Tag Archives: Natural_law

What Can C.S. Lewis’s Sublime Waterfall From His “Abolition of Man” Teach Us Today?


If I say the “waterfall is sublime” is that an “authoritative statement”? What makes it so?

Maybe we should back up…

What is authority? Maybe we can agree that it is inextricably tied up with concerns about responsibility, knowledge (know-that and know-how), trust, and truth.

That said, is it ultimately something outside of us or inside of us? That is eventually where the question leads.

I’m an academic librarian by vocation, and I get the impression that most every librarian I know thinks that authority ultimately rests “in the receiver of information,” as Bill Badke puts it. In spite of a couple scholarly papers I’ve written against the popular idea among my colleagues that “Authority is constructed and contextual” (see here and here), it seems that even those appreciative of my work calling this into question ultimately think that the statement is problematic but that its “true enough” that they can live with it.

They can’t. None of us can. Because ultimately, truth and Truth gets the final vote. Truth is, in part, that which is the case, is not individualistic, and can create new understandings between us.

To this end, I offer you the following exploration/defense of C.S. Lewis’s sublime waterfall illustration, which I posted today on my academic librarian blog. Even if you think you can dismiss Plato, you nevertheless can’t dismiss Lewis’s important example.

Making the case from reason alone.


In arguing that there is truth that we all know (see the last few posts on my academic librarian blog, here [“When truth is disregarded, authority weakens”], here [“Aristotle at the library: why philosophy won’t go away”] and here). I recently said, following C.S. Lewis’s classic example from his masterpiece The Abolition of Man, that “we know that waterfalls are sublime — not only that they produce ‘sublime feelings’ in us”*

In response to that statement a librarian colleague said this is Platonic because I am implying that “abstractions have objective reality. Such as the idea that waterfalls are objectively sublime.” (they go on to say “To many of us, our sublime feelings are subjective; they are not a sign of innate sublimeness in whatever evokes those feelings.”)

I will admit that this response, coming from another librarian who also thinks that the phrase “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” is lacking, caught me off guard. Is this necessarily a Platonic statement? If so, why? Could it just as easily be an “Aristotelian” statement?

My NeoPlatonist** friend, Dr. Eric Phillips, said the following in response:

Aristotle was a Platonist to a point, but he went renegade on the question (related to your question) of the separability of the Forms from Matter. His emphasis on the Forms in Matter, and even his insistence that they had to be contemplated in this way, both helped NeoPlatonism to improve on Platonism, but if NP hadn’t also insisted on the transcendence of the Forms, it wouldn’t have been Platonism.

…what’s really at stake in your question about Sublimity-or-sublimity is objectivity vs. subjectivity, and Aristotle was just as much an Objectivist as Plato was. Intellectual content (Form) is in the things already, and is discovered there by the Intellect of the observer. But Plato’s Objectivity is transcendent, thus hardier and more naturally anchored in the Mind of God, as we see in NP.



… my instinct when it comes to the academy… is to stay away from NeoPlatonic assertions… because Aristotle does not deny the forms, but puts them in matter. Here, it just seems to me that one is able to start from our experiences, as existential and historical and evidence-oriented beings, and work from there…

My major concern is that all the classical philosophies seem to get neutered when historicism is understood or experienced as somehow compelling… See, e.g.

 Dr. Phillips:

That’s not a reason to favor Aristotelianism to NeoPlatonism, because NP also holds that we discover the Forms within the objects of our perception. But NP doesn’t end there.


Yes, that makes sense. It also might make sense then that people consider me to be talking about Platonism, when, in my own mind, I am simply trying to point out that persons cannot stop consistently assuming stability in many of the things in the world of which we speak — even trans-culturally and trans-historically. I don’t even mention transcendent realities (like Forms that exist somewhere outside of us in another realm).


Do you have a view then about reasons why a person might immediately assume Platonism? Is it because all of us — or perhaps, intellectuals more generally — believe that we all must, from the get-go — be operating from a systematic understanding and/or narrative that we try to convert others to and others try to convert us from?***

Dr. Phillips:

I think people are making the jump to Platonism because they assume Aristotle is one of their own, although he isn’t. …secular intellectuals have out-Aristotled Aristotle, see themselves as part of his branch, and don’t consider how thoroughly he too would scorn them. Also, “Platonist” is a much worse name in their book, because whatever might have been wrong with Aristotle, Plato had it much worse. It’s like calling someone a Nazi instead of an anti-Semite, just to up the ante.

As for assuming that everyone is speaking from a philosophical system that is trying to colonize the world, that’s just the universal PoMo assumption, isn’t it?

Plotinus… father of NeoPlatonism


Why do they assume Aristotle is one of their own? Are they assuming too much devotion to empiricism in Aristotle (at the expense of a belief in real Essences/Forms)? In other words, they have a post-Ockham view of Aristotle?****

secular intellectuals have out-Aristotled Aristotle, see themselves as part of his branch, and don’t consider how thoroughly he too would scorn them.

By this, do you mean they have put all of the focus on his storied empiricism, and gladly lost the other part?

Also, “Platonist” is a much worse name in their book, because whatever might have been wrong with Aristotle, Plato had it much worse. It’s like calling someone a Nazi instead of an anti-Semite, just to up the ante.

Because he is barely empirical by their standards, and is the Evil Essentialist par excellence. Right?

As for assuming that everyone is speaking from a philosophical system that is trying to colonize the world, that’s just the universal PoMo assumption, isn’t it?

Well, PoMos say there is no truth, and hence this kind of activity is all about power. I do tend to think that we as human beings can’t stop stating what is true about the world and want others to agree with us. We certainly think that there are some things that simply can’t be right and we should be able to convince/persuade others not to believe them. Not everyone necessarily would force everyone to believe what they believe if they could though!

Dr. Phillips:

Yes, you understand me on all three of your questions. Modernists and Postmodernists are used to being on “Team Aristotle” when the annual Plato-v-Aristotle football game comes around, so often all they remember about him is that he was an empiricist and he did science. But to the extent that he was an empiricist, he offers testimony of how empirical observation can discover Form. And they don’t usually think of it in these terms, but they discover Form through empirical observation too. It’s just important to the atheists among them that there not be any Mind higher than theirs with which they might have to compete in understanding that Form and processing its implications. And to say that Form is transcendent is to say that there is such a Mind. (The Prime Mover is not nearly so threatening, because all It does is draw things to develop their own innate potential, whatever that is.)


What I find really interesting here though is how Rebecca Goldstein seems far less frightening to atheistic types than Thomas Nagel (and his Mind and Cosmos). Maybe this goes to show, however, how Platonism — updated and revised by Goldstein — is not so threatening (just like you say Aristotle is not threatening). But maybe NeoPlatonism is? [See, for example, this article that I wrote, “The Gods of our Brahmins: Thomas Nagel’s and Rebecca Goldstein’s Intelligent Designers,” exploring this topic].

Dr. Phillips:

I don’t know Goldstein except what I just read in your article, but yeah, Old Platonism is definitely less threatening to atheists, because there’s no explicit Hypostasized Intellect, World-Spirit, or One-Beyond-Being. I do think that’s where the system leads, though, if you follow its internal logic. Forms are ideas, and ideas are thinking, and thinking is what a mind does.

Attempting to appropriate Plato while avoiding his God-talk.



*In a library technology conference presentation I made in 2014, I said the following about C.S. Lewis’s approach:

In his brilliant and more or less non-religious book, The Abolition of Man, Lewis basically contended that the [modern scientific and technological mindset] (not his language) had the power to “abolish” man. He made his argument that Western civilization was destroying itself by using a few simple sentences from an English textbook for middle school students.

In this textbook, Lewis points out that its authors, when talking about a waterfall, are careful to point out that we cannot say that the waterfall is “sublime” in itself – that is, intrinsically – but we can say that the waterfall provokes sublime feelings in the one who observes it. Lewis first of all points out that as regards feelings, the word “humble” is a more apt description and from that point on he is off to the races. He spends some thirty pages arguing convincingly that this simple move on the author’s part – where an objective goodness and beauty outside of the human being has been denied – has disastrous consequences for our lives together. In one of Lewis’ more memorable lines he states: “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

**Of NeoPlatonism vis a vis Platonism, another learned friend says: “In broad strokes….Aristotle was a Platonist. Plotinus and Proclus mediated classical Platonism and Aristotelianism to a significant extent, such that while Neoplatonism is similar enough to classical Platonism to warrant its moniker, it is dissimilar enough that most of the perennial criticisms of Plato don’t stick to it.”

