Monthly Archives: October 2022

How to Best Fear the Maker and Give Him Glory

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church in Clam Falls, Wisconsin on 10/30/2022


“Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.”

-Rev. 14:7


Brothers and sisters in Christ, today is Reformation day, the day we remember and even celebrate a certain pastor and professor’s recovery of the Gospel in the medieval church, just over 500 years ago:

The recovered Gospel… that is the good news of the free grace of God – not by works – offered in Jesus Christ…

At the funeral of Martin Luther, in the German city of Eisleben on February 22nd, 1563, four days after his death, his pastor Johannes Bugenhagen, said, “…[W]hat shall I say and how shall I speak, since I probably will not be able to utter a word because of my tears?”

And he then preached for about forty minutes, and his sermon text was the text that we read in Revelation today in place of the Old Testament reading…

It begins by saying “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people…” The Greek word for angel here is ἄγγελος, and it means either a heavenly or earthly messenger.

Reasoning that Luther had been monumental in the church in his recovery of the heart of this eternal Gospel, Bugenhagen applied this text to Luther.

Luther was that angel, that messenger.[1]

We’ll come back to that idea a little bit later on[2].

For now, we can definitely say this:

However one might feel about Bugenhagen’s assertion, Luther did indeed vigorously proclaim that eternal Gospel which brought joy and peace into the hearts of men!

And yet, how much can our world today understand this?[3]


After all, today, people as a whole really, really, don’t fear God…

Alternatively, when we talk about our lives and their meaning – when we stop being distracted by our screens that is – we are a nation of self-help.

The Victorian Brit Samuel Smiles started this in the late 19th century as his ideas caught fire around the world…

…and years later Dale Carnegie taught us how to make friends and influence people.

Today even “pastors” like Joel Osteen have joined the self-help chorus.

Recently however, I heard a pastor and theology professor speak about the resurgence in popularity of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism!

Evidently, going by the name of “mindfulness”, “resiliency training,” or sometimes simply “grit”, this revival of Stoicism can be seen in a number of quarters: on the psychologist’s or counselor’s couch[4], in the corporate boardroom, and particularly, in the U.S. military… popularized especially by Admiral James Stockdale.[5]

Even though this modern form lacks the comprehensive worldview of the ancient form – which believed in all the traditional forms of virtue Christians would uphold and that would serve the common good of one’s fellow man – this new Stoicism nevertheless still has some real practical value for those who are attempting to survive in the contemporary world…

With personal happiness and peace of mind through “imperturbability” as its goal, it not only talks about the enduring value of some virtues like justice, courage, wisdom and self-control – but also like its ancient form proclaims to its disciples that we can’t always change others or the events that surround us but that we can change how we react to such things

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, one of the best-known Stoic thinkers, aptly summarizes the Stoic mindset: “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

In other words, we can all to some extent “remain aloof” and control our emotional responses to the things that happen to us, whether this be “fate”, as in the ancient world, or the “laws of nature” we speak of today.

“Mind over matter,” so to speak…

To sum it up, as the author puts it, it “offers its adherents a resource for life’s challenges, steels the nerves for hardships, and provides perspective”…

Luther wisely said “[I]f if you want to begin with, and treat of, physical freedom, you will become so muddled and confused that you will lose both freedom[ of the body and the soul]” … and in some ways, it seems like Stoicism might agree with him here!


We cannot deny that in some regards a resurgence in Stoicism has a lot of good practical advice that, really and truly, is not wholly incompatible with the Christian life….

  • You are not that significant, so prioritize your brief life!
  • Be a realist in the world and seek increasingly to be prepared… practice good habits and techniques to help you in this quest.
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable and be tolerant of others and thankful!
  • And remember, you will die….

But again, even as death is acknowledged here…

it is not feared.

For the Maker – the Creator of all! – who tells us that the wages of sin is death

is not feared…

…but instead is seen as impersonal, one with nature, insignificant to our greater questions…

Again, against all modern man’s doubt, this is what the Bible tells us, and will continue to insist ( : ) ), is the problem: man does not fear the Creator!

As better as it might be than living by one’s every feeling and whim, self-mastery under one’s own self-power is still not what God has in mind for any man…

And for Stoicism today and for that of the ancient world… being right with, being pleasing to a personal God who is here and not silent is not what man has in mind either…


There are more problems. I said we really, really, don’t fear God today. Why do I say this?

The author of the article, chaplain John Bombaro, points out one more thing… Modern stoicism, again, is modern, contemporary…

…and so, it, being popular, in almost all cases has been highly influenced by and therefore fits well into the predominant value system that is dominating the Western world in general and America in particular

And he notes contemporary Stoicism not only getting rid of any of the aspects of the ancient version that one might think could never bring personal peace, but also shows that it really fits in with the self-justifying environment we find in today’s modern life

That environment, he says, is humanitarianism.

Among our “best and brightest”, if you simply feel an affinity for what is considered “humane” by our society and culture – like today abolishing ethical, biological and all national borders for instance – you are a “good person”…

You certainly need not worry about things like death after judgment, the afterlife, and where you stand with God!

As Bombaro rightly puts it, Stoicism fails to realize that “from its conception, the heart is a thorny bramble…

And especially the modern Western heart. I think this is really illustrated well in the following quote as he mercilessly critiques this contemporary form of Stoicism:

“due to the failure of the rationalistic Enlightenment, our postmodern milieu is decidedly post-rational. Behavior is largely the result of visceral reactions, sentimentalism, and emotionalism — the core behind today’s radical individualism. What is more, one’s feelings and behaviors are quite divorced from a sense of duty or traditional roles. Such norms have been demolished, right down to gender roles and parental duties. People may be imperturbed by others, but it’s the kind of narcissism that actually doesn’t care about others. Hence the meteoric rise of abortion, homelessness, crime, alienation, isolation, loneliness, suicide, conspicuous consumerism, and entitlement. All of this should sound familiar from the lips of the Pharisee who, in his laudable self-control, said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get’” (Luke 18:11-12). But neither was he justified.


In many ways, I think this critique can also point out the flaws of the better, more ancient form of Stoicism as well.

In other words, while that ancient form is better at borrowing insights from the law of God, published definitively in the 10 commandments, but also written on the human heart…

…it nevertheless fails to see that even a man who is righteous in the world’s eyes can have desires can be self-centered, turned in on themselves… twisted and disordered and unable to reach what is truly good…

Men and women of the cross, baptized into Jesus Christ, this goes for us as well…

Let us never forget that our Lord said that no one was good but God alone and that even His own disciples, though they rightly gave good gifts to their children, were in fact evil.

