and relatively recent Reformed theology?  Or no?

What hath Brian D. McLaren in common with Karl Barth – and most Reformed theology? Or no?

The issue of certainty – particularly as it regards the certainty of one’s salvation – has always been a monumental issue for Lutherans (read here).  This is one reason why Kierkegaard, for example, discussed in my last post, does not adequately represent the Lutheran tradition.  Kierkegaard wrote a lot to make persons doubt their Christianity, but not much to give them certainty about it….

Hence, I was quite surprised when I read in in the apologetics textbook by Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman, Faith Has its Reasons that as regards evidentialist apologists…:

“It is surely no accident that theological traditions that downplay or deny human certainty about one’s salvation also downplay or deny the possibility of rational certainty in apologetic argument. Arminians and Lutherans believe that Christians should be reasonably confident of their salvation but should not expect to be absolutely certain of it….” (p. 493)

“Good grief, I thought – what kind of impression have confessional Lutherans been giving?” Lumped in with Arminians and those who have no certainty of salvation in an otherwise superior apologetics textbook! (I have run into this issue in the past, but I was not aware of how widespread this misconception is). On the other hand, Boa and Bowman say that “Reformed theology emphasizes personal assurance of salvation based on the certainty of God’s sovereign purpose and his promise in Scripture…” (p. 494)  That might be the case, but there are good reasons for questioning just how assuring this assurance is (see here for a short post summing up my amazement at the positions of Roman Catholic Andrew Preslar and the Reformed apologist Steve Hays).  From our side of the fence, let me be very clear: Lutherans insist that we can be certain – should be certain! – that we are in a “state of grace”, or that we are at peace with God (Rom. 5:1 and I John 5:12-13).

So the other morning I also came across this interesting bit from that same textbook:

“Fideists may even agree with postmodernists that some contemporary forms of apologetics operate under hidden modernist assumptions. The apologist should take this concern seriously. While we should not abandon our belief in absolute truth and the objectivity in reality, we ought to acknowledge that all human knowledge – even the knowledge that Christians have from reading the Bible – is partial, imperfect, and held from a limited point of view. In Scripture we have absolute truth presented to us, but we do not have absolute knowledge of absolute truth.” (p. 492, Boa and Bowman)

And so now, in the context of this apologetics textbook, we begin talking about certainty regarding one’s theology as well. Today, it is generally held that Christians of all stripes who take the Bible seriously should not be too tenacious in their own commitments. Children of Immanuel Kant all, when we discuss the Bible we are supposed to talk about our “perspectives” on the text.  We are not supposed to say things like “this is what the Bible actually says”, or, “what my church teaches is true” or, perhaps the biggest no-no of all: “by virtue of our doctrine, we are the church”.

Well. I could not help but think about that when I heard about a recent article talking about Brian McClaren’s “Bible 3.0” (talked about by Pastor Jonathan Fisk on Issues ETC the other day)

From the article that talks about this we read

What is different about this era, that is key to Bible 3.0, is the fact that everyone can now be involved in challenging not just what the Bible says, but the way we have traditionally understood what it says. “It’s not just that it’s being challenged and contested, it’s that everybody knows it is being challenged and contested.”….

….The very fact that so many people are now aware of how many different interpretations there are of single passages or entire books of the Bible is helping to move us into the era of Bible 3.0. Under Bible 3.0, he says, it doesn’t matter that the Bible is inerrant, because so many us derive completely different meanings from the same inspired, inerrant texts.

I think it does us well to see how what McClaren says here has some significance – at least as regards certain quarters of Protestant confessionalism.  From what I have come to learn (and feel free to attempt to unlearn me), we do not all view the meaning and significance of our confessional statements in the same way.  Check out this post from the LC-MS President Matthew Harrison quoting the 20th c. Lutheran saint Herman Sasse here.*

20th century Lutheran theologian Herman Sasse: "A church without patristics turns into a sect."  Has the confessional age for Lutherans also come to an end?

20th century Lutheran theologian Herman Sasse: “A church without patristics turns into a sect.” Has the confessional age for Lutherans also come to an end?  See here.

And this brings me back to the first quote from Boa and Bowman as I think there is a potential problem with what they say.  While on the one hand we can talk about our knowledge being “partial, imperfect, and held from a limited point of view” we should be more ready to talk about how it can also be sure, certain, and true – even if mystery remains and our knowledge has not been brought to its completion.

As Luther said, the Holy Spirit is no skeptic. This will be challenged of course, but the Lutheran Reformers – and it appears some of the very first Reformed confessors (again see the Harrison post mentioned above) – took this kind of approach for granted. And I suggest that it is precisely because of this stubbornness – faithfulness – that they were able to hold the line and preserve the heart of the Gospel against Rome who would make such certainty null and void.

And further, it is also because of this point of view that we can have good reasons for explaining how it is that Christians exist even in what we have called “heterodox” churches: because wherever the clear words of the Gospel are preached – drawn from the pure well of the Holy Scriptures – persons will be brought to faith in him.