*** Listen from around 14:30 for a couple minutes: I almost want to say: “Monsieur Lacan, I see what you are saying. Well, my ‘master discourse’ (patriarchy!?) assumes various good hierarchies in nature and society and the belief that we are all human beings who share much horrific and beautiful common ground.”

**** The endgame of Ockham’s approach where universals  are not connected to things, but concepts (prior to Ockham, universals are distinct from, but inextricably linked to stable forms):

“Ontological individualism undermines not only realism but also syllogistic logic and science, for in the absence of real universals, names become no more than signs or signs of signs. Language thus does not reveal being but conceals the truth by fostering a belief in universals. In fact, all universals are merely second or higher-order signs that we, as finite beings, use to aggregate individual entities into categories. These categories, however, do not denote real things. They are only useful fictions that help us make sense out of the radically individualized world. They also, however, distort reality. Thus, the guiding principle of nominalist logic is Ockham’s famous razor: do not multiply universals needlessly. Every generalization takes us one more step away from the real, so the fewer we employ, the closer we remain to the truth.” (Michael, Allen Gillespie. “The Theological Origins of Modernity.” Critical Review 13.1 (1999): 1-30. ProQuest. 20 Apr. 2015, italics mine)

With Ockham, any sense of “natural teleology” is dulled by his denial of forms and the purely mechanistic science made thinkable by it. “Being is not intrinsically good but is value-free; fact and value are separated.” (Holmes, Fact, Value, and God, 100)


Posted by on December 20, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Jordan Peterson, the (Gradual) “Return” of God’s Law in the West, and the Future as a Saving Father

“If you were better, the people around you would be less worse than they are.” — Jordan Peterson


Sometimes the unbelievers put Christians to shame.

In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul chastises a congregation: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife…”

To the young pastor Timothy, he states: “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

In the second chapter of the book of Romans, he thunders:

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

The message? Again, unbelievers put the people of God to shame. That, in part, is what I think when I watch something like this (yes, the pictures and music play on the emotions, but the message itself is powerful):


Indeed, the world needs righteousness.[i] For those involved in the atrocities noted in the videos, there is no doubt that what Peterson says elsewhere about the consequences of our behavior is true:

“The future is a judgmental father.”

Peterson’s answer is that if we believe the world is good we can have hope that we can make it better. We can become the kind of people for whom these kinds of things are unthinkable – people of truth. Is this an articulation of what the fulfillment of the law looks like – without Christ – if that were possible?

I have no doubt that a person like Jordan Peterson brings with him a spiritual awakening of sorts. In many ways, he provides an articulate defense for the importance of God’s law to those who have abandoned it.

Of course, I need to qualify my statement here. In truth, knowledge of God’s law is in all of us. It never left.

It has, of course, been buried deep within. Given the increasing lack of reinforcement in society and the church, very deep within…

  • Some have done much picking and choosing regarding God’s laws – they have chosen some that they like, while leaving others behind. Hence, they now call good evil and evil good.
  • Others have not only picked the laws they like while leaving others behind. They have created many of their own laws. The laws one must follow in society to be a “good person” have multiplied. Hence, as Jesus says “why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?”
  • Others go so far as to even doubt the existence of God. The natural result is that they tempt themselves to think about good and evil as being something subjective. They will “flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.”
  • Finally, others even have  the nerve to assert that there is no God. There are laws to be sure, but we are the “gods” who make them up as we go along.

Again, I repeat: in truth, knowledge of God’s law is in all of us. It never left. Peterson’s message – delivered with his peculiar passion and gravitas — puts this in stark relief. He reminds us of what we once were and what we are meant to be again. One hears the divine echo.

What should we as Christians think about all of this? What do we have to add? I submit we should look more intently at the 10 commandments.

What does God’s law demand? How does the Bible describe the fulfillment of the 10 commandments? It says love fulfills them. And how do we see them fulfilled? We see this in those who love God and neighbor.

And the one who loves God, we are told, will love one’s brother, one’s neighbor.

So what does the fulfillment of the law really look like?

In one sense, only Jesus Christ. His perfect life and innocent death for us — taking away our sin.

Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again! That is love, the supreme love. Our salvation!

But, being human beings created for a purpose, we nevertheless go on to say more: the fulfillment of the law also manifests itself in love for one’s neighbor (Romans 8:1-4 and Romans 13) – and not apart from a concern to give the neighbor the great message of God, culminating in news of the Great Deeds God has done to save His people.

For the love of God is not only external, but internal as well. Love – the fulfillment of the law – desires to be united with one’s neighbor on the other side of the grave. In, with, and through Jesus Christ!

  • “Wives, in the same way, submit yourselves to your husbands, so that even if they refuse to believe the word, they will be won over without words by the behavior of their wives.” – I Peter 3:1
  • “How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” – I Cor. 7:16
  • “With many other words [Peter] warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” – Acts 2:40
  • “…even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” — I Cor. 10:33)
  • “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” — I Cor. 9:22)
  • “…in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them” – Rom 11:14

And here we might ask: Who do Peter and Paul think they are? God? Who saves? Has Paul already forgotten who the Savior is? The doctrine of election? Or is this kind of thing just preliminary to it (remember, Romans 9-11 is where he discusses it at length):

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers,[a] my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

Profound. In my mind, that it what a very strong and jarring articulation of the fulfillment of the law looks like in truth. The future is a saving Father. He chooses to use us to communicate his love to the world.

It sounds a bit like Jordan Peterson.

It’s not though. The first table of God’s Law – which would encompass the command to proclaim the Great Deeds of God for the life of the world, culminating in the Word made flesh – is a critical component of the commandments’ fulfillment. Even the Golden Rule is empty without it. We cannot live – the life that is “truly life” that is – without the certainty that Christ’s work for us frees us from sin, death, and the devil and gives us the peace which passes all understanding.

In any case, this piece is a great tribute to Jordan Peterson. I encourage you to check it out and reflect. I plan to mention it again in a future post.




[i] A good friend who watched the video said to me:

“…a question for Peterson would be: But there were those who did resist and resisted immediately, and were imprisoned or executed. So why did they see what was going on and act in such a way? What drove them?

But what Peterson comes up with as a solution (“We need to be better people!”) is, oddly enough, nothing really new, but oddly similar to what–as I mentioned last night–Confucius proposed, living as he did in incredibly tumultuous times in China. So take a look at this brief description of Confucius’ ideal man, the Junzi.

Perhaps the question to pose to Peterson would be to what extent his ideal person is like that of the Junzi.”


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Posted by on October 1, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Luther’s Antinomian Disputations for Dummies 1 (of 5): Natural Law

Chapter 1 of 5: Natural Law in Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations


Welcome to the LADFD series: Luther’s Antinomian Disputations for Dummies. Regarding the title of this series — and the photo above, which I had a lot fun generating — I hope you interpret it as I intend: me trying to bring a little humor to a serious issue.

I hope you find the following post — admittedly a lot of work to read all the way through! — informative, worthwhile, and done in good faith – and that you will consider checking out other parts of the series.

First, some preliminaries:

  • This is chapter 1, with proceeding chapterss coming every two days (three days over weekends). I will be posting chapters 2-4 on my own blog, and chapter 5 here as well.
  • Note that all quotations in this series are not taken from the version of the Antinomian Disputations shown at the end of this post (Only the Decalogue is Eternal, or ODE), but from the version that contains the original Latin as well (Latin learners take note!), Solus Decalogus est Aeternus, (or SDEA).


In recent years, there has been an increased interest in the topic of natural law/religion/theology in the writings of Martin Luther. The following three books pictured below are just a sampling of some of the more recent work that deals, either indirectly or more directly, with these issues:



To my knowledge, however, not much if any work has been done addressing the issue of natural law and theology in Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations. These disputations occurred during the years 1537-1540, six years before Martin Luther’s death, and in them much is said about the topic. Luther’s thoughts on this topic are somewhat complicated, but here I will attempt to systematically provide as clear a snapshot as possible of what he thinks — given the parameters of a reasonably short blog post.

