RSS

Monthly Archives: December 2019

New Article Published in Lutheran Mission Matters

I’m pleased to announce that I have a new article out today published in the journal out of Concordia Seminary, Lutheran Mission Matters! Its called: “Effective Christian Outreach to Minority Communities: What Does It Take?”

Check it out!

It starts on page 244: lsfm.global/uploads/files/

Here is what the first page looks like:

 
1 Comment

Posted by on December 30, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

No One Deserves a Merry Christmas (text and audio)

 

“….the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life[a] was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power[b] by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. — Romans 1:4

+++

Christmas is coming, and one of the big perennial issues in America these days is whether or not people should wish one another a Merry Christmas…

My own personal wet blanket for you this morning, however, during this most “wonderful time of the year,” is that no one deserves a Merry Christmas….

Not me. Not you. Not your family, your neighbors, your countrymen, your enemies.

Why would I say something like that?

Well, our text for today speaks, in brief,  about death… when it says “by his resurrection from the dead….”

Of course the topic of resurrection would not be necessary  were it not for death.

And so this brings up an underlying question: Why is resurrection even necessary? 

Why, in other words, is there death?

Because it is death, not Christmas, that we all deserve….

+++

A few months ago, someone told me about how her four year old son had begun to ask lots of questions about death…

Why did that animal die? Why wasn’t he coming back? What would it mean when Grandma and Grandpa were dead?

Kids are great, aren’t they?

I really don’t have difficulty picturing this kid taking Jesus to task a bit, asking why he would allow his friends to experience such a sad and terrible thing!

So why do we die?

The short answer is because of our evil, our sin. The sin that Adam and Eve brought into being and that we all perpetuate, for in sin our fathers and mothers have conceived us all…

And truth be told, the Bible shows us that it didn’t have to be this way.

In the beginning, God provided for everything that our first parents needed. They were told that they could eat from any tree in the Garden, and this would have also included the mysterious Tree of Life…

This was Paradise! Set to live forever with God in the very good creation that He had made, they lacked nothing. Without suffering, pain, and thorns, they really did “have it all”.

No true enjoyment or satisfaction would have been denied them, for all their desires were in line with all that God had made.

Everything was fit to purpose, “in the groove,” and it would have been, to say the least, a glorious time of feasting, fellowship, naming and playing with the animals, dancing, singing and shouting, loving and baby-making, all in sheer innocence, pure pleasure, and great joy.

When we hear the Apostle Paul say of heaven that “no eye has seen and no ear has heard what God has prepared for those who love Him,” it is no stretch to say that we should also think something similar about Eden as well!

“Hold on though…” you say… “God did tell them that there was one tree that they should not eat from, and that was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That one was off limits.”

Yes, that is true too. A test perhaps.

Would Adam and Eve keep the Garden from that Snake, that fallen angel the devil, who’d gone bad?

Would they continue to trust in their Creator?

Would they look to grow even stronger in trust, respect, and love?

Well, we know all too well, they fell.

Innocence was lost. They then did not run to God but away.

They blamed one another for the massive problem they’d created,

noticed their nakedness,

and covered themselves with fig leaves.

Everything had changed for the worse. Judgement and death had come, just as God said it would!

Cursed world!

God still loved them though.

He didn’t scrap it all and start over (like I would have done) but instead promised them a Descendent who would undo what they and the Serpent had done.

In the meantime however, punishments would be administered and Eden – with its Tree of Life – would be off-limits:

“Behold the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and live forever…”

Those lost to sin, those fallen ones, could not live forever now with the venom of Satan in their bloodstream… a venom which they could not help but pass on, in millions of horrifyingly concrete ways.

And so, as the Apostle Paul tells us, making no bones about it: “the wages of sin is death…”

The truth is that if we see death as something “just natural” then it doesn’t necessarily need to be connected with sin and guilt. Then, we don’t have to be reminded about all of this…

That death is our fault!

Maybe this explains why another friend, whose father recently died and who has a nephew who appeared devastated by this, rejected my attempt to bring help and comfort when I told her that, in a way, Scripturally, her nephew had it right: death is an enemy to be destroyed…

“Well,” came the response, “it’s natural…a normal part of life”

+++

Don’t go there though!

…because if you do, the really good news of the Gospel won’t seem that great.

Or maybe for that matter, even necessary.

You’ll never get the hymn, What Child is This, when it proclaims:

Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through

The cross be borne, for me, for you.

Hail! Hail! The Word made flesh

The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Again, we must assert that the wages of sin is death – and that God Himself also sees death as something foreign too… an invader… an enemy… that doesn’t really belong in the picture…

Let me quickly concede though that it is possible that we could form some bad ideas here, bad ideas which might even cause our non-Christian friends to not learn more about the true nature of sin and death.

For example, it is good that we don’t say that every time people experience suffering it is because of their specific sins…

On the other hand, we experience suffering because all of us, corporately, will know certain effects of living in a fallen, or Genesis 3, world.

In Luke 13, Jesus tells us that things like natural disasters should be sign not just for some but for all persons to repent! To recognize the judgement of sin… of living in a fallen world.

And, also importantly, in the midst of things like death, pain, and suffering we must remember that Jesus said a man born blind was blind not because of His sin or His parent’s sins, but so that God’s glory could be revealed!

That said, of course things like death, suffering, pain, and disease no doubt remain a “wage of sin,” a punishment of sin.

Things are not the way they were supposed to be.

And let me say it again: death, the crown of all these things, not only literally stinks, it stinks through and through. It is, again, the last enemy to be destroyed…

Death stinks because our sin stinks. Our lack of fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

The angers, lusts, greeds, jealousies, and hatreds we play footsies with, instead of facing the temptations with the Sword of the Holy Spirit to drive through our stinking, black hearts…

Death consistently reminds us that we are in really bad shape. Terminally bad shape.

+++

Let me take a breather at this point: you might be wondering whether we need to be talking about death like this so close to Christmas.

I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was highly useful to do so…

The whole New Testament reveals to us Jesus’ mission statement: the epistle of John explicitly tells us that He came to destroy the work of the devil.

Hebrews 2:14 says:

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil”

And in the Gospels He says that He came to seek and save the lost, to be a ransom for many, to set His face towards Jerusalem and die.

He is going to defeat death with His very own death!

This was prophesied right after the debacle in the Garden, when God said to the Serpent:

“And I will put enmity

between you and the woman,

and between your offspring[a] and hers;

he will crush[b] your head,

and you will strike his heel.”

This is part and parcel of the gospel, or good news, our text asserts God “promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures…”

And so, following the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, we see Peter’s mighty preaching on the Day of Pentecost, touting our Lord’s prophecy-fulfilling life and deeds.

In that great sermon, Peter reminds us that Christ came with mighty works, wonders and signs, reminding us of, fulfilling that ancient promise of, the Descendent made to Eve who would crush the Serpent’s head.

When the Apostle says that God has made “this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” as “He was,” in fact, “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God…”

…we are not left wondering whether or not God has everything under His control.

Can corral the chaos we’ve made and make…..

Can shut death down forever….

Yes, we can massively mess this world up, but He is going to fix this mess, in His own time – the fullness of time as the Gospels put it – and in His own way!

His “foolish ways” the world cannot understand!

Salvation is going to literally be created in time, when the Son of God takes on human flesh, a human nature, and overcomes the fallen world the devil has made.

Living not only an innocent life, but a completely perfect one? He’s got that covered.

Taking on the massive debt of human sin, and cancelling the bill in His own body? Yes.