I would suggest that this whole idea of surety and certainty is not a modernist point of view, but an ancient Christian point of view.

To read more about this kind of thing, you can look at a couple posts I did several years ago about the “arrogance of the infant”, making the connection of child-like faith with Lutheran theology (here and here)




*Also this short post.

McClaren image:

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Posted by on September 18, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Coming to grips with Kierkegaard’s apologetic: the tyranny of faith in faith and the comfort of faith in facts

Kierkegaard: right on trust and loyalty?

Kierkegaard: the arguments against Christianity arise out of insubordination, reluctance to obey, mutiny against all authority.

Just the other morning (when I wrote this) my just-turned-two-year old got up early, presumably to hang out with me.  He didn’t talk much (never does) – seemed clear to me that he just wanted to be with me. To be in my presence. Before leaving for work I returned him to his mother in bed, gave him and her a kiss, and said goodbye. He just seemed to be taking it all in.

God designed life to be based on love, trust and character.  Insofar as our modern scientific ideas, methods and “successes” necessarily take us away from these things we are only poorer.

There is a lot of food for thought in the writings of a man like the 19th c. Danish – and Lutheran – philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. I particularly have been struck by this passage every time I read it:

“It is claimed that arguments against Christianity arise out of doubt. This is a total misunderstanding. The arguments against Christianity arise out of insubordination, reluctance to obey, mutiny against all authority. Therefore, until now the battle against objections has been shadow-boxing, because it has been intellectual combat with doubt instead of being ethical combat against mutiny” (JP 778, 1:359, quoted in Boa and Bowman, Faith Has its Reasons, p. 367)

While I think the Great Dane was definitely on to something here, I would question whether or not doubt and insubordination can be so finely distinguished. The early 20th century Lutheran theologian Francis Peiper was always pointing out the sinfulness of doubt, and warning us not to excuse it. Further, Jesus notes that anyone who puts His teaching into practice – note not those who don’t – will find out whether it comes from God.

Again, with this qualified praise, I note that there is much that is not so good. For example:

“Away with all this world history and reasons and proofs for the truth of Christianity: there is only one proof – that of faith. If I actually have a firm conviction (and this, to be sure, is a qualification of intense inwardness oriented to spirit), then to me my firm conviction is higher than reasons: it is actually the conviction which sustains the reasons, not the reasons which sustain the convictions” (JP 3608, 3:663, in Boa and Bowman, 387).

I do think that Kierkegaard’s concern to defend faith’s tenacity is good, but that this goes too far.  While he is in effect encouraging faith in faith, the ultimate “reasons” for faith – given to us in human words – are simply the Spirit’s revelation to us today that God is the friend of sinners in the historical person of Jesus Christ – even you and me.  This, I submit, is what forms the people of conviction Kierkegaard wants – and these are people who continually live from that which comes into them from outside of them.  Eager to counter the thoughts of Enlightenment deists and the like, Kierkegaard was concerned to make clear that Christian faith was not about living a respectable moral life – or even simply asserting as true certain propositions about God and what He had done in history (like the resurrection of Jesus Christ for example) – and then thinking that just because one believes these things (in some sense), one is necessarily “OK with God”.  He, rightly, wanted to emphasize that faith was trusting a Person.  But Kierkegaard overcompensates here, and falls off the other side of the horse.*

As far as I am concerned, Boa and Bowman, in their textbook on apologetics, Faith Has its Reasons, reveal how matters become yet worse:

Pure fideism: Evangelical theologian Donald Bloesch (1928-2010) grounds faith “on evidence that faith itself provides”.

Pure fideism: Evangelical theologian Donald Bloesch (1928-2010) grounds faith “on evidence that faith itself provides”.**

[Kierkegaard says that] “Faith’s conflict with the world is not a battle of thought with doubt, thought with thought… Faith, the man of faith’s conflict with the world, is a battle of character” (JP 1129, 2:14; cf. 1154, 2:25). [He] quotes with approval Pascal’s statement, ‘The reason it is so difficult to believe is that it is so difficult to obey” (JP 3103, 3:418).

Quoting other fideists, Boa and Bowman go on to say:

Bloesch agrees, stating that ‘the basic problem in evangelism is not just lack of knowledge of the gospel – it is a lack of the will to believe.’ Karl Barth also views faith as essentially a response of obedience to the truth. Faith is ‘knowledge of the truth solely in virtue of the fact that the truth is spoken to us to which we respond in pure obedience.” (p. 367)

In this, I submit that what was fought for in the Reformation – the possibility for all those with frightened consciences to know that they are at peace with God – leaves the building. Trust makes love grow, and along with this, trust does indeed become insurmountable loyalty. What theologians like Bloesch, and Barth [and Bonhoeffer] – and it seems Kiekegaard as well – do not understand is that while the Scriptures can talk about faith in terms of obedience, the fundamental ground of faith – something we never get past – is simple child-like trust.  In spite of the sin that persists, little ones cling to their parents when they are with them, when they tell them they love them, and when they forgive them time and again, covering their sins.  So it is to be with us and the Lord.  With seventy-times seven forgiveness, His mercies are new every morning, and we – in spite of the evil we know, fight, and desire to put down forever – may rest in peace in His presence.

