-Wir sein pettler. Hoc est verum.--"We are beggars. This is true."--Martin Luther-

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I Desire To Be an Orange...I Desire To Be an Orange...I Desire To Be an Orange.

Pelagius believed that the term "free will," "suggests that the will has equal powers in either direction, whether it wishes to strive for evil or for good. For if without the help of God the will were only free to do evil only, it would falsely be called free."1 Is this really a fair assessment of what the will is? One's equal ability to take one path over another, whatever those paths may be?

Luther and Chemnitz believed that the will was not some individual part of man separated from, say, his mind, heart, emotions, etc., but rather, that it was the accumulation of the entire person. This makes perfect sense from our own experience. When we have two roads ahead of us we are influenced by our reason, our hearts, our past experiences, and even the chemical makeup of our brains. The point being, that the will is not some autonomous capacity in man that stands above all of these factors and makes its judgements about what it is going to do.

The concept that the will is only free if it can with "equal powers" choose one side or another is absurd. There are things, many of which we have no control over, that influence how we make decisions. An abused child, whether he/she likes it or not, will probably have a hard time loving and entrusting themselves to their future spouses. Does this mean they do not have free will?

Martin Chemnitz writes that, "We call free will the human powers or faculties in mind, heart, and will, namely when the human mind can understand, consider, and evaluate something that is presented or proposed."2 Simply put, the will is the capacity of man to look at his choices and to use his mind, heart, and will, to decide his/her future path; it is the ability to make choices. Now the question must be asked, do the "external" factors, such as feelings, emotions, reason, past experiences, chemical makeup of our brain, etc., mean that we do not have a free will?

It becomes a question of, are we going to define free will as the ability to make choices, or the ability to have "equal powers" to choose one path over another? I think Pelagius would be very depressed if he lived in our day and age. We have all around us talk from the scientific and philosophic communities, asking if we are just the makeup of nerve signals going off in our brain, or if we are just the product of genetic transference and external stimulant influence, or chemical reactions in our brain. To a certain extent, theological talk transcends these existential questions, in that we find our definition in Christ, not our biological being. But these things certainly shed light on the naivety of demanding "equal power" in our ability to choose one path above another.

In fact, though, it is more than naivety, it is really a matter of arrogance. St. Jerome, who we commemorate today in the liturgical calendar, writes, "What the Latin calls 'free will' the Greeks call autexousia or autexousion. In the context of this weakness of nature, it is quite a arrogant term for it means man's power over himself, which is not subject to any command and which can be stopped or hindered by no one. It is an arrogant term, I say, since Paul complains even about the regenerate, who are led by the Spirit of God, 'The evil which I would not, that I do.' (Rom. 7:19)."3 This term is made up of two Greek words, the first, autos, which means "self" or "of one's self." The second word being exousia, which implies ability, capacity, liberty, and mastery over. As Jerome states it means a man's power over himself, not subject to any "external" factors. This s exactly how Pelagius defined free will.

As we have shown, this idea of having mastery over one's self, the equal ability to turn one way or another, independent of external forces, is a fallacy, even in the completely secular sense. We know enough about how the mind works, the role of genetics, one's reasoning, one's past experiences, and one's emotions, to know that one's will is certainly not free in the sense that with "equal powers" we are able to direct our path in "either direction."

We must therefore make a distinction between the capacity to choose, that is, to make choices, and what we are capable of making choices about.

As Lutherans we have an even greater reason to say why the unregenerate will is not capable of making decisions in spiritual matters. I could obviously list dozens of verses from Scripture, not to mention from the Confessions, but that will be unnecessary. We know that the unregenerate man is completely dead in his sins, that he contains no spark that can orientate him towards true good.

This is not, properly speaking, a limitation in our will, but a limitation in our nature. This is important to note. Our entire natures are in rebellion against the things of God, and the unregenerate actually hate God. To ask the will, which we have already noted is the accumulation of our whole person, to love God with all its heart, soul, mind, and strength, is an impossible task. To ask the whole person--heart, soul, mind, and strength--whose whole person is in rebellion against God, to love him is an impossibility. This is not a limitation of the will, properly speaking, but a limitation of the complete man who is completely in opposition to God.

Therefore Augustine, in response to Pelagius' desire to maintain his free will, will write: "Surely, you are acting of your own free will without God's help, but you are doing evil."4 This is because Pelagius asks of his will to do something it cannot accomplish. It is as if I were to say: "I desire to be an orange...I desire to be an orange...I desire to be an orange." Just because I am not able, through sheer willpower, to become an orange, does not mean I do not have free will. I am rather asking of my will to do something that it cannot do.

The arrogance of Pelagius is the same arrogance we see in ourselves, and in our first parents. It is the arrogance of desiring to establish our relationship with God on our own terms; to justify why we have a right to live in communion with God.

God desires to reestablish our relationship with him in the same way he created his relationship with our first parents, that is through his Word. As Christ tells us, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every Word going out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4; Deut. 8:3). Robert Kolb writes: "Restoration to a proper, righteous relationship with God takes place through the action of God in His Word, through its re-creative power."5 Our first parents' rejection of the Word of God brought spiritual death to all mankind. To literally re-create our original relationship with God would be to re-establish the relationship where we live "on every Word going out of the mouth of God." This is accomplished through faith, which like the original creation, is a complete gift from God, where we cling to the Word of God alone. The will has absolutely no capability to bring about this resuscitation, it can only happen through the re-creative breath of God's Spirit in the Word as he breathes into man's nostrils, bringing him back to life (Gen. 2:7).

1. Martin Chemnitz, The Doctrine of Man in Classical Lutheran Theology [TDOM], ed. Herman A. Preus and Edmund Smits (Minneapolis, Minn: Augsburg Publishing House, 1962), 74.

2. Martin Chemnitz, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments, trans. Luther Poellot (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1981), 66.

3. St. Jeome quoted in, TDOM, 72.

4. St. Augustine quoted in, TDOM, 74.

5. Robert Kolb, “God and His Human Creatures in Luther’s Sermons on Genesis: The Reformer’s Early Use of His Distinction of Two Kinds of Righteousness,” Concordia Journal 33, no. 2 (2007), 176.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Martin Chemnitz, Concerning Spiritual Powers in Man

I intend to dedicate a number of posts to the will and powers of man, both regenerate and unregenerate. I will look at these concepts from the eyes of Martin Chemnitz, Martin Luther, Melancthon, our Confessions, and the current Lutheran interpretation. I will also take a look at how these concepts relate and have influenced the popular two-dimensionality perspective of human existence especially as supported by the teachings of the two kinds of righteousness and the two kingdoms. I will not attend to some of the hairier issues involved, such as determinism, etc., especially as these issues are more palpable to our rationalist brothers of the Reformed tradition.

We will begin with an extended quote from Martin Chemnitz' Loci Theologici, Locus 6, as it is recorded and translated in The Doctrine of Man in Classical Lutheran Theology. This will get us thinking about the major ideas involved, especially from a Scriptural perspective.

"The principle point in the doctrine of free will is that the human will of its own powers cannot without the Holy Spirit initiate inner spiritual impulses. It cannot perform the inner obedience of the heart; nor can it persevere in, accomplish, and complete a course of action which has been undertaken.

"We speak of spiritual powers or activities because in Rom. 7:14 the Law is described as "spiritual." That is, it is not content with certain outward, civil activities which the unregenerate flesh can perform. Rather, the Law demands such impulses and activities as cannot be accomplished without the working of the Holy Spirit. These the flesh cannot perform, for the flesh hinders the Holy Spirit in his work, not only by evil desires (Rom. 7:8), but also by the wisdom of the flesh (Rom. 8:7). Frequently when we speak of spiritual impulses, we think of the knowledge, fear, faith, and love of God. For it is characteristic of these affections that they cannot be produced by the flesh. However, in the case of other virtues, such as temperance, chastity, bravery, freedom, etc., the distinction is not so clear; even human reason has such virtues. [The previously mentioned "inner" motions, that would be the fulfillment of the first table of the law, would be what the Confessions would call "spiritual righteousness" (AC/AP XVIII). The distinction that is not as clear, that Chemnitz references, that is the "outward" virtues, might have been unclear in the teaching of the Lutheran Church due to the lack of attention that they receive in the Augsburg Confession and its Apology. I will address this in another post as it is still a point of contention.] But we must distinguish on the basis of causes and goals. For example, the chastity of Joseph had a different cause from that of Scipio...