And remember, that though He really dies, no one takes His life from Him, for they fundamentally cannot.

Like Peter says in that same great sermon…. “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it….”

Unlike His ancestor King David, He, Light of Light and Very God of Very God, is Life Itself which cannot be snuffed out. He really is the “Holy One” who does not see corruption.

Such is the prophecy God delivers to us now…

And it is because of this that death, with all its stench, ultimately becomes for us just a door into the life that is really life.

In Him, unlike those Peter accused, we do not die in our sins.

Even though it is not of Him, God nevertheless uses sin’s fruit, death. God uses our suffering and pain. God uses Satan… all for our sakes…

For He holds all the cards.

And for now, in this life that we live in the world, but not of it, “[our enemies] can kill us, but they can’t hurt us…”

In Him, we are, really and truly, invincible. The new heavens and new earth, good beyond our imaginings, are indeed coming!

And by God’s Spirit and grace, we will increasingly live not only with, but from, that knowledge.

+++

We’ve covered in some depth the phrases “the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son” and “by his resurrection from the dead….”

Let’s look now at some of the other key things in our text.

I love what an early church father, Ambrosiaster, said:

“God wanted [Jesus Christ] to be known through his power to cleanse humans from their sins by overcoming death in the flesh.”

Hence our text also reads that Jesus Christ was “appointed the Son of God in power…”

Maybe when you heard this read this morning, you were thinking: “But isn’t Jesus already the Son of God right away? Isn’t He ‘born that way’ as they say today?”

Why does the text not say something like “according to his human nature” AND “according to His Divine nature”?

Well, that’s certainly not in doubt at all. It’s just that Paul’s goal here is evidently not to talk about the specific nature of Jesus Christ… just who…what…is He?

…even as later on in Romans, in  9:5, he does goes on to explicitly say that the Christ, the Messiah, is “God over all…”

It is rather to say: “This is what the Christ… the Messiah… looks like and what He does… for your sakes! Pay attention!”

Hence He is appointed the Son of God…. this term for appointed in the Greek is horizo, where get word horizon from!

So it also means, depending on the context, to determine, ordain, fix, decree…. To “mark off by boundaries” as a horizon does with earth and sky….

And what this also means for Christians is that we “fix or designate the proper boundaries of a truth, or a doctrine; to distinguish its lines and marks from error” as well as “to show, or declare a thing to be so by any action….”

For action is critical here. Righteousness, holiness, and love not only are, but they act…

Really, the point in this text is that Paul is making clear how important and valuable to Him the flesh, the humanity… this world that “God so loved” … really is…

Yes, it is under Satan’s dominion…. ruled by the prince of the air ;

yes, the new heavens and earth, upgrading and enhancing the Garden of Eden which we spoke of earlier, will be so much greater… ;

yes, as it stands, the world is tainted by sin through and through ;

yes, it is, as many have put it a “vale of tears”….

…and yet, God deeply loves the world and hence desires to redeem this world that He made in all its temporal and bodily…fleshly even…  glory!

This is why the focus here in Romans 1 is thoroughly on Jesus Christ putting on human flesh, and His activity among us for our salvation!

+++

What about the phrase “according to the spirit of holiness…”?

We know the Scriptures speak of One God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Some say that this passage probably refers to the Holy Spirit, but I am of the view that here we are talking about the spirit of Jesus Christ specifically….The spirit of the God-Man Jesus Christ is also a spirit of holiness or “sanctification”.

In John 10:36, in responding to his opponents, we hear Jesus say “what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?”

The idea here is that Christ’s actions in the world for us, according to His sending, are what sets Him apart, or sanctifies Him, as the Son of God!

Again, the focus is on what happens in the flesh, on the earth, in Jesus Christ! It is only through Him and His work that the new age of redemption, of the Holy Spirit, can come forth!

And so, as One commentator put it hundreds of years ago: “the presence of the Godhead is seen in the peculiar and exceptional ‘holiness’ by which it is characterised….”

And how is this exceptional holiness characterized?

It is the Holiness which lives not to condemn, but to show mercy! It is the Holiness which seeks!

It is the holiness like that of Joseph, who though not believing Mary, longed to have compassion on her.

It is the holiness which has has compassion even on our Enemies!

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

Only with the birth we celebrate in a few days could we also proclaim with the Apostle Paul:

“For [God the Father] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Such is our glorious assurance!

+++

Still, again.

No one deserves a Merry Christmas. Not me. Not you. No one.

We, in fact, deserve nothing but judgment!

And yet, He deeply loves us.

Hence we can sing:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come

Let earth receive its King;

….No more let sin and sorrow grow

Nor thorns infest the ground:

He comes to make his blessings flow

Far as the curse is found,

Far as the curse is found,

Far as, far as the curse is found.

An essential part of Christianity is all about that term horizo… declaring, asserting, proclaiming…. Of marking off the boundary that is the Only True God who can save us from death.

Not shutting up.

Asserting. Asserting with confidence the joy, the relief, we know!

God’s doctrine, His teaching, is life for us! And for all!

How to share it?

Just remember what it is all about…

For God so loved the world, or better, For God loved the world in this way: that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish…die… but have eternal life….

Not long ago in my beloved wintry Minnesota, I went sledding with my boys….

The three year old could not walk up the steep hill.

One son said he wouldn’t help him.

Another said he couldn’t help him.

Only father was both good and strong enough to help.

Likewise, only the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is both good and strong enough to help us, to save us, from our desperate condition of the bondage to sin, death, and the devil.

And so, again:

Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through

The cross be borne, for me, for you.

Hail! Hail! The Word made flesh

The Babe, the Son of Mary.

The Son gladly submits. And so we live….

Don’t forget to wish one another a “Merry Christmas”!

Amen

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on December 23, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

American Christianity’s Fatal Flaw: Failing to Fully Appreciate All the Ways God is Good (part 3 of 3)

“There is nothing that we could call ‘good’ except that it reflects God in the way it was designed by Him to so reflect. Disobedience to God is literally synonymous with departure from Goodness.” – Matthew Cochran

 

Part 1, Part 2

+++

The “biblical hierarchy of goodness” introduced in the previous post will be helpful in a number of situations – even in cases we might not expect….

For example, Martin Luther himself certainly had some hermeneutical temptations….

In his commentary on Deuteronomy, if one reads carefully, one will see that Luther seems to closely connect the Fall to marriage, which, as we know, the Apostle Paul says one should enter into if one burns: “matrimony was divinely instituted and commanded for those who cannot live a chaste life without it” (AE 9:96).

Elsewhere, of course, Luther wrote differently and more carefully of marriage and it’s purposes. That said, from instances like this one, the impression can certainly be given that for him the Fall and marriage are somewhat conflated! God foresaw that man would sin, and so for this reason instituted marriage in the pre-fall (or “prelapsarian) world. Why would Luther even be tempted to fall into this kind of thought-pattern?

This may well have had something to do both with the kind of theology Luther was taught (from men like William of Ockham) and even lived for many years as a Christian monk. Perhaps you are aware of the idea of “social contagion” — I think its a useful thing to keep in mind…

In some ways, I think Luther was trying to respond to a theological “social contagion” of his day, the idea that marriage did not help fight sin, but rather encouraged it!

This kind of problem where the original creation and fall get conflated still happens on occasion today, even among otherwise very careful Christian thinkers. Hence, the popular pastor Chris Rosebrough, in a seemingly very conservative presentation, might also think that things like male headship are also closely connected with the Fall. Here, God foresaw that Eve would sin and bring Adam along, and so for this reason He instituted male headship (or, perhaps, he just instituted it after but not before the Fall).

