Monthly Archives: September 2015

Jesus and Banned Books Week


Yes –me talking about Banned Books Week again. As a librarian, I suppose I can’t help it!

Last week, I talked about why Christians – particularly when it comes to their schools – should exercise some critical thinking towards Banned Books Week. This time, I simply want to take the concept and run with it – and “hijack” it a bit for my own purposes.

One of the most feared books throughout history has been the Christian Bible. Interestingly it has been feared by both authorities in the world and also authorities in the church itself!

First, regarding the fear of the Bible in the church…

In the 2003 movie Luther, I recall one of the complaints being that it gave the impression that Martin Luther was the first to have translated the Bible into German. This was a fair complaint – the Bible had, in fact, been translated into German several times before that.

What Luther had done – against the wishes of many in the hierarchy of the church[i] – was put the Bible into the language the common people could readily comprehend. This was a translation of the Bible, from the original languages (not the official Latin Vulgate!), created with them in mind!  And as literacy was increasing in the European nations, the ancient Christian hope that the whole church would be reading the Scriptures in their own homes daily was increasing as well.[ii]

Second, there is the fear of the Bible in the world…

Have you heard of Bible smuggling?

Christian organizations like International Christian Concern ( and Voice of the Martyrs ( exist to raise awareness of the persecuted church. Both organizations attempt to get Bibles and other Christian literature to believers in countries where government policies and practices make this extremely difficult. Voice of the Martyrs calls these “restricted nations”.

A Voice of the Marytrs prayer map from 2013

A Voice of the Marytrs prayer map from 2013

On their website, Voice of the Martyrs says:

In restricted nations around the world, persecuted believers have two requests: “Please pray for us” and “Please send Bibles!” Believers, as well as those seeking Christ, often wait years to own their own copy of God’s Word, and they do so at great risk. But the requests continue: “Please send Bibles!”

And yet, who can blame political leaders for fearing a book that says, among other things….

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2)

In Nov. 2013, persons in North Korea were executed for the crime of possessing a Bible.

Talk about banned!: In Nov. 2013, persons in North Korea were executed for the crime of possessing a Bible.

Even if Christ came to earth as a meek king – and also commands his followers to be people of peace during their earthly sojourn – Christians have always affirmed Him as the King who will come again. And on that day, the Lord of all creation will put sin, death, and the devil – and all that is aligned with them – under His feet.

Christians are commanded to recognize earthly leaders as being appointed by God himself – and to submit to and pray for their leaders – whatever their faith. And in the same book of I Timothy where these words appear, we also read that He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4)

How can we be on the right side of the King? Jesus was banned for you!

“Herem” means “to ban”, and it is the total exclusion of a person from the Jewish community. The words shunning or even “excommunication” (as in ecclesiastical, or religious censure) come to mind. When thinking about this, many Banned Books Weeks proponents might think of Benedict Spinioza, the 17th c. Jewish philosopher whose works – very popular even today – were labeled heretical and banned.

But that is not what I have in mind here. I want to go back to the banning of the Word of God. It is not only the Word of God – meaning the Bible – that we find being banned. It is also the Word of God – in this sense meaning the Son of God Jesus Christ! – that was banned.[iii] Suffering “herem”.

"And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil." (John 3:19)

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:19)

Jesus came preaching the Kingdom of God, and in this process challenged those He spoke to by revealing their sins. As a result of this, He was “banned”: in the book of Hebrews, we read that he was made to endure the cross and its shame, being executed “outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:3).

The supreme irony in all of this is that God used all of this evil in His plan to reconcile the rebellious world to himself (II Cor. 5). Jesus said that no one took His life from Him but that He laid it down willingly – as the book of Isaiah had foretold hundreds of years earlier:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth….

So even though sinful man banned the God-Man Jesus, it was through this banning that He took on the punishment we deserved. God “gave Him over” to our evil precisely so that we might be made clean and whole!  Jesus Christ was actually our God-ordained “scapegoat” whereby we might again attain a right standing with God… and have the joyful delight of knowing our loving Creator – and Redeemer! – both now and in the life to come.

