Monthly Archives: January 2019

Pearcey and Sigillito are Wrong: Toxic Masculinity Does Not Exist


Now that the storm has passed and it is safe, Nancy Pearcey and Serena Sigillito want us to know that the widely maligned Gillette ad wasn’t so bad. It can be redeemed.

In the American Thinker, Pearcey recently pays what I think she means to be a compliment to Christian men: “men who are theologically conservative fit the progressive ideal.”

Hmmm. The progressive ideal?


I don’t take that as a compliment, but rather an indication that something disturbing is amidst.

Christian men bow to no “progressive” agenda.

In like fashion, Serena Sigillito, the editor of the insightful and very worthwhile site Public Discourse, said the following.

It’s true that some who use the term seem to imply that most men, historically speaking, have been sexist pigs enabled by patriarchal systems of oppression. The website accompanying Gillette’s new ad describes men today as being “at a crossroads, caught between the past and a new era of masculinity.” But, of course, there’s really more to the story, as appealing as that simple narrative of social progress and enlightenment may be… (bold mine)

In truth, Sigillito does have many excellent things to say. The problem, however, is that for many there is not “more to the story”.

For them, things like patriarchy and toxic masculinity are synonyms.

Behold your oppressor… father.


In other words, toxic masculinity simply means that one operates as if one’s sex is the head–or even just thinks that it is without even putting the idea into practice due to fear of social reprobation.

Because they submit, even if inadvertently, to the use of the phrase “toxic masculinity,” this leads both Pearcey and Sigillitio to make other offensive and condescending statements:


…But the #MeToo movement has revealed that many men are behaving worse – coarser, more sexually entitled – than in the past. Why is that?

One expects more of Pearcrey, the author of The Soul of Science. As a friend put it:

“Lies, damned lies (and statistics). Turning to #MeToo claimants to make the case that men are now behaving worse than in the past is the same as turning to car crash victims to make the case that drunk driving has become an epidemic. It’s a built-in sample bias which proves nothing more than that bad experiences with men are common in the subset of the population which claims a bad experience with men. Rigorously academic, it is not.”

“Men who are theologically conservative fit the progressive ideal.”


Let us, however, assume this is true. Surely their sexual behavior doesn’t change in a vacuum. Has anything happened to the behavior of the other sex during this time? Perhaps women’s sense of entitlement has also shifted? Are we allowed to broach those subjects?

America’s secular elites typically portray conservative churches as bastions of patriarchy – seedbeds of toxic masculinity.

Is patriarchy toxic? And would it be wrong or bad for churches to be bastions of patriarchy?

…it’s time to reassert the positive role that religion plays in overcoming toxic masculinity. It civilizes men.

I note: men, not man.

“Power (and the status that goes with it) is nothing if not the ability to secure yourself, your possessions, and your posterity. Fine by itself, but it comes with many abuses.” — Thomas Lemke, with some man-talk.



Imagining themselves to be men’s champions, [some conservatives] are actually defending behavior, like sexual harassment and bullying, that a generation or two ago conservatives were the ones condemning.

Who, specifically, is defending these behaviors? In what manner? Name names please, so we can examine what they say together.

It’s also helped along by the psychological rewards of sharing our knee-jerk emotional reactions on social media, where our public displays of “virtue” can be immediately affirmed by our friends and followers.

Understatement of the year?: “…some who use the term seem to imply that most men, historically speaking, have been sexist pigs enabled by patriarchal systems of oppression…” — Serena Sigillito


No. There is virtue signaling, and there is saying “Amen!” when it needs to be said.

Too many young men have been taught (implicitly or explicitly, by the behavior of their fathers and peers or by more insidious influences, like pornography) a twisted, harmful version of masculinity.

But so many men are raised in daycare centers run by women, schools run by women, and households where mom either chose an unreliable father or kicked a reliable father to the curb. When women wield such great social power, perhaps a corresponding responsibility should be considered as well.

In a perhaps very related point, have you ever noticed how the same people concerned about “toxic masculinity” and men being overly aggressive and bold also openly lament how men are soft, weak, unambitious, failure to launch, etc.?

Whenever I read pieces like this, I am amazed at how easy it is for our culture to see the sins of men but how hard it is to see the sins of women. We need a much more well-rounded picture of the panolpy of human sin. We need more persons to write things like Peter Scaer does here:

We have got to get over the idea that women are a minority (they’re not), or that they’re always the victims. Whatever sin we can find on the male side, we can find one with the women. Indeed, we may very well sin in our own unique ways, thus testifying to the truth of the male-female binary. So, we can look at the divorce epidemic, and see that women are leading the way, walking out on husbands in droves. For good reason? Well, there’s always another side of the story, but then that’s the point. Men have strengths, but there are too many eunuchs. Women have strengths, but so often groups like the Women’s March denigrate their greatest strength and honor, namely motherhood.

All of this is to say, whenever we pit men against women, or women against men, everyone loses. We’re all in this together. And to deny the particular strength of men will mean that that very strength will be turned to ill, as we see in disintegrating and dangerous neighborhoods. A friend recently wrote that if you get rid of the patriarchy you replace it with a bad patriarchy. But not quite. If you get rid of the patriarchy, you end up with andrarchy, or at least the rule of an elite. A stable home, which requires men and women together, is the best bulwark against totalitarianism. Apart from male headship, we are not free, but instead are at the mercy of a government that cares not at all for our well being.[i]

If Ephesians 5:21-30 is the most despised passage of the Bible, as Matthew Cochran has suggested, then passages like Titus 2:5 cannot be far behind.

