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The Christian Conscience, Pounded into Submission by Sentimentalism?

For Luther, “man can and does fight against his conscience and eventually, may even be able to subdue it so that it goes into a type of dormancy.” — Paul Strawn, in a paper here.


Anyone who has truly known the tender heart of Christ has a heart that is tender. They know that:

  • Both men and women were created in the image of God
  • Slavery, though a perpetual human reality, was never intended by God
  • Children, always vulnerable, are beautiful pictures of what our trust in the Lord should look like
  • God loves His whole creation – all creatures – and the crown of His creation, man, above all.
  • This goes for all races and all classes of human beings. There is no favoritism with God.

I thought about these things as I read Sarah Hinlicky Wilson’s column, “Where Have All the Women Gone?” — particularly when I came across this quotation from one of the women she interviewed for that column:

“For me, the question is what is most important, rights or faith. The paganism that we are sinking into is brutal to women, which they don’t realize yet, but when polygamy starts they will find out.”[i]

I should note that this line, while it stood out to me, doesn’t really do justice to what Wilson’s article is about. Overall, it wants to bring to our attention the fact that “social and personal perceptions” play a role “in the theological convictions we hold” ; that forms of feminism and Christian orthodoxy can go together and have gone together ; and that, for reasons the article explores, it is hard to find “doctrinally orthodox and confessionally Lutheran” women among Lutheran theologians.

All this said though, the essay does – even if inadvertently? – draw one’s attention to the hard edges of life, particularly in that quote above (perhaps a deep interest in what Jordan Peterson has to say might not be far behind?)

And here are the questions that the column causes this particular “male defender[] of orthodoxy” to ask:

  • Have we in the Western world given into the kind of sentimentalism that only the presence of Christianity could have rendered possible?
  • Might this explain why so many are so ready to accept, for example, things like gay marriage and the transgender revolution?


Do we have any idea of what true love is? In the midst of His unquestionable gentleness and tenderness, have we forgotten the importance of the kind of no-nonsense love our Savior shows? And have we allowed sentimentality – mixed with a harder-edged quest for equality (!) in this or that sphere – to run the show, thereby allowing our consciences to be hardened?

Hinlicky Wilson says:

“It seems to me now that, when women distrust orthodox Christianity, it’s because something has happened in their lives to render it untrustworthy. The women I’ve known who are most alienated from Christian orthodoxy are the ones whose humanity has been most called into question. The church was somehow either responsible (and there’s no dodging it: sometimes the church really is responsible) or unwittingly identified with the perpetrators. The trust had been so fatally damaged that anything offered as the teaching of the church was automatically suspect, even if irrelevant to women’s questions otherwise.”

Earlier in the same essay, she writes this:

“At first my fellow female students’ generally positive disposition toward feminist theology and negative attitude toward classical orthodoxy perplexed me. But I gradually came to realize that (theological) feminism held no attraction for me because nothing had ever been taken away from me—and that itself was because I was already enjoying so many of (social and political) feminism’s fruits.”

I think I get that. I think I can begin to understand and even appreciate that (Christianity, does, after all, elevate women unlike other world religions and philosophies, and so it is perhaps easy to see why some Christians believe that some forms of feminism are compatible with, or even go hand-in-hand with Christian orthodoxy[ii]).

In short, I hope that it is clear that I want to take what Hinlicky Wilson writes here very seriously. There is no doubt in my mind that she is making an exceedingly important point. At the same time, I confess that I don’t want to elevate her too much as a voice to listen to. She is after all, a vigorous and articulate advocate of ordaining women into the pastoral office.

Lutheran Forum editor Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, pictured with Beesson Divinity school president Timothy George.


I’ve heard those arguments, and I think in every case they are either wrong or misleading. I also confess that I don’t think that this is an issue that, ideally, is approached as an “open question” (even as there are those who are certainly eager to spend time on, and vigorously engaging, the issue).

Of course this stance is going to make a lot of women angry (though not the four strong women who scolded me twenty years ago for considering women’s ordination). No doubt about this.

There is much that I agree with Hinlicky Wilson about, for example when she says there is a “vice of valuing the fact of making assertions over the content of the assertions.” And yet, ultimately, I believe in submitting to the Lord’s Apostle when he tells us that:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (italics mine).

