Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sola Fide in Patristic Literature

I have had numerous emails and comments about the sources I have recommended for seeing a "Lutheran" doctrine of justification in the Church Fathers. This is an attempt to put together a list of Patristic sources which I think approach a Lutheran doctrine of justification.

I had mentioned on my podcast, two apostolic fathers. First is Clement of Rome, who writes,

"All these, therefore were highly honored and made great, not for their own sake, or for their works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of his will. And we too, being called by his will in Jesus Christ, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men." (I Clement 32)

Second is the anonymous author of the Epistle to Diognetus who clearly teaches imputation of Christ's alien righteousness:

"This was not that he at all delighted in our sins, but that he simply endured them; nor that he approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that he sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. But when our wickedness had reached it’s height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting his own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great longsuffering and bore with us, he himself took on him the burden of our iniquities, he gave his son as a ransom for us, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the incorruptible one for the corruptible, the immortal one for the mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than his righteousness? By what other thing was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hidden in a single righteous One, that the righteousness of one should justify the many transgressors." (Chapter IX)

The best resource for the Apostolic Fathers is the translation: Holmes, Michael. The Apostolic Fathers in English (Baker, 2006) The old J.B. Phillips translations in the Schaff ANF series still hold up as well.

I would particularly point to the writings of St. Ambrose. His treatise On Jacob and the Happy Life is very significant in this regard. Look at the following quote for example,

"Nevertheless, the law was of help to me. I began to confess what I used to deny, I began to know my sin and not to cover over my injustice. I began to proclaim my injustice to the Lord against myself, and you forgave the impurities of my heart. But this too is of help to me, that we are not justified by the works of the law. Thus, I do not have the wherewithal to enable me to glory in my own works, I do not have the wherewithal to boast of myself, and so I will glory in Christ. I will not glory because I have been redeemed. I will not glory because I am free from sins, but because sins have been forgiven me. I will not glory because I am profitable or because anyone is profitable to me, but because Christ is an advocate in my behalf with the Father, because the blood of Christ has been poured out in my behalf. My guilt became for me the price of redemption, through which Christ came to me. On account of me, Christ tasted death." (On Jacob and the Happy Life, 133)

This quote is merely a sample of Ambrose's Christ-centered pastoral heart. You will find a lot of talk about justification by faith and the condemnatory use of the law. The English translation of this can be found in: McHugh, Michael P. St Ambrose: Seven Exegetical Works (Washington D.C: Catholic University of America, 1972)


John Chrysostom's commentary on Galatians expounds upon the law/gospel distinction rather clearly. He defines the purpose of the law as follows,

"the Law commands all its precepts to be performed, and punishes the transgressor; therefore we are all dead to it, for no man has fulfilled it. Here observe, how guardedly he assails it; he says not, 'the Law is dead to me' but 'I am dead to the Law', the meaning of which is, that, as it is impossible for a dead corpse to obey the commandments of the Law, so also it is for me who have perished by its curse, for by its word am I slain." (Comments on Galatians 2:19)

He also writes,

"For the Law requires not only Faith but works also, but grace saves and justified by Faith." (Comments on Galatians 3:12)

Speaking of Abraham, Chrysostom states, "And if he who was before grace, was justified by Faith, although plentiful in works, much more are we. For what loss was it for him, not being under the Law? None, for his faith sufficed unto righteousness." (Comments on Galatians 3:6)

Chrysostom's Pauline commentaries can be found in the NPNF series edited by Phillip Schaff. There are numerous editions.

Other works I would point to are Augustine's treatise On the Spirit and the Letter, which demonstrates a pretty clear law/gospel distinction. This work was especially important for Luther, as was the work The Call of All Nations by Prosper of Aquitaine, which I have often referenced.

I will probably do a part two to this post, because there are so many resources that could be referenced. My upcoming book deals only with the Apostolic Fathers, but I would like to write one dealing with Chrysostom and Ambrose, who are two of my favorite writers and preachers.

Ultimately, isolated quotes are not enough. You will have to read the works themselves, look at the context, and place these ideas into the overall theological system of these particular writers. This is what I attempt to do with my work, and hopefully some others will take up the task as well, looking at other early writers who I have not had the time to study.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How Christians Should Respond to Suffering and Tragedy


In light of the recent shootings in Newtown, CT, I spent the program talking about how Christians should deal with suffering in light of the gospel. Here is the program.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Refutation of Limited Atonement Part 2

On today's program I got back to the discussion of limited atonement. I primarily dealt with 1 John 2:2 and discussed John MacArthur's comments on the text which are used to support limited atonement. Here's the program.

I am still looking for financial contributions if you are able.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

St. Paul on Homosexuality


Continuing my examination of this popular image supposedly refuting a traditional Christian approach to sexuality, I come to the following claim:

The original language of the NT (dealing with the issue of homosexuality) actually refers to male prostitution, molestation, or promiscuity, non-committed same-sex relationships. Paul may have spoken against homosexuality, but he also said that women should be silent and never assume authority over a man.

What I find particularly interesting about this statement is that it presents two contradictory arguments. On the one hand, the claim is made that Paul had nothing to say about homosexuality, but on the other it is claimed that Paul has an antiquated moral world view which should be ignored. This demonstrates the fact that consistency is not usually the primary issue in such discussions. Proponents of same-sex relationships will often throw out every possible argument, even if the logic of various arguments contradict one another. I have heard public moderated debates with advocates of homosexual behavior who first argue that Paul allowed homosexuality, and after being refuted, retreated to the claim that Paul's morals are outdated and irrelevant. I will deal with both of these assertions separately.

First is the claim that Paul's statements about homosexuality are not about committed same-sex relationships. Paul has several statements about homosexuality, but look at the most clear one in the beginning of his epistle to the Romans.

"For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error." (Romans 1:26-27)

The language is pretty straight forward. The text doesn't say anything about prostitution, promiscuity, or non-committed relationships. The men in this text are described as giving up natural relations "with women" for those "with one another." Thus, the issue is one of gender. Rather than sex with women, men have sex with men. It's not that these men exchange natural homosexual relations with more abusive forms of homosexual relations. It may very well be the case that some of these people were involved in rape, promiscuity, or pedophelia, but the primary point that Paul is making is one of gender confusion. This is especially clear because of the creational context in which Paul is speaking. In Paul's argument, sinners invert the purpose for which they have been created. Humans were created to worship God, but through sin that worship is misdirected toward creation itself. Men and women were created for one another, but sin has misdirected sexual desire toward others of the same gender.

The second argument that is made here, which contradicts the first, is that Paul's ethics are irrelevant because he supported the idea that a woman cannot have authority over a man. There are a couple of problems with this argument.

First, it assumes that Biblical morality should be judged by some broader standard. Thus society, reason, cultural change, or some other factor establishes the nature of morality. This moral framework is then placed over Scripture which then judges what is and is not correct. For the Christian, the opposite is the case. The Bible defines moral truth, and the broader societal norms are then judged on that basis. I, as an autonomous creature, do not first decide what the role of a woman should be, and then evaluate the Biblical text accordingly.

Second, the writer misunderstands Paul's meaning when giving authority to men rather than women. Examine what Paul says regarding this issue,

"Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet." (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

1 Timothy is a pastoral epistle. Therefore, this statement must be placed in its ecclesiastical context. A woman is not permitted to teach or have authority in the church. Or, put in other words, a woman cannot be a Pastor. This does not negate the importance of women within the church. God has simply created men and women for different roles. One is not better than another. Paul was not implying that women aren't allowed any sort of authority in a broader social context. Surely, Paul was aware of Deborah's role as a judge! To argue that Paul's view of gender would disallow a woman's voting rights, hold civil office, or refuse a woman to work outside of the home is anachronistic and irrelevant to Paul's teaching in 1 Timothy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hyper Calvinism, Bishops, and Christology

On this week's program I answered lots of listener questions. I read an argument against limited atonement, defined hyper Calvinism, answered some questions from Roman Catholics, and discussed the differences between Lutheran and Reformed Christology. Here's the program.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Answering the "Shellfish" Argument


I am continuing my response to common arguments against the Biblical teaching on human sexuality.