In the book of Romans that we heard this morning, it is made clear that the law of God reduced every human heart to silence.

Again, Stoicism, for all its good aspects, still falls into the pattern of the world that seeks to justify itself… in both the modern and ancient forms….

And the Muslim or religious Jew or Mormon? Some may indeed fear God and His law… but they still will not be justified by their works…

And even when our perishing pagan neighbors sense that something good and wonderful has transpired through him, their reflection before God ultimately reeks of self-glorification and a veiled ingratitude:

Ultimately, in line with the world’s pattern and in fact in serving the world’s spirit the creation and not the world’s Creator, Jesus Christ – both the religious and “non-religious” predictably think, every time:

“I’m a good person”, “I did it”, “I must have done something good”, “What a good boy am I”… 


No. They are not.

To feel this, to think this, to say this… is to mark one’s self for Satan and his servants.

Again, my fellow Christians, note that after they had been following Him for a good long while, Jesus called his own disciples wicked.

Luther was well aware of this evil and corruption that persisted within, and felt it in his bones… down to the core of his terrified conscience…

My friends, do you think you, apart from Christ’s cleansing blood, can escape that judgment?


In any philosophical or even religious system of men, elite or not, well-thought-out or not, “the need for rescue from ourselves and renewal from above, as well as reconciliation [is rendered] unnecessary, much less reconciliation through blood atonement…” (Bombaro)

But this is a lie.

Again, the whole world, and every man according to the nature he receives at birth, is unspeakably wicked, each one finally devoted to his own comfort, self-satisfaction, and glory…

Romans 3 says it doesn’t matter who we are talking about.

All have violated His commands.

All have sinned.

Missed the mark.


Fallen short.

All of us deserve the wrath of the Only One who is just.

All philosophies or religions – whatever their good aspects – still fall into the pattern of the world that seeks to justify itself…

But Romans 3, again, says:

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”

Even the good deeds some might think they can point to are insufficient… spoiled.

Not done in God’s love and for God’s love to the benefit of our neighbor.

This is what God’s law shows us, as it shuts us up.

But to what end?

Here, Luther helps us again: “To say that we are nothing and constantly sin when we do the best we can does not mean that we cause people to despair (unless they are fools); rather, we make them concerned about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

And then, finally, we are ready to hear again our reading from Romans:

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”


This, and this alone, gives us true peace with God!

The contemporary philosopher Sartre said “hell is other people” and Stoicism, in offering “imperturbability from others”, would give us some kind of peace but in a way that necessarily kills love for neighbor…

But Jesus Christ removes our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh[6], granting us not only peace with God, but reconciliation with all others in the family of God!…

As He puts it: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”


Now, sometimes when I was young, I thought “that would be a really good place to stop the sermon” when the pastor kept going, but folks – there’s more I’m eager, excited, to say on this Reformation Day!

So please be bear with me brothers and sisters!

If you would with me, let’s now think about our text again, with some help from Hebrews 9 which says…:

“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Heb. 9:27-28).

That second time is what our reading from Revelation is talking about.

It should be a time of comfort and joy for us!

The creation made new! Our fearsome enemies will not prevail but be defeated![7] In fact, in the book of Luke, when Jesus speaks of His coming again, He urges us to “lift up [our] heads”…

And so we, as ones who are truly His people, can fear God not with a servile kind of fear, but a rather a “filial fear”, giving us the picture of a child honoring, respecting, and revering his father…

All that said….

Let’s be honest and deal with the facts here…the context of our reading certainly gives us the impression that this will nevertheless be a frightening time for most everyone![8]

As we go on in chapter 14, we see this arresting picture describing the fate of those who reject Christ:

“[they] will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.” (Rev. 14:10)

And perhaps here, we might tremble as well…

For, again, which one of us is without sin? Which one of us has a completely undisturbed conscience?

What do we do when Satan, eager to accuse us and make us doubt we are Christians, throws our undeniable and many sins in our face – and looks to drive us to doubt and then despair?

Always remember, even though this world is an exceptionally evil place – and even though we Christians continue to struggle with evil – this is precisely why Jesus came, comes now by comforting us with His Spirit, and will come again in glory to make all things new….

Even as Christ will come the second time to judge and “not to bear sin” know that this wrath that is nevertheless poured out upon the world in the last days is wrath that Jesus Christ Himself would take on Himself, take into Himself.

And He, in fact, did, if we have eyes of faith to see.

For it was the price of all sin, the wages of every sin that has ever been committed, that nailed Him to that cross…

So yes, Jesus Christ would, Jesus Christ did, taste this passion of God’s hot indignation, and drained that bitter cup down his throat to the dregs….

For He could do no other. For our God, whose mercies are new every morning, is never one who ultimately desires the death of the wicked!… 

It doesn’t matter if you are Martin Luther, super-sensitive to your sin via God’s law

…or like those who Luther lamented were largely untouched by the law’s sting…

Satan wants you to believe God desires the death of the wicked, because this is what he believes himself.

If he can’t get you to dismiss the Christian faith entirely (his first choice), he wants you to believe that you or your neighbor are too wicked for God… he wants you to believe this message isn’t for you, your neighbor, or both…


That is so very wrong… as these warnings, heard right now, are always meant for our final good, particularly now as the days grow darker and the world increasingly deceives, propagandizes, tyrannizes… demands our loyalty to it and not the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world…

And so at this point – finally, right? ( : ) ) – I want to bring things back around to the meaning of this Angel or Messenger in our text. I am reading you a bit from a great sermon I found online about this text…:

“Th[e] good news about Jesus is the eternal gospel that is going to be proclaimed. All the Caesars of this world, all the Sanhedrins, the beast of the sea and the beast of the earth, all the civil and religious powers that try to extinguish the gospel – they cannot stop it. That is the message of this text in Revelation. And it certainly was fulfilled in the case of Luther and the Reformation. It is not restricted to Luther alone, of course. This text gives encouragement to the church in all ages. But it was fulfilled in a very notable way in the case of Luther.

Luther was in a battle. He sensed it deeply. He felt the assaults of the devil. He faced fierce opposition. Both civil and religious powers lined up against him. Luther was excommunicated by the pope and declared an outlaw by the emperor. And the reason was precisely because Luther was God’s “angel,” his messenger. He restored the gospel to its place of prominence, flying directly overhead, like the sun shining in midheaven, the bright light of its noonday brilliance dispersing the clouds that had shrouded the message in darkness.

