Friday, January 28, 2011

What do you mean by "evangelism"?

We commend to our readers the following (intentionally) provocative article written by LCMS Pastor Larry Peters on the subject of evangelism. Although he writes about a shift in emphasis he has perceived in his own synod, his observations are just as appropriate for us in the WELS. I have highlighted in blue a few especially well-worded sections. The highlighting is not found in the original.

If anyone reads this and comes away thinking, "Those Intrepid Lutherans are against evangelism!", he will have missed the point entirely. We (and Pr. Peters) are very much in favor of evangelism. The question is, what do you mean by "evangelism"?


Why I am not in favor of evangelism...

I hope the title got your attention. It was meant to be provocative. In part because the whole nature of the Church's mission has been co-opted by those who believe that we are here to bring non-believers into a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the kind of the stuff I hear all the time (even from within my own church body). I will say it bluntly. That is not the job of the Church. We exist to draw others into the community of faith through the means of grace by which faith is born, people die and rise with Christ in baptism, sins are forgiven, hearts and minds are nurtured for the kingdom of God, and they are fed and nourished upon the bread which is Christ's body and the cup which is His blood.

I cannot trace when it happened but at some point in time evangelism became an abstraction. It became a program or a direction seemingly unrelated to the Church as the community of faith and the Body of Christ. Somehow Christians began to get the idea that a relationship with God was possible apart from and outside the realm of the Church, the assembly of God's people around the Word and Sacraments through which God has promised to work His saving work for us and for all who will be saved. The point is not to figure out where this mistaken idea came from but to confess that it has predominated our thinking as Lutheran Christians for some time.

We felt the need to set up evangelism committees and board structures to handle this work of evangelism. In some cases, we identified specific individuals with the gift of being an evangelist and removed from the faithful the task of witness and left them with worship, prayer, mercy, and service. (Recall of the Abdon plan and constitution?) They were not angry by the removal of this part of their baptismal calling -- even somewhat relieved since they saw evangelism through the eyes of the fundamentalists and evangelicals who knocked on doors and wondered what would happen to those folks if they died tonight -- a distinctly unLutheran question.

Lutherans about this time began to see Sunday morning in a different light and wanted the worship service to be accessible to and warm and friendly for all who showed up -- no matter how far they were from the kingdom of God. Lutherans began to watch how Billy Graham packed them down through the altar call and heard some of those who prayed so sincerely the sinner's prayer and were almost ashamed and embarrassed at their own liturgy, hymnody, and focus on the means of grace.

Collver also spoke about the witness of the Church, her mission, not as abstract love for and seeking after the salvation of souls but the specific and concrete mission which brings the sinner into the domain of our Lord's saving mercy through the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments, the means of grace that alone deliver Christ's gifts to the sinner. In other words the mission of the Church is to bring people not into some abstract relationship with Jesus but into the concrete relationship founded not on feeling or choice but upon a specific font, pulpit, and table.

All of the people of God are called to witness -- not just those who show the aptitude for it. None of us can escape the call and responsibility to give account of the hope that is within us and to locate the source of that hope in the Gospel the flows from the means of grace -- Word, water, and table -- of a specific place. It is not that evangelism is wrong but the idea of an evangelism that is concerned about the souls of people without being concerned with their life in the community of God's people gathered around His Word and table.

The people of the world wonder about a Christian who wants to share a product but without sharing where the product is to be found. If I tell someone about a great frozen pizza I found and leave them to feed on this pizza in their heart without sharing where this pizza can be found and what is its name, I have given them nothing at all. As Lutheran Christians we believe, and we believe that this is the true apostolic and catholic faith, that God works through His means of grace, He does what He has promised to do where He has placed His promise. So it can never be our goal to tell them about Jesus unless we bring them to the Church where Jesus is present in His Word and Sacraments, doing what He has pledged and promised to do. We cannot allow evangelism to be disjointed from the task of bringing people into the Church where the Word is rightly proclaimed (the Law/Gospel dialectic is most helpful here) and where the Sacraments are administered according to Christ's command and institution.

We do this not out of guilt or duty but because it is our joyful and grateful response to what God has done for us in Christ, because of our confidence in God's efficacious Word and Sacraments, because we know where Christ has located Himself in these means of grace, and because the Church is not some affinity group but the called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified people of God in Christ -- who is not content with the 99 who are present but continually seeks after the lost one that he or she may be found. Far from being a burden, this is the natural outgrowth of our life together around these means of grace -- to tell everyone what He has done, to proclaim the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and to make sure every brother and sister knows, "we have found the Messiah (Christ)."

The truth is I do not have the foggiest idea how to have a relationship with Jesus Christ apart from the Word and Sacraments in which Christ has hidden Himself and revealed Himself. Unless I am completely mistaken, the only way to know Christ is to know Him where and as He has chosen to make Himself known. It is for this reason we keep saying "means of grace" -- not because it is some confessional mantra. The only grace we know is the grace made known to us in the Word of the Cross, the water of life, the voice of absolution, and the bread and wine of His table. It is not here or somewhere else. It is here or nowhere else.

Five Minutes Daily with Luther - January 28

(Reprinted with permission from Five Minutes Daily with Luther: Daily Lessons from the Writings of Martin Luther, by John Theodore Mueller.)

"As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed" Galatians 1:9.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In this verse Paul repeats the same thing again, only changing the persons. Before he cursed himself, his brethren, and an angel from heaven. Here he says, If there are any besides us who preach to you any other Gospel than that which you have received from us, let them also be accursed. This shows exceedingly great fervency of spirit in the Apostle, that he dares to curse all teachers throughout the whole world and in heaven who alter his Gospel and teach any other; all men must either believe that Gospel that Paul preached, or else they must be accursed and condemned. The changing of persons is here to be marked. Paul speaks otherwise in the first cursing than he does in the second. In the first he says, “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you”; in the second, “a gospel contrary to that which you received.” And this he does, lest the Galatians should say, We did not alter the Gospel that you preached unto us; we simply did not understand you rightly, but the teachers who came after you have declared to us the true meaning. This, Paul says, I will in no case admit. They ought to add nothing to it, nor correct it, for that which you heard of me is the sincere Word of God; this alone must remain. Neither do I desire myself to be another sort of teacher than I was, nor you other disciples. For this reason, if you hear any man bringing any other Gospel than the one you have heard from me, or bragging that he will deliver better things than you have received from me, let him and his disciples be both accursed. Paul here subjects himself and an angel from heaven, all doctors upon earth, and all other teachers and masters whatsoever, under the authority of the Scripture. No doctrine ought to be taught or heard in the Church other than the pure Word of God.
Within Thy temple when they stand,
To teach the truth as taught by Thee,
Savior, like stars in Thy right hand,
Let all Thy Church’s pastors be.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Five Minutes Daily with Luther - January 21

(Reprinted with permission from Five Minutes Daily with Luther: Daily Lessons from the Writings of Martin Luther, by John Theodore Mueller.)

"and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia"
Galatians 1:2.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

These words are to stop the mouths of those false apostles; for all Paul’s arguments tend to the advancing and magnifying of his ministry, and, contrariwise, to the discrediting of theirs. It is as if he would say: “Although it is enough that I, through a divine calling, am sent as an Apostle by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him up from the dead; yet, lest I should be alone, I add besides, that all the brethren, who are not Apostles, but fellow-soldiers, write this Epistle as well as I, and bear witness with me that my doctrine is true and godly. For this reason we are sure that Christ is present with us and that He teaches and speaks in the midst of us and in our church. As for the false apostles, if they are anything, they are sent either of men, or by men; but I am sent of God the Father, and by Jesus Christ, who is our Life and Resurrection. My other brethren are sent from God; although, it is true, by man, that is, by me. Therefore, lest they might say that I only set myself proudly against them, I have my brethren with me, all of one mind, as faithful witnesses, who think, write, and teach the exact same thing that I do.” Unto the churches of Galatia. In these words Paul wishes to show that the false apostles would not endanger themselves to go to Jerusalem, to Caiaphas, or to Rome, to the Emperor, or to other places where no man had preached before, as Paul and the other Apostles did; but they went into Galatia, which was won unto Christ already by the labor and travail of Paul, and into Asia, Corinth, and such other places, where good men were, who professed the name of Christ, and where they, the enemies of Christ’s cross, might live in great security, and without any persecution.
Send men whose eyes have seen the King
Men in whose ears His sweet words ring;
Send such Thy lost ones home to bring;
Send them where Thou wilt come.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 3.2, What Happened to the Events of the Gospel? (When the Church "Becomes the Culture")

Continued from What Happened to the History of the Gospels? (The Church Responds to the Enlightenment: Liberalism...)...

