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

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

I'm. . .

. . .sorry for the infrequency of my posts lately. . .

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Austen Files of an Austenphile 01-22-09

"I have sometimes thought," said Catherine, doubtingly, "whether ladies do write so much better letters than gentelmen! That is--I should not think the superiority was always on our side."
-----"As far as I have had opportunity of judging, it appears to me that the usual style of letter-writing among women is faultless, except in three particulars."
-----"And what are they?"
-----"A general deficiency of subject, a total inattention to stops, and a very frequent ignorance of grammar."

-Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey, 1818

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Bayer on the Performative Nature of God's Word

"Luther also discovers this kind of performative word in the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, as well as in the Christmas story ("To you is born this day a Savior!"), the Easter story, and many other biblical passages. As we have said before, he regards these sentences as promises (promissiones). They are the concrete way in which Christ is present, and his presence with us is clear and certain: it clearly liberates us and makes us certain. I cannot remind myself of this freedom and certainty in isolation; I cannot have a monologue with myself. These gifts are given and received only by means of the promise spoken by another person (and not only by the official priest or preacher), who addresses it to me in the name of Jesus. I cannot speak the promise to myself. It must be spoken to me. For only in this way is it true. Only in this way does it give freedom and certainty.

"What this certainty is all about is clear from a short passage in the Lectures on Genesis that Luther virtually offers as a theological legacy: "I have been baptized. I have been absolved. In this faith I will die. No matter what trials and problems confront me, I will not waver in the least. For he who said: 'The one who believes and is baptized will be saved' (Mark 16:16), and 'whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven' (Matt. 16:19), and 'this is my body; this is my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins' (cf. Matt. 26:26,28), cannot lie or deceive. This is certainly true." In the Lectures on Galatians (1535) Luther writes, "And this is the reason why our theology is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves (nos extra nos), so that we depend not on our own strength, conscience, mind, person, or works but on what is outside ourselves (extra nos), that is, on the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive.""

-Oswald Bayer, Theology the Lutheran Way, trans. Jeffrey Silcock and Mark Mattes (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007), 130.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Bayer on Faith and the Promises of God

I thought this bit from Oswald Bayer's, Theology the Lutheran Way, went well with my previous post, Faith and the Promises of God. In it Bayer affirms the basic structure of a proper relationship before God, that is, in God's self-giving through the Word of promise and our receiving through the open hands of faith. This is what Bayer calls the vita passiva, the receptive life.

"Everything depends on God's performative word for the enactment of the promise of the forgiveness of sins and the healing of our ingratitude towards our creator. Since this word precedes our faith, our response of faith and prayer can never lead us to understand the divine service as a "self-realization of the church." Even as the response of the church faith remains God's work.

"The standard arguments from ecclesiology and sacramental theology resort to the category of "representation," and speak of the "self-realization of the church" and of the church as the "original sacrament." It is clear from this that the criterion of the particular divine service, which Luther vigorously promoted from the beginning of his Reformation theology, is not at all self-evident. For him, worship has to do with the enactment of the word and faith, of promissio and fides. This is classically formulated in the treatise, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520): "For God does not deal, nor has he ever dealt, with us except through the word of promise. We, in turn, cannot deal with God except through faith in the word of his promise." This asymmetrical correlation between word and faith, where the word always comes first and faith follows the word, is for Luther the criterion of the true divine service. At the end of his life he preached a sermon at the consecration of the castle church in Torgau in 1544. There he gave his famous definition of the divine service that beautifully exemplifies this criterion. He calls on the people to join him in the consecration "in order that the purpose of this new house may be this: that nothing else may happen in it except that our dear Lord himself may speak to us through his holy word and that we respond to him through prayer and praise.""

-Oswald Bayer, Theology the Lutheran Way, trans. Jeffrey Silcock and Mark Mattes (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007), 88-89.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Faith and the Promises of God

From what we read below, in my post Faith, Healing, Prayer, and Miracles in the Gospels, we see a few things that stick out:

Jesus in a couple of places gives a dual structure: in the first point "as you have believed (πιστεύω)," in the second, "so let it be to you" (cf. Matt. 8:13; 9:29).

Many other times, Jesus says, "ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέ σε," that is, "The (ἡ) faith (πίστις) of you (σου) has healed (σέσωκέ) you (σε)" (Matt. 9:22; Mark 5:34; 10:52; Luke 8:48; 17:19; 18:42).

Other examples we hear: "great is your faith; let it be to you as you desire" (Matt. 15:28); "If you are able to believe, all things are possible to the ones believing" (Mark 9:23); "Do not fear; only believe and she will be healed" (Luke 8:50).

On the reverse side of this we hear from Matthew and Mark, of the same account, what happened when people did not believe Jesus' witness: "He did not do many works of power there because of their unbelief" (Matt. 13:58); "He could do no work of power there, except He performed healing on a few infirm ones, laying on His hands" (Mark 6:5).

We also see examples where we are led to believe that if one has faith, that one can do great things:

We read the account of Peter who, when asked to step out on the water, loses faith and starts sinking; Jesus says, "Little-faith, why did you doubt?" (Matt. 14:31).

We hear of the account of the disciples not being able to exorcize a demon; they ask, "Then coming up to Jesus privately, the disciples said, Why were we not able to cast him out? And Jesus said to them, Because of your unbelief" (Matt. 17:19-20).

Jesus says that if we had faith of a mustard seed we would be able to move mountains and throw them into the sea, curse fig trees and have them dry up, uproot sycamore trees and plant them in the sea (cf. Matt. 17:20; 21:21; Mark 11:23; Luke 17:6).