"... I. Inasmuch as both the mind and will of man are embraced under the term Free Will, we shall first present these passages of Scripture which speak of the mind of unregenerate man in spiritual matters. But the mind includes the understanding, the evaluation, the judgement, the ideas, and the thoughts of unregenerate man.

"Concerning each of these are passages from Scripture. "Ye were sometimes darkness, but now ye are light in the Lord" (Eph. 5:8); i.e., without Christ men are only darkness, for they are "light" only "in the Lord." Let none imagine that the mind can be enlightened either by its own acumen in seeking the truth or by the teachings of philosophy. "The light shineth in darkness" (John 1:5); "to turn them from darkness to light" (Acts 26:18); "to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death" (Luke 1:79). In Ephesians 4:17-19 Paul explains how unregenerate men are in darkness. They "walk in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened...through the ignorance that is in them," i.e., the ignorance that clings to their nature. Also in 1 Cor. 2:14 he writes, "The natural (Greek, psuchikos; Latin, animalis) man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God."...

"...Paul says two things: 1) the natural man cannot recognize and understand the things of the Spirit of God. For none of the princes of this world knows the wisdom of the Gospel (1 Cor. 2:6). Flesh and blood have not revealed it, but the Holy Spirit has revealed it in the Word (Matt. 16:17). 2) When God in his Word sets forth and explains the doctrine of the Gospel, although the natural man may read, hear, and understand it, he nevertheless does not receive it with certainty, either its threats or its promises. "Who knoweth the power of thine anger?" (Ps. 90:11). Thus David knew from the Word of God, "Thou shall not commit adultery"; but because he drove out the Holy Spirit, he did not receive the things of the Spirit of God. Otherwise he would have repented before the preaching of Nathan.
"II. Secondly, we shall cite passages which describe the will of man, showing what it is like without the renewal of the Holy Spirit and his inner spiritual impulses. Eph. 2:1 and Col. 2:13 call men "dead in trespasses and sins," Rom. 6:20, "free from righteousness," and John 8:34, "the servants of sin." Moreover, we have already mentioned that sin dwells particularly in the will. "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the Law of God" (Rom. 8:7). Phronema [Greek], mind, indicates the most strenuous efforts of the flesh or the unregenerate will. "The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen. 8:21); "fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and we were by nature children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3); we were born "not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13).

"In Rom. 3:10ff., Paul locates human corruption not only in the mind and will, but in the whole man, and describes how sin dwells even in the idividual parts of man...

"... III. Thirdly, we shall cite passages which describe the grace of the Son of God which he bestows upon the mind and will of man through the Spirit of regeneration. For in the darkness of this world we cannot better understand of what gifts the mind and will of man have been deprived than from those passages in Scripture in which are described how the mind of the regenerate man is enlightened by the Holy Spirit, how the heart is converted, how the will is renewed, and how the new man is created in Christ Jesus according to God. Likewise, the words of the holy Fathers testify clearly to the bondage of the will. Augustine asks, "What is more foolish than to pray that you may do what you have within your power?" Likewise in his Epistle 217 he says, "In short, we do not really pray to God, but only imagine that we are praying if we think that we can do the things for which we pray. Again, we do not really thank God, but only imagine that we thank God, but only imagine that we are thanking him, if we think that he does not do the things for which we thank him." There are also many Scripture passages which are applicable here. [Chemnitz cites the following: Eph. 1:7; 2:5; 4:7; Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 4:6; Is. 11:2; Ps. 119:34; Jer. 31:33; 1 Cor. 12:3; and John 15:5]

"In John 15:5 Jesus says, "Without me ye can do nothing." He is not speaking about the universal presence of God in the affairs of this life, for Paul in Eph. 2:12 says of unregenerate gentiles, "Ye were without Christ, without God." Rather, Jesus here is speaking of spiritual fruits, among which he includes also the observance of God's commands: "Without me ye can do nothing." Nor does he speak this way in a Pelagian sense, as it is popularly said, "A knowledge of art without a natural inclination cannot produce good artists." For Christ declares that as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, but draws its life and strength from the vine and withers apart from it, so also "without me ye can do nothing." Augustine carefully analyzes each word: "Christ does not say, 'Without me me ye can do little,' nor does he say, 'Ye cannot do anything difficult without me,' or 'Without me ye will do the task with great difficulty,' but, 'Without me ye can do nothing.' Nor does he say, 'Without me ye cannot complete it,' but 'Ye can do nothing without me.'" Note Solomon's prayer in 1 Kings 3:9; 8:58, and also Ps. 51:10, "Create in me a clean heart." Note also from the introductions and conclusions of St. Paul's Epistles how he prays for the churches and what he hopes for the believers.

"IV. Fourthly, it is also useful to set down together the shades and meanings of the words showing (1) how they describe the bondage of unregenerate man:...[Chemnitz goes on to cite: Eph. 5:8; 4:18; 4:19; 2:1; 2:12; 2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Tim. 3:8; Rom. 1:21; 2:5; 3:4; Heb. 3:10; Titus 3:3; Luke 24:25; Acts 28:26-17; Ezek. 36:26; Isa. 48:4; and Mark 6:53.]...

"... (2) The following words also describe the enlightenment of the mind and the conversion of the will and the healing of each through Christ. For thus the Holy Spirit speaks in Eph. 1:18: "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened"; and in 2 Cor. 4:6, "God hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God."

"Moreover, we must observe the stronger emphasis of Scripture: it speaks not only of the enlightenment of the eyes, but in Acts 26:18 says, "To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light." Note especially Deut. 29:4, "Unless God shall have given eyes to see and a heart to perceive, the word is heard in vain, and signs are seen in vain"; likewise Ps. 119:34, "Give me understanding, Lord." Augustine has also made this observation: "The grace of enlightenment is no less necessary for the mind than light for the eyes; rather, we ourselves open the eyes to see the light; however, the eyes of the mind, unless they are opened by God, remain closed."

"Finally, we observe an even stronger emphasis in the following passages: in 1 Sam. 10:26, God touches the heart; in 2 Sam. 19:14, he sways the hearts of men; in Job 12:24, he changes the heart. Thus Scripture speaks concerning external matters. But in regard to spiritual matters it declares: "Because thou hast heard the words of the book, thy heart is tender" (2 Chron. 34:27). "The Lord will circumcise thy heart" (Deut. 30:6). "I have broken their heart that was faithless, and revolted from me" (Ezek. 6:9). "They have brought a heart of stone, and I will give them a new heart" (Ezek. 11:19, 36:26). "Create in me a clean heart" (Ps. 51:10)...

"...God softens, converts, and opens the heart. But because our hearts are hard beyond measure, he wounds, circumcises, and even breaks them. When this avails nothing he takes the heart completely away, gives it new life, and even creates a new heart.

"Thus in Ps. 41:4 we read, "Heal my soul"; in Eph. 5:14, "Arise from the dead"; in Eph. 2:5, "When we were dead in sins he hath quickened us"; in 2 Cor. 4:16, "The inward man is renewed"; in Tit. 3:5, "The renewing of the Holy Ghost"; in 1 Pet. 3:3, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God"; in Eph. 2:10, "We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus"; in Eph. 4:24, "The new man which after God is created..." Observe that God heals the weak nature of man and applies remedies to it: "I will bind up that which was broken" (Ezek. 34:16). The heart must be renewed, raised from the dead, regenerated, so that it is born again. This is not only a healing, but a complete rebirth, a work of no small value, an actual creation. Therefore, each of these activities must be ascribed to God."

-The Doctrine of Man in Classical Lutheran Theology, ed. Herman A. Preus and Edmund Smits (Minneapolis, Minn: Augsburg Publishing House, 1962), 95-101.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Bayer on Theory and Praxis

"Luther was perspicacious enough to see that the gospel will not let itself be pressed into a schema of theory and praxis. He perceived that those for whom the gospel is a theory, "a human figment and idea," are forced to demand that it also be fulfilled in praxis. With the schema of theory and praxis "they fall into the error of saying, 'faith is not enough; one must do works.'" In other words, they think that sanctification must be added to justification.
"Faith is neither a theory nor a praxis of self-fulfillment. It is a passive righteousness, namely, the work of God in us that we experience with suffering, dying both to justifying thinking and justifying action. The meaning is not that faith is both unthinking and inactive. By it, rather, both thinking and action are renewed."