Claim: The O.T. also says it's sinful to eat shellfish, to wear clothes woven with different fabrics, and to eat pork.

This is easily both the worst and most common argument against Biblical sexuality that I hear. It is repeated ad nauseum by atheists, gay rights activists, internet memes, television shows, etc. The argument is so bad, and so easily refuted, that anyone with even a basic understanding of either the New Testament, or Christian theology, would not attempt to make such claims. The argument is that the book of Leviticus condemns homosexuality but also condemns eating shellfish and wearing certain types of clothing. If Christians were consistent, they would follow either all of these laws, or none of them. Therefore when Christians point out homosexuality as a sin but not eating shelfish, they are hypocrites who simply pick and choose what they follow in the Old Testament and what they don't.

This claim can be refuted on two fronts. First is the theological. Christian theologians have historically distinguished between three aspects of the Mosaic Law. There is the moral law, the ceremonial law, and the civil law. The ceremonial law refers to various institutions and instructions that the Jews would follow regarding the priesthood, sacrificial system, and purity. These laws served two purposes. First, they separated Israel from the surrounding nations, demonstrating their unique status as a nation. Second, they serve as pictures for the coming messiah. Jesus fulfills both the priesthood and sacrificial system. These institutions are therefore no longer necessary. The civil laws are those laws which govern the nation of Israel. Israel was a theocracy, something which is not normative for nations today. Therefore it had specific laws which were used to govern the Jews which do not apply to contemporary societies. Again, this was fulfilled by Christ who came as the embodiment of Israel and fulfilled Israel's mission, and created a "spiritual Israel", the people of God scattered throughout the earth. The moral law is that which reflects God's own moral nature. These laws are immutable and are not historically determined. They are eternally valid. These are best summarized in the Ten Commandments. The sexual laws of the Old Covenant (not the required punishment which was an aspect of the laws of theocratic Israel)are part of this moral law. They are inherent in creation itself, and cannot be overturned.

This distinction was expounded upon especially by Thomas Aquinas (13th century) but has roots in Irenaeus (late 2nd century) who distinguished between the moral Law (specifically the Ten Commandments and) and the other aspects of Torah. It has been adopted by the Lutheran, Reformed, and Roman Catholic Traditions.

The second way in which this argument can be refuted is to looking at the New Testament texts which explain the distinction between the law which is eternally valid and that which is purely ceremonial. The book of Acts describes a vision that St. Peter has where he is told that the food restrictions of the Old Covenant law no longer apply.

"The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven." (Acts 10:9-16)

This story involves the passing away of the ceremonial laws as well as the inclusion of the gentiles within the covenant community. This is demonstrated as the story continues with Peter's meeting with the gentile Cornelius, and the Pauline mission to the gentiles later in the book. Thus those laws which were ceremonial (such as food restrictions) and distinguished Jews from gentiles (such as the civil laws) were abolished. They served their purpose and had been fulfilled in Christ. The books of Galatians and Hebrews expound upon this extensively.

So how do we know that the laws about homosexuality are part of the abiding moral law rather than the civil or ceremonial? Sexuality is an aspect of creation. God created male and female for one another, as Jesus himself affirms. Human sexuality is given a proper place in the Ten Commandments, wherein adultery, sex outside of its God-given context, is forbidden. The context of Leviticus 20, which forbids homosexuality, is an in-depth explanation of the commandment against adultery. It is in the same context as beastiality, and incest which are also opposed to God's moral law. Moreover, the commandment against homosexual practice is repeated in the New Testament (Romans 1), assuring its place as part of the moral law.

The shellfish argument is thus completely irrelevant and meaningless when it comes to the discussion of Biblical sexuality.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Response to Jason Stellman Part 2

On today's program I finished my response to Jason Stellman's interview. The conversation focused largely on the relationship between Patristic theology and Roman Catholicism. Listen to the program here.

Also, please consider donating if you have benefited from this blog, website, and podcast.

Sorry about the occasional chipmunk sound of Stellman's voice. I'm not sure why that happened in the recording.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Responding to Common Arguments for Homosexuality Part 1


With all of the good that has been accomplished by social media, one big downfall of the interconnectedness that we now share around the globe is the nature of intellectual discussions, how we talk with others about important cultural and political issues in contemporary society. Rather than thinking through one's own ideology and having in-depth discussions on such issues, our contemporary culture utilizes pictures, phrases, and articles which are passed around without any thought on facebook, tumblr, twitter, etc. The picture above is one such example. I use it because it is illustrative of the kind of arguments thrown around on the internet, seeking to overthrow Biblical morality.

I wanted to take some time to respond to these arguments, primarily because they are arguments against the Scriptural teaching on these issues. Whether or not gay marriage should be legalized, and whether it is beneficial or harmful to society is another issue which should be dealt with separately. Arguments like the ones above are probably the most common arguments against the Christian faith which I encounter in practical ministry. Perhaps this is because I live in Massachusetts, an environment that has been affected by the Gay rights movement more than other areas of the country; but I am sure that many of my readers have also encountered such arguments frequently. So I wanted to take some time to respond to the claims in this particular image, because they are so prevalent on the internet.

Claim: Jesus never uttered a word about same-sex relationships

First, it must be said that this presupposes an incorrect understanding of the Christian view of Biblical inspiration. Whether or not something appears in the "red letters" of Jesus is completely irrelevant. The church adopts a canon of 27 New Testament books. None of these books alone are sufficient for a thorough understanding of New Testament theology. The Gospels, the epistles of Paul, and the Catholic epistles interpret one another. They cannot be read in isolation. Because all of these books are normative for the church, it wouldn't matter if Jesus explicitly said anything regarding homosexuality if Paul was clear on the issue.

Jesus doesn't explicitly talk about a lot of things. He doesn't talk about rape, incest, bestiality, etc. The fact that Jesus is silent on these issues doesn't imply that Jesus was simply ok with all of these actions, but simply that it wasn't relevant to his current mission and context. Silence does not mean permission.

Also, one can identify Jesus' approach to homosexuality in a couple different texts, even though it is not explicitly being discussed. In Matthew 19 Jesus says,

"And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said,‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him,“Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." (Matthew 19:3-9)

In discussing the issue of divorce, Jesus explicitly defines what marriage is. It is a creational institution which involves a man and a woman. They come together physically and become "one flesh." Jesus assumes that this creational pattern is normative. This is further demonstrated by Jesus' approval of the Levitical law.

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-20)

Jesus approves of the TORAH, even to the point of affirming the "least" of its commandments. This comprehensive approval of the Law would include the sexual prohibitions listed in Leviticus which includes homosexuality. Jesus did not specifically have to repeat this command, but affirmed it by affirming the entirety of the Law.

The Law has a hold on us, all of us. What it says about us is true. What it condemns is condemned by God. This includes homosexuality as well as any other sin, sexual or otherwise. There is forgiveness for all of these sins, freedom from the Law, through faith in Christ who freely grants us a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees.

