Monday, September 26, 2011

Fraternal Dialogue on the Topic of "Objective Justification"

Over the weekend, I was monitoring the discussion taking place in our recent blog post, The WEB: A viable English Translation?, which had turned almost immediately from the issue of translations to that of “Universal Objective Justification.” This is due to the fact that the NNIV translates certain sections of the Bible in a way that is heralded by those who support and make propaganda for this teaching, much to the concern of those who question it. Because I was traveling over the weekend, I was unable to participate in the discussion, but kept notes here and there, particularly as Rev. Webber began his participation. Last fall, in one of our posts on the Marquart paper that Rev. Rydecki reviewed (Justification – Marquart, Recap), he and I had what I would consider a “fraternal,” though somewhat vigorous, exchange, from which I benefited. So, reading through the discussion he held with Rev. Rydecki and others over the weekend, I felt that it was appropriate to put my notes together and compose my own challenges – for the sake of feeding a dialogue which needs to happen.

Earlier today, Rev. Webber commented with reference to the doctrine of “Objective Justification” that, “these are times for fraternal and patient discussion, to seek clarification, in the spirit of what Gerhard says.” In a previous comment, he noted that this doctrine has seen protracted and confusing controversy in the recent past. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that such continues to be the case. Our discussion in this forum is neither unusual nor out of place (although some would prefer that the “heat” be turned down a little), and as evidenced by the fact that laymen and clergymen continue to turn discussion to this topic, and the generally high interest and passionate discussion this topic generates, it is one which is very much on the minds of fellow Lutherans.

The following is the notes I had composed, originally intending it as a comment in the previous blog post. After discussion with the other moderators, we decided to make it a full post. Although it is addressed to Rev. Webber (as the comment initially was intended), commentary on this blog post is certainly not limited to him. It is intended as a starting point for a general dialogue on the topic.

Rev. Webber,

Thank you for weighing in on this discussion – I'll repeat what Rev. Rydecki stated, that your opinion definitely has value among us at Intrepid Lutherans. I am also pleased to hear it admitted that there had been continued protracted and confusing controversy regarding the doctrine of justification, and not just by "fanatics" on either end of the spectrum, but among respected theologians like Marquart, Preus and Maier.

You approvingly quoted Marquart as follows:
    A contemporary clarification of justification would have to begin with what the Formula of Concord calls 'the only essential and necessary elements of justification,' that is, (1) the grace of God, (2) the merit of Christ, (3) the Gospel which alone offers and distributes these treasures, and (4) faith which alone receives or appropriates them (SD III.25). The first three items define the universal/general dimension of justification (forgiveness as obtained for all mankind on the cross, proclaimed in the resurrection [see Rom 4:25 and 1 Tim. 3:16] and offered to all in the means of grace), and the fourth, the individual/personal dimension. No one actually has forgiveness unless and until he receives it by faith.
I would first understand from the remainder of your comments that if (1) through (3) is preached, but (4) is not preached, then Justification has not been preached. No faith, no justification. Correct? In other words, so-called "Objective Justification," being only three out of four necessary criteria in the Doctrine of Justification, is an incomplete Gospel, and thus, it is not Gospel. Second, prior to faith and regeneration – that is, "outside of Christ" – individuals stand before God in the filthy rags of their own wreaking sins as "children of wrath" (Eph. 2:1-3). Correct? Or does the scary talk of the New Testament ultimately amount to empty rhetoric? If the Law contained in the New Testament is not empty rhetoric, then for those "outside of Christ" the phrase "in him all humanity was declared to be righteous and was vindicated" has no material value. Correct? This is important because in order to arrive at the conclusion represented by this phrase, one must rely on a syllogism, not Scripture. As you state it, the syllogism goes:
    (major premise) "If righteousness has been proclaimed upon humanity's substitute, then righteousness has in fact been proclaimed upon humanity"
    (minor premise) "In the resurrection of Christ, as he stood in the place of all humanity, he was justified. That is, he was declared to be righteous...
    (conclusion) "...and was vindicated as the representative of all humanity. This means that in him, and in his resurrection, all humanity was thereby justified. In him all humanity was declared to be righteous and was vindicated".
I'm not sure that syllogisms are a good way to do Scripture doctrine – and I certainly do not feel compelled to be automatically bound by them. Even if they are, in this case I question the validity of the minor premise. Scripture states most clearly that Christ bore the sin of the world, as humanity's substitute. That makes Him humanity's substitute with respect to our sin and His atoning work. His obedience under the Law was necessary for the sake of this work, but once His atoning work on the cross was complete, once His work as humanity's substitute was completed, His substitutionary role was also "finished." What Scriptural validity is there in extending His substitutionary role beyond His role as the world's sin bearer? I don't see Scriptural basis for claiming that Christ is the substitute for all humanity in the Resurrection, I only see it in His atoning work on the cross (Rom. 4:24-5:2 is quite clear, "raised again for our justification" is limited to those to whom Christ's righteousness is imputed through faith).

Moreover, I really don't see the necessity that Christ be the bearer of "our" righteousness, rather than His own, and therefore also the necessity of invoking a syllogism over the plain meaning of Scripture to arrive at this conclusion. Supposedly, it is necessary that God see all individuals as sinless, regardless of whether they have faith, if the Doctrine of Justification is to remain monergistic and confer true hope and comfort. Well, it isn't necessary that God see all individuals as sinless prior to faith, and it is a good thing because it isn't true. It is necessary that Christ has atoned for the sins of the whole world, and that Christ now offers to all men the promise of forgiveness of sins, spiritual life and eternal salvation, and freely gives man the faith to believe this promise through the Means of Grace. Man is entirely passive. Scripture testifies to these facts with abundant clarity. We receive these promises through the gift of faith (Eph. 2:8), and faith clings to them as accomplished facts – even though they remain objects of hope until the Day our "redemption draweth nigh" (Luke 21:25-28), in which we will finally receive the righteousness we hope for (Gal. 5:5) and "the end of our faith, the salvation of our souls" (1 Pet. 1:3-9). This is why the Scriptures exhort the believer to "endure to the end" (Matt. 24:8-14) – for apart from faith, we have no forgiveness of sins, no righteousness and no salvation, and in our sin remain "children of wrath" (Eph. 2:1-3).

"But do I have faith?", it is asked. Have I been baptized? Then I, in this outward objective act, have been crucified with Christ – which atoned for my sin – and thus in this death have been freed from sin's condemnation; and I, in this outward objective act, have been buried with Christ and raised with Him into spiritual life as a new creature – and sharing in Christ's Resurrection share also in the declaration of righteousness that He earned (Rom. 6:3-11). In this outward, objective "washing," in which I am entirely passive, I am quickened (1 Pet. 3:17-22), I receive the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38-39) and am declared righteous, I am regenerated (Titus 3:3-7). And having "become righteous" in this way, the promise of God in the Doctrine of Conversion is given full potency. Ezekiel records directly from the lips of God:
    But if the wicked man will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live (Ezk. 18:21-22)
And the author of Hebrews characterizes the New Covenant in terms of God's promises in Conversion, as well:
    For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people... For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more (Heb. 8:10-12)

    This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin (Heb. 10:16-18)
The Christian simply does not need the Doctrine of Justification, in order to secure the Gospel's comfort, to be construed in such a way that God has never seen the sin of the sinner. The Doctrine of Conversion supplies this comfort for us – telling us that God does see our sin, yet as a consequence of turning from that sin to righteousness instead (Repentance and Conversion), our prior life of sin is no longer considered by Him, and is forgotten. Indeed, to so construe the Doctrine of Justification seems to set it at war with the Doctrine of Conversion, even to overthrow it. Why on earth (literally) is such a teaching even uttered by God, if before Him mankind is not seen as sinful in the first place? The fact is, the declaration of righteousness conferred on us through faith and baptism satisfies the righteousness required in the Doctrine of Conversion. It is not my righteousness, it is the perfect righteousness of Christ.

It is no wonder to me that the Concordists point out that
    "[regeneration] is sometimes used to mean only the forgiveness of sins and that we are adopted as God's sons [as opposed to forgiveness of sins plus the succeeding renewal worked by the Holy Spirit]. It is in this ...sense that the word is used much of the time in the Apology, where it is written that justification BEFORE GOD is regeneration" (SD 3:19, Reader's Edition).
Here the Confessions speak directly regarding our status BEFORE GOD, and that regarding such, "justification" is not three out of four necessary criteria. The Solid Declaration here, and in the Apology, represent a serious challenge to those who say that, before God, we are forgiven and righteous apart from regeneration. Rather, according to the Confessions, BEFORE GOD our Justification is Regeneration.

Maier, Marquart, Preus and company may have come to "an agreement" of sorts. Fine. Political factors swirl about that episode in ways that would leave any objective person suspicious. Who really knows what factors were involved? For myself, I find the Confessions and Scripture to be much more compelling.

But do the Confessions teach “Objective Justification”? You stated regarding this question:
    By the way, I do not concede that the "objective" side of justification is not taught in the Confessions. With the understanding that forgiveness and justification are essentially synonymous in meaning, the quotation from St. Ambrose quoted approvingly in Apology IV:103 teaches it most clearly.
I examined AP:IV:103. But I also read AP:IV:104-105. Together, they read as follows:
    [103] ...For Ambrose says in his letter to a certain Irenaeus: Moreover, the world was subject to Him by the Law for the reason that, according to the command of the Law, all are indicted, and yet, by the works of the Law, no one is justified, i.e., because, by the Law, sin is perceived, but guilt is not discharged. The Law, which made all sinners, seemed to have done injury, but when the Lord Jesus Christ came, He forgave to all sin which no one could avoid, and, by the shedding of His own blood, blotted out the handwriting which was against us. This is what he says in Rom. 5:20: "The Law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." Because after the whole world became subject, He took away the sin of the whole world, as he [John] testified, saying John 1:29: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." And on this account let no one boast of works, because no one is justified by his deeds. But he who is righteous has it given him because he was justified after the laver [of Baptism]. Faith, therefore, is that which frees through the blood of Christ, because he is blessed "whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered," Ps. 32:1, [104] These are the words of Ambrose, which clearly favor our doctrine; he denies justification to works, and ascribes to faith that it sets us free [105] through the blood of Christ. (AP:IV:103ff, Triglotta)
I don’t consider this quote to teach “Objective Justification.” Its use by the Confessors was not intended to communicate any such thing, but was used simply to demonstrate to the Romans that St. Ambrose taught Justification by Faith Alone – apart from works – as opposed to justification by faith and works, as the Romans teach. We know this, because they qualify their use of St. Ambrose by stating as much: “These are the words of Ambrose, which clearly favor our doctrine; he denies justification to works, and ascribes to faith that it sets us free.” Given their qualification, don’t you think it is putting words in their mouths to separate a single clause from this citation (“He forgave to all sin which no one could avoid”) and say that on this basis the Confessors clearly taught “Objective Justification?”

But let’s look at St. Ambrose’s letter to Irenaeus. Did Ambrose intend at all to teach “Objective Justification” to Irenaeus, or was this clause merely incidental to some other topic he was addressing? Well, I found the letter. It was a very short letter in which St. Ambrose addressed the question of why God gave His Law, since it only caused further hardship for the condition of man. He was not developing a Doctrine of Justification. Here is the concluding, and pertinent, section:
    At first Moses' Law was not needed; it was introduced subsequently, and this appears to intimate that this introduction was in a sense clandestine and not of an ordinary kind, seeing that it succeeded in the place of the natural Law. Had this maintained its place, the written Law would never have entered in; but the natural Law being excluded by transgression and almost blotted out of the human breast, pride reigned, and disobedience spread itself; and then this Law succeeded, that by its written precepts it might cite us before it, and every mouth be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God. Now the world becomes guilty before God by the Law, in that all are made amenable to its prescripts, but no man is justified by its works. And since by the Law comes the knowledge of sin, but not the remission of guilt, the Law, which has made all sinners, would seem to have been injurious.

    But when the Lord Jesus came, He forgave all men that sin which none could escape, and blotted out the handwriting against us by the shedding of His own Blood. This then is the Apostle's meaning; sin abounded by the Law, but grace abounded by Jesus; for after that the whole world became guilty, He took away the sin of the whole world, as John bore witness, saying: Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. Wherefore let no man glory in works, for by his works no man shall be justified, for he that is just hath a free gift, for he is justified by the Bath. It is faith then which delivers by the blood of Christ, for Blessed is the man to whom sin is remitted, and, pardon granted.

    Letter LXXIII: Ambrose to Ireneaus, who enquired why the Law was even given
Just as the Confessors stated, this section from St. Ambrose clearly teaches Justification by Faith Alone, apart from works – which was fully their purpose in quoting it. In it we see clearly that as a consequence of the Law, man is “guilty before God.” We also see very clearly that the clause “He forgave all men that sin which none could escape” is not given in reference to Justification, but is attached to Christ’s atoning work. We see this as St. Ambrose associates “forgiveness” with the shedding of Christ’s blood, and not His resurrection, but especially given his citation of John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” in support of this clause – which is a classic Atonement text, not a Justification text. Finally, following his discussion of God’s Law and the guilt of mankind under it, and the atoning work of Christ, St. Ambrose concludes with Justification – by distinctly attaching it to faith and baptism.