-Oswald Bayer, Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003), 24-25.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: "We must simply cling to the Word of the Gospel alone."

"What I have said is this: God will not permit us to rely on anything or to cling with our hearts to anything that is not Christ as revealed in His Word, no matter how holy and full of the Spirit it may seem. Faith has no other ground on which to take its stand. Accordingly, the mother of Christ and Joseph meet with the experience that their own wisdom, calculations, and hopes fail them and turn out to be futile while they are hurrying from place to place seeking Him. For they are not seeking Him where they should, but consult their flesh and blood, which is always staring about after some comfort other than that offered by God's Word and always desires something visible and tangible, which can be grasped by the senses and human reason. For that reason God lets them go down to failure and forces this lesson upon them, that no comfort, aid, and advice which men seek from flesh and blood, from other men or any creature whatsoever, is worth anything unless God's Word is grasped. They had to abandon everything: their friends, acquaintances, the entire city of Jerusalem, every ingenious device, all that they themselves and other men could do. All these things did not provide them with the proper assurance, until they sought Him in the Temple, where He was about His Father's business. There Christ is surely found, and there the heart recovers its cheer, while it would otherwise remain cheerless, since comfort can be provided for us neither by ourselves nor by any other creature."Hence, when God sends us such grievous afflictions, we, too, must learn not to follow our own calculations or the advice of such men as send us hither and thither and direct us to our own or other people's resources. On the contrary, we should remember that we must seek Christ in His Father's house and business: we must simply cling to the Word of the Gospel alone, which shows us Christ aright and teaches us to know Him. Learn, then, from this and any other spiritual affliction that, whenever you wish to convey genuine comfort to others or to yourself, you must say with Christ: What does it mean that you are running hither and thither, that you torment yourselves with anxious and sad thoughts, imagining that God will not keep you in His grace and that there is no longer any Christ for you? Why do you refuse to be satisfied unless you find Him in yourselves and have the feeling of being holy and without sin? You will never succeed; all your toil will be labor lost. Do you not know that Christ will be nowhere nor permit Himself to be found anywhere except in that which is His Father's, not in anything that is your or other people's? There is no fault in Christ or His mercy; He is never lost and can always be found. But the fault is in you, because you are not seeking Him where you ought to, namely, in the place where He is to be sought. You are being guided by your feeling and think you can apprehend Him with your thoughts. You must come to the place where there is neither your own nor any man's business, but God's business and government, namely, to His Word. There you will find Him and hear and see that there is no wrath and disfavor against you in Him, as you fear in your despondency, but nothing else than grace and cordial love towards you, and that He is acting as your kind and loving Mediator with the Father, speaking the kindest and best words possible on your behalf. Nor does He send you trials with the intention of casting you off, but in order that you may learn to know Him better and cling more firmly to His Word."

-Martin Luther quoted in C.F.W. Walther's The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, trans. W.H.T. Dau. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986), 205-207.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Luther on Hurricanes

"Undoubtedly, I never held in my own hands even one fleeting moment of my life."

-LW 21:195
This great line from Luther is lifted off the wonderful blog: Taking Thoughts Captive.

Our friend over at Taking Thoughts Captive was in the throws of hurricane Ike, and came upon these comforting words from Luther. Read about the rest of his experience, and the rest of Luther's words.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Self-Generation; Dependence and Independence Cont.

Rereading Oswald Bayer's Living By Faith: Justification and Sanctification, I was caught by this quote from Ernst Bloch's Principle of Hope.

I thought it captured well many of the points I made previously in my post Dependence and Independence.

Bloch was a Marxist philosopher who had a lot of influence on Jurgen Moltmann's Liberation Theology, and a lot of other anthropocentric theology. Concluding his massive three volume work, Principle of Hope, Bloch writes:

"Man everywhere is still living in prehistory, indeed all and everything still stands before the creation of the world, of a right world. True genesis is not at the beginning but at the end, and it starts to begin only when society and existence become radical, i.e. grasp their roots. But the root of history is the working, creating human being who reshapes and overhauls the given facts. Once he has grasped himself and established what is his, without expropriation and alienation, in real democracy, there arises in the world something which shines into the childhood of all and in which no one has yet been: homeland."

-Principle of Hope, vol. 3 (trans. Neville Plaice et al. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986), 1375-76.

Bayer mockingly critiques: "We homeless ones are moving out of our state of misery, out of a foreign land, and coming back home, coming back to paradise. This will be the result of our work, of our perfected cultural achievement" (17).
This quote from Bloch really exemplifies the character of man's claimed "independence." Lets walk through this quote step by step...
"Man everywhere is still living in prehistory, indeed all and everything still stands before the creation of the world, of a right world. True genesis is not at the beginning but at the end, and it starts to begin only when society and existence become radical, i.e. grasp their roots."
- Can you say "gnostic"!? Notice the role of creator that man takes on when he claims independence from God, creation, history, society, and human nature.
"But the root of history is the working, creating human being who reshapes and overhauls the given facts."
- Creating by reshaping and overhauling the given facts? Does this make any sense? This is what I had to say in my previous post: "They cannot claim that they achieved these [personal achievements] independent of any factors. Quite literally, to be independent means to be able to create ex nihilo, you need to be able to create something out of nothing, we would need to be God!" I made the point that the more one tries to exert supremacy over, in the attempt to be "independent of," the more he shows himself to be dependent on, what Bloch calls, "the given facts." You can rearrange, reshape, or overhaul the "given facts" all you want, but in the end they're still the "given facts." Or to adopt the recently controversial political phrase: "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig." (I had to!)
"Once he has grasped himself and established what is his, without expropriation and alienation, in real democracy, there arises in the world something which shines into the childhood of all and in which no one has yet been: homeland."
- While my previous post was focused on "personal independence," notice the very characteristic Marxist "communal independence" that Bloch proposes. The concept I want to focus on is the grasping, the establishing what is mine. In my previous post, I give an analogy of a power-playing King who tries to express his independence from, by exerting over. I state that the very attempt at independence is what makes him a slave: "The reason that he is a slave is because he took, he grasped (ala the fruit). And the harder he squeezes to continue to hold on to this dream of independence, the more the things that he is dependent on weigh in on him."
I will leave you with my previous conclusion:
"The answer to the contradiction is not to take (as in the fruit, or in the case of the king), but to receive, that is, entering God back into the equation, to recognize what God has given us, to thankfully receive this, and to joyfully go out and care for those things God have given us dominion over...We are dependent, it is true, but we are dependent on a God who promises to clothe, feed and sustain us, and finally bring us home."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Zizek On the Confusion of Law and Gospel...

Who knew that an atheistic, Lacanian, Marxist could properly distinguish between law and gospel? :)

On the other hand, he makes a good point (not only against post-modernism) that Lutherans, if they're not careful, can fall into. That is, the thought that if we talk nicely, or don't enforce but leave it up to choice, or talk of, say, love of neighbor with flowery, happy language, we are therefore preaching the gospel. Silly Evangelicals! Read Walther...

For further amusement opportunities see the rest of this interview. The guy interviewing him has no idea what he's talking about; very funny. hehehe.

Why Do We (Really) Believe?

This post is an expansion on some of the arguments I started in my previous post: Witness, Apologetics, and the Law and Gospel. With these posts I want to start painting a picture of how reason and faith should be related within a Lutheran context.

In my previous post I stated that the use of apologetics in a witnessing situation is essentially an aspect of the law. As such it is not a function that creates and builds up faith (the gospel) but rather it brings to task the fallen reasoning of man and his accusations against God on the basis of reason (the law).

In this post I want to address the question: "Why do we really believe?"

