Monthly Archives: November 2018

Meditations for Radical Lutherans on Luther’s Antinomian Disputations (part 1 of 6)

An incomplete and inadequate take of Luther’s “theology of the cross”? (for a recent appraisal see here).

Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


Is Radical Lutheranism the Answer? (Part 1)

Note: Most of the series which follows will be found on my own blog theology like a child. I hope you’ll join me there for all the subsequent parts.

You like Gerhard Forde? You want to embrace the “Radical Lutheran” label? I think I get it. Really, I do.

At one point in my life, I also thought that Gerhard Forde was a terrific theologian — perhaps just the kind of voice contemporary Lutherans (more: all contemporary Christians!) needed to be paying attention to.

Who else, after all, was talking about the Bondage of the Will – which the great church reformer Martin Luther had said was one of his two most important works – in a really serious way?

  • Who else had paid close attention to the theses that Martin Luther had written vs the “antinomians” (those against the law) – no doubt, given his Roman Catholic opponents’ accusations versus him, one of Luther’s more intriguing works!? (yes, I know, Forde’s loyal friend, another ELCA theologian Jim Nestingen, had done this as well)
  • Who else fixated on the cross of Christ like they, and actually took the time to carefully unpack what Luther meant in the Heidelburg Disputation by “theology of the cross” (vis a vis the “theology of glory”)?
  • Who else dealt with the reality, in its depths – of the very real presence of sin remaining in the Christian – and gave us the only answer that we continually needed to stay Christian and grow as Christians!
  • Who else seemed to actually care about reading Luther, and the scholarship coming out on Martin Luther – even the recent stuff in Germany?
  • Who else but Gerhard Forde – the kind of spiritual giant we needed to show us God’s radical law and radical grace… that there might be real life for the world!

I don’t think the above anymore. In fact, I now think that I was taken for a ride. Truth be told, even at the time when I was apt to embrace much of what Forde wrote, I always did have some lingering reservations….

Let me start by telling you a short story from my previous life in seminary…

Way back in 2000, I dropped out of the conservative Lutheran seminary I was attending, largely because I was not sure if I could adhere to the 1580 Book of Concord (I was seriously considering women’s ordination and other things at the time).[i] One of the most vivid memories of my brief time there though was when I was reading through the book of Romans near the end of my second year. Coming to chapter 8, I was absolutely shocked by what I read there in verses 3 and 4:

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

After two years imbibing the content of contemporary confessional Lutheran seminaries, I had fully expected to read “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in Him,” that is, Jesus Christ – for our justification! But now, after having been thoroughly indoctrinated into modern Lutheranism — a Lutheranism I now recognize had been quite influenced by men like Gerhard Forde — I actually had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that Paul could write like this! (no, I am not saying that Radical Lutherans do not have their own way of making sense of this passage, just that I had not seen the passage addressed in the core things I had read).

Written by a dummy for dummies (also, if you have not checked out my summary breaking down Luther’s Antinomian Disputations from last year, I hope you might!)

Fast-forward to about four years later, and I was blessed to have a pastor whose friend, Pastor Holger Sonntag, had begun to translate Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations, which discussed and debated the theses verses the antinomians mentioned above.

Strange as it may sound to the ears of many, it came as a relief to me as I read that early manuscript in 2004. There I saw Luther not only heartily acknowledging the existence of Romans 8:3-4, but bringing those verses alive in a way which clearly fit with other emphases in Lutheran theology! He seemed to understand the depths of the Christian life in a way that had escaped me. My prayer is that as you check out this series I’ve written, the Antinomian Disputations of Martin Luther will speak to you in a similar way.

In the course of the posts which follow, I will put these writings of Luther into conversation with some of the writings of contemporary Lutheran theologians like Jim Nestingen, Steve Paulson, and Nicholas Hopman. I spend the most time with Hopman, who is Steve Paulson’s student (who in turn was Gerhard Forde’s student) and who would qualify and identity as a “Radical Lutheran”.

In other words, Hopman clearly believes that Gerhard Forde, an author of an essay by the same name, is an excellent and faithful guide for Christians. Following in Forde’s train, Hopman attempts to pass on this message – which he believes is also faithful to Martin Luther’s.

I contend that one of the main problems Radical Lutherans have is that they do not really take into account the robust view of man that their forbearer Martin Luther had.[ii] For Luther, it is very important that man was created with the capacity to do God’s law and enjoyed doing so. Reading Radical Lutherans though, not only is the “very good” nature of man in the garden – or at least the relevance of this fact – called into question (including by Forde himself)[iii], but one is also given the clear impression that Adam and Eve would have felt threatened by God’s law even in the Garden of Eden.[iv] While it is certainly true that Luther talks about God’s initial commandment given to our first parents as a threat, he also gives no indication that such a threat would have terrified or accused them, and in fact, gives the exact opposite impression.

What does this mean?: “[He] grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (see my pastor’s fantastic sermon on this here)

On the contrary, from the beginning, man was meant to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. And all in great joy! By fear, a “filial fear” and not “servile fear” is meant, for we, like Adam and Eve, are meant to have full certainly regarding the security and stability of our relationship with God –to know that, ultimately, we are at peace with Him. Period.

These are the fundamental – and wonderful – truths that underlie the other issues that are explored in the series of blog posts which follow.

In several of the posts which immediately follow, I will be including some quotations from Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations (in the very first series of disputations, held in 1537). These will be the jumping off points for the meditations in the posts.

Are you ready?