In his letter, St. Ambrose properly concluded a discussion of Law with a preachment of the Gospel. Though this preachment was imperfect, this imperfection was inconsequential to the point the Confessors were trying to make by including it in the Apology.

So, there it is. Let the fraternal dialogue continue!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Communion Exhortations from the Lutheran Confessions

Pastor Webber's recent quotation of St. Ambrose from the Lutheran Confessions reminded me of another of his quotes that I use to encourage our members in their attendance of the Lord's Supper. The quotes below run in rotation each Sunday in the bulletin. Yes, each Sunday, because we celebrate the blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion every Lord's Day and on each Feast Day of the Christian Church, as has been the historic and consistent practice in Christ's Church since Apostolic times. More about that next week. Enjoy!

Pastor Spencer

Communion Exhortations from the Lutheran Confessions

“The Holy Sacrament was not instituted to make provision for a sacrifice for sin – for the sacrifice has already taken place – but to awaken our faith and comfort our consciences, when we perceive that through the Sacrament grace and forgiveness of sin are promised us by Christ. Accordingly, the Sacrament requires faith, and without faith it is used in vain. Consequently, the Mass is to be used to this end, that the Sacrament is administered to those who have need of consolation. So St. Ambrose said, ‘Because I always sin, I ought always take this medicine.’” (Book of Concord, Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV, The Mass, paragraph 30 of the Latin and 31 of the German)

“The remembrance of Christ is not the vain celebration of a show or a celebration for the sake of example, the way plays celebrate the memory of Hercules or Ulysses. It is rather the remembrance of Christ’s blessings and the acceptance of them by faith, so that they make us alive. A faith that acknowledges mercy makes alive. The principle use of the sacrament is to make clear that terrified consciences are the ones worthy of it, and how they ought to use it.” (Book of Concord, Defense of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV – The Mass, paragraphs 72 & 73)

“Who, then, receives this Sacrament worthily? Fasting and bodily preparation are a good external discipline, but he is truly worthy and well prepared who believes these words: ‘for you,’ and ‘for the forgiveness of sins.’On the other hand, he who does not believe these words, or doubts them, is unworthy and unprepared, for the words ‘for you’ require truly believing hearts.” Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, Part VI – The Sacrament of the Altar, Question Four)

“We must never regard the Sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefited also. Here in the Sacrament you receive from Christ’s lips the forgiveness of sins, protection, defense, and power against death and the devil and all evils.” (Book of Concord, Dr. Martin Luther’s Large Catechism, Part V – The Sacrament of the Altar, paragraphs 68 & 70)

“We believe, teach, and confess that the entire worthiness of the guests at this heavenly feast is and consists solely and alone in the most holy obedience and complete merit of Christ, which we make our own through genuine faith and of which we are assured through the Sacrament. Worthiness consists not at all in our own virtues or in our internal and external preparations." (Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article VII – The Holy Supper of Christ, Affirmative Statement #10)

“True and worthy communicants are those timid, perturbed Christians, weak in faith, who are heartily terrified because of their many and great sins, who consider themselves unworthy of this noble treasure and the benefits of Christ because of their great impurity who perceive their weakness in faith; deplore it, and heartily wish they might serve God with a stronger and more cheerful faith and a purer obedience. This most venerable Sacrament was instituted and ordained primarily for communicants like this, as Christ says, “Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’” (Book of Concord, Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article VII – The Holy Supper, paragraphs 69 & 70)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

CP Visitation – Doctrine & Practice

Dear Readers,

A few months ago we talked about the importance of a confessional Lutheran church body making solid efforts to maintain orthodox doctrine and practice among its Pastors, and the critical role the Circuit Pastor plays in this effort in our Wisconsin Synod. At the time I shared with you two questionnaires that I use in my CP Visitations. These revolved, for the most part, around the Pastor's role in the church-at-large, his work habits and routines, and the important needs of and unique pressures on his wife and family. At the time I promised to put together and then share with you another questionnaire focusing on the correct teachings of the historic, evangelical, orthodox, and confessional Lutheran church. That questionnaire is reproduced below. I am currently working through these questions with the Pastors of my circuit, and have shared them with my District President.

I believe that it is essential in the WELS today for every Pastor to continually review confessional Lutheran teachings. In addition, it is just as necessary that those charged with maintaining correct doctrine and practice in our synod, constantly and consistently encourage such a review, and check to see that the teachings and practices of their brother Pastors are squarely in line with their ordination and installation vows.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome!

Pastor Spencer

CP Visitation – Interview #2: Doctrine & Practice

I. The Public Ministry
1. What is the purpose of the public ministry?
2. What makes a Call into the public ministry legitimate, and why is it necessary that public ministers have a legitimate Call?
3. Who alone has the right to call people into the public ministry and how is this now done?
4. For what reasons and in what manner may a public minister be removed from office?
5. What must be the sole basis for all preaching and teachings in a confessional Lutheran church?
6. What is required of public ministers in order to be faithful to their Call?

II. The Bible, God, Law, and Sin
7. What are the "canonical Scriptures" and why are they so called?
8. What is the proper confessional Lutheran method for interpreting the Bible?
9. How is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity shown in the Scriptures?
10. What is the "Moral Law?"
11. What are acceptable ceremonies for the New Testament church?
12. Is the concept of "separation of Church & State" Scriptural; why or why not?
13. What is the proper use of the Ten Commandments for New Testament believers?
14. What is original sin, and in what two ways is it transmitted to all people?
15. Why is it important to distinguish between the essential nature of humanity and it's depraved nature; in other words, is original sin "essence" or "accident" and why?

III. Repentance, Conversion, Justification, Gospel, Faith & Good Works
16. What is contrition or repentance, is it necessary for salvation; why, and how is it produced?
17. Do people have free will, and if so to what extent?
18. What role do human emotions play in conversion?
19. Of what does justification consist according to the Gospel?
20. Does justification exist apart from faith? If so, how?
21. What is justifying faith?
22. Through what means does God work faith?
23. Are good works necessary for the believer; why or why not?
24. What are the differences between the confessional Lutheran teaching and that of the Calvinists, Arminians, and Romanists on sin, free will, justification, faith, and good works?
25. What is the doctrine of Predestination and how is it to be used?
26. What is the "sin against the Holy Spirit?"

IV. Baptism, Lord's Supper, & Absolution
27. What makes an act a "sacrament," and for what reason did Christ institute sacraments for His Church?
28. What does Holy Baptism accomplish in those to whom it is applied?
29. How can the true and real Body and Blood of Christ be present and received by us in our Lord's Supper and at the same time also truly and really present in countless other places where the Supper is celebrated?
30. In what way is the Lord's Supper a "sacrifice?"
31. What is the "spiritual eating and drinking" of the Lord's Supper?
32. What does it mean that the Lord's Supper is to be celebrated whenever the church gathers to commemorate the death of the Lord Jesus?
33. What does it mean to eat and drink "unworthily" of the Lord's Supper, and does this negate the Real Presence?
34. How should believers prepare themselves to receive the Lord's Supper?
35. What two types of absolution are there and when and how should they be used in the church?

V. Prayer, Pastoral Acts, & Worship
36. Why should believers pray and how?
37. Can a person pray to be converted; why or why not?
38. At whose wedding will a confessional Lutheran Pastor permit himself to officiate; why, and under what circumstances?
39. At whose funeral will a confessional Lutheran Pastor permit himself to officiate; why, and under what circumstances?
40. Can a confessional Lutheran Pastor lead prayers in a public setting such as a City Council or School Board meeting? If so, under what circumstances?
41. What are the Scriptural reason for using an established "order of service," or liturgy, in Christian worship?
42. What are the spiritual and doctrinal benefits of the historic "Western Rite?"
43. What worship practices, currently popular in many so-called "evangelical" churches, are clearly sectarian and should be avoided by confessional Pastors and congregations, and why?
44. Is it wrong for a woman to lead the worship service? Why or why not?

VI. Last Things
45. What is the state of the body and soul between the time of death and the Last Day?
46. Are there two judgments or only one? Why?
47. Why is the teaching of purgatory unscriptural?
48. What is "dispensationalism," where did it originate, and why is it unbiblical?
49. What is the "rapture," and why is it a false doctrine?
50. What are the main variations of millennialism being taught today and why are they detrimental to faith?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The WEB: A viable English Bible translation?

Here's a plea to our readers, whether trained in Hebrew and Greek or not: Check out the World English Bible (WEB) and let us know what you think of it.

It's available online at:

I posted a few initial thoughts in a previous comment. I admit that I have not studied this translation very thoroughly, but on the surface, it's at least intriguing, especially for the fact that it's in the public domain and can be changed if necessary. That means NPH could publish a Bible in this translation without having to pay any royalties to anyone and without ever being beholden to the whims of publishers like Zondervan.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thoughts on Gender-Neutral Language in the NIV 2011

One of the major issues with the NIV 2011 is not a matter of this or that poor translation, but rather a complete overhaul of the entire Bible with regards to gender language. The following letter written by Rev. Robert Koester highlights some of the root problems underlying the NIV's drastic changes to gender language. This letter has already been shared with the Translation Evaluation Committee, and we post it here because we believe it should be read as widely as possible within the WELS. Rev. Koester's points deserve our urgent consideration.


Thoughts on Gender-Neutral Language in the NIV 2011

I believe there are major linguistic and hermeneutical problems with the gender neutral language used in the NIV 2011. The concerns noted below go beyond translation problems with individual passages.

We are familiar with the NIV 2011’s attempts to make Scripture gender neutral. Words that carry a masculine meaning are retranslated using the normal editorial tools for gender neutrality. For example, singulars become plurals; “one” or “someone” is made plural in the predicate; “you” is substituted for “he” or “him;” and words like “brother” and “father” are changed, so that “brothers” becomes “brothers and sisters” and “fathers” becomes “parents.” (This is distinct ANTHROPOS and ADAM that can often be translated using gender neutral terms.)

Depending on how you count them, the changes number in the hundreds and perhaps well over a thousand. We are no longer dealing with changes to individual passages that we could teach around (even if there were several dozen of them) but with the entire fabric of Scripture in this area.

A gender-neutral translation changes the way in which translators determine the meaning of words. We have all relied on lexicons to help us understand word meanings. We trust the lexicographer to study a word, relying, where possible, on how the word is used in Scripture. After a thorough study, the lexicographer gives the word a range of meanings.

In the interest of gender neutrality, however, gender neutral translators extend the range of meaning of certain words far beyond what traditional lexicographers have arrived at. In regard to gender neutral language, the approach is this: If a word is used in a context that references both men and women, the word was considered by the original writers actually to be gender neutral. Accordingly, translators are allowed to use whatever techniques they need to translate into gender-neutral English.

Completely overlooked is the reverse argument, namely, that since groups of men and women are addressed or referred to by words that carry a masculine meaning (when the writers could have easily used a different word or included additional words to make the passage gender inclusive), we should explore why the original authors did this and wrestle with how we should reflect this in translation.

Some words in the Hebrew and Greek do have a wide range of meaning. ADAM and ANTHROPOS certainly do. And we may not hear the word ANDRES exactly like the early Greeks did, even if we debate the likelihood that they heard a straight gender-neurtral “brothers and sisters.” Often, the NIV 1984translates “man” or “men” when it could or should have used “person,” “people,” or some other gender-neutral term. A retranslation of the Bible that singles out those terms for a gender-neutral treatment would be helpful in our society and probably would make a drastic difference in how gender specific Scripture is considered to be.

But the NIV 2011 does not stop with these words. If a Hebrew or Greek word is used in a context where men and women are being addressed, the translators do not rely on the reader to read that fact into the gender-specific word used in Scripture. Rather, they widen the range of meaning for that word and translate accordingly. For example, “your own brothers” is changed to “your fellow Israelites,” “brothers” becomes “relatives,” “turn your sons away” becomes “turn your children away,” “your needy brother” becomes “the needy among your fellow Israelites,” “sin of the fathers” becomes “sin of the parents,” “fathers” becomes “ancestors,” etc.

It can certainly be argued that in the context, men and women were included in those statements. But can the translator for that reason expand the range of meanings of “father” at will and translate “father and mother”? Or in the case of the Greek word for “brothers,” does the context give the translator the right to extend its range of meaning and translate “brothers and sisters”? At NPH we regularly operate like this, but we are dealing with people’s words—that we have the right to change—not with the words of God.

But the NIV translators go beyond this. Their intention is not just to reflect what they think is how the early Hebrews or Greeks understood certain words like “men” or “brothers,” but to remove those words entirely and substitute other words. Consider the translation of Acts 10:23. The NIV 1984 translates, “The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along.” The 2011 NIV translates, “The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along.” Perhaps the translators didn’t think the context would allow their normal gender-neutral translation, “brothers and sisters.” So to get rid of the gender-specific word “brother,” they translated “believer.” But “brother” and “believer” are two different words.

Again, we are not arguing that Paul’s audience did not include men and women, or that when Paul addressed a mixed group he was only addressing the males. We are arguing that the word he used was not always gender neutral.