"But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat." (Leviticus 16:10)

“But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.” (Leviticus 16:10)

It is a complete scandal.  The Word of God, Jesus Christ, was banned for you!  I hope you will remember that as you perhaps experience “Banned Books Week” this week (and please do consider reading my other article critical of the same!)


Images: Persecuted Church map: ; others: Wikipedia; (for example, William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854).


[i] Pope Innocent III stated in 1199:

… to be reproved are those who translate into French the Gospels, the letters of Paul, the psalter, etc. They are moved by a certain love of Scripture in order to explain them clandestinely and to preach them to one another. The mysteries of the faith are not to explained rashly to anyone. Usually in fact, they cannot be understood by everyone but only by those who are qualified to understand them with informed intelligence. The depth of the divine Scriptures is such that not only the illiterate and uninitiated have difficulty understanding them, but also the educated and the gifted (Denzinger-Schönmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum 770-771)

More statements to this effect have been collected here. I am suggesting that this page is just a place to get started exploring the topic more, as it links to several other more authoritative references.

[ii] St. John Chrysostom (347-407) said: “I am always encouraging you to pay attention not only to what is said here in church, but also, when you are at home, to continue constantly in the practice of reading the divine Scriptures. . . For it is not possible, not possible for anyone to be saved who does not constantly have the benefit of spiritual reading.” (from here ; see also here)

[iii] From a previous post: “Protestants, like N.T. Wright, are seemingly content to make sure Jesus Christ is the main focus of the church when it comes to speaking about “words”:

“When John declares that ‘in the beginning was the word,’ he does not reach a climax with ‘and the word was written down’ but ‘and the word became flesh’… scripture itself points… away from itself” (Wright, Scripture, 24, quoted on 136 of Peter Nafzger’s These Are Written)

Here is where we confessional Lutherans are keen to point out that we are not just talking about the Church living from the living Word Jesus Christ – but also “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” – words of Spirit and life that proceed from that Word’s mouth. In this view – which we fiercely contend is true – the Word includes but is it not limited to the Scriptures – in fact the oral or preached word… is always to be seen as primary. Nevertheless, more must be said.

Back to N.T. Wright for a moment: he is right because the good news is indeed not so much that God has given us His written word, but that He has given us the incarnate Word. Further when he says that the Holy Spirit does give us the incarnate Word through the written word. On the other hand, Wright goes wrong when he forgets to mention not only that the Scripture does in fact point to itself (Isaiah 8:20, Acts 17:11), but that it also points to the incarnate Word who points us back to the written word – particularly as it regards His fulfillment of its Divine prophecies (see Luke 7:18-23 in particular but also all throughout the New Testament – also note my recent series on the significance of this matter)!

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Posted by on September 28, 2015 in Uncategorized


What Should Christians Make of “Banned Books Week”?

bannedbooksweekNext week, September 27−October 3, is what the American Library Association calls “Banned Books Week”. I am a Christian and a librarian and definitely have some thoughts about this issue.

Let me start by making clear I do not think that there is one “Christian answer” to this question. This is truly a complicated and heavily context-dependent topic that, it seems to me, requires much wisdom (for example, read this nice First Thoughts piece Stewardship of the Reader’s Eyes: How the Case Against Censorship Goes Too Far). One thing I know for sure though: Christians should be keen to exercise critical thinking about the whole enterprise of Banned Books Week. The program itself is supposed to encourage critical thinking but I submit that, ironically, it often does just the opposite (and given the kinds of things Rod Dreher reports on here, this should hardly surprise us). Rather, it can all too readily become an unthinking form of propaganda which simply coddles our minds…

I’ve thought about this topic quite a bit, and primarily from the perspective of the libraries of Christian colleges and universities. What follows are two approaches I have come up with. The first, I’ll admit, is simply a rather hard-nosed argument – featuring rather definite conclusions – put forward with as much logical force as I can muster (this does not mean that I am not very open to hearing alternative voices that would also assert that they are a faithful Christian approach). Alternatively, when it comes to actually inviting others to begin thinking about the issue in a critical fashion, its likely most would prefer to take a softer and more open-ended approach – this is what I try to do in approach #2.