On the contrary though, Scripturally and historically, both marriage and male headship were things that are presented for us as things that are wholly unrelated to the Fall (Genesis 1-2, I Cor. 11:3)!

Again, the Biblical Hierarchy of Goodness, seen below, would have been helpful here!

+++

And not just in these cases! Issues that perhaps arise from this kind of thinking go ever deeper… with far more severe consequences…

As noted at the end of the previous post, possibly in part because all of the kinds of goodness found in Scripture are rather complicated and involved, more liberal conservative theologians—and even persons from my own conservative Lutheran camp—have taken the “opportunity” to “simplify” the matter:

“Have you realized that, in each and every case, trying to be lawful, to be good, to be better… is basically synonymous with trying to be God?”[i]

Gerhard Forde: the “Fall” is a bad theological idea!

 

This view has been effectively promulgated among many conservative Lutherans primarily through the writings of the late “conservative ELCA” theologian Gerhard Forde. Now, in some ways, Forde might seem to be on my wavelength when he says, in reference to man’s creation, fall, and redemption, that the human creature was “given a relative perfection in the creation…”

That sounds a bit like the immature and mature goodness I talked about in the second post of this series! That said, which direction does he insist on going with this? Forde does not think the notion of a “relative perfection” is a good thing at all!:

“[This] means nothing but trouble for the understanding of sin and freedom”the “very word ‘fall’” “is not…a good biblical term.”

By insisting that the word “fall” is not a good biblical term, Forde in effect conflates all of the different kinds of Goodness. But how can Forde get away with eliminating the very biblical Fall from consideration? In part, it is because the Bible itself speaks about how it is not only man as fallen sinner who needs God, but man as creature as well (for even prior to the fall, He is weak compared to God and fully dependent on God!).

Infiltration and convergence proceeding.

 

And yet, note this as well: he now also has an excuse to not explain how the redeemed Christian has a sanctified and freed will, much like the will that Adam and Eve had in the Garden before they sinned (actually, now, the believer has “two wills” because he now, somewhat analogously to Christ, has two natures).

Saying that traditional Christian ideas like the Fall, clearly seen in Genesis 3, are a part of the problem, Forde can then attack the notion of the Christian’s responsibility for attempting to do good in the world! For again, it would seem that in Forde’s view, if one is trying to be better–or even to better understand what it means to follow God’s law–one is necessarily trying to justify one’s self by following the law!

Forde, like Luther, does rightly counter those who contend for false notions of free will. At the same time though, he in effect says that any notion of a freed will in the Christian—at least one that is consciously so—is just more evidence of our sin! (for the best counter I have seen regarding this kind of erroneous thinking, see the piece by Matthew Cochran touted in these tweets: https://twitter.com/NathanRinne/status/1200381479789957120)

In this, he not only fails to acknowledge that Luther himself explicitly says in the Bondage of the Will that the book is not discussing matters of sanctification, but justification – but he directly attacks what Luther would have never in his wildest dreams attacked.

“…our present debate specifically concerns ‘free-will’ without grace, which is taught by laws and threats (the Old Testament) to know itself, that it might run to the promises offered in the New Testament.” (180-181, Packer ed.)

 

As we saw at the beginning of this post, conservative Lutheran theologians–even Luther himself!–for whatever reasons, have not always been as careful as they might have been in their treatment of Goodness vis a vis the Fall.

Forde though, as we have seen, takes the next step and concludes that something like the Fall is wholly irrelevant and even harmful for doing theology! What ultimately matters—and what controls everything else in his theological system—is not that God’s law accuses us of specific deeds that are essentially evil trans-culturally and trans-historically, but that we feel accused.

I contend that this denial of the importance of the Creation vis a vis the Fall—of letting Scripture delineate how we treat matters of Goodness—has disastrous implications.

+++

If we do not let the Scriptures dictate the matter of how to appraise Goodness, with the Hierarchy that exists there, the world will run over us.

After all, the kinds of things that we have been taught by the world’s elites (who often got their start in the more liberal quarters of the Christian church!) create for us the temptation to think in all kinds of ways that are opposed to Scripture but are more friendly to men like Forde….

Note that, after all….

  • the idea of the fall is difficult to square with modern scientific “knowledge,” particularly the theory of evolution.
  • the world is now saying that races don’t exist, which seems to be true enough, but also seems eager to make sure that certain nationalities and/or ethnicities cease to exist as well. From a political standpoint, this might even seem to make sense (even as, taking lessons from history into consideration it is woefully short-sighted).
  • in the past, the idea of some things that don’t change and are permanent was a fixture even for intellectuals, while in today’s environment, influential historical figures like Vico, Hegel, Darwin, and Nietzsche have created a highly “liquid” environment, which one must adjust to if one is to effectively communicate and survive.
  • the world likes the idea of maximizing freedom in the sense of being who we are and doing what we want to do, as long as we do not hurt others. And again even Christians can see some wisdom in this, so long it is not insisted that we have no duties towards those who abuse freedom such that they hurt others or themselves – but what does “abuse”, “freedom”, and “hurt” really mean anyways? What is real goodness?

Shut up Liar-Oppressor Clive?: “The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career.”

 

  • when Paul in Ephesians tells wives to “submit to their husbands as to the Lord,” how popular in our culture is this going to be? If we take modern explanations of what submission means here and apply it back to submission to the Lord it will almost never be accurate, demonstrating that it is almost never a good explanation. As Matt Cochran puts it, “does our submission to Christ merely mean that we respect him and that he respects us? Not so much.”
  • those sympathetic to theologies like those of Radical Lutheranism often tend to think that they experience more genuine love from people in the world than Christians. While Christians might express “concern” for them, “trying to guide their behavior,” they know that those Christians, however gentle they might try to be about this, don’t really “like” them while the world does.
  • the pressure from groups claiming an identity of LGBTQ+ is great and powerful. Since marriage is only temporal, why insist that, in lines with issues of “burning”, gay marriage cannot provide much the same kind of “damage control,” or “temporary solution” that marriage can?

It is not hard to see the advantages men like Gerhard Forde might have thought he had in going in this direction – even if this was largely subconscious…

“…the theologian in academia has two challenges: 1) To teach that which he should; 2) To be taken as intellectually viable. Since the enlightenment, the latter has trumped the former.” — Pastor Paul Strawn

 

In other words, being academically and socially respectable becomes our goal–or at least one of our goals (how else will I become an effective evangelist?)–even if we are not fully aware of this.

We might even watch the new play about conservative Catholics, “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” and rightly find much to appreciate (that liberal guy represented those conservative views quite well, didn’t he?) while still simultaneously refusing to go into the even deeper waters the times demand!

….And that the Biblical Hierarchy of Goodness is ready to address.

+++

In order to drive home the point as effectively as I can, I need to continue picking on my fellow Lutherans here….

All of the above goes a long way toward explaining the kinds of things that we see in books like The Necessary Distinction but don’t fully understand… and can’t fully express what is wrong…

A false structure: “[Law and Gospel] are against each other as life and death” (Werner Elert, quoted on page 316 of CPH’s 2017 “so-called 3rd use of the law” book, The Necessary Distinction).

.