Below, for example, is the full set of theses from the first of the Antinomian Disputations. It is a bit heavy-going – and might sound a bit foreign to modern Christian ears – but I urge you to embrace the challenge and to check them out. I have highlighted in bold the ones I think receive a good amount of attention in this series:

Disputation of Dr. Martin Luther against Certain Antinomians

  1. According to the testimony of all, and in fact, repentance is sorrow on account of sin with the added intention of a better life.
  2. 2. Properly speaking, sorrow is nothing else—and cannot be anything else—than the touch or feeling of the law in the heart or the conscience.
  3. For many certainly hear the law, but because they do not experience the feeling or power of the law, they do not feel any sorrow on account of anything nor do they repent.
  4. The first part of repentance, sorrow, is caused solely by the law. The second part, the good intention, cannot be caused by the law.
  5. For a man terrified by sin cannot intend good out of his own powers, since not even the one at rest or in security can do this.
  6. Yet confused and engulfed by the power of sin he falls into despair and hatred of God, or descends to hell, as Scripture says.
  7. This is why the promise or the Gospel needs to be added to the law, which sets the conscience at peace and lifts it up, so that it may intend the good.
  8. Repentance solely caused by the law is one half or beginning of repen­tance, or is repentance synecdochically speaking, since it lacks the good intention.
  9. And if it stops there, then takes place the repentance of Cain, Saul, Judas, and all who distrust and despair of God’s mercy, that is, that of those who perish.
  10. From the fathers, the Sophists have received and taught as definition of repentance that it is sorrow and intention etc.
  11. Yet neither did they understand the parts of the definition, namely, sor­row, sin, intention, nor could they teach it.
  12. They imagined sorrow to be an act elicited by the power of the free will, which despises sin as often as it wills or does not will.
  13. In reality, this sorrow is suffering or affliction, which conscience willy-nilly is forced to suffer by the law as it touches and torments it.
  14. They imagined that sin is that which is against human traditions, only rarely that which is against the moral law.
  15. Original or post-baptismal sin they did not even consider to be sin, especially in the First Table.
  16. Against this chaff the law, this hammer of God—as Jeremiah says—that smashes rocks (Jer. 23:29), has confined all men under sin (Gal. 3:22).
  17. Good intention they thought to be the resolution chosen by human powers regarding the avoiding of sin in the future.
  18. In reality, according to the Gospel, it is an impetus of the Holy Spirit that immediately detests sin out of love, although meanwhile sin strongly rebels in the flesh.
  19. Their ignorance is not surprising, since they, having set aside Scripture, could not know what the law and what the Gospel is.
  20. For they were utterly immersed in precepts and mandates of men so that they based their judgment concerning holy and divine matters on dreams.
  21. Against these useless teachers of despair the Gospel begins to teach that repentance ought not to be just despair.
  22. But those who repent ought to entertain hope, and in this way, out of love of God, hate sin, which is really what a good intention means.
  23. Some, inconsiderate of the theme at hand or of the subject matter, wanted this to be said against God’s law.
  24. And they taught dangerously that the law of God is to be removed from the Church, which is blasphemy and a sacrilege.
  25. For the entire Scripture teaches that repentance must be initiated by the law, which is what the order of the matter itself and also experience shows.
  26. “All who forget God—it says—shall be turned into hell,” and: “Place, O Lord, a lawgiver over them that men may know etc.”
  27. “Fill their faces with shame, and they will seek your name, O Lord” (Ps. 83:16). And, “The sinner is caught in the works of his hands” (Ps. 9:16).
  28. The order of the matter is that death and sin are in nature before life and righteousness.
  29. For we are neither righteous nor alive, to be delivered to sin or death; but we are already sinners and dead on account of Adam, to be declared righteous and alive by Christ.
  30. This is why Adam—that is, sin and death—needs to be taught first; he is a type of the coming Christ (Rom. 5:21) who is to be taught afterwards.
  31. Sin, however, and death necessarily must be pointed out, not by the word of grace and comfort, but by the law.
  32. As experience shows, Adam first is convicted as transgressor of the law, then he is lifted up by the promised Seed of the woman etc. (cf. Gen. 3:11, 15).
  33. And David first is killed by the law through Nathan who says (2 Sam. 12:7): “You are the man etc.;” later he is saved by the Gospel that says (2 Sam. 12:13): “You shall not die etc.”
  34. Paul, thrown down by the law, first hears (Acts 9:4): “Why are you per­secuting me?” Then he is declared alive by the Gospel (Acts 9:6): “Rise etc.”
  35. And Christ himself says in Mark 1(:15): “Repent and believe the Gospel, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
  36. Again (Luke 24:47): “repentance and remission of sins should be preached.”
  37. Thus also the Spirit first convicts the world of sin in order to teach faith in Christ, that is, the remission of sins (John 16:8).
  38. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, follows this method, when he first teaches that all are sinners, to be declared righteous by Christ.
  39. Luke likewise testifies in Acts that Paul taught Jews as well as Gentiles that no one can be declared righteous except by Christ. And the things that follow.



[i] Another thing I was considering was that the active obedience of Christ really had nothing to do with the atonement of Christ. Sure, it was important that the lamb be pure to be worthy to be slain, but that was the only point I saw in the active obedience. As I recall, when I studying Anselm on the atonement, I read works critical of him by scholars who had been influenced by Forde.

[ii] See my response to Hopman’s paper, “Luther’s Antinomian Disputations and lex aeterna,” in the summer 2016 issue of Lutheran Quarterly, here.

[iii] See Cooper, Lex Aeterna, pp. 119-120, where he discusses this based on Forde’s book “Theology is for Proclamation”.

[iv] In which case, the Eden story becomes just another “law story” Paulson and Hopman talk about!: “Because the world’s master narrative is the law, every story of the world – other than Christ’s – ends with a direct or implied threat….” More: “All legal tales have a threat buried in them.”  (“Hated God”, 9). For more on the “legal schem,” see also Paulson, Lutheran Theology, 2.