As Lutherans we should be wary of the work of many modern Christian philosophers in the area of the justification of belief. Both your evidentialists and your reformed epistemologists have completely discarded the work of the Word and the Holy Spirit in the formation of faith, the result of which is the propagation of Arminian thought and the robbing of comfort to many Christians.
First off, hopefully with little argumentation, I want to be allowed to disregard the position of reformed epistemology. The foundationalist's argument that belief in God is essentially beyond criticism is absurd. Yes, I am pulling the absurdity card...lets leave it at that.
But, beyond the absurdity of their argument, reformed epistemology poses many difficulties for those who desire to uphold a Lutheran understanding of man and the reception of faith. Their argument, in some form or another, presupposes that there is an inherent nature in man that is drawn to belief in God or a god, and not only this, faith itself, thus making it "properly basic." This flies in the face of our well established understanding of anthropology. Lutherans believe that there is nothing inherent in man that can be inclined towards belief in God (not to mention the problem of the complete lack of special revelation). The only thing that is "properly basic," to misuse their terminology, for natural man, is sin; no "God shaped hole" (at least from fallen man's perspective). They have completely disregarded the need for the hearing of the gospel (Rom. 10:14) and the essential role of the Holy Spirit in the reception of faith (1 Cor. 12:3).
Evidentialists, to a lesser or greater degree, would claim that evidence is needed to hold a justified belief. If the evidence is not there, one's belief is irrational, and thus not justified. Under evidentialism one would say that one's reason is able to come upon a justified belief in God. While some may say that the Holy Spirit is also needed, this argumentation is merely semi-pelagian or synergeistic in character. Being that most evidentialist arguments for God's existence come from a natural theology this also does not leave the room for special revelation (specifically Scripture and Jesus' ministry) which is needed for the reception of faith (Rom. 10:14). They also, generally, do not hold that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is evidence on which to base belief. These are positions that are in complete disagreement with the words we confess:
"I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith."
Here is the distinction that needs to be made: My ability to defend my faith with reason, apologetics, logic, and evidence, is not why I believe.
Quite literally, I can defend what I believe, but I can't explain to you why I believe it (at least not in a way that would convince you to believe). This is the clear testimony of Scripture: "For the Word of the cross is foolishness to those being lost, but to us being saved, it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18); "For since in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom did not know God, God was pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save the ones believing" (1 Cor. 1:21). It is really an example of the theologia crucis: "We, on the other hand, preach Christ crucified (truly an offense to Jews, and foolishness to Greeks)" (1 Cor 1:23). Paul is not afraid to admit the absurdity of God coming to earth to be placed on a cross. This is because Paul knows the real power behind what he is preaching, that is, the Holy Spirit. It is behind the "Word of the cross," behind the "foolishness of preaching," it is behind preaching "Christ crucified" that the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of men.
Now, this is not to say that reason, logic, apologetics, etc. are not useful. There is a great need for these things. I will draw on some of my previous points in Witness, Apologetics, and the Law and Gospel.
These things are needed or useful for the following reasons:
1) The current state of, especially western, society is one where there are major obstacles to the promotion of the gospel. The hundreds of years worth of using reason, science, psychoanalysis, anthropology, "you name it," to discount the claims of faith are deeply entrenched in our culture and are a major road block for many people to come to faith. As such, reason or apologetics should serve the purpose in tearing down, under the proper functioning of the law (see previous post), the state of the flesh and the work of the devil that prevents the work of the Spirit through the gospel.
2) Reason, apologetics, etc. can help Christians, not as that on which to base their faith, but rather by fighting against the attacks of Satan and the flesh which cry in our heart: "Is it true that God has said, You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?" (Gen. 3:1).
As with any function of the law, reason is there to prepare for the work of the gospel.
But reason, enslaved in this age to the regnum mundi (as Gerhard Ebeling would argue; see previous post), can never be the grounds for why I believe. If reason were pure (that is, without the taint of sin) we might be able to defend belief in God, but this age makes pure reason an impossibility. The arguments hurled against faith, the foolishness of the cross, the flesh that is inclined toward unbelief, and the reality of the lies of Satan leave reason as shaky ground to base one's faith.
To express the Lutheran teaching on faith correctly, we must be led to say: "Though I can defend what I believe, this is not why I believe." On this is solid ground, in that, our subjectivity is traded for Christ's objectivity. It is through the work of the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament on which I base my faith. It is such words as: "You are forgiven," "Given and shed for you," and the foolish "Word of the cross" that truly contain the "power of God." This is why we (whether we like it or not!) believe.
P.S. The first to explain the reference in the picture of the Great Pumpkin gets a gold star!!!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Zizek Being Zizek

This is a recent Q&A with continental philosopher Slavoj Zizek. I don't know why, but I can't help liking the guy. Take it lightheartedly and with a grain of salt; enjoy.

When were you happiest?
A few times when I looked forward to a happy moment or remembered it - never when it was happening.

What is your greatest fear?
To awaken after death - that's why I want to be burned immediately.

What is your earliest memory?
My mother naked. Disgusting.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the twice-deposed president of Haiti. He is a model of what can be done for the people even in a desperate situation.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Indifference to the plights of others.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Their sleazy readiness to offer me help when I don't need or want it.

What was your most embarrassing moment?
Standing naked in front of a woman before making love.

Aside from a property, what's the most expensive thing you've bought?
The new German edition of the collected works of Hegel.

What is your most treasured possession?
See the previous answer.

What makes you depressed?
Seeing stupid people happy.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
That it makes me appear the way I really am.

What is your most unappealing habit?
The ridiculously excessive tics of my hands while I talk.

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?
A mask of myself on my face, so people would think I am not myself but someone pretending to be me.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Watching embarrassingly pathetic movies such as The Sound Of Music.

What do you owe your parents?
Nothing, I hope. I didn't spend a minute bemoaning their death.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?
To my sons, for not being a good enough father.

What does love feel like?
Like a great misfortune, a monstrous parasite, a permanent state of emergency that ruins all small pleasures.

What or who is the love of your life?
Philosophy. I secretly think reality exists so we can speculate about it.

What is your favourite smell?
Nature in decay, like rotten trees.

Have you ever said 'I love you' and not meant it?
All the time. When I really love someone, I can only show it by making aggressive and bad-taste remarks.

Which living person do you most despise, and why?
Medical doctors who assist torturers.

What is the worst job you've done?
Teaching. I hate students, they are (as all people) mostly stupid and boring.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
What Alain Badiou calls the 'obscure disaster' of the 20th century: the catastrophic failure of communism.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
My birth. I agree with Sophocles: the greatest luck is not to have been born - but, as the joke goes on, very few people succeed in it.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
To Germany in the early 19th century, to follow a university course by Hegel.

How do you relax?
Listening again and again to Wagner.

How often do you have sex?
It depends what one means by sex. If it's the usual masturbation with a living partner, I try not to have it at all.

What is the closest you've come to death?
When I had a mild heart attack. I started to hate my body: it refused to do its duty to serve me blindly.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
To avoid senility.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
The chapters where I develop what I think is a good interpretation of Hegel.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
That life is a stupid, meaningless thing that has nothing to teach you.

Tell us a secret.
Communism will win.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Malysz on Identity

This comes from our own Piotr Maylsz over at Lutheran Theology. This quote draws on the theme of identity, and whether we try and form it from ourselves or whether we receive it from outside of us. This is accomplished through either justification of the sinner from outside- extra se- or self-justification from ourselves- in nobis. This theme is especially well developed by Oswald Bayer in Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification. (trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003.) It can also be seen in Malysz' excellent article "Third Use of the Law in Light of Creation and the Fall" Logia 11, no. 3 (2002): 9-19.

I draw on this theme often, myself. It is especially evident in my post "Dependence and Independence" where I critique the attempts of man to establish independence in spite of the fact that we are always and totally dependent on the grace of God and his gifts.

Here is what Malysz has to say on this topic:

"To understand what Luther means by God’s justification of the sinner, it is first necessary to understand the reformer’s view of sin as self-justification. The being of a human person, according to Luther, needs to be underwritten, as it were, from the outside. It is not a locus of its own identity. Identity can either be received by one, or else the person may attempt to construct her own identity. In the former case, what one is, as a creature, is determined by the love of God. In the latter case, believing herself to be a free and autonomous shaper of her destiny, the person embarks on a pursuit of sources of security which could underwrite her being. She defines herself through her actions and commitments. In this, however, she enslaves herself to her own selfjustificatory activity, for to refrain from it would be tantamount to allowing one’s being to disintegrate. Thus all of the sinner’s works, however good they may appear, are ultimately only a modality of self-interest. Luther describes this enslaving pursuit of self-justification as being turned in on oneself (homo incurvatus in se ipsum). For the reformer, the sinner is the arch-individualist, and that in spite of all her activism."

-Piotr Malysz "Exchange and ecstasy: Luther’s eucharistic theology in light of Radical Orthodoxy’s critique of gift and sacrifice," Scottish Journal of Theology 60, no. 3 (2007), 297-298.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Witness, Apologetics, and the Law and Gospel.

This is something that I've thought about over the last couple months. I have always been a little wary, or maybe unclear, as to what the role of apologetics are in the witness of the Church. What I have come up with is a distinction between the law and the gospel as they pertain to apologetics.