“Faith is obedience…..” Again, in some contexts, this kind of talk is acceptable, for Scripture itself speaks this way.  But in other contexts, the first Reformers recognized that such words can be doubt-inducing and faith-destroying.  Eager to counter a nominal Christianity which is moralistically and therapeutically deistic (again, back then “respectability” was often the term of choice to deride such false forms of Christianity) and hastily feigns adherence to creeds, here we see overcompensation again, and a basic failure to rightly distinguish God’s Law and Gospel.

God’s work in history – the benefits which come to us today as He speaks hearty words of Spirit and life – is for each one of us!  His blood is “given and shed” for us. The benefits of the baptism He underwent at the cross become ours as we are baptized – through water and the word! – into His death. His words “your sins are forgiven”, “peace be with you” are applied to us personally through those He has ordained – both informally and formally – to meet us in our time of need, broken in our sin.

Kierkegaard, just wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong: “Faith is not a form of knowledge”. “The conclusion of belief is not so much a conclusion as a resolution.” It is achieved “not by knowledge but by will.”… “certainty and passion do not go together.” “faith… has in every moment the infinite dialectic of uncertainty present with it.” – quoted in Harold DeWorf, The Religious Revolt Against Reason, pp. 81-82

Kierkegaard, just wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong: “Faith is not a form of knowledge”. “The conclusion of belief is not so much a conclusion as a resolution.” “[It is achieved] not by knowledge but by will.”… “certainty and passion do not go together.” “faith… has in every moment the infinite dialectic of uncertainty present with it.” – quoted in Harold DeWorf, The Religious Revolt Against Reason, pp. 81-82, 1949

Again, these facts – these truths – are found in the transforming words of the Holy Spirit testifying to Christ and with Christ: “my words are Spirit and life”…. “man [lives by] every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”… “the word of the Lord stands forever”. If these are not glorious “timeless truths” for us – since God has in fact and does in fact reveal them to us in time – they are certainly truths we know – or should know! – to be permanent and dependable.

Notably, all of the things that we have been talking about above go hand in hand with concerns about apologetics. Here again, Kiekegaard’s words challenge:

“If one were to describe the whole orthodox apologetical effort in one single sentence, but also with categorical precision, one might say that it has the intent to make Christianity plausible. To this one might add that, if this were to succeed, then would this effort have the ironical fate that precisely on the day of its triumph it would have lost everything and entirely quashed Christianity” (Boa and Bowman, 349, emphasis Kierkegaard’s).

Again, he is on to something. I also have been pointing out that is we are going to use arguments based on probability, we need to be very explicit about how these are not the main things we want to talk about (see here).  We want to deal with certainties – not in the sense of Rene Descartes – but in the sense of what Martin Luther highlighted.

I can only wonder though, whether or not Soren Kierkegaard would have embraced strong and certain words like the following from Lutheran pastor John Bombaro:

With his resurrection and ascension Jesus is hailed as the world’s rightful King and vindicated in all he said and did.

"I do not think Kierkegaard would be happy, or would agree, with that which has developed from his thinking... what he wrote gradually led to the absolute separation of the rational and logical from faith." -- Francis Schaeffer, in Boa and Bowman, 450.

“I do not think Kierkegaard would be happy, or would agree, with that which has developed from his thinking… what he wrote gradually led to the absolute separation of the rational and logical from faith.” — Francis Schaeffer, in Boa and Bowman, 450.

He inherits the earthly kingdom from his Father. Jesus rules and reigns, and he does so through the kingdom of God now being manifested on earth through love, mercy, peace and grace. Now the King busies himself with applying the spoils of his great victory over God’s true enemies of sin, guilt, death, and the evil one. He urgently applies his accomplished redemption through very personal, very specific means with haste. There is urgency in the mission of the King: for whereas in former times of ignorance “God overlooked” our treason until sin could be dealt with, “now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has pointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). The day of grace and forebearance of Christ’s rule will have an end and all those who abide in treason against the Son will themselves bear the judgment of the Last Day when it will be too late.” (John Bombaro, “The Scandal of Christian Particularity”, in Making the Case for Christianity: Responding to Modern Objections, ed. By Maas and Francisco, p. 134)

All our modern epistemological angst aside, according to the Apostle Paul, this work of God through Christ in history is what God calls assurance, or perhaps better, proof.*** This “apologetic”**** from the Lord’s apostle himself (and I don’t even think any liberal Bible scholar has suggested Paul did not say these words) does not deal with making any historical case for Christ based on probabilities. It seems quite clear to me that this is the kind of “apologetic” we should often be eager to present and let linger.