For those of you already familiar with this content in the Antinomian Disputations, I invite you to scroll right to the bottom of this post to read my short concluding thoughts. Here, I try and sum up the big picture, and to relate it to contemporary theological challenges (i.e., things like the “Hypergrace” movement, and “Radical Lutheranism”).


20th c. theologian Karl Barth to natural law: Nein! (No!) 16th c. theologian Martin Luther: Ja! (Yes!) (and with appropriate nuance!…)


There is one section of the Disputations where I believe Luther brings several of his most developed thoughts together in a short two paragraphs. He responds to this argument:

It is redundant to teach the things that are known by nature. The law is known by nature. Therefore it is redundant to teach the law.

Luther’s response:

Each proposition is false, since we teach and learn the things we know. Since memory is instable even in the masterminds trained best, it is necessary that the most learned have recourse to the books themselves and learn. Indeed, they learn more than everybody else and they do so constantly, as can be seen in the greatest talents who never rest. Furthermore, the law is not known in such a way that it is not necessary to teach or admonish with it, otherwise it would not have been necessary to give the law and send Mo­ses; and we also do not know as much about the law as God wills. For who is there who ever knew how great and what an enormous evil sin itself is? Likewise, disobedience, hatred, wrath, greed, fornication, let alone the sins of the First Table? For we are so corrupted by original sin that we cannot see the magnitude of sin.

For there is our flesh, the devil, and the world who suggest differently and who obscure the law of God written in our heart. This is why it is always nec­essary here to be admonished lest we forget the mandate of God, especially since the law of God is the highest wisdom and the infinite fountain and source and spring of all virtues and disciplines towards God and men, because sin is infinite. So far no theologian or jurist has been found who could say or fully express, what great an evil lust and greed is. If there are those who truly feel sin, as David, those are truly in hell and dwell by the gates of death, as the Psalm says (18:5): “The terrors of hell found me.” (SDEA 333, italics mine)

In what follows, I offer short summary points from the two paragraphs above (note the italicized portions) and also supplement them with content from other parts of the Antinomian Disputations:

  1. Luther fully identifies the natural law, or the law that we find in the creation, with the law given in the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, to Moses.
  • God shared the Ten Commandments, given in history specifically to the Israelites, because they help us remember, “who we were before and who we will be in the future” (SDEA 321).
  • On the other hand, knowledge from the ceremonial practices and civil laws[i] given to the Israelites was not universal, but particular (SDEA 321).[ii]
  • In spite of his not having the law given at Sinai, Luther says that Abraham practiced the “love of righteousness[, which] is the highest degree of the law.” (SDEA 405)
  • “The Decalogue… is greater and better [than circumcision] because it is written in the hearts and minds of all and will remain with us even in the coming life.” (SDEA 127, 129, see also 49, italics mine)
  • Jeremiah’s “new covenant” (see Jer. 31:31,34) does not apply to the Decalogue passing away but to circumcision and other “ceremonial and judicial laws” (SDEA 215, 217).[iii]
  • “Natural law” or the “law of nature” is intrinsic to us and is objectively good, even as it may be more or less strong (see below)


“The law shows that we are not such either as the law requires or as we were before the fall.” – Luther (SDEA, 293)


  1. The law of God is written in the hearts of all, even as it is obscured by our flesh (or sinful nature), the devil, and the world.
  • We can know God’s law and not do it. In fact, we do know God’s law but don’t do it. We can also know God’s law but suppress that knowledge. Knowledge of the law is stronger in some than others.
  • In the Antinomian Disputations, Luther indicates that even though the law of God is “natural”, the suppression of this knowledge (no doubt accompanied by a real searing of the conscience), can be rather brutal, even resulting in a kind of knowledge that is often not perceived or experienced as knowledge (SDEA 115).
  • Luther even appears to suggest that human beings having the natural law is not necessarily true like “all men are mortal” is true. He mentions, for example, some men being “utterly unnatural” (SDEA 321).
  • In sum, what these first two points show is that the actual existential situation for any particular person or people are bounded by [fallen] human nature.
  • On the other hand, it is also influenced to a very large degree by the particular human activities a person or people have experienced on the ground. This leads us into our next three points.
  1. Luther does not pit the law in nature vs. our need/charge to teach, preach, and learn it.
  • Again, the written law “only was given to [the Israelites] and the law of Moses pertains to that people only.” The rest, however, have the same law written on their hearts (SDEA 217).[iv]
  • Because of original sin introduced in the Fall however, we live in sin and our corrupt and blind nature neither “sees not feels the magnitude of sin”. Man’s knowledge of the law is “very weak and obscured” and hence we need teaching.[v]
  • In fact, prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments, the law “was almost totally fallen into oblivion and obscured,” which is why it “was renewed and indeed written and handed over to a certain people insofar as it is written, but not insofar as it is spoken, since this knowledge was common to all nations, as experience itself proves” (SDEA 321).[vi]
  • Again, “[t]he law is common to all, but not all feel its force and effect. Nonetheless, whether people are converted or not, the law is still to be taught” (SDEA 111, italics mine, see SDEA 225 also).
  • He says that when the law is taught to us in words, it is rendered “better known, more conspicuous, and clearer, so that it, even by its appearance, might lash and agitate the mind” (SDEA 343).
  • The Holy Spirit is – and therefore the Church should be – relentless in using the Law in an “evangelical way,” to continue to make persons more and more fearful with the goal of them seeing their need and receiving Jesus Christ (SDEA 169-173)


“I distinguish the law. Grammatically and in a civil sense it certainly pertains to all, but understood theologically and spiritually it does not pertain to all because it terrifies very few.” – Luther (SDEA 225) (quote not from pictured book)


  1. Believers also have knowledge of the law of God that we suppress and are therefore culpable of, even as, without the preached law, the seriousness of human sin – especially as this regards our own sin – escapes us.
  • Paul’s (Saul’s!) pre-Christian conversion knowledge of the law was evidently a “surface knowledge” of sorts: he “did not know anything concerning the law, even though he was wholly in the law, taught he law, but did not know it, as it says in Romans 2 (7:9)….”
  • As a Pharisee, he was “teaching the law and yet did not know it,” in the sense of not “feel[ing] the force of the law” (SDEA 113). He thought “the law can be satisfied by works” (SDEA 355).
  • On the road to Damascus however, he is “first touched by the law and perceives the force and power of the law…” (SDEA 115, 117)
  • In like fashion, Luther asserted in his day that the church in Rome “imagined that sin is that which is against [unbiblical] human traditions, only rarely that which is against the moral law” (SDEA 355).[vii]
  • Again, “the law certainly belongs to all,” he states, “but not all have the perception of the law” (SDEA 115).
  • By preaching God’s law, “[the] veil is removed and I am shown that I sin”. We all are convicted, “not because the Decalogue was handed down and written for us, but so that we know even the laws which we brought with us into this world” (SDEA 321, italics mine).
  • To some degree, this kind of disability characterizes even pious believers in God: “It is impossible that there is a man who ever saw how great a sin it is not to fear God, not to believe in God, not to love God, to scorn the word, and not to call on God” (SDEA 343)
  • When Luther goes so far to say that “the law is neither useful or necessary for any good works” (SDEA 239), one must keep in mind that for him, it is only always the free Gospel of promise, not the coercive law, which creates the good intentions — and power — for a fear, love, and trust in God that begins to be truly righteous and holy (not one which, having a false god, is only tainted and selfish).
  • More: “Through [the law] God is efficacious and acts powerfully wherever and whenever he wills. And what is that to you, if he is efficacious?” (SDEA 115)
  1. The commands of the first table of the Decalogue are also to some degree contained in natural law.
  • Showing that empirical evidence from historical circumstances played into his thought, Luther, for example, states that “no nation was ever so cruel or barbarian or inhuman that they did not understand that God is to be worshipped… even if they erred in the way and means of worshipping God…”[viii]
  • Again, in spite of its capability of becoming greatly obscured in man, “natural law” or the “law of nature” is objectively in all “by nature” and is objectively good. All at some level know the good but do not do it (see SDEA 33 for “the good”).
  • Sin – which inevitably works itself out in everyone’s concrete thoughts, words, and deeds – is now objectively in all “by nature” due to particular historical circumstances involving our first parents.[ix] (SDEA 277)
  • Luther says that both the law and gospel, “belong to all” (SDEA 115).
  • That said, not all have the “perception” of these. Both must be continually taught (SDEA 115).
  • The Gospel must be taught or “traditioned,” i.e. “passed down”: “[E]ver since the beginning of the world has been [culpable] unbelief and ignorance of Christ, since the promise concerning the Seed of the woman was given right after the fall of Adam” (SDEA 111).[x]
  • The same holds true for the law, even as, it also remains in human beings by nature such that they are culpable of sin due to whatever knowledge they have.
  • Again, for Luther, “Divine revelation” – such as the Gen. 3:15 promise concerning the Seed of the woman who defeats the serpent and his work – is given in particular circumstances but is for all and hence should be in all through the activity of believers in history.