Title page of Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Venice 1564). -- Wikipedia

Title page of Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Venice 1564). — Wikipedia

Here is approach #1, my “op-ed” (“Why Banned Books Week and Some Private Schools Do Not Always Mix”):

In September of every year, libraries around the United States try to make news by celebrating “Banned Books Week”.  The main goal is to inform people about the fact that libraries – particularly in recent years – have often had to deal with individuals or groups who have wanted certain books removed from their shelves.

No doubt, the idea that there should be a “freedom to read”, based on our country’s notion of “freedom of speech”, is an important issue.  As a serious Lutheran, I am well aware of various historical attempts to either “ban” – or at least discourage the reading of – various books that I think are valuable to read, particularly the Bible.  I do not know any Christians who are not fully supportive of free speech, and I think most all of them would like to see that reflected in public libraries and universities to the greatest extent possible.

That said, my contention here is that the idea of Banned Books Week, as put forth by the American Library Association, is actually contrary to the mission of many a private school in general, and many a Christian school in particular.[i]  Here, library collections are established particularly to support the aims and values of the school.  As such, these librarians, even more so than others, can be expected to perform all manner of “self-censorship”.

“If Harriet Beecher Stowe can make a war, then E. L. James can degrade a nation.” -- Helen Andrews, here

“If Harriet Beecher Stowe can make a war, then E. L. James can degrade a nation.” — Helen Andrews, here

In any case, there should be nothing terribly shocking about this.  Nearly all librarians would admit, when pressed, that it is a good thing that we want to discourage some things and some ideas – like advocacy for racism, sexism, terrorism, child predation, and slavery, for example – from spreading or being widely accessible.  In short, there are some things that are “beyond the pale” and do not even warrant our discussion.

Likewise, nearly all librarians would agree that there are some books that are not appropriate for young children.  The “Library Bill of Rights” might actually put in print the radical notion that “a person’s right to use a library should not be …abridged because of… age”, but I wager no librarian would dare take this literally.

So, when some librarians say things like “In order to get these kids to read, I have to give them books which will speak to them and reflect their world” (p. 128, True Stories of Censorship Battles in America’s Libraries, ALA, 2012), or “We have students who live what is in these books!” (p. 126), or “…I believe that every book has a reader and every reader has a book.  When you deny that person, especially that teenager, his or her book – when you ban that book – you ban that kid.” (p. 117), a public librarian might understandably want to “think again”, but a librarian of a private institution or school can more readily dismiss such flawed and unconvincing arguments (that can only be pushed so far before becoming absurd…).

Just a little bit counterproductive...

Just a little bit counterproductive…

Arguments like the one I am making will certainly offend many today – even many librarians – but, frankly, this is one area where the offended should “think again”.  While some private schools have goals and values that are more or less indistinguishable from those of the wider world, not all do.  The idea that sometimes, in some places, we really should “do as the Romans do” is not rocket science, but should be basic respect and decorum.

What do I mean?  Just this: nobody attending a school that asserts that it is explicitly Christian, for example, has the “right” to have that school advance their particular viewpoints or even represent them (which of course does not mean that the school can not be eager to accurately represent those views in particular contexts, even if they will not advocate for them).

Perhaps an illustration will help.  If you come into my [private] home for dinner, there are certain things that you can expect.  First, before we eat, I will say a prayer to my God, and also make it clear to you that you may – but are certainly not required – to join in.  Second, in the event that you start insisting that I run my household in a more tolerant, diverse, and open-minded way – one that takes all of yours and others’ rights into consideration – please do not feel surprised if I feel judged by you.  Clearly, much of what I do I do because I think it is right to do so – your “rights” notwithstanding.

Truly, my default orientation is to support others’ rights to do consensually what they want to do in private, and I would expect them to do the same.  Not to say that it might not, in some circumstances, be beneficial for me to be more open-minded – and yet, perhaps those eager to make such a point might consider “two-way streets” here?

Now, if I insist on looking at things in this way, does this mean that persons who disagree with me can never be welcome in my house?  Of course not!  I suggest that recognition of this reality can go a long way in improving relationships – encouraging mutual understanding, civility and respect.

And so, in the end, our hypothetical visitor in the story above might indeed find that their hosts are particularly interested in them (loving all – even one’s enemies like their Lord – is a serious charge!) and also what they have to say about all manner of interesting and important topics.  But that is an altogether different matter than the one we have been discussing – that is, a person’s supposed “right” to have their own views advanced or even considered by those who might be strenuously opposed to them.

