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 on the Sacrament of baptism. It is primarily an explanation and exegetical defense of baptismal regeneration. Go to or get the direct link here. Also, make sure to "like" 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

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

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