Werner Elert writes: "[The law] serves not in the construction of the new man but in the destruction of the old." Law and Gospel (trans. Edward H. Schroeder. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), 36.

While this is more directed at an understanding of sanctification, I think it works perfectly well as a general statement about the nature of the law and the nature of the gospel: "The law destructs; the gospel constructs."

It is from this perspective that I will base my argument. The argument being: The use of apologetics in witnessing is an act of destruction, and thus correlative to the law, not the gospel. It is an act that tears down, not one that builds up.

The modern thoughts concerning evangelism in most of the Church catholic is that, apologetics should be used, in one way or another, to a lesser or greater extent, to "convince" people into the truth. While most would say that the Holy Spirit is also needed, their synergistic understanding of the acceptance of faith would lead them to believe that the reasoning and arguments behind their words are leading people to faith. This is due to their belief that there is at least some part of man that is able to "believe". Lutherans, of course, would take big issue with this.

The question for a Lutheran should be: Are apologetics a word of the law or a word of the gospel. The Evangelical's understanding would say that man's reasoning is able to lay hold of and believe in the truth, and thus apologetics becomes the gospel. Lutherans would say, no, this is not possible. Lutherans would say that the Holy Spirit is needed who works to build faith, and this only through the gospel.

Now, properly speaking, I don't see how the message of apologetics can be correlated with the word's of Christ's commission:

"Going into all the world, preach the gospel [which, according to Matt. was ενετειλαμην-- enjoined] to all the creation. The one believing and being baptized will be saved. And the one not believing will be condemned." (Mark 16:15-16)

Or the gospel that Paul received:

"Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ according to the faith of the elect of God and full knowledge of the truth according to godliness, on hope of eternal life which the God who does not lie promised before the eternal times, but revealed in its own times in a proclamation of His Word, with which I was entrusted by the command of our Savior God." (Titus 1:1-3)

This properly is the gospel: "The one believing in me and being baptized will be saved." This is the message that the Holy Spirit works through to produce faith.

The message of apologetics is: the reality of God, sin, and possibly, the reality of Jesus and his resurrection. But properly speaking this is not yet the gospel; it is not the bestowal of the message of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of one's sins. I can believe in "God," sin, Jesus, and even the resurrection without being a Christian. In fact, Muslims believe in "God," sin, Jesus, and the bodily ascension of Jesus, and they certainly do not have the gospel.

Apologetics is an appeal to my ratio, my reason, and as such is not able to be overcome my mind because: "the mind of the flesh is enmity towards God; for it is not being subjected to the Law of God, for neither can it be." (Rom. 8:7)

Gerhard Ebeling writes that, Luther believed that,

"under regnum mundi [kingdom of the world] there falls the whole of reality extra Christum [outside of Christ], and that means extra fidem [outside of faith]…[regnum mundi] in the widest sense [includes] everything that concerns man, and thus everything that has to do with his ratio, but also everything that has to do with his will and his passions, and hence absolutely everything from the most trifling human activity to science, morals and religion.” “The Necessity of the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms.” In Word and Faith. (trans. James W. Leitch, 386-406. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), 393.

The benefit of apologetics, therefore, cannot be seen as one of construction (gospel) but destruction (law).

The mind, extra fidem, is a mind that is ultimately enslaved to the flesh, and concupiscence. It is a reason that is faulty and which is inclined to accept the reason of the world and to reject the claims of Christ. Apologetics, therefore, is the attempt to combat this tendency of the mind, it is to show that the claims of Christianity are not illogical, unreasonable, or insupportable. While we cannot "prove" the claims of our faith, we can show that they are at least supportable. The arguments that Christianity are illogical, unreasonable, and insupportable, are things that block the work of the Holy Spirit, they are road blocks and defenses that support unbelief.

Much like sin, therefore, these are things that need to be torn down for the work of the Holy Spirit to proceed with the ministry of the gospel. Apologetics is a function of the law which calls into question minds that are enslaved to the flesh.

Properly speaking, as with any work of the law, apologetics does not produce something, rather it prepares for something. That something is the proper work of the Holy Spirit which comes with the message of the forgiveness of sins.

Therefore we need to be mindful of the fact that, just as one would preach the law against sin, apologetics is a function that will, by itself, produce nothing. We could preach against sin all we want, but if we don't preach the forgiveness of sins, nothing would come about. In the same way, we can "preach" apologetics all we want, but if we don't preach the forgiveness of sins, nothing will come about.

In this society, and in this day and age, man has made a concerted effort to take away from God any claim he might hold on the mind of man. Where apologetics might not be needed, or be as useful in Africa, in our society, on the other hand, we must do battle against the arguments of man. The sinful mind is just as much a roadblock to the Spirit as sin itself is. But this battle is not yet the work of the gospel. We need to be making this distinction clear in the increasingly Arminian church that crops up around us, even in our own synod.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: "To be human is 'to have God's Word and cling to it in faith.'"

I came upon this quote from Robert Kolb and thought it expressed well what I have written previously, especially my post: The Word, Communication, and Sanctification. Notably I point out how God's Word establishes the character of our entire relationship before him, and how the sin of Adam and Eve, and all sin, is a rejection of God's Word.

Kolb writes:

"Luther captured the Biblical presupposition that the almighty Creator acts in His creation through His Word, in its various forms. 'God created [the essence of each individual created person or thing] through the Word so that it grows without ceasing and we do not have any idea how...It is an eternal Word, spoken from eternity, and it will be spoken always. As little as God's essence ceases , so litle does his speaking cease.' Luther asserted that God has the whole world on His lips: '[T]he earth has its power only from God's Word...The entire world is full of the Word that drives all things and bestows and preserves power.'...

...Therefore, it is no wonder that Luther described sin in terms of Adam and Eve being torn away from God's Word. To be human is 'to have God's Word and cling to it in faith.' Restoration of life with God comes to sinners by a creative act of God's Word, just as Isaac was given to Abraham and Sarah as a result of such an act of the Word. 'The divine majesty pours out the power with the Word. Therefore he is a child of the divine Word even though produced by flesh and blood...Therefore, they are not God's children apart from being born through the Word.'...

...Restoration to a proper, righteous relationship with God takes place through the action of God in His Word, through its re-creative power. Already in 1523 Luther employed the Sacrament of Baptism as described by Paul in Romans 6:3-11 and Colossians 2:11-15 as a model for God's justifying activity. Sinners die when baptized into Christ, and the children of God are brought to new life through the mystery of God's working in this sacramental form of the Word."
-Robert Kolb, “God and His Human Creatures in Luther’s Sermons on Genesis: The Reformer’s Early Use of His Distinction of Two Kinds of Righteousness,” Concordia Journal 33, no. 2 (2007), 175-176.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: "Jesus’ high-priestly prayer does not stop even when we quit praying."

"No, we cannot base our life on faith. Even the disciples do not live from their faith in that moment when they are battling anxiety and seasickness. They hardly remember that they are believers. There’s simply no time to think about it. That may be put very crudely, but that’s how it is nevertheless! At that moment the disciples do not live from the fact that God is in their thoughts (because he is not!), but they live because Jesus Christ is thinking of them, and the stillness that surrounds his conversation with the Father is filled with these thoughts about his own. Our faith’s grip on the Father may loosen. But he in whom we believe holds us fast in his grasp. Jesus’ high-priestly prayer does not stop even when we quit praying. Thus, there is really no such thing as “Psychology of Religion” because the decisive events between God and me do not happen in my psyche, my consciousness, at all; they occur in the heart of my Lord. Here (and only here) there is constancy and faithfulness; here there is a love that will not let me go, even though my fever chart fluctuates between faith and little faith, between trust and doubt, and no reliance can be placed on my defiant and despondent heart. I don’t need to tell you what a comfort it can be to know that, and how that knowledge can help me survive those times when my own faith is cold and empty and dead and a sealed heaven arches above me."

-Helmut Thielicke, How To Believe Again (trans. H. G. Anderson; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974), 69-70.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

If They Knew Then What They Know Now...

It's always interesting to hear from the old time ELCAers (e.g. Carl Braaten, William Lazareth, et. al.) talk (indirectly) about the beast they let out of the cage, oh, so many years ago. Is it ok to say: "Told ya so"?

To use what someone else responded to this: "The proclamation of an antinomian Law/Gospel inversion by the ELCA from Dr. Braaten is almost 15 years too late, in my opinion."...Except it is more like 30 years too late.