“Philosophy was once the art of asking extreme, dangerous questions. The task of the philosopher is not simply to argue, as much of contemporary academic philosophy would want us to believe, but also to convince, to move, to stir and, eventually, to shake us to the core.” -- Cătălin Avramescu

“Philosophy was once the art of asking extreme, dangerous questions. The task of the philosopher is not simply to argue, as much of contemporary academic philosophy would want us to believe, but also to convince, to move, to stir and, eventually, to shake us to the core.” — Cătălin Avramescu

Here is approach #2, my “softer”, more “Socratic” approach (for abbreviated form, just read italicized questions):

Title: G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17 Ratings for books? Answer this question and others challenging “Banned Books” week!

1)      According to a recent Harris poll, “more than seven in ten US adults believe a rating system similar to that used for films should be applied to books.”  What do you think?

2)      Librarian Rory Litwin, speaking in regards to Banned Books week, says: “In rational discourse, as I see it, it is important to be clear about what you are actually saying, to ask critical questions with a patience for detail, and to reject strategic communication and to minimize rhetoric.”

3)      The American Library Association defines censorship as: “a change in the access status of a material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age-grade-level access limitations.”  What do you think of this definition?

4)      There are certainly broader definitions of censorship.  What do you think censorship means?  What constitutes “censorship”?

5)      Are there any situations you can think of where censorship might be warranted?  Can you give some examples?

6)      If books are permitted to be freely published in America – but may not be chosen for library shelves – should we say they are being censored?  What about “banned”?  Why or why not?

One attempt to reason about the issues (1996).

One solid attempt to reason about the issues (1996).

7)      If a library patron thinks that a book should be relocated to a different section (for example, the children’s section to the adult section), is this censoring the book?  Banning it?  Why or why not?

8)      If so, does this mean that the movie rating system (G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17) is a form of censorship as well?  Is trying to label movies in such a way unfair?  Prejudicial?

9)      Why did the author of these questions feel compelled to put quotation marks around “Banned Books”?

10)   One has said: “…I believe that every book has a reader and every reader has a book.  When you deny that person, especially that teenager, his or her book – when you ban that book – you ban that kid.”  What do you think of this idea?  Is it always wrong to want to discourage teenagers – or at least younger children – from being exposed to certain ideas?

11)   Should libraries, for example, obtain materials that are clearly constructed for the particular purpose of sexually arousing and exciting, or to advocate for things like female genital mutilation, racism, child predation, sexism, terrorism, and slavery?

12)   If they do not represent constituencies of their public who are for, or considering these things, are they acting as censors in this case?  Why or why not?  And if so, is that a good thing?

Without a doubt, “banned” for us: “Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” (Heb. 13:13)

Without a doubt, “banned” for us: “…outside the camp…” (Heb. 13:13)

13)   Is it a good thing to want to discourage some things and some ideas from spreading or being widely accessible?  Is it reasonable to think that some of these can be widely agreed on?

14)   Is it ever reasonable to try and appeal to “common sense” when it comes to determining these issues?  Or is this always only a subtle way that the majority continues to exercise its power over minorities and their viewpoints?

15)   If this is true, does this mean that our ideas of what is right and what is wrong are only determined by who holds power – and that there really is no actual right and wrong we can possibly agree on?  Why or why not? (How about this?)

Feel free to steal my ideas for your library. : )  Finally, for those interested in doing a bit more digging and thinking on this topic, you can also read a piece I wrote about “neutrality” in libraries here, responding to the book, Libraries and the Enlightenment.




[i] One certainly can make a case that Banned Books week is pedagogically irresponsible as well, in that it can mislead students to think that all challenged books are banned, or that certain books are actually able to be banned in America, as in other countries, which of course is not true.  “Banned books” should perhaps bring to mind countries like North Korea, where in Nov. 2013 eighty persons were executed – some for possessing Bibles (see here). This however, is not the focus of this argument.

Image credits: Banned Books Week – ;

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Posted by on September 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


What Should the Christian Do With Wicked Desires and Thoughts?