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Posted by on November 29, 2018 in Uncategorized


“The Blessings of Submission: Beauty” by Matthew Cochran

When I saw the following post from Matthew Cochran, I knew I had the beginnings of an answer to many of the questions I have come up against…


I want to thank Matthew for giving me the permission to re-publish the following excellent and thought-provoking post on my blog.

Read it slowly, reflect, and then please comment below. Better yet, go to his own blog and read it and comment there.

I think a great discussion about the content of this post could not but help us in the church come to a better understanding of these issues…

Nah. The real question is “Why is Matthew Cochran so hard to resist?”


The Blessings of Submission: Beauty

I’ve written before that “Wives submit to your husbands” is the most hated Bible verse in America. Because of that hatred, the tendency of apologists is to always play defense–to be constantly explaining why it’s not the terrible, abusive exhortation that so many people make it out to be. In a situation like that, it’s really easy to neglect the positive case–why a wife’s submission is a wonderful gift of God rather than an onerous burden. When we forget that, our message ends up coming off as a rather underwhelming, “submission: it’s not super terrible.” Consider this post to be a small corrective (loosely adapted from a chapter of my book.)

One of the great things (among others) that God provides through a wife’s submission is feminine beauty.  That connection may seem peculiar to us today–when so much of worldly culture desperately tries to convince us that spunk and moxie are a woman’s most attractive qualities. But it should come as no surprise to Christians, for the Apostle Peter explicitly ties beauty to submission in his first epistle:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you ear–but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.

But peculiar or not, it is quite interesting that as our culture rages harder and harder against submission, it is also having greater and greater problems on wrapping its head around feminine beauty. And no, I’m not going to address the ugliness of contemporary fashion or attitudes–that pretty much speaks for itself among anyone willing to hear it. Instead, I’d like to draw your attention to the common phenomenon of women’s self-hatred about their appearance.

We’re all familiar with the cliches of women looking in the mirror and lamenting over some aspect of how they look–clothes that don’t hang right, hair that won’t stay in place, breasts that seem too small, or thighs that seem too big. But the problem goes deeper than just this. Physical attractiveness and “external adornment” will always be with us, and desirable body-sizes are just another style to which people seek to conform. As a rule, women will always want to look beautiful and always experience some measure of disappointment when they fail. Nevertheless, there is more going on than business as usual. After all, we live in a culture that actually needs to invent terms like “negative body image” & “body shaming” and feverishly raise awareness about them just to try to put some kind of brakes on women’s self-perception of ugliness.

The blame for this state of affairs is usually placed on the media for promoting unrealistic expectations of beauty for women. After all, most women don’t have access to the team of makeup artists, personal trainers, and Photoshop experts that are tasked with maintaining the glamour of actresses and models.

While I have no wish to completely absolve Hollywood in the matter, this cannot be the whole story. After all, nobody is blaming the latest Marvel movie for setting unrealistic standards for courage or heroism. Nobody condemns Olympic athletes and professional sports stars for setting unrealistic standards for physical prowess. Nobody condemns museums for setting unrealistic standards for artistic talent. On the contrary, these are the kinds of things we look to for inspiration. If somebody were to instead respond to these things with bitter and resentful charges of unfairness, we would instantly recognize it for what it is: Envy.

The sin of envy arises in us when we make everything all about ourselves. For example, we envy another’s wealth when wealth becomes a means to our own pleasure and position rather than something of God’s which we steward. We envy another’s accomplishments when accomplishments become a means to receiving accolades rather than service to our neighbors. When we look at things in such self-centered ways, another’s abundance is always perceived as our own deficit. In the same way, when a woman envies another’s beauty, it is because in her mind, beauty has ceased to serve God’s purposes and only serves her own.

And there are any number of alternative purposes. Perhaps a woman wants to be beautiful so that she can be admired, whether by men, or simply by her peers. Perhaps a woman wants to be beautiful for the sake of power or control–to be able to win favors or influence from men by deliberately giving the impression that she might be willing to offer what she’s displaying with the right pampering (the friendzone often operates on this dynamic.) Or perhaps a woman wants to be beautiful purely for her own self-satisfaction–the purpose that is widely promoted as most virtuous by feminists. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with enjoying admiration, extra attention, or simple satisfaction with one’s own appearance, just as there is nothing wrong with enjoying good food. But just as how making enjoyment rather than nutrition the purpose of eating will lead to gluttony, making these other things the purpose of beauty will lead to envy.

So what is the actual purpose of feminine beauty that’s being subverted? Peter gives us two. The first is that “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” is precious to God–not too surprising as every aspect of creation has the purpose of reflecting God’s goodness in some way. The second, however, goes against everything we’re taught: Peter directs a woman’s beauty towards her husband. She is to be beautiful in her submission to him so that he may see it and be won over.  But while it may go radically against culture’s grain, it’s completely consistent with Christ’s teachings of self-giving love, for it is better to give than to receive.

But if you find that simple piety is an insufficient motivation to avoid envy and direct your beauty towards your husband, then consider some of the magnificent benefits God provides women through his instruction to submit to their husbands. After all, if envy results from a corruption of God’s purpose, then submission to God’s instruction restores that purpose and its benefits.

First and foremost, submission reduces the misery of envy. As C.S. Lewis observed in Screwtape Proposes a Toast, envy is, for humans, really the most odious and least pleasurable of the vices. A person can enjoy gluttony, lust, pride, or wrath fairly easily–at least for a time. Envy, on the other hand, is characterized by constant feelings of inferiority and discontentment. You’re always measuring yourself according to others, always coming up short, and always bitterly resenting everyone who exceeds you according to whatever standards you’ve set for yourself.  It’s an incredibly unpleasant way to live.