An Interlude: What Happened to History, Anyway? (cont’d)

O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain bablings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: which some professing have erred concerning the faith (1 Ti. 6:20-21).

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world (Ja. 1:27).

When the Church “Becomes the Culture”
It was stated above, that the Church “has struggled mightily and in various ways against the withering onslaught of man’s great enemy – the World – yet has been forced into retreat.”76 Following this, a litany of false teaching, in which some truth and great struggle is evident, was produced to show how the Church has conducted its struggle: from within the context of having “become the culture.”77 In point of fact, the recent history of the Christian Church is littered with the theological ruins of Christian movements which have, in a flailing desperation for the “survival of the church,” become the culture, not realizing, forgetting or rejecting the fact that the World is one of the Christian’s Great Enemies. In the modern West, doing so has meant adopting one of two perspectives: that of rationalistic Empiricism or of mystical Existentialism. In reality, neither perspective is acceptable; both place mankind at the center of truth, and argue to God and for man's relationship with Him from the intellecutal (objective) or experiential (subjective) attributes of man's existence – the historical record of God's Special Revelation of Himself to mankind no longer being relevant for this purpose, by the World's standards.

In response, one option has been the route taken by American Christian Fundamentalism. Recognizing that the church was “becoming the culture,” absorbing or importing its false ideas and anthropocentric priorities, and concerned that the Bible’s teaching would be lost as a result, Fundamentalism began developing among Presbyterian theologians at Princeton in the late 19th Century; and into the early 20th Century it’s influence spread to include Baptists and other Christians. In an attempt to articulate and draw attention to the doctrines of Christianity which were under attack by liberal theology, and to secure continued adherence to Biblical teaching among Christians, a public confession to the “fundamentals of the faith” was secured by those desiring to stand on these teachings and be identified with the fundamentalist movement. Those fundamentals were: biblical inerrancy, the Virgin Birth, substitutionary atonement and bodily resurrection of Christ, and the authenticity of the miracles recorded in Scripture. Because of the stark contrast between these “fundamentals” and the liberal consensus in greater Christianity, Christian Fundamentalists in America also began to take on a “separatist” platform over time, which called for not only theological, but, increasingly, social separation from those outside the fundamentalist movement, including separation from non-Christians in society. One well-respected source of separatistic teaching in Minnesota, defends this doctrine and practice in the following way:
    We believe that separation is a doctrine as well as a practice and that the separation principle runs through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. We believe that true spiritual fellowship is the result of a common faith and practice. We believe there are four aspects of Biblical separation:

    1. Political separation - the separation of the church from the state (Lu. 20:25)
    2. Personal separation - the separation of the believer from the world and sin in order to serve God. This involves a separation from acts of sin, the world system, the unbeliever, heretics, and false teachers (Jos. 24:15; 2 Co. 6:14-7:1; Ep. 5:15-18; 1 Jo. 2:15-17; 1 Jo. 4:1; 2 Jo. 10,11).
    3. Ecclesiastical separation - the separation of the church from apostasy. Each local church is independent and autonomous and must be free from interference by any other ecclesiastical authority. We believe we are to reprove apostates rather than recognize them, to rebuke rather than to reason with them, to reject rather than to receive or unite with them. This includes but is not limited to the World and National Council of Churches and the Baptist World Alliance. We believe that loyalty to Christ also demands separation from those groups content to walk with or tolerate religious unbelief such as the National Association of Evangelicals and the Southern Baptist Convention (2 Co. 6:14-17; 2 Ti. 4:2-4; 2 Jo. 10-11).
    4. Practical separation - the separation of the believer from an erring brother. We believe that we must separate from those who continue in disobedience to the Word of God. This includes the trouble maker, the disorderly, and the immoral brother (Ro. 16:17; 1 Co. 5:11; 2 Th. 3:6,14-15; Ti. 3:10).78
Though in this doctrine of separatism there are some resemblances to the Lutheran Doctrine of Church Fellowship, the motivation for separatistic practice is Law, not Gospel, and in the second aspect listed above, places restrictions on the Christian’s Vocational and evangelical service to his fellow man that are entirely unsupported by the references cited, which are references to separation in matters of faith.

As a result of sequestering themselves from society in this way, Fundamentalists almost entirely lost their influence among liberal theologians – their separatism being cause for suspicion among liberals on the one hand, while causing a growing ignorance among Fundamentalists regarding relevant categories of thought and modes of expression on the other. Yet, their Christian piety was still a highly potent witness in society. Nevertheless, by the late 1930’s, discontent with separatism had grown sufficiently among Fundamentalists that a counter-movement began to develop from within it: Evangelicalism. This movement initially stressed a healthy involvement in the World – in the context of evangelism and ecumenical dialog. By the close of the 1950’s, however, it was clear that Evangelicals had begun to absorb Worldly perspectives from the liberal Christians they had, in evangelical zeal, endeavored to associate with, Dan Fuller and other leading elements of the Evangelical Movement at Fuller Theological Seminary having introduced neo-orthodox controversies over the inerrancy of the Scriptures (the institution eventually rejected inerrancy in the early 1970’s), while that institution had begun to develop philosophies and techniques for evangelism that were engineered to bring about mass conversion – which was the basis of today's "Church Growth Movement." Once again, the Church in America set itself on the road of “becoming the Culture,” eventually insisting that, for the survival of Christianity, the church must become the culture.

That the Church must “become the culture” is a lie. That it has increasingly “become the culture” is the manifest reason Western Christianity has slowly disintegrated over the past three centuries. Taking on the culture of the World has produced a vacillating imbalance between emphasis on intellect and emotion in the Church, between reason and experience, objectivity and subjectivity – and not just an imbalance, but a thrashing between these emphases that has drawn the attention of the Church away from the saving events and message of the Gospel, away from the centrality of Christ, and instead upon man and the dual fundamental characteristics of his existence. No, Christianity must not “become the culture” any more than it should it cut itself off from society. No, the Church must not abdicate in the face of its great enemy, the World, either by joining it or by running from it. Rather, as an historical institution, with an historical and saving message, it must stand and face the World on the basis of its confession, it must earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3), by (a) holding on to the specific and historic truths of Scripture in its doctrine, and (b) defending and proclaiming this truth in its practice.

But are the events of the Gospel defensible at all? Or are we left only with hope – to merely believe the events so that they become true... at least true for us?

More to come...



  1. See the first paragraph of the second posting of this "Interlude" series on Intrepid Lutherans: Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 3.2, What Happened to the Events of the Gospel? (The Church Responds to the Enlightenment: Pietism)
  2. This brief "litany" was produced in the two immediately prior posts in this "Interlude" serie, on Intrepid Lutherans:
  3. Fourth Baptist Church, Plymouth, MN, the site of Central Baptist Seminary.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 3.2, What Happened to the Events of the Gospel? (The Church Responds to the Enlightenment: Liberalism...)

Continued from What Happened to the History of the Gospels? (The Church Responds to the Enlightenment: Pietism)...

An Interlude: What Happened to History, Anyway? (cont’d)

The Struggles of Post-Enlightenment Christianity to Keep the Scriptures

Despite the evaporation of Lutheran influence following the ruinous debacle of Pietism, battles against attacks from Enlightenment sources upon Christianity, upon the historicity of the Gospels in particular, raged. Many great minds applied themselves to the challenges issued by the Enlightenment, often contemporaneous with the challenges themselves. Descartes, for as brilliant and insightful as he was thought to be, was parried effectively by the doubly brilliant mathematician and Jansenist, Blaise Pascal. The deism which descended from Enlightenment Natural Theology was combated very effectively by apologist William Paley who provided a vigorous defense of the historicity of the events of the Gospels. Butler, Whately, Newman and a great many other Christian apologists actively opposed the broad and grandiose claims of Enlightenment philosophy. These defenses failed to persuade detractors of Christianity, not because the arguments of the Christians were weak (in fact, they were very strong), and not because the arguments of Enlightenment were particularly strong (most of them were rather childish). The fact is, Enlightenment opposition to the Church and Christianity did not provide sound reasons for rejecting Christianity at all, but merely provided rationalizations for what many had already decided to do, but lacked sound basis for doing so61. As discussed in Part Two of this series on Law and Gospel, the natural man is at war with God; and the carnal mind is the enmity of Christ (Ro. 8:5-8). The flesh – one of the Christian’s three great enemies – is predisposed to reject Christ; and through the Enlightenment, the World – another of the Christian’s three great enemies – gave man the rational tool he required to satisfy his flesh.

The middle of the 18th Century marked the beginning of a dramatic decline in the influence of robust orthodox Christianity in the West. No longer enjoying majority opinion in society, Christians retreated in the face of criticism from the World, instead of facing it. Those who did face some of the more severe and enduring challenges of the World, did so having already largely absorbed worldly thinking. Examples follow...