Will continue in part 2...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thoughts on the Visible/Invisible Church Distinction


In the pietistic tradition, the distinction between a visible and invisible church is highly emphasized. This doctrine made its way into the Waltherian school of Confessional Lutheranism; sometimes it is confessed that the church is purely invisible, though it has certain visible "signs" of its presence. There is some wisdom in separating true faith from external ecclesial structures, since faith is a matter of the heart, but ultimately I think this tradition misses the intimate connection between the physical and transcendental within Luther's thought. In reading an article titled "Luther's Double-Faceted Concept of the Church" by Vilmos Vajta (in the volume: Manns, Peter et. al. Luther's Ecumenical Significant: An Interconfessional Consultation. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.)I came across the following quote of Luther which explains the relationship between the visible and invisible rather well:

"Therefore, for the sake of better understanding and brevity, we shall call the two churches by two distinct names. The first, which is natural, basic, essential, and true, we shall call 'spiritual, inner Christendom.' The second, which is man-made and external, we shall call 'physical, external Christendom.' Not that we want to separate them from each other; rather, it is just as if I were talking about a person and called him 'spiritual' according to his soul, and 'physical' according to his body, or as the Apostle is accustomed, to speak of an 'internal' and 'external' person. So, too, the Christian assembly is a community united in one faith according to the soul, although according to the body, it cannot be assembled in one place since every group of people is assembled in its own place." (Luther's Works Volume 39, page 70)

For Luther, there is an essential connection between the two aspects of the church. It's not as if there are two separate churches, one visible and one invisible, but the church contains both a visible and invisible aspect. This is commensurate with Luther's sacramental theology which maintains the reality of the earthly and heavenly elements in vital connection to one another. Thus Luther's view of the church is not that of an ethereal Platonic reality as some allege, but is thoroughly incarnational. Not only is this more consistent with Luther's own theology, and that of the church catholic, but portrays the usage of ecclesia in the New Testament.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Response to Jason Stellman


On this week's program, I reviewed an interview with Jason Stellman. He is a recent convert to Roman Catholicism, and a former minister in the PCA. Listen to the program here.

You can go to Called to Communion to listen to the full interview.

Also, I have added a donate button to the contact page of my website. I am looking for some contributions to pay for a copyeditor for my upcoming wipf & stock book.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Message to Lutherans: Stop Being So Reactionary

"I don't believe in progressive sanctification"

"There is no experience of the Holy Spirit"

"There is no such thing as 'living the gospel'"

"Prayer doesn't change God, but only changes the Christian"


These are some phrases I have heard from Lutheran Christians, and have heard with some regularity. The problem with such phrases (I could address each of these statements individually of course) is that they are purely reactionary.

Lutherans have a tendency to identify themselves in opposition to other Christian traditions. Yes, Lutheranism does have a unique approach to the Christian faith, one which I think is correct and Biblical. But there are problems when one's theology is formulated precisely as not being something.

For example, many of the generation who were heavily involved with the LCMS in the 1950s through the 1970s have a very clear reactive attitude toward Roman Catholicism. It is common for older LCMS members, for example, to oppose having a corpus on a crucifix because it is too "Roman Catholic." This is also claimed about such practices as private confession and absolution, and wearing chasubles.

The Lutheran tradition historically has used crucifixes, and has never opposed such things as vestments, and private confession. Yet a fear of Romanism has guided our people rather than Biblical, Confessional teaching.

In some contemporary Lutheran circles I have often seen the same kind of overreaction, not to Romanism, but to Pietism. Because of the unfortunate subjective "sanctification" focus to the neglect of the objectivity of the cross and God's declarative word of justification, some Lutherans have labelled any desire for holiness, and any preaching of the third use of the Law, as Pietistic.

I have been labeled by some Lutherans as a "Pietist" simply because I don't drink alcohol (with the obvious exception of consecrated communion wine). Somehow attempting to refrain from something which I fear could be a vice is "not Lutheran" and makes someone a legalist. It's as if we've decided that the fundamentalists don't drink, and Lutherans do. Therefore, if you don't you must be a fundamentalist.

I have heard some faithful Lutheran pastors preach the third use of the Law, only to be accused of being legalistic, and missing the gospel. That can't be Lutheran because the Presbyterian church down the street also preaches the third use of the Law!

As Lutherans, we are defined by our Confessions. It is unfortunate that oftentimes we define ourselves as "not being baptists" or "not being Calvinists" or "not being Romanists", rather than defining ourselves by our Confessional heritage. When this is done, we usually miss the rich theology of our Confessions, and consequently, the clear teachings of Scripture.

This is an encouragement to Lutherans to define ourselves by the Reformation tradition, not by whatever bad experiences we have had with some other Christian tradition.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Some Problems with Covenant Theology


If you have done any study of covenant theology, you are probably aware that the Hebrew term berith and the Greek term διαθηκη are translated as "covenant." In Reformed theology, covenant is the primary hermeneutical grid whereby all of Scripture is understood. Thus, the relationship between Adam and God is a covenant (though never stated with the possible exception of Hosea 6:7), the relationships with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David are covenantal, as well as the New Covenant. It is even argued that the persons of the Holy Trinity have an eternal covenant among themselves (the covenant of redemption).

As a Lutheran, I have often been asked how we understand the concept of covenant. Is it an overriding theme of Scripture? It of course can't be denied that it is a concept used in Scripture. Yes, God makes covenants. I think that Meredith Kline's work in demonstrating to continuity between ancient Suzerainty/vassal treaties and the structure of the Mosaic covenant is helpful. But this leads me to an important question. Is covenant the overriding concept of Scripture, or is it God's way of interacting with people in a culture that had a prominent emphasis on covenants? Is God accommodating himself so as to interact within the current cultural milieu? I think the latter may be the case.

Look for example at how the New Testament speaks of covenant, using the term διαθηκη. There isn't a lot of talk about the New Covenant, at least not in those terms. Yes, we are people of the New Covenant in fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah 31. Yet, the concept of covenant is not used within the same suzerainty/vassal context that it is in the Old Testament. Look at how the concept is used in Hebrews 9,

"Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." (Hebrews 9:15-22)

The theme of this text is not covenant in the Old Testament context, but a testament or will. Because of the context in which the term is placed, it really is better translated as testament than covenant. The argument he makes is not in relation to any type of suzerainty/vassal or royal grant Hittite treaty, but the concept of a will and testament. In a will, one assigns all that they have to certain people. This only takes effect once one dies. In this way, Jesus willed us to have his righteousness, life, and eternal inheritance. It is only through death that this will is enacted.

Notice also, what this testament is connected to in the New Testament:

"And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." (Luke 22:20)

The Eucharist is the new covenant. It is through the sacrament that the gifts of Christ are given, where what he has left in his will for us is administered. It is here where the inheritance is given to those who partake in faith. This, I think, is where covenant theology gets it wrong. The New Testament doesn't have much information about the church as a covenant community, or about the sacraments as covenantal ratification, or any of the other language prominent within Reformed federal theology. In the New Testament, the new covenant isn't really a covenant at all (in the sense usually understood), but is a testament. And that testament is the Eucharist.

I was once much more positive about covenant theology than I am now. I do think that there are some valuable insights from many of these covenantal writers (Kline, Horton, Vos, etc.) but ultimately, I think that one theme of the Old Testament becomes the overriding theme of all of Scripture. The attempt, for example, to place Biblical inspiration in a covenantal context is far fetched and not exegetically tenable.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

This Week's Podcast: Why Limited Atonement is Wrong

I spend the entire program discussing limited atonement, primarily dealing with the books of 1 Timothy and 2 Peter. Here's the program.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

This Week's Podcast: Paul, Progressive Sanctification, and Molinism

I spent the entire program answering various listener questions. I talked about the nature of contemporary Pauline scholarship and the New Perspective on Paul, answered a question about progressive sanctification, discussed molinism as a supposed "middle ground" between Calvinism and Arminianism, and finally talked briefly about the reformation. Listen here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Infant Faith


One of the most contested aspects of Lutheran theology when talking to people tends to be the concept that infants have faith. Luther vigorously upheld the ancient practice of infant baptism against the anabaptist movement, and also sought to uphold baptismal efficacy. An objection which he often encountered was that since salvation is by faith alone, how can baptism save an infant, who does not yet have faith? Rather than answering the question in the way that Augustine does, wherein a parent's faith or the church's faith is imputed to the child, Luther argued that infants do indeed have faith.

