Tag Archives: Apologetics – to the world

Sex and America’s Political Conscience: Seared, Hardened, and “Woke” All at the Same Time (part I of II)

Martin Luther, free to be?: the conscience must be free from the Law, but the body must obey the Law (AE 9:136, Cf. AE 31:124)

You want to get to the sex stuff and political stuff?

Let’s start with something far more important: Christ’s Church, the Chosen Bride of the King (see what I did there?).

“You can’t take sex out of things.” – Jordan Peterson, here.

For me, as a traditional Christian, “politics is downstream from culture,” and culture, derived from the Latin cultus, means “care, cultivation, worship,” which relates to religious faith. This, in turn, brings me to the Church and its responsibility for educating and disciplining the people of God — keeping its own house in order. In other words, Christian truth — backed up with real consequences when ignored (not only what some call “natural consequences”) — must continually prevail over and against even more “liberal” notions.

This includes even liberal political notions like freedom, equality, fraternity, etc. – things admittedly made somewhat realizable for many only with the help of Christianity.

Steven, again failing to properly credit the real Father.

And this certainly is no small task for today’s church. Why? It is because everywhere, including within the Church, consciences have been and are being increasingly seared and hardened (more on these concepts below) daily….

And, looking out more broadly, in many cases, the world and the Church like how it conscience has been seared and hardened. As Woody Allen so memorably put it, “the heart wants what it wants”. Freedom! (vs. that terrible Christian repression, you know!).

“The Mike Pence Rule” — are this man’s issues setting women everywhere back?

At the same time, there is an annoying side-effect of all this. When these folks think about Christianity, it can ruin their day. Thinking about the faith’s views about sex and gender in particular, they get upset and then proceed to ask the faithful why we fixate on these issues.

Currently, Theresa Latini, newly elected President of United Lutheran Seminary in Pennsylvania, is finding out that a position she took in the past — that Christians should resist same-sex attraction — is enough to have her run out of an ELCA seminary today.

Have you now or ever been a member of OneByOne? (some “bound consciences” are more equal than others, you know).

Way back in 2009, when the Lutheran theologian Timothy Wengert provided the justification for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s (ELCA) acceptance of homosexual behavior by their clergy, many who both reject Christ and who claim Christ were doubtless gratified. On the other hand, the short paper Wengert wrote which did this, “Reflections on the Bound Conscience in Lutheran Theology,”[1] prompted my own pastor – a Lutheran who loves and adheres to the 1580 Book of Concord – to study the topic of conscience in the work of Martin Luther.

…or with Luther’s existentialist, pragmatic interpreters…

I highly recommend reading Pastor Paul Strawn’s paper, as you will learn about…:

  • Wengert’s “simply tragic” (I’d use a different word) failure to acknowledge existing scholarship that had been done on Martin Luther and the conscience by highly noted scholars (I add, this is a good way to kill your conscience about conscience).
  • How for Luther, “the burdening of the conscience with man-made laws or traditions, and the burdening of the conscience by the Law of God in view of sin, are two vastly different things.”
  • How this conscience burdened by God’s Law is an “evil conscience,” “plagued by guilt and despair in the face of the knowledge of God’s judgment upon a specific sin.”
  • How an evil conscience can become hardened: “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.”
  • How Luther found these things not only in the Bible, but in the character of Orestes in Virgil’s Aeneid: the Erinyes, or Furies, of Alecto (“unceasing”), Megaera (“grudging”), and Tisiphone (“avenging murder,” hounding the guilty for their sin). If hell is not feared, future pain and suffering certainly is.

Luther: “I am speaking about true knowledge, in which the wrath of God against sin is perceived and a true taste of death is sensed….” (AE 26:148)

  • How Luther broke with the scholastic concept of the human conscience which said that it, in part, was a “native capacity to choose to do good,” and instead spoke about the matter in accordance with the Apostle Paul.
  • Luther: “[the conscience’s] purpose is not to do, but to pass judgment on what has been done and what should be done, and this judgment makes us stand accused or saved in God’s sight.”
  • How a natural conscience, which has a knowledge of God and His Law, can become a seared conscience, i.e. one that functions improperly, where it cannot “accurately judge the actions of the individual.”
  • In other words, it becomes “artificial, false, unreasonable, not natural, not true, causing a fear of God, that is worship, where God is not to be feared or worshiped.”
  • For a good conscience, “an unfortunate event (which would terrify the evil conscience, bringing to mind former sins, and bringing to light future judgment) is considered not to have happened by chance, ‘but in accord with the good will of God.’”
  • In sum “[h]ow Timothy Wengert applied the concept of ‘bound conscience’ to those who claim to be Christian but who would live in homosexual relationships is not to be found in the writings of Martin Luther” (to say the least!).

“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).

Now, perhaps, in referring to this nine year old event and showing how utterly bankrupt Wenger’s argument (and scholarship) is, I’ve already really upset some of my Christian brothers and sisters here. Even if it is true that men like Timothy Wengert did not do due diligence as a scholar here – so what? Why do you need to focus here, on this? Why put so much focus here on what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms and not on people who are poor, who are weak, who are oppressed?

Oh — I didn’t mean that.

Fortunately, I am feeling particularly inclined to engage concerns like this today. In that spirit, let me really try my best to reconnect with you, even as I seek to adjust your frame…:

  • I agree we should be talking about this more and acting here more. In general, we should “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”
  • It is true that to the idea that “I/you am/are not a victim” we need to respond: “We are all both victims and victimizers.” Some of us more so and some of us less so.
  • Liberal: “We should be more concerned about issues concerning women and race.” Conservative: “What about Saudi Arabia and China? Why don’t you care about them?” Well, shouldn’t we take the log out of our own eye first? Point to the Liberal.

No offense, but its true.

  • That said, if you don’t really don’t feel any real strong affection for your own countrymen who contribute to the problems, shouldn’t you just shut up? Point to the Conservative.
  • The left, with good points about greed and living wages. The right, with good points about the power and danger of sex and the rule of law. And never the two shall meet?
  • We should not fail to speak the truth about any issue, no matter where our culture or political party of choice stands on it.
  • Both the increasingly pagan right and the increasingly fake-Christian left (Fully secular? Please….) are loathe to recognize and deal with the fact that notions of progress come from the Bible, problematizing what is “natural” or “ideal” as the case may be.
  • Finally, even if you don’t like talking about sexual issues, people really are harmed by the misuse of God’s good gift of sex.

Yeah, you see how I used that final bullet point to get us back to sex, right? Still, it’s certainly justified: aren’t we all, after all, waking up to this now like never before? If the past few months, have taught us anything, it is that sex appears to be a big deal for most everybody involved…

Sex education literature, per Shalit, says that those who can separate sex from love are sophisticated… “those who still dream of love are immature…” – Per Pearcey, 123

And of course it is. For Christ is the husband and the Church is His bride – that’s meant to include you to. And marriage, as we know, is largely for sex even as sex is entirely for marriage. Sex shouldn’t be our religion – though given its significance it is understandable how this can occur – but is a critical component of marriage, which is one of the primary icons of the True Religion.

Is the practice of monogamous marriage simply communism applied to a “sexual marketplace”? Or is it an icon of our intended destiny?: Christ with His Bride, the Church

I’d go further and argue that the reason sex is such a big deal is because the dynamics often found there – strength, beauty, attraction, desire, seduction – are a microcosm of the dynamics that occur in the world on a larger scale.

I call it Christian heresy: “Through sex, mankind may attain the great spiritual illumination which will transform the world, which will light up the only path to an earthly paradise” – Margaret Sanger (quoted in Pearcey, 132)

This will be explored much more in part II of this series, but for now we can simply say this: part of this is because even as more secularized persons in particular complain about the disenchantment of the world, sex continues to enchant – giving us a sense of the kinds of things that capture our adulation and praise. The philosopher Matthew Crawford smacks us in our politically correct faces:

“Stepping outside the intellectually serious circle of my teachers and friends at Chicago into the broader academic world, it struck me as an industry hostile to thinking. I once attended a conference entitled “After the Beautiful.” The premise was a variation on “the death of God,” the supposed disenchantment of the world, and so forth. Speaking up for my own sense of enchantment, I pointed out, from the audience, the existence of beautiful human bodies. Youthful ones, in particular. This must have touched a nerve, as it was greeted with incredulous howls of outrage from some of the more senior harpies.” (Shop Class as Soulcraft: an Inquiry into the Value of Work, pp. 104-105).

And Christianity’s connection with all of this?[i] Nancy Pearcy, in her fantastic new book Love Thy Body, has many important tidbits to share: (note the impressive review/interview here from, of all places, Religion News Service)

  • “We should never defend Christianity by saying it is traditional. From the beginning, it has stood against the traditions of its day” (70).
  • “Beginning in the fifth century, Christian leaders finally began to wield enough political influence to pass laws against sexual slavery…The most reliable index of how deeply Christianity had permeated a society was whether it outlawed sexual slavery” (72).
  • “[In ancient Greece and Rome] brothels specializing in sex slaves, including children, were a legal and thriving businesses… Jesus shocked his contemporaries by treating children not as contemptible but as valuable…” (104-105).

  • “Scripture offers a stunningly high view of physical union as a union of whole persons across all dimensions” (138).
  • “The communion of male and female is meant to mirror the communion of divine persons within the Trinity” (139).
  • “Some of the early martyrs were slaves who proclaimed their freedom in Christ by refusing to [sexually] service their masters – and were executed for it” (143).
  • “Christianity, we might say, invented consensual sex when it developed a sex ethic that assumed that God empowers individuals with freedom” (143).
  • “When we make sexual decisions, we are not just deciding whether to follow a few rules. We are expressing our view of the cosmos and human nature” (156).

Marriage contra mundum: If sex becomes, for both men *and women*, simply akin to the rationalized exploitation we often see in unbridled capitalism, will marriage as a covenant – and not just another contract – begin to make sense to the West again?

“We are expressing our view of the cosmos and human nature” not only as regards sexual decisions but about politics as well. After all, most political action — that is the governance of human beings in the world — happens organically with marriage, i.e. at the level of the family the one flesh union creates. It should therefore be no mystery why marriage is the ultimate icon of Christ and His Bride, who is the Church — the mother of the children of God who guides them to their Shepherd-King.

“…To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections….” — Edmund Burke

This is why, as Pearcey provocatively puts it, “The early church may have been ‘on the wrong side of history.’ But that’s why it changed history”(188).

The previous title of Professor Alvin Schmidt’s book “How Christianity Changed the World” says it all: “Under the Influence” – namely, of Christ and the Christian conscience!…

Wrong worship!: The internet exists for the proclamation of the word of God. The world thinks its there for pornography! — Pastor Will Weedon (listen)

I hope I’ll see you for part II on Monday. I promise the title of the post will reach its consummation then…




[1] [Footnote from Strawn’s paper:] Originally: Here as well:

[i] From an old post: “In the bible, both adoption and marriage – which always includes a physically intimate, or sexual, component – are the two great metaphors of the Bible: this is how God deals with His people. Further, marriage is arguably the stronger of the two metaphors – so perhaps in this sense at least, Christianity is mainly about “sexual issues” (see this interesting post by Rod Dreher that I initially wanted to rebel against**). Though we might find the imagery put forth in passages like Ezekiel 16 disturbing in many ways – the sexualized symbolism here is jarring to say the least – this uncomfortable parable has much to teach us about the nature of God’s relationship with those who trust in Him (I pondered this more here, offering a counterpoint to assertions made in Justification is for Preaching, ed. Virgil Thompson).”