I can only wonder how many modern Lutheran apologists are willing to suggest the same.  Again, see my three part series taking a critical look at modern Lutheran apologetics, through the person of John Warwick Montgomery (see the introduction and part I, part II and part III)*****




*Undoubtedly, knowledge is found in commitment by the knowing subject as he seeks to know. That said, the knowledge found in commitment begins with God’s commitment towards us – and our passive reception of His gifts!  Here, we would want to emphasize that as persons takes good words to heart and reflect on their content, God’s Spirit grants both repentance and faith, transforming them and revealing to them that these words are true for them personally.  The content of the creeds is for you.

**On the other hand, he does quote approvingly P.T. Forsyth, in a quote that seems a bit more reasonable and careful: “We have not two certitudes about these supreme matters produced by authority and experience, but one, produced by authority in experience; not a certitude produced by authority and then corroborated by experience, but one produced by an authority active only in experience, and especially the corporate experience of a Church.” (quote in Boa and Bowman, p. 388).  This reminds me of one of the interesting assertions of the early 18th c. idealist (the first idealist perhaps – Kant’s version of this coming later on is quite different), Bishop George Berkeley (who UC-Berkeley is named after today).  While clearly radical in suggesting that there was not material world which formed the perceptions/ideas in our minds, he did say “of these ideas that we perceive their essence is to be perceived” which rightly takes into account and assumes God’s design of the world and His purposes in the world (as opposed to materialisitc views of the world that do not presume this ; surprisingly Berkeley, who never did say “to exist is to be perceived” was not seen as a rationalist but a kind of empiricist [though a radical one] – see more here).  In any case, here is where Lutherans are keen to emphasize the objectivity of justification (the good kind of “objective justification” – see here), in order to make sure that the comfort found in the fact that “God justifies the wicked” (Rom. 4:5-8) is not denied.  For in the terrors of conscience, we do indeed know ourselves – rightly so! – to be those who violate God’s Law in wickedness.

***In his 1949 work The Religious Revolt Against Reason, Harold DeWorf wrote explaining the “charges against reason” (by Kiekegaard and other fideists): “When a finite human being, subject to all the errors and self-deceits which are the common lot of man, supposes that he can by his own powers arrive at conclusions about God and his own destiny, and that he can by such means know these conclusions with certainty, he must have forgotten what manner of being he is.” (p. 78) Of course prior to the Fall, man, being in fellowship with God, readily received all that the Lord had to give. As John Bombaro points out (see last post), God now comes to us in the incarnation and this has huge implications:

“God has made himself known and knowable through specificity…. [this] pursues us from the tyranny of having to pursue and find this God. He has made himself known and made himself known in spades in deeply meaningful ways…. Particularity and the specificity and indeed the exclusivity of the means – this is good news for humanity because otherwise we would be lost in the morass of religion which we find everywhere as people scramble trying to reach the transcendent one…. But the Transcendent One has come to us….supremely in Jesus of Nazareth. Particularity in Christianity is actually the glory of the Gospel because it has freed us, liberated us, from the madness of trying to find God on our own….” (see here, around 21 and 23 minutes respectively)

If we look at passages like Acts 17:31 in this way, we can then see that Paul’s announcement that Christ’s resurrection from the dead is “proof” can be pure Gospel not only in the sense that the Lord will save us and deliver us from our enemies by judging them, but also by doing what Bombaro says:  liberating us from the madness of trying to find God on our own.

****As I noted earlier:

“The 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is usually classified as belonging to the “fideist” school of Christian apologetics, Basically, Kierkegaard says that there is something very suspect about a question like “What is the proper object of faith?”.  He says that to answer such a question is like a lover attempting to reply to the query, “Could you love another woman?”

This is another powerful point, and I think is fatal to some, but not all, forms of evidential apologetics.

*****Paul is not so much giving a defense of the Christian faith as much as he is trying to actively share the Gospel in thought-forms that would resonate with his Greek audience. It makes sense to see this speech as connected with apologetics though, which deals with matters of evidence (I John 1), reasoning (I Peter 3:15-16), persuasion, proof (Acts – to both Jews and Gentiles) etc…. – whether one talks about defense or “offense”.



Posted by on September 17, 2014 in Uncategorized


The Kingdom of God and the High Treason of Earthly Kingdoms (or Man’s, not God’s, Problem With Evil)

This [particularity] really is good news. There is no scandal to particularity. The scandal has to do with rebellion. – John Bombaro (listen to more excellent commentary from Pastor Bombaro here)

“This [particularity] really is good news. There is no scandal to particularity. The scandal has to do with rebellion.” – John Bombaro (listen to more excellent commentary from Pastor Bombaro here)

‘Fear you all who rule over the earth.

‘Know you nations and peoples that Christ is our God.

‘For he spoke and they came to being, he commanded and they were created; he put everything under our feet and delivered us from the wish of our enemies….

–recently unveiled 1,500 year old words from a Christian’s “charm” to ward off evil (see here)


It’s not just those in charge of the California University system (yes, the new mandate applies to all organizations, but can anyone doubt Christianity is mainly in their sights?). We are, as Cornelius Plantiga Jr. put it years ago “Natural Born Sinners”. Better put yet: high treason is in the blood of us all.