I have to ask the following in light of her article: Is that “dramatically inhospitable to women” or not? Are we seeing here in Paul simple fear, worrying that “all faith will be lost ‘if x creeps onto the scene’”? Are statements like these simply “cultural controls” only dressed up as “fidelity?” Is Paul perfectly exemplifying “the culture of orthodoxy [more] than orthodoxy itself”?

“And if my conscience tried to reproach me, saying, ‘You take a good deal of liberty with your interpretation, Sir Martin, but—but—’ etc., I would press until I became red in the face, and say, ‘Keep quiet, you traitor with your “but,” I don’t want the people to notice that I have such a bad conscience!’” More (see this also).


And am I failing, even here and now, to realize the “impact of [my] style[] and actions?”

Where can a person go from here? Well, here is where Hinlicky Wilson, evidently in a sincere effort to “restart this conversation with more charity and patience,” goes:

I wasn’t there for the first wave of women entering theology and ministry, so I can’t speak from firsthand experience. But I gather that the resistance many men showed to the female infiltration of church leadership and theology had a hardening and radicalizing effect on the women. Many churchmen, incapable of hearing the critiques from or repenting of real sins against the female half of the body of Christ—probably shocked by the suddenness of it, and thinking that they had been doing right by their women all along—turned off their ears and in the process created the kind of women they feared most. Man’s orthodoxy begets woman’s heresy. And then the men who weren’t hostile to women heard the accusations made against their sex, resented being lumped together with the bad guys, and began to lose their sympathy for feminist concerns, which only reinforced the women’s suspicion.

What a catastrophe! Radical feminists don’t arise in a vacuum. They are made, not born, by a hostile male culture.

So what if, in response to this, I lay out the full range of emotions I have experienced regarding this issue, talking about how I’ve felt “torn” about this when I hear women’s stories? Even as I simply don’t “feel comfortable” dismissing Paul’s words in case they really are more than just his contextually-influenced preferences?

Right – it is not only men who think that kind of sentimentality and wishy-washiness is pathetic. Nobody, women included, really want men to be like that! Heck, no one wants women to be like that!

[Adam] would have, in the face of the serpent’s temptation, have crushed the serpent saying “Shut up! The Lord’s command was different.” — Luther


No doubt about it: men can not only be hard and blunt – “the reasons that Paul gives appear to have nothing to do with culture and everything to do with the order of creation and that fact that Eve, and not Adam, fell and fall for the serpent’s lie”[iii] — they can also, no doubt, go bad in a myriad of ways. The answer, however, is not to villainize them and harp on “toxic masculinity” – either in direct or more subtle ways. The answer is to rightly channel that masculinity; to put it at the feet of Jesus.

It is only as we are handled by the Truth that we can handle the truth…

The truth about what is… and what the Lord expects of us regarding one another.




Hinlicky Wilson pic:


[i] Hinlicky Wilson responds this way: “a serious alternative to a brutal future is going to require an honest reckoning with the brutality of the past that the church allowed and sometimes even encouraged.” Given that both polygamy and slavery have been the norm throughout human history I am not entirely sure how to take this. The Apostle Paul clearly allowed the slavery of his day. Was he wrong to do so?

[ii] Here is a bit of Hinlicky Wilson’s own take on the situation from the same article:

“Most male theologians in the American Lutheran world today are to some extent positively influenced by feminism, of the social, political, and even theological type (there are really not many anymore who would argue that men have to be the mediators between women and God). But quite a lot of these men would deny the influence or refuse to acknowledge that feminism itself helped them along to their current views regarding women. It is taken by them to be simply obvious that women are equal in their humanity with men, intellectually capable, not solely responsible for sexual sin, not required to be only stay-at-home wives and mothers—and that all of these things can be found in the Bible and classical Christian teaching without any recourse to such a tainted discipline as “feminism.” But the fact is that no end of male church leaders and Bible readers through church history have come to quite different conclusions. It isn’t honest to dissociate feminism from changed-for-the-better attitudes toward women, or to define feminism always by its negative features or excesses, an all too common strategy. The most frequent version I hear of this is “feminism is trying to turn women into men.” The ignorance of the history of feminist thought is the only truth on display here.” (italics mine)

[iii] Early in his Genesis commentary, Luther also states that man, with a nature that “somewhat excelled the female” would have, in the face of the serpent’s temptation, have crushed the serpent saying “Shut up! The Lord’s command was different.” He goes on: “Satan… directs his attack on Eve as the weaker part…” (151). Here, there is certain a focus on an aggressively active will in Adam, motivated entirely on the basis of God’s word.