In contrast, one is far happier and more blessed pursuing beauty for the sake of another. There is no mistaking the fact that women desire to make themselves beautiful, but being beautiful solely for oneself is like any other form of hedonism–empty and unsatisfying in the long run. It’s the kind of appetite that can never be sated, for there is always some way in which you fall short–a distance that will only increase with age.  In contrast, the woman who delights in her husband’s delight over her beauty can find genuine satisfaction. It replaces the limitless scope of seeking admiration from everyone at once with the limited and accessible scope seeking only one person’s admiration–specifically the one person who is most capable of appreciating every aspect of it.

But beyond that, submission provides the only option for lasting beauty in this world. No matter how well you take care of your body or how well you adorn yourself, you are fighting a losing battle. You will get wrinkles and gray hair. Things will sag. Maintaining a pleasant body shape will become impossible. Desperately clinging to your fading physical beauty for your own sake is a recipe for misery.

In marriage, however, there is another dynamic at work. A seventy-year-old woman isn’t going to turn any heads when she walks down the street. However, it’s entirely possible for her seventy-year-old husband to genuinely find her beautiful. In a relationship that has been typified for years by that precious gentle & quiet spirit that can certainly last into old age, that spirit will always bring to the husband’s mind the physical beauty of his wife’s youth. Marriage goggles are a real thing. Husbands don’t really see every new wrinkle or every extra pound–they see the woman they married all those years ago. That’s not license to let ourselves go because our spouses don’t care about looks–we all do care, and staying in relative shape is a wonderful gift husbands and wives alike can give to one another. But the fact remains that staying in shape is merely the slowest way of looking ugly. Persistent beauty requires something else, and faithful submission to her husband gives the wife a beauty that can outlast her youth.

So Christian ladies, if you find yourself unable to shake the feeling that you’re ugly–not due to the kind of obvious physical issues that you notice in others but due to a never-ending cavalcade of tiny physical peccadilloes that you never notice in others–perhaps the problem is not in your form. Instead, why not try the Biblical prescription for beauty: submit to your own husbands and don’t give in to fear. If always trying to receive isn’t working, then it might be time to try giving instead.


P.S. — the post Matthew did before this, where he provides a definition of abuse, is also worth reading and reflecting on.

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Posted by on November 19, 2018 in Uncategorized


The “Mansplaining” Approach to Female Modesty?: Go Duggars or Go Home?

The case with this post? Discuss: “So many of the debates which routinely erupt in the church… often have more than an underlying whiff of personal or subcultural taste about them, even as we attempt dress them up in speciously ‘objective’ arguments….” — Carl Trueman



Okay, this post really isn’t about the Duggars, but they are a good hook I think!

It, is, however, about the search for female modesty, a topic the Duggars are familiar with. What is modesty?

One definition is behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency.

To begin our journey, please consider this extended quotation from Leslie’s Vernick’s The Emotionally Destructive Marriage:

Married couples need freedom to thrive. I do not mean the freedom to do whatever you want regardless how the other person feels. When you commit to someone in marriage, you freely choose to limit some (not all) of your choices. But all healthy relationships need to include freedom for the individuals to disagree, to respectfully challenge the other’s decisions, and to be the persons God made them to be. Having your freedom of movement, choices, friends, and emotional expression restricted by your husband sends the message that you are not allowed to be a whole person in your own marriage. Instead you are to become what your husband tells you to be.

At a retreat where I was recently speaking, a young woman approached me during a break. Aime said, ‘My husband doesn’t like the way I dress, but I don’t know how to respond to that. I like the clothes I wear. What should I do?”

“What doesn’t he like about the way you dress?, I asked.

“He says men look at me. He wants me to wear baggier jeans, long dresses, and no makeup.”

“What do you think about that?” I asked, concerned that she was feeling pressured to become someone else in order to pacify her husband’s insecurity.

“I think I dress modestly. I don’t seek out attention, but I don’t want to be frumpy either. But he said that if I loved him, I would dress to please him, not myself.”

Immediately I felt great concern for this woman’s dilemma. Her husband twisted the Scripture and put himself in God’s place in her life. The Bible says we are to please God, not ourselves. Nor are we to orient our lives around pleasing others; that gets us in trouble (see Galatians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 2:4). That does not mean we are to have no thoughts of pleasing our husbands, but pleasing our husbands is not to be our first concern. And it’s important to understand that pleasing God by pleasing our husbands does not always work. Sometimes we please God and we displease our husbands, like when we stand up for what is right, true and good and our husbands get mad or threatened.

Here is what I told Aimee: “You need to be very wise right now as you’re at a critical crossroads in your marriage. If you give in to him in this, you will lose a part of who you are to satisfy a part of him that is sinful and immature – his insecurity. That is not healthy for either of you of for the long-term stability of your marriage. It’s up to you, but I think God calls you to be courageous in this manner and lovingly tell your husband you think he needs to face his own issues of jealousy and insecurity, rather than you changing your wardrobe so that he won’t feel those feelings. He will not like it at first, but in the long run, this approach will preserve your freedom to be your own person and to speak truthfully into his life, which is essential for a healthy marriage.”

Some of you are trembling right now because you are becoming more aware of the high cost you have paid to cater to your husband’s demands…” (34-35)

Good advice? Or does something seem “off”?

American Taliban? Can the abuser!?: “The SPLC said [Brian McCall, now former professor and dean at the University of Oklahoma’s law school] probably [is] an anti-Semite, and he believes that women shouldn’t wear pants.” – Rod Dreher.