Who puts it this way?  John Bombaro, an LC-MS Lutheran pastor and lecturer in the theology and religious studies department at the U. of San Diego, has done so in a powerful essay present called “The Scandal of Christian Particularity”, in Making the Case for Christianity: Responding to Modern Objections (ed. By Maas and Francisco).  I will admit I am eager to talk about the chapter because I see it dovetailing nicely with the emphases in my recent series where I attempted to strengthen John Warwick Montgomery’s case (see the introduction and part I, part II and part III)

Bombaro frames his essay by talking about the default “metanarrative”, or “story that governs all other stories” that holds true in our world: the Enlightenment “fairness doctrine”. According to Bombaro,

“The idea of fairness plays no small role in the current debate regarding Christian particularism. The fairness doctrine permits that the ‘good news of God’ can be embraced (or at least tolerated), so long as it does not come with corresponding bad news from God, or anyone else for that matter.” (p. 118)

Here, of course, Bombaro is noting the “scandal of particularity”, where only those who are “in Christ” will be saved. He notes that persons ask how God could “be the cause of such unjust and unreasonable condemnation”, and that for many, this question dovetails with the “problem” of theodicy (p. 118, see last post, “The ‘Problem’ of Evil”, for more on this).

Instead of addressing the question of theodicy, Bombaro gets to the heart of the issue: this is ultimately about something we need more than anything, truth (my note: we all know that a placebo might “work” only to a degree). The story told in the Bible is not make-believe but “objective” – this is “something that happened” and is not about “feelings or opinions”. “The historical events, locations, and persons that facilitate biblical episodes of divine self-disclosure are not accidental or incidental.” Christians are to present the Bible’s total story as being entrenched in the real, just as St. Paul said: ‘I am speaking true and rational words… for this has not been done in a corner” (Acts 26:25-26) (pp. 123-124) “This is why the disciplines of biblical historiography, biblical arthropology, and biblical archeology are not pseudo-sciences.” (p. 122)

Bombaro turns the objection on its head by pointing out that Christ’s exclusivity is necessary to account for his inclusivity (He is for all, He desires to save all):

“A particular people, during particular times, in particular locations, enduring and witnessing particular events have yielded a particular message (in keeping with the storyline that preceded it), so that who this God is and what he is doing is clear and simple. Christian particularism and exclusivism is all about keeping the contents of Christianity in the sphere of the real, where we come to know the truth… Understood within the light of the total story of the Bible, the scandal of particularity as exclusivity undergoes clarification as God’s personal presence and specified performance in pursuit of the lost. God was not leaving his actions and their meaning to chance, relativism, or subjectivity. The Lord’s pointed action in a particular person was not for precluding people groups but keeping the story consistent so that all might know and share in the truth, both Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 3:1-11)”…. God’s particularized events and means reveal salvific specificity, not bigoted exclusivity. It turns out that the specified means of grace committed to a specified people (Christians) make finding God easier but also make who he is and what he is doing more readily identifiable and understandable. (p. 125, emphasis his)*

But why is this necessary?  Just what is the problem?  What do we need to be saved from anyways?  Before we address such modern questions, it is important to set the frame. Bombaro further grounds his above claims in the story the Scriptures tell about the very beginning. God created man and entered into a special relationship with him. In this relationship, God is the sovereign King and the crown of His creation, man, is His steward, vice-regent, viceroy, representative… meant to image the Creator Himself.  In this, they were to grow in His love, even as they were to be aware of an enemy: “The King intimates that here is an enemy when he commands the man to ‘keep’ or, better, ‘protect’ the earthly kingdom (Genesis 2:15)” (p. 127)

As regards the King aspect, Bombaro is keen to drive home a particular point that “brings our worldviews, whatever they may be, into conformity with God’s arrangement of the world”:

“the metaphor of ‘Kingdom’ is the governing paradigm for conceiving and interpreting Scripture’s metanarrative…. It fundamentally governs the reading horizon of the Bible by limiting the scope of interpretation due to the fact that the meanings of the Bible had their original context in a prior historical understanding of reality as hierarchical, authoritative, and regal. It is, simply, the lens through which the Bible is to be read… the Christian does not bear witness to my Lord, subjectively, but the Lord, objectively.” (p. 126, emphasis his)

Of course, Christians know what happened: the fall.

“The covenanted servant turns on the King. And now the earthly kingdom has a new lord and the viceroy has willfully fallen captive to the dominion of the King’s enemy. Divested of the King’s Spirit-presence, the scene of “Genesis 3 is the record of man’s fall from grace and high treason… the issue of sin and judgment [must be] understood under the auspices of the kingdom metaphor, not the fairness doctrine” (pp. 127, 129)

Treason.  Here a Bombaro soundbite on treason here.

Treason. Hear a Bombaro soundbite on treason here.