Concordia Theological seminary professor Roland Ziegler, for example, wrote that those who want the legal institution of same-sex marriage are showing reverence for God’s law and yet, never says, in any sense, that they are actually acting against God’s law (see p. 330 in The Necessary Distinction). Addressing the same kind of issues elsewhere, Professor Scott Keith has said: “Its easier to treat someone without compassion if it goes against natural law…it is easier to divest yourself from having any compassion toward somebody if its just simply unnatural.”  In each situation, the implication seems to be that being overly conservative, holding the line on LGBTQ+ issues, does not demonstrate love but in fact a lack of love!

Therefore, here we can see how the kinds of ambiguities spoken about above—which have always been seized upon by the more liberal wings of the Christian church—find root in conservative Lutheran soil as well!

Even with these conservative Lutherans, what reason is there to think that there will not be a temptation to waffle on the notions of “male” and “female” next, causing confusion much like the DTS professors mentioned in the first post?[ii]

“Everything… we might say about goodness and obedience proceeds from that fundamental reality that God = Good.” — Matthew Cochran

 

After all, if something like marriage can be both good but temporal, there might seem to be few firm reasons why should we insist that the same is not true for the categories of “male” and “female”…

That said, let us give an answer using our Hierarchy that I imagine even many a “Radical Lutheran” (or RL sympathizer) will be inclined to say “Amen!” to!

+++

So now we are ready to point out that the issues specifically addressed by the Dallas Theological Seminary professors can be usefully addressed with the Hierarchy provided above.

The key question is this: In the Scriptures, do we see any divergence between what is externally “male” and “female” and what is internally so?

Christ’s love for sinners. What does this mean? The exhibition “Ecce Home” by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin shown in Belgrade

 

Let’s look:

Unknown Final Goodness: There, of course, is little that we can say here about anything!

Persisting Edenic Goodness: Perhaps one, looking at this or the next category, might be tempted to say “Our knowledge of the world before the Fall is very limited, but the world we observe is such a vast place. We’re discovering new places, new stars, new species, and other new parts of God’s creation all the time. Who’s to say that transgenderism isn’t just one more of those parts of God’s original creation that is only just now being discovered?”

And yet, for those of us who take passages like 2 Tim. 3:16 seriously, what is revealed to us in the Scriptures specifically about “male” and “female”?

  • Sex or gender are simply a good part of God’s creation (Matt 19:1-9, Gen. 2: 24, Eph 5:22-33)
  • “The body is meant . . . for the Lord and the Lord for the body (1 Cor 6:13)”[iii]
  • In Deuteronomy 22:5, God commanded His people to dress in accordance with the sex that one had been given.[iv]
  • Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration are recognized as being those particularly men!
  • The masculine pronoun is used to describe angels, who I have never taken to be genderless beings, even if they are not, presumably, sexual beings.
  • Hebrews 11 speaks about particular men and women who are now with the Lord!

Non-persisting Edenic Goodness: We are given no indication in Scripture that the distinction between male and female, like male-female marriage, is meant to be temporary, and a part of the “immature” state of affairs. As Scott Stiegemeyer puts it, echoing the above list: “There will not be marriage in the resurrection, but there will still be men and women. And since our resurrection bodies will be absent every disease and disorder, we can assume intersex people will be raised as men and women, even if, due to the fall, their sex was questioned during their earthly life…”

Persisting Fallen Goodness and/or Non-persisting Fallen Goodness: Perhaps someone might entertain thoughts like the following:

“Because we live in a broken world in which things don’t always work the way they’re supposed to, it’s good for humans to adapt to those circumstances so that we can alleviate one-another’s suffering. Transgendered people, being fundamentally unable to live as the gender assigned to them at birth, are doing precisely this by discovering both new ways to be men and women, and new ways to be human without being men or women. Maybe that goodness persists in the new heavens and earth because the good deeds of the saints follow them. Maybe it doesn’t persist because the need for adaptation goes away. But either way, it’s a good thing.”

Much more can be said about reasoning like this, even from a purely secular perspective (all noted in the post I referred to in part 1). The issue is not that we as Christians cannot say that something is not true knowledge if that knowledge is not confirmed by the Scriptures. The critical question to ask here, in light of the rest of the things we have seen above, is this:

Given what has been revealed clearly to us in His Word about male and female, does God really expect us to be so agnostic and uncertain about these kinds of things? 

Invisible Goodness (Angelic Goodness): Not relevant to inquiry.

We cannot remain comfortably agnostic about what goodness is in this life…. To cling to the Scriptures for guidance about what is most important in life and what is good to do is precisely the opposite of causing abuse, oppression, and harm.

“Satan attacks sexuality with such intensity because it is the conjugal union of man and woman, which is God’s most powerful image in the world. Unable to strike God himself, the enemy strikes God’s image!” — Scott Stiegemeyer

 

+++

We should not never forget that while Christ is firm vs. sin (“Go and sin no more!”), He did not come to judge, but to save. To heal our sinful disease and the effects of that sin. And this is great news, because as Scott Stiegemeyer has wisely put it:

“All children of Adam have disordered sinful desires but not all disordered sinful desires are exactly the same in terms of our lived existence. Some sins have a deeper grab on us than others. Some are habits. Others are embedded more deeply. Pastoral care toward all sinful brokenness is not one-sized-fits-all…

Helping an alcoholic overcome his temptations might require a different approach than helping a person who struggles with envy or gossip. Baptism, Absolution, preaching, and the Eucharist are effectual to heal us, both in time and for eternity. But Thomas Hopko is exactly right that the techniques of psychologists and psychiatrists should be employed where appropriate as well” (p. 45, CTQ article, italics mine).

So here, some nuance, informed by our discussion of the kinds of goodness above, is needed. Some might feel a very powerful desire to drink alcoholic beverages, but it is the desire for drunkenness that is sin. Some might feel more of an “incongruity between their mind and body” (Stiegemeyer), but it is the desire to change one’s sex that is sin. Some might feel a physical attraction to members of the same sex, but it is the desire to engage in sexual activity with them that is sin.

“…even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the [j]men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another…” – the Apostle Paul

.

To take an easy comparison in order to draw a very necessary kind of distinction, we would not say, in general, that a man’s attraction to his wife or even his desire to be united with her in sexual intercourse is sinful in terms of rightly-ordered creation, in spite of the fact that, due to the “concupiscence” of original sin, sinful impulses are no doubt involved in the mix here which God is pleased to cover through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Even as we can and must make distinctions like this though, what Scott Stiegemeyer talks about is also correct: “All children of Adam have disordered sinful desires but not all disordered sinful desires.”[v] And all of those sinful desires are in need of Christ’s cleansing blood!

In closing, in a past post in reference to the transgender issue, I said:

“Is it possible that Christ’s message to his disciples about the man born blind is His message for us today about those who struggle with transgender inclinations: namely, “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him”? In other words, nothing that has gone wrong among us – things are “not the way it’s supposed to be”! – can’t be redeemed in Him. Due to the ravages of original sin, we are all “disabled” in the same and different ways – some of us having particularly difficult crosses to bear.”

Much more can be said here, and should – and with great efforts to do so in both firmness and real compassion, as men like Ryan Anderson and Robert George do here. Again, God can certainly use all things for good, as we American Christians like to point out (again, almost exclusively—see part 1) but when we dig deeply into the Scriptures or even just into the above offered Hierarchy of Goodness derived from Scripture, we see we have the basis for the most well-informed and most biblical responses, (see my try here) which are truly the only really compassionate responses.

I think so, but they also need a lot of your love!