Jesus also tells us, "All things, whatever you ask, praying, believe that you will receive, and it will be to you" (Mark 11:24; cf. Matt. 21:22). As James (and James 8^j) reminds us, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (1:5-8).

I'm not concerned with the "miraculousness" of these examples, this is beside the point. What I want to get at is whether or not this portrayal of faith is the same as the Pauline portrayal and the Lutheran understanding of faith?

As for the second part of the question, whether this is consistent with the Lutheran understanding of faith, I think the answer is, unfortunately, no. As Lutherans, we often have a knee jerk reaction to anything that might make faith out to be a work. This is good, as far as it goes, but it often 1) doesn't get the full picture, and 2) leaves us scratching our heads when confronted with such verses from the Gospels. Lutherans say that faith is purely passive, and it is, but when we look at these examples things seem to get a little muddled. We can only be healed if we have faith? If, and only if, we have enough faith we can 1) walk on water, 2) exorcize demons, 3) throw mountains into the sea, 4) get what we pray for? Lutherans usually don't like talking about faith in a qualitative way; we talk about faith as that which receives God's grace of forgivness and salvation, and it would seem, nothing more. Indeed, this is certainly St. Paul's emphasis on his teachings on faith. But is it the whole story?

As far as a qualitative understanding of faith, we as Lutherans ask: How can it all remain a gift from God (i.e. healing, water-walking, mountain-throwing, etc.) if it becomes dependent on something qualitative in me, that is, faith? For this reason we simply say: faith is faith is faith, it is purely a gift from God. The problem is when we read in the Gospels, and it is brought into question: is it enough faith for healing? enough faith for walking on water? enough faith for exorcizing demons? enough faith for my prayer to be answered? We say in response: "If God wants to ______ he will do it, it is not dependent on me, he is certainly powerful enough. If he WANTS to do it, who am I to change his mind?"

In younger days when faced with this question I settled it in my mind, saying simply that: sometimes God makes the choice only to heal/answer prayer/etc. when there is an expression of faith. That is, sometimes he just heals to heal, while at other times he chooses to heal those who have a strong faith. So what Jesus would essentially be saying is: "I decided, this time, to heal you because of your faith." Just as he might have said at another time: "I decided to heal you because of your love/hope/(insert virtue here)."

This answer, though, simply does not fly. First off, why does Jesus repeat, "your faith has healed you," over, and over, and over? Secondly, why faith? Why does Jesus continually say "faith," not love, not hope, not ____? This second question is the kicker for me. It becomes clear that faith is not an arbitrary choice by Jesus, easily replacable by any other virtue. So the first major question, which we will get back to, is, why faith?

A second problem is: Yes, okay, faith. But certainly God heals/answers prayers/etc. in certain situations even without strong faith, right? He is not bound by our faith, right? And the more disturbing question: "God's not holding back on me, not answering my prayer/healing me/etc., because of a lack of faith, is he?" These can be very disastrous questions for people. They are questions, also, that don't have a ready answer in any given situation because, simply, we don't know the mind of God. My own general answers to these questions would be as follows: 1) Yes, God can and does do these things even without strong faith. 2) No, God is not bound by our faith. 3) We don't know the mind of God; it may not be his will to answer your prayer, etc., in the first place.

All of these questions, though, miss the point. They also miss the point of, why faith? They are questions that are focussed on me, not on God and his promises.

Paul Althaus once wrote (I'm not sure where), "I do not know whether I believe, but I know in whom I believe, and only thus do I know that I believe." The answer is God and his promises through his Word and Sacraments. What needs to be understood is that the basic and originally intended structure of our relationship before God was in God's self-giving through his Word and our receiving through the open hands of faith. This is a pretty basic understanding for Lutherans and is fundamental to understanding Paul: "We have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand" (Rom. 5:2). Therefore, whenever God gives through the open hands of our faith, this is a restoration of God's original will for creation. We see then, when Jesus says, "your faith has healed you," he is affirming the structure which God originally intended.

But the fact that God desires to give through faith does not mean that we should internalize everything and begin to wonder if we have enough faith; undoubtedly the answer we will find is, no, we don't. The point of faith is the promise, not ourselves. We repeat with Althaus: "I know in whom I believe, and only thus do I know that I believe." Left to ourselves we will never have a satisfactory answer. For this reason we look to the promises of God, including faith itself. We therefore pray with the apostles, "Give us more faith" (Luke 17:5); and elsewhere, "Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). Or, as Luther put it, "Pray God that he may work faith in you. Otherwise you will surely remain forever without faith, regardless of what you may think or do." (LW 35:371)

A proper understanding of all the examples cited at the beginning is to understand not faith, but promise. If it was a failed faith, Jesus says: "what about my promise?" (e.g. Peter walking on the water, or the disciples' inability to cast out a demon); or, if it was strong faith, we clearly see displayed the faith these people had in Jesus' witness and promise (e.g. "Your faith has healed you).

It is only when we realize that we can accomplish nothing of ourselves, that all the fear and torment of self-reflection and internalization ceases. Faith itself is a product of God's promise through the Word, not of ourselves. As Werner Elert characterized it, faith is an "infinite resignation." We need to realize that we are just like the sick coming to Jesus. They had absolutely no power over their situations--they were infirm, poor, and had no hope that anything would better their lot-- all they had was a promise of a man who was healing the sick.