The penalty for treason, of course, is death: “dying you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). (p. 127) These are not, “our pokey little ‘sins’”, a “personal peccadillo” or a facile understanding of “missing the mark” that we are being condemned for. Treason means “cooperating in the usurping… the sovereign’s rule”, or “consciously and purposely acting to aid and abet” his enemies. (p. 129)  Further, “humanity has a specific problem, not just sins – the treacherous things we think, say, and do – but a treacherous disposition, a nature given to rebellion. No one is exempt. In this humanity is unified. It is this nature and the fruit of our nature that leaves us condemned for treason before the great King.” (p. 130)

Where to look? This particular man, Jesus Christ:

“Jesus’ representation of Israel consists of his fulfilling covenant obligations of obedience but also bearing the penalty for disobedience. Because the Kind has committed no treason, that is he is without sin in his fulfilling the will of the Father, only he can say on behalf of Israel (the people who represent the peoples of the world) “I always do the things that are pleasing to [the Father]” (John 8:29). And so the Father makes this public declaration about Jesus: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). This was not said of anyone before Jesus, not of Adam, not of Moses, not of Israel, not even of David; only Jesus. No other person in any other religion can make such a claim and substantiate it by tethering it to a historical event – the resurrection – in order to vindicate this amazing claim. Only Jesus therefore is holy and righteous, not just for himself, but for those he represents – his people Israel. And even Israel, now that the covenant is fulfilled, may be reconstituted, which is what Jesus does by engrafting the Gentiles (whom he represented in the covenant made with humankind in Adam by coming as the last Adam; see I Corinthians 15:45). Only Jesus could represent all humanity in covenant with God. Only Jesus is qualified and capable to redeem humanity as our representative King.” (pp. 132-133, emphasis his).

Kind but not tame.

Kind but not tame.

In a move that resonates strongly with me, Bombaro looks to Acts 17:30-31 to drive the point home:

With his resurrection and ascension Jesus is hailed as the world’s rightful King and vindicated in all he said and did. He inherits the earthly kingdom from his Father. Jesus rules and reigns, and he does so through the kingdom of God now being manifested on earth through love, mercy, peace and grace. Now the King busies himself with applying the spoils of his great victory over God’s true enemies of sin, guilt, death, and the evil one. He urgently applies his accomplished redemption through very personal, very specific means with haste. There is urgency in the mission of the King: for whereas in former times of ignorance “God overlooked” our treason until sin could be dealt with, “now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has pointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). The day of grace and forebearance of Christ’s rule will have an end and all those who abide in treason against the Son will themselves bear the judgment of the Last Day when it will be too late.” (John Bombaro, “The Scandal of Christian Particularity”, in Making the Case for Christianity: Responding to Modern Objections, ed. By Maas and Francisco, p. 134)**

As Bombero notes, Richard Dawkins asks: “If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them, without having himself tortured and executed in payment”? (p. 119)

According to the Scriptures, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. The weight of sin is too great, and it must be borne and extinguished in the corpse of the dead Messiah. Dawkins simply does not understand the power, the effect, and the cost that sin brings. Of course, none of us who are Christians have fully understood the import of human rebellion and evil either – the high treason that is in all of our blood – and what our actions have wrought on the creation.

But – thanks be to God! – for we have a solution to that infection: the cross of Christ. And in His Word and Sacraments, he delivers to we who believe the benefits of Christ’s work, providing us the daily medicine that we need to fight that infection. We come back to the Egyptian charm quoted above, and its final words about the “medicine of immortality”:

“Our God prepared a sacred table in the desert for the people and gave manna of the new covenant to eat, the Lord’s immortal body and the blood of Christ poured for us in remission of sins.”

Peace that passes all understanding.  For even you!




*Also a significant paragraph: “The events of Scripture that invite investigation are further objectified when identified with a particular people group – the Hebrews. The Hebrews are important to making the case because of their reputation as a candid, self-critical, and truthful people. In ancient Semitic culture a person was as their word. If you lied, you were a liar, the son of a liar, the grandson of a liar; your children were liars. Your word was your reputation and your reputation had implications for the collective lives of your family members for generations since there was no such thing as an individual in the modern sense. It is important that his kind of people, reliable and brutally honest, be the field correspondents reporting the news of God’s redemptive words and actions.” (p. 124)

**He handles the incoming objections without flinching:

“But because of their circumstances not all people have heard the good news. Shouldn’t their circumstantial unbelief be excused since the means of God have not reached them? Actually, culpability falls back on humanity. All bear the guilt of high treason by participating in and perpetuating self-contrived rule (be it through religious beliefs or not). So highly prized is self-rule, by whatever form it appears, that the truth about the world’s rightful sovereign is willfully exchanged for a lie, and thus God’s judgment is just (Romans 1:18-32); yet all the while he labors to bring the Gospel of divine pardon to them. What is more, one must be circumspect about what God has already done in his urgency to bring the Gospel to the entire world….” (p. 136).

In sum:

“Humanity is to be faulted for humanity’s plight. The Lord brings the solution. We set up obstacles.”

Those are words for believers – the church – as well.