“…even if you were to remove these letters: L-A-W, which can be very easily deleted, the handwriting etched into our hearts, which condemns and drives us, nonetheless remains.” — Luther (SDEA 193).


That message of the Seed of the woman, by the way, is the Gospel which answers the law’s accusations against us (read Rom. 1-4, see Rom. 16:20 as well).

Finally, we are ready to sum up matters, with even more additional content from the Antinomian Disputations, in light of contemporary concerns:

Prior to the fall, man obeyed God’s commandment perfectly (SDEA 49) as he was without sin in the garden (SDEA 83) and the law was “not only….possible, but even something enjoyable” (SDEA 47). However, with the fall of Adam and Eve everything changed.

Luther argues that now, in its present state, the order in the creation is that death and sin come before life and righteousness (SDEA 37).[xi] “[I]nfected by the venom of Satan” (SDEA 277) man by his own powers – i.e. without the Gospel by which his conscience “may intend the good” – “cannot intend good” (SDEA 33).

Hence, after the fall and before the new heavens and earth, the law, sin, and death are inextricably connected (SDEA 137, 241). Therefore a “law that does not condemn is a fake and counterfeit law, like a chimera or a goat stag” (SDEA 375). Hence, it also makes sense that on earth Luther somewhat conflates the law’s “essence” with it condemning “office” (see SDEA 137).

And yet, Luther writes that “the Decalogue…is greater and better [than things like circumcision and even baptism] because it is written in the heart and minds of all and will remain with us even in the coming life….only the Decalogue is eternal – as such, that is, not as law – because in the coming life things will be like what the Decalogue has been demanding here.” (SDEA 127, 129). Later he notes that it is really Christians, who, “’do by their nature what the law requires’ (cf. Rom. 2:14)” (SDEA, 163). In this life imperfectly, and in the life to come, perfectly.[xii]

Both thoughts are connected in thesis 24 of the second set of theses, where Luther writes that “it is impossible that there be sin or that sin be understood without the law, be it written or inscribed (cf.. Rom. 2:14-15).” (SDEA 137, italics mine)

There seems to be only one logical way to read this: insofar as this inscribed law accuses the conscience in either the nonbeliever or the believer, it does so precisely because the content of the law written on our hearts can also be articulated into language that we can comprehend. In other words, it condemns because specific “shoulds” and “should nots” can be recognized and described by human beings.

Of course, as Luther said, “[To them]…who serve the law in order to be justified…it also becomes a poison and plague concerning justification” (SDEA 135). And while justification by grace through faith has always been at the heart of Lutheran theology, there are those in the church today who have built systematic theologies that give the impression of being even more so!

The problem however, is that this only appears to be the case. This is because systematic theologies like those offered by men like Gerhard Forde, for example, may give the impression that God’s law – since it is only temporalis not written into human nature such that it continues in the life to come – or even today (is this perhaps what is happening when even a very socially and theologically liberal Lutheran pastor can read someone like the Forde disciple Steve Paulson, for example, and tell me that he really likes him?).[xiii]


What does this mean?


Therefore, certain persons attracted to such theologies may be tempted by a reductionistic view of the topic of Law and Gospel (like the one Forde puts forth) to justify the proposition that understandings of God’s law should evolve. This leads, of course, to the idea that we must respect the “bound consciences” of those who both claim allegiance to Jesus Christ while simultaneously putting forward novel understandings of morality.[xiv]

And then, without sin being rightly identified, is the doctrine of justification still the doctrine of justification?

With an eye towards current debates – those in the confessional Lutheran church and beyond –  I will, over the next several days be doing four more posts unpacking content from Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations. The next one, God willing, will be at my blog theology like a child on Monday.

I hope you have found this worthwhile and will join me again!


The law does not want you to despair of God…it wills that you despair of yourself, but expect good from God…” — Luther (ODE, 195)



Images in public domain ; Dummies picture by generator here.

[update: I discovered a point in this post where I believe I was insufficiently charitable, and hence have changed what I had in the original post somewhat]


[i] Luther says that when Paul calls the law a shadow, he “chiefly talks about the ceremonial and judicial laws” (SDEA 117).

[ii] Otherwise, we would readily talk about the offerings of bulls, circumcision, and the Sabbath as we do “sins and iniquities…like disobedience, contempt of God, thefts, adulteries, impurities” (see Rom. 2:15) (SDEA 321).

[iii] Luther argues that Jeremiah’s prophetic promise of a new covenant, or agreement (Jer. 31:31,34) “is properly understood as speaking about the ceremonial and judicial law of Moses, similarly about circumcision….” The Decalogue is not included here because “The Decalogue does not belong to the law of Moses….but pertains to the entire world, [as] it is written in etched in the minds of all people from the beginning of the world” (SDEA 217).

He, very interestingly, goes on to say the following:

“Besides, if you understand it as simply referring to the Decalogue, I respond here that it is again rightly said that the law is not to be preached to the righteous, that is, the law as something to be fulfilled or not fulfilled already. For one ought not to impose or preach the law to the righteous as to be fulfilled but as fulfilled, for the righteous already have that which the law requires, namely, in Christ; this is how Paul solves this argument: “The law is not given the righteous” (1 Tim. 1:9). Likewise: “Now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (Rom. 8:1); likewise: “Christ is the end of the law” (Rom. 10:4). Thus the demand and the accusation of the law, because of what it demands, ends among the pious when Christ is present who says: “Look at me who do for them what you demand—so stop it!”

Yet this is much more serious, that it says that there will be no further ministry in the Church. What do we say to this? I answer: Christ solves this in John (6:45), when he says: “And they will all be taught by God.” The Jews had many laws, in addition to the customs of all men, which were countless already in Shiloh (1 Sam. 1:3ff.), Jerusalem and Gibeon (cf. 2 Chron. 1:3). Thus, one was sent here, the other there, running up and down, all crying, “Know the Lord! Know the Lord!” This was no different than the way it was done under the pope: the one taught that salvation was to be sought with this saint; the other taught that it was to be sought with that saint, as you know. Now Christ says: “It shall not be thus in the future, but all will know me from the smallest to the greatest.” That is to say: “I will give you such a doctrine, the one which, forsaking all other doctrines, my people follows and, however many believers there will be in the whole world, they will teach one and the same thing. For they will all be taught by God; that should work; I myself will make disciples and give the Holy Spirit, but through the Word.“

In this way he wills to be and to be established as teacher, and indeed as the only teacher in his Church. Through the Holy Spirit in the Word we will all have one and the same Christ whom we will teach one another. And there will be no more “Know the Lord, know the Lord,” because from the smallest to the greatest all will know him. However, when Christ is absent, then everybody says that the Lord is to be known differently, and so one is sent to St. James, another to Rome, another to St. Anne; everyone has his one path (cf. Is. 56:11).” (SDEA 217, 218)

[iv] “Moses was merely something like an interpreter or illustrator of the laws written in the mind of all men wherever they might be under the sun in the world.” (189 SDEA)

[v] “…for humankind, because we are not only conceived and born in sin and live in it, but the corruption and blindness of human nature is also so great that it neither sees nor feels the magnitude of sin. To be sure, all men by nature have some knowledge of the law, yet it is very weak and obscured. Therefore it was, and always is, necessary to teach men this knowledge of the law, that they might recognize the greatness of their sin, of God’s wrath, etc.” (SDEA 43)

[vi] He goes on to say:

“…For if this were not the case, we would now disregard it, if the law said: “You do not believe in God; you do not fear God; you abuse his name,” just as we already disregard it, if it is said sometimes: “You are not circumcised, you do no bring a bull, a calf, sheep.” For when I hear these, I am not moved and am not horrified and consider them to be a play and joke. But when it says: “You disbelieve God, you do not believe God, you do not fear God, you are a fornicator, adulterer, disobedi­ent,” and whatever is such, here I am at once horrified and fear and feel in the heart that I certainly owe this to God; not because the Decalogue was handed down and written for us, but so that we know even the laws which we brought with us into this world. And by this preaching at once the veil is removed and I am shown that I sin.