May we all become more like Abraham, the father of faith, who "did not stagger by unbelief at the promise of God, but was empowered by faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that what [God] has promised, He is also able to do" (Rom. 4:20-21).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Faith, Healing, Prayer, and Miracles in the Gospels

I want to address the understanding of "faith" in the Gospels, as portrayed by Jesus. It is something I have pondered before and I thought it would be a good thing to address, especially within the Lutheran tradition. This is somewhat stimulated by some discussions on the Wittenberg Trail, one on prayer and the other on faith-healing. At first glance it would seem that the understanding of faith in the Gospels is not consistent with a Pauline understanding, and by extension, a Lutheran understanding. There is such an overwhelming pattern in the Gospel use of the term that it cannot be ignored and must be incorporated and explained within a Lutheran context. What one finds is that faith is almost always used in connection with healing, miracles, casting out demons, and prayer. This post will just give all the examples of this playing out. I will leave my analysis for another post.

The vast majority of the time in the Gospels, faith is presented as a reason for someone being healed or not being healed, whether or not one is able to cast out a demon, whether or not one's prayer is answered, whether or not one can cast a mountain into the sea or not. Besides a couple of times where Jesus tells someone that they are saved or forgiven because of their faith, it would seem that Jesus' portrayal of faith is not what we have come to understand it as, within the Pauline and Lutheran context. I have my own thoughts on this matter but would love to hear from my readers. How do you guys gel these things within your understanding? Do you know of any other Lutherans who have addressed this issue? If so, what were their conclusions?

Mat 8:10 And hearing, Jesus marveled, and said to those following, Truly I say to you, Not even in Israel did I find such faith.
Mat 8:11 But I say to you that many will come from east and west, and will recline with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven,
Mat 8:12 but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of the teeth.
Mat 8:13 And Jesus said to the centurion, Go, and as you have believed, so let it be to you. And his child was healed in that hour.

Mat 9:2 And, behold! They were bringing a paralytic lying on a cot to Him. And seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed one, Be comforted, child. Your sins have been remitted.
Mat 9:3 And, behold, some of the scribes said within themselves, This One blasphemes.
Mat 9:4 And seeing their thoughts, Jesus said, Why do you think evil in your hearts?
Mat 9:5 For what is easier, to say, Your sins are remitted, or to say, Rise up and walk?
Mat 9:6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to remit sins, then He said to the paralytic, Rising up, lift up your cot and go to your house.

Mat 9:22 But turning and seeing her, Jesus said, Be comforted, daughter; your faith has healed you. And the woman was healed from that hour.

Mat 9:28 And coming into the house, the blind ones came near to Him. And Jesus says to them, Do you believe that I am able to do this? And they said to Him, Yes, Lord.
Mat 9:29 Then He touched their eyes, saying, According to your faith let it be to you.

Mat 13:55 Is this not the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
Mat 13:56 And are not His sisters all with us? From where then did this One get all these things? Mat 13:57 And they were offended in Him. But Jesus said to them, A prophet is not without honor, except in his own fatherland, and in his own house.
Mat 13:58 And He did not do many works of power there because of their unbelief.

Mat 14:29 And He said, Come! And going down from the boat, Peter walked on the waters to go to Jesus.
Mat 14:30 But seeing the wind strong, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, Lord, save me!
Mat 14:31 And immediately stretching out the hand, Jesus took hold of him, and said to him, Little-faith, why did you doubt?

Mat 15:28 Then answering, Jesus said to her, O woman, great is your faith; let it be to you as you desire. And her daughter was healed from that hour.

Mat 17:18 And Jesus rebuked it, and the demon came out from him; and the boy was healed from that hour.
Mat 17:19 Then coming up to Jesus privately, the disciples said, Why were we not able to cast him out?
Mat 17:20 And Jesus said to them, Because of your unbelief. For truly I say to you, If you have faith as a grain of mustard, you will say to this mountain, Move from here to there! And it will move. And nothing shall be impossible to you.

Mat 21:21 And answering, Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you, If you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do the miracle of the fig tree, but even if you should say to this mountain, Be taken up and thrown into the sea, it will be so.
Mat 21:22 And all things, whatever you may ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.

Mar 2:5 And seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, Child, your sins are forgiven to you.

Mar 5:34 And He said to her, Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be whole from your plague.

Mar 6:5 And He could do no work of power there, except He performed healing on a few infirm ones, laying on His hands.
Mar 6:6 And He marveled because of their unbelief. And He went around the villages in a circuit, teaching.

Mar 9:23 And Jesus said to him, If you are able to believe, all things are possible to the ones believing.
Mar 9:24 And immediately crying out, the father of the child said with tears, Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!
Mar 9:25 And seeing that a crowd is running together, Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, Dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, Come out from him, and you may no more go into him!

Mar 10:52 And Jesus said to him, Go, your faith has healed you. And instantly he saw again, and followed Jesus in the highway.

Mar 11:22 And answering, Jesus said to them, Have faith of God.
Mar 11:23 For truly I say to you, Whoever says to this mountain, Be taken up and be thrown into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be to him, whatever he says.
Mar 11:24 Therefore I say to you, All things, whatever you ask, praying, believe that you will receive, and it will be to you.

Mar 16:17 And miraculous signs will follow to those believing these things: they will cast out demons in My name; they will speak new languages;
Mar 16:18 they will take up snakes; and if they drink anything deadly, it will in no way hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will be well.

Luk 5:20 And seeing their faith, He said to him, Man, your sins have been forgiven you.
Luk 5:21 And the scribes and Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who is able to forgive sins except God alone?
Luk 5:22 But knowing their thoughts, answering Jesus said to them, Why do you reason in your hearts?
Luk 5:23 Which is easier, to say, Your sins have been forgiven you, or to say, Rise up and walk?

Luk 7:9 And hearing these things, Jesus marveled at him. And turning to the crowd following Him, He said, I say to you, I did not find such faith in Israel.
Luk 7:10 And those sent, returning to the house, found the sick slave well.