This article sounds almost exactly like what the "Old Missourians" (To use Scott Murray's terminology) were writing in the 60's and 70's. You would almost think it was, without any context.

Carl Braaten is writing in response to the ELCA task force on sexuality studies' "Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality." He claims that the draft abandons the historic Lutheran theological process, not to mention Orthodox, Catholic, Reformed, and Evangelical traditions.

Besides an interesting look into the minds and current events of the ELCA, this is a good read especially on the topic of the lex creationis:

This "Draft" fails to apply traditional Lutheran principles of theology and ethics regarding human sexuality. In Lutheran doctrinal theology the articles dealing with creation and law precede the articles dealing with redemption and gospel. This is equally true of Orthodox, Catholic, Reformed, and Evangelical traditions of theology, virtually amounting to an ecumenical consensus from which this social statement departs.

1) This draft social statement identifies two doctrines as foundational for a Lutheran understanding of sexuality: the incarnation of God and justification by faith. There is no doubt that these two doctrines are basic to a Lutheran understanding of salvation. However, in Lutheran theology soteriology is not the primal basis for the ethics of sex, marriage, and family. That would be to confuse law and gospel. Creation and law come before gospel and church, both in the Scriptures and in the Creeds (Apostles’ and Nicene). To put the matter quite simply, the Old Testament comes before the New Testament and the First Article of the Creed comes before the Second and the Third Articles. Lutheran systematic theology has traditionally observed this biblical and creedal structure, both in the order of knowledge (ordo cognoscendi) and in the order of reality (ordo essendi). The doctrine of creation comes before the doctrine of redemption; law comes before gospel. The ethics of sex is not primarily a gospel issue; it is a matter of law in the first instance.1

2) The common human structures of life such as marriage and the family, labor and the economic order, the nation and the state are universal dimensions of human existence. They are created by God and experienced by all human beings and societies apart from the Scriptures and outside the covenant communities of Israel and the Church. The knowledge of what is right and wrong, good and bad, is revealed by God through these structures, by means of the way God has ordered them. No Lutheran theology has ever proceeded to deal with the matters addressed by the Ten Commandments (especially the Second Table of the Law) as though only Christians are endowed with moral discernment. In spite of the universal condition of sin, reason and conscience are not so depraved as to be incapable of grasping the universal morality expressed in the Decalogue (the Ten Words of God).2

3) The early church found itself in a life-and-death struggle against gnosticism (e.g., Marcion). Gnosticism negated the doctrine of creation and God's covenant with Israel. Gnosticism based its understanding of theology and ethics exclusively on the New Testament, on the gospel and the church, denying the priority and relevance of creation and law. Like Marcionitic gnosticism this social statement virtually ignores the Old Testament, the Genesis story of creation, God's covenant with Israel, and the giving of the Mosaic law. It starts straightaway with the incarnation of God and justification by faith, that is, with the gospel of salvation in Christ rather than with the law of creation mediated through nature and history. I can think of no example of such an approach in the history of Lutheran theology and ethics. Lutherans have typically followed the Catholic tradition in the way it orders the concepts of "Creation," "Law," "Gospel," and "Church" in the process of constructing theological ethics -- political, social, economic, ecological, and sexual. The living God is the Creator of all things; God is doing this now in an ongoing way (creatio continua).3

4) The question of method in theology was hotly debated between Karl Barth (and the Barthians) and a large number of his Lutheran contemporaries: Paul Althaus, Edmund Schlink, Peter Brunner, Gustaf Aulen, Gustaf Wingren, Regin Prenter, Helmut Thielicke, Hans Iwand, and many others. For good measure we would add to this list Lutheran ethicists in the United States: George Forell, William Lazareth, Frank Sherman, Robert Benne, Robert Bertram. What was their beef? It was the fact that the Barthians derived all dogmatics and ethics from Christology (i.e., incarnation and justification), as though everything that preceded the New Testament or lay outside the Bible and the walls of the church is irrelevant.

5) This document claims that the doctrines of the incarnation and justification form the theological foundations of human sexuality. However, it is not possible to argue from these particular soteriological premises to establish relevant norms, standards, rules, or principles regarding sexual behavior. According to Luther and the Lutheran tradition God governs and rules the world through the law in the struggle against sin all over the world. This activity of God does not bring about human salvation. Only the gospel of Christ accomplishes that through the power of the Holy Spirit. The law has a different function than the gospel; the law is first and then the gospel. It is not the function of the gospel to instruct human beings about sex, marriage, and family. That is the function of the law. For this reason many human beings who are not Christians are often better examples of God-pleasing behavior in matters of sex, marriage, and family. Even many pagans with no knowledge of Christ put Christians to shame -- they live chaste lives, their marriages are exemplary, and their families are strong -- because God is working through the law of creation (lex creationis) to address them, and they are able to respond to the divine commands through their reason and conscience.

6) As a "teaching document" this Draft claims that it takes into account the contributions from the ecumenical partners of the ELCA and other Lutheran churches throughout the world. That would be wonderful if it were so. However, it is conspicuously silent on what the mainstream of the classical Christian tradition has had to teach on the subject of human sexuality and homosexuality. This Draft confines its treatment of the controversial issues to what concerns "this church." No other voice is taken into consideration. There is no acknowledgment that the intention of Lutheranism is to be part of the great tradition of churchly theology reaching back to Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, and Aquinas.

7) This Draft mentions the "Trinity" once, but it fails to name the Triune God. Words such as "Father" and "Son" are avoided. Lutherans, like all other orthodox Christians, believe in and place their trust in the God of the Bible who is identified as "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" in the Creeds of the Church. Why does this name not appear even once in this document? Is it unfair to assume that the authors have made a deliberate effort to avoid the name of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, such as we profess in our baptism, in our salutations and benedictions? Have members of the Task Force been persuaded by the ideology of radical theological feminism (e.g., Mary Daly, Carter Heyward, Rosemary R. Ruether) for which male referring nouns and pronouns are regarded as offensive and oppressive?4

8) This document is worried about legalism. Some Lutherans are so afraid of legalism that they have thrown the baby out with the bath water. The root of the problem is confusion about the relation between law and gospel. Lutherans have said that we are justified by faith alone, apart from the works of the law. Fine! Does that mean that the works of the law are bad and that the only good works are those motivated by the gospel? That has led to antinomianism in Lutheranism. Luther was the first to blow the whistle on antinomianism. Antinomianism means that the law is silenced with regard to ordering the Christian life. Antinomianism is a famous word in the Lutheran lexicon. The authors choose not to mention it or define it. Why? Legalism is not much of a problem in the ELCA today; antinomianism is. The other side of the coin of antinomianism is "gospel reductionism."

9) This 50-page essay on sexuality scarcely makes any reference to the Ten Commandments (once on page 14) or the sixth commandment. Here is an example of a statement that begs for an explanation: "A Lutheran sexual ethic looks to the death and resurrection of Christ as the source for the values that guide it." (p. 11) This assertion sits there without commentary. I have no idea what the Task Force is trying to say. Taken at face value, it is not a true statement. A Lutheran sexual ethic is not derived from soteriology or the Christology on which it is based. The social statement asserts: "We ground our ethics . . . in the living voice of the gospel." (p.5) Again, no mention of the law! At one point this Draft states: "Both the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther emphasized the important role of the law to reveal to us God's intentions and promises for our lives, and to constrain, support, and guide us in daily living." (p. 6) That is a true statement, but this Draft does not follow the lead of Paul and Luther. It replaces the law with the gospel, with talk about the incarnation and justification as the foundation of ethics, including the ethics of sex.

10) This Draft affirms that "the primary source for distinctively Christian insight is Scripture." (p. 14) It goes on to state: "Scripture cannot be used in isolation as the norm for Christian life and the source of knowledge for the exercise of moral judgment. Scripture sheds light on human experience and culture." (p. 15) Over against Scripture the Draft refers to "society's changing circumstances and growing knowledge" as well as to "insights of culture and human knowledge." In the balance the latter clearly outweighs the former. If Scripture is really the "primary source" of Christian teaching, one would expect that its most relevant passages on human sexuality would be exegeted with extreme care. The most important verses are not even quoted.

