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Issues ETC.’s Todd Wilken on “Once Saved, Always Saved” via Hebrews 6: 4-8

issues-etcOne of my favorite internet talk radio shows – which I absolutely recommend to everyone along with Pastor Cooper’s Just and Sinner podcast – is Issues ETC.

“Issues” has been running for over twenty years now, and its current host, LC-MS (Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod) Pastor Todd Wilken has been at the helm for about the last fifteen. It’s a smart, guest-driven show that covers issues like church history, Christian doctrine, current social and political events, Scripture studies, classic hymns, apologetics, etc. It’s un-apologetically and confessionally Lutheran, even as its guests are often not (and Pastor Wilken is always pleasant and irenic to all – perhaps to a fault!).

Here’s a sampling of some of the “taglines” the show and its audience have used to describe the show over the years:

  • Christ-centered, cross-focused talk radio
  • For sinners only
  • It’s not about you ; it’s about Jesus for you
  • Real Reformation Radio
  • Evangelical and Catholic
  • Contending for truth in an age of anti-truth
  • A voice in the wilderness of American Evangelicalism
  • Were churchmen, not company men
  • Only our listeners can cancel us now (see here)

What follows below is an example of the kinds of clear and helpful answers Pastor Wilken provides on one of my favorite parts of the show, the “Listener Email”, “Issues ETC. Comment Line” (its an answering machine), and “Open Lines” segments where they deal with questions from their audience. On the August 31st show, Pastor Wilken dealt with the question of Hebrews 6:4-8, and the following is essentially what he said that day:

If Lutherans reject Once Saved, Always Saved, do they therefore teach Once Lost, Always Lost?

The answer is no. The passage I cited above is particularly instructive in this regard. Hebrews 6:4-8,

“For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.”

Now, at first glance it would seem that this does teach Once Lost, Always Lost. But it doesn’t. The problem here is a less than accurate English translation. The word “since” (since they again crucify…) does not appear in the Greek, but is often provided by the translators to make sense of the passage.

While this translation is possible, it is not the only possibility. In fact, there is one that is far better in my opinion. This is going to get a bit technical, but…. The participles avnastaurou/ntaj (they are crucifying) and paradeigmati,zontaj (they are putting to public ridicule) are in the present tense. Present tense active participles often denote continuing attendant action or circumstance.

So the best translation here is probably, “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, as long as they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame”, or, “while they continue to crucify to themselves the Son of God again, and put Him to open shame. Note the difference this makes. The passage isn’t saying that a person who falls away can never be restored to repentance. It is saying that a person who falls away cannot be restored as long as they continue to crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.

The immediate context of this verse indicates the same thing when it warns that those who have fallen have indeed fallen away, but are not yet cursed, but are close to being cursed. It then warns of a final judgment on those who continue in apostasy by saying, it ends up being burned. In addition to this, there is simply no other passage of Scripture which teaches that repentance is impossible.

This passage is a warning to believers to not presume upon God’s patience, and a warning to apostates to repent. If it is up to me, I would fall. But it is not up to me. It is up to God to keep me faithful through His Word and Sacraments.

If I forsake these, I am “going it on my own” and will certainly fall away. But if I remain with those things by which God sustains faith, He will never fail me.”

Check out Issues ETC. – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Pastor Wilken in the studio with a couple guests.

Pastor Wilken in the studio with a couple guests.


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Posted by on December 8, 2016 in Uncategorized


25 Traditional Marriage Talking Points from Peter Scaer – But Use Advisedly

All marriages are an icon of The One True Marriage.

All marriages are an icon of The One True Marriage.


One of the best defenders of natural marriage in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LC-MS) is Peter Scaer, a professor from Ft. Wayne theological seminary. He recently posted this on his FB feed:

:Hmmm. The marriage debate is a tough one. On the one side we have Moses, Jesus and St. Paul. Aristotle and Cicero. All the poets from Homer and Virgil to Dante and Shakespeare. All the heroes of our nation, from Washington to Lincoln to MLK. Not to mention our grandparents and their grandparents, and their grandparents for all the generations that have been. On the other side, we have the deep wisdom of the enlightened decade that brought us Desperate Housewives and Jersey Shore.”

I like that approach – seems like a good, dismissive way to lead off the public debate in most cases these days – but do it with a smile (on the other hand, of the 500 or so students I’ve had the past 5 years, I’ve never met a person who didn’t really seem to want to intelligently discuss the issue – the main problem is powerful and influential elites, I think). Another commenter, who’ll I’ll simply refer to as the Fearsome Pirate (not the Pirate Christian), felt the same way. First, he said, jokingly: “Actually, they have the right to get married to someone of the same sex. It’s in the Constitution.” Explaining himself, he put it this way:

It’s not a debate. It’s a power struggle. On the one side, we have people who have been retreating from every sphere of public life after ceding the moral high ground to their enemies. On the other side, we have the people who control the universities, the television, the primary schools, the media, and the courts.

I agree with this man (Scaer did as well). Christians need to recognize that for many powerful persons this was not a debate (or if you think “debate” is too harsh, a “serious discussion”), and never was. Even as we insist that life, and the words we speak, are about more than power, we need to recognize that those who oppose us may or may not believe that. Many don’t – particularly many persons wielding earthly power.

This commenter went on to say:

I know I’m a broken record on this…but it bears repeating over and over. We know what happened in the mainline churches—true believers allowed the godless to ascend to positions of power in a spirit of liberality and tolerance. Their generosity was “repaid” them sevenfold by their enemies. The same happened with Christians in the kingdom of the right hand as in the left.

Scaer responded by saying “Yep. We pretend we are being nice, when we simply don’t want to be the bastards we need to be to be good. Call crap for what crap is.

Shortly after that post, he produced these talking points, which I recommend for people you find really do want to think about and reason about this issue. Again, I think that this kind of person is pretty rare (among the elites), and that joyful scoffing should probably be our default approach:

1. Marriage is the only institution that binds a man to his wife, and to any children that result from that union.
2. Only the union of one man and one woman is able to produce a child, and for that reason, there is marriage.
3. Every child is the result of the union of one man and one woman, and should have a reasonable expectation that those same parents will care for her.
4. Mothers and fathers are not interchangeable. A child does best when he has both a mother and a father.
5. Only a woman can be a mother, and only a man can be a father. Mothers offer nurture unique to motherhood, and fathers offer the unique leadership and protection of a father.
6. Each one of us has a respiratory system, a cardio-vascular system, and a digestive system, whole and intact. Only the reproductive system is different, made whole only in the union of one man and one woman.
7. By redefining marriage, we fundamentally reorient marriage to romantic love, away from care for children.
8. Redefining marriage will result not in a change of definition, but the loss of definition all together. Already, groups are pushing for polygamy and polyamory.
9. At the birth of every child, the mother, by the very nature of things, is present. Marriage is the one institution that encourages, incentivizes, and obligates the father to be present as well.
10. Some ask, “How will same-sex marriage affect me?” Changing the definition of marriage will be harmful to the institution itself. Consider, for instance, the way that no- fault divorce laws have hurt our society, and left so many of our children abandoned and unprotected.
11. Marriage is the fundamental building block or cell of our civilization. Without marriage, society, inevitably in the form of bigger government, will have to fill the void.
12. Our society already suffers from fatherlessness. Without fathers, children are more likely to grow up in poverty. Without fathers, boys often become violent, looking to gangs for male bonding. Without fathers, girls often lack self-esteem, and end up making bad and harmful choices. Fathers are needed more than ever, and same-sex marriage makes fathers optional.
13. While it is good to have a mother and father, it is not healthy to grow up with two mothers, who will then vie for the affection that belongs naturally only to one.
14. As same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, Christians will be increasingly persecuted for their belief. Already, florists have been driven out of business, as have hotel operators. Teachers will be forced to teach that which is clearly against God’s will. The very profession of the Christian faith will be labeled hate speech.
15. As same sex marriage becomes the law of the land, values such as permanence and exclusivity will be difficult not only to maintain, but even support.
16. As same sex marriage becomes the law, the institution of marriage, having lost real meaning, falls into disuse. Of this, we already have evidence in the countries who have taken the lead. Why do we need to be lemmings?17. Same-sex marriage will further sever the ties between biological parents and their children.
18. Parents, not the villages, are our children’s best defenders. Think of China, where children are thought of as a commodity, a flock to be culled or cultivated according to the needs of the state.
19. Same sex marriage encourages a culture in which children become cards to be bought, sold, and traded.
20. Consider who is pushing same-sex marriage. It’s hardly a grass roots effort, but is funded with big money by the likes of George Sorros, the Ford Foundation, and all the usual suspects.
21. The Left has been about the business of systematically subverting societal institutions, and this is the Big Kahuna, the ultimate prize.
22. Same-sex marriage is not a civil rights issue. Whether you are black or white makes no difference, but men and women are different, biologically, psychologically, and emotionally. From our differences, new life comes into the world, and with our complementary differences, we are best able to support and nurture the next generation.
23. Planned Parenthood understands what’s at stake. No lover of children, they have come out strongly for gay marriage. But then, this is the perfect marriage for PP, for it is inherently no reproductive.
24. And , as PP recognizes, pro-marriage is pro-life.
25. Traditional marriage is the best social program in history, as well as the bedrock of a republic, a mediating institution recognizes the primacy of family.


Note: Post has been updated for the sake of clarity, grammer errors, etc.


Posted by on December 7, 2016 in Uncategorized


Satan’s Marketing of Disorder: Why Christians Must Shout “No!” to the Transgender Revolution

Coming soon?: The Tinder Gender Chart...

Coming soon?: The Tinder Gender Chart…

A few days ago, the “dating service” Tinder unveiled that their app would no longer allow users to only identify as male or female but now had transgender options: As Albert Mohler put it, tongue firmly in-cheek,

“Tinder was a part of the problem until November 15, 2016. It was a part of the oppressive patriarchal regime. But all that changed with just one announcement on one day and now Tinder according to the New York Times and others is joining the right side of history.”

Indeed. And here we note that when given the option to identify as “transgender”, between 1 in 215 or 300 (depending on the study) will do so. On the other hand, the numbers are much lower for “those who are formally diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria or who present at specialty clinics (more like 1 in 10,000 to 13,000 for males and 1 in 20,000 to 34,000 in females). (Yarhouse, 92, 99-100).

That kind of fact hits me hard, driving me to reflection on this issue. How should Christians respond to the transgender revolution, as we are relentlessly told that this is “where history is going”? In America, even Republican President-Elect Donald Trump seemed unconcerned about the Obama administration’s efforts to cause American schools to change its bathroom policies.

A few things come to mind right away:

  • Christians believe that God designed human beings as male and female and that this is intrinsically good, true, and beautiful. And as theologian Scott Stiegemeyer points out, this is not just some “secret knowledge” that Christians have. To the contrary, even if “attitudes toward gender identity these days might not favor the binary”, “the human reproductive system does.”
  • As Focus on the Family’s Glen Stanton points out, even understanding the initials in LGBTQ involves depending, to some degree, on universally held binary assumptions.
  • Paul McHugh, co-author of a recent report on sexuality in gender in the New Atlantis with Lawrence Mayer, states that “Without any fixed position on what is given in human nature, any manipulation of it can be defended as legitimate.”
His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Even so, among many Christians who are now exploring these matters there is a good degree of confusion about how best to proceed. First of all, many increasingly witness the struggle that their friends, family, or acquaintances have with this issue – and their compassion is rightly aroused. Second, there is the matter of the Bible’s witness. Even as Jesus upheld marriage between one man and woman (see, e.g., Matthew 19:1-9), He also did not blame the man born blind – or his parents – for his malady (see John 9). On the other hand, throughout the church’s history some have treated hermaphrodites (today we say “intersex”), for example, as if this certainly were the case with them.

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

Christian therapist Mark Yarhouse, in his book Undertanding Gender Dysphoria, attempts to lay out what is at stake when it comes to transgender issues, and the church’s appropriate response:

“…it should not be underestimated that gender dysphoria, insofar as it may be experienced by varying degrees by many different kinds of people who fall under the transgender umbrella, represents an issue within our culture that is hugely symbolic. In the context of the social and cultural discussions and debates (and political wars) surrounding sex and gender and ethics, it represents to some an opportunity to challenge structures of authority that they have experienced as oppressive. To others it represents an effort to deconstruct meaningful designations of sex and gender. To still others it may represent great pain and hardship that seem to offer few satisfying pathways to resolution.

The Christian community aces a unique challenge in rising above the culture wars and these symbolic dimensions as we think about how to engage both the broader culture and the individual who is navigating gender identity questions. There remains the theological challenge associated with thinking clearly about sex and gender, debates about essentialism and social constructivism, and theological anthropology and ethics. There also remains the pastoral challenge of how to translate the theological work into practical necessities and pastoral accommodations associated with compassionate care for the persons who are navigating gender incongruence in their lives. (p. 100).

A valuable distinction from Yarhouse: "How you are" vs. "Who you are".

A valuable distinction from Yarhouse: “How you are” vs. “Who you are”.

Yarhouse is determined to put forward a faithful Christian perspective in a very nuanced and gentle manner, which I can certainly appreciate. On the one hand, I think he generally succeeds in this: there is much valuable insight – and perhaps empathy (not everyone to be sure!) – that one might gain from reading his book (especially chapters 5-7). At the very least, no one should blithely dismiss his talk about “complex choices” (60), the dangers of “reduc[ing] complexity to simplicity” (142), and the pressing need for Christian leaders to look to the medical and psychological community for assistance when it comes to healing (see 158).