Luk 8:48 And He said to her, Daughter, be comforted. Your faith has healed you. Go in peace.
Luk 8:49 As He was yet speaking, someone came from the synagogue ruler, saying to him, Your daughter has died. Do not trouble the Teacher.
Luk 8:50 But hearing, Jesus answered him, saying, Do not fear; only believe and she will be healed.

Luk 17:5 And the apostles said to the Lord, Give us more faith.
Luk 17:6 But the Lord said, If you had faith as a grain of mustard, you may say to this sycamine tree, Be rooted up and be planted in the sea! And it would obey you.

Luk 17:19 And He said to him, Rising up, go! Your faith has cured you.

Luk 18:42 And Jesus said to him, See again! Your faith has healed you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Austen Files of an Austenphile 01-13-09

An amusing narrative interjection by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey (1818), with equally amusing evidence, validating this observation, from the pages of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina:

"They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other's train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set; and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together. Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding -- joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers."

I found the following from Anna Karenina quite amusing, in light of what we just read above:
"[Anna] read and understood; but it was distasteful to her to read, that is, to follow the reflection of other people's lives. She had too great a desire to live herself. . .She forced herself to read. . .[and not long after]. . .She laid down the book and sank against the back of the chair."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Luther on Making Something Out of Nothing

This was posted by Pastor Kurt Hering on the Wittenberg Trail. I thought it was just wonderful, and I wanted to share it with you guys. I think it fits in well with what I said in my previous post, that we are all πτωχοι τω πνεύματι, beggars in spirit.

Psalm 38:21 "Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me!"

Luther comments: "'I am lonely, forsaken by all and despised. Do Thou receive me, and do not forsake me.' It is God's nature to make something out of nothing; hence one who is not yet nothing, out of him God cannot make anything. Man,however, makes something else out of that which exists; but this has no value whatever. Therefore God accepts only the forsaken, cures only the sick, gives sight only to the blind, restores life only to the dead, sanctifies only the sinners, gives wisdom only to the unwise. In short, he has mercy only on those who are wretched, and gives grace only to those who are not in grace. Therefore no proud saint, no wise or righteousperson, can become God's material, and God's purpose cannot be fulfilled in him. He remains in his own work and makes fictitious, pretended, false, painted saint of himself, that is, a hypocrite."
-Martin Luther, LW 14:163

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sights and Sounds from Andrei Tarkovsky's The Mirror

Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky (Russian: Андре́й Арсе́ньевич Тарко́вский) (April 4, 1932 - December 29, 1986) was a Soviet filmmaker, writer and opera director.

Tarkovksy is listed among the 100 most critically acclaimed film directors; director Ingmar Bergman was quoted as saying "Tarkovsky for me is the greatest [director], the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream".

Tarkovsky worked extensively as a screenwriter, film editor, film theorist and theater director. He directed most of his films in the Soviet Union, with the exception of his last two films, which were produced in Italy and Sweden. His films are characterized by Christian spirituality and metaphysical themes, extremely long takes, lack of conventional dramatic structure and plot, and memorable cinematography.

Tarkovsky's film, The Mirror, is a semi-autobiographical account of Alexei, a middle aged man who has taken ill and is dying. The film is a blended collage of both present day and past memories/dreams that circle around the themes of childhood, motherhood, the war, his father's abandonment, his own son, and his estranged wife. The film is a reflection of many of Tarkovsky's own experiences growing up, including: His fathers own abandonment and enlistement to the war effort; Living with his mother and moving to Moscow during the war; Both Alexi and Tarkovsky's mothers worked as proofreaders at a printing press; Tarkovsky includes many of his own father's poems into the The Mirror.

These are a series of looks at this BEAUTIFUL and POETIC film, incorporating some great music to top it off.

Scenes from The Mirror set to minamalist composer, Arvo Pärt's "Mirror in the Mirror."

More scenes from The Mirror, set to Iron and Wine's "Naked as We Came."

The last two scenes from The Mirror with an absolutely breathtaking performance of Bach's "St. John Passion" in the background. In the last scene, right after Alexi's death, we see a pre-war Maria, his mother, talking of his expected birth. It then pans to a dream-like sequence where we see a young Alexi and his sister taking a walk with an elderly Maria. Then we see a beautiful fade out between the trees with the three walking off in the distance. Perfect!

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Indicative and Imperative Nature of Faith and New Life

This is a section out of my senior thesis on sanctification. What it addresses is the seemingly conflicting scriptural portrayal of rebirth and renewal as being, at one time, solely the work of God, and at another, an imperative placed on man to conform to God's will. It is a matter of resolving indicative and imperative. Various Lutherans have addressed this issue, namely, Paul Althaus, Helmut Thielicke, Adolf Köberle, and to a certain extent, David Scaer. Helmut Thielicke, though, is the one who really hits the nail on the head in the first volume of his Theological Ethics. I have previously written on this topic in my post The Word, Communication, and Sanctification.

We heard a little on this topic from Paul Althaus in the post Althaus on Faith and Command. There are a couple of things in his portrayal that are not quite correct. 1) Althaus talks of: "Insofar as it is God's gift." When talking of indicative and imperative, we cannot say: insofar as it is indicative/ insofar as it is imperative. We have to affirm that it is, at the same time, fully indicative and fully imperative. 2) Another problem with Althaus' portrayal is that he talks of rebirth and renewal (faith and new life) as being, from the standpoint of God, indicative, and from the standpoint of man, imperative. Indicative and imperative is not a matter of perspective, as if man simply acts and thinks as if it were all his work, while in reality it being solely the work and fruit of God. Paul makes it clear that when man acts in autonomy from acknowledgment of his total reliance on God's grace, he acts in rebellion to God. We hear from Paul:

"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13).