First, you might be wondering: “Who is Leslie Vernick?” She is an increasingly popular author in the evangelical world writing about issues of marriage in general and issues of domestic abuse in particular. One of her highly respected books, cited by the LC-MS Task Force on Domestic Violence as a good resource to check out, is the Emotionally Destructive Marriage, from 2013. I can understand why the task force recommended it. Vernick, a licensed clinical social worker and “relationship coach,” is a good writer and brings a wealth of experience as well as biblical knowledge to difficult marriage issues. I found the book helpful, clarifying, and challenging on a number of fronts, and I think that most any pastor especially would do well to consider reading the book.

So why do I bring her, her book, and this quotation up in this post? Not because what you read above is meant to be about modesty—which you may well have gathered from her words—but because she is clearly writing about things that touch on the topic of modesty.

Whether she realizes that or not!

In the rest of this post, I want to critique this passage by pointing out that Vernick’s assumptions seem to avoid the main issues.

Do “blame-shifting” (?!) discussions like this also “traumatize[] many girls”?

When the young lady says that her “husband doesn’t like the way I dress” and states that “he says men look at me,” Vernick’s first reaction is to think that the husband is insecure and threatened, evidently concerned that others might find his wife attractive and that he might risk losing her. As is clear from the rest of what Vernick writes, this insecurity should not be pacified at any cost.

For the life of me, I cannot understand Vernick’s reasoning.

Let’s leave aside the important point that wives don’t want their husbands being tempted to eye up other women. Let’s leave aside the fact that God Himself is jealous for His people without, presumably, being insecure. It seems to me that the focus of Vernick’s work, and hence her book, blinds her to what could indeed be the real issue in this case, or, at least, in many cases that somewhat resemble this one: modesty.

When it comes to the inevitable and necessary backlash vs. “purity culture,” there is a feminist/pagan one and an orthodox Christian one (see this book).


There is both the temptation to look and the temptation to be looked at. Of course, women have some sense of what gets men’s attention when it comes to the feminine form – and therefore one might think that they can gauge their own attractiveness and act accordingly. Curiously though, this often does not seem to be the case, whether they are attempting to dress comfortably (while simply looking nice), or to attract and allure, or even intending to practice modesty.

So, when it comes to a conversation like the one mentioned above, why not—if it is not impossible to do so!—put the best construction on the woman’s husband?

In other words, assume that the husband is perfectly secure—including being supremely confident of his wife’s love and devotion to him—and yet still, for some reason, has this concern. Why might that be? Yes, it is possible that he might overreact and some of his reasons might not be so good. Nevertheless, in any case, perhaps the core reason for his concern is this: not that he might risk losing his wife to others, but—confident of her God-given appeal (which no, she should not be ashamed of!)—that she may indeed cause an occasion for sin for others given her choice of apparel (see Matthew 5:28)

“If, as the authors state, a virile man’s libido can instantly be set off by one or more visual cues…” — Leon F. Seltzer

In other words, don’t first assume jealousy but love for his brothers!: namely, the husband’s concern being geared towards the Christian consciences of his brothers in Christ! (kind of like this good Lutheran lady’s concern. WWDWT?).[i]

Is it really so hard to imagine that this husband—or, at least, another man voicing the same concern—might be a secure man, instead of an insecure one? For those women who wholly sign on to Vernick’s analysis and views, is there perhaps a bit of projection happening here?

Again, is it so difficult to believe that a man, being formed by Christ and confident in a godly way, has the exact opposite impulse of the man who looks to proudly display his “trophy wife”? (thereby advertising his own value!) When a man is attracted to his wife and thinks it likely that others might share his judgement (yes, love blinds us to flaws, but let’s give him a little credit), it is possible that she might think “oh, that is only because I am his wife.” If she thinks this though, she should think again. Respect demands this.

Going along with this, I note yet another reason (!) a husband might be interested in what his wife wears in public. One reason might be that he, when he is “out and about” with her, the children, and others, is not interested in being distracted by her (at that time!).

Don’t laugh!

Clearly then, what this passage from Vernick’s book does not take seriously, or even into consideration then, is the critical truth of modesty.

Google’s n-gram viewer shows the decrease in the use of the word “modesty” in the past 200 years.


And why in the world not? Is it because she believes that modesty is an idea that is wholly culturally determined?

And is that true? On the contrary, isn’t there anything that can be said at all about modesty as a universal concept? Something that we all share?

Sometimes, I get the impression many Christian ladies don’t think this is the case at all! Consider, for example, this post from the Christian writer Sheila Wray Gregoire: “Why ‘Don’t Be a Stumbling Block’ is A Really Bad Modesty Message”. To some, it might seem like Gregoire is speaking to the issue of modesty, even ending with a “list of modesty standards.”

I disagree. Instead, she basically ends with rules of thumb that individual women are free to apply to their own selves.

You’ve come a long way baby. “Partly due to material rationing after World War II, French engineer Louis Réard introduced the modern bikini…During the early 1960s, the design appeared on the cover of Playboy… giving it additional legitimacy” — Wikipedia


In other words, *not* any real standards that we could understand to be widely shared in any sense. For her, if you think there are, or at the very least should be (that is, things we come to agree on together, on the basis of the natural law), some common modesty standards that should be applied, you are wrong!

And if that is what people like Gregoire are saying, that must be wrong!

Beauty is not wholly culturally determined, and therefore neither is modesty.

“…I want the women to adorn themselves with respectable apparel, with modesty, and with self-control… ” — I Tim. 2:9


And let’s get real—it is not only men who know that.




Brian McCall: Fatima Center screengrab


[i] WWDWT= What would the Duggar women think?

Regarding the content of this paragraph is this where the push-back really starts and we start talking about blame-shifting? Men – or even women – should not make excuses for men when they respond wrongly to women who dress as they think best.