On the other hand, I must agree with biblical scholar Robert Gagnon when he says that he finds Yarhouse to be overly accommodating (see a formal back and forth between them at First Things here and here). Yarhouse, for example, only emphasizes that Scripture is “a reliable guide” for a believer (29), and he constantly downplays the sex differences between men and women (even implying we should question the universality and stability in creation here!, see e.g. 42, 47, 150). Finally, I think that his “diversity framework” confuses the distinction between the celebration of “transgender identity” and the celebration of human community often found by those drawn together because of this phenomenon (see, e.g., 122, also see 59). In the end, I found his overall approach liable to create both unwarranted doubt and to chip away at what is appropriate Christian resolve.[i]

It is with this in mind that I put forward the following short list of the problems the transgender revolution presents. This list concedes only for the sake of argument (against the current best evidence, I believe[ii]) that transitioning (with or without surgery) away from one’s biological sex will most likely benefit an individual in the long-term (in terms of resolving their dysphoria and the issues that are often coupled with it). I am pointing out the implications for the neighbors of the person with gender dysphoria:

  • While it is true that no male or female may want to be trans, the trans person definitely wants to be male or female! And there will be consequences of this idea – starting with some acceptance of the transgender displays those who transition say is essential to their well-being.[iii]
  • Persons are not only their bodies, but they are, in part, their bodies. We are integrated people all the way through (to counter the idea that “gender” = what’s in head and “sex” = what’s between legs).
  • In the Western world today, there is increasingly less stigma if you identify as transgender and we hear more and more that discouraging young children – who, it appears are able to be influenced by talk therapy treatments and more – from transitioning is not wise or right.[iv]
  • Even if one is not affected by the growing acceptability – and even trendiness – of being trans, making the decision to transition in spite of this, what about others who are more liable to be swept up in the phenomenon?[v]
  • Even if some identifying as transgender who attempt to transition sound reasonable and insist that they are not “mentally ill” or “disordered”, what about those who can’t make this case? Whose gender dysphoria seems inextricably related to deeper psychological issues? How can we say that some are reasonable and justified in taking measures as extreme as surgery while others are not?
  • Why shouldn’t we let anyone who is at risk of committing suicide – even persons with what is called Body Integrity Identity Disorder, for example[vi] – have the surgeries they think will make them happy?
  • And we come back to the importance of the material, concrete world we see and that is so foundational for all we do: is the strong-willed child who meets or knows well a MtF (a he who identifies as a she) and insists – in Emperor-has-no-clothes fashion (?) – that he is a he, simply to be dismissed?[vii]
  • If the Church admits that efforts to transition should not be countered, how does it not discredit itself? What Alan Jacobs says to Christians who now want to say gay marriages can be holy, namely: “Either throughout your history or at some significant point in your history you let your views on a massively important issue be shaped largely by what was acceptable in the cultural circles within which you hoped to be welcome…”, can also be said about this issue.
  • The 10 commandments and other law in line with the natural law, like Deuteronomy 22:5, cannot be put against the two great commandments to love God and neighbor.[viii]
“The body is meant . . . for the Lord and the Lord for the body…it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual.” (1 Cor 6:13 ; 15:46),” – the Apostle Paul

“The body is meant . . . for the Lord and the Lord for the body…it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual.” (1 Cor 6:13 ; 15:46),” – the Apostle Paul

Contrary to what the world will say, opposing the sale of the transgender revolution is not the opposition of individuals suffering from transgender inclinations: the malady of “gender dysphoria”. The world may increasingly see transgender identity not as something disordered but as something to celebrate, but the church cannot “go there” without a betrayal of all those Christ came to save.

As theologian Scott Stiegemeyer puts it:

“Satan attacks sexuality with such intensity because it is the conjugal union of man and woman, which is God’s most powerful image in the world. Unable to strike God himself, the enemy strikes God’s image! The Platonizing tendencies of our culture must be resisted and the goodness of the objective body confirmed” (p. 47, “How Do You Know Whether You are a Man or a Woman?”)

For it is by looking at the image of God in both male and female – and the uniting of the same in marriage, that we see a critical sign of the Lord’s salvation: God, in Christ and His cross and resurrection, re-united with His now sinful people in a marriage that we did not deserve, but that He longed to enact. Christ has defeated our enemies of sin, death, and the devil, and gives us confidence that there is a new heavens and earth – and new healing – to come. Contrary to the lie, our “best life” is most definitely not now.

Having had some experience interacting with Christians who suffer from gender dysphoria, I agree with Mark Yarhouse when he says “Once you enter into a discussion of pastoral care for people navigating gender dysphoria, the practical issues that surface require great wisdom and discernment.” That said, because of the Gospel message of God’s mercy for us in Christ, I submit that we must also quickly assert that those suffering from this malady will need to embrace their cross in suffering. Even as we – hopefully! – quickly lend our ears, hearts, and hands to help in this terrible, terrible burden. Otherwise, they will be increasingly liable to find “hope and life” (150) elsewhere, apart from Christ’s Church.

In sum, I think our primary message here should be this: “We commend and exalt all Christians with gender dysphoria who “fight the good fight” and resist transitioning. We want your cross to be our cross.”

(for those specifically interested in the topic of pastoral ministry to those suffering from gender dysphoria, I have, with the help of several pastors, put together this document which I hope many will find helpful).

Not only guilt but shame – resulting from abuse or not – can also be countered through absolution and Christ’s body and blood.

Not only guilt but shame – resulting from abuse or not – can also be countered through absolution and Christ’s body and blood.



Images: Tinder chart by Kayleeelizabeth888** (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license) ; El Greco’s “Christ Healing the Blind” from Wikimedia Commons ; 14th century, Apostle Paul, Icon of a Deesis tier from Ubisi (Wikimedia Commons); Lord’s Supper from (Attribution 2.0 Generic [CC by 2.0])


[i] In addition, Yarhouse speaks of social constructivism, even saying that we must be humble in “articulating a biblical witness about important constructs in this area (157),” but does not really address how this way of thinking about thinking tends to, in practice, amount to the mind and soul-killing philosophy of social constructionism. The dangers here are very real, as I argue here.

[ii] In one robust Swedish study of post-operative transsexuals, it was determined that their suicide rates were 19 times higher than that of the general population… “although Dhejne and colleagues state that it is possible that ‘things might have been even worse without sex reassignment.’”

That claim, however, might be a bit far-fetched. According to Anne Hendershott (director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio), summing up a UCLA study,  transgender persons in general – not taking into account transitioning vis surgery – have suicide rates that are only roughly 8-9 times that of the regular population: “In her suicide attempt, [whistleblower Chelsea] Manning joins the more than 41 percent of those identifying as “transgender” or gender nonconforming who have attempted suicide, compared with 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population who report a lifetime suicide attempt.”

[iii] Gagnon also writes, for example:

“How far should Christians following Yarhouse’s suggestions go? For example, can a man who feels that he is a woman use the church’s restroom for females? Can he expect the church to respect his choice of romantic partner, whether a woman (in a pretend lesbian relationship) or a man (in an actual homosexual relationship)? Can he even compel the pastor’s performance of his marriage ceremony to either sex, claiming that otherwise he will feel estranged from the church? And what if the offender has children distressed and confused by his wrong choices?”

[iv] University of Toronto researcher and therapist Kenneth Zucker used “talk therapy, parent-arranged play dates with same-sex peers, …parent counseling” and more to treat children with gender dysphoria. They found Gender Identity Disorder (old term) persisted in only three of the 25 children that they treated with the condition. Canada no longer allows him to practice.

[v] Quoted in Stiegelmeyer, Concordia Theological Quarterly, 2015:

“It may be that one reason for the reticence of the psychological community to establish BIID [Body Integrity Identity Disorder] as a disorder in the DSM-5 is the indirect effect this could have. “To use Ian Hacking’s term, psychiatric categories have a ‘looping’ effect: once in play, people use them to construct their identities, and this in turn reinforces their reality as medical conditions . . . . The very awareness of a disorder can contribute to its proliferation.” Tim Bayne and Neil Levy, “Amputees by Choice: Body Integrity Identity Disorder and the Ethics of Amputation,” Journal of Applied Philosophy 22, no. 1 (2005): 85.”

Note that things like divorce are “contagious” as well.