After all, when Scot McKnight writes that women should work slowly and relentlessly to “inform[] the church of what the New Testament teaches and what God is raising women up to do” (Kingdom Conspiracy, 122), that is not what he has in mind!

Besides Dr. Scaer, Rebecca Curtis, co-author of the book Ladylike, is another voice who speaks the forbidden words about women’s sin (and also listen to her talk about how to respond to those who speak against large families here).

A theological tour de force by two of the LC-MS’s most astute theologians.


I am not going to say that I don’t think Pearcey and Sigillito’s articles do not have good things to say, and are not worth seriously thinking about. Again, that is not true at all, as both articles contain many valuable pieces of information one will not typically find in mainstream media or our universities.

At the same time, however, I am going to insist that we do not let the Left control and drive the core conversation. While “toxic masculinity” could be a useful term if defined rightly, the point is that it is not going to be defined rightly by those most eager to place it on all of our lips.

What is abuse? See Matthew Cochran’s incisive post here.


It’s not “the other side” in quotes, as Sigillito puts it. There really is another side. And their ideas must be defeated in intellectual battle, not compromised with. 

And by the way, that “other side” is mixed in among us, undermining us from within.

It’s quite toxic, really.

“I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God…” — the Lord’s Apostle, Paul


And let’s get real practical: if you do not want to give full-throated support to people like Elizabeth Warren and Tucker Carlson in the fight against the “two-income trap” – noting that virtually no woman wants to marry a man who makes less than she does – how are you, in any way, helping matters?




Pearcey: ; Stigillito:


[i] Scaer goes on to write:

“Now, this is all falling apart, as it must when natural law is not observed. Is being a woman just about wearing a dress and putting on lipstick? Of course not, until Bruce Jenner did it. Remember all the Vagina Monologues? Ah, feminism! But now banned, because, as we know, some women have male members. Remember those cute pussy hats? Oh, so avant garde. Well now they’re passe, even verboten, since again, not all women have them. Hail to our revolutionary leaders! No, maybe Father doesn’t always know best, but maybe we ought to start giving him his due.”


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Posted by on January 29, 2019 in Uncategorized


Is Today’s Christianity Increasingly Filtered Through Marxist Categories?

Communism and Chrisitanity together?


Have you seen the video below or heard about it? Is it an overreaction? Grossly unfair? Or, maybe, just maybe, is there something important to it? (O’Sullivan’s First Law?)


This post is nothing other than a reflection not on that video per se, but rather on the title of this post, primarily with the help of a couple acquaintances from a Facebook group.

It, I think, is very meaty but also very digestible (understandable). I hope you find my report of this debate helpful.

Let us begin with the following statement. What should Christians think of it?:

“Power (and the status that goes with it) is nothing if not the ability to secure yourself, your possessions, and your posterity. Fine by itself, but it comes with many abuses.”

This seems like it could be in some real tension with what fellow Patheos blogger Scott McKnight, concerned about the idolatry of “Constantinianism,” has said: “The kingdom story [of the Bible] counters the culture of politics as the solution to our problems… We are summoned… to challenge all idolatrous stories that seek to diminish the kingship of King Jesus” (Kingdom Conspiracy, 62,63).

To rule the world with the gospel would be like a shepherd putting wolves, lions, eagles and sheep all together in the same fold…. The sheep will indeed follow the way of peace, but not for long. — Martin Luther


As a Lutheran, I had always thought that Luther’s teaching of the “Two Kingdoms” told us that the “Kingdom of the Left,” that is civil government, really did provide a temporary yet not insignificant solution to some of the problems all human beings face on earth: the sword of justice.

So while you are wrestling with those thoughts in your Spirit-led mind, get a load of this punchy comment, made by Thomas Lemke in response to a tweet I had made:

I responded to this by saying “If this is the case, it appears that the Left as a whole is simply becoming more Marxist. And, as best I can tell, conservatism in American is still moving further left,” prompting a series of tweets from Thomas I took to be exceptionally thought-provoking. You can read them in his very short and accessible blog post titled “How Adopting Marxist Categories Leads to the Devil Made Me Do it Theology”.

And communists are “closet Christians”. — Pope Francis


Thomas’ main point is right there in the title of his article, but here are a few of his other points leading up to it:

  • Where all moral questions boil down to [an axis of] Power <–> oppression then it becomes tantamount to blasphemy to speak of God in terms of his power (as it puts him dangerously close to the “immoral” side of the continuum).
  • With a Marxist paradigm, “sinner=oppressed=’morally good’”. “His enemies can’t be his footstool — that would be oppression!”
  • With the real victimizer being sin and not the one who sins, Jesus is identified with the oppressed to the exclusion of His veiled power: “’Glory’ is something a conqueror has. But only one who is oppressed bears a cross.”
  • Jesus’ death was not to atone for unrighteousness, writ large, but only to show that God is on the side of Moral Good, in that he is oppressed too”

“Christ shares in our misery, but does not take our place under God’s wrath… Christ shares in our sin, not by imputation but by becoming one with us.” – David Scaer, on the Radical Lutheran heresy, p. 12


Being a serious Lutheran, I naturally thought of a particular group in our midst who call themselves “Radical Lutherans”[i] (my last post took on their biggest straw man) and posted Thomas’ short piece on a small Facebook group of thoughtful Lutheran acquaintances, asking if anyone had a good critique of the article. One of those participants, a man we’ll call Georgios Siopilos, shared what I thought were some very wise words in response. You can read all of them in the post that I named, as provocatively as I could, “Radical Lutheranism is Bad, but its Not Necessarily Communism”.