Kierkegaard fights hyper-objectivity with subjectivity
The Danish philosopher-theologian Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)62 essentially made it his life’s endeavor to oppose the hyper-objectivist philosophies of Hegel and Kant and the inroads they had made into the Church through culture. Hegel’s “progressivism,” by which the universe was continually and objectively improving, was considered by Kierkegaard to be utter nonsense, since, if it were true, no one could make such an observation while existing as part of it. Consequently, Kierkegaard reasoned, man is limited by his own existence, everything outside of which is essence – the domain of God, in which He existed as a singular transcendent being. This is in contrast to Hegel’s “Absolute Mind,” which, if one could call it deity, bordered on pantheism.

Kierkegaard also rejected the absolute moralism of Kant’s categorical imperative, and the moralism which had invaded the Church as a result. Since humans demonstrably aren’t actually moral and can’t live moral lives, the so-called “categorical imperative,” including its basis in Kant’s observation of an "absolute moral force present and operating in every person," is untenable. Man, insisted Kierkegaard, must realize his condition according to his actual existence – according to his sinful existence and depraved nature. It is also from within man’s existence that God reveals Himself to us. As His essence touches our existence, Kierkegaard taught, man experiences relationship with God. Hence, knowledge of what man ought to become does not come from within him, but from outside of him: it is transcendent. It is of God’s essence, not ours. God reveals it to him, personally, not, according to Kierkegaard, objectively in history (which he considered to be the basis of “dead orthodoxy”), but personally and immediately. Moreover, there is no evidence for this revelation, no verification of it. It requires a “leap of faith.”

Kierkegaard was clearly a heterodox teacher, and, no-doubt, was deeply influenced by the free-church activists (Scandinavian Pietism) with whom he was associated in Denmark; but one can still appreciate why he was trying to do what he was doing, given the severity of the challenges facing the Church in his time. Through its impact on culture, objectivist philosophy was devastating the vitality of the Church as more and more it “became the culture,” absorbed its false ideas and was carried further and further away from a tangible God. Kierkegaard’s was a subjectivist reaction, later earning him the title father of existentialism, and he associated his subjectivism with Christian teaching. While his writings did not see wide circulation in his own time, they became widely known and very influential in the 20th Century.

Schleiermacher attempts to correct Kant’s ethic
Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) is considered the father of modern liberal theology, “an optimistic theology which stressed human ability to bring about ‘God’s kingdom on earth’ through social action and cultural improvement”63. Schleiermacher attempted to merge Christian tradition with Enlightenment scientific empiricism and transcendental idealism. Agreeing with Enlightenment critics of the miraculous, but devoted with a sort of cultural sentimentality to Christian religious observance, Schleiermacher developed a method of modern theological investigation which sought to “[arrive] at religious truth by empirically investigating subjective religious experience”64. That is, it employed a systematic method of collecting subjective psychological data, not for the purpose of a descriptive study of religious experience, but “as the stable and basic working material for theological investigation,”65 from which universal conclusions regarding the validity of religion, and the reality of a relationship with God could be made.

The method was not entirely honest, however. Accepting Enlightenment philosophies which argued to a universal God, and assuming the syncretistic implications which followed from them, a priori endearment to Christian tradition allowed for investigation of “religious experience” which was limited only to Christian religious experience, and extended the conclusions of such investigation to all religious experience66. As a result,
    the modern theologian is in a dilemma. Caught between the pull of traditional wisdom on the one hand and the pull of experimental science on the other, he is apt to steer a somewhat devious course. If he could believe in the infallible authority of the Church or Scripture, he might ignore science. If he could believe in the all-sufficiency of science as a guide to life, he might ignore the garnered wisdom of the past. As it is, he can choose neither horn of the dilemma, and appears to halt indecisively between two contrary points of view... He himself will wonder if he is not trying to carry water on both shoulders, and his arguments will sometimes seem to start out for one objective and arrive at the reverse. Perpetually losing his intellectual balance in the effort to reach out for larger comprehension, and perpetually regaining it by hasty qualifications and recantations, he is not always a dignified figure.67
Regardless, the impact was to overthrow an ethical standard created by Immanuel Kant, which, as a consequence of the “categorical imperative” essentially boiled down to “the end justifies the means.” Modern liberal theologians recognized that their theology,
    deviated radically from Reformation Christianity, which had always stressed personal redemption from sin through Christ’s death on the Cross as a necessary grounding for social action, and which had viewed “God’s kingdom” not as the sphere of human social action, but as the sphere of God’s sovereignty and ultimate triumph through the Second Coming of Christ. But the liberals argued that ...a new era of human progress and cultural renewal [had been ushered in], that the Bible must be read in the light of evolutionary modern science, and that the essence of Christianity was not doctrine but ethics.68
Albert Schweitzer tries to show that Jesus wasn’t a madman after all
Regardless of religious perspectives in the West, one of the unanimously agreed-upon facts of Christianity has been this: the moral teachings of Jesus are the most excellent social teachings in the history of the world. Humanitarian in their other-centered altruism, the living out of the Christian faith – a denial of culturally poisonous self-centeredness, in the interest of others – was monumentally world-changing and continues to be the basis of social order in the West. No one could ever argue with integrity that the influence of Jesus in the history of the world has not been singularly positive.

At the same time, it is universally agreed upon that people who actually consider themselves to be a deity are insane. Why? Because they are not deities. In the case of Jesus, this has presented a serious dilemma for those who reject His divinity. No one can argue that He was anything but perfectly sane – no one who is insane could have produced with such coherence a system of moral teaching having the lasting and beneficial impact that His has had. Except that He also claimed to be God. Moreover, His moral teaching is inseparable, not only from His claims to be God, but from His saving message and the miraculous events which establish it. If Jesus were merely a man, and yet so clearly and fully thought of Himself as God, then regardless of what he taught, He clearly did not know who He Himself was – a sure sign of insanity. If this were the case, then his entire teaching, including his moral teaching, is overthrown, and the West is caught following the social direction of a madman. The result for liberal theologians, who reject the deity of Jesus and emphasized Scripture as little more than a system of ethics, has been no small amount of embarrassment with the “historical Jesus,” and a highly selective reading of Scripture which acknowledges the Christian ethic while denying the specific history in and through which it was taught. For example, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), whose lifetime coincided with Schleiermacher’s, and like Schleiermacher reasoned that the question of deity is already answered by enlightened reason, wrote a harmony of the Gospels which eliminated all supernatural content and contained only the moral teaching of Jesus.

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) – liberal-theologian, medical doctor, world-renowned musician and lifelong humanitarian – responding to a growing disposition within liberal Christianity that the man, Jesus, actually suffered from some sort of psychosis, addressed this particular issue directly in the M.D dissertation (University of Strasbourg): The Psychiatric Study of Jesus: Exposition and Criticism. In his dissertation, Schweitzer attempted to show on the basis Scriptural evidence regarding Jesus’ psychological health, and on the basis of contemporary psychoanalytic theory, that if Jesus were a mere man, He was sane despite His claims to be God. The significance of this attempt isn’t in the force with which Schweitzer argued, but is in the fact that his attempt wasn’t entirely successful69, as evidenced in the 1948 Foreword to the English edition of Schweitzer’s dissertation, written by the APA president Dr. Winfred Overholser:
    One may disagree with Schweitzer on one or two minor points. He takes for granted that the failure of Jesus to develop ideas of injury and persecution rules out the possibility of a paranoid psychosis. This is not necessarily true; some paranoids manifest ideas of grandeur almost entirely, and we find patients whose grandeur is very largely of a religious nature, such as their belief that they are directly instructed by God to convert the world or perform miracles. Again, he offers as evidence of freedom from paranoia the fact that Jesus modifies his views as to his missions. Some paranoids substantially modify their delusions in accordance with their view of environmental factors, and may indeed appear to reason logically concerning events of interest to them – logically, that is, if one grants their premises.

    These are, however, far from fundamental points of disagreement. Dr. Schweitzer's presentation exhibits a profundity of scholarship, theological, historical, and medical, and at the same time the deepest possible reverence for the meaning and the message of the Man of Nazareth.70,71
The result is this: one cannot reasonably hold to the sanity of Jesus apart from also holding to His divinity.