Vernick writes about the topic of blame-shifting in her book, and there is no doubt that in some contexts, such as contexts pertaining to domestic violence, such words need to be said. To be clear, she does not talk about this directly when she is discussing issues pertaining to modesty – it is in the context of domestic violence. Nevertheless, as regards the sentences below in italics, it is interesting to realize that many think along the same lines when it comes to issues pertaining to modesty:

Ever since Adam blamed Eve for giving him the forbidden fruit, we all shift blame. Can you heal yourself? You’re held captive by your own storyline that says you had no choice but to respond the way you did. You tell yourself the only reason you reacted that way is because of the other person’s wrong. Therefore, your response is their fault. The deceptive part of this thinking is that there is a smidgen of truth in it. Imagine what a wonderful person you could be if your husband, children, mother, friend, or neighbor did exactly what you wanted them to do when you wanted them to do it, all the time. Imagine how kind you would be if people never upset you, never disappointed you, or never hurt your feelings. Imagine how loving you would be if life went exactly the way you wanted it to. The problem with this thinking is that it’s pure fantasy. People do provoke us. They let us down. We get disappointed and frustrated. Others don’t always love us and we’d like them to or do exactly what we want. Our wrong and hurtful reactions to life’s frustrations and disappointments are understandable, but they usually make things worse (40-41).


Posted by on November 15, 2018 in Uncategorized


Purity and Politics: a Short Reflection

“…we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. ….everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

–I John 3:3



As you get ready for tomorrow, remember….

1. First, the world’s quest for purification

Politics is on our minds these days, isn’t it?

Down in Texas, one candidate says “Y’all means y’all” while in California another chooses a more direct approach: “we stand united against hate”.

In either case, the message mirrors biblical themes of purity: those who understand what is good, what is righteous, will “resonate” with these themes… they will unite with us…*

Others, of course, take some real offense here and counter with their own slogans, seeking a majority…

Remember: life is not ultimately about such things.

It is not about the particular earthly princes of the day – those we think might help us, help Christians, help America, help the poor, the outsider, etc.

These questions are not unimportant,

But they are not ultimate either…

Our Hope, after all, is not in earthly princes, horses, chariots.

Our Prince of Peace and His direction are that which ultimately matters.

And He comes to you, even now, with real tidings of peace, not condemnation.

…inviting you to renew your mind,

…see things with new eyes,

…to walk in faith.

At home, at church, at your work, in your neighborhood, in your nation… etc. ..

2. How are we made pure?

What does it mean to be pure anyways?

Have you heard the phrase “pure as the driven snow”? Driven snow is snow that has been blown by the wind, into drifts and such.

The kid in me concludes that it’s the kind of snow you can eat.

In any case the expression isn’t used as much these days, but it is used to speak, sometimes disparagingly, about things like moral purity, chastity, and virginity. (also rarer terms these days).

And of course in our everyday language, pure means something that is uncontaminated.

There is no defilement or spoliation. And to purify something means to bring it to this state.

And if a person has been purified, is pure, this evokes the idea of not only outer, but inner cleanliness… to the very center of one’s being. Through and through.

How, then, does the Bible say this takes place? It says that true purity, purity that lasts and is never faked, is rooted in God.

Only God, after all, is truly good, truly pure.

So, when it comes to us poor sinners, being pure, in the most simple sense, means to believe and hope in God, as opposed to the world, false in its love, which rages against Him.

In I Peter chapter 1, the Apostle says you have purified yourselves. How?

By submitting to what you heard: you believe, Peter says, the words of testimony about Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.

And glorified!

And revealed in these last times for our sakes!

And it is because of this truth, Peter says, that you have true love for each other. Therefore, he says “love one another deeply, from the heart,”

This is what it means to be pure.

3. Living in That Purity

“Keep yourselves pure…” (I Tim. 5:22).

The question of living in God’s purity has to do with what God’s purity and holiness is.

It is this:

He, and He alone, is the Love which burns through Evil en route to rescuing those lost in the darkness.

In Christ’s work, we see the charred remains of sin, death, and the devil.

He did this for us.

And so when it comes to us… the implication is that we have – and create – spaces and places where this message can be heard, believed and lived.

The mission we have is never about God’s people being intrinsically superior than others…


Rather, this is about True sight, True seeing… I was blind but now — because of Him — I see!

Being blessed to know not only where the bread is which we share – the Forgiveness of sins which heals and nourishes… but also knowing where True Life is in Fullness.

What is that?

There is a King we know who is simple (yes America, there is!) One we long for.

Who loves His people, who is loyal… but who does not let sin go unpunished….

Who will not allow us to live in our lies, our lusts, our pride, our selfishness… “Tough love,” some still call it today.

He is ready to refine us again, and He will stop at nothing to make us more His…

So don’t say, for example, “am I my brother’s keeper?” They are all your brothers!…

You are to love your brethren in Christ first of all,

…and in this world you must look to provide for family first,

…but all are your brothers…

The Christian life never has as its goal alienation and cutting one’s self off, but we call people–even our enemies (yes, use some discretion!) — into our spaces, into our places, to participate with us “in the life that is truly life”.

Though He has hard words, demanding words, damning words, Jesus’ default orientation is not to condemn, but save – from the horror of sin, the destruction of death, and the lies and wiles of the devil.

…and His heart is now ours.

This is the life to which he has called us….with these truths we must practically wrestlle in the church… and beyond…

What does the Lord require of me now? What does love mean now, in this or that circumstance? Why can’t more of us see eye to eye?

Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely! Anyone who is thirsty…

With Him, we’re ready.

We’re pure.