Related: “Postmodern, deconstructionism are the waters in which we swim in this day and time.” — “Radiolayman” Matthew Garnett, in his article “Deconstructing Law and Gospel: How Postmodern Deconstructionism has Taken the Central Doctrine of Lutheranism Unawares” (and this continues…).


In sum, Georgios is quite familiar with the effects of communist ideology, and so calling himself “an unhelpful purist,” wanted to make sure Thomas knew what real communist philosophy was/is: “Strictly speaking, capitalists, in Marxism, are not evil, or even oppressive, they too are ‘victims’ of the system, which itself is a necessary step to the next economic step in human civilization.”[ii]

Capitalism: necessary for destroying the traditional family, but overall, to be transcended. — Marx


Georgios then says that he thinks what Thomas is actually doing is “getting at the Adorno/Marcuse reworking of Marxism into, effectively, a political theology of power” (if you are getting lost at this point, Georgios is talking here about what some have called “cultural Marxism”. I came across a very helpful article about this topic a week ago called “Cultural Marxism is Real” here).

“Feminism, gender studies, critical race theory, post-colonialism, disability studies [are] guided by Marxism or adopt Marxist terms and concepts…” – Allen Mendenhall


“The Bible, as all of humanity before the US,” he says “has assumed that to possess power is good if good people possess it.” Americans, though, are taken in by this “Neo-Marxism” because “suspicion of power and hatred of those who concentrate it is deep in the American character.”[iii]

Thomas’ response to this post, another one of his own, was appreciative but at the same time basically came down to K.I.S.S. (“keep it simple stupid”): “I’m merely noting that certain (“Marxist”) presuppositions lead in certain directions; just as starting with a sugar base means you’re cooking something that will rot your teeth out”. In other words, most people don’t care about these subtle distinctions over things that have similar practical implications for real life, so there is no need for this kind of level of technical detail. Nor is this a bad thing: loss of precision, after all, also happens when the academic disciplines try to understand each other as well. Not only this, but such “[p]recision comes at the cost of time and attention; the latter two are in short supply, so sometimes ‘close enough’ has to be good enough.”

“Precision comes at the cost of time and attention; the latter two are in short supply, so sometimes ‘close enough’ has to be good enough” — Thomas Lemke


Some of the memorable zingers in his response are that “Before Marx, Radical Egalitarianism was an ideology. Since Marx, it’s become a religion,”[iv] “of course I’m not saying that the ‘Radical Lutherans’ all hide hammer-and-sickle necklaces under their collars,” and, the title of his blog post: “Ideas are Like GMO Corn”. What does that mean? Ideas are no more containable than genetically modified DNA is… they will spread, be adapted, interbreed, etc:[v]

So, sure, in the abstract world of ivory-tower thought, Marxism has nothing to do with power-oppression as an axis of morality. But as it seeped into the public it necessarily changed to adapt to the public’s categories, which caused the way it is articulated (and even subconsciously understood) to shift. Look at the Marxists of our day, such as Bernie Sanders and AOC, who are unmistakable moralists when it comes to the power-oppression axis.[vi]

“I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.” — AOC


Georgios’s response to this was fascinating, and immediately won Thomas’ heartfelt approval. Noting his relative poverty, he said that his tower is not ivory but made of fibreboard painted “eggshell”. Noting his own purposes in writing, he stated that his definition of “technical Marxism” was indeed pointless to Thomas’ purposes, but not his own! His own powerful point is worth repeating:

[I]t was Marxism, the actual technical thing, that caused nearly everyone not born in the Western hemisphere to have at least one relative either put to death or consigned to life in the gulag or re-education camps, and not the modern American metaphor on Marxism, which really is nothing but envy given the title of Marxism to create the illusion that a vice has become a philosophy.[vii]

Are the ideas of “post-modernism” and “Marxism” really a lot closer to home for all of us than we might imagine?

Georgios aims at our hearts and strikes:

There are indeed actual Marxists, as there are actual post-modernists, and I dislike them both intensely. But if the question is ‘what is the average American that expresses the ideas that we associate with post modernism and Marxism actually thinking?’ The answer is, in my opinion, surprisingly non-radical (this is, of course, excluding college students, and other uneducated people). Why are you post-modernist? ‘Well its not good to judge people.’ Why are you Marxist? ‘Its not fair that a bunch of powerful jackasses should have all this power and money when I work hard and have barely enough to pay rent.’

I hate to say it, but both of those ‘values’ are things you can find in Capra’s ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ and the Andy Griffith Show. They are American values: minding your own business, and despising the haughty. They are values I approve of. But, like all values, they can be exploited (bold mine).

Andy Griffith… American Marxist?


With that, he lays down the final boom. Our nation, he says, has indeed changed:

I would just say that the problem is not that people have converted to some distant and wicked ideology, but rather that, apart from any conversion, a distant and wicked ideology has found a way to twist normal, decent, American and Christian convictions in such a way that in the end they look almost nothing like how they did in the beginning.