But gender-neutral translators still go further. Once they have been given license to retranslate words, they retranslate events or offices. They make them fit more closely with Western culture. Here are a few examples from Deuteronomy. In 5:23 “leading men” is translated “leaders,” even though the reference is to the elders—all males—who approached God along with Moses at Mount Sinai. In reference to soldiers in 20:8, “is any man afraid . . . his brothers” is changed to “is anyone afraid . . . his fellow soldiers.” (In this case, they make part of the sentence gender neutral yet retain “his.”) In 21:5 and 31:9, “the sons of Levi” is changed to “the Levitical priests,” even though the priests were all male. In 10:22 “forefathers” is changed to “ancestors,” even though the 70 referred to here were all men. In 1:35 “not a man of” is changed to “no one from,” even though the reference is to the people counted in the original census, who were all males. In 1 Chronicles 9:17, there is a reference to the gatekeepers in the temple: “Shallum . . . Ahiman and their brothers” is retranslated “Shallum . . . Ahiman and their fellow Levites.” Was this change made only to excise the male word “brothers,” or was it made to suppress the fact that only males served in that capacity in the temple?

For additional illustrations and concerns, see the reviewers of Judges, Acts, and 1 Corinthians in the reviewer notes on our synod’s translation committee’s Web page. And note the comment from the convention floor regarding the change of “brothers” in Acts 1:16 to “brothers and sisters,” which then becomes the antecedent for “they” in verse 23, the people who nominated two men to replace Judas.

The ability to communicate is based on the meaning of words. A gender neutral translation bases word meanings more on the perceived needs of the receptor language than on what can be proven from the original.

Feminine versus masculine endings, plural versus singular endings, third person versus second person endings—these are realities of language. But the NIV 2011 translators have simply ignored these grammatical distinctions for the sake of gender neutrality.

Except when the reference is to a specific male person, the translators have eliminated the use of “he” and “him.” Sentences are simply made plural, even though the nouns and verbs are singular. The second person is sometimes substituted for the third person. The predicate is made plural when the subject is singular. (We might accept that as being in line with modern usage. At least in this case the force of the singular and its ability to address each of us personally is not completely lost, which it is in many passages.)

The lack of attention to singulars and plurals can lead to odd results. For example, in Leviticus 14:2-9 where the Lord gives Moses a law regarding skin disease, at verse 2 the translators begin substituting the plural for the singular. This is followed consistently in the next seven verses. When you get to verse 9, which details the rites of purification, you have Moses commanding everyone to shave off their beards. The law of skin diseases no doubt applied to women as well as men. But a sensitive translator would not have allowed himself to get backed into this corner. It seems that it would have been difficult to avoid this error unless the masculine singular had been retained. Of course, this would have resulted in inconsistent translation practices.

We have been appealing to Luther for the right to translate idiomatically and in good English. We certainly agree with his translation principles, and we should emulate them. But I find it hard to believe that he would play fast and loose with the grammar of the original language simply to make it more readable for his culture. His concerns at Marburg would hardly have carried much weight if he had. I believe we should think twice before we use Luther to defend a gender-neutral translation like the NIV 2011.

This is not an argument for a wooden translation. We all know that the idiomatic nature of language often moves outside of the structure of grammar. There may be times when we are forced to change singulars to plurals or give noun and verb endings a meaning not in the original simply so we can communicate. But the NIV 2011 moves far beyond this. On a wholesale level, it ignores the noun and verb forms so it can make the language gender inclusive. Some may argue that this is the modern idiom. But changing the actual meanings of words, changing the grammar, and even changing the nature of a situation that was part of the culture of Scripture for the sake of gender neutrality is simply not an acceptable way of translating, no matter how much an art translating might be. This smacks more of an agenda than a simple heartfelt desire to make God’s Word understandable.

Culture Shift
In my opinion, there is an even more serious matter in gender neutral-translation.

A gender-neutral translation implies a shift in cultures. There is the implication that today’s Western society, in how it views the relationship between men and women, has advanced in its understanding and moved beyond the weakness of previous (read patriarchal) cultures.

Gender-neutral translators are forced to articulate why they feel compelled to translate into gender-nutral language. They can express their reasons in one of two, but mutually exclusive, ways.

The first, which we discussed in the first two sections, is to argue that their translation does indeed reflect the meaning of the words God uses in Scripture. But without tampering with word meanings and grammar, I think it would be difficult to prove that the original readers understood Scripture to be a gender-neutral document. Without trying to define it further, there is a certain “maleness” to the language of Scripture that surfaces in the language, the laws, and in how the New Testament applies Old Testament statements.

I think it is more accurate to say that while the people did understand that male terms often referred to men and women, they were content to accept God’s way of speaking. They saw something in God’s way of expressing himself—something that simply cannot be jettisoned by some future egalitarian society. They also realized that how God expressed himself was foundational for their culture and carried applications for the roles of men and women—without at the same time affirming the many ways mankind’s sinfulness has corrupted those applications.

Anyone who agrees that the linguistic justification for an egalitarian translation rests on shaky grounds must turn to the second approach, the culture-shift argument. They must make the claim that a shift in cultures justifies a shift in one’s approach to the subject—which commonly occurs in application of certain Bible passages, but can also occur in translation practices.

They will admit that the original Hebrew and Greek authors had an overlying gender-specific way of speaking. They will admit that Scripture has a certain maleness about it. They will admit that it was written in the context of a patriarchal culture, reflects that culture, and affirms it. But they believe they must adjust all of this in order to to communicate with modern culture. They reason that if the ancient authors were writing today, they would simply have written in modern gender-neutral terms.

But if God is behind the words of Scripture, then it is not just the people of a culture who are involved in the words of Scripture, but God. Here is where the damaging implications of gender-neutral language begin to show.

I think it can be demonstrated that most denominations that resist gender-specific language also object to what that language implies for our culture. They consider some aspects of modern culture, specifically its egalitarian nature, to be superior to the culture of the past. And since the relationship of men and women in those cultures was based to some extent on the gender-specific language of Scripture, then that language must be changed. If there is a “maleness” in Scripture, it must be excised. And if the Lord was behind this, he was either wrong or the Bible writers were not communicating his truth clearly but allowing their own culture to emerge in their writing.

At heart, gender neutrality is not about translating per se, but about hermeneutics, a hermeneutics driven by the fact that cultures change and by the question of what that implies about the words and statements of Scripture.

We are all aware of the unbiblical practices rapidly gaining ground in the formerly conservative Evangelical world. Evangelical Christian denominations have come to evolutionary teaching, homosexuality, and egalitarian Christian congregations and homes. At first, some in these churches have tried to justify their new positions on the basis of the words of Scripture and exegesis of its passages. But invariably, when they realize this cannot be done without stretching word meanings and introducing odd interpretations of the pertinent passages, they turn to the culture-shift argument and appeal to our more enlightened understanding. It cannot be overstated how deeply this argument is embedded in Western Christianity—not just in liberal churches but in a large part of the Evangelical world.

This is a different spirit. In a gender-neutral translation, this spirit does not show itself in Bible interpretation as in the examples in the paragraph above, but in Bible translation. The translator’s view of how culture should be and how we should express ourselves to reflect our understanding of culture trumps how the Scripture writers expressed themselves.

We readily grant that the NIV 2011 retains an accurate enough translation of passages on which the conservative Christian world has built its theology of the roles of men and women. But the extent to which the translators have altered word meanings, etc., makes a person wonder about their attitude toward the passages that will not allow an egalitarian society. That is a strong statement, but is it that far out of line? Would they prefer that God had inspired his Word in a culture similar to ours today and written in clear, unmistakable gender-neutral terms?

And here is where the danger lies. To a greater or lesser degree, God is pitted against Scripture. He must be distanced from what the Scripture writers said. The verbal inspiration of Scripture is watered down or lost. I am not implying that anyone in our circles is thinking this way. But my concern is that if we adopt the NIV 2011 or any gender-neutral translation, we are admitting a Trojan horse into our church that will weaken how we approach, interpret, and apply Scripture. If continued study reveals that a gender-neutral approach to Bible translation cannot be argued linguistically, then we will be forcing ourselves to sit in judgment on God’s way of expressing himself in what we perceive as a different cultural context.

The subject of gender-neutral translating is, at heart, about whether God’s way of expressing himself is legitimate for all time. By God’s grace our church body still says yes to that. Gender neutral translators say no.

Accordingly, we need to guard the fact that God chose to reveal his will in very specific ways. He chose to use gender-specific noun and verb endings. He chose to use “brothers” and “fathers” when he could have used specific gender-inclusive language. His tools for protecting Israel and for teaching them his Word—the military and the priesthood—could have been comprised of men and women, but they weren’t. Every law could have been the same for males and females, but they weren’t. Women could have been included equally in the long lists of genealogies. But they weren’t.

There is a vast difference between saying, “God’s Word in the original reflects the culture of the time” and, “God’s Word in the original reflects the headship-helper relation between men and women as taught throughout Scripture.” By accepting a gender-neutral translation, we will be accepting the first expression. This is the Trojan horse. If our synod does adopt the NIV 2011 translation, we will force ourselves into the quagmire of redefining how we arrive a word meanings, what is the role of gender, person, and number in translation, and the role culture shift should play in our hermeneutics of Scripture.

It is better to live with what Scripture says and do our best to translate it into good English. It is far better to trust that the Lord will reach his elect through a legitimate translation and will overcome any problems such a translation may cause in the ears of the modern reader.

Practical Issues
The points I’ve made above are the most important. The following are a few observations of a more practical nature.


What exactly is accuracy? We use this term without defining it. We probably think of it as a relative term, referring to the number of passages where a word is mistranslated or where a grammatical construction is missed. We must determine how many such problems earn a translation the label “inaccurate.”

If we accept how the NIV 2011 update of individual passages has improved or worsened the NIV 1984, I believe we can legitimately use the “there is no perfect translation” argument. But if we do not agree with how the NIV 2011 deals with the words and grammar in question, we can only conclude that the NIV 2011 is a very inaccurate translation, purposely ignoring some word meanings and grammar for the sake of gender neutrality.

Note: This is essentially the conclusion the majority of the Southern Baptist Convention arrived at. At their most recent convention they passed a resolution which included this evaluation of the NIV 2011: “This translation alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language; and . . . although it is possible for Bible scholars to disagree about translation methods or which English words best translate the original languages, the 2011 NIV has gone beyond acceptable translation standards.”)

A separation of “ability for the reader to understand” and “gender-neutral language”

Those who argue for the NIV 2011 seem to combine these two issues. It’s almost as if objecting to gender-neutral language is to object to wanting Scripture to be understood in our society.

To be sure, the NIV 1984’s translation of ANTHROPOS as “man” and its many unnecessary uses of “he” or “him” as the pronoun, may cause confusion to some in our culture and set up a roadblock to understanding.

But in most cases, gender-neutral changes hardly make it easier for people to understand what the Bible says. The pastor who reviewed Judges for the WELS translation committee offered these comments on Judges 17:3:
    “The problem I see with inclusive language and the NIV 2011 is that the translation committee [Biblica] felt obligated to find gender neutral terminology for terms where there is no confusion about the gender of the men to whom Scripture is referring. ‘But because he was afraid of the . . . men of the town. . . .” [NIV 1984] That translation offers no confusion to anyone, whether traditionalist or feminist. It is idiomatic English, inoffensive, and perfectly understandable.”

The writer’s final statement can be applied to many, probably to most, of the passages where gender-neutral language is used.

In our discussions, we should carefully distinguish these two issues. Gender-neutral language cannot necessarily be equated with the ability of people in our modern culture to understand Scripture better.

Our own translation and study Bible

The entire discussion of whether or not to create our own translation depends on how we deal with the topics of words, grammar, and culture shift discussed in the first part of this paper. If we did our own translation, would it be gender neutral? Or are we assuming that our own translation would be gender specific? What would our posture be toward word meanings and grammar?

Perhaps if we started our discussion with these issues, our path would become clear. Otherwise, a translation process will not be a peaceful thing, nor will it solve any problem.

The same could be said of a study Bible. A study Bible based on the NIV 2011 will have to adopt a position on gender neutrality. Would we choose to accept gender neutral language, remain noncommittal, or express disagreement? The Pentateuch is perhaps the section of Scripture most consistently affected by gender neutrality. It also establishes the foundation for the rest of Scripture. It would take an effort to explain the NIV 2011’s translation practices in that section of Scripture, particularly if we disagreed with gender neutrality.

And if the impetus for a study Bible comes from the need to explain and correct the problems we see in the NIV 2011, one wonders if it is wise to choose that translation in the first place.

If the NIV 2011 is accepted, could we also endorse an alternate, secondary translation—something gender specific and perhaps more literal? Would that be a wise compromise? Authors submitting books to NPH could choose to use the alternate translation if they chose not to use the NIV. Or would that also cast suspicion on the NIV 2011?

A stable translation

The synod needs a stable translation. I question how stable the NIV 2011 is. The objection to this concern is that we don’t know how stable any translation will be. There is some truth to that. But have we researched the long-term translation philosophies and publishing plans for other translations?