We were washed and we ARE baptized, belonging to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Come Lord Jesus.

We desperately need you.




* Alan Jacobs speaks, intriguingly, of the “the reality of life within the mythical core, with all its experiences of defilement and desecration…” (read more here).

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Posted by on November 5, 2018 in Uncategorized


Can an Atheist Love Anyone? Is Anyone Who Loves a Good Person?

Seriously Sirius?: “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”


This was a question from a student:

The Bible says that God is love. Does that mean that anyone who loves is a good person? Can an atheist love anyone?”

And is this doable?


I will get to an answer below. First, however, we must focus on some preliminaries, on “the spirit of the age”.

In one sense, there is much truth in what this man says… :

There is no doubt that an element of the truly righteous life, or good life, is that it is characterized by real love and compassion which does not think about rewards, comes spontaneously comes from the heart, and shares the love of God with all people (see, e.g., Deut. 11).

That said, here is the answer you will be hearing from some who carry Martin Luther’s name–and from some quarters of the American evangelical churches–more and more:

The truly righteous life, or good life, is always about compassion (acts perceived as compassionate!) which never thinks about rewards, always comes spontaneously from the heart, and never fails to indiscriminately share the love of God with other full human beings in equal measure.

See what I did there?


And, importantly, you will also hear (no doubt!) the following:

We are all broken people, with good and evil inside of us, and what really matters is that you do your best to live a righteous life.

If you at least struggle in your soul to overcome this evil in yourself…. If you really just want to live the kind of honest and righteous life Nadia Bolz-Weber speaks of, you are on the way, on the side of the angels…

After all, you might hear “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God…”


And Biblically speaking, this message–while certainly having the capacity to appeal to many persons from all tongues, tribes, and political preferences–is massively messed up. It confuses what we might call “civil righteousness” with the righteousness that avails before God, and it even, leaving no room for passages like I Tim. 5:8, Gal. 6:10, Eph. 5:22, and I Cor. 6:9-10 for example, throws real civil righteousness under the bus.

And–importantly!–note that as Pastor Todd Wilken puts it, here “the Simul,” which is how some Lutherans have come to describe Paul’s description of a Christian continuing to struggle with sin (see Romans 7), now “applies to everyone, believers and unbelievers alike. It is truly a different gospel.”

When it comes to what Bolz-Weber is striving to achieve though, we must acknowledge the utter brilliance of what she is doing here.

First of all, she is correct in pointing out that the early church fathers do not always seem to see the pleasure of sex as a gift from God, which it clearly is (see the Song of Solomon and many of the Proverbs).

Second, even before the most recent issues regarding the Roman Catholic churches scandals, many have been rightly calling into question Rome’s insistence on mandatory celibacy for priests–and with this, of course, the necessary rejection of Paul’s apostolic advice in I Cor. 7:1-7 (see this post for the best analysis I have seen on this issue).

The symbolism rejected, the substance? Not so much.


Third–and most unexpectedly–because even among some of the most theologically conservative Christians most of them believe that in Romans 7 the Apostle Paul is speaking about his life before becoming a Christian… Even the the Reformed camp (i.e. derving from Calvin, Zwingli and co.), seemingly sharing the “Protestant Reformation” with the Lutherans, are very much divided on this text.

All this said, what Bolz-Weber is saying is truly is a different Gospel, and sadly, as Pastor Wilken has seen more clearly than most, there are many on this train fixated on “the Simul,” even if they do not intend to undermine biblical truth.

And note “1517. and Christ Hold Fast are the same thing” — Dan Emery Price, Christ Hold Fast founder.


How different are today’s “conservative” Lutherans–who sometimes, for example, carelessly double down on things on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation–from the Great Reformer himself! (just see the introduction to my paper recently published in Concordia Theological Quarterly here).

As the Reformation progressed, Luther–to say the very least!–grew more and more cautious when it came to downplaying the role of God’s law, confirmed in the Scriptures, in the life of the believer.

Note Carl Trueman’s words on the White Horse Inn blog:

In the early years of the Reformation, Martin Luther was so carried away by his recovery of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith that he believed that little positive moral teaching was necessary in the church: believers would simply spontaneously respond to God’s grace by performing works of love. Luther assumed that Christians would know what such works were, but by the late 1520s, it was clear to him that this was not the case—the church required careful and precise moral guidance; the rhetoric of ‘just do works of love’ was a dictum into which Christians could pour any content and none, as the fancy took them. (This was the primary concern which lay behind his composition of his Small and Large Catechisms.)

While I think it is largely inaccurate to say that the “earlier Luther” thought believers would just spontaneously respond to God’s grace by performing works of love,” (just see 1520-1528 here and “tolle lege”) this quote is significant for what it is correct about: we “require[] careful and precise moral guidance”.

What can be done about the great problems we face today? Even relatively good secular men like Jordan Peterson have absolutely nothing to offer vs. Bolz-Weber’s teaching, but can only go along with it while urging caution and mild pushback, at the most saying something like this:

“In the long term, more extreme forms of what she proposes, in all likelihood, won’t work…”

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” — Jeremiah 17:9


Why is this all that can be said? Because the “knowledge” among even “conservative” elites of influence is no longer something like “justified true belief,” but rather “conceivable, useful trust”: a lethal cocktail usually consisting of thoughts cobbled together from modern men like Charles Darwin, Georg Hegel, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and William James.

Not Jesus Christ!

Thomas Lemke: “Be careful how you speak…”


What to do?

What should we say to a man, for example, who feels his relationships are healthy and strong and who is sure he trusts in Jesus Christ, but does not seem to call “sin” what Scripture calls sin?

