Monthly Archives: March 2020

Is the Law Written Because it Feels Right, or Does it Feel Right Because it’s the Law?

If the law is natural, why was it given at Sinai?



My student Beth writes:

I was thinking about [the question you gave us:] Is Christianity true because it works or work because it’s true[?] I was sort of thinking of this comparison [though another thing we had discussed:] that through the law we become conscious of our sins. I wonder is the law written because it feels right, or does it feel right because it’s the law. For example, it is a law/commandment that we do not steal because in general stealing something that isn’t yours is bad. But what if someone steals food because they are hungry and don’t have the means is this really a bad thing? It seems there are many bible versus that reference people killing others. Did this become a law/commandment because it can’t possibly feel right to take another persons life? Did God sit and watch what humans did on earth and determine what he needed to make known his wishes? (questions from Beth used with her permission).

I respond:

Thank you so much. This is a great question.

The idea is that God created us to be a certain way, run in certain paths (truthfulness, honesty, goodness, loyalty, fidelity, trust, love, etc). This is why the negative prohibitions of the 10 commandments especially can make sense to us (but coveting? see even the Apostle Paul’s seeming confusion in Romans 7).

Now, prior to the Fall we would have not known evil, so the things the commands forbid, really, largely, would have been unthinkable to us.

Now, however, after the fall, they are thinkable.

That said, those continuing in the line of Adam and Eve and Abel would have clearly known that these previously unthinkable ways were wrong as they would know it not only in their consciences which were strengthened by the real faith they had in God (and his Genesis 3:15 promise!) but also because of social reinforcement of that same knowledge (of what not to do, what to do, and the promises God had given). In other words, what they heard from mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, etc.

The idea here though is that among many, or at least among a vast number of Adam’s descendents, the people, like Cain before them, forget God and His ways. The knowledge in their conscience is not reinforced and so they forget and, as faith is lost, even begin to suppress that truth in unrighteousness (see Romans 1 here in particular)…

For even more careful detail and nuance, see the post here:


A popularized account of Luther’s Antinomian theses. See here.


This syncs up with a couple other short conversations I’ve recently had about this kind of thing with some other theologians.

In one case, the question has to do with God’s goodness. Can we assert God’s goodness in the face of overwhelming evil? Is it true that sinful man only can know and assert that God is good when he has knowledge of the Gospel, particularly the message of God’s love shown in His suffering on the cross?

We do need to assert, vs. forms of atheism, agnosticism and nihilism that there is a good God who must be feared, loved and trusted in. The end of Romans 1 makes this clear:

“they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

Not that such knowledge should really give anyone comfort though! (nor can anyone, by the way, just “decide,” from their own free powers, to fear, love and trust in Him!). The reason has to do with the other short conversation….


I had said:

When I talk about Christians being accused, I am talking about accusation which causes the fear of damnation. Clearly, repentance is necessary, for the Christian life is one of perpetual repentance and faith only lives in repentance. If one is “fleeing to Christ” merely for pardon and not for the power to fight against that sin, one is living in a fantasy. That person has a false conception of Christ and/or faith and that one is practicing idolatry. Damnable. We note that the Book of Concord talks about repentance in two ways, and one of those ways presumes faith. It is contrition and faith.

At this point, I was asked–by a quite theologically informed Lutheran no less–whether I wished to separate knowledge of a sin and the ability to fight against it into two different acts of grace. Or whether I thought that this was the same act, such that anyone with knowledge also has ability…

My response here brought me back again to–surprise, surprise!–Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations:

I’d recommend you slowly work your way through that series/summary of the content of Luther’s Antinomian Disputations. Knowledge of sin is given not by grace but in the law in one’s conscience. Some suppress it more and others less but all suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Without the Gospel, all this knowledge can do is condemn us utterly before God. So you can’t say people don’t have this knowledge. They do. Now, even pagans have the ability to fight against sin in “things below”. Since deep down they know right and wrong, and even know that they should believe in [the Christian] God, they can act good before men. They can, by their own internal powers, fulfill the law externally to a very strong degree. That said, they will never even begin to properly fulfill it because they do not have the beginnings of real fear (respect, reverence, and honor), love and trust in God. They cannot, for they dwell in darkness.