For Luther, that eternal gospel was too precious a thing for him to compromise or back off. He would rather be criticized as obstinate than to yield in the pure proclamation of the gospel. What gave him the courage to confess the faith so boldly? The gospel itself. Luther knew how much the pure gospel meant to him, freeing his conscience from the burden that had long weighed him down. And so Luther placed his confidence in God as his mighty fortress, no matter the threats of pope or emperor. “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our vict’ry has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.”

Luther was so very right.

To honor the Creator the most is to believe Him, to trust Him and His promises. This is our highest worship.

Believe me when I say, on His behalf, to you:

The Lamb has been slain and by his blood ransomed people for God, people loved by God, from every tribe and language and people and nation. He is “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” And He is the One who “loves us and who frees us from our sins by His blood”.

This is the Eternal Gospel, and it is for all of us. For you too!

“Fear not!”, Christ says,

“I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”[9]

So let us overcome all in Him!


[1] “…believe it or not, beginning already in Luther’s lifetime, people identified this angel of the Revelation with . . . the messenger of the Reformation, namely, Martin Luther. They saw Luther as this angel having an eternal gospel to proclaim to every nation. As early as 1522, just five years into the Reformation, a man named Michael Stiefel wrote a poem called, “On the Christ-Formed, Properly Grounded Teaching of Doctor Martin Luther.” In the opening stanza Stiefel says, “John wrote for us of an angel who would set forth God’s Word with complete clarity.” And there Stiefel plays on Luther’s name, because the German word he uses for “clarity” is lauter. Lauter, Luter.

That was in 1522. In 1546, at Luther’s funeral, the preacher, Johannes Bugenhagen, made a similar comparison. He said: “This angel who says, ‘Fear God and give him the honor,’ was Dr. Martin Luther. And what is written here, ‘Fear God and give him the honor,’ are the two parts of Dr. Martin Luther’s doctrine, the Law and the Gospel, through which all of Scripture is unlocked and Christ, our righteousness and eternal life, is recognized.” So from then on, the linkage was established: The angel of Revelation 14 became associated with the person of Martin Luther. And that’s how this text came to be a reading for Reformation Day.” From:

But were they right? Were Stiefel and Bugenhagen justified in seeing Luther in this vision from Revelation? And how does this apply to us today? That’s what we’ll consider now, under the theme, “An Eternal Gospel to Proclaim.”

[2] One more critical of this says: “Hoenegg could see Luther as proclaiming judgment upon Papal darkness, but this interpretation seems too uncertain. What would a passage like this mean for the Christians in the midst of pagan darkness, if it could only refer to the Reformation and to Luther? Would that not also mean treating the book of Revelation as a play-by-play of the End Times? Better, I think, to recognize that the angel proclaims a judgment upon sin which comforts God’s people. Sin and the devil will not triumph. Though you suffer now, God will render judgment upon His enemies. Luther and the Reformation is a historical example of the faithfulness of the holy God, whose victory will be complete.” From here:

[3] Luther, however, also was not immune to discouragement when it came to this accomplishment…

Many of the Reformation’s critics, for example, contended that the Christian lives of the Reformers and their followers were worse than – or at least no better than – those they criticized…

One of the biblical texts that Luther always emphasized was the following:

“For each tree is known by its own fruit. Indeed, figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor grapes from brambles. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6.44-45).

The Gospel message creates new persons in Christ! New trees with new and good fruit!

Luther understood the power of sin’s pull on all of us, but of course he still believed that the Gospel would produce a significant change in each individual who believed.

Therefore, he truly felt the sting of this accusation that those following “his teaching” were no better than their opponents. 

And he had to deal with the fact that he sometimes actually agreed with this critique…

And so he wrestled with why there was truth to the accusation. Why were those hearing the Gospel still so weak in good works and the new life?

The answer, surely, has to do with the fact that men – even those who were listening to Luther’s sermons week after week and who he believed were believers – are often obscenely blind to the magnitude and depth of their own corruption

…and correspondingly, their ongoing need for the Gospel.

Luther knew he – even as a teacher, a doctor of the church! – struggled to articulate how bad things were as well. For example, he said that:

“So far no theologian or jurist has been found who could say or fully express, what great an evil lust and greed is.”


“…who is there who ever knew how great and what an enormous evil sin itself is? Likewise, disobedience, hatred, wrath, greed, fornication, let alone the sins of the First Table? For we are so corrupted by original sin that we cannot see the magnitude of sin…”

Thinking about the kinds of people that he knew and loved in his day – and where they stood with God – Luther said this:

“[Some] fear God for the sake of God alone; they do the best they can and very conscientiously avoid evil.

Others fear God for the sake of God, and, at the same time, for the sake of the threatened punishment; their works are less good and perfect…”

And, as he put it elsewhere, there are also those who simply fear God only because of the threatened punishment. “These,” Luther tells us, “only seem to do good…”

For they are not even Christians yet… but are only at the very beginning….

And yet also, in his lecture on Psalm 51, Luther talks about how en route to his discovery of the Gospel, he, on the one hand, was greatly disturbed by death as the wages of sin

but on the other hand very few others seemed to be concerned about this impending punishment…: 

“I believed that everyone’s heart was as disturbed and as fearful of the perils of death as my own. But when I carefully investigated the situation, it became evident to me that among 10,000 persons there are hardly 10 who give thought to this important matter…”

In other words, Luther owned up to his own naivete here about the positive effects the Reformation would have.

Even though the Bible made it clear that man had knowledge of the reality of God, his law, his own culpability and even that he deserved death for this (Romans 1), it also said that he suppressed this knowledge…

Because we are able to suppress our natural knowledge of God and counter it with beliefs, idols, of our own making, man in general, unlike Martin Luther, does not live in fear of God, fear God

And it has always been so…

[4] Bombaro writes “Put into the more recognizable terminology of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), modern Stoicism aids persons to understand their minds, specifically the relationship between ourselves and our thoughts and feelings. CBT uses techniques like negative visualization to aid people to inoculate themselves from undesirable thoughts and feelings by intentionally imagining possible negative outcomes and imaging how you might respond in accordance with your role or duty. This gives the person a sense of power and control over themselves in any situation through preparedness. Further, it liberates the will, empowering the person to “be themselves” without caring much about what others think or societal expectations.”


[6] As prophesied in Ezekiel:

“…I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you” (Ezek. 36:26-27).