“Communism is not simply another form of government. It is very much like the cosa nostra, the society of gangsters.” — Kurt Marquart


Is this true? If so, what does this mean for theology? Our teaching of God’s law and his gospel?

I will let Georgios, channeling C.S. Lewis’ description of Aslan, give us the final word.

Not safe.


God is powerful. God is also not safe. He makes rivers of blood and breaks nations with the rod of his mouth. The Hebrew word of a god, ‘el’ literally just means ‘a power’, hence why older translators rendered the term ‘elohim’ as ‘the Almighty’, that is, he who has all mights, all powers.

If power is to be condemned, it is difficult to understand why our hymns demand we ascribe to the Lord ‘All glory, honor and dominion’, and why nearly every Christmas carol declares the greatness of the coming of ‘the king’, and why God ‘holds the nations in derision’.

Rightly does it say we should ‘rejoice with trembling’, for God is terrifying. Only when one understands the terror of God can one understand the pathos of the phrase ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’, and why children and adults both sing ‘I love thee Lord Jesus, look down from the sky.’ It is the very reality of the dread power of God taking the form of the dear mercy of Christ that makes fear and love unite, and causes ‘justice and mercy to kiss one another.’

If one denies either the power of God, or the love of God, one has denied the God we worship.

“It is the very reality of the dread power of God taking the form of the dear mercy of Christ that makes fear and love unite, and causes ‘justice and mercy to kiss one another.” – Georgios Siopilos.




Mendenall pic: ; Andy Griffith: ; Aslan:


[i] In sum like “Radical Lutheranism,” overlaps a bit theologically with the hyper/radical grace movement among evangelical Christians, which, as best as I can tell, was more prominent in online discussions and elsewhere a few years ago.

[ii] Note: this was also very briefly touched on in the latest post at my blog: “The Hi-Jacking of Tucker Carlson’s Concerns: Is There a “Gynocentric” Agenda?”: “If the father of a mother’s children does not look to provide for, treasure, and protect for his own, they must look to man. And yes, I literally mean man. Men. Usually “the man” though, meaning those with political power… Basically everyone knows this, but all either suppress it or don’t talk about it, or talk around it endlessly. Marx certainly understood this. He saw capitalism destroying all the traditional bonds of society, particularly the natural family. There were definitely things about captialism that upset him, but this, to be sure, wasn’t one of them.”

[iii] I’d note that many Marxists also, while suspicious of power, also believe that it is good when good people possess it. We should note here that most all Marxists believe that human nature is intrinsically good, and not sinful.

[iv] Cue Adam Proctor and other socialists ; note this fascinating, God-haunted conversation by these young and restless red souls.

[v] More:

“Philosophers like to pretend that their ideas can be held and perpetually maintained in a just-so way, but this is no more true than genetically modified DNA can, once sown in a field of crops, be contained in its own little plot. It will spread, and it will be adapted in an endless chain of interbreeding.”

[vi] He goes on: “You can ascribe another name to it (such as “the Adorno/Marcuse reworking of Marxism”), and that may be a useful distinction in an academic sense. But at some point these names get out of hand and, for our purposes in the public, it’s a distinction without a difference….”

[vii] More complete quote: “When Mussolini gave speeches pitching Fascism, he didn’t just say ‘We’ll be racist, and then I’ll be authoritarian.’ It was a system thought out to the specifics, and ultimately, it is that system, with all its specifics, and not our cartoon metaphor of it, that plunged the earth into the most violent war in history. Similarly, it was Marxism, the actual technical thing, that caused nearly everyone not born in the Western hemisphere to have at least one relative either put to death or consigned to life in the gulag or re-education camps, and not the modern American metaphor on Marxism, which really is nothing but envy given the title of Marxism to create the illusion that a vice has become a philosophy.”

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Posted by on January 24, 2019 in Uncategorized


The Biggest Radical Lutheran Straw Man of Them All

Straw men are much easier to deal with…


There is probably no heresy as dangerous in the church today as that of Radical Lutheranism.

The reason is that Radical Lutheranism, like no other heresy, seems to get so very close to the heart of the Gospel message of Jesus’ free forgiveness, life and salvation for sinners.

It is, however, all a lie.

A horrible, insidious lie which has captured even many a good theologian (very painful detail — start with part 1).

OK, 1517., but that means we die (more of this, please!): “Forde argues that theology which concerns itself with propositions, or with things as they are in their essence, is a theology of glory, or a theology ‘about the cross,’ rather than a theology of the cross…” — Jordan Cooper, Lex Aeterna, 92

And sadly, whether they realize it or not, these theologians excel in creating straw men[i] en route to advancing their own theology vis a vis traditional orthodox Lutheranism/Christianity.