"So, then, it is not of the one willing, nor of the one running, but of the One showing mercy, of God" (Rom. 9:16).

God tells us: "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9).

When God says "weakness," he does not mean, those who are especially deficient in themselves, rather those who recognize that without Christ, the Vine, they can do nothing (John 15:5). But we, at the same time affirm, "[We] can do all things through him who strengthens [us]" (Phil. 4:13). When we look at the subject of Christ's beatitudes compared to, say, the Pharisees, the difference is not that the Pharisees are stronger, etc., rather, it is the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek who recognize their total dependence on God's grace, this is why they are called blessed; we are all πτωχοι, literally, beggars in spirit, and yet, in this, we are blessed!

The Lutheran understanding of faith is a perfect example of the indissoluble connection of indicative and imperative. Emil Brunner writes: "The Word of God and the word of faith are inseparable. It is not God who believes but I myself who believe; yet I do not believe of myself, but because of God's speech." (Man in Revolt: A Christian Anthropology, trans. Olive Wyon (Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2002), 67.) Faith is at one and the same time completely the work and fruit of the Spirit of God, working through the Word, and yet, it is also my response to God's Word, God's claim on me. Faith is never, whether at the outset, in the midst, or at the end, a fruit of anything that is in me, and yet it is I who believe, it is I who say "yes." The Formula of Concord can even say that we "accept the offered grace." (SD Art. II, Par. 83) This is not inappropriate language if, and only if, the relation of indicative and imperative are understood correctly.

(You are not able to read this from a feed, you must come to the blogspot site.)
The Indicative and Imperative Nature of Sanctification

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Forell on Unbelief and Sin

"Man's predicament is that he who was created by the love of God to trust in God lives in unbelief and distrust. Pride in relationship to God is unbelief: we do not even believe that he is God. We live as if there were no God. And yet somehow we know that we are not really alone, that we are not merely whistling in the dark. Somehow we know that we are not really the Atlas that carries the universe. Somehow we know that we are not the masters of our fate or the captains of our soul. God is all about us. In him we live and move and have our being--and yet we do not believe. Theologically speaking, unbelief is the basic sin, the ultimate sin: unbelief in the love of God in the very face of this love; unbelief in death in the very face of death; and unbelief in the judgment of God in the very face of his judgment.

"Man looked at from the point of view of revelation looks far different from the man we discussed philosophically and religiously so far. In the light of revelation, man is incurably ill. His disease is sin, the "sickness unto death." It is a disease which he has contracted voluntarily but which he cannot get rid of voluntarily. It is a disease that affects and corrupts everything he does but above all a disease that separates him from his Creator and condemns him to meaninglessness and hopelessness. The disease creates many outward signs. We could mention the tradition capital vices as examples--pride, envy, anger, covetousness, sloth, gluttony, and lust. But theologically speaking, we must say all these characteristics of the disease are expressions of one basic trouble--the chief sin from which all others descend is unbelief. It is because man does not believe in God that he cannot live a meaningful life. As long as unbelief rule men's hearts the Christian life is impossible. It is unbelief which separates man from God, unbelief which brings him into judgment, unbelief that dooms him for all eternity. Man created in God's image becomes through unbelief a caricature. Created to reveal God's love, he chooses to reveal God's wrath and judgment."
-George W. Forell, Ethics of Decision (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1955), 78-79.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Hans Memling, Adoration of the Magi, c. 1470

"The Journey of the Magi" by T.S. Eliot

(A poem about Eliot's own journey from agnosticism to faith; he wrote it around the time of his baptism and acceptance into the Anglican Church, in 1927.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Austen Files of an Austenphile 01-05-09

They said he was sensible, well-informed, and agreeable; we did not pretend to judge of such trifles, but as we were convinced he had no soul, that he had never read [Goethe's] The Sorrows of Werther, and that his hair bore not the least resemblance to auburn, we were certain that Janetta could feel no affection for him, or at least that she ought to feel none. The very circumstance of his being her father's choice too, was so much in his disfavour, that that of itself ought to have been sufficient reason in the eyes of Janetta for rejecting him.

-Love and Friendship, 1790

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Faith, Fellowship, and Command

The basis of Adam and Eve's fellowship with God and the role of the command not to eat from the tree raises interesting questions for us as believers. Just what, exactly, establishes our fellowship with God? To observe the command not to eat from the tree, and to observe the result that occurred from the eating from that tree, one might come to believe that the status of man's relationship with God has an ethical basis.

The result of such musings has corrupted a true understanding of what it means to receive life from God. We begin to talk about Adam and Eve's moral capabilities; we say: "posse non peccare et posse peccare," that is, they had the ability not to sin and the ability to sin. We begin to talk of their powers. We begin to talk of a donum superadditum, a superadded grace that gave Adam and Eve certain moral capabilities. All of this points, even if it is denied, to an understanding that life in pristine communion with God is established on an ethical basis. It is to talk of what Adam and Eve could or could not do to remain in their relationship with God, thus making man, not God, the source of the communion between them.

Many problems arise from this understanding. First of all, it makes moral capability into a substance and power that man has in himself. This raises a troubling question: If Adam and Eve's ability to remain in a proper relationship with God was determined by their nature, something they had in themselves, why didn't God make their natures stronger so that they could resist the temptations of Satan? And, if God had done this, what implications does this have for free will? I first puzzled over this, oddly enough, when reading Milton's Paradise Lost.
One of two conclusions become clear, 1) this is an inadequate understanding of fellowship with God and another must be looked for, or 2) we chalk it up to a divine mystery.