[7] This sermon sets the scene well: “Our reading for this morning occurs in the middle of a section which begins in chapter 12. This section describes the “end times”, which begins in chapter 12 with the description of the woman and the dragon, which we looked at about a month ago when we celebrated the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. This vision portrays Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection and the cosmic, heavenly events associated with it. Chapter 13 then tells of two beasts, who join the dragon to form an “unholy trinity” and to torment God’s people. In verse 7 of chapter 13, John says, Also [the beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation (Revelation 13:7). John’s vision tells us that God’s people over all the world will be tormented by the dragon and the beasts and no one on earth will be able to stop them. Or, to use the famous words of Martin Luther, The old evil foe Now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight; On earth is not his equal (LSB 656:1). In other words, Revelation 12 & 13 are painting a picture of “the old evil foe” jumping on top of Christ’s church and trying to prevail over it. From here:

[8] Not all wrong!: “Choosing Revelation 14:6-7 for Reformation is problematic for a number of reasons.

First, the selection is entirely too short. It separates the first angel of Revelation 14 from the other two, and in the process somewhat distorts the intent of the passage. These three angels are harbingers of God’s coming wrath upon the earth. The second angel, for example, follows after the first, crying: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” The third also follows after and foretells the coming torment of those who worship the beast. Their torment will be unending and they will have no rest day or night. Therefore, while the first angel calls forth a cry to fear God and worship Him, the emphasis falls upon the judgment. Fear God and give Him glory, because He is about to demonstrate His righteousness and holiness in judging the earth. This judgment is indeed a source of joy for His people, as the Psalm declares “Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for He comes, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in His faithfulness” (Psalm 96:12-13). But the message of the three angels is one which should cause the earth to tremble and not to rejoice. “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him” (Psalm 2:12).

[9] “…this gospel comes from heaven. It’s God’s gospel. It’s not man-made, so man cannot destroy it. It’s an eternal gospel. It will last forever. And God means to have it proclaimed. His messengers will preach this gospel to every nation, tribe, language, and people. What is this eternal gospel, the good news that is being proclaimed? To use the language of Revelation, it’s about “the Lamb who was slain,” the one who “by his blood ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” It’s about “him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” It’s about Jesus Christ, “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” He, Jesus, our exalted Lord, comes to us and says: “Fear not. I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

” From:

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Posted by on October 30, 2022 in Uncategorized


Sermon Video: Guard the Good Deposit, the One Treasure Above Them All 

Sermon preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Waseca, MN. Oct. 16, 2022


“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

-2 Tim 3:3-4


Brothers and sisters in Christ!

As he has since chapter one of 2 Timothy, here the Apostle Paul continues to talk about the importance of successfully guarding the pattern of sound teaching he passes on….

“Sound teaching” is teaching that is rooted in truth and in the Truth Himself, Jesus Christ, and hence this sound or healthy teaching will make you healthy and holy….

On the other hand, what do we see in our world today?

It is far, far worse than junk food… it is garbage. 

The information we get from our media – and even in our business, government and educational institutions as well! – has progressively fled from notions of objectivity and impartiality (even if some are loathe to admit this) 

…and now, accusations of “fake news” or “disinformation” appear across the political spectrum, as those opposing one another seemingly use words as best they can to win…

…to win. 

And here is a thought:

In this context, how might we interpret the popular statement “knowledge is power”? 


Here, my former vocation of academic librarianship is interesting in this regard… 

Some in that 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”.

This, I believe, goes hand in hand with something I just saw from a popular, local Twin Cities reporter. She said, “The truth makes me tick…”

On the other hand, I read (red) 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 it’s as simple as what another academic librarian says…. It’s 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.”

Got that: “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]…

Just this past week listening to a podcast I heard someone say that what ultimately matters between one set of ideas and another is what is effective… what is effective in the class struggle… the rich vs. the poor…

Your political orientation, left, center, or right… might not matter though… Increasingly, whatever direction one leans, everything seems to take a back seat to effectiveness, basically power… 

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 common definitions and 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 what we heard from the Apostle Paul this morning about “sound doctrine”. That is, his idea of “the pattern of sound teaching [or words]…”

Why? Because the definitions of words change, can change, and we will change them as best we see fit and desire… 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 liquid, fluid, alterable… 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!

This, my friends, is the modern myth. 

This is what the contemporary itching ears want to hear….


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 it goes hand in hand with the Christian faith.

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

If Christ is not raised – really raised from the dead! – all your words and works are ultimately in vain!

Sometimes well-meaning Christians say we uphold Scripture and not tradition. This though, is misled.

We do uphold traditions not contrary to Scripture—and our greatest tradition is Scripture itself, and the greatest content of the Scriptures is the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Christ crucified and risen for the world’s forgiveness, life, and salvation…

So, like the runner in the relay race, pass on the baton.


Today, in the world, as has always been the case, there is a battle for men’s souls.

Stories like Harry Potter, the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the Lord of the Rings are right. 

It is all about good vs. evil.

Behind the veil, there is a spiritual war between light and darkness.

But don’t be afraid, because knowledge is power.

And as the Apostle Paul describes in his letter to Timothy, your power is through the Holy Spirit who creates a new man, an “inner man,” in us….

He does this through the Word of God, through the Scriptures, our great treasure. 

The Bible, my friends, is the very word of God Himself!

Pick it up. Read. Learn. Inwardly digest.

Struggle through it and with it. Buy a study Bible. Get kid friendly Bibles and stories and read them with your children and grand children…

And remember this jewel, this treasure, comes as a whole. It is not a necklace where we can get rid of some of the beads we don’t like, for example.

It is the jewel, the tradition, that must be handed on at all costs… 

It is not so much “Scripture or Tradition” or “Scripture and Tradition”: again, the Scriptures are basically the Tradition 


Struggle with this concept if you must.

For I hope you know…the world around you is very, very skeptical…

What’s that you hear from them?

The Scriptures are old… 

They are discredited….

They are irrelevant… 

There are all kinds of reasons to doubt them… 

Maybe they just “contain” the “Word of God” – perhaps just the tender and gentle stuff about Jesus?

If they fancy themselves more sophisticated, you might hear: “Didn’t Martin Luther, the 16th c. Reformer, for example, throw out the book of James and Revelation?” 

Why are you listening to what that preacher says? Who has transplanted him from the Middle Ages to here?

Christian, don’t you know the Bible not only tells us about Jesus, but is full of some other more questionable things as well?






Don’t you know we are Americans?!

I mean, yes, I know in the Gospel reading a couple weeks back it talked about how a Master just expects his servant to do what he asks and the servant seems to think even a Good Master should do this, but… But we don’t ever believe we unworthy servants only do what is asked of us (Luke 17:10)…

We certainly don’t think fear should ever be a component of how anyone is “ruled”! We don’t think that really has a place anymore.