We do have a track record for Biblica and Zondervan. Previous translations, the NIVI and the TNIV were published without taking the NIV 1984 out of production. Both faced criticism from the Evangelical world, largely because of their gender-neutral language. Both were withdrawn from publication.

The NIV 2011 is a scaled-back version of the TNIV in regard to gender neutral language. Immediately upon release of the NIV 2011, Zondervan ceased publication of the NIV 1984. It does not take a lot of business sense to figure out why. A failed translation means a big loss of revenue. The only way Zondervan could keep this from happening again was for them (1) to argue that the NIV 2011 was simply a normal maintenance upgrade, call it the “NIV” without any additional letters, and simply put it in bookstores as a replacement for the NIV 1984; and (2) consistent with this, take the 1984 version out of print. Obviously, this would force people to buy the 2011 version.

The speed at which this was done is frightening. Denominations and publishing houses were caught off guard. September 2009, when the new translation was announced, to March 2011, when the NIV 1984 was no longer in print, was too short a time for our denomination and publishing company to retool. And the fact that the NIV 2011 was not available for review until November 2010 made it even more frustrating.

Congregations in the WELS are now experiencing the repercussions. Members are buying new NIV Bibles without realizing they are buying the new version. Some want to buy a new Bible for themselves or as a gift but realize the WELS is still deciding on whether or not to adopt the new version or not. Synod officials are being forced to make decisions they cannot make in a few month’s time and are feeling the pressure. NPH is being forced to hold off publishing a large amount of curriculum material until the dust settles. And Zondervan is still unclear about how long it will give NPH permission to use the 1984 version.

How can it be said that Zondervan is acting for the good of God’s kingdom? They certainly have the right to publish a new version if they wish. But Zondervan should not force denominations to use their new translation, which is essentially what they are doing. At the least, they should have kept the 1984 version in production for four or five years to give churches time to decide if they wanted to use the new version. That would have been simple Christian courtesy and fairness.

Biblica and Zondervan seem to be hiding behind the idea that the NIV 2011 is merely a normal maintenance upgrade to the 1984 version—no big deal. But the number of changes and the change to gender neutral-language make it a very big deal. If it were a maintenance upgrade, publishers could simply continue their publishing plans using the 1984 version and updateing the passages that were changed. And churches could simply keep their present pew Bibles knowing that members might find a few differences when they followed along with the readings. But the number of changes to NIV makes this impossible.

In spite of all this, the display material Zondervan supplies to Christian book stores gives the buyer no clue that this is a new translation. It is simply advertised as the NIV.

Some denominations, most notably the Southern Baptist Convention and the LCMS, don’t agree that this is a maintenance upgrade. They have either rejected the new translation and/or chosen not to use it. It is not fair to simply dismiss their actions by saying they want to promote their own translation (in the case of the SBC) or that they simply prefer another translation (in the case of the LCMS). It is more fair—and accurate—to say that these denominations saw the direction Biblica and Zondervan were going in their translation philosophy and chose to jump ship. The SBC created their own translation (as some in our synod are now recommending that we do). The LCMS adopted another translation (which others in our synod are now recommending).

When we consider the stability of the NIV 2011, we should consider the following: The NIV 2011 is a rework of the TNIV, which failed largely because of its gender-neutral language. Biblica was committed to the kind of changes found in the TNIV (otherwise they would not have produced that translation in the first place). It would not be unfair to say that at least some on Biblica’s translating committee would like to make a future NIV more in line with the TNIV. Zondervan has no compunctions about calling the NIV 2011 a simple maintenance upgrade and treating it as such. If the rather radical jump from gender-specific to gender-neutral language can be treated as a normal upgrade, would an advance on gender neutrality be treated any differently?

True, we don’t know the future of any translation. But Biblica’s and Zondervan’s track records give us some pretty solid data about how they handle things. Do we want to continue our relationship with them? I think we should think long and hard about that.

In saying this, I am not taking the obstructionist position but am concerned about what will be the most beneficial for our synod in the long run. My main concern, however, is not about what is easiest, but what is best for the spiritual lives of our people and the hermeneutical challenges we will face.

Making a decision to adopt a new translation now would be difficult, but it will be even more difficult down the road with the next NIV translation (if Biblica advances gender neutrality) after our pastors and people have accepted that way of translating.

Develop a way to deal with an issue in interpretation and not in translation

We should develop a clear philosophy of how far translations can go in interpretation and how much must be left to the teacher. This is an important topic, especially for those translating the Bible into a language or dialect for the first time. We might agree that in that context and as an aid to new Christians the translator could be more free to settle on a translation that reflects one specific interpretation of the text.

But it can also be argued that such a translation is not the best for a church body such as the WELS. After all, many paraphrases are available to those who want to read the Bible quickly without having to do a lot of on-the-fly interpretation. We do need a translation that is adequate for reading from the lectern, but we especially need a translation that can serve our people in their study and growth in God’s Word—a Bible that gets them closer to the Hebrew or Greek idiom without sacrificing the English.

This past Sunday the pastor was preaching about Solomon. Without disparaging the NIV, he pointed out the difference between the NIV’s translation of Solomon’s answer to God’s request and how it is stated in the original. In the NIV Solomon said, “I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties” (1 Kings 3:7). The KJV reflects the original in its translation: “I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in.” I appreciated his pointing that out. With a couple words of introduction, it conjured up a fine picture that even a little child can understand.

How far you go in either direction is a judgment call. But the topic is worth discussing. It is worth bringing it to the attention of our laypeople as they think about reading this or that translation.

An emotive issue?

It may be necessary to issue this warning. But in my opinion, making too much of it is counterproductive. It assumes that many pastors and laypeople are loading their rifles and circling the wagons. I think our pastors and members realize that we have been put into a difficult position. Zondervan has forced denominations either to make a quick decision or to make a slower decision with all the havoc that it creates. People realize this or are willing to have it explained to them. Emotions are aroused if the issues are not addressed. The answer to dealing with hot tempers is not only warning people against them, but for leaders to explain the issues in a logical way so that people can understand them.

I think our people would rather have us make a careful and reasoned decision no matter how long it takes. After all, this is the Bible their publishing house will be asked to use in its publications and the one they will likely be using every day of their lives.

This whole process can be a very positive thing for our synod!

The entire Evangelical world is awash in loose principles of translating and horribly wrong interpretations fueled by the culture-shift argument. Our people are often influenced by this. Lessons learned in wrestling with the NIV 2011 translation issue will help our people grow in their understanding of Bible translation and interpretation.

Robert Koester
September 1, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Post-Modernism, Pop-culture, Transcendence, and the Church Militant

Greetings Dear Reader!

I’ll start this post by apologizing for a rather long hiatus – not that I have evidence of being missed, just that I feel rather guilty for having been preoccupied with personal and professional concerns for a few weeks, when I had rather desired to respond to comments made on IL and address some new developments. One such comment was offered by Andy Groenwald in response to my blog post, The NIV 2011 and the Importance of Translation Ideology. In it he raises concerns regarding post-modernism and asks what to do if the majority can’t/won’t recognize it or respond to it. My short answer is, “Start by educating the educable.” My longer answer is to begin attempting to do so with what follows. It is rather long (of course...). It is rather heady in places – but I try to use lots of examples and develop a picture of what I see is going on in the Church, and how that is, or is not, congruent with what is going on in society, and why or whether it matters.


That Hideous Strength was a fantastic book – my father bought C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy for me when I was in eighth grade, I remember reading it in high-school (most of it went over my head), and re-reading it several times in college. Although it is said that these books can be read independently, I thought that Ransom’s appearance in That Hideous Strength, with his bloody and unhealing wound, would have been nearly impossible to appreciate without having read Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Lewis was writing against Materialistic Rationalism in nearly all of his works, but much like Orwell’s 1984 (in fact, better than Orwell in my opinion), very vividly shows in That Hideous Strength how the thinking of an entire society can be co-opted through language.

Funny you should mention the “Amish.” Outside of WELS, we have been ridiculed as the “Amish” Lutheran Synod – for a multitude of reasons, as you might guess. Interestingly, nearly all of the former-Amish I have ever heard of, who went to college predisposed against their own training and ill-equipped to critically receive what their professors presented to them, wound up accepting nearly everything they were confronted with there. When I have asked WELS pastors about TELL magazine, the WELS “Community Churches” Crossroads and Pilgrim, and related issues of our past – older pastors, that is, who were there and knew the men involved – they have variously confirmed that the men involved were acting out of concern over our “inbred theology,” that the practice which descended from it made WELS “appear odd” to the rest of American Christianity and to American society, that these factors threatened to drive people away, and that we therefore ought to avail ourselves of the social research and theological thinking in greater Evangelicalism and incorporate what we can from it into our own theological thinking and practice (“Plunder the Egyptians”). It has been told to me, on the one hand, that these concerns were held purely in the interest of propagating the Gospel, while on the other hand it has been pointed out that this stuff emerged at the same time WELS took on overt “Church Growth” themes (“Every State by ‘78,” for instance) following its split from Missouri and the dissolution of the Synodical Conference. Either way, these “Amish Lutherans” went to college (yes, many did go to Fuller Seminary and to similar institutions – most, it seems, went to absorb ideologies of the Church Growth Movement, while some went in order to learn what CGM is so that they could more effectively combat it), like many former Amish, they were predisposed against their former way of life, i.e., against Confessional practice (i.e., “the WELS must change or Lutheranism will disappear”), and were willing enough to question our theology to consider alternatives (“anything short of ‘sin’”, that is). And now, here we are.

Did we absorb post-Modernism through CGM studies?
Even more interestingly, if we’d remained “Amish,” if, despite concerns regarding the numerical strength of our Synod, we had continued to honor our confession and practice and to trust in the Means of Grace by not sending our Seminary professors and Synod leaders to Evangelical schools where zeal for new teachings and methods to “grow the church” would compel them to almost uncritically adopt such thinking, we’d probably be OK. We’d probably remain relatively unaffected by both CGM and the post-Modern linguistics theories which are threatening us now with the NNIV – the next iteration of “Dynamic Equivalence” which will carry the Church even further towards the oblivion of an objectively meaningless Bible.

The fact is, the emergence of the Church Growth Movement in greater Evangelicalism coincided with the rise of post-Modernism in Western academia, and as our WELS professors and leaders went to college to study CGM, they adopted post-Modern sensibilities right along with it. Indeed, much of what makes the methods of CGM “necessary,” and thus what makes the “changes” required by CGM “necessary,” are the ideologies of communication, of language and meaning, which descend from post-Modernism. What is “relevant” after all, but that which has “meaning?” The answers offered by the Enlightenment Humanist and by the post-Modernist are mutually exclusive, the one will answer with hyper-objectivity and the other with hyper-subjectivity.

Post-Modernism seems to be dying in academia, but is alive and well in pop-culture
But, post-Modernism is nearly dead in academia today – true, there are some pockets where it is holding on, so I’m told, but the principle purveyors of post-Modernism are now deceased, the next generation really hasn’t continued to rally forward under its flag, and post-Modernism itself has come under fierce attack, especially from the sciences. Many agree, it seems, that post-Modernism was merely a transitional phase from Modernism, though it is not clear to what we are transitioning1. In other words, the problem for us today isn’t that post-Modernism has been made the central supporting feature of Western academia. On the contrary, the problem is that post-Modernism has been made the central supporting feature of Western pop-culture, and from there has permeated every aspect of our society.

Post-Modern Epistemology
Rather than any form of objective truth which transcends human experience, the epistemology of post-Modernism elevates the common experience of a given social collective – also known as their shared narrative2 – as the seat of knowledge, necessarily stripping each individual of not only the need, but the right to be owners of their own knowledge. Individuals don’t own knowledge. Rather, the social collective owns and controls it by holding its narrative as the measure of truth, and agreeing by consensus regarding what is true. A collective is expanded by means of sharing its common experiences in the form of narrative – but such “sharing” is not merely the telling of a story. If the collective is to expand, its narrative must become part of the narrative of its new members – their experiences must be common. The same can be said of two social collectives which absorb one another – the narrative of the one group must be shared with the other (and vice versa), such that each others’ narrative constitutes the one common experience of the whole. This idea of “shared narrative” and “common experience” is important to understand, so perhaps some examples will help.

Several years ago, Ken Burn’s did a PBS series on The Civil War. I think everyone in the nation must have watched it. It was pure post-Modernism at work. The experiences of the Civil War soldier being far removed from contemporary experience, the objective in sharing the narrative of Civil War soldiers and their families was not to merely convey data, to read what they wrote and recount what they did. In order for their narrative to be truly shared, for their experience to become common with the experience of the viewing audience, the viewing audience had to have an experience of their own in connection with the narrative of these deceased soldiers. So, we were all treated to black and white and sepia images fading in and then out (as if they were moving along with the story), to dramatic readings replete with realistic background sounds like cannon and gun fire, 19th Century martial and folk music, the sounds of farm and draft animals, etc. – all of which resulted in a moving experience for the viewer. It was this experience – this moving experience – which made the narrative of the Civil War relevant and meaningful and caused it to become part of the narrative of the viewer. Well, at least Ken Burns’ rather romanticized version of the Civil War narrative became part of the viewers’ common body of experience. But this is okay as far as post-Modernism goes. The objective in the post-Modern historical method is to elevate the narrative of the underrepresented – the common soldier of the Civil War, for example – and to convey it in such a way that those confronted with this narrative absorb it as part of their own experience. The purpose is not necessarily the conveyance of truth, but advocacy. And since human experience is necessarily involved in the reception of this new narrative, often the vehicle for conveying it looks and feels a lot like entertainment.