Rudolph Bultmann “gets behind the Biblical myths”
The theological-existentialist, Rudolph Bultmann (1884-1976), of the University of Marbourg in Germany, taught that “the Christian faith is a matter of personal existential experience, not a matter of objective evidence”72. As we learned from Kierkegaard, the term “existential” comes from one’s own existence. Bultmann (following the philosophy of Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), a contemporary of Bultmann’s who was influenced by Kierkegaard) taught that the reason modern man has difficulty appreciating the message of the Gospel is that the supernatural and miraculous events of the Gospel are outside his existential reality. In this is heard echoes of Sir David Hume, who insisted, “it is the universal experience of mankind that miracles do not happen,” with one critical difference: Bultmann insisted that such events, whether or not they actually happened, were indeed part of the existential reality of apostolic times, in which superstition of various sorts abounded and it was not uncommon for people to think in terms of the miraculous. So to express events in terms of the miraculous was reasonable... for them. Our times, however, are different. The modern man is not at home in the world myth and superstition, but in the world of science. “To make the Christian message relevant to modern times, however, we must penetrate through the myths, and get to the heart of the Christian faith. We must de-mythologize the Biblical accounts...”

Bultmann also taught that it is impossible to arrive at an objective interpretation of any event, given that the interpreter is part of the event being interpreted. That is, his own subjective existence is part of any conclusion he would ever reach. Thus, no objective evidence can be presented for anything, since the interpreter and presenter of that evidence, by virtue of his existential contact with it, is part of the interpretation and presentation itself. He cannot remove himself from it. Bultmann called this “the hermeneutical circle.” Accordingly, there are no objective reasons, there is only one’s own experience. Consequently, the message of Scripture is likewise received from the perspective of personal experience. Once one has gotten behind the myths of Scripture, and to the kernel of the Bible’s message, there he has a personal encounter with the true Christ, and on the basis of this encounter the truth of His message is experientially affirmed. Thus, for Bultmann, “the meaning of history lies always in the present”73.

Much of “liberal” theology in the second half of the 20th Century follows from Bultmann-ian theological existentialism (although there is not much “liberty” to be found in a reality bounded by self). As in the case of Kierkegaard, it was a reaction against the difficulties introduced by 18th and 19th Century objective philosophies, and a reflection of contemporary 20th Century existential and phenomenological trends, which created a Christ whose testimony concerning Himself (His own bodily Resurrection) was error, and who was ultimately “mistaken about the central tenet and premise of His message”74.

Karl Barth “fixes” the problems of sin and miracles
The neo-orthodox theologian, Karl Barth (1886-1968), was of highly significant influence upon 20th Century Evangelical Christianity75. His influence entered mainstream American Evangelicalism through Fuller Seminary, through the influence of Daniel Fuller, the son of radio evangelist and seminary founder Charles Fuller, who having studying under Barth in Europe for three years, joined the faculty of Fuller Seminary in 1953, and served as Dean of Fuller’s School of Theology beginning 1963.

As an ardent proponent of the Gospel, the deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, His life, His miracles, His death and Resurrection, Barth earnestly desired that Christianity would return to its historic message. And yet, he was unable to extract himself from objectivist and critical theories emanating from the Enlightenment. Facing the “problem” of Scripture’s absolute claims regarding God and His righteous disposition toward mankind’s sin – especially the necessity of His entrance into human history in order to resolve that problem and be reconciled with His creation – he sought to avoid this problem, while retaining the message of Scripture, by blunting the reality of sin. He taught that sin is “not the presence of something, but an absence of something,” making a positive declaration of man’s sinfulness an impossibility, and blurring the distinction between believer and unbeliever. He thus called sin “a hornet without a sting.” Barth taught that man’s real problem is not that he lacks faith, but only that he thinks he lacks faith – raising questions whether he was actually teaching Universalism. In fact, Montgomery relates Barth’s public response to direct questions on this very line, in a 1963 appearance of Karl Barth at the University of Chicago. The moderator of that event was Jaroslav Pelikan, who, answering for Barth, and receiving Barth’s approval of his answer afterward, said, “There is a hell, but we’re not sure if anybody is in it.”

Although a blurring of distinctions on the one hand assisted Barth in retaining Scripture’s promises of salvation in the face of textual critics, a making of distinctions on the other hand was also necessary. In order to retain Scripture intact, including its historical claims, he taught that there were two kinds of events in God’s Word:
  1. events which can be verified (i.e., the clothes people wore, local and differing customs of various times and places, the time it took to travel between locations, their mode of travel, the value of things and the currency used to purchase them, the relative geographical locations and their names at various times and locales, the broader political circumstances of the times, etc), and
  2. events which cannot be verified (i.e., the fulfillment of prophecy, the miracles, or any such event which is directly connected with man’s salvation).
According to Barth, both kinds of events are absolutely true, both kinds of events absolutely happened; only... while verifiable events occurred in human history, the unverifiable events occurred in a different kind of history – “supra-” or “hyper-history.” He taught that one can check out the verifiable events, and determine according to accepted methods whether they are true. But how is it that we can have any reasonable assurance that the unverifiable events are also true? According to Barth, they become true only after the believer has made a “leap of faith,” through which man is illumined and the saving events of supra-history are affirmed. Prior to this, and other than this, there is no basis for asserting that these events true – particularly to unbelievers.

More to come...


  1. Montgomery, J (Lecturer). (2004). Butler’s Apologetic (CD recording). In A History of Christian Apologetics: Defending the Gospel Through the Centuries Vol. 12. Calgary, AB: Canadian Institute for Law, Theology and Public Policy. CD 12.
  2. Montgomery, J (Lecturer). (2004). Apologetics in Modern Times (CD recording). In A History of Christian Apologetics: Defending the Gospel Through the Centuries Vol. 13. Calgary, AB: Canadian Institute for Law, Theology and Public Policy. CD 13. Note: This entire section on Kierkegaard is summarized from Montgomery’s lecture.
  3. Montgomery, J. (1975). The Shape of the Past. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock. pg. 117.
  4. Ibid. pg. 258.
  5. Ibid. pg. 262.
  6. Ibid. pg. 282-283.
  7. Ibid. pg. 284.
  8. Ibid. pg. 117.
  9. Montgomery, J. (2005). Tractatus Logico-Theologicus (3rd ed.). Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft. pg. 96 (pt. 3.56ff)
  10. The Psychiatric Study of Jesus: Exposition and Criticism, pg. 15.
  11. Montgomery, J. (1975). The Shape of the Past. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock. pp. 103-104
  12. Montgomery, J (Lecturer). (2004). The Apologetic Task 2 (CD recording). In A History of Christian Apologetics: Defending the Gospel Through the Centuries Vol. 2. Calgary, AB: Canadian Institute for Law, Theology and Public Policy. CD 2. Note: Unless noted otherwise, this entire section on Bultmann is summarized, with selected quotes, from Montgomery’s lecture.
  13. Montgomery, J. (1975). The Shape of the Past. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock. pg. 120.
  14. Ibid. pg. 121.
  15. Montgomery, J (Lecturer). (2004). The Apologetic Task 2 (CD recording). In A History of Christian Apologetics: Defending the Gospel Through the Centuries Vol. 2. Calgary, AB: Canadian Institute for Law, Theology and Public Policy. CD 2. Note: This entire section on Barth is summarized, with selective quotes, from Montgomery’s lecture.

Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 3.2, What Happened to the Events of the Gospel? (The Church Responds to the Enlightenment: Pietism)

Continued from What Happened to the History of the Gospels? (The Impact of the Enlightenment)...

An Interlude: What Happened to History, Anyway? (cont’d)

Has the Church merely abdicated?
One will often read contemporary Christian commentators who lament with bitterness what they see as abdication by the Church in Western Civilization of its involvement in science or society, claiming that it has offered no response to these challenges, and, rather than defend against them, has instead embraced them. Such commentary is unhelpful and considerably off the mark. The fact is, the Church has not merely abdicated. It has struggled mightily and in various ways against the withering onslaught of man’s great enemy – the World – yet has been forced into retreat.

The Impact of Pietism leading into the Enlightenment
But it must be realized that most of the battles that would be fought in the two centuries following the Enlightenment were already lost in the generation leading up to it, in the era of Pietism. This broad movement within the Church developed within Lutheranism in the mid- to late- 17th Century, and was finally inaugurated under the leadership of Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705) with the publication of his Pia Desideria, in 1675. In it, growing spiritual malaise within the Church was identified and decried, and a program for the reformation of spiritual life within the congregations was articulated.