What are some examples of Radical Lutheran straw men of orthodox Christian teaching?:

  • All those Christians who oppose (or even just question) Radical Lutheranism do not believe that the law always accuses the Christian at some level.
  • Any attempt to find a positive role for the law in the lives of Christians inevitably leads to self-justification (because they claim the nature of original sin is self-justification by the law).
  • Any person who believes that the law of God can be used to guide the Christian qua Christian (“third use of the law”) takes the position of Erasmus (vs. Luther, as in the Bondage of the Will).
  • Everyone who thinks you can preach the third use of the law does not realize that the Holy Spirit applies the law as He wills. (but for some reason you can preach the second use of the law).
  • Any theologian who holds to the “Western tradition” based on creation, fall, and redemption also takes the position of Erasmus!
  • Everyone who believes “sin [is] anything said, done, or thought against the Law of God” is a medieval Roman Catholic of the worst kind.
  • Every theologian post-Apostle Paul and prior to Luther did not really believe that God wanted man to live from the favor of God but rather by the law of God.
  • All other Reformers after Luther (Melancthon, Chemnitz, Gerhard) did not “get” Luther’s theology and betrayed it.
  • Again, “theology which concerns itself with propositions, or with things as they are in their essence, is a theology of glory, or a theology ‘about the cross,’ rather than a theology of the cross…” (see above picture)

One might think that no one even relatively involved in the practice of academic theology could get away with this many straw men, but, evidently, it is possible (and won’t even keep you from being endorsed by respected church historians). The following tweet helps to identify the issue at the root of the problem which needs to be rooted out:

What, however, causes one to narrow the content of preaching in this way? Let’s look at the biggest Radical Lutheran straw man of them all: outside of people like the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther, the church has taught that the law forces God to send His Son to die.

And in its most crass form, found in Steven D. Paulson’s book (misleadingly titled Lutheran Theology), this culminates with Jesus Christ Himself being implicated in actual and original sin:

“[On the cross] Christ comes to believe he was guilty…. Confessing made it so, and thus Christ committed his own, personal sin—not only an actual sin, but the original sin… not only did he confess our sins as his own (and believed it), but he proceeded to take on every single sin ever committed in the world: “I have committed the sins of the world” (“Ego commisi peccata mundi”).” (Paulson, Lutheran Theology, 105).

Where one finds this “Stockholm Syndrome Theory” of Atonement.

Evidently, we are to believe that this is at the heart of the atonement and is God’s will!

Let’s look at something presumably less rhetorical (Is that what that was? Does anyone really know?) and more careful: an article on the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ from the recent Dictionary of Luther and the Lutheran Traditions, from the same Steve Paulson along with Nicholas Hopman:

The Father and Son did not conduct a legal transaction between themselves in which the Son gained a legal righteousness though accepting the results of the Father’s supposed need to pour out His wrath. Instead, the Father and Son, in mercy, worked together outside the law, stealing sinner’s most precious possessions, their sins. The law then reacted and legally condemned Christ for his sin (48-49, bold and italics mine).

This tracks with another thing Paulson says in his book above: “Paul’s point is exact: the law is no respecter of persons, it does not identify Christ among sinners as an exception to the rule. Law as ‘blind lady justice’ executes its judgment regardless of race, color, creed—or divinity.” (104). Later on in his article with Hopman, he says that “Christ makes a “payment for sin to the law” and “once Christ satisfies the law on the cross… the Father owes Christ his resurrection” (50, italics mine).[ii]

What an odd way of framing the orthodox doctrine of the vicarious satisfaction – and only in order to knock it down, of course, and claim the crown for itself!

And as is always the case in Radical Lutheranism, notice how the enigmatic and sneaky Law gets loose and does its own thing, even, supposedly, justly accusing Christ of sin. This is because, shockingly, in the radical Lutheran reckoning of things, the Law really has no connection with God’s character!

Professor Dr. Scaer, making the connections that matter since 1966: “Denial of the third use of the law does not in each case translate into a redefinition of God as one who no longer requires the death of the Jesus as atonement for sin. But it does allow it. And a denial of the eternal, unchanging nature of the moral law of God (FC SD II 50) demands it.” (italics and bold mine)

Nevertheless, on the one hand, one can see why Radical Lutheranism sounds so good.

It sounds great because it gets oh so much right! For instance:

“Christ pays for sins, suffers punishment, and makes satisfaction. However, this satisfaction is not the goal or driving force behind his dying. The primary force is the Father’s merciful will that Christ comes to take away the sins in order to prevent the sins from damning sinners. Therefore, Christ suffers and pays the price of sin, which is death (Rom. 6:23)” (49).

Amen! Sound it from the rooftops! Go tell it on the mountain!

And yet, the devil is not even usually in the details, but is simply in what is never said, never proclaimed…

Most certainly not true (compare with tweet above).

Still, as we can see from that first Paulson/Hopman quote above, there are some details that really do give things away. Note in particular the following two quotes which make clear the dislike for God’s eternal law.

When it comes to Christ’s work of atonement, the Father should be understood apart from such a law:

No lex aeterna (eternal law) or unstoppable desire to pour out wrath compelled the Father to sacrifice his Son to fulfill legal righteousness or wrath… (48, bold and italics mine).

“the law reveals sin, but not God’s heart…” — Paulson, xxxiii

And, not to be outdone, the Son of God’s work on the cross really has nothing to do with the eternal law either.

No law within God (lex aeterna) compelled Christ to do [His work on the cross]. His completely free will, bound only by his love for sinners and his love for his Father, obeyed His Father (48, italics mine).

What is missing here?

Wrong Werner. False structure. “Law denotes our entire reality as the realm ordered by God, but therefore also as a realm of coercion (CE, 81)” (quoted on 312, The Necessary Distinction, CPH, 2017).

First of all, let’s state the obvious: God the Father was not forced by Himself – or by some Law which regulated Him – to put Jesus to death. Nor was the Son so forced.

Again, what a strange way of putting things! This is not orthodox Christianity, but a tired caricature of the same. Orthodox Christianity does not teach that God was “subject to the law” (51), but that law and gospel exists precisely because of the character of God the Father and His Son. This character also explains the true significance of the cross in Romans 3: we see the reconciliation of justice (“so that he might be just”) and mercy (“and [be] the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”).