As another example, take a browse through Amazon Books, say, of classical authors like Livy, Gibbon, Thucydides, etc., and examine the commentary of the readers. Check out other more popular historical topics, like the Crusades, or Vietnam or the Great Depression. You can tell who the post-Modern authors are – they get comments like, “This author’s writing style was very engaging, I was immediately engrossed and carried along by this fast paced and exciting history. It was full of details I had never known before – it is amazing how many facts this author was able to pack into 150 pages! I feel that I truly have a firm grasp on the history of the Thirty Years War. I feel that this author is an excellent historian. Five Stars!!!” (and no, I don’t think C.V. Wedgewood ever received that kind of glowing review...) Every now and then, you’ll read a serious historian who simply can’t take it, respond to this kind of analysis by saying, “Just because you found it entertaining doesn’t mean it is good history...”

Pop-Culture, post-Modernism, and the Church Militant
These are the products of pop-culture – works of entertainment passed off as genuine art or scholarship. Pop-culture, it must be realized, is not really a culture at all. It is a marketplace created by commercial interests in which entertainment and related goods and services are sold. Having emerged in the mid-1950’s as a means to recover the vast quantities of disposable income possessed by the middle-class, which had also just emerged from the uneducated lower class as a result of post-war prosperity, the phenomenon of Western pop-culture is unique in the history of the West, which prior to this had largely been divided into two main categories of culture – high culture and folk culture. More to the point, this marketplace emerged and matured right along with post-Modernism, just as CGM did, and it is this marketplace which mainly does the work of propping up and perpetuating post-Modernism today. Why? Post-Modernism grants pop-culture inherent meaning in what it produces: experiences. By virtue of the entertainment experiences it produces, its consumers derive meaning from it.

This has real impact in our small corner of the Church Militant, since our professors and leaders sought CGM training which, on the basis of post-Modernism as it was being promoted in academia at the time, and which is perpetuated in pop-culture today, directs the church to accept the leadership of society in its collective thinking and expression, rather than stand apart from and above it as we strive to preserve the Truth of which we are divine Ambassadors. While perhaps they can be faulted for seeking CGM training, however, it’s impossible to fault them for absorbing and becoming enamoured with post-Modernism (probably without even knowing it). It was only in the 1990’s that Evangelicals themselves began to recognize and analyze what was going on, how post-Modernism was impacting Evangelicalism and threatened to rob Christianity of the power of language itself, but it was mostly too late.

A Brief Primer on Post-Modernism, using familiar examples
It was during the 1990’s, as a Graduate student studying Education, when I picked up one such analysis, which remains what I consider to be the most helpful primer on post-Modernism I’ve yet read: The Death of Truth, by Rev. Dennis McCallum (Ed.). A collection of well-documented essays contributed by experts in Literature, Education, History, Medicine, Psychology, Law and Science, it begins by distinguishing post-Modernism from Modernism, examines the already established impact of post-Modernism in each of these fields, and emphasizes the dire implications for Christianity. I highly recommend it to all Christian readers, even today. In Chapter 13, McCallum (the General Editor) and a fellow contributing essayist directly examine “the ideas of post-Modern religionists”3 – most of which we in WELS have either lived through, or are dealing with directly today. I cover three such ideas from this chapter, as follows:

  1. Christianity as Gnosticism: In 1979, Elaine Pagels published The Gnostic Gospels... Following a predictable post-Modern scenario, Pagels holds that Gnosticism represented a valid Christian tradition but was oppressed by the powerful orthodox church... [which] used apostolic authority and teachings as an instrument of repression against Gnostic Christians. She argues that once we understand the politics of orthodoxy, the doctrine of orthodoxy loses its force. Truth claims turn out to be politics, viz., [quoting from The Gnostic Gospels] “When we examine its practical effect on the Christian movement, we can see, paradoxically, that the doctrine of the bodily resurrection also serves an essential political function: it legitimizes the authority of certain men who claim to exercise exclusive leadership over the churches...”4
This emphasis on understanding the “politics” of orthodoxy in order to properly attenuate the force of its doctrine elevates the subjective (and often incomplete) narrative of those outside of the “ruling” class, and uses their experience of “oppression” to color the value of objective doctrine. This is the post-Modern historical method (analyzed in another chapter of McCallum’s volume), which is not so much interested in the truth of historical fact as it is in elevating the narrative of underrepresented classes of people so that it can be shared and become part of the broader human narrative. And we see the same politically-conscious dismissal of orthodoxy – resentment of it in some cases – at work among us today. The Efficacy of the Word, the Means of Grace, Fellowship, even the Lutheran “formula” of Law and Gospel are either abandoned or compromised in favor of alternative and “more effective” methods which are thought to be more consistent with, and hence more relevant to, the narrative of those with whom communication and relationship is desired. Since, under post-Modernism, knowledge is neither objective nor exists a priori but is a social construction, common access to a body of knowledge requires common experience among the individuals desiring it, or to whom it is desired to be conveyed. Moreover, since, under post-Modernism, the proliferation of knowledge requires the expansion of common experience or shared narrative, post-Modern Christians pursue and celebrate political freedom from the strictures of oppressive doctrine, and elevate human experience in its place – experience which is calculated to resonate with an intended community of believers, or prospective believers, whose narratives would otherwise go unknown and unabsorbed into the believing community. The result, for them, is a perpetually changing body of common experience, a perpetually changing body of knowledge, and a perpetually changing concept of truth and reality – all of which post-Modern Christians are quite comfortable with.

  1. Religion as Myth: Joseph Campbell’s very popular PBS series The Power of Myth presents us with a view that all religions are essentially the same, if we understand them properly. The unity of religion rests on the fact that they speak to deep human need and experience. Once we see that every religion is simply a mythological framework for self discovery, all final distinctions between religions evaporate...

      [quoting from The Power of Myth] “All of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is simply trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image... The person who thinks he has found the ultimate truth is wrong. There is an often-quoted verse in Sanskrit, which appears in the Chinese Tao-te ching as well: ‘He who thinks he knows, doesn’t know. He who knows that he doesn’t know, knows. For in this context, to know is not to know. And not to know is to know.’... The mission in life is to live that potentiality. How do you do it? My answer is, ‘Follow your bliss.’ There’s something inside you that knows when you’re in the center, that knows when you’re on the beam or off the beam.”5
Here is the hyper-subjectivity of post-Modernism, of hedonistic self-reference. More than, “Do what pleases you,” the very measure of truth is how fully and deeply one experiences pleasure in association with it. But what is “pleasure” in reference to religious experience? We see this question frequently addressed by post-Modern Christians through their use of “contemporary worship,” which succeeds for them by manufacturing for the worshiper a “pleasurable experience” and thus a standard for determining the reality of their personal connection with God. Post-Modern Christians, often of charismatic tendencies, use this man-made experience as a measure of the Holy Spirit’s presence and working, and thus also as a measure of His endorsement of a given ministry – the more passionate, more exuberant, more “spiritual,” more authentic, more “whatever...,” the worshipers’ experience is, the greater the Holy Spirit’s work among the people, and the more confidence worshipers can have that the “truth” is present and God is at work in them and through them.

In some circles, however, the pursuit and experience of “pleasure” is a measure of whether a person is saved or not. In Dr. John Piper’s Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, he makes precisely this connection, first noting from philosophy that happiness is not only the deepest longing of human nature,6 it is also a command from God that we are required to obey,7 then suggesting that Scripture could have more poignantly read, “‘Unless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the kingdom of God’”8 and eventually stating most directly that “The pursuit of joy in God is not optional …Until your heart has hit upon this pursuit, your ‘faith’ cannot please God. It is not saving faith.”9 Of course, this non-optional pursuit of ‘the joy that is to be had in God’ is tied to worship experience as well. After first denigrating liturgical worship as “empty formalism and traditionalism... [which] produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half-full) of artificial admirers,”10 and later reiterating his disdain for traditional worship as “the empty performance of ritual,”11 “the grinding out of doctrinal laws from collections of biblical facts,”12 and “misguided virtue, smother[ing] the spirit of worship,”13 we are informed by Dr. Piper that, in fact, human emotion is the ends for which a worshiper strives; that is, that the worshiper ought to achieve affective experience through his acts of worship: “Happiness in God is the end of all our seeking”14; “All genuine emotion is an end in itself”15; “God is more glorified when we delight in His magnificence.”16 According to Dr. Piper, the worship that true Christians are commanded to engage can be described as follows:
    Now we can complete our picture. The fuel of worship is a true vision of the greatness of God; the fire that makes the fuel burn white hot is the quickening of the Holy Spirit; the furnace made alive and warm by the flame of truth is our renewed spirit; and the resulting heat of our affections is powerful worship, pushing its way out in confessions, longings, acclamations, tears, songs, shouts, bowed heads, lifted hands, and obedient lives.17
Although I am quite certain that Dr. Piper himself is no card-carrying post-Modernist, the highly charged experiential language used by him, and his use of that experience as a soteriological and axiological point of reference, drives his readers to their own experience as a source of confirmation regarding their own salvation and certainty in living out their faith, and into a post-Modern worldview.

Of course, one may wonder why I would dwell so much on the writings of a minister of the Baptist General Conference, who is probably unknown to most confessional Lutherans. The first answer is that I know Dr. Piper is read by members of our Lutheran church body who are desperately looking for a scriptural defense for their requirement of experiential and highly self-referential worship practice and Christian living. If the reader does a Google search, he may just bump into a couple of confessional Lutheran blogs extolling Piper’s version of Christian Hedonism. The second answer is that Piper is a respected author and scholar among Reformed evangelicals – who are working seriously to guide their movement back to some sort of orthodox grounding. As an indication of his importance, his works on Christian Hedonism are featured as “modern classics” in the recently completed Omnibus series (in the high school textbooks IV-VI) – a Western Civilization curriculum that is highly regarded among Christian Educators who follow Classical pedagogy. Such is a picture of the insidious and pervading force of post-Modernism at work in society, of finding its way into the church through society, and of coming to dominate her language, and thus the thinking and acting of Christians. It is the wolf slipping in among the sheep, against which the shepherds are charged to be vigilant.

  1. Feminist Spirituality: Liberation From the Text: Most of feminism today has taken its place as part of the post-Modernist shift in thinking... They are among those who conclude that we can construct new realities based on the notion of socially constructed reality... Post-Modern literary theory focuses on the reader, rather than the author, as source and judge of a text’s meaning... [and] for feminist analysis, “women’s experience” is an interpretive community [since] they share the experience of oppression by males and male dominated society... Feminist theology attempts to legitimize “women’s experience” [as an interpretive community] by approaching the Bible as an artifact of male oppression... [and] claim that sexism remains a part of the scriptural narrative throughout. While some biblical perspectives on women may be progressive, they argue, such views cannot erase other, blatantly exploitative ones. Nor can we minimize the influence of such texts with the church and in Western culture... Therefore, feminist theologians call for a “liberation from the text.”

    Liberation from the text means identifying sexist passages and rejecting or reinterpreting them... [with] women’s experience the inviolable rule in hermeneutics.

      [quoting Margaret Farley] “Whatever contradicts those convictions cannot be accepted as having the authority of an authentic revelation of truth. It is simply a matter of there being no turning back. We can be dispossessed of our best insights, proven wrong in our judgments. But as long as those insights continue to make sense to us, and as long as our basic judgments seem to us incontrovertible, there can be no turning back. So it is with feminist consciousness and the interpretation of scripture.”

    [Accordingly,] feminist interpreters challenge, rework, or reject much of scripture based on its patriarchal content, [even] deconstructing passages that don’t seem to challenge their views. Post-Modern “subversive readings” uncover hidden elements of patriarchy... [such as] the creation of women out of man (Gen. 2:21-24)...

    Finally... many feminist theologians find the cause of women part of the message of the Old Testament prophets [who often] denounced economic and social exploitation of the poor. Feminists identify women’s experience with that of the poor and oppressed... aware that including sexism in the prophetic attack on social injustice goes beyond the clear meaning of the text:

      [quoting Rosemary Radford Ruether] “In responding to such a justified objection, one must be clear about the sociology of consciousness of all critical prophetic culture. One cannot reify [elevate cultural beliefs or practices to the level of the sacred] any critical prophetic movement... simply as definitive texts, once and for all established in the past, which then set the limits of consciousness of the meaning of liberation...”