 

In sum, while we will not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, narrowly understood (forgiveness by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ!), we will also not be ashamed to talk about and exult in the many ways our Lord has brought and brings us Goodness, both through His creation, and the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ!

In the beginning.

Now in this cursed world.

And forevermore!

FIN

 

 

 

[i]  Lutheran theologians have always insisted that we are not sinners because we sin, but, at the deepest level, we sin because we are sinners. I have recently been reminded that Radical Lutheran theologians take things steps further, and have no trouble insisting, for example, that because of facts like this even attempting not to sin is sinful and that we spiritually die not because we sin generally (unbelief and disobedience of God’s Word, a lack of fear, love, and trust in God), but because we attempt to justify ourselves before God by what we do. This, of course, is not the way that the Scriptures approach our life in Christ. What are some of the clear consequences that we see following from this? What are some thoughts and ideas about the best way to counter this? (BB 92, 38:00 ; BB 90 [or 91], 20:00)

[ii] This will be culturally useful after all—even for social conservatives! After all, as more and more trans-women (men) come to dominate things like women’s sports, this could be seen as tipping the scales more in the direction of the “masculine,” which, no doubt, is a kind of felt need among many of us (to counter more “gynocentric” approaches created by feminist currents, most clearly seen in things like family law).

[iii] “Attitudes toward gender identity these days might not favor the binary, but the human reproductive system does (Scott Stiegemeyer)” The “binary” cannot be escaped (even LGBTQ…depends on it). Persons are not only their bodies, but they are, in part, their bodies. We are integrated people all the way through (to counter the idea that “gender” = what’s in head and “sex” = what’s between legs).

[iv] The 10 commandments and other law in line with the natural law, like Deuteronomy 22:5, cannot be put against the two great commandments to love God and neighbor. One of our fathers in the faith, Ambrose of Milan, puts it well: “if you consider it truly, there is an incongruity that nature itself abhors. For why, man, do you not want to appear to be what you were born as? Why do you put on a strange guise? Why do you ape a woman? Or why do you, woman, ape a man?” Commenting on Deuteronomy 22:5, he goes on to say: “Nature arrays each sex with its own garments. Men and women have different customs, different complexions, gestures and gaits, different sorts of strength, different voices.” (Letter 15 [69].2.) I looked at about 12 commentaries on Deuteronomy 22:5, particularly 7 released in the past 8 years or so, and while some think this may be addressing transvestite practices in Canaanite religion (even here note that this is not separated from, but goes hand in hand with, the concern for moral order – see Lundbom’s 2013 commentary, pp. 616-617), only one commentary I recall suggested this exclusively (Christensen, 2002). Block’s 2012 Zondervan commentary is typical when it says “this injunction seeks to preserve the order built into creation” (p. 512). Even the new commentaries published by more liberal publishers (Abingdon, WJK, and Smyth & Helwys), perhaps eager to point out the Old Testament’s backwardness, agree. Also, it is not only in this present age that persons deal with what we now call “gender dysphoria”.

[v] He says more: “We should not say or imply that people who have the sense of incongruity between their mind and body are necessarily sinning. They are fallen sinners, yes, but is their confusion itself a sin or the result of their inherited sinful condition? It would indeed be a transgression of natural law and Aquinas’s Principle of Totality to undergo the so-called sex reassignment surgery. Alternative medical and psychological treatments for GD should continue to be sought.” (p. 46).

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 10, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

God’s Relation to Kinds of Evil

View from hell: “The greatest ‘danger’ to the Gospel is the Law.” – the late Edward Schroeder, summing up Werner Elert as he understood him.

 

+++

In my recent series talking about all the ways that we have failed to recognize all the ways that God is good, I said the following:

“…evil is never good and God does not do evil. Yes, nothing could exist or have energy without the God in whom all things depend, but no, He does not do evil.

Saying that might engender some controversy, but it shouldn’t. The word “evil” in Scripture can mean either metaphysical evil (just think of the term “pure evil”) or it can mean “harm”. What this means is that if God is ever said to do “evil” then, it can, first of all, mean that He harms in order to help. As in the Proverb “wounds from a friend can be trusted.” All this is in fact a kind of “goodness,” or a “good”—though not, of course grace!—in the fallen world.”

Noting what I said there about potential controversy, I want to re-iterate, say more about that, in this post (I did say quite a bit also in the post linked to above).

“To pose the question of the pagans, whether God was the cause of evil, showed an improper understanding of rhetoric and dialectic….” — Timothy Wengert, explaining how Melanchthon thought Erasmus had misunderstood Luther.

 

First of all, let’s note what our Lutheran Confessions say about this. There are some very clear words about this topic in in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession where we read in Article XIX, “Of the Cause of Sin” the following:

77] The Nineteenth Article the adversaries receive, in which we confess that, although God only and alone has framed all nature, and preserves all things which exist, yet (He is not the cause of sin, but] the cause of sin is the will in the devil and men turning itself away from God, according to the saying of Christ concerning the devil, John 8:44: When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own…”

Again, “metaphysical evil” is what we might also call “pure evil,” which of course, would go hand in hand with the power of the Lie.

The heart of sin is nothing like an engineer setting up the train to run along tracks, but something else. At its core, it is missing the mark and rebellion.

And again, God is not the Author of this. Period.

God set up the creation in a certain way, and it was meant to function in a certain way. This is good.

Man sinned however, and therefore evil—in the sense of both increased metaphysical evil and bodily harm—will inevitably come to him (we’ll get into this more below).

“A free will is that which wills nothing of its own, but submits only to the will of God.” — Luther

 

Is God a cause of that second kind of evil, “harm-evil”?

Well, He is the One by which all things have their form or structure, and the One in which nothing else can exist or have energy.

In fact, what this means is that insofar as God “provides” existence and energy by which his creatures choose to run, pre and post-Fall, one can say He is the “efficient cause,” in a sense, of all things.

Therefore, He is a cause of not only harm-evil, but metaphysical evil as well!

Erasmus: (smugly) “So, I was right…”

 

That said, since metaphysical evil is opposed to God’s will and character, here He is only a, or even “the” cause (i.e. “efficient cause”) of this Fall and its continuing fallout in the most irrelevant sense possible.

At the same time, back to this point: God did set up creation, with consequences built-in for pushing against it, and in this sense, might be said to be both an indirect and more direct participatory cause of this or that instance of harm-evil. This “system,” of course, is not like the “deist’s clock,” and yet we might justifiably say that “it” is going to “work” like this or that when you mess with it (as God shows us, by revelation or general experience).

This will then involve God issuing certain warnings, or, in some cases, even threats. These threats are made out of concern for the beloved, as threats are made in coordination with [or in harmony with] everything that the Lawgiver has created. In other words, this is what we might reasonably call a specific kind of coercion that takes into account creation’s intrinsic social and material limits/constraints, which are “built-in” precisely in order to allow for things like trust, loyalty and love to grow (I’ll say more about this in an upcoming post about three kinds of coercion).

Think you know better?

 

When this is resisted, both spiritual and physical death are the inevitable result, as well as issues like pain, tears, and thorns as well.

This also will involve things….