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



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Posted by on March 28, 2020 in Uncategorized


Not Just the Vikings…. Every Christian is a Christian Nationalist!



So… a bit culturally out of it these days, I suppose. I didn’t know about the show Vikings, which started a few years back on the History Channel.

My current student Alexa, responding to one of our class videos up on You Tube (about the sacraments), tells me that the series…

“…can [now] be found on Amazon Prime and Hulu. There are some great episodes that actually are great examples of baptism, [with] the internal struggle of characters (Ragnar specifically) etc. [In] the story of the Norseman who raided Europe you see the clash of “religions” and Christians vs Pagan Gods etc.”

Sounds like a really interesting series (and it reminded me that I wanted to check out the Viking novels of Lars Walker as well but never have!)!

This same student also said the following:

“While listening to the web media and talking about baptism and [the idea of] de-baptism [and] renouncing your faith. It was interesting. I do agree that on one hand baptism “saves” a person but to your point can renounce their faith.

It actually brought me to the show Vikings, where the pagans who wish to settle in England are asked to renounce their Norse Mythology gods and be baptized in God’s image. Some do so, but not fully in heart and spirit and therefore, in the end, revert back to their Norse religion. I would imagine baptism for some could be the same way. It is a matter of how serious, how committed a person is to being saved if they will be saved in the end.”

It was a great comment, and here is how I chose to respond, using the same Bible passage that later on that night would be the Epistle reading at my church (see the streamed service here)!:


I know what you are saying. I think a lot of this has to do not so much with actions but with one’s true beliefs. How much do they think they are a sinner? How much do they need Jesus really? How deep does this go? How driven into the board is the nail? We are told to persevere, to keep the faith, to treasure what has been given to us, passed on…

All true.

And yet, this passage points us again, indirectly, to the significance of baptism that I’ve been pounding on (His commitment to us!):

“Here is a trustworthy saying:

If we died with him,

we will also live with him;

if we endure,

we will also reign with him.

If we disown him,

he will also disown us;

if we are faithless,

he remains faithful,

for he cannot disown himself.”

A couple other students commented on a short audio clip I shared with them in the video from Pastor Tom Baker where he says that it is not so much that we were baptized, but that we are baptized (here – it will start playing immediately) One said to me:

I really liked the emphasis on how we ‘are’ baptised vs how we ‘were’ baptised. It makes more sense to refer to baptism as an ever ongoing representation of our faith in Jesus rather than a 1 time event that just cured us of our sins.

She went on to say “I understand the meaning of being baptised as a helpless infant, but I would have preferred to do it later in life so I could remember my own baptism because I think then it would have felt more meaningful to me…”

Not so much “I was baptized”, but “I am baptized!”


I responded as follows:

I think I can understand where you are coming from. At the same time, when people speak about “remembering their baptism” it is not necessarily about the actual historical circumstances surrounding their baptism they are thinking about, but rather the moment when God committed to them, took them, made them His.

He did all of this, putting His Name on them forever.

So, when I take a shower or even wash my hands, I can be reminded that I am baptized. That I am called to repent and believe always in the Lord Jesus Christ…because that is who I, by His grace, am.

Do you see what I am saying here? The relevance for the title of this post and the common idea today of “identity politics”?

This was core to Luther’s concerns in the Reformation: “I am a Christian. I hold to God’s word and His precious promises! Your saying or implying that I am not does not change this!”

The Gospel is always for the Christian who falls, flails, and fails.


And that is why when the Vikings got baptized they became Christian Nationalists!


Well, Peter said it well:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

“A holy nation” indeed! If you are a Christian, you are a part of an “ἔθνος ἅγιον” and therefore a nationalist!

This also goes a long way in helping us understand why for many Christians throughout history, being German and being Norwegian, for example, were closely connected. So, if you are a Norwegian, who are now a Christian people, of course you will be baptized!

Was that often something that was abused, cheapened, and hi-jacked by those who wanted to downplay and weaken Christianity? And, alternatively, was the significance of this denied by slave owners, who, concerned that their property was converting, might have to free them (according to the Old Testament laws)? Yes! It certainly was.