For even though the Decalogue was given in a unique way and place and with ostentation, all nations confess impiety, disobedience, contempt of God, thefts, adulteries, impurities to be sins and iniquities, as Paul writes in Romans 2(:15): “Excusing and accusing one another.” They are therefore natural laws, not political or Mosaic ones, otherwise we would immediately talk about these like those about offering of bulls, circumcision, and Sabbath. But God does not want us to do this. But when the precept, “You shall not steal,” is heard, we right away become silent, and we might be much more silent than fish.”

Importantly, he says elsewhere:

“These most destructive beasts, security and presumption, are so great that they cannot be sufficiently upset and crushed; whatever you do against them, you nonetheless accomplish hardly anything. To such a degree our entire nature is corrupted and immersed in original sin, just as if a good and faithful doctor should have a harsh and violent patient who, even though he lies in a grave illness, nonetheless despises and ridicules every medicine, and even throws it at the doctor’s head. Here I ask: What else should the good doctor do than to debilitate him with medicines, so that finally not even his hands or feet are able to do anything? So God the Father—when he saw that we are held captive by the devil in this way—so that we would not later forget also those laws which he had before written in our hearts by his finger, was forced to give a certain Moses, who also by written laws would shake up our mind and senses, so that we, touched by the feeling and power of the law, finally might learn to beg for help and aid” (151).


“But later, since men finally arrived at a point where they cared neither for God nor for men, God was forced to renew those laws through Moses and, written by his own finger on tablets, to place them before our eyes so that we might be reminded of what we were before Adam’s fall and of what we shall be in Christ one day. Thus, Moses was merely something like an interpreter or illustrator of the laws written in the mind of all men wherever they might be under the sun in the world.” (SDEA 189)

[vii] More: “the hypocrites look upon the veiled face of Moses, since they do not see that the law is spiritual and think that the law can be satisfied by works, as Paul also held before his conversion, as did the people of Gomorrah who killed prophets and never had a sense of the law or a true no­tion thereof” (SDEA 355).

[viii] Fuller quote:

“For no nation under the sun was ever so cruel or barbarian and inhuman that they did not understand that God is to be worshiped, loved, and that praises should be give to his name—even if they erred in the way and means of worshiping God. The same is true concerning the honor and obedience toward parents and superiors. Likewise, vices have been shunned, as it can be seen in the first chapter to the Romans.” (SDEA 187, 189)

Elsewhere, he even goes so far to say: “For if God had never given the law by Moses, the human mind nonetheless by nature would have had the idea that God is to be worshiped and the neighbor is to be loved” (SDEA 61).

The 20th century, of course, at least suggests otherwise. Luther may have underestimated the degree to which sinful men can suppress their knowledge of the law, not being able to recognize their sin (Psalm 36:2), calling good evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20), having no fear of God (Psalm 36:1), asserting there is no God (Psalm 11).

[ix] “To be sure, the law had not been given or written down at [the time of Abraham]. He nonetheless had the law of nature written in his heart, as all men have (Rom. 2:15). It is therefore not to be doubted concerning the patriarchs that they taught that which is contained in the Decalogue, before the law was revealed from heaven on Sinai, and that that teaching flowed to their posterity. They diligently impressed on their families the impiety and malice of those who existed before the Flood and later became extinct because of them, and dissuaded them from idolatry and other sins lest they too might perish. This is why they were not without teaching, even if it was only put in their hearts by nature. Later, after the law had been given, the public ministry was instituted to teach it” (109, italics mine).

[x] He also states on the same page: “this sin of unbelief and ignorance of Christ has been made known throughout the entire world by the public ministry, which during the earlier times of the fathers hid itself in small corners and among their posterity….ever since the beginning of the world has been unbelief and ignorance of Christ, since the promise concerning the Seed of the woman was given right after the fall of Adam” (SDEA 111).

[xi] “…sin, death, and God’s wrath, is inborn and known to us on account of our first parents. The other, namely, grace, forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and life, to be sure, is begun in us through the good work of Christ, but it is not completed. Yet it will be completed manifestly when we will be raised on that day, when the body will be utterly cleansed from all sins and will be like the glorious body of Christ our Head” (SDEA 43, italics mine).

[xii] In the forward of these disputations translated by Pastor Holger Sonntag, Pastor Paul Strawn (my pastor) notes that the phrase “only the Decalogue is eternal” “casts light on the eschatological validity of the moral law frequently emphasized by Luther in the disputations at hand” (SDEA 7)

[xiii] Please note that this is not an argument or an accusation, but a statement made, like my last post, to prompt reflection and introspection. Should we not ask why charismatic and rhetorically gifted theologians are often able to win praise from more liberal and more conservative quarters while wonderful, brilliant, and godly men like Kurt Marquart, for example, might only be read by an ELCA theologian after the LC-MS theocracy has been established (just kidding!)? For his part, Paulson — who, to the best of my knowledge, does not talk about many of the points in this post — spoke at the LC-MS theological seminary in Fort Wayne and received a standing ovation for a speech talking about some of the themes from his book about Lutheranism. As a friend put it “For a guy with such heterodox understandings, he’s really got Confessional Lutherans’ number.” See here for a piercing theological critique of Steve Paulson’s book from Dr. Eric Phillips.

[xiv] Note that never in these disputations (or anywhere else) does Luther give any indication that this moral law or our understanding of it should change, adapt, or evolve, on earth or in heaven. There is no indication whatsoever that we should alter “the good” man knows.



Posted by on August 4, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Intelligent Public Discourse on Transgenderism – Able to Moderate the Current “Bathroom Battle”?

Are there limits to our interpretations of reality or to what our imaginations can construct and build?

Are there limits to our interpretations of reality or to what our imaginations can construct and build?


If you are a serious Christian – or even if you aren’t – and you feel like you could use a good primer on the issues transgenderism presents, I wrote this article for you. And… I even revised my initial draft with the help of this article by David Blankenhorn about being an effective de-polarizer (learned about it here). We’ll see if it works. : )

One can rest assured that most traditional Christians think that the new progressive (will refrain from putting that in scare quotes!) demands regarding “bathroom laws” are both a bad and unnecessary idea, even if they don’t speak out about it.

And why might they not raise their voices?

When even professors from Harvard University now suggest treating conservative Christians, the losers in the culture wars, the way that America treated Germany and the Japanese after World War II, one might begin to understand such unwillingness on the part of some (others might have other reasons as well). On the other hand, Christians can always hope and pray that some of our other liberal friends will take the tack of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof instead. In any case, we who just celebrated Ascension Day are confident that Jesus reigns already, even as “at present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him”, as the author of the book of Hebrews (2:8) put it.

On to the specific issue at hand.

Some Christians, like Aaron Wolf for example, make a case that making an effort to win this battle is a losing cause. As Wolf puts it, “When we as a society accepted the notion of transgenderism itself, we lost the bathroom battle”. Based on what I have read, I am not sure that is right and want to lay out some of the more interesting content that I have found on the very helpful website Public Discourse, which

is an online publication of the Witherspoon Institute that seeks to enhance the public understanding of the moral foundations of free societies by making the scholarship of the fellows and affiliated scholars of the Institute available and accessible to a general audience.

What follow, therefore, are clips from a few of the articles on the website dealing with transgenderism that I found particularly helpful and interesting. I’ve divided the concerns into a few main categories.