    Ruether justifies expanding the prophetic message to include sexism based on what she terms the “sociology of consciousness” [which is a reference to post-Modern epistemology, i.e., knowledge is a social construction]. According to post-Modern interpreters like Ruether, readers are tied to their culture, and as cultures change so does the meaning of the text. That is why she cautions, “One cannot reify any critical prophetic movement...” No text, in other words, is ever definitive or final. As social conditions give rise to new thought forms, we should expect fresh meanings to be drawn from the same scriptures.18
Here again, we have a clear example of post-Modernism, not just referencing individual experience, but the perceived common experience, or shared narrative, of “exploited women” throughout history, and the use of this subjective point of reference to adjudicate matters of Divine Truth. We see the application of experiential hermeneutics, of drawing meaning from the experiences recounted in anecdotal (i.e., the “unclear” or “descriptive”) sections of Scripture, and from extra-biblical historical narrative, and pitting modern perceptions of those experiences against the direct positive statements (i.e., the “clear” or “prescriptive” statements) of Scripture as a means of casting doubt on the otherwise clear meaning of the texts involved in these issues, or of qualifying or overruling them, and as a means of provoking the modern reader to receive the language of the ancient texts through the lens of perceived consensus regarding gender issues in modern society (elsewhere in this chapter, McCallum points out the reality that in many cases, this “perceived consensus” is itself the result of active repression not only in the media, but in the public universities, private colleges and Christian seminaries). And inevitably, we see an attack on the Order of Creation itself, to which St. Paul appeals in establishing the basis for the type of order he was specifically prescribing for the Church – which included the congregation(s) to which he directly applied this basis.

And as the reader may well be aware, the WELS is no stranger to feminist theology. In 1995, St. James Lutheran Church of West St. Paul, MN, was finally suspended from membership in WELS after a decade-long drama which included all of the above post-Modern, feminist attacks against the clear, direct positive statements of Scripture regarding gender roles and suffrage. From a small stack of papers in my possession, ranging in dates from 1984 to 1993, I adduce the following as evidence of this drama:

1993: In an open letter to all members of the WELS, Mrs. Grace Bartel, after a page of heartfelt criticism of Scripture teaching founded upon questions derived in large part from the inconsistency of WELS practice, begins on page two by dismissing Scripture’s teaching regarding gender roles and suffrage based on the cultural differences between ancient and contemporary times. She writes:
    Fortunately for me I found answers to all my questions. Titus 2:5 explains that women were urged to be in submission in Paul’s day “so that no one will malign the word of God,” since society in those days would have been turned off by a religion in which women were treated as equals (Gal. 3:28 and Matt. 20:25-27). Today we live in a society where many earnest Christian and non-Christian men and women are repulsed by a religion that advocates keeping any group of people in submission. And the Gospel will be hindered today if we do not treat “father and mother” as equals in the family, as the Bible does, and women as equal partners in the spreading of the Gospel, as the Bible teaches. Now there are no inconsistencies in the Bible for me, and it speaks the same message throughout... I am free to serve my Saviour to the best of my ability with all of my talents without fear. And my fellow WELS women who vote, teach men, are in authority over men, and speak the Word of God to men need never again worry that they might be sinning against God or hurting their relationship with God by falling out of their role. There is no prescribed role...
Here we plainly see the experience of contemporary culture pitted against the perceived experience of an ancient culture, the result of which is a filter to reinterpret the clear testimony of the Scriptures. It’s really too bad, since the stated perceived experience, if it is meant of Jewish or Christian culture, is really the result of appalling ignorance. The fact is, the Jews, and the Christians following them, were unique in this regard from nearly all other peoples of that time: in point of fact, they highly valued their women and their children. Following the command of God, Jewish men and women were educated and possessed sufficient literacy so as to daily teach their own children in the home from the Scriptures, to daily read the written Scriptures which were carried in frontlets or phylacteries, and to write God’s Law on their door frames and read the words written there. Theological literacy was considered the highest value among the Jews, and from the earliest of times a network of schools had been established and was maintained throughout Judaism for this purpose. Segregating themselves from the influence of surrounding cultures, the Jews were in this way unique among the Semitic cultures, which were otherwise illiterate and relied principally on oral transmission, and they remained unique with respect to the other pagan cultures which surrounded them. It is significant that we read in the New Testament that St. Timothy’s own mother and grandmother taught him, as a young child, from the Scriptures, and it is equally significant that it was not considered odd or out of place for Jesus to be in the Temple talking with the teachers about the Scriptures (since it was expected for children to have begun their training in the reading of the Hebrew scriptures by age five, and their formal training by age ten19), other than that he was so well versed in their teaching (and the fact that his parents had quite obviously expected him to be in the caravan with them on their return to Galilee). Resisting the urge to go into too much detail, I will quote briefly in this regard from Edersheim’s Sketches of Jewish Social Life
    Strange as it may sound, it is strictly true that, beyond the boundaries of Israel, it would be scarcely possible to speak with any propriety of family life, or even of the family, as we understand these terms. It is significant, that the Roman historian Tacitus should mark it as something special among the Jews (Hist. v. 5) – which they shared with the ancient barbarian Germans – that they regarded it as a crime to kill their offspring! This is not the place to describe the exposure of children, or the various crimes by which ancient Greece and Rome, in the days of their highest culture, sought to rid themselves of what was regarded as superfluous population. Few of those who have learned to admire classical antiquity have a full conception of any one phase in its social life – whether of the position of women, the relation of the genders, slavery, the education of children, their relation to their parents, or the state of public morality. Fewer still have combined all these features into one picture, and that not merely as exhibited by the lower orders, or even the higher classes, but as fully owned and approved by those whose names have descended in the admiration of ages as the thinkers, the sages, the poets, the historians, and the statesmen of antiquity. Assuredly, St. Paul’s description of the ancient world in the first and second chapters of his Epistle to the Romans must have appeared to those who lived in the midst of it as Divine even in its tenderness, delicacy, and charity; the full picture under bright sunlight would have been scarcely susceptible of exhibition. For such a world, there was only one alternative – either the judgment of Sodom, or the mercy of the Gospel and the healing of the Cross.20
In point of fact, the Christians under St. Paul did not unfairly treat their women so as to fit in with Roman society and thus make the Gospel more palatable to them – this is patently absurd. On the contrary, as a matter of historical fact, they stood apart and in dramatic distinction from Roman society, so much so that the Romans recognized it and commented on it in various writings. As within Judaism, women and children were highly valued among the Christians, and just as uniquely, literacy and the ability to study and understand the Bible being paramount, the women were educated alongside the men. Though they were subject to roles according to their gender, they were by no means “repressed” or “exploited” but lovingly equipped and enabled to function within their roles. As stated by Edersheim, the concept of “family” in Western Culture today, and of relationships within the family, results entirely from Christian influence in society, and cannot be applied or used to interpret or characterize relationships in pagan Roman culture at large during the Apostolic period. Isolating the naked fact that ancient Jewish or Christian cultures were more “male dominated” than contemporary Western culture as a basis for criticizing Scripture’s teaching on gender roles, particularly when lacking any reference to the jarring contrast the culture of Christianity offered in the face of Roman culture – especially with respect to the value of women and children and their treatment! – is a contrived and abusive use of historical trivia. In this regard, the eminent Church Historian, Dr. Phillip Schaff, capsulizes well the impact of Christian teaching in society, and sets the record straight:
    Under the inspiring influence of the spotless purity of Christ’s teaching and example... the Christian church from the beginning asserted the individual rights of man, recognized the divine image in every rational being, taught the common creation and common redemption, the destination of all for immortality and glory, raised the humble and the lowly, comforted the prisoner and captive, the stranger and the exile, proclaimed chastity as a fundamental virtue, elevated woman to dignity and equality with man, upheld the sanctity and inviolability of the marriage tie, laid the foundation of a Christian family and happy home, moderated the evils and undermined the foundations of slavery, opposed polygamy and concubinage, emancipated the children from the tyrannical control of parents, denounced the exposure of children as murder, made relentless war upon the bloody games of the arena and the circus, and the shocking indecencies of the theatre, upon cruelty and oppression and every vice, infused into a heartless and loveless world the spirit of love and brotherhood, transformed sinners into saints, frail women into heroines, and lit up the darkness of the tomb by the bright ray of unending bliss in heaven. Christianity reformed society from the bottom, and built upwards until it reached the middle and higher classes, and at last the emperor himself. Then, soon after the conversion of Constantine it began to influence legislation, abolished cruel institutions, and enacted laws which breathe the spirit of justice and humanity. We may deplore the evils which followed in the train of the union of church and state, but we must not over look its many wholesome effects upon the Justinian code which gave Christian ideas an institutional form and educational power for whole generations to this day. From that time on also began the series of charitable institutions for widows and orphans, for the poor and the sick, the blind and the deaf, the intemperate and criminal, and for the care of all unfortunate – institutions which we seek in vain in any other but Christian countries.21
Lift up your head, O Christian! Embrace your noble past and your central position in the greatness of Western Civilization! But begin by actually studying the facts, please.

1984: In a pastoral conference paper entitled, Issues Involved in the Consideration of Woman’s Suffrage in the Church, author Terry L. Laabs first observes that
    The “traditionalists” cling to I Corinthians 11 and I Corinthians 14, I Timothy 2, and Genesis 2 (in roughly that arrangement) and deal with those “clear” words that seem to forbid a woman to “speak,” “teach” or “usurp authority” over a man, all supported by the “Order of Creation,” part of “God’s holy immutable will, the Moral Law.” The “revisionists” appeal to a much wider view of the Biblical record, studying the relationships and roles of men and women “historically” have held among God’s people, paying careful attention to the Old Testament as it present itself (without commentary of the New), dwelling especially on the “actions and attitudes of Jesus” toward women, and seeking to understand the apostolic writings “in their historical setting,” in view of all the preceding. (pp. 1-2)
Laabs then proceeds, in the very next paragraph to throw his lot in with the “revisionists,” casting doubt on the Lutheran hermeneutical standard of relying on the direct positive sections of Scripture to establish doctrine
    [I]sn’t the wider view of the Biblical witness the better approach, the more Scripturally responsible approach? Extensive discussions of the classic “Pauline prohibitions” without taking into consideration the whole flow of the Bible’s record can be dangerous. Could someone, locked onto “let women be silent in the churches,” fail to give due consideration to the prophesying daughters of Phillip? (pg. 2)
Here we see, as the post-Modern feminists are wont to do, meaning derived from modern interpretation of ancient experiences and thereby elevated from anecdotal status to the position of either establishing doctrine, or of qualifying other direct positive statements of Scripture. Laabs then goes on to approvingly quote author Robert Johnston from the Dec. 1978 edition of Reformed Journal, in offering “some helpful hermeneutical principles for proceeding with our studies...” One of them was taken almost directly from the feminist platform described by McCallum, above: “Some translations must be corrected for their sexist bias” (pg. 3).

In this early paper, Laabs attacks the “Order of Creation” to which St. Paul appeals as a basis for prescribing gender roles for the Church. His tactic is to sow doubt, asking a series of questions,
    By moral law, do we mean those things which according to God we are to do and be, the transgression of which is sin? ...does not the moral law... apply to all people of all time? Can we make the subordination of every woman to every man, supposedly found in the “Order of Creation,” part of the moral law? ...Dare we say that this idea of different roles for God’s created and redeemed creatures solely on the basis of sex is a part of the Moral Law of God for all people of all times? Also, what significance are we to give to the order in which God created? Where is the warrant to imply that the chronological order in which God made successive parts of his creation dictates with nature or function? (pg. 4)
And then declare, “Clarification is needed in our thinking and understanding of these concepts” (pg. 4)

Laabs continues, finally making it to the question of suffrage halfway through the paper (pg. 5). As in the case of interpreting the silence of women in the churches according to the story of Phillip’s prophesying daughters, Laabs again relies on anecdotal sections of Scripture, rather than direct positive statements, to establish that since it isn’t clear in Acts 1 whether only men, or both men and women, were participants in the selection of a replacement for Judas, and since it is not clear in Acts 6 whether only men, or both men and women, were present at the congregational meeting (“all the disciples”) to select male bishops, there is no reason to assume that the women were not present and part of the decision making process, and thus there is every basis to allow suffrage in the church today – despite the implications such a conclusion has with respect to the direct positive statements of Scripture in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and I Timothy 2:11-12 (use of which he regards as a “nonchalant” catering to the predispositions of “traditional society”).

In the final pages of this paper, Laabs offers his approach for dealing with “the Sticky Texts” in I Corinthians 11 & 14, and in I Timothy 2. As one might imagine, his approach was first to question our understanding of St. Paul’s appeal to the “Order of Creation,” suggesting that “if no one until Paul found subordination in Eden, perhaps his words can be understood in a way other than necessitating a subordinate role for Eve in the created order” (pg. 7). To build such an understanding, he goes outside of Scripture, to the historical investigations of Richard and Catherine Kroeger (who did some fairly significant research into the cultic sexual practices common in pagan Rome at that time), to establish a rationale for suggesting that immediate cultural factors were the reason St. Paul issued his gender based prohibitions, perhaps not intending them for all Christians of all times, but only for those in the congregations named by him (pp. 8-9). Again, casting aside the direct positive statements of Scripture, again, improperly elevating anecdotal experiential evidence to cast doubt upon the direct positive statements of Scripture, and using extra biblical historical narrative to qualify Scripture’s testimony, are all post-Modern usages of experience, of using the narrative of ancient cultures in a way that resonates with our own narrative, to create meaning from it that is equivalent to, which casts doubt upon, or which overthrows the direct positive statements of the Scriptures.