“Being a human is a paradox. There is no purity to be had here…”


What if he is content “killing his old Adam”–keeping his flesh down–only by engaging in the good deeds he is “passionate” about and is convinced are helpful to his neighbor (perhaps to him, the ethics of Aristotle, Kant, or even Nadia Bolz-Weber, for example, are more or less synonymous with “God’s Law,” or, scratch that, “God’s [evolving] will”)?

What do we do if such a person insists that they have no need of warning or correction?

What do we do when, for example, even seemingly devout Lutheran Christians who are clearly brilliant are also clearly laying the groundwork for the erosion of God’s law among the faithful in the name of love? Or can’t see what is directly in front of their faces? What do we say to persons who insist on using pious-sounding phrases like

  • “God’s law is not a window through which we inspect other people’s sins, but a mirror to reveal our own,” or
  • “You may use your conscience to guide your behavior. You may not use your conscience to guide my behavior,” (more here) or
  • For Luther, the Old and New Adam, or Eve, are clearly bound in a life and death struggle within each person.

Or, maybe they even insist that, while they believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures, there is much that the Apostles got wrong….

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” — Hebrews 4:12 (also see Isaiah 30:8)


With all this on the table for our consideration, we are now ready–finally!–to give a biblical answer to the student’s question:

First, we should be very careful about how we address this question. What should we say about the two non-Christians who fall in love? Or even the worldly caddy who really does care, at some level, about the golfer he makes big money from?

When I John says that the one who does not love does not know God, it does not mean that the one who shows love in just any way knows God the way one needs to know God….

After all, do we not all live and move and have our being in God? When the popular writer Frederick Buechner blogs “To love God is to be saved. To love anybody is a significant step along the way…” what should be our response? Does Paul not say God fills the hearts of even pagans with joy (Acts 14)? So, if this is the case, what could be wrong, or incomplete, about such love?

God’s child, Richard Dawkins (Acts 17:29), expressing true joy from the Lord (Acts 14:15).


Here, we are in part talking about a “first article” [of the Apostle’s Creed, which deals with God as Creator] kind of love – i.e. love that is a residue or continual fallout from creation itself, by the Creator who is love.

This kind of love for neighbor, although something you certainly would like to have in a neighbor (as opposed to the alternatives!), is severely deficient because:

  • a) It is not bolstered and informed by an underlying love for the Triune God, and hence its ultimate hope and expression is not the salvation of the whole world – i.e. people’s rescue from sin, death, and the devil and growth in eternal life, that is, knowing God through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 17:3), and
  • b) A lack of godly purity or holiness in fulfilling this love – which of course is supposed to flow through us unhindered from God and for our neighbor, devoid of any false motive or desire

“The law is spiritual.” — Romans 7:14


The believer in Christ, on the other hand, lacks the love they should have in the sense of b) above (not a). But–critically!–they also know God as He reveals Himself to us in Christ, that is, as the friend of sinners who do not love as they ought.

We need to talk in a certain way about these things. The best way is the way of the first Lutheran Reformers, who contra what many say today, never rejected the best of classical philosophy:

“…our relationship with God is based upon the essential righteousness of Christ, sacrificed for us. Within that relationship, God would make us, by His Holy Spirit, also essentially righteous [where we reflect the love of Christ (God)]. This work He begins in our baptisms and brings to a completion in the resurrection.” — my pastor

Again–it mattes not whether someone like Pastor Cooper nails the exact specifics here–this love of God, this “essential righteousness” in line with God’s Ten Commandments, is very different than the world’s “love”.

To take just one jarring example, as I noted in a previous post, “Nancy Pearcy, in her fantastic recent book Love Thy Body, has many important tidbits to share–tidbits that show Christianity as a constant that moves the world, not vice versa…:

  • “We should never defend Christianity by saying it is traditional. From the beginning, it has stood against the traditions of its day” (70).
  • “Beginning in the fifth century, Christian leaders finally began to wield enough political influence to pass laws against sexual slavery…The most reliable index of how deeply Christianity had permeated a society was whether it outlawed sexual slavery” (72).
  • “[In ancient Greece and Rome] brothels specializing in sex slaves, including children, were a legal and thriving businesses… Jesus shocked his contemporaries by treating children not as contemptible but as valuable…” (104-105).
  • “Scripture offers a stunningly high view of physical union as a union of whole persons across all dimensions” (138).
  • “The communion of male and female is meant to mirror the communion of divine persons within the Trinity” (139).

Um, no: “[Christ’s] gift is an F-You to the Law that would forbid your entry into paradise.”

  • “Some of the early martyrs were slaves who proclaimed their freedom in Christ by refusing to [sexually] service their masters – and were executed for it” (143).
  • “Christianity, we might say, invented consensual sex when it developed a sex ethic that assumed that God empowers individuals with freedom” (143).
  • “When we make sexual decisions, we are not just deciding whether to follow a few rules. We are expressing our view of the cosmos and human nature” (156).”

Um, no: “Do you renounce the lie that Queerness is anything other than beauty?” And the youths dutifully chanted back: “I renounce them.” (from here).


I went on to build on what Pearcey had to say:

“We are expressing our view of the cosmos and human nature” not only as regards sexual decisions but about politics as well. After all, most political action — that is the governance of human beings in the world — happens organically with marriage, i.e. at the level of the family the one flesh union creates. It should therefore be no mystery why marriage is the ultimate icon of Christ and His Bride, who is the Church — the mother of the children of God who guides them to their Shepherd-King.

Renew true love in your Church O Lord! Do not let our love grow cold!

“Christians love. So do those people. But a Christian would not want them to perish.” — Martin Luther


And when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?

Have mercy Lord.

Be gracious Lord…




Posted by on November 2, 2018 in Uncategorized