Images: Jordan Peterson, Joseph McCarthy, Mike Pence, Milo Y, Margaret Sanger, and Edmund Burke all from Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0 or Public Domain)



Posted by on March 16, 2018 in Uncategorized


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Science Fiction Writer John C. Wright’s “More Rational Model,” and a Deeper Evaluation of the Difference Christian Faith Makes

Publisher’s Weekly, in 2002 said he “may be this fledgling century’s most important new SF talent.”


The science fiction writer John C. Wright recently responded to a question on his publisher’s website which asked:

“Do you have any suggestions for finding faith? I see the necessity of religion, and Christianity in particular, but aside from history and cultural affinity I don’t have actual belief.”

While I am glad that Wright converted to Christianity [i] and wants others to do the same, almost every one of the arguments he makes in response to this question are ones I would not give.

Let’s look at some of the meat in Wright’s article:

…consider that the Christian worldview is more coherent, robust, and rational than any secular worldview.

Our model explains things such as why stars look fair and beautiful to our eyes when it serves no credible Darwinian purpose to do so.

Our model explains the naturalistic fallacy, that is, the gap between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ which secular philosophy cannot explain, and some cannot even address.

Our model explains how free will can exist inside a deterministic universe. A materialist cannot even formulate the question in a rational way.

Our model explains why humans seek beauty. Social-evolutionary explanations for this are less convincing than astrology.

Our model explains how creatures with free will capable of grasping intellectual abstractions can arise in a universe which contains no such thing as intellectual abstractions.

Our model allows investigation of final causes in nature, without which nature cannot properly be understood….

Our model explains the various miracles and supernatural wonders that are in the older history books, and which, for no scientific reason, were excised from being reported.

Our model explains both why there is a plurality of religions and why there are striking similarities between them.

Our model explains the origin of the universe. By definition, if the universe were all that existed, exists and ever will exist, than a material cause for it is impossible.

…Our model explains why you should not let your daughter whore around. She is immortal, and will outlast any nation, and language, any institution and human work on Earth.

Our model explains why you should not, once you have truly and deeply contemplated the vastness of the universe and the oppressive span of time to follow the death of everything you know, fall into despair, and end your meaningless life.

Our model gives something to live for nobler than one’s own pleasure seeking.

Our model avoids the logical paradox of asserting man can create meaning in life out of a vacuum. That would require an ability to create meaning out of meaninglessness, which is absurd.

Our model explains why men and women are different, and how we must arrange the dangerous mystery of the mating dance between the sexes to improve our chances to achieve joy rather than misery.

Our model gives rational hope of seeking the departed dead again.

Our model explains human psychology better than perverted old Freud dressing up old Greek myths in make believe, and far better than cranky old Thomas Hobbes and his cynicism.

Our model makes sense. Others are either incorrect, incomplete, or paradoxical, or lead ultimately to wrath or despair. Our model is the sole one which sees life as not futile and death as not bitter.

And, on an intellectual level, our model is the one to which to turn once your mind has become wearied with the reductionist, absurdist and postmodern models, which are in fact no models at all, but rather, are excuses why one should not make a model of the universe, nor seek any answers to deep questions.

It is the model to which to turn once you are heartily sick of hearing “It Just Happened” as the explanation for the origin of man, the universe, and all things.

Now I really don’t want to get too down on what Wright is doing here. These are some excellent things for anyone to think about. He is on target when he asserts, quite beautifully, that these points are meant to: “whet the appetite of intellects starved and desiccated after vain attempt[s] to feast on the shadows, dust and ashes of modern thought, and show the contrast.” Likewise when he says “All human reason can do is clear away false objections to faith. Faith itself is a supernatural gift bestowed by God to protect his own from the sudden, irrational loss of confidence in the self evident to which our foolish race is prone.”

Amen to that!

My main gripe is this: even though Wright wisely notes that each point in the list above “would require a separate and in depth conversation,” he also says that this is a partial list “of the intellectually satisfying fullness of Christian thought. It is the scent and savor of the feast of Christian philosophy, not the meat and potatoes.”

I disagree that the list has much to do with the fullness of Christian thought at all. After all, all the things above are points that can be credibly be made by Jews and Muslims seeking to reach secular persons as well. Not only this, but many of these points could also be made by informed proponents of other non-theistic religions! This should not surprise us, because in the book of Romans it says:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse…. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice [evil things] deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

In sum, even if people do not acknowledge the Christian God, everyone knows at some level that there is a powerful divine mind that lies behind the cosmos. Furthermore, while our conscience can be badly seared, we will continually understand at some level, existentially, that there is a real right and wrong and that humans are designed for some things and not others. Regardless of what anyone says they believe, all reveal in their actions that they believe in right and wrong — even if what they believe about right and wrong is exceedingly messed up. This is why atheists like the late Christopher Hitchens would get so offended when people asked him how atheists could be good without God: because he is (was) a human being who stood in moral solidarity with other human beings about a great many things which were clearly perceived, by many wise persons, as being either good or evil (this is also why there are, ultimately, no true antinomians in the world – the world hates God’s law but we will always, even subconsciously, seek to replace God’s law with other laws thought to be good, even as there will always remain some overlap with God’s law). Undoubtedly, these matters are highly complex, but human beings must think about them.

Wright goes on:

Our model explains the prevalence of so many theists throughout history. The theory that over nine tenths of mankind, including some of the most brilliant thinkers in their age, were raving lunatics who hallucinate about imaginary sky beings is not credible and not supported by evidence. (italics mine)

It should go without saying that many of those 90% are not theists. Of course, even cultures that practice polytheism also acknowledge the core importance of hierarchy and so do tend to have supreme gods, such as Zeus or Brahman. Of course, many of the sophisticated elites of cultures like these tend to get abstract when it comes to these notions, depersonalizing their countrymen’s deities. And, of course, as Jordan Peterson puts it, empirically speaking, human beings are the most complicated beings we are familiar with, and a spirit without any form isn’t intelligible.[ii] I’d go on to assert that when we are talking about some kind of a “divine mind,” it only makes sense that that we are dealing with a personal being here (what else has a mind? ; and how can the personal arise from the impersonal?), and ultimately, a supreme personal being. 

Again, Wright:

Our model explains the current hegemony of the West and makes clear the meaning and purpose of what otherwise seems like insane and suicidal attempts by the apparently sober and sane men on Left to undermine and destroy it.

Again, enter the non-Christian Jordan Peterson, becoming more and more popular every day – who believes that the Bible is the thing needed to save Western civilization – though it seems he doesn’t necessarily have our eternal souls in mind…(more) Here, as useful conversation partners for Wright’s and Peterson’s audience, I recommend Vishal Mangalwadi’s and Alvin Schmidt’s work to chew on.

(here’s a bit of Mangalwadi):


This brings me to Wright’s first suggestion, which I have saved for last: “Pray.”

Again, I disagree.

Why? Because the Scriptures are quite clear that God does not invite unbelievers to pray, but rather to repent and trust in Him. God certainly could choose to use the prayer of an unbeliever in some way, but we are told time and again in the Scriptures that He does not listen to them.

I am sure that many Mormans and Jehovah’s Witnesses pray all the time. Furthermore, that they also not only find Christianity as they perceive it appealing and certainly see its “necessity.” Nevertheless, because of their faulty view of Christ and man, they end up being more pagan than Christian.

Sure, they might realize that they need to give attention to the figure of Jesus Christ reported in the Bible, risen from the dead and coming to judge the world[iii], but given that any individual’s assent here is sincere, it is one entirely based on fear and abject misunderstanding, not one driven by true grace, peace, joy, and trust. We grant that they, using the Bible, should be closer to the truth than many, but the fact that they can be so close and yet believe so wrongly – in spite of their prayers – does not assure.

That’s God up there man (the God-man, to be precise), the only One good and strong enough to save.

Therefore, given the above, my first suggestion—given that you insist repentance and faith aren’t a possibility—is to think.

Ask yourself if it makes sense that in the midst of this cacophony of world religions and even this cacophony among those whose central book is the Bible whether God might still speak clearly today for those with ears to hear. Dive deeply into the Bible, preferably with some guidance (see Acts 10) – particularly when it comes to the passages dealing with just who Jesus Christ is. Further note that the Apostle Paul acknowledges the importance of divisions between those claiming allegiance to Christ: “No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.”

By the way, of course God wants all His children (yes, I’ll call you that – see Acts 17, for example) to be those who pray (rightly). As the 16th century church reformer Martin Luther said:

“For those who preach, hear, and know God’s Word but do not pray, indicate thereby that they are still proud and secure, as if they did not need God’s grace everywhere, do not see their need and danger, think that they are now seated firmly and already have what they might request. The devil is right behind them, assaults them, and overthrows them before they even know what happened to them.”  This is why Christ, by his own example, teaches us not to forget prayer in addition to the sermon lest the Word remain without fruit when it is used. (see here for more)

Prayer is certainly a critical part of a believer’s life. I am just urging you to first hear the Word of God and it’s most knowledgeable and devoted proponents, for we are told that “faith comes by hearing the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). That is why I am urging this – which means I am urging you to look to Jesus Christ, so wonderfully described in the Scriptures and well-summarized in things like the Nicene Creed.


“Taste and see tha the Lord is good!”  “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free!”  And, I pray that even you might come to say: “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (II Tim. 1:12).

Blessed is everyone who takes refuge in Him! — Psalm 2:12 (the picture depicts the All Saint’s Eve in Sweden)




[i] From Wikipedia: At age 42, Wright converted from atheism to Christianity, citing a profound religious experience with visions of the “Virgin Mary, her son, and His Father, not to mention various other spirits and ghosts over a period of several days”, and stating that prayers he made were answered.[8] In 2008, he converted to the Roman Catholic Church, of which he approvingly said: “If Vulcans had a church, they’d be Catholics.”[9]


[iii] As I have written in the past: “I do not think that we can start being “neutral” towards Christian claims upon hearing them. They demand to be taken seriously and demand our full attention and engagement.  Why these claims over the claims of any other world religion?  Why should Christianity and the truths it purports to preach get our attention?  Well, does any other religion claim to vindicate its founder – who incidently, claimed to be God, via a resurrection from the dead? (not to mention all the miracles leading up to that final, crowning miracle – ponder, for example, Mark 2:9-11 here).  Does any other world religion claim to offer proof, assurance, “faith” – that we can know who it is who will in the future judge the world? (see Acts 17). None. Therefore, anyone who does not take these things seriously – is, by definition, not being rational.  Would most philosophers agree with me?  I don’t think so.  And even if some found it to be an intriguing argument, perhaps they may say, after looking at things, that there is “insufficient evidence” for what Christianity claims. Then what? Well, do they get to decide what sufficient evidence is?  Might they be under any obligation to reconsider and look again?  Who charges them to do so?  How deeply did they look into it?  Did they do so prayerfully?”  These words should hit all like a hammer, and to the one who has not been made a friend of God, they should offer no peace.