11) The social statement drops the ball on the issue of homosexuality. According to Lutheran theological ethics God has two ways of working in the world, one through creation and law, and the other through the gospel and the church. This document confuses the two ways. One does not need to read the Bible to know by reason and conscience that homosexual behavior is against the norm of God’s created order. When God created the world and human beings, he designed all things to obey certain laws. There is the law of gravity; God invented it. There is the second law of thermodynamics; God invented it. There is the law called suum cuique (“to each his own”), on which the principle of justice is based. The Golden Rule is universal. One does not need to learn from the Bible that cheating is wrong. That is based on the law of creation. The basics of what is morally right and wrong are built into human nature. There is the law that male and female are created for each other; their sexual organs match. That is no accident; God created the sexes to complement each other. If they do what comes naturally, they will together procreate the human race. Catholics know these things; Evangelicals know these things. Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists know these things. Would it not be ironic if practically everyone in the world is aware of these elementary facts of nature except for a few latter day saints in the dying denominations of liberal Protestantism in North America and Europe?

12) The treatment of homosexuality in this document is very thin. On page 24 it states: "Lutheran historical teachings concerning homosexuality sometimes have been used to tear apart families with gay or lesbian members." The Task Force does not specify which Lutheran teachings it has in mind? One historical teaching, not only Lutheran, is that homosexual acts are sinful. That is the clear teaching of the Bible. Does that tear apart families? Has the church been wrong to teach that homosexual acts are sinful? This document does not say. The church has taught that homosexual persons are called to live chaste lives, just as heterosexual persons are so called. Is such a teaching responsible for tearing apart families? This is the question: Is it sin that tears apart families or is it the church's teaching about sin that tears apart families? This document is not helpful in addressing the question people are asking: Is homosexual behavior sinful or not? If it is not sinful, why not leave the issue alone? If it is sinful, why not say so in a teaching document of the church? If, however, members of the Task Force do not know whether homosexual acts are sinful, that is, against the will and command of God for the behavior of human beings, then what is the use of this teaching document? We are back to square one. Some say this; others say that. Some pastors and congregations condone sex between same-gendered persons, as long as they are "chaste, mutual, monogamous, and life-long," whereas other pastors and congregations call for "repentance and celibacy."

13) The Draft Statement acknowledges that there is a lack of consensus in this church on this matter. If there were not, there would be no need for the study and an eventual social statement. It is the obligation of the church to teach the biblical-Christian truth about faith and life, not to take a poll of its members and base its teaching on the outcome. If, for example, some pastors in the ELCA do not believe in the incarnation of God or in justification by faith alone (and some do not), does that mean that this church should refrain from teaching these doctrines? Should the church teach only those doctrines on which there is consensus? Our Lutheran Confessions start each of its affirmations of faith with these words: "We believe, teach, and confess . . ." These are the Confessions of the ELCA according to its Constitution. No polls need to be taken. Popular consensus is irrelevant. Some pastors and congregations may not conform their teaching to the Lutheran Confessions, and many do not, what does this prove? It proves that there is a high degree of tolerance of false teaching in the church and that discipline is lacking.

14) This "Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality" is not only deeply flawed from a Lutheran theological perspective, it is also so poorly written that I believe there is very little in it to salvage. This document states that "this social statement on human sexuality . . . taps the deep roots of Scripture and the Lutheran witness . . ." However, in my judgment its treatment of both Scripture and Lutheran theology is extremely superficial and erroneous.

1Gustaf Wingren has stressed this aspect of Luther’s and Lutheran theology with great clarity in a number of books. Cf., Creation and Law (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961); Gospel and Church (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964); and Creation and Gospel (New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1979).
2 Luther's idea of "The Left Hand of God" lies at the base of this aspect of Lutheran theology.
3 Cf., The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Liguori, Mo., Liguori Publications, 1994). Whatever differences there are between Lutheran and Catholic theology, the structure of doctrinal theology is not one of them.
4 Cf.,Daphne Hampson, Theology and Feminism (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1990).

Can You Say: "Total Depravity"?

It's hardly believable that anyone could support such atrocious acts. The (not only, of course) sad thing is that I don't even question Obama's belief that he is doing the right thing by supporting something this evil. It is perfect proof of the sinfulness and falleness of man; that a smart, well educated, well meaning man can with reason and moral conviction support something so evil shows our complete enslavement to the devil, and our need of the Lord's redemption.

ερχου κυριε ιησου - Come Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Thielicke On the Simul

I just read this today. I think it reflects well what I previously posted on Luther's simul, particularily argument 4.

Helmut Thielicke argues against the misuse of the maxim: peccator in re, justus in spe "sinful in fact, righteous in hope." Namely those who feel one's state of justification makes no difference on one's sin in time.

He writes:

"The false reasoning behind such a thesis runs as follows. As long as we are never anything but sinners who have received mercy, nothing really changes in our existence as sinners. Inasmuch as we have to pray each day "forgive us our trespasses," we must continue to be perfectly intact trespassers. The only thing that changes, according to this view, is our relationship to our trespasses and sin: they can no longer seperate us from God. We may therefore accept-- in a sense in which Luther definitely did not intend it-- the tranquilizing imperative: "Sin boldly!" [Pecca fortiter!]...The miracle of the Holy Spirit would then relate only to the sphere of man's "inwardness"; outwardly everything would remain unaltered." (Theological Ethics; Foundations. trans. William H. Lazareth. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966, 41.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Use of Luther's Simul in the Context of Sanctification

This is somewhat of a pet peeve of mine. And yet, I think its more than that, I think it has affected our understanding of sanctification, and could affect our understanding of justification, that is, in adopting Luther's concept of simul iustus et peccator in our language concerning sanctification.

It is something that always bugged me, and yet I could never pin point why until I read a passage in Paul Althaus' The Ethics of Martin Luther. I never felt I understood the usefulness of utilizing this language in the context of sanctification, and then, I not only found that it was not useful, but actually incorrect. Here is what Althaus writes:

“This split [between flesh and spirit] is not to be confused with the twofold character of the Christian as simul justus et peccator, at one and the same time a righteous man and sinner. Luther uses simul justus et peccator to describe the whole man in the judgment of God at any given time: in and of myself I am and remain throughout my whole life a sinner before God; yet through God’s gracious act of justification, I, the sinner, am now righteous.” (The Ethics of Martin Luther, trans. Robert C. Schultz. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972, 19)

There are four ways in which I have found this phrase incorrectly used in the context of sanctification.

1) The first is what is explicitly addressed in Althaus' quote, that is, the simul should not be confused with spirit/flesh, old man/new, dialectics. The simul is an un-existential, forensic declaration of God concerning our standing Coram Deo. This error is especially found in the writings of LC-MS theologians. I don't think it is as much a theological mistake as terminological.


"The Christian is simul justus et peccator, consisting both in the new man created by spiritual regeneration and in the old man of his fleshly birth." (Jonathan Lange, "Using the Third Use.
Logia 3, no.1 (1994), 19.)

"The object of sanctification is the Christian who is simul justus et peccator. Both natures [old man/new] are wrapped up in one person." (Lyle Lange, "Sanctification in the Lutheran Confessions." Lutheran Synod Quarterly 37, no. 2 (1997), 56.)

David Scaer also, quite often, uses Luther's simul to describe the old man/new, spirit/flesh dialectic. And the list goes on; it has become quite common.

This error can be detrimental exactly where it should be beneficial. That is, where the simul should give comfort-- that is, in spite of my understanding myself as a sinner, I am forgiven in the eyes of God-- this comfort can be taken away when the simul is understood as two conditional qualities within me.

This movement from the unconditional to the conditional and from the objective to the existential can rob people of comfort and is a confusion of law and gospel.

This first error has the least negative effect compared to the other three for a couple of reasons: 1) it is being tied to Scripturally based language and concepts (i.e old man/new, spirit/flesh), and because of this 2) it can be logically distinguished from the unconditional declaration of the forgiveness of sins.

2) This over-existentializing not only can occur through its confusion with flesh/spirit, etc., but also where we emphasize the Christian's experience of the simul. No doubt the Christian does experience the reality of the simul but we can never make one's conditional experience of the simul what the simul actually is, that is, an unconditional declaration. David Scaer writes:

"The contradiction [between law and gospel] can be resolved theoretically, but never really within human existence. The law and the gospel are simultaneous words of God to the Christian and not subsequent ones... Lutheran theology uses the Latin phrase simul iustus et peccator to express this existential dilemma." (David Scaer, "The Law and the Gospel in Lutheran Theology." Logia 3, no. 1 (1994), 28).