1985: In a paper entitled What does “Headship” of the Man (Husband) Mean in the Bible where it is used?, the author, Richard Stadler, struggles mightily to do a single thing: create doubt regarding the Greek word κεφαλή (kephale), which means “head”. He begins by teasing the reader with the following leading questions
    Much is said in the discussion of the role of man and woman about the “headship” of man. The word “headship” is not used in the New Testament. Instead, there are a number of passages where it is said that “the man is the head of the woman,” or “the husband is the head of the wife.” It is assumed by some who comment on these passages that to be the “head” of someone else means to “have authority over” or to be in a position of “superiority” or “leadership.” Is that what the word “head” means when used in the New Testament? Is that what the word “head”means when used in those passages which appear to be discussing the relationship between men and women, husbands and wives? (pg. 1)
In the two pages which follow, he adduces from the major lexicons the accepted definitions of the Greek word kephale, first listing the definitions offered by Liddell & Scott (1869), then by Thayer (1886), then by Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich (1957) – all of which agreed squarely with what Laabs (above) would refer to as the “traditionalist” perspective. Following this, Stadler then inserted a rather sophomoric “Caution About Lexicons”:
    A lexicon is a book written by fallible human beings who must make decisions about how words in a foreign language are used and what they mean. They make judgment calls which will sometimes betray some of their own assumptions about relationships and reality. The way they use one passage to illustrate the meaning of a Greek word may tell us as much about what they assume to be true about life as it does about the Greek text in front of us... So, we will look at the verses in which kephale occurs in the New Testament and we will test what the lexicographers have said and determine for ourselves whether we agree with the descriptions they have written and the conclusions they have reached (pg. 3).
Stadler was apparently desperate to draw the reader’s attention away from the virtual unanimity of the top three Greek lexicons. This reader wasn’t exactly impressed, to say the least. Regardless, miracle of miracles, on the next page Stadler “surprises” the reader with the revelation that he found a lexicon (Mickelson) of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament), from which one could draw the suggestion that perhaps kephale might mean something more, or less, or different, that what has been “traditionally” thought. Mickelson reported that ROSH, the Hebrew word for “head” which is used over 600 times in the Old Testament, in around 400 cases simply meant a physical “head” – the thing on top a person’s or an animal’s body. In around 180 of the remaining cases, the Greek work archon was used to translate the Hebrew ROSH, a word which also means “ruler, commander, leader,” and in only 18 cases was the word ROSH translated by the Greeks as the word kephale (in a way that also clearly meant leadership and authority). “Therefore,” suggests Stadler,
    maybe we have to be very careful not to read “leadership,” “authority” and “superiority” into that word kephale when it is used in the New Testament. It may not have been an automatic connotation that the word had. Instead, it may have more naturally called to mind the notion of being the “SOURCE,” “the BEGINNING POINT,” the EXTREMITY, TOP, CROWN. If so, it may influence what we learn about relationships between men and women, husbands and wives, Christ and His church, God and Christ, as God wants them to be (pg. 4).
The remainder of Stadler’s “study” is more of the same open-ended questioning regarding the accepted meaning of common words, without offering any form of rigorous or definitive conclusion of his own. Instead, all that is offered is doubt regarding what the Scriptures actually say. And this is the formula of post-Modernism – to cast sufficient doubt upon the capacity of human expression to carry the truth. Can we really be confident in language that is expressed apart from the social experience which ought to attend it? Even if we were members of the native culture in which the ancient languages were expressed, since our understanding is so dependent upon social experience, and since experience varies between individuals even in a common and close-knit culture, does our experience sufficiently inform our interpretation to confidently say we can receive the truth via any form of human expression? Or does variation of human experience inevitably render human expression an unsuitable vessel for the conveyance of truth? These are the language games played by post-Modernists: it could be this, it could be that, but who really knows for sure?

1990 (?): In an undated congregational declaration supporting women’s suffrage (which internally makes reference to a past date of January 1990) entitled, Women of God in the Church of Christ and Suffrage, Rev. David Sievert, assisted by a mixed gender Bible Study Committee appointed by the Elders of his congregation, St. Matthew’s, makes use of all of the post-Modern techniques covered so far. Addressing the “Order of Creation” in Part I, Rev. Sievert casts doubt upon its established meaning by emphasizing the full equality of man and woman in bearing God’s image, and forcefully denying that subordination was any part of Eve’s role as helper:
    The Bible teaches that woman and man were created for full and equal partnership. The words ‘helper’ (ezer) used to designate woman in Genesis 2:18 is used of God in many instances in the Old Testament (e.g. 2 Sam. 7:12; Ps. 121:1-2), and consequently the word ‘helper’ (ezer) conveys no implication of female subordination or inferiority (pg. 1).
Continuing to emphasize the equality of man and woman, he notes that they “were co-participants in the Fall... and equally guilty before God” (pg. 1) and that redemption was for women as well as men (pg. 1), and that the Holy Spirit indwelled and empowered men and women equally (pg. 2). Following this (pp. 2-3), Sievert adduces an impressive list of anecdotal references indicating that women actively served in some way in the church (although, no explanation is given in Scripture regarding the circumstances of this service, or the doctrine under which this service was offered – which is generally true of anecdotal references and the reason they have been designated in Lutheran hermeneutics as categorically unclear), obviously, again, following the post-Modern formula of absorbing the narrative of ancient cultures through the lens of modern experience in order to create meaning that can be elevated to the level occupied by direct positive statements that are used in Scripture. Finally, in this section, Sievert adduces Scripture regarding service in the Church which teaches that “humility, meekness and service are [God’s] way” (pg. 3), and indicating that it is a mistake to consider gender based authority or roles have any part in the Church’s order – meekness and humility describe the manner in which service is carried out in the church, not authority or gender. He concludes this first section as follows:
    The Bible teaches that women are created equally with men, have been fully redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ along with men, and have the Spirit of God leading them as well as the Spirit leads men, and have had an active role in the history of Christ’s Church. On the basis of Scripture, we do not find that a woman is unworthy or unqualified to vote in a congregation meeting, and to suggest the same is to ignore what Scripture is saying. Women have done far more, according to Scripture, to influence the spread of the Kingdom that would voting in a congregational meeting (pg. 3).
Notice that in Sievert’s case “the basis of Scripture” means sweeping aside St. Paul’s invocation of the Order of Creation as a basis for his prescription of gender based authority and roles in the congregation, finding, independent of St. Paul’s use and declaration concerning it, that the Creation Account “conveys no implication of female subordination;” means extending, on the basis of reason, equality as bearers of the Image of God, as co-participants in the Fall, as redeemed children of God without respect to gender, to equality in all things in the Church, including equality in the roles of service men and women fulfill, even in the face of Scripture’s direct injunctions to the contrary; and means marshaling the power of ancient narrative to create meaning from otherwise categorically unclear anecdotal references in a way which militates against the clear message of the direct positive statements of Scripture.

The rest of the paper follows in a similar fashion. Addressing I Corinthians 14 (pg. 5), Sievert dismisses any suggestion that it refers to any woman who isn’t married (as he does with I Corinthians 11 and I Timothy 2), or that it refers to any relationship she may have with or to any man, other than her husband. Similarly regarding I Corinthians 11 (pp. 5-6), invoking extra-biblical historical narrative to color the Scripture’s meaning in this section, Sievert concludes that the issue has nothing to do with order in the Church: “Paul’s concern is not that women should not pray or prophesy in the church services, but that married women honor their husbands while they do so” (pg. 6). Finally, regarding I Timothy 2 (pp. 6-7), Sievert argues from the classic egalitarian platform, that it isn’t teaching or authority the woman is prohibited from, it is, rather, teaching or exercising authority in a certain way: “The argument here is that if a wife teaches indiscriminately, especially in the presence of men, she may become so pufffed up that she would be tempted to lord it over him. The principle of the Apostle is that a wife should avoid any activity which will in any way adversely affect her marital relationship” (pg. 7).

UNDATED: Finally, a paper written by Rev. Iver C. Johnson, undoubtedly before his congregation (St. James, West St. Paul) was suspended from WELS in 1995, and, I would guess, subsequent to his congregation’s public declaration of women’s suffrage in 1989, and call to other WELS congregations to follow their lead. The paper is entitled Those Viewpoints and Aspects on the Issue which I Feel are most Important to Remember and Clarify in the Present Committee Discussions and Future Synodical Discussions about the Role of Man and Woman According to Scripture. I’m not going to dwell too much on this paper, as it demonstrates the same post-Modern proclivities of dwelling on human experience to create new meaning and marshaling that new meaning against the clear, direct positive statements of Scripture. One thing worth noting is a distinction he starts his paper with – a distinction also employed by Sievert and Laabs. He sets up an either/or scenario, again regarding the “Order of Creation” and it’s relationship to God’ Moral Law, as follows:
    A. In this life on earth, are women subordinate to men according to an “immutable and holy will of God” (also called “Moral Law”) according to an “Order of Creation” established in a perfect, created world as it is described in Genesis?


    B. Do women “self-subordinate” (hypotasso) themselves (when they choose to become wives) to the leadership of some specific men (their husbands) who reciprocally “self-subordinate” themselves to these women in return (and to the needs of any children such a marital relationship produces) (pg. 1).
This is, of course a false dichotomy. Under the Gospel, Christians willingly and cheerfully submit themselves to God’s Moral Law. For example, as the Ten Commandments inform us, God’s immutable will for all people of all time is that they not commit murder. Most Christians willingly and cheerfully live in obedience to God’s will in this matter. Yet, for them to voluntarily do so does not also necessarily require that God’s Moral Law be silent on the issue. Likewise, just because something is an aspect of God’s Moral Law, does not mean that Christian’s do not also submit to it willingly. Johnson, in setting up this dichotomy, paints A as Law and B as Gospel, implying the choice “Do you want to live under Law or under Gospel?” He immediately proceeds to assist the reader in this choice by rejecting A, offering (in part) as his reasoning the negative experiences of those who live under A, stating, for example, that
  • “It introduces the hint that some sort of caste system exists among men and women” (pg. 2)
  • “It binds consciences and evokes guilt in hearts of sincere Christian men and women who feel uncomfortable when social, business, professional, and political conditions place them in positions which they are told violate a Moral Law of God” (pg. 2).
The consequence of accepting B and rejecting A, of course, is that all gender based authority or role considerations are entirely restricted to the marriage relationship – and this is the use made not only by Johnson, but Sievert (pp. 1,4) and Laabs (pp. 4,10), as well.

Another notable employment of post-Modern hermeneutics is found in Johnson’s appeal to “the attitudes and actions of Jesus” (pg. 6) as “the most important basis for a position on [gender] roles” (pg. 6). Johnson does not find the clear objective meaning found in the direct positive statements of Scripture to be valuable in addressing gender roles, but prefers the subjective assignment of meaning to ancient narratives as they are received through the lens of contemporary experience, and in following paragraphs develops prescriptive teaching from observations of Christ’s psychology and interpersonal relational skills:
    Jesus came to liberate every human being. He always showed a high regard for the personhood of everyone he met, and taught them to affirm themselves... We dare be no different. We dare no give the impression of being different. We ought to correct any ways we are not like Jesus! (pg. 7)

Ongoing challenges from feminist sources in WELS, confessional Lutheranism, and throughout greater Christianity
Yes, WELS endured an entire decade, and more, of ardent feminist theology that had wormed its way into the mainstream of our theological discussion. We see, even in the few papers discussed above, how time and again, post-Modern epistemology was clearly dominant in the thinking of those advocating feminist positions, as, time and again, these authors resorted to the creation of meaning through the use of shared narrative rather than acknowledge the already clear meaning of direct positive statements. Assuredly, those impacted by this saga were not restricted to those who were eventually suspended from WELS or who otherwise left. Most of those impacted and closely involved are still with us. One notable ongoing issue remains women suffrage, and a growing trend in dealing with this issue is to simply adopt a congregational political structure which eliminates voters and voting. It’s called the “Consensus Model of Governance” – a model called for in the 1984 paper written by Terry Laabs:
    We need to recognize that much of the decision-making within the church now is done within a legal, not evangelical, framework. Robert’s Rules of Order has tyrannized the church for too long. Instead of sitting down in Christian love and concern and developing a consensus, we too easily and quickly rush to judgment with a vote, thereby guaranteeing that there will be not only winners but also losers. Is it possible to implement a new church polity, based on mutual submission in love and consensus decisions? (pg. 10)
Many churches are considering such a political platform, in order to involve women in congregational leadership and decision making while circumventing the suffrage issue, and, I am told, several have already adopted it.