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Posted by on June 2, 2017 in Uncategorized


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My Six Sentence Secular Response to President Obama and Liberals in His Train

So, maybe like you, I woke up this morning to this:


Coincidently, yesterday I spent a couple hours thinking about and writing the following, which addresses issues very much like this:

When Richard Rorty defines truth as “what our peers will let us get away with saying”, how does this not, in effect, make truth liable to being nothing more than a power play for one’s advantage? From which it follows that it is really true (!) that it is ultimately only things that overpower other things that can be said to exist… to be. This certainly puts a new spin on what Aristotle said about truth, namely that “to say that which is, is and that which is not is not, is true”! With this assumed, the best among us can only be those who take – and lead – leaps of faith into oceans, hoping that the evolving beliefs we think are “good” – and not just our genes – will be spread and passed on. Here, any classical notions of knowledge as “justified true belief” are banished as whatever can win, if only temporarily, is all that remains for us to hope in. On the other hand, what if what we ultimately need is real knowledge… real wisdom… involving a truth that even goes beyond “accuracy” – implying perhaps even a goodness that goes beyond our own subjective impressions?

The President is making a grave mistake here, even as it is a mistake that, given his view of the world, he can hardly avoid making. Still, as I implied earlier this week, this kind of “compassion” is a lie:


I had sent the paragraph above to my pastor, along with my three-part explanation of how my Christian faith dovetailed with it:

  • Many believe knowledge is power. Further, power is truth. In short, what works to accomplish the desires I believe are good that I have for myself and those I choose to love is true.
  • But if truth is only about the “is” that overcomes and outwits the desires of those we compete with by “effective knowledge practices” are we not left without hope?
  • If we desire to become that “is” ourselves, are we not embracing not what we are meant to be and become, but rather death itself? Death is that “is”. But there is also “I am”.

My pastor comments:

“As I understand what you have written:

In the world, knowledge is power and power establishes truth. More simply: Power establishes truth. So the question: In order to “grasp” the “truth” must we acknowledge, believe in, succumb to, or simply embrace the “power”? Whatever we do, however, we do not discover what is true, but simply become the “power”.

If I remember right, this was the subject-matter of Orwell’s “1984”.



Posted by on May 13, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Does Neil deGrasse Tyson Know there is a God?

Tyson_-_Apollo_40th_anniversary_2009Christian commentator Albert Mohler had a very interesting program last Friday on current stories from the world of science. One of the four stories he covered I found quite interesting:

“Agnostic scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson says its very probable the universe is a simulation”

What follow is some of Mohler’s commentary, interspersed with a few of my comments in brackets…

… the Business Insider recently ran a story about Neil deGrasse Tyson. The headline says this: that Tyson, one of the most influential science educators in the media, “thinks there is a very high chance the universe is just a simulation.”

[Question to ponder: Just how might this be similar or dissimilar from the Bible’s idea that we know ourselves to be created beings but suppress this true knowledge?]

What in the world does that mean? This means that one of most popular scientist, presented as possessing scientific authority in this culture, thinks that the entire cosmos as we experience it, coming right down to our lives as we experience them, might not be even real. They might just be a simulation run by some species of a higher intelligence. Now the first thing we need to note is that this kind of nonsense actually gains headlines. The second thing we need to note is that if someone who did not present himself or herself as a scientist made such a claim so outlandish, unprovable, then you would have people who would say this is some form of religious mysticism masquerading as a form of knowledge. But that’s exactly what we do need to say about Neil deGrasse Tyson. This is some form of spiritual mysticism masquerading as science. Kevin Loria, writing for Business Insider, seems to understand exactly what’s going on when he begins his article by saying,

“We trust the scientists around us to have the best grasp on how the world actually works.”

[Of course, this means that scientists know that the universe is basically a machine that they are trying to figure out, which means that it is only natural for them to be tempted to have thoughts like deGrasse Tyson’s. Of course it looks like a computer program, because it looks like a machine (see here for more).]

Thus he takes us to the 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate at the American Museum of Natural History, which addressed the question of whether or not the universe is a simulation. Neil deGrasse Tyson was one of the participants—he was actually hosting the debate—and he says the likelihood of the universe being a mere simulation—that is, just an experiment undertaken by some higher being—“may be very high.”

[You get that? Implications for the intelligent design debate?]

…..Now there’s another interesting aspect about this, because when you look at Neil deGrasse Tyson, you’re looking at someone who is granted a great deal of cultural authority in our society. He’s also someone who has repeatedly denied the possibility of the divine creation of the cosmos. Keep that in mind when you hear Neil deGrasse Tyson in this context, say that we should use,

“…a thought experiment to imagine a life form that’s as much smarter than us as we are than dogs, chimps, or other terrestrial mammals.”

He asked the question,

“What would we look like to them? We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence.

“Whatever that being is, it very well might be able to create a simulation of a universe.”

Then Tyson said these words exactly,

“And if that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just the creation of some other entity for their entertainment. I’m saying, the day we learn that it is true, I will be the only one in the room saying, I’m not surprised.”

[Well, of course God hasn’t designed us for his entertainment, but He has created us. And we know it is true that we are creations. Which deGrasse Tyson seems to understand at some level as well, even as he is somehow able to pass off his beliefs as acceptable with the sophisticates of the scientific world]

So a man who denies the very possibility of the divine creation of the cosmos is here willing to entertain in public the idea that some higher species has merely created the entire cosmos as a simulation for that beings own entertainment.

[Yes, the irony is rich. All of this reminds me of the classic moment with Richard Dawkins in the Ben Steyn film, Expelled (see here and click on “Dawkins-alien moment”)]

God didn’t design the universe for our entertainment, but I am confident that he designed deGrasse Tyson and Dawkins for ours.



Image credit: “Director of the Hayden Planetarium Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks as host of the Apollo 40th anniversary celebration held at the National Air and Space Museum, Monday, July 20, 2009 in Washington.” by NASA/Bill Ingalls

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Posted by on May 9, 2016 in Uncategorized


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If Christians Enjoy Making Assertions, Why Speak with Them?

Asserting the Source of goodness for all: "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."

Asserting the Source of goodness for all: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”


“…and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” – Philemon 1:6

Christians, as the 16th century reformer Martin Luther liked to remind us, are those who assert things and even enjoy doing so! So how can this play out in our relationships with others without our being totally obnoxious or even dangerous? (OK, I’ll admit, as someone who has at times alienated family and friends, maybe I am not the one to be writing this). Especially when we increasingly live in a world where there are non-Christians who also are very forthright that they assert, and others who shy away from the fact and even deny that they do this (they are not ideologues like you!), preferring to talk about approaching everything in terms of being “working hypotheses subject to testing” (think of that most amiable of atheists, Steven Pinker).

You know, “truth”, but never truth and especially not Truth.

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a colleague about… conversation. During it, I had basically asked him whether he thought it was ever appropriate to go into a conversation quite sure that you are right and the other persons is wrong, and with a desire to help that person “see the light”. He said, in part, that the main purpose of going into any conversation is to learn something, and that this is a “newly developing paradigm” which is opposed to what he sees as the predominant way of communicating: conversation at someone with the intent to change minds which are seen as pliable and weak (to illustrate his point, he talked about war propaganda in the West – things like this).

Here is what I said in reply:

I see the purpose of conversation, in general, as being to love my neighbor, who bears the image of God. This means, in general, not going into a conversation to learn something for myself, but to listen to them and to respond accordingly in love. If I learn something – or if I am able to more explicitly articulate the nature of God’s love for them – that is an added bonus.

Of course, we are still attracted to certain persons and want to start conversations with them because of our curiosity to learn – true enough. Other times, we are happy to have other “excuses” to start a conversation with this or that person we find attractive (and here, having a dog or a baby can help). But the Christian “stand” is to realize that God, in the midst of all of this, throws all our “conversation partners” into our path, and we dare not discriminate against any human being.

Thanks for helping me to realize that, to articulate what I know (for what I know is what I have yet to be shown is false).

The answer I gave here dovetails with another conversation I had this past week with a student, which kind of expands on the “posture”, or “stand”, I describe above. Stacie said the following:

This last week of class was interesting for me.  I work in child protections which in its self can be heart wrenching.  Thinking about government and God was something that I have always learned to separate.  However, I do my job because the love that God gave me for children and families; well I guess people in general.  Many times when walking downtown and seeing an elderly homeless man I see the eyes of Jesus. That may sound strange but I feel that it’s my responsibility to help these individuals.  I think that it’s important for us to get back to the basics.  Christianity is something that needs to be lived on the inside and outside.  I think that if we follow in God we will be better leaders and be better equipped to handle the situations that seem hopeless.

Holding the urge to speak here about how “social justice is not the Gospel” (believe me, in the class I do talk again and again about how the Gospel is first of all about what I Corinthians 15 says it is… Christ’s rescue of sinners from sin, death, and the devil through His death and resurrection) here is how I answered her:

I agree with you. Christ is in all. He is distinct from us, as He is our Creator, but He is in you and me and everyone else. In Him, we are told, “we live and move and have our being” (see Paul in Acts 17). That does not mean that all believe and are saved, but that His love moves all of us and anything that is good in life is to be attributed to Him.

I think my default orientation should be to be a “little Christ” to my neighbor. To come to them and love them with His strong love. I am to imitate Christ and to be Christ’s hands and feet and mouth to them. This responsibility starts with my own church, which, I thank God, includes my immediate family. It then means my friends and closest neighbors, particularly those who are fellow believers, and radiates outward – to include the whole world. Still, love is concrete and should start closest to home. It is easy to “love” my abstract “neighbor”. Love should never be content to have loved enough, in terms of the intensity of our love or the number of those we love.

Why such an active orientation? It is better to give than to receive, Jesus said. This is the kind of person that we want to be. All this said, we must receive! There is a time to realize we must just stop, shut up, and receive. We must receive from our neighbors, as they love us – with material and emotional assistance, but particularly with spiritual assistance – as they give us God’s life-giving word. If we are not first receivers we not only have nothing to give, but we die. It is really good to receive Jesus through words – and a big part of this is receiving these words from the saints of old as well – particularly those saints who God used to write the Bible.

With all of this said about being an active giver I note that I don’t feel like I excel at this by any means, even sadly, with something as simple as “lending an ear” (my wife will tell you…). And there are even some times I feel like I can basically only receive… and cry out: “Lord save me/us!”

And by your pulling me aside and reminding me – asserting to me! – that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!” you love me.

That is why I need you to speak with me – and to me.



Image: Christ True Vine {PD-1923}

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Posted by on May 5, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Satan Playing the Long Game? What’s the Problem with the Critical Text?

“These copies that were made centuries later contain numerous mistakes. Thousands of mistakes. Tens of thousands of mistakes. Hundreds of thousands of mistakes…” Whatever, Bart. Don’t have a cow.

“These copies that were made centuries later contain numerous mistakes. Thousands of mistakes. Tens of thousands of mistakes. Hundreds of thousands of mistakes…” Whatever, Bart. Don’t have a cow.


Despite the picture and provocative caption that leads off this post, it is not really about the molehill that is Bart Ehrmann. It rather attempts to critically address, in a thoughtful way, the modernist/Enlightenment world of biblical criticism from which he has come. I make no claim to expertise in what I write of below – my hope is that this post and any subsequent discussion can get interested persons, including myself, thinking more about this important topic.

Pastor Jordan Cooper, the owner of this blog, has written and podcasted about how he is in favor of supporting what is called “the Majority text” over what we today call “the critical text” (think Nestle-Aland, now in its 28th ed.). In his support of this “Ecclesiastical text”, he is decidedly against the mainstream of biblical scholarship.