The structure of the Lutheran church opened it to political manipulation of the state
The 17th Century is known as the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy. It was during this time that, being tempered as it was by incessant challenges from Rome, Geneva and elsewhere, it’s theology was fully systematized and established. It had never been stronger. That sickly conditions were otherwise a reality, however, is (and was) openly admitted, but the causes were numerous, some being contemporary, and some extending back to the time of the Reformation itself. Heinrich Schmid (1811-1885) documents some of these causes in the introduction of his History of Pietism. Chief among these causes was the structure of the Lutheran Church in Germany itself, a compromise condition established around the time of the Reformation. The Reformers desired a church that was independent of the state, articulating as much in the Augsburg Confession (AC XXVIII), and carefully guarding the rights of the congregation in The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. Also desiring to avoid conflict with the princes, instead of pushing for complete separation from the state, as was their confessed desire, the Reformers compromised, agreeing to the oversight of what we would call a presbytery, or a council of laymen and clergy who would oversee the congregations on behalf of the state. Before long, however, political maneuvering of the princes insured the uninvolvement of the presbyters, and as a result, the office of the presbytery was used as a medium through which the princes would govern the congregations – a situation which, in a strictly pragmatic sense, might be tolerable if a given prince were a pious Christian; but this was rarely the case37. Before the close of the 16th Century, the control of the state over the church caused the concordist, David Chytraeus (1531-1600) to complain of what Johann Valentin Andreae (1586-1654) and others later lamented as caesaropapacy, observing that
    the politicians have, according to Luther’s instruction, embraced the gospel all the more eagerly, but only so that they may throw off the yoke of the bishops and take the goods of the church. They no longer want to look to the servants of the church for judgment, but want to judge everything themselves. Thus the church now has to be ruled more according to the verdict of the courts than according to the Word of God38.
As a result of this small matter of confessional compromise, all manner of worldly corruption entered into the practice of the Lutheran Church in Germany. It seems that in some ways the training of pastors descended from the political maneuvering of the princes with respect to religion, such that as students they were focused more “on papistic, Reformed, Socinian, and anabaptistic controversies”39, than on Scripture and exegetical theology. Such controversies were far more than just theological debates, but were also critical matters of political importance, given that the religious confession of the ruling class was often a determining factor in the negotiation of strategic alliances. From such priorities descended the preparation of the pastors. And such became the flavor of their preaching.

Scholasticism crept into the Lutheran method of theology
Exacerbating this situation was the entrance and acceptance of the Scholastic Method into the method of Lutheran theology – also reaching back to the time of the Reformation. Scholasticism, following the epistemology and logic of Aristotle, was a method of organizing knowledge according to the categories and hierarchy of observation, and reasoning from these observations to conclusions regarding universal truth – conclusions which can only be reached intellectually, as they lie outside the reach of the human senses. Early in the Mediæval Era,
    the Christian religion was the leading subject of thought... [Thus] its divines had put forward the claim that Christianity was not merely ...the means to reunion with God, but also a philosophy in the widest sense that the term is used – that is, a consistent speculative view of man’s condition, nature, and surrounding world. They held, without reservation, that the doctrines of the ancient philosophers had to be corrected to conform to those of revelation. The resultant theology was the only true philosophy. Thus, in its classic sense, scholastic philosophy is a philosophical doctrine of the ancient world which was amended so as to conform to or be consistent with the Christian theology of the Middle Ages40.
Scholastic Theology thus studied matters of God according to observation from Nature, Scripture, and Tradition and harmonized them with the conclusions of classical philosophy. It was from this theological tradition that Luther and the Reformers sought to free the Church, directing it back to the source of God’s revelation to man and championing a purely exegetical theology. Offered in the face of the scholastics who cited centuries of commentary, Sola Scriptura was not an attack on reason, but a subordination of reason to Holy Writ.

This did not, however, preclude utilization of the form of scholastic theology, that is, use of the categories and order of scholastic theology that was recognized by the scholastics, particularly in answer to their charges, which were naturally offered in the context of scholastic method. Beginning in 1521, Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560), with the approval of Martin Luther, published his Loci Communes – a Lutheran theology expressed in the order and categories of scholastic theology – with many revisions following throughout his life. Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586), following Melanchthon, began work on his Loci Theologici in 1554 – a commentary on Melanchthon’s Loci, which sought to correct the theological aberrations it contained. Despite following the form of the Loci, the character of Lutheran theology remained distinctively biblical and exegetical, even into the beginning of the early 17th Century.

By the time of Johann Gerhardt (1582-1637), however, attitudes had begun to change. The Catholic counter-reformation had been launched in 1540, with the establishment of the Jesuit Order, which was dedicated to the defense and propagation of the Roman Catholic faith, and continued in earnest in 1545 with the Council of Trent, which concluded in 1563 by issuing sweeping condemnations of nearly every protestant distinctive with which it had been forced to contend. The implications of these theological condemnations were significant, as the various provinces within the Holy Roman Empire remaining within the Roman Catholic Church were obligated to consider the anathematized as political opponents. This was a reality with which the Lutheran princes had to contend, and, no doubt, was a factor under consideration as they controlled the congregations through the presbyteries. Meanwhile, the Jesuits started schools, sent out missionaries, and mounted rigorous theological offensives against the protestant churches – using the scholastic method – mostly in an effort to turn the opinions of the nobility against Protestant teaching and to crush Protestantism in the process. Gerhard, fully acquainted and skilled with the method of exegetical theology, acquiesced to the use of the scholastic method, mostly under pressure from such challenges.

Of no small significance, René Descartes (1596-1650)41 received his early education by the Jesuits at Collège de La Flèche, and we see traces of the scholasticism he there imbibed in the dualism which emerged from his philosophy. He published his Discourse on the Method in the same year Johann Gerhard died. Some commentators suggest that the “Method” on which he “discoursed” was not just a reference to his new method of investigating truth, but was a reference to the scholastic method itself, and represented his attempt to reform and improve the method used and taught by the Jesuits. Regardless, the growing impact of rationalism was felt in culture, particularly as the nobility became more and more preoccupied with secular matters. It may just be a coincidence, but following the death of Gerhard, and for the remainder of the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy, the analytic methods of scholasticism dominated Lutheran theological methodology42.

Impact on church practice in the congregations
Not only had the training of pastors descended from these realities, and their preaching taken on characteristics representing them, the idea of the pastor as “steward of the mysteries of God” became identified solely with the role of preaching, rather than with the authoritative source of the message. Rather than Christ, the preacher was on display42. At the same time the pastoral task of shepherding became narrowed to the task of teaching43 – which was itself often accomplished only from the pulpit. Thus, the preacher again, not the people he was called to serve, became central to his ministry. “Pastors began to think that their entire ministry should center on keeping doctrine pure. Thus they were in danger of forgetting that pure doctrine is only a means to a goal,”44 not the goal itself. The public practice of the worshipers suffered, as a result. Heinrich Schmid quotes Theophilus Grossgebauer (1628-1661), who observed:
    By the public worship service I understand preaching, singing, praying, and intercessions. But today they act as if preaching and listening to a sermon alone make a worship service. Thus in the big cities I have seen people punctually stream into church at the time that the preacher climbs into the pulpit and then, when the sermon is over, stream out. Today, instead of saying with the old Christians that they have praised God with their fellow Christians, prayed from the heart for the unrepentant, received the repentant into fellowship again, encouraged one another with psalms, and heard the Word of God; the people use a new way of speaking unknown to the apostolic Christians: They say that they have “been at the sermon,” as the Roman Catholics say that they have been at mass45.
And such became the attitude of the laity toward the Sacraments, as well. Schmid quotes Heinrich Müller (1631-1675), another critic of the status of church life, who records:
    Modern Christianity has four mute ecclesiastical idols which they follow: the baptismal font, the pulpit, the confessional, and the altar. They take comfort in their external Christianity, that they are baptized, hear God’s Word, go to confession, and receive the Lord’s Supper, but they deny the inner power of Christianity46.
Such observations are what prompted Grossgebauer to also grieve, with much hyperbole, regarding the clergy:
    All preaching of the Word and all use of the sacraments is not merely unfruitful, but also soul-destroying. The bearers of the Word and the administrators of the sacraments do not have the courage and the earnestness to maintain and urge the form of congregational life that corresponds to the essence of the divine Word and sacrament...47
What Grossgbauer, Müller and other critics of the Lutheran church were concerned about was the proper use and centrality of the Means of Grace, i.e., the form of congregational life that corresponds to the essence of the divine Word and sacrament. They were not pining for a program to inspire enthusiasm for God-talk and personal experience with the Holy Spirit.

The impact of the Thirty Years’ War
It is necessary, however, to realize one other important factor responsible for the malaise which most church leaders admitted during this time: the impact of the Thirty Years’ War. From 1618 to 1648, all of Europe converged on Germany as political, economic and religious interests collided in devastating turmoil. Of direct impact church-life in Germany, territories changed hands and religious Confession through military victory and defeat, or as princes converted between Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Roman Catholicism for political advantage48, causing in some districts a whip-sawing of religious practice. Generally, human casualty and economic loss were unimaginable.
    The Swedes alone were accused of destroying nearly two thousand castles, eighteen thousand villages and over fifteen hundred towns. Bavaria claimed to have lost eighty thousand families and nine hundred villages, Bohemia five-sixths of its villages and three-quarters of its population. In Württemberg the number of the inhabitants was said to have fallen to a sixth, in Nassau to a fifth, in Henneberg to a third, in the wasted Palatinate to a fiftieth of its original size. The population of Colmar was halved, that of Wolfenbüttel had sunk to an eighth, of Magdeburg to a tenth, of Hagenau to a fifth, of Olmütz to less than a fifteenth. Minden, Hamlen, Göttingen, Magdeburg, by their own account, stood in ruins49.