The renovation God effects in us makes a difference in the world as well. See the paper with this diagram here.

The renovation God effects in us See the paper with this diagram here.

On my heart imprint your image,
Blessed Jesus, king of grace,
That life’s riches, cares, and pleasures
Never may your work erase;
Let the clear inscription be:
Jesus, crucified for me,
Is my life, my hope’s foundation,
And my glory and salvation!

Johann B. Konig

Sometimes there are Christians who wonder whether or not they are really Christians. They are beset by doubt because when they look at their actions, they cry out, a la the Apostle Paul in Romans, chapter 7:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do….”

Here is where Lutherans in particular have always been keen to highlight what Paul says at end of chapter 7 and beginning of chapter 8:

“Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus….”

Apparently not-so-Lutheran Lutheran theologian Paulson’s view: Bondage to sin is not a result of the Fall, but simply part of being human (Eric Phillips, here)

Apparently not-so-Lutheran Lutheran theologian Paulson’s view: Bondage to sin is not a result of the Fall, but simply part of being human (Eric Phillips, here)

This, we assert, is Paul talking about his struggle as a believer in Christ, not him in a pre-conversion state. It is Paul – prior to showing us (in chaper 8) that “there is potential for doing the law in the new creature”, albeit never perfectly until the life to come (contra more liberal Lutheran theologians like Steve Paulson – see here) – showing us the very real struggle all Christians experience and will continue to experience this side of the grave.

This is the comforting answer we can give to persons troubled by wicked things they see themselves doing – and are rightfully troubled by.

But are Christians also to be as troubled by their wicked desires and thoughts?[i] They are, as the rest of Romans 7 likewise indicates. Otherwise, Christ would have not spoken as harshly as he did in Matthew 5, for example, about our internal states. Such preaching – “anyone who is angry with a brother or sister… will be in danger of the fire of hell ; …anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart…. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out… ; love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… – should rightly terrify us and send us not from but to God, who we also learn, is gracious towards His own enemies.

And knowing the love of God in Christ, the process of doing good for the right reasons and motivations can begin. As the Apostle John says regarding the power of God’s love: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love….” (I John 4)

Paul in Rom. 7: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”

Paul in Rom. 7: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”

Again, the Apostle Paul, this time in Galatians chapter 5, helps us to understand what is going on here[ii]:

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.[iii] But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (bold mine)

...but nothing to worry about?

…but nothing to worry about?

As we can see, there really is a sense in which we are not fully perfect in love (our active sanctification) – in spite of having known and received that perfect, saving love in Jesus Christ! (our justification and passive sanctification). We deal with the matter of our flesh… our old Adam…. our “sinful nature” – even though God’s Spirit does good in us in spite of our being aware of it, we also keep “in step with the Spirit”, continuing to consciously and actively struggle vs. our evil desires (see Rom. 8: 5, 13). Knowing who we are in Christ – and with time in God’s word, prayer, and other disciplines (perhaps private confession and absolution with a pastor), etc. – these sins of weakness can be countered.

Or is this really the way that it is? After all, our salvation is truly won in Christ after all! After all, it is true that “everything we need we already have”…. Are not things like wicked desires and thoughts unavoidable and something we should not really worry about too much? Isn’t the point of Jesus’ words quoted above simply to show us that we need him and nothing more?

Some might wonder what I am talking about here, so let me explain why some might think this way. Perhaps, one thinks, all of that talk about fighting evil desire and thought is being overly scrupulous and too focused on one’s self! After all, how does this kind of think help me decrease and Christ increase? How is that focused on one’s neighbor – which Christ wants us to do – at all? Perhaps the most that we can say is that God’s law is there much in the way that good roads and traffic laws are there: to make sure that we don’t hurt our bodies! Or perhaps we should just say that the Christian disciplines his “outward person”, or flesh, so that the sinful desires that still dwell within just don’t express themselves as outward works… Either way, one might reason, our evil thoughts hurt no one except ourselves! Sure they also need God’s forgiveness, but we should not fret too much over them. There is a danger, one might think, that we are proudly trying to gain too much control, earn our salvation before God, even be our own god….