I think that Pastor Cooper has done us a service is clearly stating his viewpoint and giving persons an accessible introduction to these important issues. If you have not had a chance to look at these yet, I encourage you to do so (here is another good introductory post).

My own view is also that what we might call the Byzantine text is the text that we should trust (and my reading of a recent scholarly treatise on this topic further confirms me in my own view, which I lay out below[i]).

Why do I think this? In brief, I believe that God, in His providence, preserved His word in the churches of the East, and that this word performed two critical functions in history: a) to provide a common, shared text for the churches of the Eastern churches ; and b) to provide a needed corrective to the churches in the West, for whom the highly flawed Latin Vulgate had become the default biblical text.

During the time of the Reformation, apologists from the Roman Catholic church argued that the Greek text of the New Testament and the Hebrew text of the Old Testament had been corrupted and that the Vulgate alone preserved the authentic text. And yet, when it came to the Latin Vulgate, many could see clearly that distrust had rightly been earned here, and a “shake-up” of sorts was necessary. This largely came in the form of what we call the “Textus Receptus” of a Roman Catholic scholar named Erasmus. He introduced this new edition of the Greek text of the New Testament when he did (based largely on what were understood to be Byzantine copies of the original biblical text in Greek) in order to fix problems in the Vulgate. The rest, in the “Protestant” West at least, is history.

“If exegesis is to be practiced historico-critically, it must use the methods of secular historical science, i.e. criticism which allows only probability judgments, and the principles of analogy and correlation (cf. Troeltsch). Thereby it subjects itself in principle to secular-historical judgment” (theses presented for discussion in the University of Munich, quoted by Marquart on p. 114)

Probabilities, i.e. death by a thousand cuts: “If exegesis is to be practiced historico-critically, it must use the methods of secular historical science, i.e. criticism which allows only probability judgments, and the principles of analogy and correlation (cf. [Walter] Troeltsch[, pictured]). Thereby it subjects itself in principle to secular-historical judgment” (theses presented for discussion in the University of Munich, quoted by Kurt Marquart on p. 114, Anatomy of an Explosion)

At least, until the end of the 17th century and beginnings of the 18th century, when some doubts about the Textus Receptus’ synonymity with the original texts of the Bible (the “autographs”) begin to emerge – and the “scientific” study (more on the reason for the scare quotes below) of the biblical text took off in earnest. This culminated in a way in the early 1880s, with the publication of Westcott and Hort’s critical edition of the Greek New Testament, which deferred heavily to a couple of manuscripts containing the entire Bible (from the 4th century): Codex Vaticanus and Code Sinaiticus (see more here).

My impression is that this quest was largely wrongheaded, but let me be clear about why I think this is so. I actually do not have difficulty with a person arguing that these early editions of the Bible, produced as they obviously were with the imprimatur of the church’s hierarchy, are basically indicative of the biblical text the Western church has recognized, preserved, and passed down (here, I think, it is like the Apostle Paul says: “let each be convinced in his own mind”![ii]). In other words, in an effort to address the problems clearly seen in the Vulgate, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater (again, the Vulgate would seem to have been largely based on codexes like Vaticanus and Sinaiticus), but this did not need to be the case.

The problem, however, is that the discussion about these things in the church today, because of the impact of a modern scientific and technological mindset (as opposed to using something more akin to a careful legal case) that permeates the academy, basically reduces to the quantitative, i.e. to numbers and percentages. In brief, those advocating for the ever-changing critical text in the train of Westcott and Hort usually do so on the basis of the numbers of the earliest manuscripts (which, as a whole, do tend to conform more to codexes Vatincanus and Sinaiticus), while those in the minority who advocate for what they call the “Majority Text” (basically, the “Byzantine Text”) usually do so on the basis of the total number of manuscripts from the first copies of the Bible up until the Middle Ages.[iii]

In short, I think what this really shows – for all involved – is a lack of trust in the church, and does not show a proper deference to its authority. In general, I suggest a further implication of this, because God preserves His word in His church (a word which is sufficiently clear even to unbelievers – they can indeed, begin to understand the Scriptures and its core theme), is a lack of trust in God and a lack of deference to His authority.[iv]

Speaking of numbers, I am guessing that I might have lost upwards of 99% of the Christians in America with that statement, but stick with me here as I explain my reasoning!

“[Descartes] declared that all past beliefs, all ideas inherited from family or state, or indoctrinated from infancy onwards by ‘authorities’ (masters, priests) must be cast into doubt, and examined in complete freedom by the individual subject… – Luc Ferry, discussing the impact of Rene Descartes, pictured (italics and bold mine).

“[Descartes] declared that all past beliefs, all ideas inherited from family or state, or indoctrinated from infancy onwards by ‘authorities’ (masters, priests) must be cast into doubt, and examined in complete freedom by the individual subject… – Luc Ferry, discussing the impact of Rene Descartes, pictured (italics  mine).

Even as Jesus Christ Himself urged the laity of his day to obey those who sat in “Moses’ seat”, He nevertheless blamed those same church leaders for a variety of  theological errors (painful detail here). And yet, in spite of this, He trusted that the Scriptures the church had received had been reliably preserved by God. Jesus’ default position was not that God’s assembly, or church, was the corrupter of the biblical texts, but its grateful recipient.

So, why can’t the churches of the East simply be thankful for and trust the biblical texts that they have received? And why can’t the churches that used the Greek text of Erasmus – largely produced from the aforementioned texts – largely do the same? And why can’t those who think that we should defer to what has been called the more “Alexandrian” “text-type” (this is what the critical, or Nestle-Aland text, is largely based on), simply talk about receiving the text as well, apart from the problems with the Latin Vulgate that derived from them (these texts being exemplified by, but perhaps not limited to, codexes like Vaticanus and Sinaiticus)?

Am I saying that it is always wrong to doubt the church? What about “trust but verify”?

To answer these questions in brief, “no, it is not wrong to distrust the church (see more reflection here), but distrust, where it exists, ought to be earned, i.e. justified” (think “Donation of Constantine”[v]) and “’trust but verify’ is really an oxymoronic statement.”[vi]

The fact of the matter is that when it came to receiving the biblical text, distrust was never truly justified, even if some, of course (like the deists and others with anti-Christian motivations), were eager to say that it had been earned. What happened, it seems to me, is that some persons became aware of variants in the various text-traditions (realizing there were rough “text types”, or perhaps, as some say today, “text clusters”), and started exploring more. I don’t have an issue with this per se, because I do believe that God has made all of us simply curious about this or that, and I don’t doubt that he raised up persons who were curious about this kind of thing as well – and that he provided avenues for them, at their unique point in geography and history, to begin further exploration.

The problem, however, is that this exploration was not openly explored and discussed in the church, and with a proper respect of church authorities and their responsibilities in mind.[vii] Persons in the church hierarchy, understandably, were eager to safeguard the integrity of the text, and to let persons know that serious matters about the Bible were not in doubt. Those on the cutting edge of this exciting and attention-getting scholarly work, however, were not always eager to work slowly, carefully, deliberately, and intelligently with the top leadership in the church. They often acted alone in this sense (though not without the help of, for example, the state and the academy), and, at the very least, fueled the impression of a conspiracy among the orthodox (often maligned as “dead” or “Pharisaical”) to hide the “many errors and corruptions” of the biblical text.[viii]

In response, the orthodox leadership could hardly be blamed for seeing something dark in the critical scholar’s work from the beginning (unfortunately, the attempts to “call out” the irreverent – and sometimes downright impudent – critical scholars and their pietistic allies may have, at times, been both too weak and rather ham-fisted). This, it seemed, was something altogether different from the kind of textual criticism the earliest of the church fathers themselves admitted to openly – after all, before the church as a whole (i.e. the leadership), thankfully, had the means to “first, [when doing biblical interpretation] correct your copy of the text” (as Augustine had said), it was these individual Christians who had to make decisions regarding the various variant manuscripts they were aware of.

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

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: “Man is not an objective super-observer in the universe, but a condemned sinner with a vested interest in escape.” And here, Satan urges a long, “frog-in-kettle” game.

So again – none of this means that Christians should be opposed to scholarship per se (see more thoughts on scholarship vis a vis Christianity here). On the contrary, I think all of this comes down to not respecting authority. Of God, the Bible, and the Church.[ix]

Again, didn’t Jesus Christ and His apostles quote the commonly used text of their day – the Torah that people actually had – as God’s inspired Word? As Charles Wiese points out: “We…have evidence of a variety of different textual traditions that pop up in the New Testament. Most of the time, Jesus and the Apostles don’t quote from the textual tradition behind the Hebrew Masoretic text but the tradition stands behind the LXX.” How does this compare with the church’s approach today, where it seems the decisions of an editorial committee in Muenster (home of Nestle-Aland 28, the “standard text” of Christendom) are of inevitable authority for us and our theology?!

In short, the kind of approach advocated in even the most conservative Christian colleges and seminaries is tremendously lacking. It is an atomized individualism – regarding persons, texts, and churches – that is on display in spades. In matters as simple as receiving the Scriptures to the matter of corporate worship, there is no respect shown to the authority of those above one’s self – and so there is also no mutual submission of the brethren to one another.

No thanks. I, for one, will buck this trend and say:

“I will receive in humble and grateful child-like trust what is given unless there is something really off like the glaring Comma Johanneum (even this was not in the earlier editions of Erasmus’ text, and hence is not in Luther’s German Bible). To say the very least, there is no need to give any kind of false impression that the church has anything to be hiding or has been hiding anything when it comes to God’s word.”[x]

Please challenge me on this. Attempt to educate and inform me, and if you suspect I am unteachable, try to do that for others.

Let’s talk more about how the Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum.



Image credits:

Bart D. Ehrmann by Dan Sears UNC-Chapel Hill ; Rene Descartes ; Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923), from (published in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US) ; Kurt Marquart, by maintained by David J. Webber


[i] The author of this treatise, erstwhile master’s degree student Ernst Boogert, says at one point: “Truth may and should be questioned, because by testing it, it is strengthened.” (p. 63) My own view on this is a bit more nuanced: it is indeed possible, through God’s providential care, that truth can be strengthened in the act of questioning – but that this is not necessarily the case. In fact, depending on our attitude towards the things of God, I submit that sometimes received truth should not be questioned, even if God might use unwarranted skepticism for good (more on this in the broader piece above).

“It is not enough to say that historical criticism means ‘discriminating appreciation.’ The historian,’ says [David] Lotz, ‘must cross-examine, test, weigh, probe and analyze all written records of the past. If he fails to do this he de facto surrenders his claim to the title of historian!’” (Marquart, Kurt; quoting from a May 1975 issue of Forum Letter, in his Anatomy of an Explosion: Missouri in Lutheran Perspective, p. 114, italics mine). I note that view/attitude well. Evidently, we can’t seek to learn more about history simply because we are curious to do so. Of course questions will come, but no one can question absolutely everything about their own history or history more widely conceived.