And things like the death penalty, for example, don’t belong in this world….

Biblical ideas like headship we know lead to abuse. 

And we like it when everyone is equal in every single way! We like it when people are free! We like harmony! – and when we can get lost in the music with those of like-mind!

Haven’t you felt the power of the crowd? Haven’t you lost yourself in the excitement, gotten taken up into something that is bigger than yourself?

Don’t you like that, want that, feel that… too?


Well, no. Tempted sometimes though.

I do have an alternative that I find compelling however…

It’s called the Christian church, and while its patriarchs and matriarchs don’t rule like the rulers of the world, they have guarded and passed down the sacred treasure.

The sacred jewel.

Do not be deceived brothers and sisters! 

Stir up the fireplace! Now! Do not let the flame go out!

You have not been given timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, of self-discipline….

The sinful world wants a lot of things, and in many of the things it wants, there are echoes of good.

It wants unity! It wants harmony! It wants equality! It wants justice! It wants freedom!

It wants everyone to feel good about who they are and their neighbors as well. It wants, as the commercial said, to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…

In a sense, it is good and right to want all of these things.

That said, there is mass confusion about what these things ultimately look like, and how one can achieve them.

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

Rhetoric without truth dies.

Again, if Christ is not raised – really raised! – all your words and works are in vain!


Satan loves all the confusion he is causing today.

And he hates the clear Gospel and that you have it.

He hates that men like Luther didn’t really throw out the book of James and Revelation, but rightly pointed out their relative importance compared with books like John and Romans…

He absolutely hates most of all what Martin Luther did, bringing out the stark clarity of the situation he found himself in….

He hates that Luther was “mean”… meaning he didn’t care if persons didn’t like him because of the message he preached.

He hates that such a man clearly revealed his, Satan’s, hand…


Now. I don’t want to give the impression that I think Martin Luther always handled things perfectly.

“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus…”

It is true that “faith and love” are to form the atmosphere, so to speak, in which the “sound words” are to be preserved.

That said, let us not forget the battle we are in, the need for tough love…. and the admonition to be as wise as serpents.

A little parable to share….

I read it about three years ago and think it is particularly appropriate to our day and age and the questions and challenges that face us….


“Once upon a time, there were 10 brothers who were charged with guarding a gem the king had given to their village — a beautiful stone that promised them the king’s favor and protection.

When charging the brothers to secure this precious gem, the king gave them clear instructions:

“My enemy will constantly be scheming to take this gem away from you. He will threaten you with violence.

He will mock you and turn your friends against you. He will try to convince you the gem is not really yours or you don’t really need it.

But no matter what approach he uses, don’t fall for his tricks.”

One day, the king’s enemy approached the 10 brothers with a small army behind him.

“I imagine you’ve come here to steal our gem,” the oldest brother said.

“Absolutely not,” the enemy insisted. “I think it’s wonderful that you have it. I just hate to see the way your brother is using the gem.

His tone is always abrasive and arrogant when he talks about protecting it.

It gives the rest of you a bad name. Dismiss him from his post guarding the gem, and my army will leave you alone.”

The oldest brother always found his youngest sibling a bit irritating and embarrassing, so he considered this a no-brainer and immediately gave the enemy what he asked.

A week later, the enemy returned with his army, now claiming he had problems with the second-youngest brother.

“This guy has been saying the gem doesn’t belong to certain people in the village, people he doesn’t like. This is unloving and cruel. Disavow him too, and we’ll be friends.”

The oldest brother wasn’t especially fond of that brother either, so he once again gave the enemy what he wanted.

But week after week, the enemy kept returning and asking for the oldest brother to separate himself from another one of his brothers until, eventually, the oldest brother stood alone — the sole remaining guardian of the gem.

Seeing that the man now had no one left to defend him, the enemy walked up to the oldest brother, whispered, “You fell for it,” into his ear, stabbed him through the heart, and walked away with the gem.

The writer of this “parable of the guardians” explains:

The king is Christ. The gem is, [ultimately,] his salvation.

The brothers are Christians. The enemy is the devil, and his army is the mob of anti-Christian voices in the world.

And the moral of the story is this: No matter what they say, the devil and this world won’t be content until they’ve taken Christ’s salvation away from you.

So don’t throw your fellow believers under the bus to escape persecution. All you’ll do is hasten your demise.”


You see, first the world tells you they don’t like the way you say it.

Then, you discover that they simply don’t like what you say….

Folks, there have been times when the message of the Scriptures has been far from men’s hearts… this seems to be happening again today…

Like we are told about the account of the ring of power in the movie about the Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, “some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth… the Ring passed out of all knowledge…”

In the movie, the loss of the ring arguably seemed a good thing in one way: because that ring of power increased corruption and evil. 

When the Scriptures are far from our hearts though, that is when our corruption will come… has come….

It is a good thing the true power that defeats evil and corruption, God’s Word to man, has never been wholly lost…

And now, in these last days, we have it even clearer. The  Apostle Paul writes:

This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…

A pattern of very, very sound words!

Merry Christmas!

These are life giving words!


Be encouraged brothers and sisters! Do not let things like suffering and persecution in the world discourage you – or slow you down… 

When Jesus rhetorically asks “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”, know the answer is “Yes” and cry out “Lord, make me trust you always through it all, to the end…”

He will. 

When Paul begins to encourage Timothy in chapter one, he brings up how his faithful mother and grandmothers passed on the faith to him. As one ancient commentator (Theodoret) put it, “nothing helps like a domestic example”.

That is true. I remember when I was a teacher in Slovakia for two years, hearing the stories of the serious Lutherans who had come through communism because of faithful grandmothers who taught them.

Thanks be to God for faithful traditioners such as these!

So Paul writes “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures…”

Be faithful to God’s word. Be faithful to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Pass The Message On.

Realize that the best way to guard the faith is not to play defense, but to go on the offensive. To learn it, to inwardly digest it, and to proclaim it.

This is not something that you can do in your own strength, but with the strength God provides: “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us…”

By grace through faith, not by works…Christ has been crucified for your sins that you might have peace with God… 

…and by His work has overcome the world!

He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth.

The same yesterday, today, and forever!

The victor over sin, death, and the devil.

And the King will return, to finally set all things right.

Pray and don’t give up, for Christ prays for you and does not give up. (Heb. 7:25, Rom. 8:34)

So, by His Holy Spirit…

continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of….