Outside of WELS in confessional Lutheranism, but of no less influence on us, attacks on St. Paul’s use of the “Order of Creation” as God’s Moral Law for the ordering of the home, church and society, continue to abound. Iver Johnson attacked the “Order of Creation” as Moral Law, by first belittling it as merely a chronology of Creation events (pg. 3), and then by subjecting such an order to a “Teleology of Creation” (pp. 4-6) and declaring that St. Paul’s use of the generic terms “man” and “woman” and appeal to the “Order of Creation” as a “Moral Law” must be understood within the framework of Teleology, from within the framework of God’s creative purpose as we understand it from the created biological function of “man” and “woman”:
    any inference drawn [regarding such a purpose] ought to from [their] functional relationship as married man and woman. They were created for husband-ness, wife-ness and parent-ness! (pg. 6)
More rigorous and recent attacks against the “Order of Creation” in regard to gender roles are derived from the standpoint of ontology. Consider the following recent comments by Rev. Matthew Becker (LCMS), Associate Professor of Theology at Valparaiso University, which were offered by him in a thread on the blog Brothers of John the Steadfast discussing one of his blog articles, and observe his employment of the same post-Modern viewpoints discussed hertofor, as he reasons that since Christ’s maleness is inconsequential to His redemptive office, the gender of His Representative in the Office of the Holy Ministry is also inconsequential:
    TR Halvorson...
    I’m not a fan of syllogisms, as they are not usually helpful in theology, as Dr. Luther frequently pointed out. Nevertheless, if I had to put my argument into a syllogism it would be as follows:
    1. What is not assumed by the divine Logos is not saved;
    2. The divine Logos assumed human nature by being incarnated as a male;
    3. Therefore the incarnate Logos has saved all who share human nature, male and female.

    A subsequent syllogism would be as follows:
    1. The incarnate Logos includes in his person the nature of all human beings, male and female;
    2. The person of Christ speaks and acts today through the pastoral office;
    3. Therefore, the pastoral office is to be filled by a human being, either male or female.

    Dr. Kilrease,
    I did not say that Jesus’ being a male was “irrelevant.” I said that his being a male is not essential for his work of redeeming human beings. For Christ to redeem humankind, both men and women, the Logos needed to assume human nature, which the Logos did by being born of the virgin Mary...

    I do not think the pastoral ministry is one of power or dominion. It is indeed, as you correctly note, a ministry of humble service. Both men and women are called by God’s Spirit into this ministry, as the prophet Joel said would happen and as the Apostle Paul acknowledged in First Corinthians 11.

    Liberal, western, egalitarian society is what it is. I happen to think that liberal political values that defend the dignity and equality of all human beings are fully consistent with the gospel of Christ and the dictates of Christian love. Moreover, if you have trouble with women being called by God to serve as apostles (Junia), prophetesses (Corinth and elsewhere), teachers (Priscilla), and pastors (1000s today), take that up with God’s Spirit (Joel; the Acts of the Apostles). One shouldn’t be surprised by such an outpouring of the Spirit upon men and women in these latter days…

    David Busby,
    I do in fact support change within the LC-MS so that women are allowed to serve as pastors and teachers of theology.

    TR Halvorson,
    Because there is a cultural and historical gap between ourselves and ancient texts, whether the US Constitution or the much older and far more distant Holy Scriptures, the same hermeneutical principles will apply to both. There are many biblical texts that do not mean today what they meant in the ancient world, as even Dr. Luther acknowledged.
Worth noting in Dr. Becker’s commentary is his use of gender-neutral language. The key to maintaining his line of reasoning has little to do with direct positive statements of Scripture, which don’t mean today what they meant a century ago, or a millennia or two ago anyway, but with (a) the meaning derived from the narrative of ancient experiences, and (b) a use of language which avoids the identification of gender altogether. If terms like “he” and “man” are left unspoken, there is no reinforcement of any notion that gender is a consideration in any role, whether in the home, church, or society.

Liberation from the Text
For hardened feminists, this is the objective that is served by “gender-neutral” Bibles – to strip all sexist language from the Scriptures, including all potentially “subversive readings,”as noted by McCallum, above.

For consistent post-Modernists, the objective of “gender-neutral” language, and all language enhancements of Scripture or any other work of literature which liberates the reader from a didactic framework of interpretation, is to embrace the new reality such enhancements offer through a fresh experience with the texts – truth is not entirely relevant, neither is understanding the truth held by the Apostles themselves, nor preserving it, but the experience of something familiar in a new way, that opens the door to fuller knowledge and a new reality. And it is a post-Modern experience of the text which lies at the root of Dynamic Equivalence (which translators are now using interchangeably with the term “Functional Equivalence”). We get a glimpse of this in a recent Christianity Today editorial, expressing deep disappointment in the resolution of the Southern Baptist Convention to reject the NIV 2011. In this editorial, we read:
    No single translation method can possibly convey with complete accuracy the biblical text. An Italian proverb sums it up well: Traduttore traditore, "The translator is a traitor." There is, indeed, always something lost in translation. So we need both formal and functional equivalence biblical translations. Formal equivalence translations highlight what the text literally said. Functional equivalent translations highlight how that text was originally heard.
The bolded section in the above quote betrays the post-Modern worldview of the author, requiring an experience of hearing and understanding which transcends what the inspired text itself records. How would anyone know what was heard, if what was heard cannot be known from what was recorded in the inspired texts? How can anyone relive the experience of “hearing,” if what is recorded is not sufficient to provide that experience? What additional resources, outside of the texts themselves, are required to support a “hearing” of the texts apart from what they said?22 If what was recorded in the inspired texts lack the sufficiency themselves to communicate what was said, and what was heard, what else does it lack the sufficiency to accomplish?

For the rest, and we’ll call them “accidental post-Modernists,” since they probably have never critically examined modern society from a philosophical perspective, and have no idea what is happening to them as they are carried along by pop-culture, the purpose for advocating genderless Bible translations could be any number of reasons, I suppose. One explanation I have heard, at least for our situation in the WELS, goes back to the St. James affair – of lasting guilt associated with the flying accusations of male oppression, or of deep political fear that a similar episode would rend our Synod. I’ll leave it to the reader to speculate beyond this.

In the end, continued uncritical adoption and use of post-Modern hermeneutical approaches, not to mention post-Modern ideologies of translation like Dynamic Equivalence, represent disaster on many levels, beginning with the fact that, even if it were a reliable and advantageous philosophy, from an academic standpoint post-Modernism is on the way out – there is no longer any academic brain trust to speak of, producing significant scholarship in this area (certainly not like there was in the 1970’s through the 1990’s). More importantly, the philosophy and hermeneutic of post-Modernism, in addition to the translation ideologies that are closely related to it, are entirely inconsistent with Lutheran hermeneutics, with confessional Christianity, and ultimately with the fundamental Christian doctrines of the perspecuity, sufficiency, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture. Even if it is claimed that post-Modern methodology “can be used profitably,” all it does is train those who “profit” by it in a method which robs them of their individuality and makes them dependent upon a collectivist epistemology, driving them inward to assess the meaning of subjective experience with respect to the consensus of their social collective. The capacity of language itself to carry meaning? Gone. The perspicuity, sufficiency, and thus authority of Scripture? Gone. The objective promises of Christ? Gone. The inerrancy of the Scriptures? It can be claimed only insofar as Scripture is “expressed” in ways that produce meaning that is consistent with the consensus of a social group to which can be ascribed a common body of experience or shared narrative. As this narrative changes over time, the manner in which Scripture is expressed must also change. And so, every twenty years, we get a major Dynamic Equivalence revision of the Bible, with minor revisions, some of them significant, every five years or so, while meek and apologetic translators insist, “We have to do it, since language has changed so much.”

At least that was the ideology forty years ago, when post-Modernism was an active force in academia. What’s happened since then? There are innumerable factors, some of which I understand. One factor that interests me is the impact of contemporary pop-culture: it ruined the epistemology post-Modernism. More specifically, the internet ruined it, and anyone reading this may already understand why. Forty years ago, even twenty years ago, terms like “global community” and “cultural exchange” represented real possibilities for achieving “common understanding” and solidarity in a future “world society.” The objective was mutual cultural absorption (“multi-culturalism”), thinking that such a “tectonic shift” in the direction of cultural homogeneity would be sufficient to produce a workable worldwide unity (of course, there are some very serious political implications involved here...). It was something that was thought to theoretically be achievable, and seemed worth working toward in the social sphere. But with the proliferation of social networking applications and the rapid chaotic expansion of highly divergent virtual communities, the idea of “shared narrative” creating “common understanding” across “world society” became an utterly ridiculous suggestion. More importantly, it made the claims of post-Modernism essentially unverifiable. Virtual communities today are a testament to man’s natural pursuit of segregation from others for the sake of his own interests – pure and simple. Significantly, the suggestion offered by this condition is that the individual is not dependent upon community for meaning, but determines meaning independently, determines his own interests independently, and acts accordingly, either with or against community, independently. But virtual communities have done more than merely suggest the independence of the individual from community in determining meaning. They proved it. You see, individuals do not restrict themselves to a single community. In the phenomenon of virtual communities, one routinely sees a single individual taking on several distinct “virtual identities” and successfully floating between relatively divergent social contexts, each with their own unique “community narrative,” language and system of values. But how can the individual do this if he, in order to participate as a member of any community, must lose his autonomy and become dependent upon the collective to determine meaning? Answer: post-Modern collectivism is wrong. Individuals profitably function in divergent communities, playing their unique language games without being epistemologically dependent on them, because they recognize an authoritative Form in language which transcends the community in which they are a participant, and adapt that form to the context in which they find themselves. In other words, virtual communities demonstrate that, (a) the individual, not the community, is the point of reference in questions of epistemology, and (b) the individual is not dependent on community to determine meaning, but, having determined it independently, uses community for his own purposes. What does he derive from his participation in one community or another? Utility. That’s right, basic, classical economic utility – and by “basic classical economics” I mean Thomas Hobbes, David Hume and Adam Smith.

But it shouldn’t sound strange to a Christian to hear that language has transcendent form, that it is not a subjective social construction. Even a Sunday School student can tell you, “The many languages we have came directly from God – He gave them to people at the Tower of Babel.” Man didn’t invent them. Man constructed neither their form nor their content through common social experience, nor has community dictated their meaning through the ages. On the contrary, a transcendent God gave man language, complete with form and content, via which He communed with humanity’s first parents. In a single event, a transcendent God gave multiple languages to man, complete with form and content, to confound man’s efforts to unite, in a way that would not also deny individuals access to Him – and communities formed around those languages, not the other way around. And for the whole of time, a transcendent God has revealed Himself to individuals in the form of language, which He Himself has given for this purpose. Thus, if I want to know in English, what God recorded for me in Greek or Hebrew, I demand a translation which endeavors to do so from the standpoint of objective form, not from the standpoint of subjective community experience.

What do you say, dear reader?

  1. For more on this point, along with some interesting speculation according to Dr. Pitirim Sorokin’s theory of cultural change, read Dr. Frederic W. Baue’s The Spiritual Society: What Lurks Beyond Postmodernism?
  2. The technical term here is metanarrative -- the layers of story from individual to society (through, say, family, friends, acquaintences, neighborhood, county, region, country, etc.) which carry meaning for the various layers of collective. Whether the stories themselves are known or not, the meaning is neverthless there, because the story is part of the community members' experience. For example, whether the story of the American Revolution is known or not, including the story of its foundation in the centuries of ideological development following the Renaissance, the political and social structures which resulted and are experienced by Americans today constitute their reality and ground their understanding in what it means to be a member of a free society. Of course, our experience of this "freedom" is far different than that of Americans 100 years ago, or of 200 years ago, therefore, the meaning of "freedom" has changed as our collective experience of it has changed. In post-Modernism, this is just fine, it's just the reality of changing truth.
  3. McCallum, D. (1996). The Death of Truth. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers. pg. 215
  4. Ibid. pp. 216-217.
  5. Ibid. pp. 218-220.
  6. Piper, J. (2003). Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian hedonist (2003 ed.). Sisters, Or: Multnomah Publishers. pg. 19.
  7. Ibid. pp. 9, 24-25.
  8. Ibid. pg. 55. (emphasis mine)
  9. Ibid. pg. 73. (emphasis mine)
  10. Ibid. pg. 81.
  11. Ibid. pg. 94.
  12. Ibid. pg. 100.
  13. Ibid. pg. 98.
  14. Ibid. pg. 90.
  15. Ibid. pg. 92.
  16. Ibid. pg. 97. (emphasis mine)
  17. Ibid. pg. 82. (BTW, Dr. Piper’s church, Bethlehem Baptist, in the Minneapolis metro area, is not far from Rev. Klemet Preus’ church, Glory of Christ Lutheran Church. I often wonder if the title of Rev. Preus’ excellent book on Lutheran practice, The Fire and the Staff: Lutheran Theology in Practice, wasn’t taken from this quote in Piper’s book, given that Preus’ work seems to be such an excellent Lutheran answer to Piper’s...)
  18. McCallum, D. (1996). The Death of Truth. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers. pp. 221-225.
  19. Edersheim, A. (1994). Sketches of Jewish Social Life. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. (Reprinted from the 1876 edition, updated with Scripture quotations from the NIV and fully documented citations from other sources). pg. 110-111.
  20. Ibid. pg. 115.
  21. Schaff, P. (1996). History of the Christian Church (Vol. 2, Ante-Nicene Christianity). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. (Reprinted from the fifth edition of Volume 2, originally published in 1889). pp. 385-386.
  22. Any answer here will elevate extra-biblical historical narrative of some sort as necessary to reproducing an experience of hearing what was “originally heard.”

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