With all of that said, I believe that my own view comports quite well with Boogert’s recent and rather detailed study (again available here) that seeks to constructively address and overcome the impasse that currently exists between CT and MT (Byzantine) advocates.  Elsewhere, in his study he writes: “Both Byzantine protagonists and eclectics need to take time for careful analyses of each other’s arguments. This thesis provides a wealth of arguments that need consideration and reinvestigation.” (p. 63)

[ii] Ernst Boogert again (see above endnote): “…theological notions like providence and preservation need to be connected with the content of the New Testament and not with the letter. In that sense, the New Testament is historically and theologically fully preserved.” (p. 66)

[iii] Numbers can wow us to be sure. They might even tempt us with their perceived usefulness. As my pastor put it: “There are a little over 3.5 million letters in the Bible (3,566,480). In that most textual variants have to do with letters, even if the “mistakes” or “conflicts” are determined to be in the thousands, that is still, simply statistically, insignificant. There are 783, 137 words in the Bible. The same could be said about them. Overall agreement between the RT, MT and CT seems to be about 99.5%. So for a book that is from 2000-3500 years old, and copied by hand for much of its existence, that is simply amazing.”

[iv] In other words, I believe that the actions of the church authorities in this case were certainly God-inspired acts of love for good of – and order of – the one church.

From this it simply follows: Those who don’t think this results in an infallible and inerrant text should, at the very least, point out how reliable and firm it is! And this should be, if they desire to be friends of God and His people, their constant public refrain.

Again, recognizing that there are variant traditions, deriving from various schools and centers of Christian influence should not change any of this.

[v] A line from the 2003 movie Luther comes to mind. In it, Martin Luther jests: “the priests assured me that by gazing at sacred relics, I could cut down my time in purgatory. Luckily for me, Rome has enough nails from the holy cross to shoe every horse in Saxony… but there are relics elsewhere in Christendom. Eighteen out of twelve apostles are buried in Spain…” see here:

[vi] And to be honest, I think that after a while, the 16th century reformer Martin Luther realized, for example, that he should just shut up about his misgivings about the book of James, Hebrews, and Revelation, for example. I suspect that as a good churchman, he recognized it was enough to say what some in the early church said: these books were received as canon, but, since some orthodox persons spoke against their inclusion in the canon, should not be used to determine any doctrine.

[vii] An Eastern Orthodox Christian, Rod Dreher, has expressed this responsibility well: “

“…what I can tell definitively about Orthodox Christian doctrine would be about one-third of the length of my big long Dante blog post yesterday. But I trust the guides who know the territory. I don’t need to know how to read maps to trust them to lead me out of the dark wood. Moreover, I don’t have to worry that there’s a big fight among the guide corps over whether or not the maps and the methods of map-reading have anything true to tell us about where we are in the world, and what we need to do if we are to get out of the dark wood.” (Does Doctrine Even Matter To Liberal Catholics?)

[viii] Those of a more pietist bent, eager to distinguish themselves from the orthodox, also promoted their work.

[ix] Today, we see this in full flower with “progressive religion” and its counterpart tendencies: radical social justice warring, identity politics, and the denial of truth and fact (see here, for example).

[x] Wikipedia has a useful list of the most significant New Testament textual variants here:”

Should we not be utterly amazed at how not only do none of these variants affect doctrine, but none of these variants can be said to necessarily contradict one another at all?!

As church historian Martin Noland has pointed out (from a private email correspondence, shared with permission): “The textual variants in the New Testament only become a big deal when anti-Christian polemicists blow their significance way out of proportion.  This happened first in the Deist controversies in the 18th century; and has been resurrected by Bart Ehrmann today, to his great financial and career profit.”


Posted by on April 5, 2016 in Uncategorized


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“I feel like most religions are based on the same basic principles.” Yes?


A student writes (shared with permission):

Our chat was nice and when someone asked the questions about different religions.  This is always confusing to me because I do not understand how people look down at other’s beliefs. I also find it difficult to understand how you can get along with and close friends with someone if you are so different in beliefs or if one person believes that the other isn’t going to heaven if they are not Christian. So people say I love and respect this person yet they are not going to heaven?  I feel like most religions are based on the same basic principles. Even Yancey explained that all religions want us to be pure and kind to ourselves and others, so why then is it so bad to disagree? My way is not the right way for everyone and this is not just applicable to religion.

My response:


Thanks for your honest comments. Yes, there are persons who are friends and yet believe that there friend is not on the right side of God’s judgment. I understand that might be hard to grasp, but a Christian, who is commanded to love his/her enemies, can certainly keep that in tension.

Are there similarities between Christianity and other religions? Sure, there are some. Many religions generally teach some form of the law, for example, what we see in the “second table” of the Ten commandments. In other words, honor your father and mother, do not murder, to not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness…. I am not sure about not coveting! Other religions also generally have the negative form of the Golden Rule, i.e. “do not do to other people what you do not want them to do to you”. Many times, even atheists think these rules make a good deal of sense, and of course, anyone, regardless of their religion or lack thereof, believes in a right and a wrong (even if they deny it). Here much common ground can be found, even if the other religions do not acknowledge the God of Israel and His Son Jesus Christ. On the other hand, in some religious systems the gods or spirits do not even care about people enough to give them guidance via laws. These gods exist to be feared and appeased. Law and order is provided by those on earth who have power – and have historically often claimed to be gods themselves.

As I said in class, “thank God Jesus is God”. And He is different! Other religious leaders, for example, did not have clear prophecies uttered about them hundreds of years before they were born (see Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 for some of the most striking). Other leaders did not perform miracles like Christ that confirmed Messianic prophecies (see what Jesus tells a doubting John the Baptist in Luke 7). Other leaders did not claim to be God (see the great “I am” statement in John 8, where Jesus claims the same thing for Himself that Yahweh does in the Old Testament). And of course other leaders did not claim to be the only way to come to the Father (“I am the way, the truth and the life – no one comes to the Father except through me”). Nor were they raised by the Father in order to have their claims vindicated and to give life to the world (new life to a fallen world that is). So yes – other leaders did not endure a shameful death on the cross for the sin of the world before seeing the vindication of a resurrection from the dead. For me, it all comes down to this: I want to follow the One who is risen from the dead.

But some might ask this:

“How do we know that Muslims aren’t worshipping the same God without realizing it? How do we know that Muslims just don’t believe in the Trinity, and that God (our God) is who they call Allah?”

I’ll address this issue in general first. Biblically, there is only one God. People do see God in different ways, but the Bible would assert that those who understand God, His view, and His actions differently than those ascribed to Him in the Bible are “misinterpreting” Him to say the least. The Bible calls it idolatry. Again, there is the true Jesus and false Jesus’ as well Paul tells us. Biblically speaking, these false views of God are not harmless, but as I said in the first chat, connected with the demonic. Here one thinks of Elijah’s confrontation with the false God Baal, who incidently, like most old pagan gods and goddesses, encouraged some pretty corrupt practices, like temple prostitution, child sacrifice, etc.

One might say from a Christian perspective, the Jewish and Muslim versions of God are not quite as bad, as they more closely resemble the Christian God in some respects. That said, what they are missing is quite key though: Jesus. They specifically deny that Jesus is who He said He was, which is God incarnate (see John 8) come to save the world from sin. Without Him there is no sacrifice for sins left, and whoever denies Him denies the Father.

I understand if people do not believe any of that – and I will defend person’s right not to believe it, as I expect them to defend my right. I think it is important for persons to have a good sense of what they are rejecting though. I think persons often don’t.

Regarding the idea that we all worship the same God for me it is like this. Let’s say you and I are talking and we realize we both know the same person. How cool! Let’s say we go on thinking this is the case for a while.. that is, until we start talking about the person in more detail. It is only then – after we have more information – that we realize that we actually were not talking about the same person at all.

Getting into a lot of depth about the actual teachings of other world religions can be a real eye-opener. Take a look at this first page of this document. I put that chart together mostly from memory (my study of other faiths) – and am certainly open to being corrected about any of it.

As I said on the dbs…Here in wintry Minnesota, I went sledding with my boys the other day. The three year old could not walk up the steep hill. One son said he wouldn’t help him. Another said he couldn’t help him. Only father was both good and strong enough to help. Likewise, only the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – who refuses to be thought of apart from His Son – is strong enough to help us, to save us, from our desperate condition of bondage to sin, death, and the devil.

I know this was a lot. I hope it helps somewhat.


For more thoughts on this issue, see this more recent post:

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Posted by on February 21, 2016 in Uncategorized


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For Scalia, R.I.P. – Why Nature Must Be Stopped

I say “You shall not pass!” My friend Arya says “By the Spirit we shall."

I say “You shall not pass!” My friend Arya says “By the Spirit we shall.”

I dedicate this post to now deceased SCOTUS justice Antonin Scalia. May he rest in peace.

“Not to resent offenses is the mark of a base and slavish man.” — Aristotle

“I attack ideas, I don’t attack people – and some very good people have some very bad ideas.” — Antonin Scalia


In a recent internet conversation, a woman named Arya Blynde took exception to a comment I had made about the ancient Latin poet Ovid, who said “I approve the better course, and yet I choose the worse”. Regarding this I had commented, “In a world increasingly devoid of Christian truth, even relatively good heathen like the Latin poet Ovid, all too aware of their inner darkness and failures, will be harder and harder to find.” Arya opposed me on this with great zeal.

That said, Ms. Bynde is delightfully civil, frank, and easy to talk to – the kind of opponent a good debater like to have. She also has unflagging conviction one can respect and appreciate. When I said “Long live the soft patriarchy. Long live complementarity. Long live the defenders to the weakest and most helpless among us – I feel like Gandalf saying to you ‘you shall not pass’”, she wrote me a longer response saying, “thank you – but we shall pass”.

Since I think it is a good thing for Christians to be aware of articulate and rhetorically powerful arguments from those who disagree with us, I asked Arya if I could publish her response on this blog. I appreciate her willingness to let me do this, and hope you enjoy her penetrating comments. Like many editors, I have made some small changes and have chosen the title for this article, admittedly making it a bit more sexy and provocative than the article itself. Enjoy her piece:

Why Nature Must Be Stopped

by Arya Blynde [note: yes, this is a satirical piece written by me, [Infanttheology], in case anyone is confused]

Rachel - I am perplexed at the hostility shown to you for simply being true to your inner self - Arya

Rachel – I am perplexed at the hostility shown to you for simply being true to your inner self. – Arya B.

Nature has this annoying habit of stacking the deck against those of us who long for progress and liberation. It, for example, predisposes us to label things and put them in categories that are actually only as real as we imagine them to be. Christian-Muslim, white-black (hang in there Rachel Dolezal…your truth — and critical thinking — will overcome!), male-female – we know that all of these labels are simply social constructs that have no reality beyond what we imagine. What really matters, of course, is the freedom of our human spirit — and love. But nature, sadly, is persistent

What do I mean? Well, nature, among its many problems, has issues pertaining to privilege. Take, for example, the rights of [cis] women

(note: this, in shorthand, means women who are born in women’s bodies — if you are not up with this vocabulary yet, please read this — it’s critical you get peoples’ preferred pronouns right: he, she, ze…).