At the same time, as long as the order was kept right, there is nothing wrong with looking at things this way at all.

In fact, I am not really sure how else you can look at it. We are explicitly told in Scripture that nations, or ethnos, will remain–even in heaven!–and along with tribes and tongues as well.

So, regarding my house we say “Christian first. American second.” Nevertheless, I am an American nationalist.


In related content… if you missed this bit about St. Patrick and the fifth-century conversion of the Irish from Hans Fienne last year, check it out now:


And a great prayer for Christian nationalists to pray, based on his famous prayer of protection:

1 Christ beside me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
King of my heart;
Christ within me,
Christ below me,
Christ above me
never to part.

2 Christ on my right hand,
Christ on my left hand,
Christ all around me
shield in the strife;
Christ in my sleeping,
Christ in my sitting,
Christ in my rising
light of my life.

3 Christ beside me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
King of my heart;
Christ within me,
Christ below me,
Christ above me
never to part.




Posted by on March 20, 2020 in Uncategorized


How my Vocation, Librarianship, Taught Me that Knowledge is Now “Knowledge”

Foucault: truth is produced by power.


My vocation of academic librarianship is pretty interesting.

Some in my profession continue to say reasonable-sounding things like: “[people] come to libraries seeking information that will help them create knowledge. They do not want misinformation or disinformation; they do not want to be deceived”.

On the other hand, I read others insisting that “power operates through knowledge production”, “knowledge production is […] historically situated and embedded in power relations” and its production “never occurs outside power relations”.

That idea sounds complicated, but maybe it really isn’t. Maybe its as simple as what another academic librarian says:

“its not even so much that knowledge is power, but “it’s more reflective of reality to say, ‘Power is knowledge’”.

Power is knowledge.

Cue the great contemporary philosopher Richard Rorty, now deceased: “Truth is what our peers will let us get away with saying.”

Rorty thought that was a good thing. For many an elite contemporary person then, knowledge and truth aren’t strictly related. Don’t necessarily go together.

Knowledge is “knowledge” [in quotes]…

Whatever words and skills that you pick up – and that you can employ — to get the job you and others want done done – that is ultimately what is important.

Do you see how the role of things like facts (“facts” in quotes) diminishes here?

What is important is that there are only other persons who exercise power over their circumstances, their worlds, and who trust each other or not.

We might say this is knowledge as conceivable, useful, trust.

Do you see why I am bringing this up?

People who have this view–even unconsciously–are definitely going to struggle with the Apostle Paul’s idea of “the pattern of sound teaching [or words]”

Why? Because the meaning of words changes and can change. Because all things, after all, evolve.

Radical transformation – not necessarily understood in a Christian sense – is what life is all about!

Even human nature is fluid…. Authors from the past die and we move on, radically reinterpreting their words for our era.

For the world, if there is a movement of the Spirit, it is about changing what has been considered “natural” and changing the future – not “tradition” in any sense!


In Christianity, on the other hand, knowledge can be said to be power as well, but for a very, very different reason.

Knowledge is power because our understanding of knowledge is that it is not just conceivable useful trust but justified, true, belief.

If we do not believe something, it cannot be knowledge that we personally possess.

If we sincerely believe that something is true but it is false–it is not –this can hardly be called knowledge.

Finally, knowledge is something that can be justified – believing something is warranted because good evidence and reasons can be given…

This is the classical definition of knowledge, and goes hand in hand with the Christian faith.

It doesn’t matter if your words “work” for the goals that you try to reach.



My related academic papers: (conclusion of the same here:



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Posted by on March 9, 2020 in Uncategorized


How Sick are We Really?: a Message for Lent


“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” — Mark 2:17b


Sermon text from Mar. 4, 2020

Let’s be honest.

The Jesus Christ that we meet in the Bible has a bad habit of hanging around with the wrong people.

Right in the beginning of the fast-moving Gospel of Mark, Jesus calls the tax collector Matthew, to follow him. And then being challenged by the Pharisees about his willingness to eat with “tax collectors and sinners”, Jesus says to them:

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick….”


Here is the question though: Who, besides Matthew, the tax collectors and sinners, are these sick ones?

Is it I, Lord? And if so, how much do we really need Jesus to be our doctor?