    The war threw the entire cultural state of affairs in Germany back a hundred years. Poverty and moral degeneration reached a degree never seen before. Even the days after the war were not a time of fresh and cheerful prosperity. The unity of the German realm was not achieved through the Peace of Westphalia, and the territory of the realm was diminished. Foreign princes had influence on conditions in Germany, and the native princes used the freedom from imperial control they had achieved to enslave their subjects... The moral degeneration that spread during the war aroused in the congregations a stubbornness toward church discipline, against which the clergy were not able to prevail...50.
Pietists to the Rescue?
When it is understood that the Pietists recognized along with nearly everyone else that there were some serious problems among the Lutheran clergy and laity in Germany, yet decried “orthodixism” (or, loosely, "orthodoxy for its own sake") as the cause of those problems and set about implementing their own program of reforms to revive the spiritual life of the Lutheran church, the reality is that they were responding to a situation brought about by conditions far beyond this simple diagnosis. Phillip Jakob Spener prescribed the cure in 1675 with the publication of his Pia Desideria – six seemingly modest Lutheran reforms that he thought would bring about spiritual renewal among Lutherans and would extend Luther's doctrinal Reformation into the life and works of the Church and of individual believers51:
  1. a greater study of Scripture among Christians, assembled in small groups called "conventicles",
  2. the practicing of the Universal Priesthood of all Believers through lay participation in congregational ministry,
  3. encouraging Christians to live out their faith, rather than mere intellectual assent to Biblical teaching,
  4. a more brotherly treatment of heterodox teachers,
  5. ministerial training that cultivated personal piety as well as academic prowess, and,
  6. preaching which dwelt on Sanctification52,53
Special note ought to be taken of points (1) and (2). In decrying “orthodoxism,” Spener was really criticizing a church political structure which provided pure doctrine well-enough, but which extended no rights to the laity. Schmid quotes Spener, thus:
    Under the church constitution, the church is not given its rights; the greatest part of the church, the laity, is suppressed. I fear that this is the source of all corruption and that the church cannot possibly be helped by this sort of arrangement. What gave rise to the papacy was not removed by the Reformation; the rule of the clergy was in most places replaced by the caesaropapism. Therefore, even though the Reformation gave us the pure doctrine through God’s grace, nevertheless the ultimate goal of improving the church did not follow54.
Spener’s dispute with the Lutheran church had a strong political component to it, and his cure took the form of a specific kind of human action, catalyzed at first through the leadership of concerned clergy, but eventually taking on an organic life of its own. In this regard, special note ought also be taken of the fact that Spener was a student of the teaching of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) – having won his master in 1653 at the University of Strasbourg by a disputation against Hobbes’ philosophy. It would be interesting to have access to his specific objections to Hobbes, as the remedy Spener proposes for the Lutheran Church strikes one as very similar to Hobbes’ social contract theory. Schmid, quoting Spener again:
    I have little hope in human strength [referring to the character of leaders in the Church and State, and their ability to lead “effectively”], but trust that from time to time pious preachers and politicians will work at gradually gathering in his church ecclesiolae in ecclesia without causing any divisions and arrange these so that there are true Christians in them. These will not fail to be excellent examples and a yeast that works powerfully in the rest of the dough. Either I am wrong, or this is the only way the church can be cared for55.
Elevation of the Universal Priesthood and the collection of laity into ecclesiolae in ecclesia, from which they would be sent for the purposes of having a leavening influence in the church, is very near the image of a leaderless body politic, in which a natural order is organically established through mutually beneficial acquiescence and agreement. As a matter of pragmatic necessity, elevating the untrained laity to quasi-ministerial status in the Church would require attenuation of the goal and ideal of orthodoxy. Rigorous orthodoxy in the Church was the primary impediment to his idea of a more egalitarian church structure. In other words, Spener’s program sounds as much like an experiment in (then) modern social and organizational theory, as it does anything else.

If a leaderless body politic was indeed what Spener had envisioned, with a laity fully imbued with the rights of participation in the governance of the church, then he was largely successful – for very swiftly following his publication of Pia Desideria the near anarchy one would expect, resulted.
    Valentin Ernst Loescher (1673-1749), an orthodox Lutheran theologian and eyewitness to German Pietism – who was also one of the most effective opponents of it – uses the following words to describe the characteristics of Pietism in his work, Timotheus Verinus, and devotes an entire chapter of analysis to each word as it is applied to Spener's movement:

      indifferentism, contempt for the Means of Grace, the invalidation of the ministry, the confusing of righteousness by faith with works, millennialism, precisionism, mysticism, the abolition of the spiritual supports, crypto-enthusiasm, reformatism, and making divisions...57

    ...Because Pietism viewed the role of intellect in spiritual matters with suspicion and displayed strong preference for emotion and intuition, the Church largely became an unwelcome place for the intellectually capable58.
As a result, the Western Church was made exceptionally vulnerable through weakened doctrine, experiential anthropocentric practice, and unionism, and in the process forfeited to the world of secular academia a generation of men who, as theologians of potent intellect, would have been crucial to meeting the challenges which would confront it. Among Lutherans, by 1750 and the bloom of the Enlightenment, Loescher, the last of the old orthodox theologians died, rendering orthodox confessional Lutheranism essentially silent until it began to emerge again in America a century later. In the meantime, while Pietism, as a movement in the Church, succumbed in continental Europe to the reaction of “pure rationalism” – which nearly everywhere invaded the Church and society – the individualistic, experiential, and anti-intellectual personal piety and church practice it nurtured, remained.

While Pietism was not a response to attacks on the historicity of the Gospels, we see in this episode of Church History how the Lutheran church in Germany allowed contemporary culture to influence it, such that by the end of the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy, the Lutheran church itself was made into an example of Cartesian Dualism. One faction, the Lutheran scholastics (particularly the later theologians like Baier59, Quenstedt, and Calov), elevated reason in their system of theology, at some points (it is said) subordinating their exegesis to that system. Their theology was still orthodox, of course, thorough and very clear. Yet, their method provided both precedent and platform for the Rationalists of the following generation to disregard an exegetical approach, and to subordinate Scripture to man’s reason. This faction was representative of Decartes’ “sphere of reason,” and as a consequence of elevated human reason, the Christianity which flowed from Enlightenment Rationalism was named “liberal” – also representing the Cartesian significance of reason60. The other faction, representative of Descartes’ “sphere of experience,” were the Pietists, who elevated human experience, and at many points subordinated scripture and its objective teachings to the subjectivity of human intuition and emotion.

From this point forward in the culture of the West, as well as within the Church as it grappled with ideas it either imported or which otherwise seeped in from the World, the interplay and exchange of emphases between reason and experience has continued nearly unabated – not as an equilibrium between experience and reason has been sought (such as was enjoyed before the time of Descartes), but as one has been emphasized in reaction to the other.

More to come...


  1. Schmid, H. (2007). The History of Pietism (J. Langebartels, Trans.). (Original work published in German, 1863). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House. pp. 1-3.
  2. Ibid. pg. 4. See also pp. 16-18.
  3. Ibid. pg. 10 (quoting Theophilus Grossgebauer [1628-1661]).
  4. Stoops, J. (1971). Philosophy and Education in Western Civilization. Danville, IL: Interstate Publishers. pg. 162-163
  5. See on Intrepid Lutherans, the previous essay in this series: The Impact of the Enlightenment
  6. The following Wikipedia article gives some information: Lutheran Scholasticism
  7. Schmid, H. (2007). The History of Pietism (J. Langebartels, Trans.). (Original work published in German, 1863). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House. pp. 7-8.
  8. Ibid. pp. 8-9.
  9. Ibid. pg. 22.
  10. Ibid. pg. 13.
  11. Ibid. pg. 6.
  12. Ibid. pg. 7.
  13. Wedgwood, C. (1994). The Thirty Years War. (Originally published in 1939). Norwalk, CT: Easton Press. pp. 41-45.
  14. Ibid. pg. 512.
  15. Schmid, H. (2007). The History of Pietism (J. Langebartels, Trans.). (Original work published in German, 1863). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House. pp. 15,19.
  16. Ibid. pp. 57-59.
  17. Ibid. pp. 38-51.
  18. Spener, P. (2002). Pia Desideria (Reprint edition, previously published by Augsburg Fortress Press in 1964, T. Tappert, Trans. Original work published in German, 1675.) Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers. pp. 87-122.
  19. Schmid, H. (2007). The History of Pietism (J. Langebartels, Trans.). (Original work published in German, 1863). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House. pg. 59.
  20. Ibid. pg. 61.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Loescher, V. (1998). The Complete Timotheus Verinus (J. Langebartels & R. Koester, Trans.). Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. (Original work published 1718 [Part 1] and 1721 [Part 2]). pg. 249.
  23. Lay Ministry: A Continuing Legacy of Pietism
    See also: C.F.W. Walther on the Layman's Role in the Congregation's Ministry
  24. The reader may be interested to know that it was Johann Wilhelm Baier’s dogmatic compendium which was later annotated by C.F.W. Walther, and used as the Missouri Synod’s first dogmatics text. The Baier-Walther Compendium of Positive Theology was later used by Dr. Francis Pieper as the basis for his Christian Dogmatics.
  25. Recall from The Impact of the Enlightenment the impact of Descartes’ discovery that reason is the seat of existence:
      Thus reason, he discovered, is the seat of existence – not experience. As a consequence, when reason and experience interact, human liberty results only when reason directs experience – that is, when reason is the cause of human action. On the other hand, human slavery results when experience is the cause of reason, when people are prompted to the exercise of reason on the basis of what happens to them or around them.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Five Minutes Daily with Luther - January 14