It’s just not fair that…

  • their bodies should attract so much unwanted attention from cis males (that is, for my knuckle-dragging friends, men who are born in men’s bodies)[i]
  • their proclivity to bear[ii] and nurture children makes it more difficult for them to keep kids’ demands in perspective and get on with real work
  • women should have to take extra special care to make sure fetuses are not harmed due to alcohol consumption in utero, or be prone to feel shame over not trying to exclusively give children breastmilk, the best available nourishment (see here[iii])
  • a woman might grant the fetus she carries her recognition of “being child” only to miscarry – and then feel overwhelmingly great sadness that, in general, only more backwards, “pro-life” folks will sympathize with (see here[iv])
  • some women might be inclined to feel sorrow, concern, and even guilt – directly after someone around them felt compelled to pay some attention to a fetus’ actions during routine women’s reproductive health services like abortions (see here[v])
  • some especially have a penchant for being bothered by the respectful and reverent sacrificing of otherwise unwanted fetuses that others may be blessed – and thank God for their human organs and tissues. Finally…
  • publications like the National Review evidently think that, in 2016, they can get away with nonsensical – and grossly insensitive headlines – like “only a Barbaric Nation Drafts Its Mothers and Daughters into Combat” (see here[vi])
  • so much more could be said!
Rey don’t mansplain: of course the strongest woman can take the strongest man – Arya B.

Rey don’t mansplain: of course the strongest woman can take the strongest man – Arya B.

If people think that “nature” can be referenced to justify any of these situations, using forceful phrases like “natural law” for example, it only reinforces the point that I am making.

The systematic bias that nature exhibits is obvious. For example, it provides cover for unjust privileges by predisposing us to use oppressive labels like “male” or “female” – so that many see nothing wrong with saying unnerving things like “it’s a boy!” or “it’s a girl!”.

This kind of bias – starting right from our first breaths even! — is clearly insane. Nature simply needs to be exposed, stripped of its power, and dragged through the streets in shame.

Indeed, those who insist that we can’t overcome any of these things I listed above show time and again that they do not know what they are talking about.

First of all, what right do people have to insist that I am something – like a man or woman for example – that I do not see myself to be?[vii] The abject hurtfulness of this — in addition to the absence of critical thinking here — is glaring. Everyone should be able to see that, to say the very least, it is alarming and disturbing that some people actually feel they can operate like this from their space of entitlement. If you think nature itself makes you prone to do this, that leads me to the following.

Second, the undeniable success of holistic medicine, for example, rediscovering what is possible from nature itself, should be a clear marker for all of us here. We must open our minds to the way that some redeemable parts of nature can actually work with us to overcome its less favorable parts. Not in some crass way of course, where we harness brute scientific methods and technology to basically rape it, as was implied by that 16th century man Francis Bacon. No – I am talking about working with it, in harmony, to overcome the pains, negative feelings, and hurtful comments from others that so often invade our true selves.

Let’s consider how this might apply to the National Review article referenced above. “How”, you may ask, can certain parts of nature help the “nation” (code: white privileged males) give up the “natural” idea that they should protect “their” women? It seems clear to me that people who regularly expand their minds with the blessing that is marijuana – good job, nature! – are going to have a much different perspective on these issues. I suggest that they will more readily be able to grasp that when you open up combat positions to women it is only reasonable to draft them into those positions as well. Already four years ago the New York Times was publishing pieces about how parenting goes better when marijuana is utilized. With help from it and other natural substances, we women might even be able to get our husbands to give up patronizing behavior like always being first to check that loud noise downstairs. Here, nature can actually assist in promoting equality and freedom for all.

Hippocrates: with his foolish pro-life oath, just another sad ancient patriarch/oppressor. – Arya B.

Hippocrates: with his foolish “pro-life” oath, just another sad ancient patriarch/oppressor. – Arya B.

The Latin poet Ovid said “I approve the better course, and yet I choose the worse”. Such a lack of self-confidence in one’s abilities – as if nature should necessarily teach anybody such things! – is typical of ancient Romans like him.

We have come a long way. It was certainly a step for progress when more enlightened persons put the bug in Christians’ brains that the words “creation” and “nature” could be used more or less interchangeably. But the time for that equivalence has now ended. Even talking about “nature” is saying too much really. It implies limits. Persons like Ray Kurzweil who attempt to defeat death with technology are right to want to deny the limits imposed on us by nature. They are simply wrong in that they aren’t focusing on the right limits to deny. Overcoming death and time is certainly one thing that we as a species are aiming for, but we must have our priorities straight: equality first. Right now, we all die, so we should work on things where nature makes us not equal.

Kurzweil isn’t the only one who is a bit short-sighted. Years ago, the atheist philosopher Richard Dawkins talked about defying nature by telling our genes to “go jump in the lake”. The problem with his view, however, is that it is devoid of the spirit. It is the spirit of life – even the Great Spirit – that tells nature to jump in the lake! It is this Force, this Spirit, that sets us free from the elementary principles of this evil world, from the physical, the material… the “flesh”.

Christians have forgotten this knowledge – don’t they remember that the “natural philosophers” they love to tout like Aristotle believed and taught as knowledge that slavery — as well as the inferiority of women and children — were “natural”? There is your “permanent” or “enduring” nature Christians! But the Holy Spirit, that great Force, overcame all of this! Christians should realize that the Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. It’s true: “Nature” itself holds an unwarranted position of privilege. Doesn’t the message of Jesus Christ free us from just this?

I’ll admit that, with the death of SCOTUS justice Antonin Scalia, I am discouraged by what of my friends are quick to publish online — we should always take care to have respect for the dead. I won’t speak ill of the man, but will simply note that we are talking about someone who had some very peculiar ideas of what Christianity was all about. In one of his public talks, he actually said “God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools…and He has not been disappointed….If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”

"Mystery, magic, and divinity"... Are not such words used to keep us in submission? – Arya B.

“Mystery, magic, and divinity”… Are not such words used to keep us in submission? – Arya B.

On the contrary, doesn’t that message of love and freedom that Jesus beings fit perfectly with others around the world who are in tune with the Spirit? By all means, worship your Jesus – just realize though, that you might indeed become more “Christian” by leaving those old ideas of what Christianity is behind. That form of Christianity is located in the past, not the future. Buddha refused to wrangle about questions of origins, i.e. where we came from. That way is “a jungle, a wilderness, a puppet-show, a writhing, and a fetter, and coupled with misery, ruin, despair and agony.”

It’s time to truly change this world and truly make it in the image of the Spirit in whom all of us live and move and have our being. That Spirit, always fluid and not constraining, can fill us with authentic feeling and the critical thinking that everyone needs — so that they to can free themselves from the bias that besets them and realize that no views (well, no reasonable views) are superior than any others.

In short, there is no reason why that list of grievances above needs to get any one of us down — there is indeed hope.

I think that you know I have a point – and you also know that you are tempted here for good reason – very good reason. I don’t think we should doubt for a minute that we, in step with this great Force, have the power to do this! Men like John Locke, for all their faults, were instrumental in getting us here, and now we can finish it… “Nature” itself is our blank slate. We — join the Cause! — are that Force of nature that we need. And I sincerely hope that you to will join me in this great Cause and Endeavor.


All images save the You Tube video shot from Wikipedia


[i] Things are particularly difficult for our trans woman sisters like Caitlyn Jenner. In the case of trans women seeking attention from certain cis males, there might be from these men a tendency towards queasiness and disgust instead of attraction – even in spite of the trans woman looking similar to a cis female externally.

[ii] Again, things really are unfair for trans women like Bruce Jenner. Only trans-men and not trans-women are endowed with the necessary biological capacities in order to carry a baby.

[iii] The op-ed article begins: “The American medical establishment instructs pregnant women to not drink alcohol, and those who ignore this advice — like those who do not breast-feed their children — are subject to social shaming. Is the circle of shame about to get a lot bigger?”

[iv] A clip from the article: “The more I considered it, the more I became convinced that the silence around miscarriage was connected to feminism’s work around abortion. How could I grieve a thing that didn’t exist? If a fetus is not meaningfully alive, if it is just a collection of cells – the cornerstone claim of the pro-choice movement – what does it mean to miscarry one? Admitting my grief meant seeing myself as a bereft mother, and my fetus as a dead child – which meant adopting exactly the language that the anti-choice movement uses to claim abortion is murder.”

[v] This “feminist” writes, for example referring to the observations of a male doctor: “After injecting the hormone into the patient’s womb, the doctor left the syringe standing upright on her belly. Then, Selzer wrote, ‘I see something other than what I expected here. . . . It is the hub of the needle that is in the woman’s belly that has jerked. First to one side. Then to the other side. Once more it wobbles, is tugged, like a fishing line nibbled by a sunfish.’ He realized he was seeing the fetus’s desperate fight for life. And as he watched, he saw the movement of the syringe slow down and then stop. The child was dead. Whatever else an unborn child does not have, he has one thing: a will to live. He will fight to defend his life. The last words in Selzer’s essay are, ‘Whatever else is said in abortion’s defense, the vision of that other defense [i.e., of the child defending its life] will not vanish from my eyes. And it has happened that you cannot reason with me now. For what can language do against the truth of what I saw?'”….

[vi] In a pernicious display of chauvinism and male entitlement, the mostly male editors of this article write, among other things: “Men should protect women. They should not shelter behind mothers and daughters. Indeed, we see this reality every time there is a mass shooting. Boyfriends throw themselves over girlfriends, and even strangers and acquaintances often give themselves up to save the woman closest to them. Who can forget the story of 45-year-old Shannon Johnson wrapping his arms around 27-year-old Denise Peraza and declaring “I got you” before falling to the San Bernardino shooters’ bullets?…. [War] is not a video game. It is not a movie, where young Hollywood starlets karate-kick their way through masses of inept thugs and goons. When we order women into ground combat, we are ordering them into situations where men larger and stronger than they will show no mercy — crushing the life out of them like Meyer crushed that Taliban.”

[vii] “Journalist Amanda Taub believes the political correctness backlash misses the point and glosses over real issues. In an article published in, she argues that so-called political correctness is really about protecting and promoting marginalized voices.” See the program here for more:

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Posted by on February 15, 2016 in Uncategorized


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A Very Nice Explanation of Progressive Religion, Filial Foe of Christ

First of all, this post is not about the recent Wheaton college controversy (see last post here), but I think it is likely highly relevant to the situation. It seems increasingly clear that persons like Larycia Hawkins and Miroslav Volf, in spite of their vaunted tolerance, simply have zero respect for the views that Wheaton’s administration holds. Volf has insinuated or directly spoken of hatred, enmity, and bigotry and added that the removal of Hawkins was morally wrong. Hawkin’s recent public statement in no way attempts to conceal but in fact reveals the contempt she has for those who would challenge her.

Martin Luther, enemy of progress?: "Only the 10 commandments are eternal."

Martin Luther, enemy of progress?: “Only the 10 commandments are eternal.”

The content of the video above is, I suspect, what a lot of persons in the Evangelical Christian camp (and yes, perhaps some in my own more conservative Lutheran camp) believe but not all of them will say – at least yet. This more courageous man, Eric Reitan, very nicely articulates (making very clear and understandable!) the main ideas behind progressive religion – really “progressive Christianity” (this is why it makes sense that many of us might find ourselves very attracted to certain things that he talks about, for example, the objective goodness of creation, the seemingly unnatural rejection of concepts like “fate”, the sacred dignity of each human being, etc.), something I think can only really exist where traditional Christianity is also a presence. What I am saying is that the presence of Christianity has had and continues to exert a world-leavening effect which makes a Christian heresy like this possible (see the summary here for more).