I. What can account for the transgender inclinations some persons experience?

Gregory Brown writes in his article, “Conservatives and Transgenderism: A Response to Jennifer Gruenke” (see Gruenke’s Public Discourse piece here) the following:

I welcome Jennifer Gruenke’s recent essay in Public Discourse, wherein she describes the rare intersex condition “from a biological point of view” and argues that, given the scientific facts surrounding many of these cases, conservatives should take a more tempered approach toward transgenderism. As long as other possible explanations of gender dysphoria are ruled out, she argues, conservatives should give transgender people the benefit of the doubt and take their introspective reports at their word. Because there is a plausible genetic account of transgenderism, conservatives should assume that the transgender person’s professed divergence between bodily sex and reported gender is a result of some variety of intersex condition.

Unfortunately, I do not find Gruenke’s case convincing…

This account of sex.. has much in common with the account of sex identity that Christopher Tollefsen recently introduced at Public Discourse. Because human beings reproduce sexually, human beings are either male or female in the typical case, and their sex corresponds with the function that their reproductive organs can play in coitus. There is no other principled way for picking out the sexes.

As Tollefsen argues, sex being so defined, it is not even possible to change one’s sex, and attempts to do so will mutilate otherwise functional organs. So long as the practice of medicine is correctly understood as the practice of restoring human bodies to their proper functioning, gender-reassignment surgeries will fall outside the domain of medicine. The conservative can happily grant Gruenke’s biological account, for the sake of argument if not because it is true—there is a fair bit of disagreement over the science and how best to interpret it, after all. But Gruenke’s account, in what it presupposes, offers only reasons to accept Tollefsen’s argument, while offering nothing to resist his conclusion…”

To another of Gruenke’s objections, Brown writes:

“It would be silly to doubt the honesty of an anorexic person; though we think there is something wrong with her introspective report, we do not doubt that there is something behind it, that she makes it for some reason. The anorexic person might have brain chemistry similar to that of someone who is overweight. In fact, the chemical imbalance might be a result of some heritable mutation, shared by one’s identical twin. But an anorexic person’s introspective report is nevertheless incorrect.”

Consider reading the whole thing.

II. Concerns about the mental health – and lives – of the transgender community

Walt Heyer, in his article “The Danish Girl: People Aren’t Born Transgender, But Playing Dress-Up Can Spark Psychological Problems”, writes the following:

The usual diagnosis for patients who identify as transgender is “gender dysphoria.” According to the DSM-5 (the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), gender dysphoria is characterized by a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and one’s biological sex, lasting at least six months. Although it isn’t talked about much, studies show a majority of transgender patients suffer from other comorbid (co-existing) disorders.

A 2011 survey found that 41 percent of transgender people reported attempting suicide at least once. Unhappiness and suicides were first reported in 1979 by a doctor at Harry Benjamin’s gender clinic, endocrinologist Dr. Charles Ihlenfeld. After six years administering cross-gender hormone therapy to five hundred transgender patients, Dr. Ihlenfeld said that 80 percent of the people who want sex-reassignment surgery should not have it. The reason? The high rates of suicide among the post-operative transgender population. More startlingly, Dr. Ihlenfeld stated that transgender surgery was never intended to be a life-long treatment solution, but only a temporary reprieve.

In another article titled “50 Years of Sex Changes, Mental Disorders, and Too Many Suicides”, Heyer writes…

… Charles Ihlenfeld administered hormone therapy to some 500 transgender people over a period of six years at Benjamin’s clinic—until he became concerned about the outcomes. “There is too much unhappiness among people who have the surgery,” he said. “Too many of them end as suicides. 80% who want to change their sex shouldn’t do it.” But even for the 20% he thought might be good candidates for it, sex change is by no means a solution to life’s problems. He thinks of it more as a kind of reprieve. “It buys maybe 10 or 15 years of a happier life,” he said, “and it’s worth it for that.”

But then, Ihlenfeld himself never had a sex change. I did, and I disagree with him on that last point: The reprieve is not worth it. After I had a reprieve of seven or eight years, then what? I was worse off than before. I looked like a woman—my legal documents identified me as a woman—yet I found that at the end of the “reprieve” I wanted to be a man every bit as passionately as I had once yearned to be a woman. Recovery was difficult

…two powerful and influential doctors were early pioneers in the treatment of transsexualism. Dr. Ihlenfeld is a homosexual psychiatrist; Dr. Paul McHugh is a heterosexual psychiatrist. Both came to the same conclusion, then and now: Having surgery did not resolve the patients’ psychological issues.

… A 2014 study found 62.7% of patients diagnosed with gender dysphoria had at least one co-occurring disorder, and 33% were found to have major depressive disorders, which are linked to suicide ideation. Another 2014 study of four European countries found that almost 70% of participants showed one or more Axis I disorders, mainly affective (mood) disorders and anxiety.

Again, suicide rates of this group are very high:

… Transgender people report attempting suicide at a staggering rate—above 40%. According to, 90% of all suicides are the result of untreated mental disorders. Over 60% (and possibly up to 90% as shown at Case Western) of transgender people have comorbid psychiatric disorders, which often go wholly untreated.

His conclusion is devastating:

Allowing a political agenda to override and silence the scientific process will not prevent suicides or lead to better treatments for this population. It’s not compassion; it’s reckless disregard for people’s lives.

Also in this article, Heyer links to a piece that Paul McHugh, mentioned above, wrote about these issues in the magazine First Things. In the article, titled “Surgical Sex: Why We Stopped Doing Sex-Change Operations”, he concluded as follows:

I have witnessed a great deal of damage from sex-reassignment. The children transformed from their male constitution into female roles suffered prolonged distress and misery as they sensed their natural attitudes. Their parents usually lived with guilt over their decisions—second-guessing themselves and somewhat ashamed of the fabrication, both surgical and social, they had imposed on their sons. As for the adults who came to us claiming to have discovered their “true” sexual identity and to have heard about sex-change operations, we psychiatrists have been distracted from studying the causes and natures of their mental misdirections by preparing them for surgery and for a life in the other sex. We have wasted scientific and technical resources and damaged our professional credibility by collaborating with madness rather than trying to study, cure, and ultimately prevent it.

III. Concerns about the encroachment of these issues into the lives of children

In her article, Transgenderism Has No Basis in Science or Law, Margaret A. Hagen writes:

While no one is yet publicly advocating the surgical alteration of children, loud voices in the media and among advocates—even at Boston Children’s Hospital—have called for and have even implemented hormone therapy to delay the onset of children’s puberty in order to facilitate gonadectomy later in their teens or young adulthood. Research on the sexual development of children who at some point are seen to be nonconformist shows that more than 80 percent of such children outgrow their “transgenderism” by the end of their teens. Interference with the normal sexual development of children on the basis of political ideology is not just unethical—it is child abuse. It is not only past time for an extensive public discussion of this practice; it is past time to put an end to it.

In light of this, might progressives better understand the position taken by the state of North Carolina namely that of “allow[ing] accommodations based on special circumstances, including but not limited to transgender individuals”? I thought “hard cases ma[d]e bad law”.

Another very interesting point in this article (not related to children) is the following:

The conviction that one is a “one-limbed person trapped in a multi-limbed body” is now being treated as an actual mental disorder called “Body Integrity Identity Disorder.” Seven such patients are reported as having had an arm or a leg electively amputated as “treatment” for this disorder. Immediate post-operative reports seem to be positive, but what about follow-up reports on life as a voluntary amputee ten and twenty years after the surgery? How about an extensive social discussion of the ethical limits of elective amputation—both for the doctors and for the society at large?