“…he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” — Rom. 3:26

This is in accordance with who God is and what God wants to do.

All done for our sake, as not only the Father, but the Son, were “compelled” only by love for the world (John 3:16).

To continue putting the nails in the coffin of Paulson’s and Hopman’s program (and may it have a quick and blessed end), we should address their peculiar droning on about “legal righteousness” (see the bold and italicized portions of the quotes above).

Nailing it: “Law is what God is eternally in himself and gospel is his gracious response to our disregard of who and what God is.” — David Scaer, p. 7

What happened at the cross, and beyond, was not that “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… work together outside the law in mercy” (51, italics mine). Understood most simply, legal righteousness, or righteousness according to the law, specifically in the Ten Commandments, proclaims an imperfect picture of what must be done, what is prescribed. Even better, given that it is from God, reflects God, and is for man, legal righteousness simply proclaims what real righteousness looks like. And it does us well to note here that legal righteousness involves both justice and compassion (see, e.g., Matthew 23:23).

“When it comes to law, good decisions are made ‘as though there were no books.’ Such a free decision is given, however, by love and natural law, with which all reason is filled… [A]ll laws that regulate men’s actions must be subject to justice [Billicheit], their mistress, because of the innumerable and varied circumstances which no one can anticipate or set down.” — Luther (LW 45:128 ; LW 46:103)


In other words, legal righteousness, in its essence, describes the man Jesus Christ, the one mediator between God and man (and what is truly ours through his work on our behalf).

Again, Paulson and Hopman will have none of this.[iii] Believe me (or Matthew Cochran) — this is going to affect what gets preached, taught.

For them, second generation Lutheran reformers (like Flacius and Chemnitz) preserved Luther’s teaching of the atonement even as they insist that they changed it as well (make up your mind!): “for [them], this obedience to the law is not only to suffer its punishment passively, as in Luther, but atonement also depends of Christ’s actual obedience to the law” (49).[iv] To say the least, this is assuming a lot about Luther – without any evidence or argument to support such assertions.

“Although it is true that Luther spoke of the atonement in a less systematic way than his successors, one cannot deny that Luther understood Jesus’ saving act in his fulfilling of the whole, eternal law….” — Andrew Preus, p. 96

Paulson and Hopman’s overriding desire to show pastoral compassion, in line with Martin Luther, can elicit sympathy. They write:

“Luther repeatedly returns to the claim that everything the Father and Son are doing in the atonement is for the sake of providing comfort to sinners, specifically in the present. [In Luther’s commentary on Galatians,] the aim of Luther’s commentary/preaching is faith (fiducia=trust) in the hearer” (50).

Again, amen! And Paulson is right to point out the Christian’s consistent need to hear the Gospel message throughout their life (Outlaw God, xxxvii-xxix). Amen and amen and amen! From this Gospel word alone we live!

There is no greater news!

At the same time, does not comfort for sinners also means that all evil, evils outside us and evils inside us, will be finally dealt with, as Luther well knew?

Evil must be relentlessly identified, excised, and slain.

No “teeth” for you?: [We have] an outlaw God who gives the law, but who is not the law.” — Paulson, xxxiv


All this must happen by the fiery justice on display at the cross, with God’s wrath either being quenched in the flesh and blood of the Christ, or on the Great Last Day, when vengeance for God’s people will involve the “banning” (see Hebrews 13:13) of all those following in Satan’s train, in accordance with their various degrees of guilt.

My Christian brethren enamored or even just friendly towards Radical Lutheranism, please listen to me: “Can you see what is going wrong here?” Listen to Luther:

“The law does not want you to despair of God…it wills that you despair of yourself, but expect good from God…” — Luther (ODE, 195)

…and abandon the notion that “If God has been satisfied, where is God’s mercy?” is the question.

Embrace our Fearsome and Good King.



[i] A “straw man” is when you improperly characterize the positions of those who oppose you in order to defeat them more easily.

[ii] They also state that God “owes salvation to the sinners who apply Christ’s fulfillment of the law to themselves through faith” (50).

[iii] Just like feminists are terrified of the prospect of an enduring male-female polarity, the consistent Radical Lutherans is terrified that the character of God does not change, and is accurately reflected in His law.

[iv] “Lutheran Orthodoxy failed to understand Luther’s teaching about Christ’s death and the relationship between law and gospel in this critical locus, greatly harming Lutheranism throughout the world and helping to deliver it into the legalistic arms of Pietism, antisacramental Protestantism, and modern secularism” (51).

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Posted by on January 9, 2019 in Uncategorized


Some Honest Questions about Steve Paulson’s Book “Luther’s Outlaw God”



The following is not for the fainthearted. Major theological and philosophical wrangling below.

First, a confession: even though I have been very critical of Dr. Paulson in much of my recent writing, I must say that I, like many, am quite easily taken by the man (see the talk here). And he is also a very interesting writer, to be sure, and I often find myself—against my better judgment, I think—wanting to agree with him (even as others see loads of “logical leaps” in what he says).

I certainly don’t feel any hostility for him. Sometimes, as I read him, my thoughts are like those of Thomas Lemke here:


Now perhaps that is a bit overly generous, but nevertheless, on to the meat of this post! I think that the most important chapter in Steve Paulson’s new book, “Luther’s Outlaw God,” is the final one, titled “God, Evil, and Suffering.” The quotes below are all from that chapter.