Progressive religion is like Kylo Ren, not because of temperment, but... (no plot spoilers)

Progressive religion is like Kylo Ren, not because of temperment, but… (no plot spoilers)

Reitan talks about how this progressive religion is a “religion of hope” and the alternative religion is a superstitious “religion of fear”, based on punishment (though he acknowledges great overlap, saying progressive religion has elements of fear as well, but tries to minimize this in itself and others). I think, however, that with these two types he is really just talking about two religions of the law.

For example, he says about his “religion of hope”:

“Belief is a matter of deciding to live in hope despite uncertainty… live as if a hoped for picture of the world is true, in the face of a world that is recognized to be conceptually malleable – a world that can be interpreted in innumerable ways. The rationale for doing so is ultimately a kind of pragmatic or moral one….”*

One sees the focus on what one must do here… or else? (is the judging God of Arnofsky’s Noah a possibility?). He seems to think not, as he also says, later in the talk:

…Faith refers to the decision to live and act in the world as if reality is in some fundamental way on the side of goodness. And that’s an act of hope that can’t be motivated by the image of a fearful tyrant in the sky….For religious progressives, any belief we have about what transcends the empirical world it is necessarily going to be a contestable interpretation that goes beyond the evidence, even though it may be consistent with the evidence. And for the progressive its ultimately only the pragmatic value of faith understood as an act of hope that can justify believing beyond the limits of the evidence….**

What is Schliermacher's "intuition of the infinite in the finite"? Without any sure word from the Lord, "selfie theology".

What is Schliermacher’s “intuition of the infinite in the finite”? Lacking any sure word from the Lord, “selfie theology” – a worship of the creation and not the Creator. More here.

…but three things, at least, should be in doubt here:

  • the idea that evidence and faith should not or do not go hand in hand (see footnote ** below) ;
  • whether anything less than the merciful Jesus Christ of the Bible can avoid being a “fearful tyrant” (i.e. people will still, because of the ambiguity we see in the groaning and fearsome creation, fear the divine because they do not know real forgiveness and peace through Jesus Christ, who forgives the real sins we are culpable of) and hence ;
  • the long-term sustainability of these views on a broad scale (see second paragraph).

This, in the end, is a theology isolated from the true God, and hence has no true love – that is, Christ-driven love – for its fellow man. It will not create universal harmony, but rather fractures true community, destroying bonds of trust and love.***

In short, Christianity does not fit into either of Reitan’s “types”. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, deftly takes care of the legitimate emphases of both of his categories.

A couple further points. First, Reitan would claim he does not have an “out group” – all of mankind are his brothers and sisters – but can anyone strictly holding to his views abide the kind of figure portrayed in the whole of the Bible – Old or New Testaments? (after all, our God is, as he says, “an absurd mismash of opposing characteristics” – might Law and Gospel be of help here? [no Hegel necessary!]….)

G.K. Chesterton: "[Today] progress does not mean that we are always changing the world to suit our vision (whether in line with God’s vision or not) but rather that we are always changing our vision

G.K. Chesterton: Today progress does not mean that we are always changing the world to suit our vision (whether in line with God’s vision or not) but rather that we are always changing our vision

Second, I also found it interesting that he seems to sets reading the biblical text “holistically”, or as a collection, as being something that is necessarily opposed to the notion that the Bible is not just man’s word but God’s (he says that those who believe it is God’s inerrant word read passages in isolation and not holistically, it seems inevitably). One might think that taking the Bible as a whole would not be supportive of Reitan’s position (for instance, doesn’t meek and mild Jesus consistently talk about the very real punishment of hell more than anyone in the Bible?), but he seems to think that it is.****

And by the way, Reitan’s view on the Wheaton college controversy? He, in part, thinks that they have stifled academic freedom too much, even if “some constraints are legitimate given the kind of institution Wheaton is.” This is to be sure, a very measured answer as  academic freedom of course only goes so far in every context. As Jonathan Haidt is fond of pointing out, some issues and inquiries are always “beyond the pale” for this or that group. Christian colleges concerned with upholding the Scriptures as being God’s word, i.e. the church’s tradition, might want to take note and act accordingly.

Even as many who have inherited Christianity’s spiritual and moral capital now think they can be most “Christian” by leaving Christianity behind, let us remember. Let us remember always, and with the joy befitting Him, the only One who is true God – and the only source of free forgiveness, life, and salvation – of all true Light and Love, now and forever.




*He goes on: “If we embrace this hopeful vision and live our lives in its light, we get on better with our neighbors and are more likely to achieve reconciliation in the midst of hostility….” For my part, I notice the equating of pragmatic views with morals. I suggest that this is inevitable when pure Darwinian views now underlie and increasingly, it seems, determine all.

** He goes on: “And so religions that profess to have knowledge of the divine are professing to have what can not be had, and if they go further and inculcate false certainty in their followers by warning them of the dire consequences of unbelief [don’t expect any encouragement from religious progressives]” Of course, Christians would say this bit about there not being evidence goes much too far, the faith being entirely an incarnational faith. See I Corinthians 15, which suggests that faith even flows, in part, from empirical evidence, and the end of Acts 17, which also points us in this direction. I suggest the devotees of the Enlightenment also reflect on whether even oral family histories can be “knowledge”. If not, why not, and if so, how might this apply to the “faith once delivered to the saints”?

*** Quote found on Rod Dreher’s blog, from the political theorist Patrick Deneen:

“Liberalism thus begins a project by which the legitimacy of all human relationships—beginning with, but not limited to, political bonds—becomes increasingly subject to the criterion of whether or not they have been chosen, and chosen upon the basis of their service to rational self-interest…

Liberalism often claims neutrality about the choices people make in liberal society; it is the defender of “Right,” not of any particular conception of the “Good.”

Yet it is not neutral about the basis on which people make their decisions. In the same way that courses in economics claiming merely to describe human beings as utility-maximizing individual actors in fact influence students to act more selfishly, so liberalism teaches a people to hedge commitments and adopt flexible relationships and bonds. Not only are all political and economic relationships fungible and subject to constant redefinition, but so are all relationships—to place, to neighborhood, to nation, to family, and to religion. Liberalism tends to encourage loose connections.

The second revolution, and the second anthropological assumption that constitutes liberalism, is less visibly political. Premodern political thought—ancient and medieval, particularly that informed by an Aristotelian understanding of natural science—understood the human creature to be part of a comprehensive natural order. Man was understood to have a telos, a fixed end, given by nature and unalterable. Human nature was continuous with the order of the natural world, and so humanity was required to conform both to its own nature as well as, in a broader sense, to the natural order of which human beings were a part. Human beings could freely act against their own nature and the natural order, but such actions deformed them and harmed the good of human beings and the world. Aristotle’s Ethics and Aquinas’ Summa Theologica are alike efforts to delineate the limits that nature—thus, natural law—places upon human beings, and each seeks to educate man about how best to live within those limits, through the practice of virtues, in order to achieve a condition of human flourishing.

Liberal philosophy rejected this requirement of human self-limitation. It first displaced the idea of a natural order to which humanity is subject and thereafter the very notion of human nature itself. Liberalism inaugurated a transformation in the natural and human sciences, premised on the transformation of the view of human nature and on humanity’s relationship to the natural world.” (see more here as well)

**** For progressive Christians like Reitan, the “Heavenly Community of Practice” (Elohim/Trinity) has clearly not spoken with any real clarity – in the whole or in the parts!… In his view, what Christian Preus says, namely: “And as we catalogue loci communes, clear passage after clear passage [from the Scriptures] on the same topic, in our minds, we overwhelm this hermeneutic of suspicion and doubt with the sheer clarity of God’s word” (quoted in this post), would clearly not be a way of treating the Bible as it is to be treated. As best I can tell however, Christian Preus is articulately voicing what Christians have, in one form or another, always believed about the Bible and its authority.

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Posted by on January 11, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Do Proponents of Other Abrahamic Faiths Worship the Same God? The Answer is Not in Philosophy but in the Distinction Between Law and Gospel

Literally the crux of the issue?

Literally the crux of the issue?

Note: this is my third post on this issue. The first one, Wheaton Professor’s Suspension Is Not About Anti-Muslim Bigotry: a Response to Miroslav Volf and Others” (this one is shorter and quite direct), is here, and the second, When Christians Say “Idolatry”, It Is – or Should Be – Because of Love: Another Appeal to Miroslav Volf” (this one is a bit more challenging), is here. This third post will necessarily be the most nuanced, detailed and technical of all of these posts, even as I try to make simple this debate.

To – let’s be honest – bombastic academic theologians like Miroslav Volf who assert that Muslims and Christians worship the same God (and that Wheaton is practicing “enmity towards Muslims”), philosopher Bill Vallicella lays down the gauntlet:

“…it is not at all obvious that Jew, Christian, and Muslim are all worshipping the same God.  That, I submit, is crystal-clear.  And so those who think that the question has an obvious answer are plainly wrong.

But this is not to say that Jew, Christian, and Muslim are NOT worshipping one and the same God. That is much more difficult question.

Do we all agree now?”

For Volf’s part, today he is doubling down again on Facebook, stating that “it is morally wrong of [Wheaton] to withdraw the right to teach from [a person like Larycia Alaine Hawkins]”. But I think Bill Vallicella points us in a more helpful direction, and I would like to add a distinctively Lutheran perspective to the conversation.

First of all, dealing with the political side of this question, according to Luther’s doctrine of the “two kingdoms” Christians can certainly argue for a broad-based religious freedom.  The idea here is not so much based on rights – or that we all worship the same God – but that religion in general can be advantageous in the civil sphere, so long as it contributes to maintaining peace and order. This post does not really deal with this however, but focuses rather on the Christian church’s responsibility to speak faithfully regarding matters of eternal salvation – i.e., dealing with the care of men’s souls.

And here, I suggest that for the very biblically-minded Christian believer, the answer to the question as I put it in the title of this post depends on the distinction between God’s Law and Gospel, and this is true because it depends on the individual person we are talking about. I’ll explain in a moment, but first a short summary of the debate (again, it is quite technical, but I will try to make it as easily digestable as I can).

Those who say that the other Abrahamic faiths worship a different God point out that Christians worship a Triune God – One God (one “what” or nature – a Divine nature), who is three persons (three distinct “whos”, who are not simply different “masks” of the same Being)[i], and that the Son of God, the second member of the Trinity, took on human flesh and claimed on earth to be the God of the Old Testament – Yahweh/YHWH (see John 8, where He says “before Abraham was born ‘I Am’”). And if Jesus is indeed God, it is also important to note, as one Lutheran does, that the Scriptures associate the worship of other Gods with idolatry and that Satan “is cunning and calculating, this deceiver, so he puts his best foot forward…Better to coat poison with sugar.”

Volf's view: not unique

Volf’s view: not unique in church history

On the other hand, those who say that other Abrahamic faiths worship the same God point out that in the Middle East, “Allah” is, in many cases, the generic name of God. One Middle Eastern Christian, Vinoth Ramachandra, therefore argues that the answer is “Yes” and “No”. People are using the same referent, but in different senses.[ii] These folks point out that Miroslav Volf is not the only person who thinks asking whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God should be explored, but that this is a question with a rich history in the church.[iii] Not all of these folks are like Edward Feser either, who thinks that believers in the Old Testament did not consciously worship a Triune God in any sense and thinks that “referring to” (in some linguistic-metaphysical sense, Frege, etc.) is necessarily the same as “worshipping.”[iv] (see for example, this excellent article)

In fairness, it is important to note that many of these philosophically-minded Christians do not want a cheap ecumenism that blurs all the distinctions – rather, the question becomes what differences in belief about God are “fundamental” enough to justify saying: “ok, now it is a different God?”