“As free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.” I Peter 2:16

“As free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.” I Peter 2:16

I hope it makes sense now why some Christians might think this way.  In which case, what might follow from such thinking?

Truly, one might rationalize (justify), if a person finds one’s self fearful to even “commit” one wicked thought – because they are concerned about God’s wrath – are they even acting like a Christian? Worse – do they perhaps just not “get” I John 4 at all? Even if such a person regrets being motivated by fear – and even if they insist that they know they are not saved by their works but by grace though faith – could you (should you?) even give such a person assurance they are a Christian? Perhaps they have never even begun to understand the grace of God….! Perhaps they still need more law.

But is this just what Satan wants us to think? Is this not, perhaps, again putting such a person under Luther’s “monster of uncertainty?” (“maybe I am just a ‘legalist’ who has never ‘got it’ and still can’t….”) Is this perhaps one of the devil’s most clever and insidious efforts to get the camel’s nose in the tent? Is it possible that in striving for holiness of thought, as well as word and deed, we are not scorning the white robe of Christ’s righteousness (and, inevitably, because we are always primarily sinners, actually putting on the dirty robe of our self-justifying flesh)?

Consider the following:

First, sin is lawlessness – whether it happens in the mind, with the mouth, or with the hand. In every case, sin directly dishonors our Creator and hurts us (and our neighbors indirectly). So while Jesus’ words surely do break us in their severity, are we really comfortable thinking that there is no sense that he wants us to take serious practical steps to decrease such desires and thoughts – that we may be able to pray, as the 17th c. Christian John Gerhard did, “Sins were sweeter to me than honey and honeycomb. That they are now pungent and bitter, I owe to You who gave me spiritual taste…”?

Köberle: "...unrestrained roving thoughts never remain confined to the hidden chambers of the soul, but they crowd out into the open and display themselves in words and actions, that enslave, burden and shape the future of their author..."

Köberle: “…unrestrained roving thoughts never remain confined to the hidden chambers of the soul, but they crowd out into the open and display themselves in words and actions, that enslave, burden and shape the future of their author…”

Second, we know that our internal states can and do affect the world around us – at the very least because of the prayers the Spirit prays in us as He groans (see Rom. 8). How can we be sure that our evil desires and thoughts do not have power that we do not understand? If we can know – somehow! – that we are being watched, who is to say that our internal states can have no discernible effect on our surrounding environment – beyond, but even in, the present moment? Is it not rationalism to assert otherwise?

Third, even if this previous point seems a stretch for us, at the very least the Apostle Paul makes it clear in I Corinthians chapter 7 that some of our choices are more beneficial than others… If this is the case with two “good choices” (one better than the other), how much more so for the choice to fight sinful desire and thought! Yes, God can forgive all of our sins, but we also, by our Spirit-led choices, will form our long-term character: we either take steps that make us increasingly better or worse at becoming true servants of our neighbor.

Finally (and these are just the points I have come up with here – add more in the comments), as a pastor friend of mine puts it “disciplining the self can be self-absorbed if done with the wrong intentions (e.g., meriting one’s salvation), but it can also be focused on God and neighbor (to serve them better).” Luther often makes this point in his writings, particularly the Freedom of the Christian. Therefore, what might look like “spiritual self-preservation” (like the eye-gouging mentioned by Jesus) is never really an end in itself.

In Romans chapter 12, Paul gently appeals to Christians, “by the mercies of God” (please read chapters 1-11 if you are not really sure what that means!), to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”[iv] He then goes on, of course, to give Christians guidance regarding what their wonderful new life in Christ is to look like (a life which is not about living in glory, but humbly, under the cross).

And if you feel condemned by that thought, I understand…. for I think the devil and his lies have made things very hard for many of us. We have been both victims and victimizers. I offer you this, from the bottom of my heart:

However many of God’s commandments we may have broken, however much we may have chosen paths that were not those He would have preferred, however many regrets we might have… those are to be left behind, as we go forward in both His pardon and power, which always avails for us in the blood! And let’s especially continue to lift up the true body and blood of Jesus for us here – in the Lord’s Supper – since that is what many, strangely, since the beginning of the Reformation have been keen to deny.  But I submit a greater realization of such gifts is in fact our highest need!