[vi] From a 2012 Guardian article, which notes at least one person who was in danger of committing suicide if not having the surgery he thought he needed:

“Most BIID sufferers….describe their feelings in terms in terms of identity…. “My left foot is not a part of me,” said one of Smith’s patients. “It feels right,” says another sufferer, “the way I should always have been and for some reason in line with what I think my body ought to have been like.” “I didn’t understand why,” says yet another, “but I knew I didn’t want my leg.”

…while there can be a sexual component to the condition, most BIID sufferers do not give sexual motives for wanting an amputation. This led Michael First, a psychiatrist at Columbia University in New York, to remane the condition. He initially considered calling it “amputee identity disorder,” but then settled with BIID.

To date, there have been approximately 300 documented cases of BIID.”

[vii] From Gagnon: “Denise Schick, director of Help 4 Families Ministry, writes courageously about the added stresses put on her adolescent development by a father obsessed with becoming a woman:

As an adolescent, I had to be careful about how I dressed. I always had to ask myself how he would react to my outfit. Would it make him so envious that he’d “borrow” it (without my consent, of course)? I began to hate my body. It was a constant reminder of what my father wanted to become. When I began to wear makeup, I had to block out the images I had of him applying makeup or eye shadow or lipstick. He was destroying my desire to become a woman….”

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


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Posted by on November 23, 2016 in Uncategorized



Individualism in the Age of Trump: the Unbridled Sophistry Behind Sexuality, Gender… and the Theory of Evolution

Grabbing life by the...

Author of Think BIG and Kick A** in Business and Life and 45th President of the U.S.A., Donald Trump

In the Western world, today’s “conservatives” are increasingly libertarian when it comes to matters of sexual morality. Whatever good might come out of a Trump Presidency (full disclosure: I voted for the man), it seems unlikely that the nation’s appreciation for the importance of sexual morality will deepen.

Increasingly in our society, the expectation for any romantic relationship is that it must be sexual or get sexual without much delay – married or not. Going hand in hand with this, political progressives and libertarians both seem basically united on the idea that the choice of each individual is the controlling principle. As some on the Supreme Court told us in 1992, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”[i]

This kind of thinking really does not seem all that alien from what the Trump-supporting “free speech fundamentalist” Milo Yiannopoulos has said:

Read what you want.
Watch what you want.
Play what you want.
Think what you want.
Say what you want.

That might not work in a marriage, but otherwise why the hell not? (marriage couldn’t be that important anyways, could it?) Political correctness can die the death it so richly deserves! The sky is the limit!

In the current environment, a very unmanly man?

An unmanly man?

Yiannopoulos may say that some – by virtue of biological and psychological limitations – can’t be whatever they want to be, but with his emphasis on the individual’s rights, one is hard-pressed to argue why some, at least, shouldn’t give it a shot (please note I say all of this wanting to defend free speech to, while being concerned that not all of our speech is helpful).

And, tying this back to matters of sexual morality, why suppress human nature? Yiannopoulos regularly encourages college students to not hold back in exploring their sexuality with others. And, when asked here about Harvard’s men’s soccer team this past week – namely, about their recently revealed shared Google form treating their female counterparts as sexual objects – Yiannopoulos defended them to the hilt. One might think he could have said, at the very least, that the men’s behavior was to be strongly discouraged – even if the Harvard President had overreacted (read this and this for a balanced perspective). He didn’t say this though – he simply talked about our inability to overcome human nature: basically “men will be men”.

After all, as popular You Tuber Gavin McInnes says (language alert) all men act like this. And likewise, all men must surely know that they are incapable of waiting for sex – and they must be lying if they say they do! Guys like Tim Tebow (what has he accomplished lately?) are surely hypocrites, and evidently, most of the time, just aren’t manly enough to obtain the good things that come their way, grabbing them by the….

But even if we perhaps should respect the real power of human nature here, we also cannot overcome the consequences of human nature. Even if you, by virtue of your social capitol and financial resources, appear able to rise above some of the most socially deleterious effects of sexual licentiousness, many – particularly the most vulnerable – can’t. And all of this contributes to the fracturing and weakening of the family, which one would hope any conservative would understand. This glorification of our choices when it comes to matters sexual, of course, makes the goal of marriage – and the commitment involved therein – less and less of a possibility for many (listen to Jennifer Roback Morse here).

Milo Yiannopoulos: "double down, don't back down."

Milo Yiannopoulos: “double down, don’t back down.”

Yiannopoulos may have once written about the dangers of pornography in the past (see here and here), but these days, he seems to have left that concern behind (a necessary casualty of his message and newfound fame?). Now, ironically, it is some on the left (some!) who are bringing up the critical importance of this issue (see here and here for example). Speaking merely from a tactical standpoint, perhaps persons like Yiannopoulos should find a creative way to address this, before being outflanked by progressives concerned about the truth of these matters?

So, what does any of this have to do with the theory of evolution – and sophisty?! Hang on… we getting there right now….

First of all, a popular meaning of the word sophistry is “the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving”. It is a simple matter that men simply can control themselves (though, if I may say, we seem to live in an age that likes to play with the fire of temptation).

Second, in the theory of evolution, all is about sex (and death): everything comes down to being able to pass on one’s genes to the next generation. Supposedly, evolution “designed” us for this.

Third, and here is the meat of my point, in a recent edition of the Atlantic, an article called “The Case Against Reality,” lays out the implications of the theory of evolution (spurred on by what I call the MSTM, the modern scientific and technological mindset) in a very helpful manner. An interview with cognitive science Donald D. Hoffman is featured, where he argues that “the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses… the world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality” (as the Atlantic sums him up).

In short, Hoffman believes that “evolution itself [is] to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction” (italics mine). It is not accurate perceptions which helps us to effectively pass on our genes but “fitness functions,” i.e. “mathematical functions that describe how well a given strategy achieves the goals of survival and reproduction.” “Suppose,” he says, “there’s a blue rectangular icon on the lower right corner of your computer’s desktop — does that mean that the file itself is blue and rectangular and lives in the lower right corner of your computer? Of course not… And yet the desktop is useful.”[ii] Hoffman says that this is “conscious realism,” meaning that “Objective reality is just conscious agents, just points of view.”

“We have no idea how life emerged, and cannot with assurance say that it did. We cannot reconcile our understanding of the human mind with any trivial theory about the manner in which the brain functions. Beyond the trivial, we have no other theories." - David Berlinski (p. xiii, The Devil's Delusion).

“We have no idea how life emerged, and cannot with assurance say that it did.” – David Berlinski (p. xiii, The Devil’s Delusion).

And hence, evolution’s connection with classical understandings of sophistry is complete. Perhaps Christians taken with evolution should take evolutionists like Daniel Dennet more seriously when they assert that it is a “universal acid” that “eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most of the old landmarks still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways” (see here).

The Sophists of the ancient world said that our base assumption should be that certain truth and goodness is unattainable. With change being the only constant and knowledge an illusion, everything is about building consensus through persuasion. The ethical sophist – assuming positing such a person is reasonable! – would persuade on the basis of arguing for things that are not true, but possible and perhaps probable…

How is this not sync perfectly what Hoffman is saying, a “match made in heaven,” or hell, as the case may be? Cannot he – or anyone else – see the implications of this thinking for human reason itself?