And that is a good question (even if any ardent secularists reading this may be splitting in their sides now).

First of all, thinking about this matter historically, we cannot avoid that there certainly are what we can call the “Abrahamic faiths”. Any person acting in good “leather foot journalism” fashion could establish this.  But even here, looking at the matter from the broad biblical perspective of history, we could say that all religions, not just the Abrahamic ones, “refer” to the same God. Why? Well, all beliefs in some higher being developed among the children of Adam and typically want to refer, in some way, to the God who created the world (the only ones excluded here are perhaps Satanists). This, for example, was one of the things that was not so bad about the new Noah movie: the very interesting faith of Tubal-Cain.

“I give life and take life away, as you do. Am I not like you? Speak to me!” – Aronofsky’s Tubal-Cain in Noah

“I give life and take life away, as you do. Am I not like you? Speak to me!” – Aronofsky’s Tubal-Cain in Noah

Second however, we do want to keep in mind that not even everyone who subscribes to the core content of a particular faith necessarily has the same personal faith. It may seem likely that they do, but even if the teachings of a certain faith mitigate the truth, persons might, in spite of their faith’s official teaching, believe something different. Or, even if the “official teachings” seem to be widely held, there might still be important distinctions and nuances in individuals.

For example, one thinks about the very Jewish Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, baby John the Baptist, Simeon, Nathaniel and Anna – who all seem to have immediately recognized the Messiah they were waiting for from the Lord. Of course there were Jews who were fierce in their unbelief as well, and our Lord, also Jewish of course, dealt with them in a very jarring way, particularly in John 8 (giving them a law answer demanding change). Here one also thinks about the Roman centurion Cornelius, who we are told in the biblical book of Acts (chapter 10) had adopted the Jewish religion and was primed to receive the message about Jesus as the coming Messiah. Writing about this event, Martin Luther gives the impression that a) Cornelius, prior to Acts 10, did worship the same God but that b) he needed – and eagerly recognized his need – to hear the full message about Jesus Christ (a gospel answer!).[v]

Luther on John 14:6, "No one comes to the Father but by me": "There is no other ship or passage."

Luther on John 14:6, “No one comes to the Father but by me”: “There is no other ship or passage.”

So, how to look at these matters overall? I do not deny that detailed inquiry into these questions is of use, and I do not doubt that in some cases, leaving room to talk in this way (“we worship the same God”!) might be of some evangelistic use[vi] (certainly political use, for trying to keep peace). At the same time however, I suspect the reason for minimizing the differences in this fashion is to solve “the problem” of God’s fairness. How could only those who trust in Christ be saved – and not also those who start to do some real good in this life?! (see my recent post here) In drawing this conclusion, am I being unfair myself? I don’t think so – there is simply a strong desire among many in Christendom to help some people “get in” because of their good works. But as Luther said, the Creed, not the law (First Commandment, “metaphysics,” “theism”), is what sets the Christians apart from Jews, Muslims, and false Christians.[vii]

One man, writing how we might view this issue about whether or not two persons are worshipping the same God, said this:

“You may believe that John is a wicked, insufferable person. I may believe that he is utterly delightful and profoundly wise and good. Yet we both know that “John” refers to the same person, despite our contradictory assessments of his character.”

But as I pointed out there is another way of looking at it, and this is the illustration that I use with my students.

“Let’s say you and I are talking and we realize we both know the same person. How cool! Let’s say we go on thinking this is the case for a while… that is, until we start talking about the person in more detail. It is only then – after we have more information – that we realize that we actually were not talking about the same person at all.”[viii]

I could follow up by saying this though: “Now, this may not be the case every time you talk to a devout Jew or Muslim. Perhaps – just perhaps – in speaking with them you think you are finding out that they believe what you believe. Maybe they even say they don’t believe in Jesus, but when you talk to them about that, you realize their picture of Jesus is not the one described in the Bible at all, etc. etc.”

That said, notice what is happening here. If it is true that in certain contexts people of seemingly different religions really do mean the same thing when it comes to words like “prayer”, “worship” , and “God”, the blanket statement that “we all – or even all Jews, Muslims, etc. – worship the same God” would then by default not be true. This is why, I think, in general, taking an approach like I do in my first two posts on this topic is necessary.

Again, as I noted in my first post especially, John 8 is disturbing clear, and I am afraid very un-ecumenical (well, we would have to talk about what ecumenical means or should mean!). And in Acts 17, of course, Paul ends by saying that God has proven to all persons through Christ’s resurrection that this man is going to judge the world. Simply put, some are ready to hear more at this point and others are not and will not – maybe ever. And again, we must remember that Satan, ever eager to be that “angel of light”, “is cunning and calculating, this deceiver, so he puts his best foot forward…Better to coat poison with sugar.” In other words, when difficult and unfortunate situations like those at Wheaton come up (hopefully these can be addressed in the future), this is no time for a trumpet that does not give a clear call (I Cor. 14:8).

Good and strong enough to help.

Good and strong enough to help. For some amazing stories of those discovering this, listen here.

Even as we hopefully are always eager to learn something from any person we are privileged to speak with, we Christians nevertheless need to be clear about our convictions: the only way persons can be saved is by Jesus Christ – not their own goodness, for “no one is good but God alone”. We are all simply beggars showing others where the Bread [of Life] is. And this is the message we must be eager to speak to all – tailored as much as we can to where a person actually is in their beliefs on these issues! I think that all of us – even Christians with one another [ix]– need to learn how to ask one another good questions here.

How can we hold up Jesus Christ – is He not beautiful? Is He not good? Is He not mighty?  Thank God Jesus is God! – and yet simultaneously refuse to make explicit that those gods who are not Him are false? That they do not lead us to the way and the truth? That they do not add to life, but rather take away from it? That the True God does not so much work through other religions, but in spite of them?

Here in wintry Minnesota, I went sledding with my boys yesterday. The three year old could not walk up the steep hill. One son said he wouldn’t help him. Another said he couldn’t help him. Only father was both good and strong enough to help. Likewise, only the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – who refuses to be thought of apart from His Son – is strong enough to help us, to save us, from our desperate condition of bondage to sin, death, and the devil.



Images: Tubal-Cain ( ; Volf (


[i] Traditional monotheism has believed that “God” is not so much a proper name, but a descriptive term, for example “the Prime Minister” (see here). Another way to say this is that “God” is a “common noun (a sortal concept) that refers to a class of objects (with only one member…).” (see p. 56 here)

[ii] He writes “The eminent logician Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) famously drew an important distinction between the referent of a word/phrase and its sense or meaning. He took the example of the planet Venus which is, paradoxically, described as both the “Evening Star” and the “Morning Star”. The two expressions have different senses or meanings, but they have the same referent, namely the planet Venus.”

So the question posed here: What might terminological agreement between Christians and Muslims mean?

[iii] See these links, for example: and this book chapter is particularly fascinating. This would be the “Islam as a Christian heresy” view. Regarding the first link, a pastor friend writes: “Semitic Christianity (Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic) likely used those trinitarian terms (not always in orthodox ways: Nestorianism, etc) prior to the emergence of Islam (the Near East look very different around 600AD), and it was then Islam’s claim that it continued, corrected, and concluded the ‘biblical’ revelation of the one true God by trying to show that Mohammed was prophesied in the OT and NT.”

[iv] These seems to be Feser’s view. Note that “referring to” requires no faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, while “worshipping” does. Speaking of the church’s creeds, Martin Luther wrote: “These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people on earth. All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, [better: may believe in ; may call on – see here] nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” large catechism, 3rd article of the creed (italics mine)

[v] Martin Luther, writing about Cornelius in Acts 10, said the following: “Cornelius, Acts 10:1ff , had heard long before among the Jews of the coming Messiah, through whom he was righteous before God, and in such faith his prayers and alms were acceptable to God (as Luke calls him devout and God-fearing), and without such preceding Word and hearing could not have believed or been righteous. But St. Peter had to reveal to him that the Messiah (in whom, as one that was to come, he had hitherto believed) now had come, lest his faith concerning the coming Messiah hold him captive among the hardened and unbelieving Jews, but know that he was now to be saved by the present Messiah, and must not, with the [rabble of the] Jews deny nor persecute Him.”

[vi] Summary of a conversation from another blog: In Acts 17, the “unknown god” is not the supreme God of that pantheon. Why did Paul pick this deity rather than, e.g., Zeus? One person answers: “Well, the shrine to “the Unknown God” is too sweet an opportunity for a preacher like Paul (especially given the history of the shrine, the historical plague behind it, etc.). But following Paul does pick Zeus. The poets Paul quotes are works written about Zeus. That “we are his offspring” is from Aratus’s (d. 240 BCE) poem about Zeus (the “his” refers to Zeus in the poem), and the “in whom we live and move and have our being” is from Epimenides (6th cent. BCE) who is also writing a poem for Zeus (“They fashioned a tomb for you…but you are not dead, you live and abide forever; for in you we live and move and have our being”).” I replied: “Perhaps Paul is offering a subtle course correction here? Namely, the poet was right about what God does, but I am saying now this is not to be attributed to Zeus, but rather this unknown God….”

[vii] A pastor friend notes that “Aquinas[, in his Summa Theologica] discusses the “one God” (based on nature, reason); then he turns to the holy Trinity (based on grace, faith, above reason [but not counter to reason]). And these are not two gods; they are one and the same God”” I think that by nature – however badly nurture goes – all persons really do have knowledge that there must be a powerful divine mind, which can’t responsibly be separated from notions of personhood – responsible for the cosmos. I don’t think Paul is saying that all have a knowledge of “Judeo-Christian theism” that they suppress, but that all do have a knowledge that is at least something like this. And while we are also inclined by nature to seek God, no one apart from the Gospel seeks God as he should be sought or as he is….. What we seek by nature, apart from His grace, is a God of the Law (our grace-infused love of God as we imagine him by reason saves) and not one of the Gospel (His ultimate and ongoing message of mercy is about the rescue of sinful man in Christ Jesus).

[viii] Philosophically speaking, “Failure of reference, on the descriptivist view [see footnote 1], can occur in various ways. First, the description associated with a name fails to identify someone uniquely; it holds true for more than one person. In this case reference is ambiguous and hence unsuccessful. Second, the description is satisfied by no person, in which case the name is empty in that it doesn’t latch onto anyone. Third, the name is associated with a true description, but of the wrong person” (see p. 56 here).

[ix] In Martin Luther’s Smalcald Articles, documents to which confessional Lutherans subscribe, he says that while the Roman Catholics confess the Trinity, they don’t believe it because they officially condemn evangelical trust in the Second Person of the Trinity as their one and only Savior. This will affect how we see the issue at hand in this post. To quote a pastor friend again: “in his 2006 Regensburg lecture (para. 2-4), marked as an important difference between Christianity and Islam not the gospel of free forgiveness in Christ, but whether conversions can be gotten by force or whether an appeal to man’s reason was needed. While that is an important point, and perhaps also an important difference between the two religions, the main and chief difference between Islam and Christianity it is definitely not!… the god of reason is not the uncontroversial commonality among all real religions… whatever Christians believe cannot just be harmoniously be added to what’s already in everybody’s mind anyway.”

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Posted by on January 5, 2016 in Uncategorized


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