Gospel? Bombaro again:

“The Lord saw that our bondage and blindness was so great that unless he, in his great love, came born of a woman, born under the law, we would be lost… Christ has got the victory. Sin and death and judgment and the devil have been swallowed up…[in Christ]” (pp. 137-138).

For even you.


Addendum: Todd Wilken wrote a very good article on the “scandal of particularity” as it pertains to our proclamation.  I summed it up here.

Images: Wikipedia, Bombaro –



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Posted by on September 11, 2014 in Uncategorized


The “Problem” of Evil

"This world is not a preparatory school for human beings. It is a spiritual leper colony." -- Lutheran apologist Angus Menuge

This world is not a preparatory school for human beings. It is a spiritual leper colony.” — Lutheran apologist Angus Menuge

Why the quotes? Because the phrase “the problem of evil” is often expressed to mean that it is a problem for those who believe in God. It’s not. It is a problem for those who don’t. Not in that they can’t logically explain it from their premises (their question should be “Why is there any good in the world?”), but that they do not see that they – we all – are the cause of the problem.  God is not, as C.S. Lewis put it, “in the dock”.

Please note that what follows deals with evil apart from the realities of concrete situations. In such cases, words explaining evil often fail – as the book of Job shows in spades (also see this* from current LC-MS President Matthew Harrison after the 2004 Tsunami when he served as the Director of LC-MS World Relief).

In their book Faith Has its Reasons, Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman Jr. share points made by Christian apologist John Hare:

“…there is no one explanation for each instance of evil. Bad things happen for a variety of reasons: to develop and refine a person’s faith and character, to bring about a revelation of God’s glory, to experience suffering vicariously in someone else’s place, to punish people for their own acts of evil, to alert people to physical dangers (biologically useful pain), to learn the consequences of evil, or to alert people to their need for salvation.” (p. 190)

These answers are not bad, but there is still something important that is missing. That something is also missing when Boa and Bowman talk about how Hare notes that “the likelihood of God’s existence will depend largely on whether, apart from the reality of evil, one sees good evidence for God’s existence” (p. 189). Along with the earlier quote from above, Boa and Bowman call Christian apologist Robin Collins to the stand to mount his defense. According to them, he argues that while there is “good, objective data” from which to derive a positive argument for God’s existence (i.e. the “anthropic principle”), this is not the case with “the evidential argument from evil”: “we have no way to quantify the relative amounts of good and evil that have been and will be produced in the universe….we know only a small fraction of the good and evil that have occurred and will occur in the universe….” (p. 190).

So, what is that thing that is missing? A serious acknowledgement of the amount of sin in the world – even if we cannot “quantify” it. And without this serious discussion of sin, we do not have a serious discussion about man’s culpability (which I focused on quite a bit in my recent series endeavoring to strengthen John Warwick Montgomery’s apologetic: see part II, and part III in particular).

Enter Lutheran philosopher of science and apologist Angus Menuge. In the recently released book Making the Case for Christianity: Responding to Modern Objections, Menuge has an essay titled “Gratuitous Evil and a God of Love”, and he is in top form.

In discussing what he calls the “creaturely conviction soul-making theory” Menuge says:

“On this view, even if we cannot know it, we may as well agree with [William] Rowe that there is morally gratuitous evil. Such evil is not especially “deserved” by its victims (John 9:3): in the sense in which it is deserved, we all deserve it (Luke 13:1-5). Nor is it allowed or inflicted in order to achieve a greater moral good, as if God’s will would not have been done without it. We can admit that people in concentration camps and the five year old girl [who is sexually abused and then murdered] in Rowe’s example suffered hideous evils which, for all we can tell, did not make the world a better place and would not be “morally justified” if they had. What good came of these horrors depended entirely on the gracious providential gifts of God. In admitting this, we can avoid the triumphalist theodicy which, as [D.Z.] Phillips says, betrays people’s suffering by misrepresenting it: ‘Betrayal occurs every time explanations and justifications of evil are offered which are simplistic, insensitive, incredible, or obscene.’ But in a world of such evil, all but the most willfully self-deceived can see that God’s creatures and the whole creation are dependent on God.” (pp. 160-161, the bold are Menuge’s original italics – in following quotes as well).

Menuge notes that this theory is promising but incomplete. In order to “understand the worst evils – horrendous, unjustified evils – we must focus more closely on the work of Christ”**.

Menuge begins:

“As Jeffrey Mallinson has argued, Lutheran theology affirms not only a theology of the cross, but an epistemology of the cross (a theory of knowledge which says we know God through Christ’s work on the cross). Unlike philosophical theism, which attempts to understand the divine by abstract reason, the epistemology of the cross insists that God is most clearly revealed in the persons and work of the God-man, Jesus Christ, and especially in his suffering on our behalf. Theodicies and defenses are developed within a framework of a thin philosophical theism which provides little insight into who God is, how we have rebelled against him, and what he has done for us in loving response. For this kind of insight, we need a history of God’s interaction with humanity, within which we can hope to find a narration of evil.” (pp. 161-162).