Some commentators say that Jesus is just emphasizing that He came for those who really need Him – and that He’s not denying that there are actually healthy and righteous people who don’t need a doctor… [1]

And you know, if you talk to some modern preachers and preacher-ettes — particularly the ones that seem to get all the airtime — you might get the impression that we aren’t necessarily in desperate need of the Great Physician.

We, rather, are perhaps just a little bit sick… [2]

I mean, that is something that most everyone can say is true, right? “Yes, I know I have a few little problems… That’s basically it though… Maybe I could use a hand here and there!”

We don’t really have deeply intractable sin and evil within us, we just have certain hang-ups, addictions, “peccadilloes”, foibles!

Just little bad habits…

Maybe we really just need to communicate better, get better advice, love and forgive ourselves and do our best!

And what’s all this biblical criticism of the world or the world’s system? Yes, the world isn’t perfect — we know. Things might even seem to be really bleak from time to time.

But our real problem is usually just a lack of “self-esteem”!

And one might even hear similar messages in the church. Doesn’t the Gospel writer Matthew quote the prophet Isaiah saying that Jesus

“…took up our infirmities (that is “physical or mental weaknesses”)

and bore our diseases…”

It seems God doesn’t want His children to be sick, right?….

He wants them to be healthy, happy, and even wealthy, right?

And doesn’t God want to bless us when we help ourselves by doing what we believe is right?


Men and women who preach this message make millions and millions of dollars.

Maybe they are doing something right?

Maybe you have heard and even been attracted to some of them…[3]

What might Luther have had to say about such worldly messengers though? Speaking about Jesus’s commission to his disciples, before His death, resurrection, and ascension, Luther said that this, more specifically, is what Jesus was telling his disciples:

“… The Holy Spirit will accomplish through you things which pertain to my kingdom far more glorious and powerful than you now imagine. He will do this so that you will not, as you do now, plan and scheme how to become rulers on earth and conquer great kingdoms” (which is all perishing stuff, about which God does not care, and where there has been always more fools than pious men).

“Rather, the Holy Spirit will place you in a government by which you will judge the consciences of all men. That which is greatest in the world—that is, all its wisdom and holiness—will be subject to you. You will judge, convict, and condemn it. Furthermore, no one shall, nor can, escape sin, death, and hell, or get to heaven, who does not hear your word and desire to obey the same.”

“The Holy Spirit will also give you such comfort and courage that you will not be terrified as you now are. You also will not be deathly afraid of the world’s intimidation, anger, and rage against your preaching. Rather, you will confidently continue to convict, regardless of what both world and devil can do, and does do against it, with persecution, murder, and the power of all hell.”

This is the promise concerning the work that the Holy Spirit is to begin in the kingdom of Christ, which is the teaching office of the apostles. This is to be carried out by convicting the world as it finds it, and that is, outside of Christ. It does not exclude anyone great or small, learned, wise or holy, rich or poor.

In short, this is what it means to draw the world’s wrath upon oneself and to pick a fight. This is why one must be struck in the mouth. For the world, which rules here on earth, neither wants, nor can put up with, someone who does not want the world to be right. This is why persecutions must begin because of this. This is why one party must yield to the other, the weaker one to the stronger one…”

The world must, will, bow.

As the book of James says:…. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble…” (4:6)


And yet, how qualified do anyone of us feel to deliver this message? One thinks of the prophet Isaiah, who witnessing the Lord’s glory cried out

“Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Infected with the virus of sin, we continue to infect others and they us. We…

  • Are a polluted fountain!
  • Have a spiritual disease that infects us…  like leprosy or AIDS!
  • Utterly turned in on ourselves!
  • Little gods in our own minds, proudly strutting through the world…

We are sinners!

And it’s not even that we are sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners.


Even the Apostle Paul, even while talking about how much he wanted to follow God, cried out: “Wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?”

A good question. Here, on earth, health, wealth, and status often seem like our greatest need. We need what’s sexy, success and stuff.

In fact, if we love these things instead of simply using them and being thankful for them, receiving them as the gifts of God that we are, we will be lost…

Why? Well, we need to recognize, as the Epistle of 1 John puts it:

“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 Jn. 2:16).