Posted by on February 7, 2018 in Uncategorized


“What is Legalism?” by John Preus

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


Reprinted with permission from John Preus. Original post on Confessional Lutheran Fellowship.

Legalism is not telling people what they should do. Jesus tells us what we should do all the time. Legalism is demanding a law if one is going to do anything he doesn’t want to. Legalists are under the law. They are not free. Everything they do is either what comes naturally or what they are forced to do against their will.

That is why legalists are so often, if not always, enthusiasts. They equate their natural desires with desires that God implanted quite apart from any external command.

That is also why legalists are so often, though not always, bullies. They can only function with absolutes, because they are not free to confess as children — whether in concert or solo — but only dare permit and promote what they think everyone must permit and promote. They think they are defending freedom when they resist what has no command to give it force — even though it might be profitable and edifying. But really, they are just showing that they will only be persuaded by anything if it has a coercive law to drive it. Everything beyond the law must be 100% neutral and neither here nor there. They despise wisdom.

Those who are under grace are free. They acknowledge the law. But their behavior is not governed by contrary impositions of the law, but rather by agreement with God of what is good. It’s not about permission. It’s about having the mind of Christ and seeking to follow his example, not just in deed, but in outlook and expression, in demeanor and understanding. Christian tradition and culture has never purported to arise from divine command, but from obedience to the gospel and from the discipline and exercise of Christian faith that aims to pursue and confess the good and beautiful, etc.

Legalists say either “you must” or “I don’t have to.”

Children simply ask why. They don’t sneer. They inquire of their wiser big sister or of their kind dad whom they trust. They do so with content and curious heart. Where they are not bound, as they must often be, they flourish in creating what they know is pleasing, because they seek, not a longer leash, but broader understanding into the affairs of both home and world at large.

Hands are often tied by circumstance when it comes to such issues as cremation –or, for that matter, lack of ceremony when hearing God’s word, or amount of formal education a minister receives before he is ordained (examples abound!). These are not legal issues. There is no command. That’s precisely why there is so much at stake when the notion of adiaphora becomes a foil for wise and edifying counsel and tradition. Pastors labor to teach Christ’s sheep –both grieving and jubilant– how best to express what they hope for and expect from God, how best to praise, how best to mourn.

Christian burial has been a practice since the beginning that arose from both God’s example and his children’s understanding of what it taught and confessed. So have many such things that our fathers and mothers handed down. To suggest that cremation might also confess the same, or that it arose as a practice by means of similar appreciation of the promise of the resurrection is preposterous. It is as preposterous as saying that drive-thru seminary training arose from the same zeal for the truth as a three-year curriculum (think Jesus and his disciples) or that entertainment worship arose from the same joy of the forgiveness of sins as the Lutheran Common Service and our Lutheran chorales (think Revivalism vs. Reformation). This is legalism masquerading as the defender of freedom. Just because there is no command against something, does not mean the reasons for doing it are just as fine as the reasons for avoiding it. Just because you are not damned for a, b, or c, does not mean that there is not a better way (1 Corinthians 12:31).

This is Pharisaical, which eschews love in the name of the law. This is how the Pharisees regarded the 4th Commandment (Mark 7). But God rejected their Korban! Should it shock us if the same spirit of legalism causes folks to cast off and even despise those things that father and mother passed down to us — that it may go well with us and that we live long on the earth — even as we confess that from it we were taken and from it we will be raised?


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Posted by on February 4, 2018 in Uncategorized


The Bondage of Confessional Lutheran Scholarship

Are the Lutheran Confessions “the bottom of a theological well from which… theologians thereafter would draw?”

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Posted by on February 1, 2018 in Uncategorized


The Religion of Atheism – An Analysis of ‘Heavens on Earth’



Post by Matthew Garnett

A person doesn’t have to get too far through Michael Shermer’s new book Heavens on Earth to realize that the thing is essentially the same essay, same chapter, over and again just with different versions of the afterlife.  In each the problem is the same – no evidence for an afterlife – and, predictably, the conclusion is the same:  live for now and this life, because that’s all there is.  Considering this approach, Shermer’s strategy seems obvious; debunk the most ludicrous attempts at demonstrating the afterlife from the standpoint of evidence and overwhelm any with even a hint of credibility.