Note the focus here on history and the incarnation (see part I of the Montgomery series). Here, in what I think is a relevant side note, I quote Boa and Bowman again:

“The evidentialist [apologist] is not closed to using theistic arguments to make belief in God more plausible or acceptable. Unlike the classical apologist though, he does not think such arguments are necessary. According to evidentialism, the historical evidence for God’s intervention in space and time is sufficient of itself to establish God’s existence” (p. 194).

Back to Menuge:

“Philosophical theism adopts an epistemology of glory, which begins with the greatness of God and sees evil as a difficulty to be rationalized. By contrast, the epistemology of the cross ‘does not explain away or try to show how particular instances of evil produce some greater good. [Mallinson, 32]” Rather it starts with the evil and suffering found on the cross. On the cross we see the refutation of many glib theodicies and defenses, because Christ suffers wholly undeserved, unjustified, gratuitous, and horrendous evil, and he does not do so primarily because he wants to make this world a better place, or merely to set us a moral example.

The cross embodies both Law and Gospel in the most powerful ways. On the Law side, we have an accurate description of the horrific load of sin which infects us all, and of the just punishment which it deserves. When we complain about the problem of evil, we would prefer to make it an external theoretical or political discussion, rather than an internal, personal problem that blinds us to reality. Like a street urchin recruited into a terrorist militia, we are conceived in iniquity (Psalm 51:5) and our complicity with evil prevents us from seeing it clearly. For that, we must be confronted with the counter-perspective of a sinless outsider. In this bright light, evil cannot be contained in the tidy, coherent categories of a theodicy. This world is not a preparatory school for human beings. It is a spiritual leper colony.

Yet, on the Gospel side, we see that Christ is not here not [sic] to punish us but to affirm his solidarity with fallen mankind (Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:15), bearing our sin, suffering every evil and taking the full measure of wrath which we deserve (Isaiah 53). As Ed Martin notes, ‘There is an unquantifiable kinship of spirit that happens between those who have suffered in like manner.’ This includes the most horrendous and gratuitous suffering that Rowe emphasizes, because it is only the one who has suffered evil who understands it. Ravi Zacharias concurs:

‘It is the woman who has been raped who understands what rape is, not the rapist… It is  only the One who died for our sins who can explain what evil is.’

God does not answer the problem of evil by providing intellectually satisfying formulas. That would be appropriate if evil were a problem from which we were detached – like a problem in theoretical physics. Since evil is an immersive, existential condition, God answers by actions of love. His goal is not moral improvement, but to show us our true condition, our inability to save ourselves from that condition, and hence our absolute dependence on Christ for salvation. As Paul writes, ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ (Romans 7:24-25)

Christ is God’s answer to the problem of evil. Therefore, any apologetic for the problem of evil should not waste time in philosophical theisms which paint blurry pictures of who God is, who we are, and how we can be saved. It should be a defense focused on the historical case for Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. In this context, we see more clearly what evil is, what God has done about it, and what he will do. The resurrection of Christ’s glorified, imperishable body also points to a final answer to evil, a new heaven and a new earth in which evil will have no dominion.” (pp. 162-163)

Menuge’s whole article is an excellent and thoughtful tour of current Christian approaches to theodicy. I highly recommend this book, if not for this essay alone. You can listen to an interview with him about the essay here.




*“What does [the fact that Jesus Christ forever remains the ‘”crucified one” (I Cor. 1)] mean for a tsunami? I don’t finally know the mind of God. But I do know from the cross that God works His most profound deeds in suffering. And so I plunge my feeble mind into the suffering of Christ and know that amidst trials and crosses and disaster upon disaster, God loves us in Christ. And there, only there, I find consolation amidst the devastation. In faith, I know that resurrection follows Good Friday. The women stood at a distance and watched Him die. Hopeless. The end. “God hates this Jesus … and us,” they may well have thought. Or perhaps even, “There is no God, or certainly no God who cares about us.” Yet right there, on Good Friday, God the Father was doing what He had prepared to do from all eternity for the salvation of the world. The most loving act of God in history was veiled and hidden by a bloody, wretched cross. Where was God in this tsunami? Where He always is— in Christ, in suffering, in the cross.” (read the whole article here)

**Menuge distinguishes here between the logical problem of evil and the “evidential problem evil” which involves our trying to come with grips with evils that seems like they could have no purpose. It is interesting to note that regarding the logical problem of evil, C.S. Lewis said, concerning the nature of love:

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

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

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

I know it is audacious to correct Lewis, but take a look at Pastor Fraiser’s article.

Menuge pic:

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Posted by on September 8, 2014 in Uncategorized


New post up elsewhere

Note:  I posted something new at Just and Sinner and Reformation 500 called “The ‘Problem’ of Evil”.  I’ll post it here on Monday as well, but just wanted to get something up in those places this week (where this week here I’ve already posted a bunch of stuff).

As you can note from the title, it also has to do with apologetics, a theme I am sticking with a lot lately.

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Posted by on September 5, 2014 in Uncategorized