Let’s break it down:

  • In brief, Hoffman, assuming temporal survival is what life is all about, says that it is our “fitness functions,” and not accurate perceptions, which help us to pass on our genes.
  • Therefore, it follows that being able to create grand, plausible sounding theories – whether they are true or not – also can be reduced to being about the survival value they have (in that they attract partners who know brains are valuable – and who can pass on genes).
  • Therefore, as long as one can avoid the impression one is totally disconnected from matters of concrete fact, disqualifying one’s self in other’s eyes, the sky is the limit!
  • As Hoffman says, our perceptions are “tuned to fitness, but not to truth”. Why would our capacity to construct narratives, our story-telling imaginations, not be as well? Why would this also not figure into the all controlling “fitness function”?
  • So, if this is the case, why believe the theory of evolution is true at all? It might be useful for passing on genes, but true?

And yet, of course, what Hoffman is doing in his interview – what he cannot avoid doing even if he might protest he is doing it – is putting forth a truth claim. Truth, in one sense, is “driven to extinction,” where, in another, it rises from the ashes reborn. “Believe me,” he is saying… “I am speaking with some real authority on these matters.” The ancient sophists played the same game… the truth is that we cannot not really know truth… what is important is that you listen to me, noticing how smart I am…

And so, as evolution and truth evolves, so does “our” (Not mine! Not yours I hope!) understanding of individuality, sex, and gender.

To state the obvious, given his assumptions, is that not just his “fitness function” speaking? And if he opposes me socially and politically and I fight back, evidently with my own fitness function that still falsely believes there is truth, just what hope for common ground do we now have?

I’m calling B.S. I’m calling out these new sophists for the danger to society and culture that they are. Absolute. Total. Nonsense.

In like fashion, Minnesota’s own Katherine Kersten (Star Tribune editorialist), challenging the transgender revolution, recently spoke some real sense at the First Things site:

…public policy making will become impossible if new interest groups attempt to piggyback on the transgender movement’s success, as seems likely. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch now insists that schools accept a kindergarten boy’s self-understanding and treat him as if he is a girl. What happens when an individual suffering from body integrity identity disorder identifies as disabled and applies for federal disability benefits? What if a white male business owner identifies as black and seeks to participate in a federal contract set-aside reserved for minorities? What if a forty-year-old woman regards herself as a senior citizen and demands Social Security benefits? How can policy makers logically deny their claims? As we enter the world of fantasy—when reality ceases to matter—it is impossible to predict where our society will crash against nature, as it inevitably will.

All marriages are an icon of The One True Marriage.

All marriages are an icon of The One True Marriage.

Alas, I think the ground we have for making these arguments has already disappeared beneath our feet – at least in the minds of many of our fellow Americans (not in reality). And this warning especially goes to “conservatives” who have already given up way too much ground to the sexual revolution as well. In some ways I can’t but like and respect persons like Milo Yiannopoulos, but in this area I think he is as clueless as the progressives he so effectively targets and trolls.

What is the endgame here? Ultimately, it is not earthly marriages, that most excellent fireplace for the fire of passion, that will saves any of us – as much as good marriages will surely help any nation. It is rather the True Marriage which our “desktop icon” of marriage points us to: Christ’s love for His Church and Her love for Him. This and this alone gives us the true life, love, and light – hope! – that we know in this world. Hopefully, the current President-elect we have in America will end up being friendly to these concerns (his opponent on the other hand, said this).

The sooner the church as a whole wakes up to the concentrated Satanic attack on this truth, born of ancient Sophistry, the better (and perhaps we can count those friendly to ancient philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics as allies of a sort here).

When Hoffman says “It’s conscious agents all the way down,” he is surely right, but not for the reasons he thinks he is. That move should not actually banish God from reality. Rather, it should point us towards our need to acknowledge Him.

Friends, let’s fight the good fight.




Trump, by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license) ; Milo Yiannopoulos, photo by @Kmeron (this file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license) ; Tim Tebow by Clemed (this file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license).

[i] It seems to me that even neoconservative intellectuals like Yuval Levin (author of the 2016 book Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism) seem to take this principle for granted.

[ii] In response to a question about whether or not everything is just one big illusion, Hoffman responds: “We’ve been shaped to have perceptions that keep us alive, so we have to take them seriously. If I see something that I think of as a snake, I don’t pick it up. If I see a train, I don’t step in front of it. I’ve evolved these symbols to keep me alive, so I have to take them seriously. But it’s a logical flaw to think that if we have to take it seriously, we also have to take it literally.”

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Posted by on November 11, 2016 in Uncategorized


The Connection Between the Bondage of the Will and the Two Kinds of Righteousness (Justification and Sanctification)

"I forgive you all your sins," or "God always looks for the best in His children..."?!

“I forgive you all your sins,” or “God always looks for the best in His children…”?!

First of all, happy day after Reformation Day. Semper reformanda!

Not too long ago, my eleven-year-old son and I were attending a different LC-MS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) congregation than the one that we are members of. After the confession and absolution, I looked at my son, who was already looking at me in great seriousness, repeating as a question the first words the pastor had said in his unique absolution: “God always looks for the best in his children?”

I confirmed he was right to be taken aback. Later on, without any prompting from me, he would inform my wife that “that church teaches false doctrine”.

Extreme? No. My son, thanks be to God, knows his stuff.

In the throes of the Reformation, Martin Luther fought vigorously against the idea that there was anything good in man that would merit God’s justifying word. Even sincere repentance was not a “good work” that somehow earned God’s approval, and His subsequent granting of real forgiveness and peace to His child. No. God comes only for sinners, and for this reason the doctrine of justification must be asserted and upheld! The absolution that He grants to the sinner, received in repentant faith, is given because He is good.

Here, we are passive in the reception the gifts of grace won for us in Jesus Christ. In one of Luther’s most vigorous battles to uphold this doctrine of justification – versus the famous humanist Erasmus – he even penned the following words, highlighting our passivity:

“A sword contributes nothing whatever to its motion but is entirely passive; however, in inflicting the wound it has through it motion co-operated with him who yielded it. Therefore just as a sword does not co-operate toward setting itself in motion, so the will does not co-operate towards its willing. This willing is a motion which the divine Word produces. It is merely something that is done to the will.”

Early on, Luther himself spoke about a twofold (and even threefold) definition of righteousness. And for Luther, Cooper writes, "both justification and sanctification can in some sense be identified with passive righteousness" (61).

Early on, Luther spoke about a twofold (and even threefold) definition of righteousness. For Luther, Cooper writes, “both justification and sanctification can in some sense be identified with passive righteousness” (61).

Some 13 years later, in his “antinomian disputations,” Luther would make it especially clear that the Christian, in sanctification, co-operates in a way with God that is conscious and active. The Christian is, in part, called into “lifelong military service and battle array” to expel sin against God’s law in them more and more. Of course, while in the world this “active justification” is imperfect, God nevertheless finds it praiseworthy.[i]

All of this only makes sense because Luther, unlike John Calvin, believed that a person who was really and truly a Christian, in their actions following from justification, could lose their faith due to sin (see here). If Luther meant to assert that man’s will was always and only supposed to be passive – and not passive primarily when it came to receiving His Word of forgiveness – we would have to conclude that God intended any sin on man’s part. Further, it would seem this would imply that God never intended Adam to resist sin before the fall – something which clearly goes against the thrust of the biblical text!