Some other good articles at Public Discourse you might want to check out include the following:

An African-American Woman Reflects on the Transgender Movement by Nuriddeen Knight

Is Christian Teaching on Sexuality Psychologically Harmful? by Andrew T. Walker and Glenn Stanton

Sex Identity by Christopher O. Tollefsen

Gender Identity by Christopher O. Tollefsen

“Sex Change” Surgery: What Bruce Jenner, Diane Sawyer, and You Should Know by Walt Heyer

When My Father Told Me He Wanted to Be a Woman by Denise Shick

The Girl in the Tuxedo: Two Variations on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity by Jean C. Lloyd

Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme by Paul McHugh

The Absurdity of Transgenderism: A Stern but Necessary Critique by Carlos D. Flores

Our Great Sexual Adventure: Where Does It End? by Jeremy Neill

The End of Single-Sex Higher Ed by Kelsey Paff

Freedom to Change Your Life: Why the Government Shouldn’t Ban “Reparative Therapy” by Walt Heyer

North Carolina’s Bathroom Bill and the Constitution by E. Gregory Wallace

And one of my favorites: The New Dignity: Gnostic, Elitist, Self-Destructive Will-to-Power by Roberta Green Ahmanson

My conclusion is that we do not need to deny that there may very well a biological component to transgenderism. In any regard, I think based on what was said above, it makes sense to be opposed to progressive bathroom laws for reasons other than concerns about enabling male predators, as Wolf also points out. There is also a good case to be made that the government should not give the impression that transgenderism is a good thing. In any case, I think it is certainly right for us to have compassion for those who deal with these issues, while at the same time remembering that “hard cases make bad law”, as many in the legal profession put it.

Of course, for the Christian, there is a wider concern about what all of this means in the big picture. First, there are the concerns that are raised, and second, there is, in light of this knowledge, the hope that we gain. Here, Scripture can give us the clue that even much that seems to occur according to nature has to do with the Fall into sin, and this presents us with the opportunity to talk about the promise of the God-Man Jesus Christ. Christ and His redemption help us to address the nagging sense we all have that the world is not the way it is supposed to be – He saves us not only from our sins (and death and the devil), but also the effects of the sin which manifests itself differently from person to person (more on that here).





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Posted by on May 10, 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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“Who’s Afraid of Relativism?” – and Professor James K.A. Smith? (part II of III)

whosafraidofrelativism2…jumping right in from my previous post (and here is the intro from the Just and Sinner blog)

c) highlighting some things I do not think are helpful or raise questions

1. Does sinful man in some sense know God and right and wrong?: Two of the main influences shaping the modern West were the decline of the Roman Catholic church and philosopher Rene Descartes’s radical skepticism which called all authoritative tradition into question. With Descartes, evidence comes to reside primarily in the mind of the rational individual – who decides what counts and what is convincing – as opposed to being something that is “inherent on the side of the world”.[i]

Theology followed suit. And so, in the 20th and 21st century, James K.A. Smith, like Karl Barth and pretty much everyone associated with or somewhat friendly to liberal theology (even the “conservative” Radical Orthodoxy movement) has intractable problems with the first two chapters of Romans. The Apostle Paul teaches, in line with everything that we know about very young children by the way (see here, for example), that sinful man in some sense knows God by the things that have been made (Rom. 1:19-21) – and also knows what is right and wrong (Rom. 1:32, 2:14-15) – but suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (see here and here and here for more in depth reflections on this). This does not mean human beings, on their own, are capable of achieving the knowledge that is eternal life – and with that proper fear, love, and trust in the Triune God (see 110) – but it does mean that they are culpable for their sin. Despite the fact that Romans explicitly says God has made this clear to humankind, in Smith’s account any real knowledge is denied and any real culpability of man is either downplayed or goes unmentioned (for his comments about natural law, see 112 fn 49, 170, 173 fn 28).

Important here is that while the Bible certainly talks about the blindness of sin that affects all men, it also indicates that things can get much worse: we really can flatter ourselves too much to detect or hate our sin, call good “evil” and evil “good”, and even have the nerve to assert that there is no God.

That said, I don’t think that these realities necessarily should necessarily mean “turning up the heat” on the unbeliever on our part. In fact, I greatly appreciate Smith’s sensitive way of introducing folks to God’s law as well as his “soft apologetics” approach (see Proverbs 25:15, for example). In this sense, what he is doing is a lot like what Blaise Pascal did.


That said, if “harder” approaches – something I think should be in the church’s toolkit because they actually often help support the “soft” approach (see John 16:8 and Acts 17:30-31, for example) – are “out of bounds”, thought to be rarely if ever appropriate, chances are the rest of this review will not be appreciated.

2. Real second thoughts about Christians adopting pragmatism – and its consequences?: One might think that the fact that most every American – among the common man and the elites – is basically a pragmatist might be a good reason for resisting or questioning it. Also because of the fact that most intellectual pragmatists (and I think that many perhaps do not realize how the label really does fit them) – whether they be more on the “left” or “right” – cannot affirm anything which consists of a stable essence immune to change or turning – other than things like the laws of nature or basic physical particles, that is. And so with pragmatism, even the most socially conservative of secularists cannot affirm, in the end, any rationale higher than the “human dignity of autonomous choice” (see, for example, the comments made about George Will here).

Martin Noland, on historicism: “all classical notions of ‘substance’ and ‘essence’ become obsolete” and “even the notion of ‘truth’ becomes subject to change.”

Martin Noland, on historicism: “all classical notions of ‘substance’ and ‘essence’ become obsolete” and “even the notion of ‘truth’ becomes subject to change.” (more here)

Over the past 200 years what we can call the historicist worldview, set loose by the arch anti-Cartesian Vico, has set the tempo for the intellectual world (see the work of Hans Gumbrecht in this regard – this talk is a good place to start; also Martin Noland’s 1996 PhD dissertation [see here for a summary], Harnack’s historicism: the genesis, development, and institutionalization of historicism and its expression in the thought of Adolf Von Harnack). Both Hegel and Darwin fit their own influential worldviews into historicism, and with that, “there is no phenomenon in time that can resist change.”[ii] In fact, I would argue that any theologian who wants to be academically respectable today – even in many Christian circles – needs to bend towards either or both of these narratives to one degree or another.[iii]

In his book, Smith argues that Richard Rorty is a man who is clearly concerned about moral standards (without claiming they are “objective”) and that we cannot insist his pragmatism / relativism must intellectually lead to atheism (21-23; see 98 also). On the other hand, one of Smith’s reviewers says that we need to insist on the ideal of an Absolute Truth – towards which we are all striving – to effectively counter the acidic effects of relativism. To this effect, he even quotes one of the founders of pragmatism, William James (“the founder” would be “America’s Aristotle”, Charles Sanders Peirce), who said “we imagine that all our temporary truths will someday converge” in “[t]he ‘absolutely’ true”. This is the “ideal vanishing point” that “no further experience will ever alter” (Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, Lecture VI, 1907).

But what ultimately happens to truth in the pragmatist view? I submit that man will tend to think that – unless checked by other strongly held convictions – what is true and what “works” – or what we convince ourselves works in the more or less “long term”! – become synonymous. And yet, it seems that there is an assumption that philosophical realism can, must, and will (if it is enacted, taught) stem this relativist tide (for example, one might think a modern philosophy like reliabilism could do the trick).

The problem with this however – not noted by Smith or any of his reviewers – is that there certainly exists forms of philosophical and moral realism – where our “beliefs… ‘correspond[]’ to an ‘objective’ reality” (see 22) where everything, under the surface, is nevertheless in flux. These philosophers, seemingly without exception, believe that the essence of human beings, for example, is gradually changing and able to be changed (by us now to) – and with this, the morality of human beings is changing as well (see here and here for more). Rebecca Goldstein’s work “Plato at the Googleplex”, where she upholds “objective” reality and morality (it’s all objective but its changing), is a good example of this. For her and those like her, this does not mean that there is no “Absolute Truth” – only that what is really absolute can be reduced to things like the most basic particles, nature’s laws, and perhaps, simply, impersonal mathematics. Here, the “Good, True, and Beautiful” are subsumed in “the Best”, which, when it really comes down to brass tacks, is all about “how to”/”know how” for the Elites who can grasp it… “get it” (see here for more). For these “new men”, ever evolving, it seems that effective technocratic power – perhaps even with a spiritual aspect (why not at this point, after the nasty theisms are so weak and discredited they can’t possibly recover?) – is all that is left.

Francis Bacon.

Francis Bacon.

Francis Bacon said that

“ establish and extend the power and dominion of the human race itself over the universe… depends wholly on the arts and sciences… For we cannot command nature except by obeying her… Truth, therefore, and utility are here perfectly identical.

If Bacon was limiting the applicability of this pragmatic approach – where all knowledge is reduced by technique – by the use of the word “here” in this sentence, I suggest that others – being written against in this N.Y. Times editorial – have let the “here” drop out, and that this in fact can fully explain and make “sensible” their view. Perhaps the “fact-value split[ter]” David Hume would not have been proud, but he should have hardly been surprised.