  • …like particularly evil persons deciding to commit evil acts against us for the sheer pleasure of doing so, even as this might also, in some cases, be related to things…
  • …that the world might call “natural consequences” (Eastern: “karma”) for this or that action (this would include God “giving us over” to sin, to let our actions run their course and reap their rewards).
  • There are also consequences for sin where God clearly actively punishes in this or that case (Sodom, Exodus, Flood) or consequences associated with what the world calls “natural evil” (i.e. storms, famines, droughts, etc.), and these might be particular punishments (as Scripture revealed of this or that situation) or understood more generally…
  • …like, for example, all manner of personal maladies contained in the wider “problem of evil,” like the man born blind whom Jesus said was not directly responsible for His situation, people born with this or that genetic malady, physical or mental disability, or even predisposition to this or that kind of sinful desire, sin, etc.
  • For example, a person who identifies with and desires to become the opposite sex has a disordered sinful desire…

Hence, regarding those last two points, very much on many minds today, what Scott Stiegemeyer says is true: “Satan attacks sexuality with such intensity because it is the conjugal union of man and woman, which is God’s most powerful image in the world. Unable to strike God himself, the enemy strikes God’s image!”

Appropriate connection? In what sense?: “His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'”

 

We need to get this most difficult of situations and questions right, pastorally and otherwise. More on this kind of matter on tomorrow, in the final post of “American Christianity’s Fatal Flaw: Failing to Fully Appreciate All the Ways God is Good”

Our God, of course, not being captive like the world’s false gods, is strong enough to save….

Luther on gods not strong and free enough to save: “the Gentiles have asserted an inescapable fate…for their gods” who “cannot foresee future events or are deceived by events.”

 

FIN

 

Note: an earlier version of the post had the confusing had some mistakes in the beginning, which have since been fixed. : )

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 9, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Tweets to, about, Bradly Mason and His Dangerous Ideas

 

Update: here are the podcasts I did with podcasting truck-driver and Federalist author Matthew Garnett about Bradly Mason: Part 1 and Part 2.

+++

“For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.’” – II Cor. 8:13-15

“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” — Acts 6:1

+++

Those Bible passages above do not only describe Christians friendly to SJW nonsense.

They are important to many serious, culturally and politically conservative American Christians who have no desire for revolution, and desire to give no quarter to revolution.

As I get ready to record with the honorable Matthew Garnett about Bradly Mason and his work tomorrow morning, I have been doing some Advanced Twitter searching, reviewing some of our exchanges…

These are my notes which I am making available here, for the three people who are interested… : )

This blog post is basically some of my more important tweets to or about Bradly Mason (and his ideas), a man whom I have recently become sharper with in my comments:

I have contacted contacted Bradly privately as well (3 times from August-November) and asked to talk with him about these things.

He is evidently not interested in doing so, and that, of course, is fine.

I’d be fine with him blocking me on Twitter as well–a perfectly respectable thing to do!

Even if I think persons like himself should definitely have to deal with the issues and questions I bring up, no one on Twitter should be expected to tolerate me personally!

I just don’t want anyone to doubt my sincerity or my belief that Christians are capable of making things work (its doubtful the 1580 Book of Concord would have come together without the Christian rulers in Germany saying “Work this out! Don’t stop until you do!”):

Here’s what we are ultimately dealing with…

Basically, the idea is that nothing substantial has really changed since the days of Frederick Douglass and continued resistance vs. the oppressors, that is, the vast majority of Americans, is called for:

My response (Bradly himself did not respond to this):

Let me make my concerns as clear as possible:

I think the kind of stuff we see above is basically divisive and dangerous, hence my response to him here:

Bradly seemingly has no idea about what I think is so concerning:

So, I’m just getting started here… at this point you will see more background to all of the above…

Other than those tweets above, we’ll put my tweets to Bradly into 5 categories (please note the dates in each case — the presentation below is not entirely chronological):

  • 1. Complementary
  • 2. Asking him for clarification
  • 3. Challenging him about the relevance of basic facts and data
  • 4. Challenging him about his general support of, and generally uncritical view of, Ibram Xolani Kendi
  • 5. Challenging him about his overall view/approach from a more technical and academic perspective

I think many reading this will not care much about 5. and maybe 1. and 2. You might just want to go down to 3. and 4., which will probably seem the most relevant.

1. Here are some basically complementary posts:

2. Posts asking him for clarification (for some of these, you’ll need to click into these threads to get more context for the questions):

3. Posts challenging him about the relevance of basic facts and data:

4. Posts challenging him about his support, and generally uncritical view of, Ibram Xolani Kendi:

Note what Bradly writes at the end of this post, which, to be sure, in terms of American history at least, is far more helpful than the New York Time’s completely discredited (by the far left and the right) 1619 Project:

…And it should still be of no wonder that the vast inequities and disparities in this society—along the very same color line created for exploitation—are continually explained away by Americans and evangelicals as the fault of so-called morally degraded, hyper-sexualized, lazy welfare queens and criminals; that is, the black community itself is to blame. Racist ideas continue to justify unjust circumstances.

Following the Civil War, the abandonment of Reconstruction, and 100 years of both legal and de facto nationwide Jim Crow, it is no wonder that in the 21st century the average “white” child is born into a family with ten to twenty times the wealth of his “black” peer (HERE and HERE and HERE), is twice as likely to live through infancy (HERE), 2.5 times as likely to live in a two-parent household (HERE) (though will likely spend less time with his father than his black peer [HERE]), is much more likely to go to a well-funded, academically superior school (HERE and HERE), is more likely to be put into advanced coursework as opposed to remedial or special needs coursework, regardless of ability (HERE); the white child is likely to live in de facto segregated neighborhoods, attend de facto segregated schools, and worship in de facto segregated churches (HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE), is much more likely to make it to college without being incarcerated, even if he commits the same or similar crimes as his black peer (HERE, HERE, and HERE), is more likely to graduate from college (HERE), is much less likely to be shot and killed by a police officer (HERE), is more likely to secure a job, even with precisely the same resume (HERE and HERE), is likely to be paid more for the same work (HERE), is likely to accumulate 3 times the net worth of his black peer (HERE and HERE), is likely to have significantly more wealth mobility, while his black peer is more likely to spend what he has to care for his aging parents (HERE and HERE), is much more likely to own a home (HERE), will likely have greater access to healthcare, and the care his black peer does receive is likely to be lower quality (HERE), and in the end, the white child is even likely to outlive his black peer (HERE).

And all of this devastating disparity straddles a color-line unknown to the world prior to Prince Henry’s African exploits, Gomes Eanes de Zurara’s fabricated justifications posing as legitimate “chronicles,” and the American Colonies’ vast industrialization of human labor. This is what 1619 has to do with 2019. The Atlantic Slave Trade, with its untold billions in profits, both for traders and 19th century America’s largest single export—cotton, took hold on American soil in the very colony from which the United States modeled its republic and farmed its Fathers and presidents. (bold mine)

…and compare this with the core focus of Ibram Kendi:

That makes it pretty clear where this is going. Nevermind any progress, and don’t expect answers back up with solid evidence to questions like these…

This is serious stuff:

In sum, it doesn’t matter how soft-spoken Kendi is. This, again, is serious stuff and seriously messed-up stuff, and it needs to be rejected or at the very least not touted as being useful in public.

+++

Please note that I do think that Kendi brings up some things that should be seriously explored. Note this extended exchange:

This last tweet exchange gets us ready for part 5:

5. Finally, and most important, here are some posts challenging him about his overall view/approach from a more technical and academic perspective

Historicism basically is the precursor to serious forms of relativism and extreme forms of social constructivism (the most extreme being social constructionism), staples of CT and CRT, which basically dissolves all notions of persisting truth (and with this goodness — see the series I am doing) in acid.