The answer, I believe, is sitting right under our noses, and that is, God's grace through faith. Specifically, the Lutheran understanding of faith. Faith is the only way we can uphold that 1) Fellowship with God is completely a gift from God, 2) uphold that Adam and Eve had free will, and 3) It was not Adam and Eve's nature that determined if they continued to have fellowship with God.

If this were otherwise, a few Lutheran teachings would be compromised. One thing this would mean is that sanctification would have to be, whether we like it or not, to whatever extent, a matter of a gratia infusa, an infused grace. It would be a grace that would be instilled in us that would correct and heal our natures and make them strong enough at a certain point so that we could return to the pristine fellowship with God that Adam and Eve enjoyed. It would be a grace that we, as we grew in moral capacities, would be weaned off of so that we could stand on our own two feet before the face of God. This would also mean that, as man's nature is healed, he would begin to be able to believe in God by his own power; faith would, at a certain point, no longer remain monergistic. These things would not only be true of the consummation of our restoration with God, it would also be true of the sanctification process this side of the grave.


Paul Althaus writes:

"Human ethics can never play the role of securing or preserving man's position before God. This position is something given to him by God's love; it is not earned, nor can it be earned. And this is true not only at the outset, but always; God's saving grace is always prevenient grace. Ethical righteousness as a pathway to salvation is not only an impassible, but also a forbidden, pathway. For to follow this pathway would be to surrender the relationship of childlike trust."

Althaus tells us that to make our thinking and action the determining factor of our status before God is to fall into the same sin of Adam and Eve; he writes: "It is an expression of his sin, indeed of the basal sin by which he fell and continually falls away from trusting faith in God's love."

If fellowship with God is a gift, then, according to a Lutheran understanding, it can only be received with the open hands of faith; it cannot be enacted and/or preserved through our action. If fellowship with God was enacted and/or preserved through our action, it would cease to be a gift from God. Therefore, fellowship with God is a matter of faith, not of ethics.

Written into this gift of fellowship with God is the shape of the divine life before God, man, and the rest of creation. This is not a condition placed on top of fellowship with God (e.g. Yes, you have fellowship with God, but you must also do. . . if you desire to remain in this fellowship), rather, it is an expression of what it means to live in meaningful and self-giving relationships, reflective of God's own self-giving. It is not even a give and take situation; the life of self-giving is an outflowing of God's own love towards us. There is no disjunction here; God's love toward us is the same love that is expressed through us back towards God, neighbor, and in faithful stewardship of God's creation. In the pristine state of fellowship with God, there is no distinction between indicative and imperative. The gebot (command), as Althaus states, "is present as the reverse side of the offer [Augebot] with which the eternal love of God originally encounters man. Love's offer says: God wants to be for me; he wants to be my God. He has created me as man, and this means, for personal fellowship with him--for participation in his life in the partnership of love. Just as he, my God, freely gives himself to me, so he calls me also, in his offer, to free self-giving. Thereby he calls me to be his image. Such is his love."

In man's pristine state, there is no distinction between what God wills and accomplishes towards us (indicative), and what he wills and desires from us (imperative); all is wrapped up in the single and undivided will of God towards us, that is, the gift of divine fellowship with him and the rest of creation. As David Scaer writes:

"The law in its earliest expression is a positive statement of God's relationship to the world and the world's relationship to God. In this form the law is more indicative than imperative. It is more description than it is requirement. To say it better, in this form the law's imperative nature and the indicative of God's and man's relationship to each other are perfectly harmonized. . . The distinction between indicative and imperative is theologically unjustifiable for saints as saints." (“Sanctification in Lutheran Theology,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 49, no.
2-3 (1985), 186.)

In his pristine state, man's recognition of God's love towards him in creation, his promise to sustain and provide for his life, and the promise of fellowship with himself and with fellow man is no different than man's recognition that God, in his commands for us, desires only our blessing and benefit. Althaus writes: "Thus the command promises life; it is a commandment eis zoen (Rom. 7:10). It calls me into life with God; that is, into freedom. . . and into love, which is true life." Therefore, to question and reject God's commandment not to eat from the tree is to question and reject the life God offered them. David Scaer writes:

"He was prohibited from stepping out of this positive relationship with God. But this prohibition is not arbitrarily superimposed on man to test him, but was simply the explanation or description of what would happen to man if he stepped outside of the relationship with God in which he was created. The indicative was its own imperative. . . By stepping outside of the created order, man brought calamity upon himself. The act provided its own consequences. In attempting to become like God he placed himself outside a positive relationship with God, so that now God was seen as the enemy placing unjust demands upon him." ("The Law and the Gospel in Lutheran Theology," Logia 3, no. 1 (1994), 30.)

Consequently, to reject God's command is to reject God himself, to question whether God has the best intentions for us. It is fundamentally an expression of a lack of faith, a lack of trust in God's love and care for us. The fall of man is not a reflection of a default in the nature of man, and thus in God's ability to create, but rather affirms the fact that as beings that are created free, we have a question that is ever before of us: whether we will have faith in God's gracious favor and will towards us (both indicative and imperative), or whether we will reject God's favor and will.


Piotr Malysz writes:

"Humans are created to love God, their fellow man, and God’s gift of creation. By definition, they are social and vocational beings, relating to others in such a way as to further their good through God appointed means. In so doing, they surrender their being in all its individualism only to gain it back, in, with and through the being of another. Only by receiving and giving can they realize their humanity. Only thus can they be human beings.