Tomorrow, in part III [update: here it is]: presenting an alternative model that takes the best of what Smith has to offer into account




[i] The Shulman Lectures, “All that Matters is Invisible: How Latency Dominates our Present”

[ii] ibid.

[iii] As my pastor has noted of Erlangen theology, which is basically the conservative form of Lutheran theology in Germany:

“…the theologian in academia has two challenges: 1) To teach that which he should; 2) To be taken as intellectually viable. Since the enlightenment, the latter has trumped the former. The Erlangen school is appealing, for while rejecting divine inspiration, it accepts Scripture as a type of God’s Word; while rejecting the knowability of history, it accepts the events described within Scripture as a witness of the church to normative events; while rejecting a quia subscription to the confessions, it accepts the confessional nature of the church; while rejecting a standard hermeneutic of biblical interpretation, it accepts the idea that the church should be the one to interpret Scripture…In short, what Erlangen theologians attempt to do is to maintain some sort of Lutheran theology, based on what the modern intellectual community takes to be fact, or reality.” (read more here)

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Posted by on October 15, 2015 in Uncategorized


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“Please Mr. CTCR – [do your part to] get the Word of God into our consciences”


The fool asserts “there is no God”.  Even pagans who aren’t too far gone recognize that.

Perhaps the new CTCR* document from the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, titled The Natural Knowledge of God in Christian Confession &  Christian Witness (find it here) should have just said that and stopped.

The thing is – it did not even say that.  Where the Scriptures inform us that evil men can grow more evil – where they, for example, assert that there is no God ; or call evil good and good evil ; or are not even able to detect their sin – we as a church have evidently become far less aware of this knowledge.


The document features a battery of Luther (and Melanchton) quotes (see pp. 46 and 47 in particular), but it did not include these selections from the recently translated but largely ignored Antinomian theses of Martin Luther (see here and here ; order it here):

“The law in general is… given… for all of humanity; indeed because many laws that are useful for this life are also given, written together with the Decalogue, and are written on the hearts of all men, unless they are utterly unnatural, ever since the birth or creation of man, together with Adam.  But because man is fallen into sin and since gradually men fell away and turned away from God more and more, and , disregarded by God, became worse, until it [sc. The law] is almost totally fallen into oblivion and obscured, God was forced again to give us an end, lest we forgot totally his law, so that we would at least remember who we were before and who we will be in the future… when it says ‘You disobey God, you do not believe in God, you do not fear God; you are a faithless adulterer, disobedient,” and whatever is such, here I am at once horrified and fear and feel in the heart that I certainly owe this God; not because the Decalogue was handed down and written for us, but so that we know even the laws which we brought with us into this world.  And by this preaching at once the veil is removed and I am shown that I sin… as the people of Gomorrah who killed prophets and never had a sense of the law or a true notion thereof…”  Four hundred years before there was a law’ (Gal. 3:17) must be understood of the written or Mosaic law.  For otherwise the law is born with us” (bold mine, translations above from “The Third Disputation Against the Antinomians”, Preface, translated by Pastor Paul Strawn and Pastor Holger Sonntag. 2007)

…Let those words sink in.  For Luther at least, it almost seems as if – sometimes at least – the “natural law” cannot be imagined to exist apart from the presence of God’s word and believers in the world.  On the other hand, in the CTCR document there is no nod towards Luther’s kinds of nuance.  Rather, “for the ordering of life in the civil realm… appeals to Scripture… are not, strictly speaking, necessary” (p. 47).  Interestingly, Pastor William Weedon, discussing a conversation with Bryan Wolfmueller, makes points that would be compatible with Luther’s above.  It seems to me that both Bryan Wolfmueller and Dr. J. Budziszewski, in Issues ETC. interviews, have also made points about “seared consciences” and the like that would also jive with Luther’s.


I wanted to like this CTCR document.  After reading parts I-III – and learning some good stuff along the way – I still had some real hope.  But part IV – Natural Knowledge and Christian Witness – did not deliver.

I can’t shake the conviction that the real question is this: as persons grow more evil – more against those things revealed in the Word of God – is Divine revelation more or less necessary?  What, in general can we say about this?**


The western world, historically “under the [Christian] influence” is increasingly less so.  The elites in our culture who rule are going, going….  So much so in fact that when President Harrison says [to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee] “Please Mr. Chairman, get the federal government out of our conscience”, we embrace the rhetoric but do not think about it critically: in general, should we not want the federal government in our consciences – upholding what is good for all in our temporal lives (Rom. 13) – when it comes to the civil realm?

The document ends with Philippians 2:9-11, encouraging us all to proclaim

“the name that is above every name,that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”


Amen to that, but let me tell you what I am thinking.  That statement from the Apostle Paul can be taken as Law or Gospel.  Given what Paul says in Acts 17:26-31 it seems to me that any and all who reject the words spoken of here are “without excuse” as well.  It is not the word of the Anonymous God they should fear but the word of the risen Christ.  Look what is said about the Holy Spirit’s conviction in John 16:8-11, which used to be a “staple passage” among Lutherans:

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.


Today we even have people who claim to follow Christ but who, for example, embrace homosexual behavior – and many of these certainly would not reject all notions of the natural knowledge of God or natural law (go to the bound conscience image above and link to the paper).  To say that pagan influence in the Church itself is increasing would be make a gross understatement.  Why am I wrong to think that we somehow need to bring back – albeit perhaps somewhat rehabilitated and updated – the kind of Jesus Christ Luther had some real awareness of?



*Commission of Theology and Church relations

**Another related question: is the church in any way to be ruled by the Gospel alone? (see p. 45, see this post here).  As is often the case with theological reasoning, it is not so much that anything the CTCR says is wrong.  It is rather what is left unsaid – and the context in which the discussion is held.


Posted by on July 16, 2013 in Uncategorized


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What to expect from natural law

what-to-expect-when-no-ones-expectingEvidently, not much – that is, if you are hoping that people will agree with Christians about what is right and wrong.  Surely we can’t insist that all children have a “right” to life.  And surely they don’t really want (and need?) both mommies and daddies!  No, not at all.  Simple “biology” just doesn’t seem to cut it these days, much less St. Thomas.

A comment left by a well-known writer left on Rod Dreher’s blog  (also see his post “Secularism needs natural law” and the post “What if Christianity itself is secular?” as well):

Frederica Mathewes-green says:

“People who reject lifestyle liberalism are either wicked or stupid” — yes, exactly. I ran into this in the 90s when I was writing and speaking primarily about a feminist argument against abortion. I met everywhere a belief that all pro-lifers were anti-sex and their deepest motive was to stop women from having careers. When I’d show up and not say what they expected, I was seen as evilly trying to disguise my true motives, making me twice as bad as ordinary oppressive pro-lifers. I think the perception that all pro-lifers are “evil and stupid”, combined with my undeniable pro-life papertrail, is the main reason I wasn’t able to cross over from writing for conservative / Christian publications to the mainstream. (I’d do the same again in a heartbeat, though.)

If history serves, what will happen next is what happened to pro-life advocates: we were silenced. Instead of seeing one of each side on a talk show, there will be two of the winning side. Those who advocated traditional views will just disappear from the stage.

In the case of abortion there appears to be a surprise next act coming, as (against all odds) the younger generations are increasingly pro-life and see this as a basic justice issue rather than women’s rights. Not conservative on any other issue, but seeing this one at last in terms of human rights. I don’t expect that with the marriage issue, but in times the undeniable biological fact of heterosexual marriage will bob up to awareness. Gay couples can do whatever they want (I am not trying to stop gay marriage) but there is just a primeval reality to heterosexual marriage, and it will eventually be seen. Wont stop any gay marriages, but will just dawn on people that there is an ineradicable difference. Nothing anyone can do to hasten the moment.

That last paragraph sums up my best guess of where we are going and what will happen, especially with realities like this on the horizon… (see a short interview with the author here).

Reality always bounces back.  Unless Jesus saves us from this chaos first.


UPDATE: Just realized I did a series on natural law – as it regards man’s knowledge of God at least – about 3 years ago.  The first part is here.

More of Jonathan Last on his book:

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Posted by on February 28, 2013 in Uncategorized


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