I take somewhat of an issue with this. While I agree the existential tension of law and gospel will not be personally resolved until our resurrection, we are responsible, as a church, to let our congregations know that the gospel is ultimately the solution to the law. Scaer calls this "theory," I call it hope, that is, what we are supposed to be doing when we preach law and gospel in the first place, and what the simul is all about. Devolving the simul into an "existential dilemma" robs us of our comfort. While I don't feel that Scaer is trying to do this, we need to, as a church, be emphasizing and keeping our declaration of the gospel as unconditional as possible. Only in this way can the gospel, both existentially and finally, overcome the terror of the law.

3) The third error is mostly found in the writing of the ELCA, and is the most dangerous. Far from just a misunderstanding and/or misuse of Luther's original intent of the phrase (namely the 1st error), it purposefully utilizes this phraseology to promote their understanding of sanctification. This understanding (possibly over simplified) is either an unintentional confusion of, or intentional fusion of justification and sanctification.

Those that promote this error emphasize the unconditional, total quality that the simul represents over sin, thus deemphasizing the conditional quality of the reborn's sin and sanctification, in time. Thus being able to equate or confuse justification and sanctification.

James Nestingen works his understanding of sanctification on the basis of this concept:

sanus perfecte est in spe, in re autem peccator, that is, "totally healthy in hope, but a sinner in fact."

He writes:

"For Luther the simul is both totius, totius, totally complete, and partim, partim, partial and awaiting completion. But the incompleteness does not, therefore, devolve to us, as though sanctification were something to be sought and achieved." (“Changing Definitions: The Law in Formula VI.” Concordia Theological Quarterly 69, no. 3-4 (2005), 266)

Under this logic, just as we are only righteous in spe, in Christ, and sinners in re, we do not try and overcome our present situation of unrighteousness by trying to obtain our salvation, which is in spe, in re. While this is certainly true as it pertains to justification, it is because of the confusion of justification and sanctification in much ELCA theology that makes them believe this pertains to sanctification as well.

This then becomes the argumentation (possibly put a little coarsely): "don't worry about your sanctification now because we cannot solve the partim thus look to the eschaton where it is fulfilled totius, in spe."

This emphasis on the eschaton is reflected in their writing. Directly after the previous quote, we continue with Nestingen's argumentation:

"Rather...what is now begun will be completed eschatologically, by the work of the Holy Spirit." (266)

Then comes the criticism of those who dedicate themselves to the will of God:

"The totius, totius of Luther's simul iustus et peccator has, in the overall argument of Article VI, for all practical purposes dissolved into the partim, partim." (268)

This type of argumentation, especially the unconditional, objective understanding has a further impact on their understanding of sanctification with its close connection with justification. Because justification does not admit levels of progress so too sanctification cannot admit levels of progress (correlated to Nestingen's partim, partim). Gerhard Forde writes:

"If justification by faith alone rejects all ordinary schemes of progress and renders us simultaneously just and sinners, we have to look at growth and progress in quite a different light." (“A Lutheran View of Sanctification.” In Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification, ed. Donald L. Alexander, Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1988, 27)

Likewise, we read from Carter Lindberg:

"The Christian life is not a progress from vice to virtue but continual starting anew by grace, simul iustus et peccator." (“Do Lutherans Shout Justification But Whisper Sanctification?” Lutheran Quarterly 13, no.1 (1999), 15).

4) The fourth error is probably the most pervasive among Lutherans, especially among laity. The argument goes something like this: "Because we will always be peccator, we shouldn't 'get all crazy' about sanctification." They would say, yes, go about your daily business, fulfill your vocation, help your neighbor once in a while. But would sneer and push up their noses at those who have dedicated their lives to fulfilling the commands of the Sermon on the Mount, claiming these attempts as mere self-justificatory pipedreams. Larry Vogel has an amusing assessment of this understanding of vocation:

"We Lutherans may be particularly vulnerable to see our new life as meaning something quite safe. After all, is that not the meaning of the doctrine of vocation? Is it not simply a kind of domesticated godliness that says: ‘Pay your taxes. Quit your vices. Go to work. Go to church. Go to the polls. But, don't get crazy about godliness. After all, those hard words of Jesus were only meant to get us to admit our guilt and give up on our own righteousness. They serve no other purpose.’” (“A Third Use of the Law: Is the Phrase Necessary?” Concordia Theological Quarterly 69, no. 3-4 (2005), 218)

Here is a common example of this being played out. It is an add for a "simul iustus et peccator" t-shirt:

"In a time when there is an increasing push for Christians to please God with their own works, this shirt helps push back in the understanding that Christians remain sinners, even in faith, and continue to need the perfect works of Jesus imputed to them since all our works will always be as "filthy rags" to God. The only thing that we have to offer to our salvation is our sin."

While nothing is inherently wrong in this statement, it reflects a pervading distaste in Lutheran circles to approach sanctification seriously. It is an attitude, not necessarily a teaching, and it goes something like this: "You'll never be able to get too far, so don't waste your energy." There is no "hunger and thirst after righteousness" (Matt. 5:6) The assumption is that any "push" to encourage sanctification is a push towards self-justificatory activity. This error is exactly the center of why we need to keep clear the distinction of justification and sanctification and why we need to keep the language of the simul out of our understanding of sanctification. When they are confused it is assumed that sanctification language is attacking simul language. I find it no surprise that this same company sells a "weak on sanctification" t-shirt. While they admit that it is "tongue-in-cheek" it reflects a pervasive preconceived attitude of distrust about sanctification language.

It is as if all Lutheran talk of sanctification needs a warning label before it to make sure it is not abused, while justification language is impossible to be abused. It begs the question: "What are we fighting against? And, what are we fighting for?" If all our language turns out to be fighting against misunderstanding sanctification and fighting for justification then we are not preaching the full council of Scripture. We need to be fighting against all error, and fighting, eagerly and zealously, for all upright teaching.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Heaven Is An Amusement Park That Never Closes

I found this amusing. I think I especially appreciate "America Land" located appropriately on the left hand of the throne of God, with the "Marital Coitus Castle" coming in a close second. It is from a Blog called Strange Maps which features the most bizarre maps in existence. Here is a link to an enlarged version of the map.

Here is their post:

“Heaven is a place,” sang the Talking Heads, “where nothing ever happens.” Not so in this version of the Afterlife. This is what Heaven might have looked like in the Divina Commedia had Dante not been a medieval Italian intellectual, but a contemporary Californian comic artist, like Malachi Ward, who drew this map. In Ward’s vision, Heaven is a place very similar to your local amusement park. Only better: it never closes, you don’t ever have to leave!
Beyond the Pearly Gates (emblazoned with the slogan You Did It!) is a Nu-Body Machine (1), instantly providing everybody with the body they’ve been trying to shape into while still alive. Catholics are welcome to Heaven, but are confined to a small section next to the entrance (2) where they can indulge their semi-idolatrous tendencies at the Throne of Mary (3). Others can try their hand (and their wings) at Angel Boot Camp (4), which is “great for Pentecostals and Charismatics.”
Those less inclined towards spiritual war could go for the snack bar (5), the marital coitus castle (6), the go carts (7), the dinosaur petting zoo (8) or Joab’s candy shop (9). Joab, a nephew of King David and eventually killed at his behest, was mainly known for his martial exploits, not for his sweet tooth.
Evil is not completely out of view in this Heaven: in fact, the Damned Viewer (10) allows you to visually check up on “Adolf Hitler, your philandering boss, the smug atheist next door and all the vile people you hate” get their comeuppance in the ‘other’, decidedly less amusing place. Maybe in Hell there’s a similar viewer, showing the Throne of God and Jesus (11) and the place where people can line up to sit, as if he were a giant Santa, on God’s lap.
And there’s more. Go to Family Land to chew the fat with pre-deceased loved ones (but wouldn’t you eventually bump into them anyway elsewhere in the park?). Visit the Arena of Answers, where the Illuminatron will tell you who really shot JFK, RFK and MLK. Go to Memory Land to relive your own finest moments or, if your existence was less than extraordinary, to Fantasy Land to relive somebody else’s. In the Hall of Heroes, visit with Abraham Lincoln, Moses and Princess Diana (among others). Visit America Land, where it’s always Memorial or Veterans’ Day.
Many thanks to Paul Hoppe for sending in this map, which can be found here on a blog called Hunting and Gathering with Malachi Ward.