And Guard the Good Deposit, the One Treasure Above Them All.


With footnotes:

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Posted by on October 16, 2022 in Uncategorized


Should Lutherans Borrow the World’s Understanding of “Race Realism”?

An unflattering take, to be sure, but it helps us get an idea…


Lutherans are increasingly being confronted with the fact that they are ill-equipped to deal with the Bible’s use of terms like nation (from the Greek ethnos) and race (from the Greek genos). For example, at the time of writing this post, this tweet I retweet here had 228 likes!:

The LC-MS has also not always handled conversations about the racial issues in the most productive way:

Alas, these are the political times in which we live, with many very concerned because of all the accusations of “systemic or institutional racism” and “white supremacy” and the like (post from me on that too)…

So, naturally, enter the Lutherans who want to borrow the notion of “race realism” from the world. On the one hand, I think I get that. For example, I do not think anyone concerned about truth can ignore Charles Murray (the impressive Chanda Chisala certainly doesn’t and James Flynn – Murray’s all-time friendly and classic rival! – thankfully didn’t, and hence we got some very educational debates!). 

On the other hand, I believe that an uncritical adoption of the contemporary understandings of the term “race” — with its conceptions primarily focused on aspects of phenotype and now genotype — is something that Christians should be cautious about and even push back on. Primarily, we should make sure that we first and foremost know what the Bible says about these things, and stay closely in line with it.

So, do you have a serious answer for Rook, or do you just ignore him and hope he’ll go away or someone at Twitter will ban him from that platform (for the record, I don’t think Twitter should have ever banned anyone, especially a thoughtful Christian man like Rook)?:

If you think attempts at a good answer are important, I hope that you might find this post helpful…

The following is an attempt on my part, with I admit my limited knowledge of the topic, to answer a popular blog post from a noted Lutheran “race-realist” — recently shared with me ending with my addressing Rook’s comments near the end of the post as well. I am arguing below as best I can with the knowledge that I believe I have on the topic. I am certainly open to being challenged, corrected, and given additional materials to consider. As an aside, I do have another article which touches on these issues and addresses more topics than are covered below (particularly in the footnotes) in a scholarly article I’ve had published (available upon request: infanttheologyatgmaildotcom).

Let’s begin. Quotes from the blog post are in blue below and my responses follow. 


“There are some issues so obvious that one would be excused for presuming that they need not be explicitly addressed, but we live in an era when men and women look at their own naked bodies in the mirror and remain uncertain as to which gender they are — and, worse, many encourage them in such delusions. Biological sex — either man or woman — corresponds directly with gender — either male or female; this is part of the structure of reality. Similarly, race is a fundamental part of human nature — an immutable facet of reality. But let us lay the foundation before truly coming to the conclusion.”

The definition of “race” here will be critical, and it is why I find another tweet from Rook to be an issue insofar as it is not meant to spur on further inquiry and conversation (I will admit that saying something like this right away would have been a more appropriate way to respond to him then what I did)…

Or here:

Nobody who is serious or reasonable can have a hard time defining what “sex” is, even if, admittedly, as a friend quickly pointed out to me, many in the realm of “science” have begun to fudge here. “Race” however, is trickier and I submit, is not as “tight” a term. Looking at historical usage, found even in the Bible (see Rom. 9:1-5, for example), it clearly has to do with blood, blood-relatedness, parentage, descendants, relatives, etc. At the same time, it can also have a looser meaning, such as “countryman”. So Paul, in Romans 9 for example, is talking about his relatives by blood, his cousins, kinsfolk, broader tribe, and by extension, his fellow “countrymen”… So, who, really, can be my countryman? Who can, or even should, be my neighbor? (more below)

“Every single living human being (and all the dead ones who were born after the Flood) descends from one of the three sons of Noah. We know the names and genealogies of the sons of Noah — we know nothing of their wives. I am a son of Japheth and Japheth’s wife — I do not know the name of the ‘Eve’ of the Japhethitic line. Naturally, I am also a son of Adam and Eve, for Adam is the federal and natural head of all men and Eve is the mother of all living, which is to say all men. Some will, then, ask how we can have different races if all are, ultimately, descended from Adam and Eve (this is often ‘advanced’ via the vapid: ‘one race — the human race’). To properly and fully address this question, we must delve deeper and establish another foundation: genetics.”

That we are all from Noah’s sons is indisputable for Christians. I am guessing that this fellow is correct here, and most of his and my DNA does come from the line of Japheth. What can we know about all of this from ancient historical sources? I certainly am no expert on this topic, but I do find this article fascinating, and wonder if there are other contemporary counterparts, religious or secular, to Bodie Hodge’s work here. (I find it interesting that, if I recall from the reading I have done, Shem’s line according to the best records we have from the ancient world today seems to indicate that most in China and Africa have their DNA from Shem).

“Man is body, mind, and soul1. For our purposes, here, we will be focusing on the first: body. Man is a creature — more, man is an animal; as an animal, man is subject to many physical realities — heat and cold, hunger and thirst, fatigue and the demands of rest and sleep. Further, man, as an animal, is beholden to the realities of biology. Much (most, in fact) of who and what you are was determined by biology, was totally outside your control; in fact, it was even largely outside your parents’ control — for instance, your hair and eye color, your height, your intelligence, and your hairline were all more or less determined centuries ago. To simplify (the details we will be ignoring do not matter here): Your DNA determines who and what you are. The Levitical priests tithed to Melchizedek because they were already present in Abraham’s DNA. Now, we must address two additional matters: 1) information and 2) descent or selection.”

I find nothing objectionable here.

“First, information. Everything is information — at least, everything that is not simply raw material is information (and, even then, we are in a very grey area). You are information, which is to say you are a particular organization of matter (n.b., matter and energy are equivalent for all relevant purposes). The organization is the information, or, to be more accurate, the organization is the expression of the information. In the case of living creatures, this information is stored in DNA. As to your body, you are your DNA. Information can be effectively destroyed, but it cannot truly be created. (For our purposes, of course, this does not matter, as it would only strengthen the inevitable conclusion if information could be created.) This last point leads directly into our next matter.”

No problems with this. Of course, we can have certain genetic predispositions towards certain things as well, which may or may not be activated due to our nurture (in my day, we always talked about “nature vs. nurture”)

A “hard cases make bad law” kind of situation? If so, why?