"It has already been indicated that love consists in self-giving. Naturally there can be no love under coercion. Thus with its origin in the divine love, human existence is one of freedom. God did not create automatons but beings that were beautiful, interesting and worthwhile for their own sake—individuals with the capacity, of their own free will, to reflect the love received. A loving relationship by nature implies an option for un-love. Love as self-giving implies the possibility of rejection. It is in this context of what love is that the presence in the garden of the tree of knowledge of good and evil finds its purpose. To Adam and Eve was entrusted all that God had created with the exception of one tree, of which they were expressly forbidden to eat. In negative terms, the tree presents itself as an alternative to God's love; it makes the possibility of choosing un-love, or self-love, a real one. In positive terms, it underscores the free and self-giving character of the divine-human relationship, pointing to the centrality of love in the constitution of man. From man's perspective, it makes love possible. Finally, it points to the fundamental significance of trust as an inseparable aspect of love. Adam and Eve knew their creator intimately in his self-sharing. All they were and all that they had came from him. It would seem there surely was a significant basis for trust. And yet, incomprehensibly but in how familiar a way, they gave credence to the serpent's deceitful promise." ("Third Use of the Law in Light of Creation and the Fall," Logia 11, no. 3 (2002), 13.)
He writes: "There can be no love under coercion." As beings that are created free, there must always be the possibility to reject God's offer of the divine life. This is not ethically determined but rather reflects the necessity of freedom to mark relationships of self-giving love. For this reason the imperative must always remain. Althaus writes:

"The command is grounded wholly in the offer; it is wholly borne by God's gift to us. It is this gift that stands at the beginning: God's wanting to be for us. The offer, not the command, is primary. But precisely because this is an offer made in love--love that seeks me as a person--this offer, this gift, necessarily (with the necessity of God's love) becomes also a summons. God cannot be my God in a saving way unless I let him be my God. Otherwise the nature of the personal relationship, as God himself intends it, would be contradicted. He calls me to trust him above all things."

The option for un-love must always remain a real one; we cannot be and remain truly human, living in a meaningful relationship with God if, for whatever reason, we are not able to reject God and his love. This is what separates us from the rest of God's creation, it is what makes our expressions of love toward God and neighbor meaningful.

It might be objected, here, that this means nothing else than that fellowship with God is ultimately determined by man's decision to accept God in faith or reject him, thus making fellowship ethically determined. This objection, though, is a misunderstanding of faith, and how it is created and sustained.


If Adam and Eve's power and ability to remain in fellowship with God is something that was written into man himself, into his nature (posse non peccare), the posse peccare would be either a deficiency of that nature or would be its own (negative) power and ability. To say such is to misunderstand what nature is. It is true that man has a heart, mind, and will whose intentionality determines whether we are slaves to sin or are sons of God, the question is where does the quality of heart, mind, and will come from? Was the quality of Adam and Eve's heart, mind, and will, something that they had located in themselves, written into their very natures at creation? If so, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that the fall was a product of a qualitative deficiency in Adam and Eve's nature, and thus a deficiency in creation itself.

All of this is to misunderstand the character of the life Adam and Eve received from God. If fellowship with God is determined by a qualitative nature inherent in Adam and Eve, it can only be continually realized by Adam and Eve's autonomous moral exertion. Creation and fellowship with God can no longer be a gift that is received. Even if fellowship was originally a gift, through creation, its continued realization would be determined by man alone.

Roman Catholic theology has avoided an implication that there was something deficient in the nature of man by making a distinction between the image of God and the likeness of God. The image of God is seen as the faculties identified with man's rational capacities. The likeness of God was a donum superadditum, a super added gift given to man up and above his nature that made him capable of remaining in his pristine relationship with God. Saint Augustine writes: "Man was, therefore, made upright, and in such a fashion that he could either continue in that uprightness—though not without divine aid—or become perverted by his own choice." Even this, though, implies that something was lacking in man's creation. It paints a type of synergistic understanding of fellowship with God--partly man's naturally given abilities, partly God's divine gift. On the other hand, what this avoids is an understanding that man was not given enough "stuff" to remain in pristine bliss; what this upholds is that man alone is at fault for the fall of mankind.

It is this author's opinion that pristine fellowship with God never devolves from being pure gift into being continually realized only through autonomous moral action. And as gift, as with all of God's divine giving, it can only be received with the open hands of faith. Emil Brunner writes:

"Human existence was originally disposed for the reception of this gift, not for meeting an obligation by means of our own efforts. It is thus that we come to understand ourselves once more--our being according to the Imago Dei-- in the light of the New Testament, since we are renewed unto this image, through the Word that gives, through the self-sacrificing love of God, through a purely receptive faith." (Emil Brunner, Man in Revolt: A Christian Anthropology, trans. Olive Wyon (Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2002), 104.)

What we call man's "nature" in pristine bliss is not something that is self-realized as something he has in himself, rather, it is only realized through relation to God's continual self-giving love. Brunner writes:

"Man ought not to understand himself in the light of his own nature, nor should he regard himself as due to 'something,' but that he must understand himself in light of the Eternal Word, which precedes man's existence, and yet imparts Himself to him. Man possesses--and this is his nature-- One who stands 'over-against' him, One whose will and thought are directed to him, One who loves him, One who calls him, in and from and for: love. And this One who confronts man, and imparts Himself to him, is the ground of man's being and nature." (77)

We mentioned earlier man's heart, mind and will. It is true that in paradise our parents' heart, mind, and wills were directed toward and were in complete harmony with God's will. It is also true that man's heart, mind, and will, in his fallen state, is directed toward sin and is in complete contradiction to God's will. We agree, therefore, that both man in pristine bliss and man in his fallen state has a heart, mind and will. What is the distinction between these things? Is it a matter of moral energies? Was it a matter of Adam and Eve's heart, mind, and will being more powerful than a fallen heart, mind, and will? It is a matter of determining if these "moral energies" were something that man had in himself, in his nature, or if they were the continual gift of God's grace working through the Word, accepted through faith.