In opposition to what human reason might suppose, infants can have faith. The Biblical testimony on this is clear. Look for example at Psalm 22.

"Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother's breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother's womb you have been my God." (Psalm 22:9-10)

In this Psalm, David discusses his faith, and in doing so references the fact that he had faith at a time when he was still nursing. How is this possible? The answer is just as clear, "you made me trust you." In Reformation theology (and all Augustinian theology for that matter)faith is a gift of God. It is not a human achievement, not something that one chooses out of a free will. If this were so, then infant faith would be impossible. But according to a monergistic scheme, faith is a divine gift, a divine work through the operation of the Holy Spirit. This being the case, why is it not possible that God could do such a work for an infant? To argue otherwise seems to imply that there is something necessary in a person for faith to be a possibility. This is in opposition to Reformation theology.

Peter Leithart makes the argument that infant faith is proven by the fact that we talk to infants. If we spend time talking to infants, and interacting with them, we do so because we know that they have an awareness of others. However limited that awareness might be, it is apparent. Are we, as Christians, willing to say that this is the case with other human beings but not God? Is not the reality of God even more apparent and real than that of creation? An infant has to constantly look outside of themselves to receive help; they look to others to get food, to move to where they need to be,and for every type of sustenance in life. Is this not precisely what faith is? Looking to one outside of ourselves as helpless creatures?

Just to make this more clear, look at a couple more passages. First, look at the example of John the baptist. Luke writes, "And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit" (Luke 1:41) John clearly had faith even before birth. It might be objected that this is not a valid example because of John's unique place in redemptive history. This may be the case, but what it does demonstrate is that infant faith is a possibility, not an absurdity.

Look at Matthew 18:1-6

"At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."

This text demonstrates that children can and do believe at a young age. The greek term used here "παιδία" usually has reference to an infant or young child.

There is a parallel text in Luke,

"Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:15-17)

This text is significant because it uses the term "βρέφη" which refers to infants rather to children in general. Jesus plainly admits in this text that infants can obtain the kingdom of God. How does one obtain the kingdom of God? Through faith.

Some might argue that this is an invalid argument because the point Jesus is making is not about infant faith and salvation, but about humility. He is using a child merely as an illustration. Even if this is the case, this does not negate the fact that the illustration is real. Even is he is primarily making the point that becoming like a child is necessary to enter the kingdom, this is only the case because children indeed do have faith. He says that "to such belongs the kingdom of God." This includes both infants and those who approach God with childlike faith.

This story is apparently so important that it is included in all three synoptic accounts. Mark writes similarly,

"And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me;do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them." (Mark 10:13-16)

Thus it is apparent that infants can have faith. There are numerous examples of this such as in the case of John the Baptist and David. This is clear due to the nature of faith as a gift. If faith as a divine act of the Spirit, surely it can be applied to infants. Finally, this is demonstrated by the fact that Jesus says that infants and small children can have faith and enter the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

This Weeks Episode: The Importance of the Reformation

This week episode is a special reformation edition of the podcast, in light of reformation Sunday this weekend. I didn't get to the discussion of limited atonement or listener questions, but discussed the importance of the reformation. I dealt specifically with attacks on the Lutheran understanding of Paul in recent years. Listen here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

This Week's Podcast: Covenant Theology and Romans 9

On today's program, I answered a couple of listener questions. First I talked about the use of the term "consubstantiation" and why Lutherans don't use it, and then I answered a question about covenant theology and the Lutheran law/gospel hermeneutic. I then continued our discussion of predestination, looking at Romans 8 and 9. Listen here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

This Week's Podcast: The NPP and Unconditional Election

On the third episode of the Just and Sinner podcast, I discussed the content of my upcoming book, answered a couple of listener questions, and then continued the discussion of Calvinism with the doctrine of unconditional election. Listen here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Properly Understanding the Two Kingdoms

Lutheran hour ministries has recently put a series of videos on the distinction between church and state in America. I would advise watching them if you haven't. It is particularly helpful in that the documentary seeks to approach the subject in a balanced way, affirming both the distinction between the two kingdoms, and the necessary interaction between them.

I think this is particularly helpful when looking at some of the more extreme views of supposed two kingdom theology in Reformed churches. Look for example at the following quote from Dr. Joel Beirmann in this documentary regarding the Christian necessity for cultural and political engagement,


"The error of assuming that I don't have a responsibility for this realm is an error. You could even say a heresy. Because if you get the distinction right between the two realms its easy to see that yes I have a responsibility on the left hand and and there's no way I can be quiet; I need to be active."

It becomes clear that Lutheran two kingdom theology is not the same as the American distinction between church and state; I fear that some have conflate the two concepts.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

This Weeks Podcast:Depravity and the Sacraments

Episode 2 of the Podcast is out! I took the first half of the program to answer a listener question on the number of sacraments, and then continued the discussion on predestination, defending Luther's view of the bondage of the will.

JustandSinner Podcast: Episode 2

Don't forget to subscribe on itunes.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Podcast now on itunes

My podcast is now available on itunes. Please subscribe.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/just-and-sinner-podcast/id566059976

Is the God of the Bible immoral?


I have been listening to many atheist/Christian debates recently, and one thing I continue to find striking is the continual atheist insistence upon the immorality of the Triune God.

Atheists consistently point to the "immorality" of the Old Testament God. They will point to the conquering of Canaan and the allowance of evil in the world, etc. They also continue to point the immoral acts that Christians have committed in history such as the crusades, the inquisition, etc. (Which doesn't prove anything about the truth or falsehood of the Christian faith; rather it confirms the reality of human sin which the Scriptures testify to).

But in reality, if either the Christian position is correct or the atheist position is correct, the God of the Bible cannot possibly be immoral. Let me explain.

First, take the Christian position. If God exists, he is by nature the standard of moral absolutes. The moral law is a reflection of God's own nature. Since God is by definition the standard of good, anything God does or says is by definition good. Therefore, by definition, God cannot be immoral or do anything wrong or evil.

Second, take the atheist position. According to a purely materialist approach to reality, there is no absolute standard of morality. There are several attempts to identify some type of standard of morality such as the consensus of a certain social group, a utilitarian approach that the greatest good for the greatest number is a moral standard, etc. However one wants to slice it, there is no objective standard of morality inherent in the nature of reality. This being the case, there is no purely objective moral grounds to judge the God of Scripture as immoral. When one argues in such a way, they are arguing with the assumption of an objective moral standard, which is a human presupposition rather than something derived out of the atheistic system.

The only way that one can possibly argue that the God of the Bible is immoral is by admitting that there is another, higher, objective moral standard by which He might be judged. Thus it is possible for someone from another theistic system to argue for the immorality of the Biblical God (much like a Christian would argue for the immorality of the portrayal of Allah in the Quran), but not for the atheist. Of course this would lead to a whole separate discussion of the reliability of the respective authoritative books, etc.