He writes, on pp. 237-238:

“Erasmus asks, Why did God permit Adam to fall in the first place? The answer, however, is not graspable by the law as he would prefer. Such a question is not really answered by Erasmus’s attempt to insert free will (for example, God was giving Adam a choice between good and evil, so that evil is the price of freedom) so the Christian humanist contents himself with saying that potential for good is also potential for evil. He determines that we humans must live with this potential to choose evil, and so also must God. God must put up with our limits and failings in order to maintain the great and beneficial system of the law, even though it makes God into a know-nothing and do-nothing” (italics mine)

And that kind of thinking is not all that unusual, either. I hear it all the time. Stuff like: “When God created man and woman, he created them in the likeness of God, without sin and with the freedom to choose… Unfortunately, with the power of choice came the ability to sin.”

Obviously, there is something a bit off about this. In our heavenly perfection, for example, will we be able to “choose sin”? May it never be! Does firmly answering “no” to this question mean that in heaven we will not act, love, in true freedom? Of course not!

Is the person who states this, after all, speaking about a real ability – or would sinning prove that a kind of disability had been brought forth instead? The latter for sure, as we are dealing not with anything like an “empowering” but rather a kind of disempowering! Again, we are not dealing with the exercise of something that was there (the good will God had given them) nor the “creation” of something that was not (their “own” will contrary to God’s)! If anything, this was a failure to exercise something that was there and/or the destruction of something that was! (their unenslaved will that hitherto gladly submitted to God’s). How is the will “free” and “empowered” if it departs from the very will of God?

That is nonsense, right?

So Paulson is right to identify and want to deal with this problem, even if I do question the way he frames it.

He goes on:

“Likewise, this argument goes, if someone were to say, ‘Why did God create us all infected with the same sin, when he could either have preserved [Adam] or created us from another stock,’ since he has all possibilities before him and can chose the best possible one, the best possible world, how are we to reply? What Erasmus is demanding with these hypothetical questions is an explanation of evil within the sphere of divine law. But Luther points out to him that the answer to such questions cannot be the usual one that simply stipulates that God is not evil’s first cause (the legal answer). Luther knew the only true answer to the question of evil is to say that God is no cause of evil at all, period. The sophists were all wrong. God’s will is not ruled, it rules. That may sound like something like Ockham, because it speaks of God’s freedom from the law, but directly contrary to such nominalism, Luther is saying there is no pact or covenant made by God’s free choice that provides humans their own sphere of ordained power and therefore a ground for creatures on which to take God to court for allowing evil. God’s freedom is not a choice of one particular law among many—the best of all possible laws—but precisely no law at all. God’s majestic secret is his choice outside any law, natural or covenanted, and without any ordained order but an election and kingdom made exclusively by His Son Jesus Christ. Christ refuses to be made into any ordained order, as if he had come merely to introduce a new and more beneficial set of laws. That is why Christ forgives precisely the wrong ones: sinners apart from the law. He also makes this election certainly, or absolutely. Any opposition to this promise is then necessarily overcome because God cannot lie. But Luther’s ‘If God wills it, it must be right’ is also not nominalism’s, or even Hegel’s, picture of absolute and ordained law, because for Luther God’s word in Christ is precisely a promise, not a law.

“Contempt like Erasmus’s for the text of Pharaoh’s hardening is contempt for the gospel and so always concludes by fighting for some room or flexibility in God’s system, as if mercy were simply leniency within the judgment of the law. Since there aren’t many alternatives or possibilities within the systems of the law, the most common flexibility in legal systems imagines a long-suffering God who does not exactly harden but rather tolerates Pharaoh’s bad heart while hoping things might change in the future—no doubt with much grace. God is then imagined to suffer by waiting, withholding, putting up with the imperfections of the likes of Pharaoh in order to see if, in the end, something better could possibly result. But the problem for Erasmus was just how specific God’s hardening of Pharaoh was. It is not just that everyone is a sinner in general, but that God somehow makes Pharaoh’s hardening a personal, specific act—a special case like a negative miracle—foreknown, absolute, and necessary. In hardening Pharaoh’s heart, we learn that the term necessity is confusing not just because it is inadequate to describe what Pharaoh’s heart actually wants but because it says two opposing things. Necessity says the thing concerning the law, but it says something opposite this law when necessity concerns a promise. In the law, necessity means coercing a recalcitrant human will to will what God’s will wants in the future—that is, to get your untamed will to align with God’s steady, cultivated will and so finally to accomplish the law’s demands. But Luther’s necessity means certain, and certain means opposite things in the law and in the gospel. In the law, certain means forced; in the gospel certain means what no opposition, even my own, can overcome (pp. 238-239, italics his)

Yeah, you might need to read that 3 or 4 times. With a theological dictionary (and maybe with the book as a whole, even though a lot of it is like this).

First, to K.I.S.S, like I said in this recent post: Luther’s approach is better.