In addition to this, the book also, either knowingly or unknowingly ignores compelling evidence in order to make the case for striving for a certain self-salvation here on earth.  Shermer’s work virtually ignores the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ and ignores several accounts of what are known as “Evidentiary Near Death Experiences” (ENDEs).  As stated, he then buries all of this by surrounding it with studies into the “the primacy of conscience” with Deepak Chopra, failed attempts at immortality like cryogenics, and highly speculative “sciences” such as “transhumanism”.

So let’s begin with ENDEs – “Evidentiary Near Death Experiences”.  ENDEs are a situation where a person is clinically dead, has a vision of a place or event apart from the locality of his death, and then can recount, in detail, that event.  For instance, Christian apologist Gary Habermas (upon whom I will be relying throughout here) recounts:

“One well-documented case involved a little girl who had very nearly drowned, and     who did not register a pulse for 19 minutes. Her emergency room physician, pediatrician Melvin Morse, states that he “stood over Katie’s lifeless body in the intensive care unit.” An emergency CAT scan indicated that Katie had massive brain swelling, no gag reflex, and was “profoundly comatose.” Morse notes that, “When I first saw her, her pupils were fixed and dilated, meaning that irreversible brain damage had most likely occurred.” Her breathing was done by an artificial lung machine. She was given very little chance of surviving.

But then, just three days later, Katie unexpectedly made a full recovery. In fact, when she revived, she reproduced an amazing wealth of information regarding the emergency room, specific details of her resuscitation, along with physical descriptions of the two physicians who worked on her. All this occurred while she was completely comatose and most likely without any brain function whatsoever. As Morse recounts, “a child with Katie’s symptoms should have the absence of any brain function and therefore should comprehend nothing.”

It took her almost an hour to recall all the recent details. However, part of the story made no sense in usual medical terms. Katie related that during her comatose state, she was visited by an angel named Elizabeth, who allowed her to look in on her family at home. Katie correctly reported very specific details concerning what her siblings were doing, even identifying a popular rock song that her sister listened to, watched her father, and then observed as her mom cooked a meal that she correctly identified: roast chicken and rice. She described the clothing and positions of her family members. Later, she shocked her parents by telling them these details that had occurred only a few days before.”

(These details and quotations are taken from two volumes by Melvin Morse (with Paul Perry), Closer to the Light: Learning from Children’s Near-Death Experiences (N.Y.: Random House, 1990), pp. 3-14; Transformed by the Light: The Powerful Effect of Near-Death Experiences on People’s Lives (N.Y.: Random House, 1992), pp. 22-23.)

Habermas cites “dozens” of other such cases as this one.  However, Shermer cites only one.  While one ENDE case can be dismissed as exaggeration or even conspiracy, it becomes rationally untenable to deny many such cases.  Indeed, Shermer’s own test for a miracle is whether or not the miracle can be rationally ascertained as a miracle or whether a more naturalistic explanation carries the rational weight.

So, for instance, if one person came back from an ENDE and that’s all we had for evidence, we could easily dismiss the event as exaggeration or deception being the most likely scenario.   However, if “dozens” of such cases came forth, the dismissal becomes more untenable.  At some point, if ENDEs can be scientifically established as a pattern, that evidence cannot be ignored which Shermer seems to do in this book.

More important than this, Shermer brazenly brushes off the Christian claims of an afterlife as a passing comment in his work here.  While lumping the Christian tradition of an afterlife along with notions such as transhumanism, Shermer either wantonly or ignorantly dismisses the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  (Again, I am indebted to Gary Habermas for the following)

As stated with ENDEs, if the resurrection of Jesus Christ was attested to by only a single source, it could be easily dismissed as exaggeration, misrepresentation, or an outright lie.  However note the text of 1 Corinthians 15:1 and following:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

Michael Jackson, perhaps the most famous rock star ever, died in 2009.  If a person were to assert today that he had risen from the dead, put simply, he would be summarily dismissed as insane and not to be taken seriously.  Michael Jackson died almost ten years ago.  When St. Paul penned this passage in 1 Corinthians, Jesus Christ died almost fifteen years prior to the writing.  Even here, this writing would have been dismissed and fallen out of favor as quickly as the Elvis conspiracy theories.