I’ve talked about this in papers I’ve written for Libraryland:

I do keep up with this stuff too, as best I can:

Here is the most interesting exchange. Again, “CT” = Critical Theory, and Vico’s historicism is what underlies it. If he agrees with me about the dangers of historicism like he says he does…

…it doesn’t look to me at all like he thinks this is a big deal.

He seems to think that all “CT” is tainted by this stain but that there are parts of it that are salvageable and that Christians should use.

I had first challenged him about the roll of historcism in all of this, back in Aug of 2019:

And here is the second-to-last thread on this to him, trying once again to make clear my concerns:

The last and most recent thread about this follows…. 

In sum, we don’t need and in fact must not use CT and CRT, philosophies designed to destroy cultures created by Christianity (for all their flaws!), to fight racism:

FIN

 

 

Bonus 1: And what can we expect from Matthew Garnett?:

 

Bonus 2:  other interesting interactions:

Think we all project, cherry-pick. The problem is on a spectrum though….

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 6, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

American Christianity’s Fatal Flaw: Failing to Fully Appreciate All the Ways God is Good (part 2 of 3)

What is Goodness? The Church of Sweden altarpiece “Paradise” by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin

 

+++

I don’t consider myself much of a systematic theologian, but the other day I had a bit of a burst of insight, one which I think helped me to better understand what is wrong with much American Christianity (and yes, to be sure, Western Christianity in general).

That is why, in the first post, I made the claim that:

“there is… common ground that can be found using the Bible that has, largely, hitherto remained “unsystematized” – and hence, not been able to be effectively used.

With a little work however, this common ground can be readily identified and used in promoting a feasible cultural and political program that all Christians can get behind….”

A few key caveats beforehand:

  1. I do believe there are people who are really Christians but are nevertheless in the habit of obfuscating the Bible, or at the very least not given to proclaiming either its divine nature or its clarity. If you don’t think a passage like 2 Tim 3:16 is particularly relevant for today, you might want to stop reading this series now.
  2. In sum, what is provided here is really a tool to make it easier for the steadfast Christian to provide theological assistance to the waffling Christian.
  3. Expectations nevertheless must be managed. This series, I think, will both unite and divide.

Let’s dive in!…

+++

It is my contention that many American Christians think as they do about goodness because, in the end, it enables them to adjust to the culture at the expense of the Word of God.

Who do you fear?

 

At the same time, I don’t think they necessarily know that! In other words, they are largely unaware that this is indeed what they are doing…that this is how they suppress this truth…

What are we missing? In sum, we are missing that the Bible shows us that there are 5, and perhaps 6, kinds of goodness (can you come up with some more?) that can be distinguished:

  • There is the possibility of a goodness we currently have no frame of reference for even comprehending – in other words, a final goodness in the new heavens and earth that we don’t even begin to know in this life!
  • There is the goodness of the creation prior to man’s fall into sin that we begin to know now and will know fully in the new heavens and earth.
  • There is the goodness of the creation prior to man’s fall into sin that will not persist in the new heavens and earth.
  • There is the goodness in the fallen creation that will persist in the new heavens and earth.
  • There is the goodness in the fallen creation that will not persist in the new heavens and earth.
  • There is the goodness that God initiated in light of the angelic rebellion, which will persist alongside the new heavens and earth.

…Again, American Christians tend to not notice these important distinctions – and hence much confusion is able to reign in their churches (starting in the more liberal churches) even before such confusion engulfs the culture surrounding them.

Let’s dig into those six points, drawing from the wisdom the Bible has for us here…. I will also address them according to the order of greatness!

We can call it the “Biblical Hierarchy of Goodness”.

+++

There is the possibility of a goodness we currently have no frame of reference for even comprehending – in other words, a final goodness in the new heavens and earth that we don’t even begin to know in this life!

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived — the things God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9).

Let the good times roll… It doesn’t get any better than this… Wait.

 

There is the goodness of the creation prior to man’s fall into sin that we begin to know now and will know fully in the new heavens and earth.

There are things that men and women now do imperfectly, but will do perfectly in the life to come. Here, one can look at the 10 commandments, and see how they point out both what heaven won’t and will contain in perfection. For example, in heaven we will not kill or hate, lust or be unchaste, steal or covet, lie or defame. Rather, we will honor our parents and every authority with our every action towards our neighbors, being driven fully by pure love for God, His whole creation, and all His purposes. Furthermore, our fear, love, and trust in God and desire to speak with Him, praise Him, and give Him thanks will only be heightened, as all sin is forever left behind.

There is the goodness of the creation prior to man’s fall into sin that will not persist in the new heavens and earth.

Marriage would be the prime example of the goodness that we know now among ourselves, but will not know in heaven. On the one hand, marriage was in the cards from the beginning, and Adam and Eve were encouraged to be fruitful and multiply. And yet, on the other hand, Jesus also tells us explicitly that while people were getting married and being given in marriage in the days of Noah, in the life to come they will neither marry not be given in marriage.

But it can be so good! Marriage and family not forever?!

 

There is the goodness in the fallen creation that will persist in the new heavens and earth.

Now, as we begin to deal with God’s goodness made in reaction to the actions of His creatures, we see that the book of Revelation presents us a stunning picture: “before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Stunning and beautiful as this may be, one also notes that different languages and groups initially resulted, in part from the sinful actions of man and corresponding actions from God (see for example, Genesis 10 and 11, the later chapter describing the “Tower of Babel” incident). Presumably, Adam and Eve would have looked similar to one another, but God wants a kind of diversity in heaven! Other examples of this might be that we see the “Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” in the book of Revelation (see, e.g. 5:6) and—in spite of the fact that meat was presumably eaten only after the fall into sin—we get a picture of “choice meats” in the vision of the new creation in Isaiah 25 (my son believes these might be created through some kind of 3-D printing process).

There is the goodness in the fallen creation that will not persist in the new heavens and earth.

I believe this is the most complicated of the six kinds of goodness, and hence, will spend additional time on it.

First, evil is never good and God does not do evil. Yes, nothing could exist or have energy without the God in whom all things depend, but no, He does not do evil.

Saying that might engender some controversy, but it shouldn’t. The word “evil” in Scripture can mean either metaphysical evil (just think of the term “pure evil”) or it can mean “harm”. What this means is that if God is ever said to do “evil” then, it can, first of all, mean that He harms in order to help. As in the Proverb “wounds from a friend can be trusted.” All this is in fact a kind of “goodness,” or a “good”—though not, of course grace!—in the fallen world.

Even if rational and sinful man cannot see this, faith can!

“faith and the Spirit… believ[es] that God is good even though he should destroy all men.” — Luther, p. 202

.

Or, alternatively, God does “harm” in order to restrain and/or punish evil, which thereby helps others. When He does this, He does not, punish evil with evil, even if He uses evil persons to accomplish His purposes. In fact, His vengeance and punishment, are synonymous with His [retributive] justice (which is just a part of the wider biblical conception of justice or righteousness) and are therefore good. Again, all of this is in fact also a kind of “goodness,” or a “good” in the fallen creation.

Again, even if rational and sinful man cannot see this, faith can! 

There is much more to talk about here, getting into nitty-gritty details. For example, going along with what has been said above, the death penalty and military/police service—a couple things which many struggle to call “good” in the creation—are an example of the goodness that we find in a fallen world. In Eden and in the life to come, there will be no need of such things.

Another good example is worldly or civil government, which, post-fall, supplements the family and church as well, supporting them by bearing the sword for good in the world.