The fact is that an atheist cannot argue for the immorality of the Biblical God without first presupposing an objective moral system, thus acknowledging some form of transcendence and absolute truth regarding morality. Thus one is inconsistent with their own system.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Just and Sinner Podcast

I have been thinking for a while about doing a podcast. I finally decided to do it, so I bought a microphone and began recording. Here is my first episode: Episode 1

I asked what topic should be discussed on my first program, and the overwhelming response I received was for the doctrine of predestination; thus I did my first podcast on the topic. I hope to have a show out once a week. The second program is recorded and will be up next Wednesday. I want this to be primarily based on listener questions, and so if you have any theological questions you would like me to answer, or articles and videos you would like me to respond to, please ask.

The podcast will be on itunes within the next couple of days, and so you will be able to subscribe. All past shows will be on justandsinner.com

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My Upcoming Book

I just received word from Wipf & Stock that an edited version of my Masters Thesis will be published. The title of the work is The Righteousness of One: An Evaluation of Early Patristic Soteriology in Light of the New Perspective on Paul. I will keep you updated when I get a date for publication.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Priority of Justification over Sanctification

The following is a section from my chapter "New Life in Christ: Sanctification and Vocation" in my upcoming book on Reformed and Lutheran theology,




The primary reason why justification assumes a theological priority over sanctification is that it is a completed act. The work of justification establishes God's eschatological verdict of “righteous” placed upon the sinner. As Romans 4:5 states, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” As was discussed in the previous chapter, this text has specific reference to Abraham. In Genesis 12 Abraham was made an heir of the covenant, given the promise of being the forefather of the future messiah and the nation of Israel. Thus Abraham's journey of faith began earlier than the text Paul utilizes from chapter 15 wherein Abraham's faith was credited as righteousness. Paul explicitly labels Abraham as one who “does not work” and even calls him “ungodly.” This does not refer merely to the beginning of Abraham's life of faith, in which he would become godly and righteous by his own strength, but to the Abraham who had already left his pagan idolatry in order to serve God. Thus even after Abraham had some level of sanctification and displayed that through his good works, he is still labeled by Paul as ungodly, and is righteous apart from works. This demonstrates that justification is primary, not only in the beginning of the Christian life, but in one's continual journey in faith. Even after one is sanctified to an extent one can still be labeled as “ungodly” and “without works.”

There is a prominent pastoral concern in this discussion as well. As one progresses in the Christian life, rather than seeing victory over sin, one often struggles with the fact that the sins which should be done away with keep returning. The old Adam continually reasserts himself, bringing God's children back into the sin which previously enslaved them. If I as a pastor were to emphasize the work of sanctification and progress in the Christian life, one's state of mind would likely become that of despair. The progress that we hope to find in our spiritual journeys simply isn't there. Rather than pointing to that work of God which is still incomplete, that work by which God would still only be able to call his people “ungodly”, I as a pastor have a duty to point to that work of God which is complete, that work by which alone one will be received into God's kingdom and participate in the resurrection unto life. Alien righteousness is full and complete, and is the only thing which one can cling to in assurance that eternal life is a present possession, not the incomplete work of renewal which will only lead to the Christian's realization of their failure to progress as far as they should.

Paul demonstrates this principle in a pastoral manner in the first epistle to the Corinthians. Of all his letters, this is the one in which Paul deals with the broadest moral problems. The Corinthian congregation is struggling with sectarianism, sexual immorality, a lack of concern for the sins of others, and a tendency to take other Christians to court. Amidst this group of people, seemingly lacking the fruits of sanctification, Paul is willing to address them as “saints.” Even though they are full of obvious sin that Paul addresses throughout this epistle, they are righteous and holy people. After chastising the Corinthians for their tendency to desire taking others to a law court in order to settle church disputes, Paul warns them that those who practice wickedness will not inherit the kingdom of God. Rather than pointing them, then, to the sinfulness of their own lives, and the lack of fruit that they demonstrate, he reminds them of something which is a past reality. He states, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” He reminds the Corinthians that even though they demonstrate all sorts of sin and wickedness within their congregation, these sins do not define who they are in Christ. Though previously slaves to sin, the Corinthians have now been baptized into Christ, they have been set apart, they have been declared righteous and their sins have been forgiven. Even in the midst of a situation of profound sin, Paul is willing to assure the Corinthian believers of their status before God by their baptisms and their justification.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Some Thoughts on Mercersburg Theology


I have recently been reading a lot on the "Mercersburg Theology" which arose from conservative Presbyterian theology in Pennsylvania in the mid 19th century. The two primary proponents were John Williamson Nevin, and the noted church historian Philip Schaff. The main thrust of Mercersburg theology was the quest for a reformed Catholicity. This was promoted through the use of historic liturgical practices and a recovery of the sacramental theology of John Calvin.

The most important book written by Nevin titled "the Mystical Presence" defends a view of the Lord's Supper which proposes that their is a real partaking of Christ mystically through faith in the Eucharist. Though negating the Roman Catholic and Lutheran insistence on the local presence of Christ's human nature, Nevin argues against the popular Zwinglian Princeton approach to the sacraments that one partakes of the whole person of Christ through the sacrament. This partaking involves the mediating work of the Holy Spirit, wherein mystically the Christian is raised through faith to partake of Christ's whole person. This act offers and brings forgiveness to the recipient.

Nevin's view of the Eucharist is heavily dependent upon his insistence that salvation is both legal and ontological. Integral to salvation is mystical union with Christ. This goes beyond the legal/covenantal union that many propose, and approaches the real-ontic union idea of Mannermaa. For Nevin, the benefits of Christ cannot be separated from his person. Thus, the benefits of redemption involve mystical union and participation in Christ which is exemplified in the Eucharist.

Another emphasis of the Mercersburg theologians was the insistence that salvation comes through the church. The strict visible/invisible church distinction of Hodge personalizes faith to such an extent that participation in the external church becomes almost a matter of preference, being separated from an individual act of faith which occurs apart from the ecclesiastical community.

There was a lengthy debate between Hodge and the Mercersburg theologians which would ultimately determine the future of the Presbyterian tradition in America. Hodge viewed Christianity as essentially adherence to specific doctrines, thus the purity of the church depended upon its acceptance of correct doctrine. Nevin and Schaff argued for a more organic view of the church, wherein the Christian faith is not centered in doctrine but life. This does not mean life as in moral transformation as in Ritschl, but the life of Christ and the eschatological life that he communicates through his person. Thus the church as an organic institution continually grows and becomes more sanctified. In the minds of the Mercersburg theologians, this would hopefully eventually result in the reunification of the church: Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Reformed.

Ultimately, of course, the Mercersburg theologians were on the losing side of the debate. While Nevin's historical work regarding the Eucharist far outweighed Hodge's for a purely symbolic understanding, it was ultimately the Princeton tradition which would define Reformed theology in America.

I find it fascinating that there was (and remains) a movement toward catholicity within the Reformed tradition. I find this encouraging, but ultimately I don't believe that Reformed theology can solve the desire for catholicity. Nevin's emphasis on the incarnation as the paradigm for church life is correct, but ultimately cannot be sustained on Reformed principles. The Zwinglian principle that "the finite is not capable of the infinite" negates the possibility of a true Reformed catholicity. An incarnation-centric theology like that of Nevin and Schaff ultimately cannot stand within the Reformed tradition. To do so is to deny the central principle which divided the Lutheran and Reformed branches against one another. If you deny this principle, can you still be said to remain Reformed? I don't think so. It is not surprising to me that the Puritanical/ Princeton type of Reformed theology has been predominant. Attempts such as the Mercersburg movement and the Federal Vision movement to strike a balance between the two positions is impossible. Consistency ultimately must lean one toward Lutheranism or Princeton & Puritan theology. Either the finite is capable of the infinite or it isn't. There is no middle ground on this essential issue.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Review of "The Baptized Body" by Peter Leithart


Peter J Leithart's "The Baptized Body" is a fascinating read. Coming from the controversial "Federal Vision" movement, Leithart seeks to infuse a high sacramental theology into Reformed Christianity. His argument comes primarily through exegesis, though with a strong dose of Calvin references. Leithart argues that contemporary Reformed Christianity has deviated from both the Biblical and Calvin's understanding of baptism.