The Reformed theologian, G. C. Berkouwer, writes against this understanding of a self-enclosed nature, without relation to God's work:

"Every view of man which sees him as an isolated unity is incorrect. There have frequently been attempts to draw a picture of man through an elaborate and detailed analysis of man an sich, in himself, whereby man's relation to God was necessarily thought of as something added to man's self-enclosed nature, a donum superadditum, a "plus factor." But the light of revelation, when dealing with man's nature, is not concerned with information about such a self-enclosed nature; it is concerned with a nature which is not self-enclosed, and which can never be understood outside of its relation to God, since such a self-enclosed nature, an isolated nature, is nothing but an abstraction. The relation of man's nature to God is not something which is added to an already complete, self-enclosed, isolated nature; it is essential and constitutive for man's nature, and man cannot be understood apart from this relation." (G.C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God, trans. Dirk Jellema (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1984), 22-23.)

As such, God grace does not add to nature, nor does it discredit nature (two things a donum superadditum admits), rather, God's grace constitutes true nature as it was intended. The correct understanding of man's heart, mind, and will in pristine bliss tells us that their qualitative nature was not found as existing in man himself, but as coming through God's gracious will towards us, received through faith.

This is no less true of faith itself. The gift of faith does not add to nature, nor does it discredit nature, rather, true nature can only be received through this same gift of faith:

"Faith is not a gift in the sense of a donum superadditum added to human nature as a new organ. This would mean that an unbeliever is less of a human than a believer. Such a notion is the result of cutting off faith from total concreteness of human life. It may seem to honor the miracle of this gift the more, but actually it does injustice to the gift itself. Faith is neither a newly created human organ nor a new substance which is infused into the level of human existence. If it were, it would be scarcely distinguishable from the Roman donum superadditum. We cannot get at grace by compiling a studied list of anthropological data. The whole man beginning at his heart. . .is embraced by this immutable and miraculous divine grace. This is the miracle of the Spirit that remains indescribable although the attempts to describe and define it are legion. Istead of calling faith a new organ or a donum superadditum, the work of the Holy Spirit has been described as the great change of course from the way of apostacy to the way of the true God." (G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Justification, trans. Lewis Smedes (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979), 191.)

This is what distinguishes fellowship with God that is based on ethics and fellowship which is based on grace received through faith. Far from being a matter of ethical powers inherent in man, the issue becomes a matter of whether man is directed toward, and thus receives his life from, God in faith, or whether he turns away from God due to mistrust and lack of faith. The former is the gift and fruit of God's grace alone, the latter is the fruit of man's mistrust and misunderstanding of God's nature as love.

The latter is not a fault in nature, rather, it is the rejection of nature, the life Adam and Eve received right from the mouth of God. Emil Brunner writes:

"Man's being as man is both in one, nature and grace. The fact that man is determined by God is the original real nature of man; and what we now know in man as his 'nature' is de-natured nature, it is only a meagre relic of his original human nature. Through sin man has lost not a 'super-nature' but his God-given nature, and has become unnatural, inhuman. To begin the understanding of man with a neutral natural concept--animal rationale-- means a hopeless misunderstanding of the being of man from the very outset. Man is not a 'two-storey' creature, but--even if now corrupted-- a unity. His relation to God is not something which is added to his human nature; it is the core and ground of his humanitas. That was Luther's revolutionary discovery." (94)

Growth in sanctification that will be consumated in heaven is a growth in grace; it is not a growth of human nature so that, eventually, man no longer needs God's grace. The closer we grow towards God, the more we forsake "our own" powers and rely more and more on God's grace. Brunner writes: "The maximum of [man's] dependence on God is at the same time the maximum of his freedom, and his freedom decreases with his degree of distance from the place of his origin, from God." (263) We hear from William Lazareth: "Our growth is by way of God’s grace and not by our works; we grow theonomously more and more (and not autonomously less and less) in our total dependence on God’s unmerited favor." And again: "The more we grow, the more dependent we become on the gifts granted by the ethical governance of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who always accompanies the church’s holy Word and blessed sacraments." (Christians in Society: Luther, the Bible, and Social Ethics (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 201; 211.)

This is the only way that fellowship with God can remain gratia purum, pure gift. Once fellowship with God is turned into something that is determined by something man has in himself, with his own action and thinking, fellowship no longer remains gift. Just like Adam and Eve, it would be a matter of saying: Now that you are saved (created, for Adam and Eve) by grace, now retain this restored fellowship with God by works. On the other hand, as a gift, the option for its rejection remains a real one. To reject the gift is to turn away from God's will--whether indicative or imperative. To reject and break God's commandment was to reject God himself and his will for Adam and Eve's lives in fellowship with him. In breaking the commandment, Adam and Eve express their lack of trust that God's will for them has their best interests in mind. It is a turning away from childlike trust in God's promises, and a placing of their faith in the "serpent's deceitful promise." This is the only way to understand God's will for mankind; it is either accepted in childlike faith that it seeks only my life, or it is treated with suspicion and must be explained away through theological schemes and formulas.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Circumcision and Name of Jesus

"And when eight days were fulfilled to circumcise the child His name was called Jesus, the name called by the angel before He was conceived in the womb" (Luke 2:21).

Hans Memling, Presentation in the Temple, 1463