“Second, descent and selection. You are the result of thousands of years and hundreds of generations of selection. Your DNA carries less information than Adam’s. This selective loss of information has led to who and what you are; you are the expression of what information has survived this selection process. All the races of men were present in Adam, but it has taken many generations to express those races. And, now, we have a working definition of what a race is: a race of men is a group of human beings who have a distinct expression of the overall set of human genetic information. Races are, by and large, stable over time — definitionally so. We must, however, note that, as they are simply stable subsets of the overall human — or, say, Adamic — genome, which is to say information subsets, races may go extinct — information can be destroyed. The destruction of a race may take place via a number of mechanisms: sub-replacement fertility, inbreeding, outbreeding, and, of course, war.

Again, this is mostly fine. He does say this though: “And, now, we have a working definition of what a race is: a race of men is a group of human beings who have a distinct expression of the overall set of human genetic information…”  How is this “distinct expression” in particular recognized? And how should we distinguish this from that in a helpful or good way? Are we just left with things like this where we just need to take the word of certain scientists doing this kind of work who are, today at least, highly controversial in their fields? The author makes it sound like the work being done in this area is pretty easy to do and produces pretty obvious results, but my impression from the literature is that it is not, and that there are all kinds of complications in this process (hence Britannica’s summation of the different views) “Races are, by and large, stable over time — definitionally so. We must, however, note that, as they… may go extinct…” This is more compelling, particularly as he goes on to speak about how this might relate to different breeds of dogs, a move that Ken Ham also makes in his lectures and book on the issue of race. Still… (see below)

“Now that we have our pieces in place, let us employ an abstract example to further drive home the nature, the reality, and the mechanism. Let us start with Progenitor, who has in his DNA genes A01A10, J1J5, S1S5, and H1H5. P passes all of the A genes to each of his offspring, but passes the J, S, and H, genes to, respectively, J, S, and H. Over time, these tribes will become races, if they remain separated from each other (i.e., if they do not interbreed). It is, of course, irrelevant that a member of J could father offspring by a member of S; we are discussing tribalization and ethnomachy, not speciation. This leads to our next example — a concrete one.”

Here, I think we begin to run into some problems. What would a member of J having offspring with a member of S have to do with speciation? Speciation is the formation of a new species, i.e. in this case something different than man… 

“There are many breeds of dog; ‘breeds’ is simply the term we use for ‘races’ when speaking of animals. (Incidentally, dog breeds even correlate to human races in most instances and in many ways.) If you breed Golden Retrievers, their offspring will be Golden Retrievers — you will not end up with Poodle, Chihuahua, or Dachshund puppies; this is so because Golden Retriever is a race of dogs. And so with men: A Dutchman and a Dutchwoman who have children will have Dutch children, not Chinese. Race and descent are not only obvious, but are readily verifiable. To deny the reality of race is to deny the reality of Creation — is to deny the Creator.

Like dogs, all men are, ultimately, descended from a single ancestor — Adam. Like dogs, there are different races of men, and, as with the breeds of dogs, you cannot get two parents of one race to produce children of another race. How do we explain this reality? As highlighted, supra, the DNA of any living person today carries less information than did the DNA of our forebear Adam. Over time, various groups lost certain information from their gene pools, and this has resulted in the present differences we observe between and among racial groups. (We will leave aside the issue of mutations, although it is worth noting that mutations strengthen the case.) The differences between and among the races of men are grounded in our DNA — grounded in the very essence of who and what we are. As for culture, culture is downstream of genetics.”

Again, as regards loss of information this is not incorrect. To say that culture is downstream from genetics, however, ultimately does not work because the highest aspect of culture is the cult, or worship. I cannot emphasize this enough. Our worship of the true God, which hence creates good culture and formation, does not derive from our biology. I am not going to say that no elements of culture are highly influenced or even derive from biology, but there is no way to really prove what does and does not. Truly, nature is important. I would not think anyone who preferred to marry a tall person or an intelligent person or a calm person – or insisted this must be the case – was doing something wrong. The issue of culture here, no matter how much of it is about nature or how much about nurture, is important as well: clearly, when marrying, for example, such concerns are paramount, or should be.  

Dogs: I think comparing human beings with dogs *might* be a halfway decent comparison but I am not entirely sure (a bit more controlled with dogs I’d say!). If it is though, keep in mind there is also stuff like this to think about: (my wife has worked in the veterinary industry for almost 30 years and can confirm this….) It is a complicated topic, to be sure. I don’t think I’ll be trying to create a new breed anytime soon myself! (which, by the way, is most often done by mixing the breeds over many generations:

“That there are different races of men — and that these races are different from each other — is obvious to all men — and, hence, has been recognized from the beginning. Scripture, too, affirms that there are different εθνη, which is to say nations, which is to say races. There are those who would contend that ethnos (Gk. s: εθνος; pl: εθνη) is not the same as race, but that is, of course, ridiculous. Much of this is simply etymological — German, Latin, and Greek — which I do not intend to cover, here. We need only look (in the Septuagint, obviously) to the Table of Nations (Genesis 10) to see how Scripture employs εθνη. ‘Tribe’ and ‘clan’ are synonymous, and so are ‘ethnicity’ and ‘race’. From one man, God made all nations (races) of men, and such is part of God’s good plan for Creation. To deny the existence of race is to deny Scripture, is to deny Creation, is to deny God.”

While I agree this is sometimes obvious, there are other times — when comparing the distinct Hungarians and Slovaks, for example (I note they would fit this author’s imperfect definition of races above) – where perhaps not every untrained eye can see this. If the dog analogy holds true, we can perhaps say that someone who is trained in evaluating different breeds can catch “tricky” things that the  less skilled can not (where one breed might be confused for another one that is similar-looking).

In sum, contending that ethne and race (genos) are basically the same in the Bible appears to be correct. That said, genos seems to be leaning a bit more towards the blood aspect than ethnos. The author of this post wants these to only be about nature/bodies/creation across the board. The difference is that I believe that this is not purely about nature but includes elements of nurture – in other words, those who talk about “social construction” as regards ethnicity are correct to a certain degree (see above). What I mean by this is that race emphasizes things more like flesh, blood, common descent, extended family. And yet, there is no need to insist on purity of blood or genes here for the word “race”. Again, it and ethnos are more synonymous than they are not.  

Do you think by saying this Paul means to exclude Ruth and Rahab? If they had been a bit darker?

“The conclusion is inescapable: As Christians, we are not permitted to deny the reality of race. Conveniently, denying the existence of race is something only a fool or a sophist would do anyway. As Christians, we are morally obligated to affirm the truth, no matter what our culture may think, no matter how uncomfortable that may make others, no matter how inconvenient doing so may be for us. All truth is one.”