There are three main points that Leithart attempts to demonstrate in this text: "Baptism" is Baptism, "The Body of Christ" is the Body of Christ, and Apostasy Happens.

Leithart argues that all of the references to baptism in the New Testament are references to actual water baptism. Arguments to the contrary are groundless. They necessitate an arbitrary distinction between "water baptism" and "spirit baptism" which is absent from the text. Others argue for such a union between sign and signified that one can refer to the "sign" while intending that which is signified as the referent. As Leithart rightly points out, this approach is unwarranted and becomes an easy escape for any who deny sacramental efficacy to argue that any text about the effect of baptism is just playing word games and doesn't mean what it says. Especially illuminating and provocative is Leithart's argument that baptism is not a sign, nor is it a means of grace. Rather, it is a rite.

The second argument of Leithart is that the "body of Christ" is the body of Christ. In this chapter, Leithart proposes that the internal/external approach to the New Covenant and the visible/invisible church distinction are not valid Biblical categories. The phrase "body of Christ" is a reference to all who are in the corporate social community of the church. Thus, Leithart proposes that a better distinction would be between the historical and eschatological church. Though all in the visible community partake of Christ in some manner, not all of these people will share in the eschatological kingdom due to lack of faith.

Finally, Leithart argues that apostasy happens. In contradiction to the commonly understood definition of the Perseverance of the Saints, Leithart argues that one can have a true relationship with Christ and subsequently be cut off. He convincingly demonstrates that typical Calvinistic interpretations of falling away passages are unconvincing. Leithart does not, however, abandon the concept of predestination. According to Leithart, God does predestine the elect unto salvation and even predestines the apostasy of those who fall away.

Being a Lutheran myself, I had minor disagreements with Leithart's presentation; namely his insistence on double predestination and adoption of certain New Perspective on Paul views that I find unpersuasive. That being said, this is one of the best presentations of the doctrine of baptism I have read. Even if one disagrees, this book will cause one to think further through the issues and challenge common assumptions.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Lutheran Doctrine of Holy Communion

Here is another article I have written giving a historical overview of the 16th century Eucharistic debates and a defense of Luther's position. The Medicine of Immortality: The Lutheran Doctrine of Holy Communion

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Book on the Differences Between Lutheran and Reformed Theology




Once I compile that which I have written on my blog into articles dealing with different issues, I am hoping to get a book published. This will be a book dealing with the theological differences between the Reformed and Lutheran churches on numerous issues, and giving an exegetical and theological defense of Lutheranism.

The chapters I have done work on thus far are dealing with the following topics:

Part 1: Election and Free Will

Predestination
The Extent of the Atonement
Apostasy and Perseverance
Distinguishing Mild and Strict Augustinianism

Part 2: Worship

The Eucharist
Baptism
The Worship Service

Part 3: Soteriology

Justification
Sanctification

Is there anything else I should be dealing with that I have neglected? I would appreciate advice and recommendations.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Incoherence of Atheism


I think often about atheists, because they tend to be the most outspoken believers of any ideology which is prominent in contemporary culture, especially on the internet. Their extensive use of profanity, ad hominem argumentation, and ignorance of history and theology is often too absurd to even spend the time writing a response. I refer to those atheists who think Jesus never existed, and argue that the Bible was taken from pagan religions, etc.

But sometimes the absurd bares responding to, simply because of the prevalence of it.

One thing that I have always found particularly odd is the so-called "new atheists" insistence that they need to convert everyone else to their ideology. Many of the new atheists talk about their "conversion" to atheism as if it is tantamount to a religious experience which needs to be shared with the world. This then becomes an excuse to look down at other people because they are not as "smart" as the scientific atheist. One prominent atheist proposes that those who follow this ideology should call themselves, "brights" because of their intelligence which supposedly is greater than that of the "average" and "unscientific" person.

But this leads me to a particular question: why do atheists care about the truth? The assumption, for atheists, seems to be that truth is necessarily better than falsehood. However, in a non-Theistic system, there is no inherent value in anything, only attributed value. Thus there is no inherent value in truth. Thus, why does it matter? Why does it matter if Richard Dawkins is right about his views of the universe? Why is that necessarily better than believing that the earth is flat and lays on the back of a giant turtle, and that when we die we all become turtles with our own worlds on our backs? In a consistent atheist worldview, it is not and cannot be better.

The fact is that atheists know that truth has inherent value. This is the basis for the whole contemporary atheist movement. They know it because it is a part of the fabric of human nature, of the universe. God Himself is truth. He is the source of truth, ethics, beauty, and goodness. Thus there is inherent value in all of those concepts because of the nature of God's character.

The atheist is inconsistent with his/her own worldview by assuming a theistic principle to guide their insistence on the worthiness of their position. In reality, only two options are possible:

1. God exists, and value exists through the nature of His own character. Truth matters and is inherently valuable.

2. God does not exist, and there is no value in anything. Truth is not necessarily better than falsehood. Thus, truth doesn't matter.

The atheist can't have it both ways. Either truth is valuable, as is God, or truth doesn't matter and neither does atheism. Either way, the contemporary atheist movement is utterly inconsistent with its own principles.



By the way, I have control over which comments get published, and angry profane comments yelling about the flying spaghetti monster or shell fish will not. I appreciate thoughtful responses.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Does absolution obscure Christ's mediatorial role?


I received the following question which I think deserves a response since it is so commonly asked:

Hey, I just started watching your video "Just and Sinner: What is the doctrine on the two kindoms?" And you mentioned that if someone were to commit a crime to someone else, and they went to the pastor for forgiveness, then it was then the pastor's job to forgive them. Now I was wondering how that perspective matches with I John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." And I Timothy 2:5 "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus".

It is a common objection to our practice of pastoral absolution, that it obscures the role of Christ as sole mediator, placing the pastor in Christ's role. However, I don't think this is the case.

First a distinction needs to be made between a Lutheran and Roman view of ordination. In Roman Catholic theology, ordination is a sacrament. When the priest is ordained, there is an ontological change; there is indelible mark placed into the individuals character. He is declared an "alter Christus", meaning "another Christ." The man who is ordained then becomes a priest, and is able to offer sacrifices up to God on behalf of the congregation and re-present Christ's sacrifice during the mass.

In a Lutheran view of ordination, there is no indelible mark placed on the individual. Ordination is not a sacrament and there is no special grace thereby received by the one ordained. However, ordination is a divine call. It is a call from God, enacted through the church which places one into a specific office in the church. In this office one is to preach the word an administer the sacraments. The pastor's calling is not higher than other essential roles in the church, it is merely different. Thus all roles in the body of Christ are significant and no one needs to be placed above another as if a pastor is on a higher spiritual plane than other members of the church. But because of the divine nature of the call, the pastoral office should not and cannot be usurped by the laity, and the pastor should not usurp the role of the laity either.

It's clear that the Roman and Lutheran views of ordination are different. What Luther feared about the priesthood laying claim to aspects of Christ's own unique priesthood was done away with during the Reformation. However, Luther still promoted the pastoral office as one in which God acts to forgive sins. Does this not still make the pastor a co-mediator?