Also, for more encouragement in your fight, I offer you this (and this again as well…):

Tullian T. basically says that people say he doesn’t believe in the third use of the law, but he does – he just doesn’t want to have to qualify everything (from sermon on “Discipline, Demagogery, and Jesus”, by his fellow Coral Ridge pastor Steve Brown).





[i] In bringing up this topic, I hope it goes without saying that this author, like most anyone else I assume, would not want anyone knowing what his is thinking quite a bit of the time. I suspect the thought horrifies most all of us, some of us much more than others.

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

[iii] The translation of this verse is disputed See verse 17 in the KJV text.

[iv] Luther said in his antinomian disputations that the preacher should not make the law overly harsh among the justified but should change into the gentler tone of exhortation. This, it seems to me, is clearly happening in Romans 12 ff. Is not Paul addressing the Christian qua Christian (new man) here? One certainly cannot say that here he is talking to the old man here, using law (and its accusation, threats, etc) to subdue him. He is appealing to persons by the mercies of God.

Image credits: Steven Paulson: ; Adolf Köberle – ; other people: Wikipedia

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Posted by on September 17, 2015 in Uncategorized


Reframe?!: Is Kim Davis Actually Proclaiming Christ’s Free Forgiveness of Sins?

Herald ad witness of the dying love of God for sinful man?

Herald and witness of the dying love of God for sinful man?

Rod Dreher is saying that the Kim Davis case is a religious liberty loser – and he’s got the stats to back him up.

I think he is dead right.

That said, is it possible for us to think long-term, seeing it as a Gospel winner?

What?  Yes I am serious – just like I was about this when the Indiana thing blew up.  And if this is not Kim Davis’ view, so what?  Let’s help her see that this is what it is all about. Let’s frame this for the sake of Christ and His Church.

What follows is what I posted to Rod on his blog:


I respect you and still do. I understand that this looks like a political loser… but I guess I would like to see some more respect for Kim Davis from Christian brothers and sisters who disagree with her. Maybe politics really isn’t her first consideration here.

All marriages are a sign of The One True Marriage.

All marriages are a sign of The One True Marriage.

I came across a very articulate Lutheran pastor’s Facebook post this morning. Here is a short clip (about 1/3 of his post):

“We have learned to say that pro-life is an affirmation of the incarnation, of the resurrection, and the One who is the way the truth and the life. So also marriage. Satan moves up the food chain, destroying life, and the now launching an assault on the union that alone can bring new life into the world. Marriage is hardly just a social issue, but in proclaiming marriage, we proclaim God as creator, Christ as the new Adam, Christ as the Bridegroom, Christ as the teacher of marriage, and the one who blesses it by turning water into wine. When we stand up for marriage, we stand up for the one who loves us, and gave his life as the dowry of our salvation. And again, in doing so, we stand up for our neighbor, for the children, every one of whom has a biological mother and father, every one of whom deserves a mom and dad. These issues, while vexing, help us see theology as a human endeavor, as revealing the face of Christ, the first born of our humanity, the image of God that he invites us to share. Perhaps, now we can see, perhaps better than ever, that the Gospel is the Law fulfilled for us by Christ, and that by offering a witness, as imperfect as it may be, we offer to the world a picture of love, so desperately needed.” (bold mine)

The whole thing is good:

What if this actually is not so much about “politics” but witnessing to the truth of the Gospel… the love of Christ in a society that widely no longer recognizes it? The Gospel is foolishness, but some will hear… and believe.

Probably not most elites though…. (end post to Rod).

I encourage everyone to read Genesis 1-3 and the book of Ephesians, particularly chapter 5 – and to lend Mrs. Davis your prayers and support (even if you still disagree with her actions).



Posted by on September 12, 2015 in Uncategorized


Are Confessional Lutherans Just Too Sure of Themselves?

This past week, at the Just and Sinner blog, I added a new introduction and title (the title above) to an old post I had published on this blog,  It was previously called: “Good, Right, and Salutary Certainty vs. Brian McLaren, ‘Bible 3.0′ and Protestant Confessionalism?”

I think that this has been one of my clearer and more important posts…

You can check out the new version here:

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Posted by on September 12, 2015 in Uncategorized