Jesus Christ’s brother, James, also socks us right in the face:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (Jas. 4:4)

The immediate context of this passage? Humanity’s unbridled passions, greed, and pride:

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (4:2-3)

Again, there is still a deep rot within us… even as Christians we most certainly do not fear, love, and trust in our God as we should… we rather, inevitably so, find ourselves following in the train of our first parents, Adam and Eve.

Not sure if that is true for you? Again, the evidence that you, too, are a sinner is your death….

As Christians, we should know that God really does desire to bless His children.

That said, the popular views of the day, always emphasizing the glories of the world rather than its curses and crosses, misses the boat entirely…

Some are critical of the season of Lent and things like Ash Wednesday for just this reason. A little fasting – giving up this or that?

A little smudge of ash? What good is such an external show of humility — which one might also be tempted to take pride in — that sinful pride that is killing us in the first place?!

Look at my ashes man…

None of this, these critics feel, really addresses the true problem!

We can’t cover our problem by “getting our Ash in chapel”

…as a creative advertisement I saw put it…


So, what’s the diagnosis doc? What’s the diagnosis… Jesus?

Again, as we’ve discussed… things are almost always far worse than we have imagined…

This is why He has come. And that is why He doesn’t reveal to you all the bad at once!

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

And the point of true fasting acknowledges this: we, even as believers, have a sinful nature that needs to learn its place. That needs to be starved and driven to desperation…

That it too, might be subject to the Word of God.

We need to rely and depend on God’s spiritual nourishment, not just earthly food…

The true message of the ashes on Ash Wednesday tells us a similar story: the Christian life is one of perpetual repentance, as – because of our baptism – the old man must die daily, and the new man rise again…

And, as the Apostle Paul reminds us:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

The outer man, the old Adam, the old nature…. not just our body but our sin-sick soul…

must be taken for a walk, corralled, starved, tied up, chained, threatened, thrashed, killed, etc.

In short, drowned where he belongs in baptism so that it does not have the energy to drown out, and if it could, even displace, the new creation and life that God makes in His Christians through the death and resurrection of Christ.

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other…”

Do you, unlike the Pharisees, realize that you are sick?

That you yourself carry a sinful nature?

If so, who is there to turn too?


There is only one who can give us the power we need to successfully fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil….

To keep the faith.

About a year ago, I helped an Asian exchange student who came into our library with a very specific paper in mind that we wanted to write.

He wanted to compare the goal, or mission of Islam’s leader, Mohammad, with that of Jesus.

We had a surprisingly difficult time, even using Google, finding nice summaries of what both men had said about this. And I won’t bore you with all the librarian tricks I used to eventually nail down some good stuff for him (and, hereafter, get me thinking about the overwhelming significance of the simple task the student had latched onto).

I will tell you this though: there is one very big difference between the two men… While muslims may indeed tout the mercy and compassion of the prophet, they are not going to say that he – or the God he serves – is the friend of sinners….

Jesus came specifically for sinners… as sinners.

He’s here to heal even us who can’t seem to ever fully get our acts together!

Just like a good doctor, He’s not shrinking back from those who have even the most perilous and frightening diseases of the world, the flesh, and the devil so that He might treat them….

And… you get to do that too.

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… 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.

No other God does this!

So thank God Jesus is God.




[1] We can also see in the first few chapters of Mark that the ideas of sickness, illness, and sin, are all related. At the same time, I note that a good number of commentators seem to feel that Jesus isn’t necessarily saying that the Pharisees are sick and that they don’t recognize it.

According to them, Jesus just wants to communicate how He primarily came for the people who need Him most, the sick and sinners — not those who are already healthy and righteous…

Those whole and righteous people, these commentators maintain, truly exist. The 14th century theologian John Wycliffe would have agreed. Reflecting the medical practices of his time, he said: “Whole men have no need to [for] a leech, but they that have evil…”]

[2] [Maybe just a little bit of a leech is what we need!]

[3] Nevermind that some of the most prominent advocates of these positions also say that Jesus Christ Himself was not perfect but committed sins just as we do!

What is this, if not rebellion? What is this, if not missing the mark?



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Posted by on March 6, 2020 in Uncategorized