However, as it turns out, this passage does not originate with the Apostle Paul.  It is considered by virtually all biblical scholars as “creedal material” taken from a much earlier source; a source estimated to have originated around 34 to 36 AD – a mere one to two years following the death of Jesus Christ.  This very early resurrection account not only details these appearances to Jesus’ most close companions, but to masses of people (500 in all), and to unbelievers and skeptics – James, the half-brother of Jesus and to Paul – a killer of Christians.

Put simply, all credible scholars – both Christian and skeptic alike – agree that Jesus Christ was an historical figure.   They agree that He was crucified by the Roman government near the third decade of the common era.  They agree that His closest followers had experiences with Him.  They also agree that two of his most ardent skeptics – James (Jesus’ half-brother) and Paul (a murderer of Christians) converted to Christianity based on encountering what they perceived to be the bodily resurrected Jesus of Nazareth.

This alone, disregarding ENDEs, seems to be a rational, historic case for an afterlife of some sort, but does Shermer detail any of this in his book?  Not in the slightest.  Unfortunately, Shermer seems to have a distain for historians and theologians alike and fails to produce their best evidence against his claim that an afterlife simply has no credible evidence.

And so it goes.

Sadly his book here presents the weakest evidence against his case and offers the strongest evidence in favor that an afterlife is an illusion brought on by those who fear death.  Put simply, if you’re hoping to get a fair assessment of the case, this work will do you little good.  It is not a fair assessment at least of ENDEs and it is certainly not a fair assessment of the Christian tradition.  This makes the book suspect as to if it is a fair assessment of a notion of the afterlife at all.

To be fair, Shermer’s concern, seemingly through the work is very concerned that if one posits an afterlife that this life is of little concern.  Rationally, that door swings both ways.  If there is no afterlife, particularly one that involves rewards and punishments, then can’t it be argued that a person should simply live for himself in complete disregard to others?  Shermer seems to relegate those who affirm an afterlife to those who disregard this life.  In simpler terms, according to Shermer, if you affirm an afterlife, you don’t care about this life.  It doesn’t matter.

That is a gross over statement at best.   Right thinking Christians regard this life as the beginning of the afterlife.  But does Shermer mention this?  Never.

At any rate, unfortunately, Michael Shermer is content to play the game that divides us and can never make an attempt at an honest discussion. The base line of this book is that he is unfair and does not consider without prejudice, all voices.  He has an agenda; to convert you to rationalistic, objectivist, atheism.

Much more could be said in critique here, but suffice it to say Shermer’s latest is not going in the right direction.   It discounts the best evidence against his case and supplants it with the worst.  While it is educational on the merits that it teaches one how the opposition thinks, morally and philosophically, it is devoid of value.


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Posted by on January 27, 2018 in Uncategorized


Why Jordan Peterson’s New Book Doesn’t Work

“Does that please God? Well, you’ll find out…” – Jordan Peterson


His star continues to rise. He is indeed a force to be reckoned with.

Referring to last weekend’s BBC interview with Cathy Newman, Rex Murphy’s headline in Canada’s National Post announces: “The prime moment Jordan Peterson’s ‘gotcha’ was heard around the world.”


Indeed. The Atlantic Monthly took note, stating in a headline “Why Can’t People Hear What Jordan Peterson is Saying?” (evidently, given the url, the headline initially read: “Putting Monster Paint on Jordan Peterson”). David Brooks and Peggy Noonan quickly got caught up and read Dr. Peterson’s new book, 12 Rules for Life, and writing articles respectively titled the “The Jordan Peterson Moment” and “Who’s Afraid of Jordan Peterson?”

I’ve said before that I can’t not love Jordan Peterson. I have learned much from him, this man from whom so much truth pours forth.

I have called him a “noble pagan” par excellence and will stand by that.

That said, his new book doesn’t work. Why? Because Peterson is a pragmatist and pragmatism is a false philosophy.

Jordan Peterson, endeavoring to “resurrect the dormant Logos,” says that the Logos is the central process by which human beings flourish in the world.


“It’s” not, because “it” is not an it.


The Logos is not a principle to be adhered to.

The Logos is not the experience of feeling something meaningful (including an intimation of immortality)

The Logos is not the incarnation (enfleshment) of a “social revolutionary element” in the world.

The Logos is not the capacity to mediate between chaos and tyrannical order.

The Logos is not a thing to be learned and mastered.

The Logos is not a process to be managed and controlled.

The Logos is definitely not a system to be effectively – and even admirably – “gamed” like some Cathy Newman.