Second, as regarding the rhetoric of the last sentence, there is a problem which is that God’s revealed will can always be resisted, both in the law and in the gospel (see, for example, the Luther quote here). And in that same Bondage of the Will, for example, Luther notes “we say, the good God does not deplore the death of his people which he works in them but he deplores the death which he finds in his people and desires to remove from them” (LW 33: 139). For Luther, God’s revealed will can always be resisted, both in the law and in the gospel, causing the revealed, incarnate God to shed bitter tears… (see LW 33: 179, 180)

Third, let’s try to deal with the “big picture” provided in this quote as a whole. Given that I am understanding what he is trying to say (and that is dubitable, given the difficulty one often has in understanding his writing) – and trying to put the best construction on what he is doing and why… I think that Paulson is really trying too hard here, basically saying that we can’t talk about eternal law because this is a way for free will to get its foot in the door so to speak, and to bind God (at least, to effectively bind God in the public square, among the elites and “wise men”?). Meaning, if there is an eternal law, man’s “free will,” being naturally corrupt, is just going to conclude that God is powerless or even doesn’t exist, because “God could give a command concerning the way things should be that was simply not followed or fulfilled” (italics his). “Why would God allow this, unless he could not stop it?” (228)

My view here is basically: So what? Who cares? Why should what man’s will did (or does, given that we are speculating about Adam and Eve if they are in consideration here too) with God’s law have any impact on whether or not it is good, describes the good life, is given for our good, etc.? (again, doesn’t this seem to be Luther’s view?)

Radical Lutheran leaders appear eager for some rules from non-biblical authority figures… What does this mean?


Question for Dr. Steve Paulson (or those who have learned under him and/or read the book): Do you think we could perhaps sum up the whole issue here like this?:

The whole of Luther’s Bondage of the Will is basically a commentary on how sinful man, captive to his own reason vis a vis the clear Word of God, doesn’t understand and can’t follow the first commandment – the importance of fearing, loving, and trusting God’s word, revealed to us. This goes for history, commands, and promises, though the book focuses specifically on the promise of justification by grace through faith.

Or, am I wrong? Do I need to go with the following view–what I understand to be Paulson’s view–instead? (hoping I have nailed the substance of it):

The whole of Luther’s Bondage of the Will is basically a sermon to Erasmus (and others listening in) on how God does everything to show He doesn’t lie and to preserve certain trust in His Promise for his people. And even though Luther might want Erasmus to turn… Erasmus might also well be like Pharaoha tool opposed to God by necessity for the purpose of strengthening trust in the Promise.

Finally, page 243, the last paragraph of this key chapter…

“…we have our strange, evangelical answer to the persistent question, Why evil? Because God, who gives the promise, cannot lie. Pharaoh learned this to his detriment, while Moses and God’s elect rejoiced: ‘I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously, the horse and the rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation… hidden in holiness” (Exod 15:1-2, 11).

Where is the “hidden in holiness” coming from in the quote above? I don’t see that in verse 11, but I don’t doubt that I might be missing something, as I am not a Hebrew scholar.

Any Paulson fans who have arrived at this sentence, thank you very much for reading… Thanks to regular readers as well.



Posted by on January 6, 2019 in Uncategorized


Radical Lutheranism is Bad, but its Not Necessarily Communism

Radical Lutheranism, aka Fake Lutheranism, says things like “[King] David’s sin was that he didn’t have a preacher”.

I say: “It is a sin to despise the word of God and Christian preaching. Nevertheless, don’t buy the line “David’s sin was not having a preacher” because sometimes having a preacher – even a good one – won’t make a difference. We become those determined to trample good preachers underfoot

Never comfort yourself with thoughts like these because now, not tomorrow, is the day of salvation.

Now is the day to live and walk in, with, and through Christ.

You are His, you are baptized.

I’m glad to see young Christian apologists seeing through the reductionist, anemic, shallow, and unsatisfying Radical Lutheran lines. Thomas Lemke certainly has some provocative things to say in this short post!:

Really, take a long, thoughtful look at Lemke’s recent provocative post above.

And only then, feast on this thoughtful response to Lemke’s article from a whip-smart Facebook acquaintance:

To be an unhelpful purist, I would say that, strictly speaking, Marxism is less about the oppressor/oppressed paradigm as the possessors of capital/workers paradigm. Marxism as articulated by both Marx and Lenin is impressively amoral and almost entirely obsessed with economics, relegating such things as morality, and even ‘power’ as such as ‘epiphenomena’ which appear and take men merely because of the economic system that all, both capitalist and worker, are enslaved to. Strictly speaking, capitalists, in Marxism, are not evil, or even oppressive, they too are ‘victims’ of the system, which itself is a necessary step to the next economic step in human civilization.

But I have a feeling that is not at all what you are getting at. Rather you are getting at the Adorno/Marcuse reworking of Marxism into, effectively, a political theology of power. I do think this has strong roots in our society, though I think the reason why this ‘Neo-Marxism’ is so appealing to Americans in a way that the old Marxism was not is because suspicion of power and hatred of those who concentrate it is deep in the American character. The revolution was largely inspired by such a desire to remove power from people, and, interestingly, both the Democrat party, in defending slavery, and the Republican party, in wanting to abolish it, both framed their ideology as ‘ensuring that power cannot be aggrandized by a handful of elites.’

I think the article is partly right. But the part it misses is that the Bible, as all of humanity before the US, has assumed that to possess power is good if good people possess it. It is an American innovation to argue that possession of power is, as such, an evil. Perhaps one could argue that it is a Puritan heritage. Regardless, it has been informing our theology for long before Marxism. Neo-Marxism appeals to both us and our theology because it appeals, in some sideways manner, to our Americanism.




Posted by on January 3, 2019 in Uncategorized