Think about what a mediator is. A mediator is a go-between, acting in an intercessory role between two parties. Technically, if you pray for someone else, you are acting as a mediator. If my brother falls into sin and I pray for his repentance and forgiveness, I am interceding before my brother, being a mediator between him and God. The point is that Christ has a unique mediatorial role which does not negate other mediators in a lesser sense. In the instance of confession and absolution, I don't believe that Christ's mediatorial role is being violated. This is apparent in the fact that Christ himself commands it.

Look at the following two texts:

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19)

"If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld." (John 20:23)

John commands his disciples, the leaders of the first century church, to forgive sins. He does not tell them to talk about the forgiveness of sins, or tell them where to receive the forgiveness of sins; rather, Jesus commands the actual forgiving of sins by his disciples. All contemporary evangelical interpretations of this text try so hard to twist its clear meaning. Looking at them was one of my primary reasons for becoming a Lutheran. The texts are simply so clear.

Remember that it is the same John who writes the epistle wherein he commands personal confession to God for forgiveness, who also writes of the forgiveness that the disciples could offer those in the church. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive. God does forgive sins through confession in prayer. However, he has also instituted a means by which the forgiveness that we receive can be heard and received visibly. This does not mean that Christ is obscured, but that when the minister proclaims forgiveness, it is the act of God coming through the pastor to bring forgiveness. It does not point us away from Christ's mediatorial role but points us to the one who continues to be our intercessor, assuring our salvation.

It is not the pastoral office that makes the word effective. It is not that the pastors words and actions have magical powers. Rather, it is the word itself which is effective, the minister is merely a means to bring that word to people's ears, and forgiveness to sinful saints.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Should Christians be Involved in Politics?

I am beginning a short video series responding to common questions regarding the Lutheran faith. Here is the first installment:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

An Explanation and Defense of the Lutheran Approach to Baptism


I have written a new article which is up on JustandSinner.com on the Sacrament of baptism. It is primarily an explanation and exegetical defense of baptismal regeneration. Go to JustandSinner.com or get the direct link here. Also, make sure to "like" JustandSinner.com on Facebook or follow JustandSinner on twitter for continual updates.

Baptism with the Holy Spirit and with Fire


In non-sacramental church traditions, there is often a distinction made between baptism of the Holy Spirit and water baptism. Baptism with water, beginning with John’s baptism prior to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, is a symbolic act wherein one’s conversion is symbolized through immersion. It is a sign of dying to the old self and rising to the new. There is a separate baptism identified with the Holy Spirit which is a Spirit wrought act separate from the water applied. In the Reformed tradition, the Spirit’s work of regeneration is symbolized and sealed through water but is enacted by the Holy Spirit apart from the sacramental act. In contemporary Pentecostal theology, baptism with the Holy Spirit is a separate action from both water baptism and regeneration, often identified with the manifestation of glossalalia.

The exegetical evidence does not support a division between water baptism and a later baptism with the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament water baptism, regeneration, and baptism with the Spirit are synonymous acts. Severing the link between these acts of God is unwarranted and unfaithful to the text.

All three synoptic Gospels record the account of John the Baptist and the distinction he makes between his own baptism and a later baptism. In the Matthean account it is written, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11) Some interpreters promote the view that this text is making a distinction between water and Spirit baptisms. However, this approach does not take Matthews entire Gospel into account regarding how Matthew himself writes of the fulfillment of John’s statement. The distinction is not between a symbolic baptism by water and a spiritual baptism by the Holy Spirit, but between John’s baptism of repentance and the church’s Trinitarian baptism.

Baptism serves in a chiastic structure in Matthew’s Gospel. Prior to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is the account of John’s baptism of repentance. The theme of repentance characterizes both John and Jesus’ ministry prior to the crucifixion. By accepting John’s baptism, Jesus indentifies himself as a member of sinful Israel in need of repentance, though without personal sin. Identifying himself with Israel, Jesus proclaims repentance and forgiveness until his crucifixion. After the resurrection, the ministry of Jesus is to be carried out through the church empowered by the sending of the Paraclete. Matthew summarizes the mission of the church in these familiar words, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Baptism is of the essence of the church and characterizes its mission.

Matthew introduces Jesus’ ministry with John’s baptism, a baptism of repentance. He points his readers forward to a greater baptism which he calls one of the Holy Spirit and fire. As Jesus raises from the dead and prepares to leave his disciples at his ascension, he gives the command to baptize in the Triune name. This baptism is to characterize the ministry of the church. By placing the introduction of Triune baptism at the end of Jesus’ ministry, Matthew intends this as the fulfillment of the prediction of John that one would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Both baptisms serve as bookends to Jesus’ ministry. John’s baptism of repentance characterizes and initiates Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus then ends his ministry with the command to baptize in the Triune name characterizing the mission of the church.

The division between baptism with the Holy Spirit is redemptive historical rather than existential. It is a historia salutis issue rather than an ordo salutis one. The baptism of the Holy Spirit which John predicts is not a baptism devoid of water, but occurs through the means of water by which the Holy Spirit is delivered.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Announcing the Launch of JustandSinner.com

I have put together a website so that my articles, sermons, interviews, and blog are easily accessible in one place. JustandSinner.com

I will hopefully have more articles up soon. Any recommendations or advice for the site would be appreciated.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

An Exegetical and Theological Defense of Universal Atonement


I have begun the process of taking several blog entries related to a certain topic and compiling them into essays in defense of particular Lutheran doctrines. I am working on a website where I can compile these and other essays I have written for the sake of easier access than looking through old blog entries to find the topic of interest.

The first one that I have written is on the doctrine of universal atonement. I have taken all of my blog entries related to the subject, edited them heavily, and added new material. This is an attempt at a short but comprehensive refutation of Limited Atonement. Eventually I hope to write a book on the subject because the topic merits more in-depth discussion but this will have to do for now.

An Exegetical and Theological Defense of Universal Atonement

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Issues Etc. Interview on Justification

I was on Issues etc. today discussing my recent article on Justification. Listen here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Distinguishing Arminianism from Semi-Pelagianism

A reader of my blog approached me with a question regarding the difference between total depravity and total inability. Apparently, some Arminians had distinguished the two terms claiming that they believe in total depravity but not total inability.

Generally, total depravity refers to the first of the five points of Calvinism. It is the belief that humans are "totally depraved" due to the effect of original sin. This does not mean that humans are as evil as they could be (utter depravity) but that sin effects every part of human existence. Every part of humanity is deeply corrupted by sin. There is therefore no free will by which one can choose to follow God apart from grace. A depraved will can never choose that which is spiritually good.

Total inability is a more specific term. While depravity refers to the entire effect of original sin on a person, inability refers specifically to the fact that men and women are unable to make a decision to follow God, or put their faith in Jesus. It takes a divine work of monergism to convert the soul.

While I had not previously encountered Arminians making this distinction, I understand why the distinction is made. Historical Arminianism has typically confessed total depravity. According to Jacob Arminius, man's nature is so corrupted by the fall that apart from grace no one would ever make the choice to convert to the Christian faith. However, God in His grace had mercy on the human race. God decided to give prevenient grace to all men. Prevenient grace doesn't convert, but frees men's wills to the extent that they now can choose to accept or reject the gospel. This allows them to both say that apart from grace no one is converted, but also that man does have the ability, through grace, to accept or reject the gospel.

Both Lutherans and Calvinists often refer to Arminians as "semi-Pelagians" in their approach to grace and free will. However, this distinction points us to the fact that their is a great difference between Arminianism and semi-Pelagianism. Semi-Pelagians, best exemplified by John Cassian in the 5th century, argued that people can, apart from grace, make the first movement toward God. At that point grace takes over and finishes the work of salvation. (Though Cassian admitted that in certain circumstances grace did make the first movement) Thus, semi-Pelagianism rejected both total inability and total depravity.