The Logos is not about the Sovereignty of the Individual – the Divine Principle of the Individual.

The Logos is An Individual who is the Way, the Truth and the Life – and the Logos is a human being, the very Son of God and Messiah, Jesus Christ.

And yes, because of Him, each individual has a sacred dignity and profound responsibility.

Dr. Peterson doesn’t know what – no Who – he is messing with. You never get to say “Gotcha” in a competence competition with the Good Lord.

Speaking generally, God’s blessings come to the nations through Christians — not by our understanding how the cosmos or even human nature “works”. They do not come about from our understanding the “machine” we call the universe and all that is therein (though we all do this, more or less: boats, for example, always float, do they not?)…

Rather, blessings and flourishing come through unquestioning obedience and loyalty to God and His commandments: “secularism,” the Enlightenment, modernism, postmodernism — and yes, Jordan Peterson’s pragmatic philosophy – ultimately depend on the Christian faith which is the faith that acknowledges God as He is.

But seeing external harmony and blessings, the “progressive Christian” or “Christian atheist” says “well, to some degree, it works”.

Well, I understand where you are coming from – and Christians writing books with a bunch of gears on the cover haven’t helped here – but, in truth, “it” never works.


We are alive and blessed in Christ as He sees fit, rewarding in this life and the next as He pleases, as we keep His commandments. .

As Dr. Peterson says, always tell the truth. “Life without truth is hell”.

Indeed, and hence we cry: “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again!”

Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought!

I pray that Dr. Peterson may be also.



Posted by on January 27, 2018 in Uncategorized


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A “Fate” Worse than Dead Orthodoxy: Today’s Institutionalization of the Reformation Churches

Paul, on matters of life and death: “…if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?


I don’t know which preacher — George Whitefield, John Wesley, or Charles Spurgeon — really said it, but I’ll admit I’m a sucker for the quotation: “set yourself on fire and people will come to watch you burn.” (go ahead, call me a pietist!).

The image of a preacher set on fire by the Holy Ghost, faithfully and vigorously proclaiming the word of God, is the opposite of an image of “institutionalization.”

Even so, as much as Christians know that vital faith is a desirable quality, we always have need for the “slow burn” a fireplace makes possible. Great harvests of souls due to the Spirit’s outpouring are highly desirable, but we also need structure and stability for the people of God.

And even though the churches the Reformation tend not to think this way (invisible church all the way!), the truth is that Christ says His church is a material body — we are a very “grounded” reality. Going right along with this, on this side of heaven the church will always be known as an earthly institution – even as its origins and true life derive from heaven above.

I know this kind of thinking might sound foreign for many Christians, but think about how people talk about something very organic – marriage – as an institution. As a ground of stability given for our good. I think the way that some of the Eastern Orthodox talk about the nature of the church can also be helpful: “not an organization with mystery but a mystery with organization.”

Therefore – we are not to shun the visible nature of the church (more) — nor any of the individuals associated with it! (even as yes, we realize that there are both wheat and tares among us) We should desire the health of the institution – for each individual member of the body of Christ!

The church militant (below) and the church triumphant (above)

All this said, as we all know, the wrong kind of “concern” for the institution and its members can creep in. In other words, the dreaded “institutionalization” often occurs – with good institutions losing touch with their true identity; their true reason for being.

This has happened with the congregations coming out of the 16th century Reformation in spades. In these latter days, the world has, at large, overwhelmed the church.

  • Right concerns for matters of social justice have pushed out the more pressing matters of perpetual Gospel proclamation and repentance — as well as loyalty to the family of believers first and foremost.
  • For many, churches which once admired or at least took seriously stirring Law and Gospel sermons — “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” anyone? — have been reduced to places to find community where “good people” who believe in a general God can “do good.”
  • Concerns to nurture and pass on a spirit of passion and vitality have led many to trust the “the Feeling” that can be reliably produced, week by week, in a Big Box Megachurch – while serious proclamation and study of God’s word takes a back seat.
  • The assertions of “but Science says…” and “but consider the assured results of higher criticism….” perpetually reintroduce us to the Serpent in the Garden: “Did God really say?”
  • A concern to communicate the love and mercy of God have resulted in churches without any real discipline, where grace is cheap and lessons of the past are all but forgotten.
  • Serious and passionate books of theology that helped to drive the Reformation – like Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will – are not deeply studied and/or are totally ignored.