(Reprinted with permission from Five Minutes Daily with Luther: Daily Lessons from the Writings of Martin Luther, by John Theodore Mueller.)

"Make me understand the way of Thy precepts: so I will meditate on Thy wonders. . . . Thy testimonies are wonderful: therefore my soul observes them" Psalm 119:27, 129.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Christ says: “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.” Here one might ask, What mystery is that? The mysteries of the kingdom of God are the sorts of things which lie hidden in the kingdom of God; as does Christ with all His graces, whom He has shown to us. He who knows Christ aright, knows what God’s kingdom is, and what may be found there. It is called a mystery, because it is secret and hidden from human senses and reason where the Holy Ghost does notreveal it; for although many hear and discern it, yet, notwithstanding, they never conceive nor understand it. They hear of Christ and speak of Christ, that He has given Himself to death for our sins, but those truths are only upon their tongues and in their ears, but not in their hearts, for they neither believe them nor are able to truly comprehend them, as St. Paul says: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God.” Therefore Christ says: “To you it is given to know,” that is, the Spirit of God gives it to you, so that you not only hear and see it, but you receive it within your hearts and believe it, therefore it is no mystery or secret to you. But to those who have not faith in their heart, though they hear it, to them it remains a mystery.
Father, in us Thy Son reveal;
Teach us to know and do Thy will;
Thy saving power and love display,
And guide us to the realms of day.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 3.2, What Happened to the Events of the Gospel? (The Impact of the Enlightenment)

An Interlude: What Happened to History, Anyway?

The historical events of Christ's life are a significant and necessary aspect of His Gospel. We are expected to be witnesses of them alongside His teaching (Lk. 24:46-48). Prior to the Enlightenment, that these events occurred in history was not disputed by anyone in the Church, whether Roman, Protestant, or otherwise. That they occurred was taken as true history, the facts of which demonstrate to any rational person, then and now, that the man, Jesus, is who He claimed to be: God in the flesh – the Christ, the Promised One of God. Of course, merely recognizing this converts no one: even the Sanhedrin knew that Jesus was no ordinary man, understood the veracity of His miracles, knew that He had risen from the grave, and thus had every reason to take these events as demonstrative of His deity – Dr. Luke even calls them "infallible proofs" in Acts 1. But they rejected Him just the same. Rather, knowledge of the events recorded in Scripture provides for the hearer of them a basis for listening to and hearing the message which attends them, through which the Holy Spirit produces and strengthens faith and provides the assurance and conviction of all that Scripture records. Just as importantly, they establish the reality of Christ’s atoning work and the forgiveness of sins. These are the events through which the Atonement was accomplished. Apart from them, apart from the actual and physical Resurrection of Jesus in human history, there is no validation of the Scriptures as God’s Word – neither the Old Testament testimony concerning the Christ, nor the message of Jesus who is the Christ; there is no forgiveness of sins; there is no Atonement; and thus faith becomes delusion and we are again without hope: for without the Resurrection, God is still real and is still angry with sinners – the Natural Law tells us this much.

Regarding the theory of history and its study, Christians of the Mediæval and Reformation era essentially followed St Augustin’s “linear, though [christo-centric]” perspective (which guided historians into broad non-nationalistic narration)10, and, given that history served to testify of Him and that through its unfolding served Him and His Bride as the tool by which the salvation of individuals is accomplished, regarded God Himself as the Author and Subject of history11:
    To the Reformers, God’s sovereignty over history and His great act of mercy in entering history for man’s salvation provided the only bases for hope and the only remedies for meaninglessness in historical interpretation12.

The Impact of the Enlightenment on the historicity of the Gospels
The effect of the Enlightenment upon Christianity has been just this: to strip historical basis from the witnesses of Christ. From it has issued serious and unrelenting challenges, which in the past two-and-a-half centuries have worked to empty the Christian message of its authority, to deprive the world of the notion that events serve transcendent purposes and that they have done so throughout history, and thus to empty Christianity of any compelling voice in Western Society – other than what may have already been consistent with the Enlightenment notion of Natural Law, as discussed in Part Two – along with any meaningful response to alternative religious claims.

Already leading into the Enlightenment, eminent French mathematician-philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) had issued serious criticisms of the study of history:
    [W]hen one employs too much time in traveling, one becomes a stranger in one’s own country, and when one is too curious about things which were practised in past centuries, one is ususally very ignorant about those which are practised in our own time. Besides, fables make one imagine many events possible which in reality are not so, and even the most accurate of histories, if they do not exactly misrepresent or exaggerate the value of things in order to render them more worthy of being read, at least omit in them all the circumstances which are basest and least notable; and from this fact it follows that what is retained is not portrayed as it really is, and that those who regulate their conduct by examples which they derive from such a source, are liable to fall into the extravagances of the knights-errant of Romance, and form projects beyond their power of performance13.
His was known as Cartesian Philosophy, the essence of which was investigation of truth through doubt. According to Descartes, there were two distinct spheres in which one could doubt: the sphere of reason, and the sphere of experience14. This distinction came to be known as Cartesian Dualism, which holds that reason and experience, or mind and matter, though distinct, also interact. Exploring this interaction, Descartes conducted an experiment – of questioning everything he knew – and discovered that while he could successfully question every aspect of his experience, he could not question his reason: I think, therefore I am15. Thus reason, he discovered, is the seat of existence – not experience. As a consequence, when reason and experience interact, human liberty results only when reason directs experience – that is, when reason is the cause of human action. On the other hand, human slavery results when experience is the cause of reason, when people are prompted to the exercise of reason on the basis of what happens to them or around them. Interestingly, Cartesian reasoning is what made it possible for Descartes to acknowledge the existence of a real God, and in human liberty to also acknowledge His authority – not by human experience, not by revelation in history, but by reasoning from the concept of perfection, or of the ideal. Since the ideal is not any part of human experience, and yet the concept exists in his reason, then, according to Descartes, the source of this concept must be transcendent16.
    What caused him to couple history with fable and to argue that accounts of the past omit vital information and “lead us to imagine the possibility of many events that are impossible?” The answer lies in Descartes’ conviction that if certainty is to be found, it will be discovered not in the variegated realm of human experience, but in the absolute realm of mathematics and philosophy. Descartes was the true father of the eighteenth-century “Age of Reason,” in which pure rationality was elevated above the flux of human life and the alleged superstitions of revealed religion17.
By the time of the Enlightenment, though the impact of pure rationality remained, Cartesian Philosophy itself had drawn objection from and was eventually dominated by a competing philosophical perspective known as Empiricism, a perspective which also issued several serious objections to the use of history in establishing truth. Chief among the Empiricists was Sir David Hume (1711-1776). Considered the father of the philosophy of Utilitarianism, he reasoned from a position of inductive skepticism18 that “the universal experience of mankind is that miracles do not happen,” and that no event can be accepted as having happened if it is inconsistent with common human experience19. This prompted him to characterize the Reformation, in early editions of his widely acclaimed History of England, as a clash between the superstitious and the fanatical. In the forward to the Liberty Classics edition of his History, we find these sections reprinted for the reader’s curiosity, from which the following analysis is excerpted:
    The first reformers, who made such furious and successful attacks on the Romish SUPERSTITION, and shook it to its lowest foundations, may safely be pronounced to have been universally inflamed with the highest ENTHUSIASM. These two species of religion, the superstitious and fanatical, stand in diametrical opposition to each other; and a large portion of the latter must necessarily fall to his share, who is so couragious as to control authority, and so assuming as to obtrude his own innovations upon the world20.
Such commentary drew harsh criticism from religious quarters among the nobility (and others who would endorse and/or purchase his six-volume history), enough so that he withdrew these sections from the final revisions of his work21. The implications of Hume’s regard for extraordinary historical claims is simply this: the extent of history is the extent of common human experience, and that there is no reliable meaning from extraordinary events one has not personally experienced.