The author of this post is too sure of himself here, I am quite sure. : ) I know the science better than the average bear, having a degree in biology and graduating with the highest honors, and particularly as I pay some attention to these things, I think I can say what I say with some authority. 

Overall, I don’t dispute a lot of what the author says here, even as I would certainly say a lot of it differently. I think the core thing, however, is that when we talk about who we “are” by nature it is indeed an important foundation – and one that many have wrongly not taken as seriously as they should – but it is also put in a new context in the light of the Gospel. 

This is why Luther, for example, sees Cain and Abel as for being the two types of men, the damned and the saved. For example, if you want to talk about the true interracial marriage that doesn’t mix, Paul deals with that in 2 Corinthians 6:14 (though I will not condemn anyone who prefers to marry in their ethnic group, so long as they do not insist others must do exactly as they do)! It is because ultimately, when it comes to the most important question, what is absolutely critical is that we share Abraham’s faith. I don’t deny the importance of nature, but believe that this message is what should always take precedence in our Christian proclamation (particularly where we very consciously profess our Christianity publicly). We should also be ready to make clear how the modern conceptions of race (in the modern conceptions, there are clearly fewer modern “races” than there are ethnicities) is problematic from a biblical perspective. 

Here is something I think is super important, and gets to the quote from Rook above as well…

We know that the blood descendants of Abraham have really always kept to themselves quite a lot, protecting their heritage (which yes, was corrupted post New Testament). At the same time, in the Old Testament we see how there are also sojourners and other in Israel who are to be treated with kindness. We also see how people like Ruth and Rahab, foreigners, are assimilated, enculturated, incorporated into wider Israel, becoming one with them and their God. In the New Testament, we also see how other foreigners don’t become full-blown Israelites but nevertheless become “God-fearers” and are respected… And those in Acts who come to Jerusalem for Pentecost also seem to have had a “dual ethnicity” in a sense, given that they are called both “god-fearing” Jews and also bear the name of their respective nations (and of course spoke those languages): “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome…; Cretans and Arabs”!

For more background on the realities of God’s people prior to the Advent of Jesus Christ, see, e.g., Not by Birth Alone: Conversion to Judaism (ed. Homolka, 1997), particularly the essay by Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, and Crossing Over Sea and Land, Michael Bird (2010). In his conclusion, Bird says “I do not doubt that virtually every Jewish group thought that being initiated into the commonwealth of Israel and living under the Torah was good and desirable for Gentiles, whether it was politically expedient was another matter” (151). Schindler also argues that [even in Jesus’ day], “Jewish ‘chosenness’” is defined “not as exclusive but as exemplary; not as separatist but as representative; not as closed but as open; not as rejecting but as all-embracing and compassionate.” He also, intriguingly, writes the following:

“The notion that Judaism is not a propagating faith is far from the truth. It has been the practiced truth for the last four centuries, but it was not true for the four millennia before. Abraham was a convert and our tradition lauds his missionary zeal. Isaiah enjoined us to be a ‘light unto the nations’ and insisted that God’s house be a ‘house of prayer for all peoples’. Ruth of Moab, a heathen by birth, became the ancestress of King David. Zechariah foresaw the tie when men and women of every tongue would grasp a Jew by the corner of his garment and say, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’.”

During the Maccabean period, Jewish proselytizing activity reached its zenith; schools for missionaries were established, and by the beginning of the Christian era they had succeeded in converting 10 percent of the population of the Roman empire – roughly four million people (think about Jesus’ words about the Pharisee’s missionary zeal!) Yes, it is true that there were countervailing pressures even in Biblical times. Thus, Ezra…. (Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, Not by Birth Alone: Conversion to Judaism).

Got a counter to this?

Back to our example from Acts 2. Regarding those from Rome, we are told these are both “Jews and converts to Judaism” so we know that these are not just members of “the race of Israelites” who were scattered and retained the purity of their bloodlines. Peter even calls the whole crowd “fellow Jews” (v. 14) and “fellow Israelites” (v. 22), and Israelites is the term the Apostle Paul goes on to use in Romans 9:4 (following the key 9:3 passage) to refer to the Israelites who are kin. So, it seems even prior to the coming of Christ with the falling away of the Israelite theocracy, many were becoming incorporated into the people of God, the Christian nation, the Kingdom of God, in pretty much the fullest sense. And of course all of this became much easier as regards matters of culture, adopting a new way of life… with the shadows and the distinguishing markers falling away in Christ… (see Col. 2:16-17).

I don’t think it works to argue here that these “dual ethnicities” here basically correspond to the Two Kingdoms, and this is because prior to Christ – and Acts is describing Israelites from around the world that are not yet in the church – God’s Kingdom was understood to be as one, a theocracy, and it went hand in hand with ethnicity and race. Hence, Paul writes as he does of his people, God’s chosen race and his fellow Israelites, in Romans 9:1-5… We also must not forget that in spite of the fact that with the Advent of the church God’s people are no longer one nation or ethnicity or earthly kingdom… and in spite of the fact that Christians have historically needed to honor God by defending their own nations against other Christian nations militarily… the overall effect of the Christian faith — prior to its ultimate rejection in these areas — was to bind not only the souls but bodies of men and women from different nations together through a common faith, identity, and forms of life. Hence my article on the importance of Liberal Christian Nationalism vis a vis identity politics, published already 6 years ago.

Maybe this kind of information, which I see as going hand in hand with the view I am making a case for here, is flawed or worse. If it is, I’d like to see a scholarly counter. What this ultimately says to me is that biology is certainly significant and it’s effects are not to be underestimated or denied (thinking of examples here is important, I think, and we can note that there is a powerful example when it comes to doctors, who as they diagnose can see patterns of disease among certain clusters of like groups, and where taking account of phenotype might be critical), but we ultimately must confess that to assert that culture is downstream from genetics, for example, is to allow the world to trump the power of the faith. 

I believe that the Scriptures were written as they were for such a time as this. It is not just Peter and Paul, after all, who are teaching us how to understand what they mean by fellow Israelites, but God, who speaks here with one voice. My last word, however, praying and begging God that salutary common ground may be recognized, is this: Generally speaking, the natural family offers or should offer provision and protection, which in turn is an echo of eternal salvation. That is why all of these questions are indeed as critical as they are. 

Correspondingly, of course, modern conceptions of race will only detract from Gospel comfort as well. That might not be popular, but I believe it is true.

(see here also)

Matthew Cochran, though, is probably not all wrong either in his concerns…

Grant us wisdom Lord!


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Posted by on October 2, 2022 in Uncategorized