And even very serious believers, seeking to push back against the world, have ended up trying to fight with the world’s weapons.

With church bodies around them dropping on the left and the right – many who do seem to be having some success do their utmost to simply “keep things going.” Hence, their institutions have become a hollow shell of what they once were – and of what they should be. Focused on externals, their mini- and mega-bureaucracies, and ever more worldly concerns (often in the guise of outreach and relevance) their heart, their core, and their true spiritual vitality are being carved out.

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock…”

Have the letters of Paul – or those written by the Apostle John, to the churches in the book of Revelation — stopped being as relevant as they originally were?  But we rarely meditate on this, if we see it… sense it… at all. And do I hear my Facebook and Twitter feed calling me?…

As the hymn says, due to life’s “riches, cares, and pleasures,” we have not taken up (tolle lege!), but rather put down the Scriptures. For the idea that these are the actual Word of God – words more important than anything we could utter today – has been lost. Take, for example, this recent quotation from a pastor reflecting on Reformation:

This year we commemorate half a millennium since this Augustinian friar and Bible professor nailed (or so the story goes) his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The event certainly changed the landscape of Christendom. Its unintended aftershocks, some argue, are still felt in Western culture. Still, the passage of time alone makes it perfectly reasonable to ask: Does Luther have anything to say to us?

Contrary to the assumptions of this pastor, it is by no means perfectly reasonable for us to ask this question. It is only reasonable if you think the “social imaginary” of the postmodern world, a la Charles Taylor — where people fixated on this or that idea of “progress” tell themselves they are on “the right side of history” — is justified at all in its view. But, per Romans 1, that is not a view which can ever be justified: many of the things our wider world says are right it, deep down, knows are wrong. The “social imaginary” (call it a “worldview” if it, being as irrational as it is, can even earn that designation) is just this or that “social illusionary”.

“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.’” — St. Anthony the Great

So, again, is it ever reasonable for a pastor to ask the question this pastor asks? Perhaps. It could be if he is simply voicing the common prejudices of the age – ultimately intending to reveal the truth and bring the message of salvation to his hearers… In other words, one is willing to address one’s audience using the kinds of questions that they might be asking, but ideally, they would not be asking.

But even then, here, it seems, there is room to fudge.

For example, the same pastor quoted above gave a talk at an Episcopal Church titled “Justified for Good:What Luther Can Teach Us Today”. Much of the talk I deeply appreciate — the content has true value, highlighting God’s graciousness, and is thought-provoking in its manner of conviction. And yet, around 31:00-33:30 (listening to the whole talk is a good idea) he says:

“I, you, all of us, each and every person, is and remains God’s work… And that means that each and every one of us comes before our own works. Before I have done anything, before I have made anything of myself, before I have done anything with myself, I am already God’s workmanship… Before any accomplishment, or any sins are even taken into account – any accomplishments or any sins – anything that I want to live up to or anything that I want to live down, the sinner, the sinner who stands before God, is already a beloved creature of God. The sinner is, you might say… is already irrevocably recognized by God Himself, and it is God who declares the sinner good, and in good standing… He gives us an identity. He declares that what I am is above all a person that He loves. A child that He loves before I undertake anything, before I make a mess of myself, I already am who I am by God’s justification.”

One might well think: what happens to the very real effect of original sin? Even if there are times that I can or should say that these things are true of those baptized into Christ — and I submit there are — should I say this of the whole world — or, risk giving the impression that this is what I am doing? After all, God’s wrath abides on the world because of sin and unbelief, save the faith connection we have in Christ. The world’s sins have been paid for and all is redeemed in Him. But salvation? That’s why II Corinthians 5:20 follows 5:19 and he urges his hearers to “be reconciled to God!” And note that Paul is even talking to those in the church here!

“…that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand. But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way…” — The Prophet Ezekiel

When I asked this pastor about this, he simply said to me: “No quibble here. It’s an argument from silence.”

But of course my point was not to make an argument – trying to show, I guess, that this pastor did not believe in original sin or something like this. Rather, I am simply pointing out that without clarity about sin, its effects, and its consequences, this kind of message is liable to be completely misunderstood, or even hijacked by those who are ever more eager to see a more “progressive” stance from Christians. Hence my reply:

“My point is that we dare not remain silent — nor give the world a misleading comfort — when there is such a great wrath! There’s a reason we talk about law prior to Gospel and repentance prior to forgiveness, even if this is often abused by many an evangelist (i.e. “There is no need to treat that person kindly prior to them coming to faith”). Maybe I miss your point.”