Arminianism, rather than being semi-Pelagian, is semi-Augustinian. The finest proponent of this perspective in the early church was Gregory the Great. Being greatly influenced by Augustine's writings on grace and free will, Gregory acknowledged that apart from grace no one could believe the gospel. However, Gregory admitted that a preparatory grace was given by which men could choose to either accept or reject the gospel.

If you would like to read further on this distinction, I would recommend Roger Olson's book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Response to "Justification: Five Views"

A response I have written to the book "Justification: Five views" has been published by Logia. It can be found online here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Does 1 Timothy 3:15 Support the Roman Magisterium?

Due to all the talk in the blogosphere about Jason Stellman's announcement that he is converting to Rome, I felt that it was a good time to answer a question posed by one of my readers regarding a text frequently used by Roman apologists, 1 Timothy 3:15.

"if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." (NIV)

The claim made regarding this particular passage is that if it is the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth, then sola scriptura cannot possibly be true. If Paul held to sola scriptura, surely he would have labeled scripture the pillar and foundation of the truth rather than the church. This is then assumed to be the case only in the Roman church, rendering all Protestants, Anglicans and Lutherans wrong. I find this argument unpersuasive. Here are a couple reasons why:

First, notice what the text doesn't say. A comment made in passing about the church is hardly grounds for assuming an infallible magisterium under the Roman Papacy. This text says nothing about any magisterium or Pope. There is no definition of the church given in this text at all. Does it refer to the church in the apostolic era? The Eastern Orthodox church? The Coptic church? For a Roman Catholic to simply assume that it refers to what would become the modern Roman Church is highly isogetical. The text does not say anything about the infallibility of the Church. It doesn't give justification for the convening of infallible church councils. It doesn't give the Roman bishop authority to establish dogma by decree when speaking ex cathedra.

Second, the text doesn't state that the Church is the sole foundation of the truth. Look at the way the text is translated in the ESV:

"if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth." (ESV)

Here is the Greek text:

"ἐὰν δὲ βραδύνω, ἵνα εἰδῇς πῶς δεῖ ἐν οἴκῳ θεοῦ ἀναστρέφεσθαι, ἥτις ἐστὶν ἐκκλησία θεοῦ ζῶντος, στῦλος καὶ ἑδραίωμα τῆς ἀληθείας·" (SBL)

Both translations of the text are possible renderings. Paul could either be saying that the church is the foundation of the truth or a foundation of the truth. The absence of a definite article leaves either translation as a possibility. Irenaeus for example is just as willing to call scripture the "ground and pillar of our faith." (Against Heresies 31:1.2) He did not assume exclusivity to the claim that the church is the foundation of the truth.

All of that being said, neither translation renders the Lutheran approach to sola scriptura false. I can't imagine any Lutheran shying away from the statement that the church is the pillar and foundation of truth. The church is where the gospel comes to God's people. It is where the Scripture is proclaimed with boldness. The church is where faith exists, and where the sacraments come to God's people. Surely, there is nowhere else on earth other than in the church where the truth of the gospel is proclaimed. If someone were to ask where the truth is in American society, I could easily answer, "not the government, not in the broader culture, certainly not in the public school system, but in the church!" To assume anything beyond this of one statement made in passing without any broader explanation is reading far too much into the text.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Response to Some Question on the Sacraments

I got a recent comment on an old post which I felt was worth responding to with a new post because these are some very commonly asked questions:

1) You said one can be justified by faith alone without needing to be baptize (at least in some special cases). Can you provide instances of these?

The typical response to this question is to point to the thief on the cross. Clearly the thief on the cross did not have the opportunity to accept baptism but was received into paradise regardless. This is the only case I can think of, because all others who become believers in the New Testament have the opportunity to receive baptism. True faith will always result in baptism. Luther says that it is not the lack of baptism that damns but the rejection of it. Baptism is the ordinary means of regeneration but not the only means.

2) Can you please enumerate, based on what Luther taught, the benefit(s) of baptism for adults who have already come to faith in Christ?

This is a somewhat complex question. For Luther, everyone in Germany was baptized as an infant. He didn't face the question in the same way we do today. The Lutheran scholastic tradition is somewhat muddled on this question as well, sometimes seeming to promote baptismal regeneration for infants only, and baptism as a sign and assurance of faith for others. This is one of Charles Hodge's main arguments against a Lutheran view of baptismal regeneration, because it has no clear doctrine of baptism for both infants and believers. I would say, in response to this question, that baptism gives the gospel promise in a concrete way for the believer, seals him with the Holy Spirit, and brings the forgiveness of sins. These things are present through the word but are sealed, confirmed, and strengthened through baptism. It seems clear in the book of Acts, and of the way Paul speaks of baptism, that the presence of the Spirit becomes greater through baptism. He is present in a way he is not beforehand.

I also think that one can speak of regeneration as more than a one time act. Luther speaks of the Christian life as continual repentance and renewal. Thus I think it is valid to say that one was both regenerated through the word, and through baptism (which also is accompanied by the word).

3) Again, with regards to those who have trusted in Christ for Salvation and are not yet baptized, are they saved already, or not yet until they are baptized?

They are saved through the word, which is also a means of regeneration. However, they should not neglect the great benefits given through baptism which does not then become a mere symbol.

4) Do Lutherans believe in mortal sin?

Yes. We don't have a list of sins that are mortal, or believe that the believer is constantly falling out of a state of grace. However, continual unrepentant sin can drive away the Spirit and cause the loss of faith. This does not have to be then remedied through satisfaction or works of penance, but is forgiven when one trusts in the gospel promise. The Lutheran fathers do use the language of mortal and venial sin, but not in the Roman Catholic sense.

5) What is Absolution?

Absolution is a proclamation of the Pastor that he forgives all of our sins for the sake of Christ. This is often called the "office of the keys" and is based on Jesus' words in Matthew 16 and John 20, that whatever sins are forgiven by the disciples are also forgiven in heaven. The words of the pastor become the words of Christ, as through human words, God conveys the benefits of the gospel. This is often called by Lutherans a third sacrament.

6) I was baptized in a Baptist church (which holds that baptism is a mere profession of faith). Does Lutherans accept my baptism as valid?

The validity of baptism depends on God's word and promise, not on the faith or life of the minister. This was defended by St. Augustine against the Donatists who held that an unholy man's baptism was invalid. As long as the word was present, and the Triune name invoked, your baptism is valid.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sermon on John 10

My sermon on John 10, concerning Jesus as the good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. here

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Quick Update on my Life

I just want to let all of my readers know about the direction of my life and ministry that has developed in the past few months. In April I defended my Masters thesis on the doctrine of Justification in Luther, the New Perspective on Paul, and the early Church, at Trinity Lutheran College in Everett Washington. I passed my defense and received my Degree. I have begun applying for Ph.D. programs, and am pursuing a dissertation on the topic of justification in contemporary theological dialogue dealing with the New Perspective on Paul, the Finnish Interpretation of Luther, and Forde's "Radical Lutheranism." I hope to begin a Ph.D. program this fall.

On the ministry front, I am finishing my vicarage at St. John's Lutheran Church in Westfield, MA. This summer I will be interviewing for ordination in the AALC, (www.taalc.org) a small Confessional Luther church body in full fellowship with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. I hope to receive a call soon thereafter. I would appreciate all of your prayers through this process.

I also will begin posting audio of my sermons on a regular basis for anyone interested.