In his zeal to defend the doctrine of justification, another one of Martin Luther’s students, Matthias Flacius, went in just this direction. He did not, like Luther, teach that man’s nature was good but fatally infected by sin – he ended up teaching that man’s nature was sin itself (see an answer to one of my non-Christian students about this thing here). Here, avoiding the errors of both Flacius and Phillip Melanchton, the “second Martin”, Martin Chemnitz, would seek to offer the correct way of seeing both justification and sanctification, which the 1580 Book of Concord called the two kinds of righteousness. In his Loci theologici, he laid out the following:

This teaching concerning the freedom of the new creature must be carefully taught: (1) in order that we might learn to recognize what and how great is the blessing of renewal; (2) in order that no one may forfeit the grace of God, Heb. 12:15; (3) so that we not grieve the Holy Spirit, who wants to help us. For Paul exhorts the Corinthians to this goal in 2 Cor. 6:1, “Do not receive the grace of God in vain.” But we must always add that this liberty is not complete, for His “strength is made perfect in weakness,” 2 Cor. 12:9.

Further, if anyone asks whether in a general sense the will is purely passive or active, Augustine has answered beautifully, De Corrept. et Grat., 2 [MPL 44.918], “If they are the sons of God, they will understand that they are led by the Spirit of God and will do what must be done; and when they have done it, they will give thanks to Him by whom they are led. For they are led in order that they might do something, not in order that they might do nothing.” Paul speaks the same way in 1 Cor. 15:10, “I labored more than all; yet not I, but the grace of God which is with me,” and 2 Cor. 13:3, “You seek a proof of the Christ who speaks in me.” (bold mine)

One notes here that Chemnitz, in talking about the new creature’s active will, is assuming that one is already a Christian. While it is not clear from this passage, this means that the Christian, who is active, is also one who may be at rest – i.e. one who is at peace with God. This is the security that the Christian has that the doctrine of justification is meant to uphold and safeguard. Chemnitz goes on:

The second point is that change or renewal is not the kind of change which is completed or accomplished at one moment, immediately and in all its aspects. Rather it has its beginning, and its various steps by which in great weakness it is brought to completion. Therefore we must not think that I shall wait with a secure and idle will until—by the operation of the Holy Spirit in definite stages and with no activity on my part—the renewal or change will have taken place. For the fact is that it is impossible to show at some mathematical point where the freed will begins to function. But when prevenient grace, that is, the first beginnings of faith and conversion are given to a man, immediately the battle between the flesh and the Spirit begins and it is manifest that this struggle does not take place without any action of our will. For the Holy Spirit who dwelt in Moses fought in a different way while he was still alive contending against his flesh, than Michael fought with the devil for the dead body of Moses, Jude 9. Likewise, in the beginning the desire is very weak, the assent is not strong, the obedience is tenuous, and these gifts must increase. And they do increase in us, not in the way that a log is moved forward with violent force, nor in the way that lilies grow which neither labor nor care; but by trying, struggling, seeking, praying, striving; and this is not of ourselves, but it is the gift of God. Cf. Luke 19:13, where the nobleman turned over to his servants the talents and said to them, “Trade with this until I come.” In Matt. 25:26 he does not say, “Hide it away in the ground.” And Paul uses a most illustrative word in 2 Tim. 1:6, where he says, “I exhort that you stir up the gift of God which is in you.”

For Chemnitz, "prevenient grace" is only the first beginnings of real saving faith which then continues to mature the Christian.

For Chemnitz, “prevenient grace” is only the first beginnings of real saving faith which then continues to mature the Christian.

Here one also needs to note what is going on with Chemnitz’s use of “prevenient grace”. He is not using this term to describe a grace that, over time, eventually makes one into a Christian. Rather, this grace is the first beginnings of real saving faith which then continues to mature the Christian. One also notices how Chemnitz, aware of issues that came to the fore after Luther’s death, avoids language similar to the Reformer’s (i.e. in reference to the sword) above.

The things which have been said about prevenient, preparatory, and operating grace have this meaning, that the initial stages in conversion are not ours, but God—through the Word and divine inspiration—goes before us, moves and impels our Will. After this movement of the will has been accomplished by divine power, then the human will is not purely passive, but, moved and aided by the Holy Spirit, it ceases to resist and assents and is co-operative (synergos) with God, etc. There is a similar statement in Augustine’s De Dogm. Eccles., ch. 32 [MPL 58.893], “God works in us so that we will and do what He wills; nor does He permit that the gifts which He has given us lie idle in us, but rather they must be used, and not neglected. Thus we are both co-operators with the grace of God, and if we see anything in ourselves and of our own power which is becoming weak because of our letting down, we will dutifully take refuge in Him who heals all our weaknesses and has commanded us to pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation.’ ”

Chemnitz appears to be saying that man both passively and actively consents to the goodness of Godpassively in terms of receiving His gifts of love and grace, and actively as well – perhaps, for example, in that we at times more actively and consciously receive the “good works… prepared beforehand” that His “poems” (ποίημα) should walk in them (Eph. 2:10). One notes that by definition, any notion of consent means that you are not acting alone, but with another, responding to another.

Check out Pastor Cooper's new book to get the real scoop on "2KR".

Check out Pastor Cooper’s new book to get the real scoop on “2KR”.

And all of this syncs with what we and the 1580 “Formula of Concord” (in the Book of Concord) calls the “two kinds of righteousness”. As Pastor Cooper puts it in his new book Hands of Faith: a Historical and Theological Study of the Two Kinds of Righteousness in Lutheran Thought, those who followed Luther – all the way up until the 20th century – also showed that:

“The two kinds of righteousness are described as the twofold effect of faith, whereby one is receptive before God and active in the world. This also corresponds to the distinction between justification and sanctification. In justification, one receives the imputed righteousness of Christ, and in sanctification one receives Christ’s inherent righteousness. Hollaz has a similar distinction between monergistic operating grace and cooperating grace. There is also a distinction between the union of faith, wherein one is united with Christ as a mediator and receives his benefits, and divine indwelling wherein the Christian is changed and performs good works. All of these kinds of inherent righteousness are placed in contradistinction to the civil righteousness of the unbeliever, thus substantiating a distinction between three kinds of righteousness.” (p. 112, bold mine)

Back to Chemnitz. He goes on:

Furthermore, Augustine gives an illustrative example in the case of his own conversion, where we are permitted to see a living explanation of this question as to how, among the hidden sparks and weak beginnings of prevenient grace, the will is not idle but begins the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. These points ought to be most noteworthy for each of us, not on the basis of idle arguments or irrelevant examples, but out of the serious penitential struggles of each person. But because many people live without any struggles of faith or prayer, they reach many confused conclusions about things of which they know nothing. Therefore a consideration of the conversion of Augustine will be useful. Chemnitz, M., & Preus, J. A. O. (1999). Loci theologici (electronic ed., pp. 248–249). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Now this kind of talk tends to make some Lutherans nervous as well. But here is where another great Lutheran – perhaps the greatest American Lutheran theologian – C.F.W. Walther, might be of some help in making things crystal clear. He spoke, for example, about how it is very easy to become a Christian but not to remain one! And in the ninth thesis of his famous Friday evening lectures (freely and eagerly attended by his students!) regarding Law and Gospel, Walther, bolstered by the knowledge of his own negative experiences with Lutheran pietism, put forth the following:

…the Word of God is not rightly divided when sinners who have been struck down and terrified by the Law are directed, not to the Word and the Sacraments, but to their own prayers and wrestlings with God in order that they may win their way into a state of grace; in other words, when they are told to keep on praying and struggling until they feel that God has received them into grace.