Another person weighed in, saying simply “UOJ,” suggesting that the doctrine of universal objective justification, explained here, justifies the kind of message this pastor proclaimed.

Oh. So all is well then. Everybody just carry on.



Pastor Marquart, on fire: “Man is not an objective super-observer in the universe, but a condemned sinner with a vested interest in escape.”

As I put it not long ago, we should offer the world no quarter when it comes to our public confidence about what it is we are doing. Our default attitude should be more akin to the following:

“The Bible is the Word of God. Whoever you are, Jesus Christ is your Creator, your God, your King. This is what Christians have always believed and taught. It is only for the sake of conversation and common ground with the world – all of whom we are to love with Christ’s love – that we might start by talking about how the Bible “contains God’s Word”, “contains the Gospel”, how Jesus is “our God,” or how we consider the Bible to be authoritative.”

Do I always act that way? Do I always believe that way? No, of course not. Shame on me. That is a sign for me to repent.

Or, in an effort to appeal to the business mentality of my early 21 century American brethren, an opportunity to repent.

Act now! This may indeed be a limited one time offer!

Come to the feast, brothers! Let’s dig in together, reflect together, pray together…

I’ll see you there.


P.S.: More in the next post about why we have these problems, and featuring a hard look at the author’s own church body, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. The post will be called The Bondage of Confessional Lutheran Scholarship.

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Posted by on January 19, 2018 in Uncategorized


How much Law is enough?


Guest post by Pastor Delwyn Campbell

It hit me like a wall – the seemingly simple question, asked by the radio talk show host. “Do we need the law to protect the environment?” Even after the two-minute break ended, I still felt perplexed. I knew what undergirded his question, a worldview that accepted the pervasive reach of an all-encompassing government, empowered by layers of laws, enacted by people who truly believed that the road to utopia was paved in regulations, overseen by professionals whose entire career consisted of selling themselves as saviors while actual solutions always remained just out of reach.

It’s one thing to say with Ronald Reagan, “Government doesn’t solve problems, it subsidizes them.” While that sounds good in a speech, it rings hollow when you realize that it was spoken by a politician while he ran for the highest government position in the United States. More importantly, as people who believe in the revelation of Scripture, I understand that government, along with the Law that both undergirds it and empowers it, is a divine institution. It exists because God wills it to be so, because order and structure are woven into the very fabric of creation.

The proper question isn’t, “do we need the law to protect ‘X’.” The proper question is, how pervasive should government be? When has it exceeded the scope of its mandate? Who determines that? I cannot trust humans who have a vested interest in broadening the scope and power of government, anymore than I can trust humans who desire to be unhindered in their efforts to sin against their neighbor without consequence. Where do I look to find that something which gives a floor, a ground, a boundary that properly defines what government is and does?

I look to the Creator. I know, by faith, that “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ESV)). Searching the Scriptures, I come to Romans 13:1-7, which tells me that government has a role of maintaining order and providing security, so that people can engage their neighbors in love, fulfilling their vocations and serving one another. Within that broad framework, there is more than enough room for government to operate, whether efficiently or inefficiently, wisely or foolishly, in ways that either serve the common good, or enslave the common community.

Romans 13:1–7 (ESV)

Submission to the Authorities

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Viewed through the lenses of this passage, the proper scope of government should allow room for people to serve one another in love, without the coercive, punitive hand that wields the sword of God’s wrath. Love, freely engaged, should enable good things to take place between people and within communities. Selfishness, freely indulged, works in the opposite direction of love. The Law sets the boundary beyond which self-interest operates in ways that can be harmful to both self and to others. Put another way, the Law is the Sword of God, and, under the sun, Government is the arm that wields it as His appointed agent.

I could now answer the question, avoiding the clumsily clever attempt to entrap me on one side of the divide or the other. Laws are necessary, but only enough to accomplish the limited goals of maintaining security and providing people with the safe spaces to operate in fulfillment of their created capabilities. Beyond that, laws are stumbling blocks that hinder us and hand cuff us, useful at times, but uncomfortable and awkward even when they are necessary. We do need the Law, but it cannot bring us the peace that passes all understanding.


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Posted by on January 19, 2018 in Uncategorized

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