Fellow Empiricist, Voltaire (1694-1778), consistent with the deism of his time, rejected the notion of faith itself and mocked any religious claim which was not immediately measurable via the tools of laboratory science. Rising through his career as historian, poet, and philosopher, to “achieve a reputation among his contemporaries as the greatest living historian”22, he saw history merely as a tool to create a more rational social order in the present, a view which led him to “a continual vilification of the part played by religion in history ...[using] its numerous instances of human superstition and irrationality to teach men how to act in accord with reason”23. As a result of this thinking, for example, contemporary Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), author of the eminent work The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, “[seeing] in the Fall of Rome the triumph of Christian superstition and barbarism over the rational civilization of Classical times,” lamented his work as “little more than the register of crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind” 24. Many shared Gibbons’ negative view of history, repelling their interest and regard for it and, as a practical consequence, drawing concern more and more toward matters of the present25.

It was the mathematician turned philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), however, who mounted a throne at the center of the Enlightenment, and through whom emanated its influence into following generations, in numerous schools of thought: idealism, realism, pragmatism, existentialism, and even analytic philosophy26. Kant taught that all which can be known is determined solely in the mind of the knower (the phenomenal sphere), and is separate and independent from the world of things, events, or ideas outside of the knower (or, the noumenal sphere)27 – meaning that, according to Kant, all that can be known comes from the realities to which the mind is exposed, which activate the intellect and become experience, or, phenomena. Moreover, these spheres not only proceed autonomously, but this autonomy extends to their meaning28. Since all reasoning proceeds from pre-suppositions which descend from the phenomenal world of the knower, and since the phenomenal and noumenal spheres are autonomous, no conclusions regarding the noumenal can be reached with certainty in the mind of the knower. The only absolutes that can be reached by the knower, are those governing his own moral action. If human action is thus moral action, the record of human action reveals nothing other than patterns in the independent will of man as they cyclically move within nature’s plan of universal history, a study of which may suggest what that plan might be29. But, according to Kant, God does not reveal Himself in history. According to Kant, God exists only as a necessary idea descending from the absolute moral force present and operating in every person, from which proceeds the categorical imperative of all men30,31,32. That is to say, the idea of God proceeds from a priori moral qualities found within the nature of man, not from God to man through events outside of him and beyond his experience. Thus, under Kant, God became merely an ideological extension of anthropological existence.

Following Kant into the 19th Century, the well-known and very influential philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) taught that events themselves are nothing other than the unfolding of thoughts in the Absolute Mind, that history represents the unfolding of macrocosmic progress, as, through the "strife of opposites," the truth of one moment is exhausted and successively replaced by the “superior truth” of the next33,34,35. According to Hegel, “Theses” (or today's truth) meets its opposite, “Anti-Thesis,” the result of which a new, “Synthesis,” or “superior truth,” emerges. In other words, from Hegel we would learn that history is nothing other than the leavings of inferior and failed truth. Interesting as a curiosity, perhaps, but irrelevant to the present or future given the cosmic reality of universal progress. Indeed, it is from Hegel that the idea “future equals progress” has, even to this day, become a defining characteristic of popular American culture: the quality of optimism. The idea is called “progressivism” – and it has had no small amount of influence in science, law, politics, business and education.

Darwin, Nietsche, Freud, Marx and Dewey are notoriously representative of countless others who followed, rejecting the relevance of God and His Special Revelation to the understanding of nature, man, or the ordering of society. As a result, entering the 20th Century, Materialistic Rationalism governed the academic, scientific and cultural landscape, and held the Church firmly under its boot, while by the Century’s close, in a (hopefully) final dissipating act of intellectual rebellion, Postmodernism has ultimately rejected the specific utility of language itself, other than as one of innumerable means of delivering external narrative to individuals in a way that creates subjective personal encounters with the people and events of that narrative. Truth, while being admitted at least in theory by Postmodernism, cannot be known, since language is insufficient to articulate it. Therefore, "truth" is not the point of offering an historical account. Rather, being ambivalent toward truth in this way, narrative is the means through which ones relativistic worldview is socially constructed, and by means of shared narrative the community’s social order is normalized. This is the function of “social networking” in our day, the reason for the prolific use of emoticon’s, text glyphics, and emphasis on other modes of non-verbal communication, and the source of idealistic goals like “global community.”

Not only has the World fought vigorously to deprive the Church of the historicity of the Gospel accounts, of the veritable life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, and to set Christianity on equal footing with all other religions, which, unlike Christianity, have no basis in verifiable fact, today it appears that the World is proceeding yet beyond this, by depriving the Church of the very language that is required to communicate those facts to begin with, along with the saving message attending them.

More to come...


  1. Montgomery, J. (1975). The Shape of the Past. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock. pp. 45-48.
  2. Ibid. pg. 51
  3. Ibid. pg. 52
  4. Descartes, R. (1981). Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking for Truth in the Sciences. In E. Haldane and G. Ross (Trans.) René Descartes: Philosophical Works. (English translation revised 1931, original work published in French 1637). Franklin Center, PA: The Franklin Library. pp. 80-81.
  5. Descartes, R. (1981). Meditations on the First Philosophy in which the Existence of God and the Distinctions between Mind and Body are Demonstrated: Book III. In E. Haldane and G. Ross (Trans.) René Descartes: Philosophical Works. (English translation revised 1931, original work published in Latin 1641). Franklin Center, PA: The Franklin Library. pp. 193-208
  6. Descartes, R. (1981). Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking for Truth in the Sciences. In E. Haldane and G. Ross (Trans.) René Descartes: Philosophical Works. (English translation revised 1931, original work published in French 1637). Franklin Center, PA: The Franklin Library. pp. 83-84,98-99
  7. Descartes, R. (1981). Meditations on the First Philosophy in which the Existence of God and the Distinctions between Mind and Body are Demonstrated: Book III. In E. Haldane and G. Ross (Trans.) René Descartes: Philosophical Works. (English translation revised 1931, original work published in Latin 1641). Franklin Center, PA: The Franklin Library. pp. 163-178.
  8. Montgomery, J. (1975). The Shape of the Past. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock. pg. 66
  9. Stove, D. (2001). Scientifc Irrationalism: Origins of a Postmodern Cult. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. pp. 95-97, 100-101, 106.
  10. Sir David Hume. (1748). Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Article X: “Of Miracles”
  11. Hume, D. (1983). The History of England: From the Invasion of Julius Ceasar to The Revolution in 1688 Vol. 1. (Original work published 1778). Indianapolis: Liberty Classics. (Quote taken from the Forward of this volume, authored by William B. Todd, 1982). pg. XIV.
  12. Ibid. pp. XIII-XIV.
  13. Montgomery, J. (1975). The Shape of the Past. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock. pg. 66.
  14. Ibid. pg. 67
  15. Ibid. pg. 68
  16. Ibid.
  17. Stoops, J. (1971). Philosophy and Education in Western Civilization. Danville, IL: Interstate Publishers. pg. 194.
  18. Ibid. pg. 195
  19. Johnson, T. (2005). Natural Law Ethics: An Evangelical Proposal. Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft. pg. 26.
  20. Kant, I. (1949). Idea for a Universal History with Cosmopolitan Intent. In C. Friedrich (Ed.), The Philosophy of Kant (pp. 116-131). New York: Modern Library.
  21. Kant, I. (1949). Critique of Pure Practical Reason. In C. Friedrich (Ed.), The Philosophy of Kant (pp. 209-264). New York: Modern Library. pp. 225-234,238-240
  22. Kant, I. (1949). Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone. In C. Friedrich (Ed.), The Philosophy of Kant (pp. 365-411). New York: Modern Library.
  23. Stoops, J. (1971). Philosophy and Education in Western Civilization. Danville, IL: Interstate Publishers. pg. 198.
      The categorical imperative was expressed in two ways:
      1. Act so that the maxim of your will can always hold good as a principle of universal legislation.
      2. So act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other as an end, never as a means
      pg. 198
  24. Ibid. pp. 199-206.
  25. Hegel, G. (1953). The Phenomonology of the Spirit. In C. Friedrich (Ed.), The Philosophy of Hegel (pp. 399-519). New York: Modern Library.
  26. Hegel, G. (1953). The Science of Logic. In C. Friedrich (Ed.), The Philosophy of Hegel (pp. 177-217). New York: Modern Library.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License