You can read this thesis and all of Walther’s fantastic thoughts on the topic for free here.



[i] Those who don’t think Luther ever highlighted obedience should see his commentary on Deuteronomy (AE 9), and his discussion of the Ten Commandments in the Large Catechism. In addition, in 1519 Luther also expounded on the Lord’s prayer, and contrasting the new man in the Christian with the old Adam (“The old Adam is simply the evil leaning in us towards wrath, hatred, unchastity, greed, vainglory, pride, and the like.” [AE 42: 43]), Luther stated, for example, things like the following: “No matter how good our will may be, it is still immeasurably inferior to God’s will” ; “….this good will in us must be hindered for its own improvement.” ; “God’s only purpose in thwarting our good will is to make of it a better will” ; ultimately, he stated, man is to be “delivered from his own will, and knows nothing except that he waits upon the will of God” ; “Now that is what is meant by genuine obedience, a thing which, unfortunately, is entirely unknown in our day” ; “sure, he gave you a free will. But why do you want to make it your own will? Why not let it remain free?” and “A free will does not want its own way, but looks only to God’s will for direction. By so doing it then also remains free…” (AE 42: 47, 48).

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Posted by on November 1, 2016 in Uncategorized


Semper Vendenda!?: Was the Reformation about Creative Marketing with Disruptive Technology?

“Many things conspired to ensure Luther’s unlikely survival through the first years of the Reformation, but one of them was undoubtedly print.” – Andrew Pettegree

“Many things conspired to ensure Luther’s unlikely survival through the first years of the Reformation, but one of them was undoubtedly print.” – Andrew Pettegree



Short answer: “Yes”, but it was also much, much more.

Before 1517, this man was largely unpublished and unnoticed. What happened!?

Before 1517, this man was largely unpublished and unnoticed. What happened!?

Not too long from now, Reformation Day (All Saint’s Day) will be upon us once again. And next year, of course, will mark the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing the 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, and subsequently setting the world on fire – either a good thing (the Holy Spirit!) or a bad thing (Heretic!) depending on your churchly perspective.

A relatively new book brings to mind a very modern question though: to what extent was the Reformation a marketing coup? How in the world did a backwater town become the the printing center and hub of big and important ideas in the 16th century Western world?

Martin Luther famously said that God caused the Reformation of the church. Luther “did nothing”, but while he slept and drank Wittenberg beer with friends, “the Word did it all” in his battle vs. the Roman Catholic papacy.

George, the Catholic Duke of Albertine Saxony, “That a single monk, out of such a hole, could undertake a Reformation, is not to be tolerated.”

George, the Catholic Duke of Albertine Saxony, “That a single monk, out of such a hole, could undertake a Reformation, is not to be tolerated.”

God’s providence may have guided the Reformation, but Brand Luther, by historian and media scholar Andrew Pettegree, argues Martin Luther created a new style – a unique brand that changed history, including ways many have yet to more fully explore.

I heard about the book when the author was interviewed on Albert Mohler’s fine program “Thinking in Public”. Mohler said that he initially had feared that the book, with its title, would be a “reductionistic understanding of Luther,” but that he was pleasantly surprised. “[T]his is the single most interesting book on Luther I believe I have ever read,” he told the author. I’m not done with it yet, but have read enough to know that it would be a good buy.

All in all, Pettegree shows us that there was, “at such a time as [that]”, a “perfect storm” for a reformation. With 20-20 hindsight that is scholarly attuned, he helps us to see that all of the following elements played a part in making the Reformation a reality:

But intended by Satan? Or of Providence, through and through?

But intended by Satan? Or of Providence, through and through?

Luther’s fearsome theological conviction

A “good Catholic,” when he nailed (or glued, as Pettegree believes!) his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg, Germany, church in 1517, it was “for the purpose of eliciting truth”. In short, from thesis 11 we can see that all saints are saved by grace, through faith, revealed by God’s Word in Christ, even without letters of pardon” (i.e. “indulgences”)!

The protection of his Prince, Elector Frederick

Frederick was a deeply pious Catholic man who collected the same kinds of relics that Luther attacked. Did he protect Luther, the defamed heretic, in the interest of his own rising political power? After Luther’s life ended, the window of opportunity closed, as “Wittenberg… was reabsorbed back into the Holy Roman Empire.”

Unpopularity of the Roman Church

There was already in Luther’s day a lot of criticism towards the Roman Catholic church, theologically and morally. The great humanist scholar Erasmus had already had a field day attacking Rome. Luther stirred this pot.

Gutenberg, the inventor of movable type (and Time-Life’s and A&E Bio’s “Person of the Millennium”), went bankrupt for a lack of market.

Gutenberg, the inventor of movable type (and Time-Life’s and A&E Bio’s “Person of the Millennium”), went bankrupt for a lack of market.

Channeling disruptive technology

The inventor of the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg, had gone bankrupt. Reading the “market” for his “product” and mastering the technology of his day, Luther is the first one who helped make a distribution infrastructure possible. In short, he singlehandedly made printing books a viable activity for printers everywhere.

Brief, popular writing (not in Latin!)

Luther’s writings in the common tongue, “lucid, accessible, and above all, short”, were all that sold consistently, offering immediate financial returns for the printers. With numerous new readers, he outpublished all other authors 10 to 1 and the most successful of his theological opponents 30 to 1.

High standards of professionalism

As one Amazon reviewer of the book put it, “[Luther’s] eye for good printing, artistic wood cuts, and different font types show a creative Luther who tenderly cared for his movement every step of the way.” Pettegree: “how the text would appear would have something to do with how credible it was understood to be”.

Martin Luther came from a mining household and his parents instilled in him a sense of shrewdness in financial and business matters: “a practical man, well-grounded in the harsh economics of profit and loss…” (Pettegree)

Martin Luther came from a mining household and his parents instilled in him a sense of shrewdness in financial and business matters: “a practical man, well-grounded in the harsh economics of profit and loss…” (Pettegree)

Product differentiation

Lucas Cranach, a court painter in Wittenberg “… clothed Luther’s works in a new and distinctive livery, immediately recognizable on a crowded bookstall. The result was the development of a form of book that was itself a powerful representative of the movement – bold, clear, and recogniseably distinct from what has gone before.”

Political, business, and media savviness

Luther understood his personal shortcomings, astutely read the political scene, and “saw the value of friendships where both parties could benefit” (Amazon rewiew). Media? Impeccable timing for publications, and he thought that “[t]he oxygen of publicity was, quite literally, a matter of life and death.” (p. 89)

A Cast of supporting characters

Politicians, artists (Cranach, Dürer), printers (Rhau-Grunenberg), church leaders and other figures throughout Europe joined the movement at no small risk to themselves.

Though Luther never received remuneration for his work, he enriched the printers, as his books sold 30 times more than long, Latin works like this one from opponent Johann Eck.

Though Luther never received remuneration for his work, he enriched the printers, as his books sold 30 times more than long, Latin works like this one from opponent Johann Eck.