In like fashion, seemingly unlike property (which, though it will undoubtedly be eagerly shared, certainly seems to exist in some sense in heaven), money plays a temporary role in the fallen creation. We can observe, for example, that material wealth and things like money are often the only thing that can cause an unkind person to act kindly towards (at least externally) another person (when all notions of another’s rights are either non-existent in or have left this person)….

If they don’t respect God, they might respect this.

 

Furthermore—and most challenging—as right as it is to assert that God is compassionate, loves His whole creation (see Psalm 145) and “does not desire the death of [even] the wicked,” we must also simultaneously assert that no one is “innocent” when lives are claimed by “natural” disasters (though, when it comes to how to respond in real time, see this[i]). These should be a sign for all of us, reminding us of our sin (see Romans 8:21-23) and reminding us to repent (see Luke 13:1-5).

The ceremonial and civil laws of the Old Testament also present a kind of temporary goodness. They were meant for the theocratic nation of Israel, and existed precisely as they did in that nation because Adam and Eve had introduced sin into the world.

Regarding the ceremonial practices of the Israelites (this is something the “but God said shellfish was sinful” crowd will want to note), the Scriptures assert that the ceremonial laws themselves are revealed in the Gospels to express deeper truths, are shown in the book of Colossians to be shadows which pointed to the reality – Christ – to come, and are abrogated in the book of Acts by God Himself.

In like fashion, the civil laws of the nation of Israel were specifically created for Israel, in order that they might be a showcase of sorts to the nations. Many of these laws were only “good” not in that they offered the closure of retributive justice, but in that they simply offered a weak and temporary restraint vs. evil, or “damage control.” And also note that “good” laws regulating divorce, for example, would not only have been absolutely inconceivable in Eden, but are also singled out for His disdain! Nevertheless, note that even as God “hates divorce,” He initiates it in the O.T. vs. His people. Contrariwise, also note that God never indicates that other kinds of things that could only be “good” in light of sin and/or the fallen world—like polygamy or owning others as property for example—are things that He hates, even if should not think for a minute that he likes them either.

How hard can they get? We don’t want to know.

 

At the same time, it is also true that these laws also help reveal clues about God’s character and therefore might also contain for us practical knowledge about the purposes of God’s creation. As such, some of these laws might prudently be applied by Christian rulers in Christian freedom. These, of course, would be things that are in line with the 10 commandments, covered above….

There is the goodness that God initiated in light of the angelic rebellion, which will persist alongside the new heavens and earth.

Yes, even hell, created for the devil and His angels, is a good thing! This also helps us to put the last kind of goodness into proper perspective as well.

And with that, let’s give quick names to these 6 kinds of created goodness:

  • Unknown Final Goodness
  • Persisting Edenic Goodness
  • Non-persisting Edenic Goodness.
  • Persisting Fallen Goodness
  • Non-persisting Fallen Goodness
  • Invisible Goodness (Angelic Goodness)

+++

Now, the question becomes this: is there an even easier way to sum up these 6 points?

I have already alluded to the fact that we know that the final 3 kinds of goodness are all certainly made by God in response to the actions of His creation.

Another biblical, and I think better way of addressing them in an imperfect and short-hand fashion, might be to say that there is immature and mature goodness, which basically correlates with temporal kinds of goodness and eternal kinds of goodness.

Some clarification on the word “eternal” is needed here though. God’s character is an eternal kind of goodness which certainly informs even the temporal kinds of goodness. That said, God’s own eternal, uncreated character is not the only thing that we can refer to as “eternal”. We can also talk about things being eternal when it comes to certain temporary or created beings God means to live forever without sin.

“It is said improperly, that is, not rightly and not fittingly, that we are obliged to do what is impossible by the law.” – Luther

 

So, again, to drive home the point: “eternal” in this sense would mean that this is the goodness that God means for man to have in himself forever in communion with Him: Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

God might have meant this for the angels as well, but at the same time He says that He desires all human beings to be saved, not the angels. Therefore, insofar as we are talking about what we can know about eternal goodness, only the second item on the list above is fundamentally related to the eternal goodness God means for all men to know, imperfectly now, and forever in the life to come (yes, we might argue about the fourth kind of goodness). 

What does this mean for all the other kinds of goodness that we see in the rest of the Bible? For one, it means that while Adam and Eve were innocent, they were not perfect or “complete”. In other words, though they were “very good,” that is, without sin, they were not fully mature in that goodness. They had an immature goodness.

What does this mean?: “[He] grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man”.

.

In like fashion, the Old Testament saints as a whole had an “immature goodness” in relation to the New Testament church, which now has the fullness of the message of God’s grace and lives by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (and the New Testament church is likewise immature in relation to the Church Triumphant in Heaven). Again, as noted above, we see this idea of “immaturity” in other respects as well: while the death penalty is not something that will be present in heaven, God has nevertheless commanded the death penalty (see Romans 13) as something which is good in the fallen world that we live. In fact, contra men like Pope Francis, this cannot be denied without affecting the preaching of the Gospel.

Of course what complicates matters is that something that we are not told is part of the fall—something like marriage itself—is also a part of that immature and temporary goodness. Why won’t those who are married to one another now be married in the new heavens and earth? Well, not only will no new persons be created there, but earthly marriage is meant to be a sign, or icon, of the fact that each and every person is a member of the human race, who, in relation to their Creator, is meant to be His Bride.

This is a great mystery… but I am talking about Christ and the Church…. (Paul in Eph. 5)

 

Just as the Son of God is equally God yet before His Father takes on a subordinate relation within the Godhead, this is supposed to be, to use a controversial term, “natural” for us. This is not, however, the case now—even for Christians (see Romans 7)—even if it will be in maturity, in the life to come (for more reflection on this notion of maturity in the Bible, please see this post, “This New Years’s Consider Becoming Perfect in Jesus Christ”).

I hope thusfar this article has shown that while all of this is undoubtedly complicated, it nevertheless deserves our most intense reflection.

That said… we might also be able to understand why some want to stay fixated on the simple need to be accused by God’s law for failing to take it seriously—and how this is all meant simply to drive us to Jesus Christ, who provides for us “the end of the law”. Since we are told Christ ends the law, looking too deeply at these kinds of goodness and how that goodness might correlate with God’s commands might be interpreted as wanting to be put “back under the law”. That fundamentally means a determination to save one’s self by following God’s laws or even just one’s own laws.

Here the point is made in rather stark terms:

Is the “opinion legis,” or the “opinion of the law,” driving the show, with you trying to justify yourself? In other words, have you realized that, in each and every case, trying to be lawful, to be good, to be better… is basically synonymous with trying to be God?  

There is no doubt that suggesting that this is indeed the case as well as the main point does seem to radically simplify things.

Is trying to be a better Christian really opposing God’s grace?

 

This might also seem comforting in some ways. We can insist that since we can’t do anything to better ourselves, only God can “reveal” His truth to us as well! If we don’t feel like He has done this for us personally… experientially… it’s not, in the end, our truth.

This kind of “comforting” though, can spiritually kill… Does not Jesus, in Luke 24, hold the Emmaus-road disciples responsible for their ignorance?

The issue ultimately comes down to what it means to, as some Lutherans liked to put it especially in the mid-20th century, “let God be God.”

We’ll try to tie everything together in the last post…

FIN

 

 

[i] Matthew Harrsion, the current president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, was the Director of LCMS World Relief/Human Care when the Tsunami of Dec. 2004 hit, and was there on the ground.  Here is what he wrote about that experience:

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

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on December 5, 2019 in Uncategorized