Even though he was also a charismatic personality (“he had a sort of personal magnetism which somehow carried people over their natural borders and boundaries,” Pettegree says), he often talked very convincingly and practically about the importance of being simple and humble in his writings. None of this however precluded having a deep understanding of his times and environment, nor the need to be quite strategic as well: Luther was politically savvy, a master of media manipulation, a creative marketer.

So, going along with that line of thinking, I think the core question for all people in general and Christians in particular is this: was Luther offering a new “product” – or were his efforts in line with that of the catholic church throughout all time, offering a course correction for a train that had gone off the rails? Roland Bainton, in his classic book on Luther, Here I Stand, opted for the latter:

“The center about which all the petals clustered was the affirmation of the forgiveness of sins through the utterly unmerited grace of God made possible by the cross of Christ, which reconciled wrath and mercy, routed the hosts of hell, triumphed over sin and death, and by the resurrection manifested that power which enables man to die to sin and rise to newness of life. This was of course the theology of Paul, heightened, intensified, and clarified. Beyond these cardinal tenets Luther was never to go.” (italics mine)

Semper reformanda!


P.S. Please consider also looking at the Reformation Day post from the past I am most proud of: The Coming Vindication of Martin Luther.


Select images: Portrait of George, Duke of Saxony (1471-1539),by Lucas Cranach the Elder, from Wikipedia ; Portraits of Hans and Margarethe Luther, Martin’s parents, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1527,, from ; Johannes Gutenberg from Wikipedia ;



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Posted by on October 21, 2016 in Uncategorized


“Maybe That’s What Christianity is All About?” A Few Critical Questions for “Relevant” Churches

A big crowd, but what really makes a church relevant?

A big crowd, but what really makes a church relevant?

Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (Col. 4:5)


Google tells me that “relevant” means “closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand.” For churches then, nothing could be more relevant than the proclamation of the word of God.

What kind of impression is your “relevant” church giving? I have a story that I hope might be of some real interest to you.

Every year about three or four times a year, I get to teach an introductory course on the Christian faith where I work at Concordia University – Saint Paul (in Minnesota). The course is a part of our curriculum for all online students getting their bachelor’s degree (these are typically persons already in a career and looking to get more education).

One of the assignments in the class is for them to attend a worship service of their choice (I encourage them to attend an LC-MS church), and to report on the experience, following a rubric which asks them to reflect on what occurred in the service. Some of the most important questions asked in the rubric are the following:

Who is Jesus Christ understood to be, and what is His role in this community, according to this worship service and community behaviors?  Simply put, is Jesus primarily a friend, a good role model, or the Savior who suffered and dies to redeem people from eternal separation from God?  Further, what is the foundation for this church’s interpretation of Biblical Christianity (how Biblical and how Christian is it?).

Paul is focused: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified…”, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins...”

Paul on relevance: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified…”, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins…”

Many students choose to attend larger congregations, typically called “megachurches” — these are churches usually rooted in American Evangelicalism which feature auditoriums, a variety of programs for target groups, contemporary worship, etc. Some students are quite critical of these churches, but sometimes those attending – often their first time attending a church like this — have an emotional experience and are impressed (typical for those who attend these services, with their stadium-like atmosphere). What this means is that many who experience these churches, especially in the initial stages, think of these churches as being relevant.

There is a megachurch in the Twin Cities here that is quite popular. When it comes to the questions above, I have been under the impression that the preaching there – by megachurch standards at least – is better than most. Therefore, I was a bit taken aback by the impressions that one of my students recently received when attending it.

Before I share what she said, I want to note that this student is Hmong in ethnicity, and her family practices the animist religion the Hmong are known for. Nevertheless, she was one of my better students in the class – her work was top notch and she was constantly sharing excellent insights from her readings of the biblical texts.

Here is what she said about her experience (words used with permission):

Throughout the worship, God was referenced many times; however, the name of Jesus Christ wasn’t very much. Regardless of that, the service and the message were meaningful and full of faith and grace. As mentioned previously, though there wasn’t very much diversity in terms of different races and ethnicities, I felt very comfortable attending Eagle Brook. The volunteers and staff were nice and very friendly. My entire experience yield[ed] nothing put positive results. I don’t think I would ever convert religion or become a Christian; however, because I now have a greater knowledge of the faith, I would not mind attending worship service again at a later time. If God and the bible were taken out of the picture, it would have felt as though I was attending a life coaching event given by a great motivational speaker…..

At this point, I wrote the following comment in her paper: ‘in my mind – this is an extremely important and significant statement you make – read on”

….Then I got to thinking, maybe that’s what Christianity is all about.  Maybe the underlining message is about life events and having the right coaches in place to help guide through tough and difficult times. Some of those coaches could be God and Jesus Christ.

My comment: “Just another coach…maybe as good as the rest…”

Knowing that she would understand my concerns about Jesus being diminished in this way (based on things that would be communicated in the class lectures), Here is what I went on to say to her….

….megachurches like this make me uneasy.

I am glad that you had a positive experience at the service. That said, I am always a bit more critical of churches like this…. One thing about them for sure is that they are designed to give persons a pleasant experience. I don’t know who made this You Tube video, but it does have a ring of truth to it:


If the pure message of the Gospel (see I Cor. 15) is not really the focus, you might just have a bunch of people who get happy once a week and who realize that “biblical principles” might help make for a happy life…Maybe the church even has its own health club and other great perks…  Salvation from sin, death and the devil? Determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified? Hearing the word of God read and spoken with some fear and trembling? Not so much.

Please don’t get me wrong: I am happy when people do hear the truth of God’s word, and I am very conscious that I am being critical and might come off as overly so. But I think that the larger-than-life big-box churches tend to distract from its true meaning. I will admit that students like this are rare, but I enjoyed reading one student recently say this of his small, traditional, country church: “I personally find that this church allows someone to connect with God in a more personal way because there are no fancy lights, music, and projectors in the way of this connection.” Simplicity and humility. Imagine that….

A former student, who clearly knew her Bible forwards and backwards, had a bit more fiery appraisal of this particular church (again, used with permission):

Overall, I felt extremely comfortable in this church, and I’m fairly certain this is how they wanted me to feel. The casual dress, the coffee shop, and the ambience of the auditorium all contributed to this. The problem is, church isn’t meant to only make people feel comfortable. In fact, there are many times in church I’ve felt uncomfortable – reprimanded and admonished by God’s Word through the sermon. In contemplating who is Jesus Christ understood to be and what is His role in this community, I came to the following conclusion: Jesus is viewed at Eaglebrook as a good role model and someone through whom we can learn some valuable and applicable life lessons. Personally, I don’t believe this church has the Bible, God’s authoritative Word, as the foundation for their interpretation of Biblical Christianity. It seems they have taken what the world considers easy and comfortable and fun, and built their church around this. They are certainly attracting many souls, but are these souls then being taught about Jesus – the Savior who suffered and died to redeem people from eternal separation from God?  Sadly, I fear the answer is no.

If my recent animist student’s reaction is any indication, this analysis is dead right.

If you are a “relevant” church – “mega” or not – I beg you to take heed. Please think carefully about what you are doing. Given the atmosphere you are promoting, how quickly and effectively are you able to get to this?:

"Not surviving", you say?

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel. (Eph. 6:19)



Image: An picture of the inside of the Main Auditorium at First Baptist Church Jacksonville, FL.jpg by Fbcjax, used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License,



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Posted by on October 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

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